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How to Start a Podcast Using Audacity or GarageBand

lady listening to a podcast in a cafe

Starting a podcast is easier and more affordable than you might think. In recent years, podcasting has grown quickly and become one of the biggest digital media formats around. This is due mainly to how easy they are to create and consume. Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to be a recording engineer to get started with podcasting! Once you understand the basics of the equipment being used, creating a high-quality product is attainable even for complete beginners. Here we're going to show you how this can be achieved with a basic setup. All you'll need is an affordable USB microphone and some free recording software.

One person and a microphone: the fastest way to get podcasting or creating game commentary.

In this scenario we’re looking at a very straightforward podcasting setup - recording one person into a computer. This type of configuration is ideal for anyone wanting to host a solo podcast, do film/gaming commentary or voice-over, record an audiobook, create a broadcast-style radio show with announcing, or if you simply need to introduce and speak between segments of pre-recorded audio. As we’re focusing on the most simple and straight-forward configuration for a solo podcast, we’d recommend using a USB microphone. USB mics are super-convenient and usually offer a plug-and-play style setup without diving too deep into system settings. There are some excellent sounding USB mics on the market at a variety of price-points, so you can definitely find something to serve your needs. Many USB mics include direct headphone monitoring from the microphone itself, a great feature as it bypasses your computer (which can sometimes add a small delay known as Latency). Many USB mics also include a stand to set them on your desk (a fantastic bonus), but if you’d prefer to go for a more professional setup with a boom arm, we can help you find the right option.

One more consideration you’ll need to make when selecting a microphone is whether you’d like a condenser or dynamic microphone. Very simply, condenser mics have a more natural sound with a wider frequency response, but they will pick up more background noise. Dynamic mics have better rejection of background noise, so they’re ideal for areas that aren’t specially set up for recording (living room, bedroom, kitchen etc). Dynamic mics are also commonly used in professional broadcast studios, so if you’d like more of that “radio sound”, opt for a dynamic mic.

Ok, so you’ve purchased a USB microphone and are ready to start recording, what’s next? Below we’re going to go through the steps for setting up your USB mic with two different free software options - Audacity (Windows/PC) and GarageBand (Mac). For reference, we were using an Audio Technica AT2020USB+ microphone in these examples, but the set-up steps should be the same no matter what USB mic you’re using.

Looking for the right microphone for you setup?

Make sure your podcast sounds its best! Check out some of our USB microphone recommendations below. There are options for every budget and any of these mics can be used to replicate the setup shown in the step-by-step guides on this page.

How to start a podcast using Audacity

1

Plug your mic into a free USB slot on your computer. Depending on what version of Windows you are using you may see a small pop-up in the bottom corner of the screen saying “Setting up a device”, which will be followed shortly by another saying “Device is ready”.

2

Open Audacity. It’s more than likely Audacity will have detected the microphone and already assigned it as the Recording Device (input). In our case, you can see the name of the mic next to the microphone icon (AT2020USB+). Audacity has also set the Playback Device (output) as the headphone out on the microphone. If your microphone has a headphone out for direct monitoring we recommend using this. Plug your headphones in, and if there is a wheel/slider/knob to set the audio mix (what you hear in your headphones), set it to monitor directly from the mic.

3

The dropdown menu in-between the Recording Device and the Playback Device is the channel selection. Make sure this is set to “Mono”. Your microphone will record a mono signal, unless otherwise specified, so there’s no need to have a Stereo channel.

4

You can also set up all these options through the Preferences menu, using Edit > Preferences or “Ctrl + P”. If your microphone is NOT automatically detected by Audacity, you should check the preferences. If it is NOT available to select under “Recording > Device” try closing and opening Audacity again. If it still isn’t appearing, it may be that you need to install a driver for your mic. This is a simple process, the driver should be available from the manufacturer’s website, often on the page for that particular product. However most microphones are "class compliant" nowadays, so it’s unlikely you will need to do this.

5

Once the microphone is selected as the Recording Device, click the Recording Device monitoring meter, it will read “Click to Start Monitoring”. You should see the sound being picked up by the mic represented by a green bar. Now you can make sure your recording level is appropriate. Speak as you would when recording and see how the meter responds. It is important to remember when you start recording to keep the meter in the green / yellow. If the meter turns red, that means the signal is peaking and may result in distortion in the final product. If you need to adjust the recording level, you can do so using the slider with the microphone icon (on the right-hand side of the top panel).

6

Hit 'record' and you should see the waveform of your recording appearing on the screen. Once you’re finished you’ll want hear your recording back! If you have a mic with a direct headphone out for monitoring, like the AT2020USB+ you can move the wheel/slider/knob from 'mic' to 'comp' (some microphones will have this in writing, some will use icons) and playback should come through your headphones.

7

You can also change the Output Device back to the computer speakers/headphone out if you prefer. You just need to go back into the preferences and switch the Playback Device back to your computer (this is sometimes listed as the name of your soundcard). Once you're happy you can export your audio by going to File > Export and selecting the audio format.

How to start a podcast using GarageBand

1

Plug your mic into a free USB slot on your computer (your Mac should recognise the mic without the need to install anything) and open GarageBand. If you haven’t already and you are prompted, allow GarageBand to access the microphone on your computer. If you don’t get this prompt and aren’t sure, go to your System Preferences > Security & Privacy then under the Privacy tab find Microphone on the left-hand side and make sure the checkbox next to Garageband is selected. You can also achieve this through the Audio/MIDI tab of GarageBand’s preferences - the Input Device will have an Allow Access button next to it, if you need to grant access to the microphone.

2

If your microphone has a headphone out for direct monitoring we recommend using this. Plug your headphones in, and if there is a wheel/slider/knob to set the audio mix (what you hear in your headphones), set it to monitor directly from the mic.

3

Choose an Audio Track. If the name of your microphone isn’t displayed next to “My instrument is connected with:” click the small arrow to open the Preferences window. From here you can use the Input Device dropdown to select your microphone, you can see ours displays “AT2020USB+”. Similarly you can select your Output device here - whether you want to hear the direct sound from your mic (we’d recommend this if possible) or your computer’s speakers/headphone out. From here hit the “Create” button to get into your GarageBand session.

4

If you need to make changes to your Input/Output settings at any point, you can access the preferences window by selecting GarageBand > Preferences or “Command + ,”. If you’ve had any issues with setting up your mic as an Input Device so far, open the System Preferences for your Mac and make sure it’s recognising the mic as an Input in the Sound settings.

5

You should now see the audio metering on the track itself, and can make sure your recording level is appropriate. Speak as you would when recording and see how the meter responds. It is important to remember when you start recording to keep the meter in the green / yellow. If the meter turns red, that means the signal is peaking and may result in distortion in the final product. You can set the recording level using the slider on the audio track.

6

Hit record and you should see the waveform of your recording appearing on the screen. Once you’re finished you’ll want hear your recording back! If you have a mic with a direct headphone out for monitoring, like the AT2020USB+ you can move the wheel/slider/knob from mic to comp (some microphones will have this in writing, some will use icons) and playback should come through your headphones.

7

You can also change the Output Device back to the computer speakers/headphone out if you prefer. You just need to go into the preferences and switch the Output Device back to your computer’s “Built-in Output”. Once you’re happy you can export your audio by going Share > Export Song to Disk then choosing the audio format.

If you're looking to record a podcast with more than one person, check out our guide to setting up a multi-person recording session by clicking here.

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