What is Podcasting’s MVK?
In podcasting circles…
one question I hear asked more than any other is this:
Q: “How much does it cost to start a podcast?”
Almost no one likes my answer:
A: “It depends.”
I’m not trying to be difficult. The reality is there are a huge number of factors that determine “the cost.”
- the gear you purchase
- how and where you host your show’s files
- whether or not you have a website
- how much audio production, graphic design, website programming, etc. you have to outsource to others
- how you plan to market your show
- a bunch of other things you won’t know until you stumble across them
But if we strip out all the expenses that kick in after you’ve created your show’s content (i.e. numbers 2 through 5 above), the question is a little easier to answer.
Minimum Viable Kit (MVK)
I define the MVK or Minimum Viable Kit as the smallest, least expensive and least complex recording kit you can use to create a podcast.
Keep in mind, the MVK includes only the pieces of gear required to turn your voice into an MP3 file that can be loaded to a phone or tablet as a podcast.
It doesn’t include any products or services related to web hosting, RSS feed hosting, email service providers, graphic design or anything else you might eventually want or need in order to make your podcast successful.
Important Note: Owning or having access to a computer (i.e. laptop or desktop, Windows or Mac) is a must for creating a podcast. I don’t consider a computer part of “the kit” in the discussion that follows. It doesn’t have to be the best, shiniest or most powerful computer on the planet. Almost anything built in the last 5 years should be able to keep up. But you must be able to beg for, borrow or steal a computer to make a podcast. No exceptions.
The list below contains what I believe to be the absolute minimum kit you should consider for creating your first podcast.
I haven’t looked for the absolute cheapest pieces of gear. Instead, I’ve focused on the best balance between price and quality.
If you already own one or more these pieces, you’re that much further ahead.
Ready? Here we go…
This is a non-negotiable– you absolutely, positively must have a microphone.
The microphone is the link between your voice and your listener’s earbuds. No microphone = no podcast.
There are literally thousands of microphones to choose from. Many of them will enable you to create a quality recording. Except one.
Wanna know what kind of microphone that is?
It’s the free kind.
Don’t even think about recording a podcast with the spindly microphone that came with your computer. The one you found wrapped in a plastic bag rolling around at the bottom of the box after everything else was set up.
Don’t use that one. Or any microphone that appears to have fallen from the same tree.
The quality of your podcast audio is important. If you’re building your first kit and planning to launch your first show, you’re going to need to make at least a small investment in a microphone. Accept that fact now and everything that follows will be much easier to stomach.
But which microphone?
I own a number of mics– probably a dozen. And after much research and consideration, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Audio-Technica ATR2100 as the MVK microphone.
- If used properly, it can sound almost as good as microphones five times its cost.
- It’s a dynamic mic so it’s ideal for recording in rooms that don’t sound so great to begin with (Note: See the post Good Intentions. Bad Room. for more details.)
- It has a built-in USB interface so you don’t need to spend additional money on an external mixer, preamp or interface.
- In addition to USB, it has an XLR analog output so you can use it with a mixer or preamp when the time comes to upgrade your kit.
- Best of all, it costs less than $60.
You read that right.
That’s less than you’ll spend the next time you go to the movies with your partner.
My recommendation, order this microphone and watch a movie on Netflix instead.
You can start recording your show as soon as the mic arrives.
Here’s the link. Order one today: Audio-Technica ATR2100
The first rule of Fight Club is…
Don’t record without wearing headphones.
It’s the only way you can truly be certain what you and your guests are saying is being recorded. Without hearing it with your own ears, you might spend 90 minutes of your life on what amounts to nothing more than a pleasant conversation.
Don’t take the risk. Wear the headphones. Trust me.
I own a pair of these and while they’re not my first choice, they’re a great MVK component.
Here’s the link: Monoprice Headphones
3) Microphone Stand
Sure, there are people who record podcasts without mic stands.
Those people are cranky because their arms are always tired.
Don’t forget, a podcast can last for 90 minutes. Do you really want to hold a microphone to your mouth for 90 minutes?
Neither do you. Seriously.
Arm fatigue is not the only issue. Every time you reposition your hand slightly on the mic, you’re going to hear that on your recording.
