Drive On Podcast Recording Setup
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I've been asked over the last few years what equipment, software, and other tools I use in my podcast recording setup. First, let me say that the tools in my podcasting toolbox are constantly evolving as I find new tools that work better than the old ones, so what you see in this article today will likely change over time.
After scheduling, recording, and releasing over 200 episodes, I've found that automating as much of the process as possible is a huge time saver. I suggest you fit automation into your workflow as much as possible (I'll show you how I do it in this article).
- Average time to go back and forth with guests to find a time to record an episode: 10 minutes
- Average time to send reminder emails/text messages to guests: 5 minutes
- Average episode recording length: 60 minutes
- Average time to edit and prepare an episode for launch: 40 minutes
- Average time to post an episode to social media: 25 minutes (assuming 5 minutes for five social media sites)
- Average time to write an email to subscribers about an episode: 15 minutes
- Average time to write a "thank you" to guests, reminding them when the episode will be released: 5 minutes
- Average time spent per episode (when everything goes right): 2 hours 40 minutes
- Approximate total time spent for 200 episodes: 533 hours
Note: The times above are estimates and not reflective of my current workflow, although they likely are close to what my workflow looked like when I first started.
While a "quick" 5-minute job might not seem like much to you now, it adds up over time. Trimming some of those times isn't possible, but shaving off just 5 minutes from the total time spent per episode will save about 17 hours after 200 episodes. Even if you aren't concerned about how much time it saves you, think about what would happen if you forgot to do just one of those steps. Automating the steps makes it so that you don't have to remember to do them - they just happen.
With the idea of saving time in mind, I've also included a table of contents below so you can quickly jump to the section(s) that interest you.
Scheduling an episode with guests is a crucial part of recording this podcast. Without the guests, there wouldn't be as many great stories or resources to share. With that said, if your podcast doesn't have guests, you can skip this section.
I use a service called Calendly to coordinate schedules. I like Calendly because I can sync it with my own Google Calendar, so it knows when I'm not available for other appointments, my kid's sports schedule, etc. None of those events are shown to potential guests, rather, the Calendly calendar only shows the times that I am available. This drastically helps reduce the number of conflicts on my calendar.
Additionally, I can manually block off certain dates or times in my Calendly account for things like holidays (no one wants to record an episode on Christmas, right?) or other things that I don't want to put on my calendar.
When a guest clicks my Calendly link, they will see a calendar that allows them to select a time that works best for them. The calendar defaults to the guest's timezone, so it helps reduce the back and forth to figure out when everyone is available.
For example, the screenshot below shows my availability on Friday, November 11, in Arizona's time zone. However, if a guest were on the East Coast, the available times would be adjusted to reflect Eastern time.
After the guest selects the date and time that they want to record an episode, I can collect some additional information from them, such as their name, email, phone number in case I need to reach them on the day of the interview, and links to their social media profiles and website (you'll see why these are useful to collect later on).
These questions are completely customizable, so you can ask as few or as many questions as you'd like.
Other Calendly Features
I record all of my episodes using Zoom (more on that later). Calendly can integrate with Zoom so that whenever a guest schedules an interview, Calendly automatically creates a new Zoom meeting room. This helps prevent unwanted users from dropping in on your interview versus using the same meeting room for all interviews.
When a guest books a time to record an interview, that time is automatically added to my Google Calendar to keep me organized and on time.
Calendly also can send reminder emails and text messages to guests at pre-set intervals before the interview. I set my reminders at 24 hours and 30-minutes before the interview. While guests can add the interview to their calendar, not all guests use an online calendar so having these reminder notifications helps reduce no-shows.
I mentioned earlier in this article that I like to automate things as much as possible. I wouldn't be able to automate nearly as much as I do without the use of a service called Zapier.
I probably should describe what Zapier does before proceeding to tell you how I use it.
What is Zapier?
Zapier allows you to connect various online services so that when an action happens in one service (the trigger), it causes something to happen in another (the action). Similar to when a guest schedules an interview in Calendly, Calendly creates a new meeting room in Zoom.
If that doesn't make sense, maybe seeing how I use it will help clarify things.
