Regular readers of this column (as well as anybody who’s spoken to me for longer than five minutes) know that I’m a bit of a tech-head. My inner child delights in getting the opportunity to play with a new piece of kit, and that includes audio equipment as much as ostensibly more fun things.
My tech-envy isn’t exactly helped by the rise of video podcasting, which has allowed me to obsess over other podcasters’ setups all the more. It’s not that I don’t love the studio setup we use for PodPod - or indeed my wonderful Shure MV7 that I use at home - but it’s hard not to covet the likes of the Rode PSA1+ boom arm.
With this in mind, however, I feel it is my duty to betray my fellow audio tech nerds and admit something that I think we all secretly know in our hearts to be true: it doesn’t actually matter what microphone you’re using. In fact, you don’t even need to have a microphone at all.
Now, before you start writing outraged tweets about my flagrant disregard for audio quality, let me offer my reasoning, along with a few caveats. The common argument among audiophiles is that a poor-quality microphone will lead to muddy and poor-quality audio, but I submit that the microphone should be the last problem a podcaster addresses.
Let’s look at it from a financial perspective. One of the most common questions that comes up when someone’s thinking about starting a podcast is what microphone to get, and it’s usually one of the first things people buy - whether it’s a single Blue Yeti or a full suite of top-end gear - but in some ways it’s actually the least important part of the package.
Splurging on a good-quality setup isn’t a guarantee that the end result will be professional quality; after all, a microphone is a tool, and its effectiveness depends on who’s holding it. If you’re new to the world of podcasting, I’d recommend that you take the money you were planning to spend on a fancy microphone, and instead invest in some editing lessons. When you’re trying to launch a new podcast, a messy edit with wildly differing audio levels, piles of dead air and poorly-spliced clips is always going to put people off faster than slightly tinny audio.
Let’s also not forget that the listener has a role to play here too. It’s easy to imagine that our audiences are all listening out for any minor audio imperfections - especially for us tech-heads - but from personal experience, it’s way more likely that they’re listening to your podcast through their laptop speakers than through studio monitor headphones. In short, the quality of the average set of earbuds is going to mangle your audio quality anyway, so it’s maybe not worth sweating that much over.
More importantly though, getting the content right should be your main priority. You might have the most beautifully-recorded audio in the world, but it won’t matter a tinker’s cuss if you don’t have an engaging concept that resonates with listeners.
Conversely, if you’ve got an awesome idea for a podcast, then don’t let the fact that you don’t have access to a professional-grade recording setup be the thing that keeps you from putting it out into the world. There are countless podcasts that started life as an iPhone recording and went on to be smash-hit successes, and they’re living proof that an audience is willing to look past a lot of technical flaws if the actual content is good enough.
With all that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also remind novice podcasters that you should ideally upgrade your equipment at some point. I still remember being flabbergasted when we interviewed My Dad Wrote A Porno, only to discover that they were still using the very first mics they started with, despite being one of the world’s most successful podcasts. When you’ve got your own HBO special, you shouldn’t be using a tripod with one leg hanging off.