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In just about every craft or trade, you'll find purveyors of picks and shovels or other tools of the trade. Some of these tools are often used by everyday people to perform similar tasks in their everyday lives. But other tools and services are highly specialized and therefore rarely used by anyone other than true trade professionals.
It’s much the same in podcasting as well. And is the case with most other creative pursuits; there’s been a blurring of the lines between what tools the hobbyists and dabblers use and those used by serious professionals. With podcasting, access to professional-grade tools and services isn’t limited by regulations or licensing bodies; just the means of the podcaster.
I feel the need to put two out disclaimers for the rest of this article.
- Using professional-grade tools and services does not mean you'll instantly become a more successful podcaster. You still have to master the craft.
- Yes, it is possible to be a successful podcaster using standard, consumer-grade tools and services. Again, the real skill is mastering the craft.
But at some point along your journey to becoming a better and more serious podcaster, you’ll likely discover a better suite of tools and services are available to you, and that using them will save you time and—in the long run—money, with the added bonus of letting you focus more on mastering the craft of podcasting.
So with that, here are five upgrade paths for tools and services used by serious podcasters.
It's Time To Get Serious About Your DAW.
Yes, I know you can do everything you currently need to do for your podcast with the free digital audio workstation (DAW) that you're using. But I assure you there are a great number of options, efficiencies, and enhancements you've not been exposed to because of your continued reliance on the tool that came on your computer or is the one you downloaded because it was free.
The first thing you’ll gain by using a professional DAW is more time. Setting aside the time to learn the tool—and unlearn bad habits from your time on the free tool—podcasters who use pro-level DAWs all report massive time savings. Saved time they then reinvest in other areas of their podcasting life.
Which pro DAW you use is up to you. Personally, I’m a user and proponent of Hindenburg Journalist Pro. But many pro podcasters I know use Adobe Audition, Reaper, Logic Pro, and even Pro Tools. Each serves a slightly different audience, so do your homework and pick the one that fits your needs the best.
And once again, I'll concede that I know podcasters who make great podcasts using free DAWS. But I don't know of a single serious podcaster who, after taking the time to learn a pro-level DAW, decided to switch back to the freebies.
It's Time To Get Serious About Cleaning Your Audio Tracks.
I know personally how easy it is to rely on a few plugins and settings on your DAW—pro-grade or freebie—to take care of the “cleanup” portion of audio editing. For years, that was my modus operandi.
But I’ve seen the error of my ways and have become a complete convert to the world of pre-cleaning audio files before any other editing. The audio I’m putting out now, whether that’s the podcast episode that informed this article or the episodes I’m paid to produce by clients, has been significantly improved by this subtle change to my editing process.
I know that, to you, it sounds like a needless step when the cleanup plugins are already inside your DAW. But I can honestly say that, done properly, what sounds like a needless step to you will sound exceptionally better to those who’ll listen to the episode.
Also, pre-cleaning your audio does not add an inordinate amount of time. Not once you’ve learned a few things and have optimized your workflow. I use iZotope RX Standard and find myself clicking the same 4-5 buttons to perform the cleanup. That may add five minutes per track to my production time. Ten if there’s something out-of-the-ordinary about the file.
As before, there are a host of companies making a host of different audio cleanup tools. iZotope, Accusonus, Waves… the list is huge. As with upgrading to a better DAW, do your homework. Talk to other serious podcasters. And spend some time to really get to know how to make the most out of the audio cleanup tool you choose. It’s worth it.
It's Time To Get Serious About Upgrading Your Recording Environment.
Most serious podcasters have a dedicated recording space—perhaps even a studio—where they record, if nothing else, their VO tracks. Acoustically treating that space makes all the difference in the world. Because moving blankets and pillows can only get you so far.
I’ve invested in a bunch of Audimute panels for my studio (which is also my wife’s office and the room where guests sleep). They look great and sound amazing. No, they aren’t cheap. But they dramatically improve the quality of my recordings. And as a person who makes 100% of my income from my podcasting efforts, it was worth the expense. But I don’t judge anyone by my pocketbook.
Another overlooked upgrade: mic cables. Yes, $9 for a 25-foot cable is a smoking deal. But it’s also a cheap build, isn’t made to last, and could be adding noise and glitches to your recordings. Durable, ultra-quiet, highly-shielded mic cables aren’t cheap. But if you have the budget, investing in a few KOPUL or Mogami cables will make a noticeable difference.