How I Use Zapier
I've connected my Zapier account to the following services:
- Calendly (a trigger app)
- My podcast's RSS feed (another trigger and the thing that tells podcast players that a new episode is released)
These apps allow Zapier to perform an action whenever something happens in Calendly.
In my case, I want something to happen whenever a guest schedules a new interview in Calendly, and I want to post to all of my social media accounts when an episode is released.
All of the following now happens automatically for every interview without my manual input. I could probably do all of these steps manually in 15-20 minutes, but that time adds up as you start doing multiple episodes.
Actions After A Guest Schedules An Episode
After a guest schedules an interview, this is what happens next:
- Zapier checks to make sure that the interview is not rescheduled (no need to resend Zoom links if it is the same guest rescheduling an interview)
- Assuming this is a new interview, Zapier will email the guest the information I want to send them through my Gmail account. The email includes the following:
- A request for the guest's headshot photo.
- A reminder to provide social media links if they didn't send them when scheduling the interview.
- Sample interview questions for the guest to review.
- Technical information, so they are prepared to record.
- The Zoom meeting link.
- Zapier will also create a new note in OneNote for each interview. The note includes the following information:
- Guest's name, email, and phone number.
- Zoom link.
- The interview's start time, which is listed in the guest's timezone and in my timezone.
- The social media links that the guest provided when they scheduled the interview in Calendly.
- Standard pre-show notes that I go over with the guest before recording.
- A shell of an outline for me to fill in later with specific topics or questions I want to discuss with the guest.
- A place for me to type in notes I have during the show.
Actions After An Episode Is Launched
After launching an episode, the podcast RSS feed is updated automatically on my website. I have customized the RSS feed to include the following important information so that I can automate social media posts based on the RSS feed:
- Episode title (included in RSS by default).
- Episode link (included in RSS by default).
- Episode description (included in RSS by default).
- Guest's Instagram user ID.
- Episode cover images (square for Instagram & rectangle for other social media sites).
- Episode-specific hashtags.
Zapier uses the updated RSS feed as a trigger to tell it to proceed with the following actions:
- Zapier recognizes when a new episode is released.
- Episodes get posted at 0100 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is too early to post to social media if I want anyone to see it, so I set a delay in Zapier to wait to post to social media for 7 hours. The first social post will get published around 0800.
- Zapier posts the episode to Facebook.
- Zapier posts the episode to Instagram.
- Zapier posts the episode to Twitter.
- Zapier posts the episode to LinkedIn.
In between each of the posts to the podcast's social media accounts, there is a 15-minute delay built in. The delay is optional, but I was advised once that it isn't the best idea to post to all social media accounts simultaneously. I don't know how much it helps to have a delay, but I wanted to point out that it's possible in case you want to do something like this too.
I know there are social media publishing tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and others that can do all of this for me. But, as I mentioned earlier, I want to automate the process as much as possible. Since I use the same text and images on my website as I do in my social media posts, there is no need for me to copy the text, log in to another website, paste the text 4x, and schedule four separate posts.
Before each episode is released, I email my guests, reminding them of the day they can expect the episode to air. In the email, I send them links to the episode on my website and YouTube and images they can use to promote it to their social media followers. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for the guests to help get listeners to the podcast.
While there is a bit of manual work to get this step to work, it is much quicker than if I manually wrote each email.
In Gmail, you can create templates with saved text that populates the email. With this template, I've already written most of the email already. All I have to do is add the guest's name ("Hi John..."), copy and paste the links to the episode, add the date the episode will be released, and attach the images I made for the episode (see Canva section below).
I also schedule these emails to be sent a few days before the episode airs. This way, I can write the email as part of my editing process, so I don't forget to send it out. Guests won't know the difference if I wrote an email today or two months earlier (unless they're reading this now). I send the emails a few days before the episode airs because sometimes guests have their own process for scheduling their social media posts, so I want to give them enough time to schedule them.
Also, I use the templates in Gmail to save my standard reply to guests who want to schedule an interview with me. It isn't a lengthy response, but it includes the link to my calendar on Calendly, so I don't have to keep looking up that link every time I want to send it out.
