It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical details of recording your podcast – between DAWs, VSTs, compressors, normalization, and equalizers, it’s hard to know where to get started with recording software! While some old-school recording engineers will still swear by a big recording console and tape machine, today we get the same results with some inexpensive hardware and fairly lightweight software on our computers. This blog post is going to cover the software side of things, but if you’re looking for some hardware recommendations, check out our podcast episode where Derrick and I discuss exactly that!
The good news is that if you’re only recording your podcast and then sending it off to an editor, you really don’t need a whole lot of software to make a great podcast because the editor should have all they need! If you’re editing your own podcast, it can get a little more complicated, but we’ll talk about that in another blog post.
There are two things that you need:
- Software that lets you record your microphone
- The ability to export that audio into an MP3 or WAV file
There are a bunch of different options to go with, so I’m going to go through some of the most popular pieces of software and explain the pros and cons of each.
Audacity is one of the most popular and widely used Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) today. It’s free, open-source, and relatively easy to use. It lacks some of the more robust tools that you’ll find in more fully featured DAWs, but it certainly has everything you need to record a great-sounding podcast. The process for recording is very straightforward; however, doing any sort of editing can get difficult because Audacity is a destructive editor. That means that changes are made to the original audio file, and if you save changes without making a copy of your recording, you won’t be able to recover the original file afterwards. Therefore, if your goal is to simply record quality audio, Audacity could be a good fit for you. However, if you’re planning to do some editing afterward, you may want to look into the less destructive options listed below.
*Audacity has had some bad press recently after being dubbed “spyware” by some in the FOSS (free and open-source software) community. This is due to some of the changes that its new parent company, Muse Group, made to its terms of service. Audacity being or having “spyware” is not accurate and has been corrected since some new information has come out about the changes following media backlash. Daniel Ray, the head of strategy at Muse Group, made a post clearing up some of the confusion which you can read about here. At the time of this writing, Muse Group has not implemented any data collection. However, if this a serious concern for you, keep an eye out for future news and updates. Chances are, you’ll be able to opt out of it when/if it get’s implemented.
Reaper is another very common DAW for audio production. It is has more features and is more robust than Audacity and also provides a free trial period which imposes no restrictions on the software. If you decide that you would like to keep using it, a license for personal use is one-time fee of $60. As it is a more robust DAW, the learning curve is a bit steeper than other options. However, if you put in the time to learn how to use it, you’ll get a lot out of it. One major benefit of Reaper over Audacity is out-of-the-box support for ASIO (audio stream input-output) devices. Audio interfaces that use more than one or two inputs likely make use of ASIO device drivers. While Audacity can support ASIO drivers, it’s difficult to set up and to use properly. So, if you’re using an audio interface with ASIO drivers or you are trying to record more than one or two microphones simultaneously, it’ll be a lot easier to do using Reaper.
As a non-destructive editor, Reaper will not overwrite your original audio files, meaning that it’s a lot easier to maintain and backup the raw recordings and content. It also leaves you with a much better path forward if you ever decide to do some editing or audio production of your own. Like Audacity, Reaper is cross-platform and a great option for nearly any audio recording or production task.
In a lot of ways, Garage Band is the best of both worlds, with the one major caveat that it’s only available on Mac computers. It’s easy to use, non-destructive, supports multitrack recording, and, best of all, it’s free. If you’ve got a Mac, this is a great place to start and get your feet wet in the world of DAWs. Because I’m not a Mac user so I can’t speak to the specifics, but I’ve seen and worked with plenty of podcasters who use it very successfully.
These three definitely aren’t the only options out there, and the bottom line is to make the most out of what you have! A lot of audio interfaces come with a free version of a DAW that you can use, with some common ones being: Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Cubase. While these are intended more for music creation, there’s nothing keeping you from using them to record podcast audio. Nowadays, there are a lot of great online resources and videos which can guide you in setting up and using a specific software.
Some microphone manufacturers have even created custom recording software for their microphones. For example, RODE developed RODE Connect for their NT-USB Mini microphones, and Shure developed a mobile app to record their MOTIV series microphones. These, too, can be used for audio recording purposes.
All of these options have their own pros and cons, but as long as you learn how to use your software and make it work with your workflow, the most important thing is to just start recording! Regardless of the gear or software you have, you can always pull out the voice memos app on your phone to start making some content!