Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Different audio levels on podcasts are a pain for the listener. The volume goes up when the host speaks, it goes down when the guest speaks. Or vice versa. Either way, fiddling with the volume because of varying audio levels while listening to a podcast show is not very listener friendly.
With the increase in podcasts – by brands and others – production value will become more important and will be a differentiator. According to Listen Notes, there are now almost 2.8 million podcasts. That number was 2 million not that long ago.
A couple of years ago production value may have had less importance, but now it’s moving on up the list of priorities. Listeners might not even give your episode a shot because it sounds bad. Audio levels unfortunately can contribute. So how do we get better audio levels that align between the guest and the host?
Now, there are plenty of articles out there that give you the highly technical solutions to this problem. They talk about normalization, what dB level your audio should end up on and that kind of stuff. Certainly, if you have the budget to hire an audio engineer or editor who can help with that route, go for it. Or if you have the skillset to dive that deep into the technical aspect – great!
Like many other content creators, I’m more on the creation side of things and am not an audio engineer. But I still want to product the best shows that I can produce. This article is probably most helpful to that group.
Start with the right equipment
The right equipment does matter and that includes:
- a good microphone
- perhaps sound paneling
- the right setup (make sure the computer is picking up the better mic, for example)
You don’t necessarily have to start with the most expensive equipment out there, but make sure to test it to make sure the mic you want to use actually sounds good when you record using it. Sound paneling does help, but I don’t think that’s a Day 1 purchase. I didn’t even install my sound panels until 400 episodes into the Business Storytelling Podcast.
Start with the tech check
When it’s time to record your podcast and/or livestream, start with a proper tech check. I know there are plenty of things to do and we have to chat with our guest, too. Here’s the rough check list that I use when joining backstage before a show:
- Welcome the guest. Chit chat for a few moments.
- Check my background and camera framing. I livestream my podcast episodes with video and audio. If you do audio-only, this step certainly wouldn’t apply to you. If you show up before the guest, do this at that time.
- How is the framing for my guest? I may offer suggests to lower the camera, pan left or right or something like that.
- Lighting? Is everyone’s lighting as good as possible. Nobody is sitting in front of a bright window?
- Check everyone’s audio. I also ask them if they can hear me crystal clear. And I do a visual check of the audio levels.
- Fix any issues – many can be fixed with a restart as is often the case in tech. Other times, a problem persists because the program is picking up the wrong microphone. That’s also an easy fix usually.
- Ask the guest if there are any other questions.
- Go live/start recording.
Once the show starts, speak in the same level of voice consistently. But also don’t be monotonous. Certainly, you can add inflections and that sort of thing, but don’t yell into the mic one second and whisper the next. Speak like you would in a conversation.
Use post-production tools
Back in the day when I was field producing training videos for the financial industry, we had a saying: “We can fix that in post.” And some things can certainly be fixed in post. We knew the limits. Some shots could be fixed. Certain audio levels could be bumped up or down, but not everything can be fixed in post.
In other words: When audio levels are too far apart from each other, it will be hard to equalize them in post.
Adjust audio levels while recording
I use Restream.io to livestream and record my podcast. While the platform is best known for livestreaming, you can also use it to record your podcast in it’s Recording Studio – as opposed to the Live Studio.
Once the guest and I enter either studio, I can see the audio levels of my guest and myself on the left side.
The green bars show the level. I verbally count to five to see where my level is and then I ask my guest – in this case Sabrina Horn – to count to five as well. When our green bars match, we sound roughly the same and are good to go. If the levels are off, I can use the slider button to bring one audio up or down to adjust.
Personally, I prefer this method because it gets me an better sounding episode out of the gate and since I livestream most episodes this makes total sense for my workflow.
Technology and following best practices certainly can make our podcast episodes better. And while at times, production value might not be the most important thing, it does matter. That doesn’t even mean that it needs to be highly produced. But it’s good for shows to sound good so people actually will listen to them.