Going through podcasting gear online is one of my guilty pleasures, but I still do podcasting on a budget. So when I get emails about podcasting kit advice, I go straight for the most cost-effective gear that works and will not break on me.
Podcasting on a budget involves choosing a reliable USB dynamic microphone, an affordable sound recorder or computer, and free editing software like Audacity or GarageBand.
I recorded for years with a $89 USB microphone and GarageBand even after cracking the million download mark and joining a podcast network. There is a ton of stuff to learn when you first get started and you will not even hear your own mistakes at first! This is a good thing.
Here’s the thing: you do not need much to get started. If you choose an expensive microphone in the beginning and you still are not familiar with proper microphone technique, your $400 mic is going to make your mouth noises sound even worse. And a “good” sound interface will have so many buttons that you may end up permanently messing up your audio with no way to walk it back and fix your sound in post-production.
A Great-Sounding Budget Podcasting Setup
To start a podcast, you need the following:
- A microphone + cable + mic stand + windscreen
- Computer (or tablet) + editing software
- Hosting service
My setup was made up of an ATR-2100 USB microphone ($89), a pop filter I bought at a swapmeet ($12), and the tiny mic stand and cable that came with the microphone.
For editing I used my 2012 Macbook Pro with GarageBand. The podcast was hosted on Libsyn for $7 per month.
What to Focus On
The workflow that comes with starting a podcast is pretty intense at first. Recording, editing, and looking around for your perfect branding materials makes you really feel the squeeze in the beginning.
Focus on getting your branding right from the start. You will hear that your first episode should be an introduction or an unofficial start to the podcast, but I suggest against this. Many people will keep listening to your first episode even after you have completely forgotten about it. I have done this myself: I listen to an episode that I like, and if I want to listen to all the episodes, I go back to episode one and go from there, so I think it is a good idea to simply dive into normal “episode” content right from the start.
Podcasting with as Little Money as Possible
I downloaded an app called Anchor that is owned by Spotify to host my podcast on and it was free! If I had known about this application when I was starting out, I would have used it. But since I started in 2016, I was a little too early to the party. I hosted my podcast on Libsyn and after I had transferred over my entire podcast over to Anchor, I noticed that it was streamlined to get you to podcast right there through your browser.
It had nice features like being able to add material unavailable to others (things like copyrighted stuff) probably with a deal that Spotify has with other artists. The app took some control of my description settings and I wasn’t able to link to my episode page on my website, so I went back to Libsyn two days after that.
Things to Avoid
When you are first starting out in anything, you want tools that will take you 80% of the way to your goal. When looking for a musical instrument, for example, you want something that won’t go out of tune all the time, easy to play, and to last you a good few years while you get the hang of it. The same goes with everything else, including podcasting.
Many microphones out there are branding themselves as beginner podcaster friendly and those might be a good idea. You will hear about the difference between an XLR and a USB microphone for podcasting, sound quality tests, and fancy audio machines that promise to make you a podcast star, but I think it is a better idea to focus on your show’s material and avoid going after fancy gear.
If you are trying to stay on a budget, choose either between a USB microphone or an XLR microphone/audio interface combination so that you can connect the microphone to your computer or recorder. I use the Zoom H6 Recorder, but I will be getting a Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen by Focusrite as a standalone interface. Going with a USB microphone will knock your initial costs by half since you will not need an audio interface.
Avoid condenser microphones! In podcasting, there are condenser mics and dynamic mics. Choose dynamic microphones when you’re starting out!
Condenser microphones are super sensitive and the conversation your neighbors are having about what to have for dinner will show up on your recordings if you use one. If you choose a dynamic microphone, it will only pick up audio that is nearby or right in front of it.
Lastly, avoid using copyrighted material on your podcast! No copyrighted music, no copyrighted fonts, no copyrighted images. Use material that is your own, even the stuff that you say. Some people think that it is okay to read from a book without noticing the fine print that says that you are not allowed to reproduce the material in the book.
In summary, avoid the following: condenser microphones, flashy gear, and copyrighted material. Those are the big money wasters here.
When to Upgrade Your Podcasting Gear
Once you have found your footing in podcasting, it might be time to start upgrading your material. When you play back your own episodes and your mouth does not make annoying clicking sounds, your volume levels appear under control, and you can see yourself podcasting for a while, it might be time to start upgrading your gear.
My upgrades were subtle, but they made my workflow more reliable and a little faster. Here is what I did:
- From an Audio Technica 2100 microphone to a Shure SM58 microphone
- From a generic XLR cable to a cable with Mogami materials to reduce sound interference
- From plugging the microphone directly to the computer to plugging into a Zoom H6 recorder
- From GarageBand to Hindenburg Journalist software (and learning Adobe Audition)
- From an 8 year-old Macbook Pro 2012 to a Lenovo ThinkPad Extreme laptop
Just like with anything else, gear is getting more affordable! Some people like to go from beginner to beginner/intermediate gear, then to intermediate gear, then to intermediate/professional gear, and then professional gear. But that is not how it should work!
Start with beginner gear and stretch it until you are advanced enough to know what your show is lacking and then you will be able to tell if it is worth the upgrade. In the beginning, we do not even know what we need to improve. Some people out there are doing a lot more with a lot less than you. Get started!