I use Mailchimp to email subscribers to let them know when a new episode is released. Mailchimp has an excellent feature where you can set up an automated email based on an RSS feed. I already went over how my podcast's RSS feed is updated every time a new episode is released. With this feed, Mailchimp will send an email whenever an episode comes out. It is literally a set-it-and-forget-it thing, which is valuable.
Zoom Audio/Video Recording
As mentioned earlier, I use Zoom to record my episodes. Other dedicated podcast recording tools produce higher-quality video and audio than Zoom, which is important. However, I've had issues with some of those platforms while recording interviews, which ultimately turned me off from them.
One time a recording on a dedicated podcasting software only captured the first 10 minutes of a guest's end of the audio because they were using a web browser incompatible with the software. Those types of things are out of my control - I could ask the guest to use a particular browser, but I can't guarantee they will. Because of that, I choose to use Zoom, which works on nearly any computer's operating system, can be used with a smartphone, and even in a pinch, guests can dial in using a traditional phone. Other than internet connection issues (again out of my control), I haven't had a single problem with Zoom since most guests know how it works.
Plus, as I'm writing this article, none of the other dedicated podcast tools can automate the creation of a recording room the way Zoom does. Even though it only takes a few minutes to create a recording room and email the link to a guest, it's still (a) my time and (b) something I can easily forget to do.
As mentioned in the Scheduling section above, I linked Calendly to my Zoom account to automatically create a new Zoom meeting room whenever guests schedule an interview. This way, I can't forget to make a room and get the link to the guest.
As a podcaster, having a decent microphone is essential to ensure that you get decent sound on your end. The microphone built into your computer doesn't have the quality sound your listeners are going to expect. Not all of your guests will have a great microphone, which you can't do much about, but you can control whether or not your voice sounds good, which it should.
I use the same Blue Yeti USB microphone I used when recording the first episode. I also have a shock mount, boom arm, and pop filter. These all help improve the quality of the sound in various ways.
The shock mount and boom arm keep the microphone off the desk, so subtle vibrations aren't picked up in the recording. The boom arm lets me get the microphone close to my mouth so my voice comes through clearly. The pop filter helps reduce the sharp sound that accompanies the "S," "B," and "P" sounds.
Other podcasters will likely tell you the Blue Yeti isn't the best quality microphone. They're probably right. However, to achieve professional-quality sound, you need professional-quality equipment. That equipment costs much more than I wanted to spend and requires more tinkering with soundboards and other equipment. Equipment that I have little desire to learn how to use. More power to you if you want to spend the money to get something better.
Just like your computer's microphone doesn't have the best sound, the built-in camera won't record the best quality video either.
To fix that, I use the Logitech C920S external webcam. It plugs into a USB port on your computer and just works. No software is needed. However, when you record, just be sure to select this camera instead of your computer's built-in camera.
The room that I record in doesn't have the best lighting, so I invested in a Lume Cube light. The light is approximately the size of a deck of cards, so it doesn't take up much room. Plus, I rigged it on the boom arm next to the microphone so it illuminates my face as much as possible.
While recording an interview, I like to have notes available to me on my computer screen so I can remember what I want to discuss with the guest. An outline helps me to keep the conversation on track and not miss anything important.
Until recently, I used Evernote to keep my episode notes. Currently, I use Microsoft OneNote to keep my notes. The only reason why I switched from Evernote to OneNote is that I didn't like how Evernote prevented me from installing their app on multiple devices on their free plan. I like to be able to create and edit my notes across multiple devices, so OneNote works for my workflow better. However, Evernote is a great free option if you don't want to use OneNote.
Editing the raw interview is crucial to getting it ready to be released as a completed episode. You can get really involved when editing an episode if you want. I advise against over-editing, though. I suggest editing the episode just enough so that it sounds good to the listeners and mistakes are removed. Some podcasters don't do any editing and upload the raw interview, errors, and all. That's another way to go too. Ultimately, it's up to you how much you want to edit.
Here's what I've found to work well and not require too much time.
The first step in my podcast editing process is to create a cover image and images to post on social media. I use a service called Canva for this.
