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So You're Going on a Podcast

I got a fair bit of experience recording a podcast back in the yayQuery days; when I decided to start another one, the technical side of it felt pretty familiar, minus the part where yayQuery was crazy enough to also record video. Back then, we mostly were talking to each other, so it was easy for us to all be on the same page about the technical requirements: headphones always, typing never (at least when you're also talking), and buy a good microphone. We also had 20-some episodes to get good at working with each other.

I've been recording the TTL Podcast for a few months now; it's a show with a different guest every week, so the tech challenges are different, and each show is completely different from the last. It has been great fun, and I can't believe how lucky I am to get to ask all of these people to talk to me and they keep saying yes.

I've learned a few things about how to be a good podcast guest along the way, but I haven't always been good at sharing them ahead of time with guests. This, then, is really just an attempt to write them down in a single place, with the added benefit that maybe they will be useful to others. This is mostly focused on being a guest of a show; I have lots to say about being a host, but I feel like that's a lot more complicated than this.

Technical

  • Wear headphones, preferably the best ones you own. The iPhone headphones aren't nice, and actually leak noise like crazy. I alternate between using Klipsch and Shure (sorry, not sure of the model, so no link) in-ear headphones, both of which have a nice silicone seal to keep the sound I'm hearing in my ears and out of my microphone.
  • Use the best microphone you can. A MacBook's built-in microphone is decent enough in a pinch, but it's probably worth springing for an external microphone. I used the AT2020 for most of the yayQuery episodes, but I stepped up to a Shure SM7B to record TTL at the suggest of Alex Sexton. The USB mic is just fine and very reasonably priced; the Shure sounds absolutely lovely but is a bit more of an investment. If you don't want to spring for a mic, see if someone in your office has one you can borrow. If you have questions about audio gear, I am mostly clueless beyond what I've written above.
  • If you're a guest, always plan to record your side of the conversation. (If you're a host, always plan to record all sides of the conversation; I've lost an episode by failing to do this.) On a Mac, Quicktime has a simple audio recording feature. There's also plenty of other software that will do the same.

Preparation

  • Listen to at least one episode of the show before you go on (and possibly before you even agree to go on).
  • Ask the host what they want to talk to you about, and try to have a decent sense of the outline of the conversation before you start. If the host doesn't have great guidance -- she's almost certainly less familiar with your work than you are -- it's generally very welcome for you to propose an outline yourself.
  • If you have access to a soundproofed room, consider using it. Avoid large, echo-y rooms, or rooms that will be subject to a lot of hallway or construction noise.

The Show

  • Consider your biological needs before you start recording :) Except for a live show, you're always welcome to pause if you need to step away, but you may find yourself distracted in the meantime. Make sure you have water nearby!
  • Silence phone notifications (no vibrating phones; silence means silent); on your computer, close Twitter, your mail client, etc.; option-click the Notification Center icon in your Mac toolbar to put it in do-not-disturb mode (thanks Ralph Holzmann for that tip).
  • Unless it's a live show, feel free to pause and try again if you make a mistake or say something wrong. It's important that you announce that you're starting over, then pause, then start over -- that way it's easy to fix in post-production.
  • Remember that a podcast is a conversation, not a presentation. Unlike a presentation, you're conversing with a host who knows the audience and can ask you the questions that will help that audience connect with you. Use a video chat so you can watch the host for visual cues that she might want to interject.

That's my list, though undoubtedly I've left things out. If you have stuff to add, please share in the comments —