Here’s how handling noise sounds (click the Play icon on the right):
It’s not subtle.
And it’s not good.
Don’t risk it.
This MVK desk mic stand is sturdy and inexpensive. I own it myself and use it frequently when I don’t have time or patience to set up a floor stand.
Here’s the link: Desk Microphone Stand
Note: The Audio-Technica ATR2100 comes with a small tripod-style desk stand. As nice as it is for the company to throw this in for free, I don’t recommend using this stand:
- It’s not very sturdy. The slightest force can topple it.
- It only lifts the microphone about eight inches off the surface of your desk. I’m not super tall, but my mouth is a good 18 inches above the surface of my desk. Unless you’re comfortable stooping over in your chair for an hour to speak into a microphone, don’t use the freebie. Spend a couple of extra dollars and get the stand I’ve linked to. You’ll be happy you did.
4) Pop Filter
Okay. Let’s start with why you need a pop filter. Listen to the following clip.
If you listened to the clip through earbuds, you may be swearing at me right now. Sorry.
It may sound like I was exaggerating my Ps in that clip.
I was speaking into an ATR2100 at a normal volume from about 4 inches away from the microphone.
Every P-sound your mouth makes creates a gust of wind. What you heard in this clip was exactly how those gusts of wind sound against a microphone diaphragm.
In the audio world, P-sounds are called plosives. And you just heard how plosives sound.
In this next clip, I repeat exactly the same phrase at exactly the same volume. The only difference in the setup is an $8 pop filter about 2 inches in front of the microphone. Give it a listen.
If this demonstration doesn’t convince to include a pop filter in your kit, I don’t know what will.
Excessive plosives are one of the signs of an amateur podcaster. And they can be avoided for under $10.
Here’s the link: Microphone Pop Filter
5) Recording & Editing Software
If you Google free podcasting software (Click here to do exactly that: Google Search), one of the top hits will be Audacity.
Audacity is an open-source software package for any kind of audio recording — not just for podcasts. There are downloads available for both Windows and Mac.
You can record with Audacity.
You can also edit, apply effects, add ID3 tags and export to MP3.
And it’s 100% free.
That’s a hard combination to beat.
Or at least it should be!
Now, I want to go on record by saying I’m not a huge fan of Audacity.
It’s true, Audacity can perform all the functions you need to record and produce a podcast. But every time I’ve used it, I end up feeling confused and frustrated. Your mileage may vary.
I have more capable tools available to me, so I rarely touch Audacity.
Despite my personal feelings about it, I’m going to include Audacity it in the MKV.
If you’re starting out and have a small budget, give Audacity a try: Download Audacity
6) VST Plug-Ins
In case you’re not familiar with the term, VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. It’s a software interface standard. If you’re interested in more details, this gives a far better description than I can:
Virtual Studio Technology on Wikipedia
Plug-Ins are pieces of software that allow DAWs to perform any number of weird and wonderful functions they don’t perform on their own.
In the podcasting world, we go pretty easy on audio processing. I recommend you limit it to two things:
- Equalization (EQ)
These are topics I’ll cover in detail in a separate blog post.
The best free plug-ins I’ve found are part of a bundle made by a company called Melda Productions. There are probably 12 plugins in the bundle. I recommend installing all of them and experimenting with what they can do.
But for free, you’ll find it hard to beat the EQ and compressor in this bundle.
Go download it now: Melda Productions Bundle
Okay. So here’s the summary on the kit we’ve just built:
- Microphone: Audio-Technica ATR2100 – $60
- Monoprice Headphones: $20
- Desk Microphone Stand – $13
- Microphone Pop Filter – $10
- Recording Software: Download Audacity – FREE
- VST Plug-Ins: Melda Productions Bundle – FREE
Grand total (not including taxes): $103
Just over a hundred bucks. Gotta luv that!
Again, this price assumes 2 things:
- You’re able to purchase the MVK components at the prices listed here.
- You already have a computer for recording and editing.
So if you’ve been telling yourself or others you can’t afford to start a podcast — think again. That excuse is gone.
What are you waiting for?
Have you tried any of the components in this kit?
How did they work out for you?
Are there other components you feel do just as good a job at a similar or lower price?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.