I like Canva because I can create a template and use the same thing for every episode. All I need to do is swap out the guest's photo, add the guest's name, and the episode title. The process of creating two images takes no more than two minutes.
Descript has been a complete game changer when it comes to editing episodes. I highly recommend anyone who wants to make their podcast editing workflow easier.
Why is Descript so great?
When you upload the raw audio or video file, it automatically transcribes the episode. Even if you don't want a transcript for your podcast, Descript's transcript is handy to have. Plus, unlike other AI-powered transcription services, this one is pretty accurate. It even captures all of the filler words ("um's" and "ah's").
Filler words such as "um," "uh," "like," "you know," and even repeated words are not ideal for keeping in an episode. It would be a complete pain to listen to the whole episode and manually remove each of those individually, so naturally, most podcasts keep those in the episode.
Descript earns 5-stars in my book because the transcript is what you use to edit the audio/video.
To remove unwanted parts of the podcast, all you have to do is select a block of text (or even an individual word), then press delete. Descript then deletes the unwanted section from the transcript as well as from the audio/video. Descript will also delete in bulk all the "um's," "uh's," and other filler words with one click.
Descript makes editing your podcast as easy as editing a document in Microsoft Word!
Another thing Descript does well is it will quickly apply what they call "studio sound" to the interview. Studio sound helps reduce background noise, which can be a pain when your guest's dog starts barking in the other room, landscapers begin mowing the lawn, or a woodpecker starts pecking at the side of their house (all of these have happened to me).
You can export the audio and video as separate files in Descript. Additionally, you can export the transcript as a text file and a caption file that you can upload to YouTube to provide captions for your videos.
Many people don't know where podcast files "live." Consumers of podcasts know that when they open their podcast player of choice, their favorite podcast's latest episode appears and they don't give it much more thought.
I alluded to my podcast's RSS feed earlier in this article, and that is where all the magic happens. It technically doesn't matter where the audio files are hosted as long as there is a valid RSS feed for your podcast.
I use the WordPress content management system to run my podcast's website (this website). I like WordPress versus other solutions because you aren't limited to the functionality provided by other "done for you" website providers. When I mentioned that I customized my podcast's RSS feed, I was able to do that because I could add a little bit of code to the website to customize the RSS feed. On other website providers, I likely wouldn't be able to do that, which would cost me time and quality in the long run.
I also have complete control over the look and feel of the website. I'm not limited to some pre-designed template, so I can add or remove any content I want.
While WordPress runs the podcast's website, I use Castos to host my podcast's audio files. I could technically host the audio files on my website. However, if the podcast ever gets a surge of listeners, it could cause the website to crash and prevent listeners from being able to download the episode they want to hear.
Using a dedicated audio host like Castos is the best way to ensure listeners can always access your podcast.
Castos also has an interface that lets me add all the information for each episode to my WordPress website, and it automatically syncs that information to Castos.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my podcasting setup is constantly evolving, so what you read here today likely will be different a few months from now. Even if you use this as a guide to get yourself set up, I'd encourage you to keep updating and revising your setup as you find better ways to get things done.
Oh, and you might be wondering how much time I save with the setup I have now.
- Average time to go back and forth with guests to find a time to record an episode: 30 seconds (I just send my Calendly link to the guest using a saved response in Gmail)
- Average time to send reminder emails/text messages to guests: no time (this is done for me in Calendly)
- Average episode recording length: 60 minutes
- Average time to edit and prepare an episode for launch: 30 minutes
- Average time to post an episode to social media: 5 minutes
- Average time to write an email to subscribers about an episode: no time (Mailchimp pulls new episode information from my RSS feed)
- Average time to write a "thank you" to guests, reminding them when the episode will be released: 2 minutes (I have a saved response in Gmail, so I only need to copy and paste links into the email)
- Average time spent per episode: 1 hour 37 minutes (saving a little over an hour per episode versus the workflow described at the beginning of this article)
- Approximate total time spent for 200 episodes: 323 hours (saving 210 hours versus the workflow described at the beginning of this article - almost enough to do another podcast...)