It's Time To Get Serious With Your Communication Tools.
As you progress in your ability as a podcaster, you may find yourself collaborating with other people. Clients. Other team members. Other service providers. And yes, I know you’ve gotten by so far with a creative amalgamation of Dropbox, Google Docs, Slack, WhatsApp, Messenger, and email.
That was me for the first couple of years running Simpler Media. Looking back, it’s a wonder clients didn’t revolt due to missed deadlines, improperly uploaded files, and lost commuications. All because of the Rube Goldberg-esque system I sat up because… well, it was cheap. So was I!
But systems like that can only stand up to so much stress. Eventually, they fail. So get ahead of it by selecting a tool that minimizes confusion and doesn’t require needless steps spanned across a variety of tools.
I choose Basecamp 3 because it has centralized communication, coordination, and collaboration with me, my team, and all our clients in a single tool. Other serious podcasters use Notion, Monday, ClickUp, and a host of other dedicated, for-a-fee services to centralize these tasks. So as before, take a look at several options. Go through the tutorials. Ask hard questions of the sales team. And move to something less clunky.
It's Time To Outsource. Seriously.
It's hard to see the rationale of turning over a bunch of things you’re perfectly capable of doing to someone else. Why pay someone to do a job you can do, right? Yeah… I’ve been there.
However, offloading some work on either end of the life of a podcaster makes a lot of sense. I’ve done it, and it’s had a marked improvement on the quality of my work.
And no, I don’t mean outsourcing the audio editing. At least, that’s not where I suggest you start. My first recommendation of outsourcing is getting an assistant (hi, Allie!) and turning over as much as the rote, day-to-day stuff that’s easy for you to do. So easy, in fact, that you might even screw it up from time to time because your brain is on bigger, more strategic things. Publishing episodes, directory submissions… letting a trusted assistant do those things—and then double-checking those things—is a great quality-control check if nothing else.
The next thing I suggest you outsource: mastering your episodes. Not editing (at least not necessarily editing) audio, but the “finalizing” of the audio you’ve already assembled in your DAW (which you cleaned before adding, right?).
Using a pro to master your files before you publish them means a pro has ensured that every track—your studio voice-over, field recordings, interviews, co-hosts, guest audio, theme music, and more—sounds great and matches every other track. Mastering adds brightness and clarity, resulting in a clean and crisp sound that your audience, your clients, and your clients’ audiences will recognize as being a step (or twenty) above other podcasts they listen to. And that’s a win.
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As With All Things, YMMV
I feel the need to briefly repeat those earlier disclaimers I made: upgrading the tools and services you use to make a podcast is not a magic pill; and yes, people do make great and successful podcasts without any of these upgrades.
But I strongly believe that serious upgrades like these will make it much easier for you to become a better podcaster.
And with that, my mini-series for serious podcasters to become better podcasters comes to a conclusion. Here’s a rundown and links to the series in order if you need to catch up:
- Why Learning Podcasting From The Pros Is Bad Advice - Who better to inspire fledgling podcasters than a podcaster at the top of their game! But for seasoned podcasters who want to get better, the value of playing follow the leader can quickly fade.
- 5 Resources To Help You Think Like A Serious Podcaster - Where does the serious podcaster go when seeking to up their game? The web is lousy with “how to get started in podcasting” resources. Fortunately, there are also some great next-level resources.
- 6 Training Resources To Make You A Better Podcaster - Starting a podcast is easy. But becoming better by following self-serve, learn-at-your-own-pace materials will only get you so far. Sometimes, you need a specialized curriculum to make you a better podcaster.
- Get Serious About Your Podcast With These 5 Upgrades - You just read it!
If you got value out of this episode or the entire miniseries, you can return some of that value to me at PodcastPontifications.com/support, which I realized yesterday has been broken for a week. Yikes! I fixed it, so now you can see all the value-for-value ways to contribute to the show. Buy Me A Coffee links, direct payments from Paypal or Venmo, and even options for those of you who’re into digital currencies to send several types of digital currency to various wallets, including Bitcoin, Etherium, and XRP.
I don’t publish episodes on Friday so have a great weekend! I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.