Your home podcasting studio will make up 80% of the sound of your podcast. We covered this in the post on how to choose a microphone for podcasting, but it’s worth mentioning again.
First, let’s take away some anxiety by dispelling a myth: You don’t need, and probably don’t want a dead sound.
You see, when people think of recording studios, they picture rooms or whisper booths covered top to bottom in acoustic foam. For podcasting, this isn’t necessary. And producing a perfectly dead sounding podcast may even be detrimental to the overall experience your listeners have.
Podcast Listener Expectations are Your Friend
Audiences expect a particular sound based on the audio content type. Fortunately, the days of people expecting bad audio quality from podcasts are gone. But listeners do expect podcast to sound like radio since that’s the closest analog.
Radio comes in two basic sound flavors: A little room sound and very little room sound. If you’re going for a calm and serine show style like NPR news, then removing as much room sound as possible is desirable.
But if you want a more lively feeling show, the overall sound should reflect this. And an energetic sound is good news for most podcasters because a near dead sounding home podcasting studio is difficult and expensive to setup.
A Simple “Don’t Do This List” for Better Sound
Before we get into what to do, let’s quickly go over what not to do.
There are a few common bad recording practices that will give create hard sound reflections. Podcasters will often put together their podcast recording desks in positions that cause problems. The two most common are:
- Recording close to a wall while facing the wall
- Sitting close to and facing a window while recording
- Using a tiny alcove with a built in desk with no wall treatments as your recording space
In all instances, the same mistake is being made: Recording close to a hard surface and facing the surface.
How Much Work Does it Take
The more you do to your space the better your podcast will sound; it’s that simple. Your space is a lot more important than the microphone you chose once you start trying to achieve a professional and polished audio presentation.
But, as mentioned previously, think long and hard about your audience’s expectations before spending a lot of money on your home podcasting studio. People accepted FM and even AM quality sound for decades. We lived with standard definition quality TV for decades.
The best solution is finding what listeners will accept or a little better and balance that with what you can reasonably achieve at your current point. Then, as you grow, improve your studio over time.
And remember, great sounding bad content isn’t worth listening to for more than a few minutes. So before you rush out to build a flagship studio, spend your energy on getting better at the craft of producing exceptional content. (People will put up with bad audio and inconsistent delivery if the content is stellar.)
Working with What You Have
The first steps towards setting up a home podcast studio are to fix the problem areas causing excess standing waves and reverb. Here are the elements of a room which cause those problems:
- Bare walls
- Hard wall materials (Concrete, brick, etc.)
- Hard floors (tile, hardwood floors, vinyl, concrete, etc.)
- Hard surface furniture
The less of these hard surfaces a room has, the better your recordings will sound. And adding some typical home furnishings to a hard room can clear up most harsh sounds. Things like:
- Upholstered Furniture
- Heavy window drapes
Setting up a small recording space in a bedroom is a great option for a lot of podcasters starting out. Bedrooms often contain softer decor, carpet or rugs, and window drapes. And beds are a large piece of soft furniture that suck up a lot of sounds.
Bedrooms have the added benefit of being a low traffic area. Often, the most annoying sounds in a podcast are the unexpected sounds caused by people, not in the show. Well, I should say people who shouldn’t be in the show but are because their noise makes an appearance.
Living rooms can also be a good choice for podcasting. However, these tend to be high-traffic rooms and you will have interruptions from roommates, kids, or a spouse. And it’s often difficult to ask people you live with the stay quiet and out of a room that is often the most used room in the house.
But if you live alone, the big sofas and chairs in most living rooms will eat up a lot of harsh reverberation and sound reflections. So you’ll need to judge your choice of home podcast studio space you pick based on traffic considerations.
Using a Clothing Closet as a Free Studio
Closets full of clothes make great recording spaces and don’t cost you anything. Some podcasters will use their walk-in closets as home podcasting studios on a temporary basis setting up and breaking down after each session.
The downside to going into a walk-in closet, closing the door, and recording is a lack of ventilation. It can get rather stuffy, and if it is not full of clothes, the resulting sound is awful. So using your walk-in closet as a home podcasting studio isn’t the best option.
Another option is to set up just in front of the closet, face into the closet, and record. Facing into the closet, your voice will travel into the closet, and the clothes should absorb a lot of the unwanted reflections.
If you have a reach-in closet, one that is one garment deep, you can still use it the same way: Open the door(s) face into the clothes, and record.
Simple Sound Fixes for Your Home Podcasting Studio
Sometimes rooms need a bit more help. And this is where moving blankets can save the day.
My first recording space was in an apartment over the garage of my last house. It was a great space because it was separate from the house, far back from the road, and well insulated. This meant random people soliciting candy, religion, or their politics didn’t knock on the door, passing car noise wasn’t an issue, and my wife didn’t have to be quiet while I was recording.
But this home podcasting studio wasn’t without its problems. For starters, the efficiency had hardwood floors. And since I wasn’t going to spend time hanging out in the studio, buying plush furniture didn’t make sense. It also had bare walls and four big windows that reflected a lot of sounds. And there was a small kitchen with a noisy refrigerator and no door separating the main room from the kitchen.
The floors were an easy fix; I bought a big cheap rug. And rugs do a lot to calm down the sound of rooms with hard floors.
Using Home Made Sound Curtains
For the walls, windows, and kitchen I used double weight moving blankets, curtain rods, and cheap curtain pin on hooks. For under $200 the room’s sound stellar for the intended purpose.
Moving blankets, especially double weight, are filled with a dense fiber material, and the external fabric has an open enough weave to let sound in and get trapped in the fibers. They work great for absorbing sound and covering large areas quickly. They also worked great for absorbing any outside sounds that would have made it into the home podcasting studio through the glass windows.
Acoustic Foam and Absorption Panels for your Home Podcasting Studio
In home podcasting studioes enough soft surfaces, you may benefit from installing sound foam to tame early reflection points. These are small hot spots on walls causing distracting flutter echoes and standing waves.
Most of the advice for sound foam and other acoustic treatment placement is intended for engineers and editors doing the sound mixing. So the placement is focused on where they will be when listening to audio played back. The principles remain the same for recording your voice; you just have to take speaking as opposed to listening in to account.
Why this matters: The position you sit in to edit your show may not be the same as the position you’re sitting in when you record your show. So you will want to consider both positions to determine all the spots that are creating a standing wave, echoes, and reverb.
The Difference Between Mixing Studios vs. Recording Studios
When mixing, you’ll be listening to the audio recorded. The desired studio is one with a dead room sound. The goal is not to create the perception of sound in the recording that’s not there. A studio with too much room noise would create a situation where the engineer is adjusting for the sound in the studio and the recording; they should only work on what is in the recording.
When recording, the speakers are inputting their voices into a recording. The desired studio is one that only adds the desired sounds into the recording. These sounds would include room sound or lack thereof, and the voice(s) speaking or singing.
Two reasons why this distinction matters:
- You may not want a completely dead sound to your podcast, as discussed in our post on microphones for podcasting.
- When new podcasters go looking for advice on how to set up their podcasting studio, they tend to consume information meant for mixing studios and voice over studios.