Most podcasters who are learning how to record and produce their first episodes will have to become students of sound recording. When it comes to soundproofing for podcasts, you’re either going to learn lessons the easy way or the hard way. What’s the easy way? Learn from someone who was foolish enough to learn the hard way! Seriously though, I was forced to discover great
methods of creating improvised soundproofing when I was co-hosting a radio breakfast show from a hotel room on the other side of the planet so trust me, there isn’t an object I haven’t used as makeshift sound insulation.
When you’re ready to record your podcast, whether it be solo, co-hosted or interviewing guests, you’re going to need a suitable recording space. Either you find an acceptable room with good acoustics or you force an unsuitable space to become more recording-friendly. Let’s face it, it’s more likely to be the latter.
First step is to avoid any space that echoes due to hard surfaces including tiles and solid concrete. For a musician, it might be interesting to record certain instruments in a bathroom, but when your instrument is the human voice, you need a nice warm and neutral sound. Remember that the more vanilla your recording is, the more choices you have to edit and add effects later. Trust me, it’s difficult to un-echo a recording. Adding a little reverb later? No problem.
Usually, the best place to record is going to be your cosiest space and that space is usually going to be your bedroom. That’s the room where you’ll find the most cloth (carpets, clothing, curtains, sheets and pillows) and that’s a great start. What we’re looking for is an environment where the sound can’t bounce off anything. Bounce means echo which leads to tears during playback. There’s
nothing worse than knowing a great performance is unusable. Interviews are even more heartbreaking because they’re so much harder to organise and replicate. Everything in a bedroom seems customised for ad hoc sound insulation. Even the mattress on your bed will be absorbing sound.
Once you have your desk set up and your microphone in place, I suggest using some larger pillows or cushions from the bed or couch to create a small fort around the desk, and more importantly, the microphone. This is when your childhood cubby house building skills will come in handy. While your family may think you’re going crazy, this is going to make a huge difference to your recording by preventing unnecessary noise getting to your microphone. Remember, you’re not a sound engineer (yet) so you want the most neutral, unaffected voice recording possible. If you want some aural wow factor, you can add it during post-production.
You should already be noticing you’ve gone from unusable echo to something more similar to a warm studio sound. Soundproofing for podcasts isn’t rocket science, once you understand the principles. But how about soundproofing for an interview? Well, it looks like you’re going to have to buy more pillows! I’m joking, although it wouldn’t hurt. You can arrange the existing pillows or cushions around each person, especially behind the mics. Think about it. That’s where the voice is
aiming and the surface behind the microphone (often a wall) is going to be the source of the biggest bounce and therefore the loudest echo. Eliminating that will go a long way toward minimising noise.
Once your podcast becomes more popular and you get more serious about production quality, you can level up with new techniques and materials. Many people who record sound at home will experiment with hanging cloth from the ceiling or covering walls with readily available materials like egg cartons (the classic home insulation material).
I hosted a three-hour live radio show from a desk in my Airbnb in Rome exactly the way I’ve described above (sans egg cartons of course). For three hours a day, I’d make my little cushion fort and surround myself with anything made of cloth. Most of the time, it was extremely hard to tell the difference between my co-hosts’ microphones back in Australia and my microphone in the Airbnb in Rome.
Just remember that it’s worth going to the extra effort to make your audio more warm and comfortable to listen too. Your content is going to be compelling and you don’t want them switching off because they can’t handle the poor quality of the sound.