Hands up who loves a good podcast? Oh, I do! As a newbie radio reporter of social and business trends in rural Wisconsin, I’m refreshing my reporting skills while tackling a big (but delightful) learning curve on how to paint a scene — and tell a story — with sound. This series chronicles what I’m learning out in the field as I podcast for Milwaukee Public Radio.
Invest in the right equipment
Step one became investing in the right equipment. While tons of terrific options exist, my executive producer put me on to the affordable H6 Handy Recorder you see my son (Nicholas) wrangling with in the picture above. Not to promote the technology, but I found the sound quality fabulous. When I captured sound (my first trial audio) of my older boy and his BB gun, we could hear the pellets pinging metal targets in the thicket behind my place. I’d not expected that purity (and clarity) of sound. Wow.
Test the equipment with those you know
Conduct preliminary audio tests with family, colleagues and friends. Get used to activating record. Check how the sound you captured truly sounds. Does wind (or your own body brushing against the recording) obstruct? Are your levels too high? Through this steep but rewarding process, I felt more comfortable—and confident—with my first live interviews.
Practicing ahead of time also got me excited about podcasting as a craft. The sound I captured as my son shot BBs into the woods moved me. The audio I later captured of wind in the woods sounded poetic—ephemeral. I realized: Podcasting provides us with a powerful gift. We’re capturing and recording history in artful ways.
Tackle a robust topic
Step two became finding a topic conducive to interesting and varied audio and ambiance. For my first podcast, the state of Wisconsin barns, I interviewed four, barn owners, a national expert and a state expert on the overall landscape of Wisconsin barns. You want something reasonably meaty with good access and something you find exciting, worthy of sharing.
Conduct your audio interviews
With podcast equipment, you can conduct audio interviews over the phone just fine. Set your phone on speaker and bring your recorder about an inch from the phone. Check the levels hit around 12. Not sure of the audio quality? Listen to hear how the downloaded recording sounds to your ear. If it’s fuzzy; re-do the work. Some more tips:
- Use the wind sock to cover the mic if you’re outdoors. My trial audio revealed wind sounds like a muffle and distorts the precious wisdom your subject offers.
- Stand about a foot from your subject and stand still, or, use your tripod.
- Stay quiet. If your coat rustles as you walk and talk, remove. Take off rings or other jewelry to avoid impact sounds against the recorder. If your subject taps a pen on the table where you sit, gently ask them to stop and start over.
- Have the confidence (and patience) to start over. Hold high standards.
- Pay attention to ambient noise (which I get to next). If ambient noise overpowers your interview, you may need to start over or move.
Collect ambient noise, too
Ambient sound helps when mixing the podcast. I’m providing some examples of the ambient sound I collected for the barn piece:
- Doves nesting and tweeting in the high rafters of a barn
- Wind rustling through a thicket near a barn I visited
- A creaky barn door and the clang of a metal lock
- Bridesmaids getting ready for a wedding in a barn
- A barn owner walking up wooden stairs
- Cows mooing in a dairy milking parlor within a barn
For a new podcast I’ve started on the move for New Zealand grocery stores (and gas stations) to remove single-use plastic shopping bags, I interviewed shoppers and store owners. I then collected sound of a register opening and closing, a shop owner counting change, bagging a purchase, and shoppers checking out at a supermarket.
Ask for help
Like any new craft, ask the experts for help. I called the maker of the handy recorder for guidance when the system simultaneously shut down. (No biggie; recorders do that some time and you simply pop and replace the batteries to get things going again.)
My nephew works in theater and film production and provided great advice on capturing quality sound. (He alerted me of the wind sock I hadn’t realized came with the device.) He also provided me with expert feedback on my first audio captures.
And Milwaukee Public Radio’s executive producer has remained a huge resource and help. He even supplied me with a sample script he’d written to help me write my own.
Next week, lessons learned from my first podcast script.
Have your own story on podcasts? Share away! What equipment do you like and why? What challenged you the most? We’re all ears.