Note: This posts was written by Levi Tijerina for The Keys Podcast, which he and I host together.
Podcasting is a great way to dive in way over your head in a subject you know nothing about. For us, two photographers and “non-audio” guys, we had to problem solve for a lot of problems we didn’t even have the answers to—let alone even knew existed. But let me back up a little bit.
Josh came to me with the idea for The Keys back in August 2018 and we both knew we wanted to move quickly to make things happen. Josh immediately started securing guests and my job was to figure out gear and tech. I had some previous experience with podcasting, but literally just plugging in some mics and being told how to run things. Previously, I had worked at a creative agency and my department was looking to launch an industry podcast that I was in charge of developing (narratively) but something that the media Creative Director had overseen in terms of audio production.
So when it came to starting The Keys, I really didn’t know what the best solutions were, I just trying to problem-solve.
Problems we were trying to solve
1. How do we make it sound as incredible as possible?
2. Some of our guests would be remote, how do we record them?
3. If our guests are remote, can we easily ship them a mic so that the audio sounds good?
4. How do we save money?
5. How do we make this as easy as possible?
6. What is it like to travel with gear if we’re on the road?
The first mics we purchased were Tascam DR-10Ls. These are lapel mics that attach to a piece of clothing, run an external source (micro SD card), and you can record quickly with them. These were pretty affordable, so they solved for problem #4 and they were light and easy to ship, so they would work for #2 and #3 and #6. So it seemed like a pretty great solution.
But there were a few problems. First, if you’re not technically proficient (*raises hand*), they can be more difficult to properly set-up. Additionally, they don’t have a hyper-limited gain, which means that the mics can pick up a lot of secondary or tertiary audio. I remember early on, recording with Laura Schmalsteig, where we were using some DR-10Ls and the whole process overall was hard to monitor. If you’re audio-proficient, these can be great field mics, but for us, it wasn’t the right fit.
One thing we knew for sure is that we’d love to have something portable—something USB based so that we can record on the road and bring our “studio” with us. Not only were we not technically proficient (or wealthy) enough to build out our own studio, we knew that The Keys was about relationships and a lot of that came from personal connections. Being on-location with a guest has so much more weight for us, that we knew that the right way to address that problem was, whenever possible, to try and record on-location. At least, for now. But that created a new problem: not all locations have great sound quality.
Depending on the location we were recording in, we would have all this ambient noise—echos, cups being set down on tables, people playing with jewelry, hand motions. The list goes on. And it’s nobody’s fault—whenever we talk, we naturally make gestures, motions, etc. But when you’re recording, if you can’t fully control your location, it leaves you in a bit of a pickle. This was a problem we didn’t even know we’d have, but we found out after recording about two to three episodes, with results that were adequate, but didn't live up to my #1 goal: how do we make this sound as incredible as possible.
Our next attempt was to buy the Blue Yeti. I had one of these myself that I used for recording, but it was pretty plug-and-play. They just work. I’ve always loved the Yeti, and it was great audio quality for a great price. You can turn the gain all the way down, so that it’s really tailored to just one audio source, which means that you have a lot more latitude in louder/busier locations (but still not fully perfect). But there’s a big problem with these ones. Serial Numbers. Currently, a lot of the Yetis are designed with the same serial number, which means when you plug them into a computer, they don’t always register as two (or more) mics. These mics are great for Twitch or Streaming, but they simply didn’t work “out of the box.” Apparently, with proof of purchase, you can send your Yeti in to Blue to have it reserialed, but that was more work than I wanted to put into it. Call me lazy, but it just seemed like something that should have been included from the start.
Our next step was to look into more professional solutions, but still trying to work off of USB/Computer recording. Since we wanted to take The Keys on the road, we were holding out that a computer-based system would still work. So we looked into the Røde Podcaster as our next step. These mics looked beautiful, but the downside was that they were a bit more expensive and you still needed a way to mount them. We ended up purchasing the Røde Shockmount as well as the Røde Swivel Mounts to hold the mics and mount them. (Originally, we had tried to go cheaper and buy an off-brand mounting arm, but these mics are heavy, and the arms just couldn’t support them. If you go this route, buy the Røde Swivel Arms—learn from our mistakes. In fact, just buy the whole Røde Broadcast Package that includes all of these things in one bundle).
Now $1K for an investment isn’t huge for a lot of people, but for us, wanting at least 3 of these mics and full setups, that’s about what we were looking at. That is certainly much more expensive than buying just a single Blue Yeti, but we are also working on a higher production level than just live-streaming. For us, consistency is huge, so having the same system across all of our mics was a big deal, which is why we decided to buy three up front.
The Røde Podcasters were, far and away, the absolute best sound we’ve ever gotten from a computer-based mic. The quality is top-notch (to our ears) and they are designed for voice recording, so they really kill ambient sound. On top of that, with the Shockmount and arm, you’re able to mount them in a way that frees up your hands and creates a more seamless recording experience. No more worrying about picking up strange ambient sounds that we make when we’re nervous. Plus, they look cool as hell when they’re all set up!
The one problem we did have with these mics originally was that we were recording off a newer MacBook, which has all USB-C inputs. We tried plugging multiple mics into a dongle and then inputting them into the computer, but the dongle wasn’t able to handle the power required and would make it so that neither mic worked. We ended up ordering new cables that converted straight to USB-C so we could plug each mic directly into the computer and this solved all of our problems with inputs.
Our first episode with the Røde Podcasters is with Hunter Leggitt and, in our opinion, the sound quality dramatically increases from previous episodes. (Shoutout to Marco, our engineer, for still making previous episodes sound great despite the fact that we sucked at setting up mics well and chose bad locations for recording).
(TOO LONG, ; DIDN’T READ)
In short, here’s what we suggest: if you’re looking to save money, or only need one mic, the Blue Yeti is a great solution. (For more mics, get in touch with their support team and see if you can get each mic on a new serial number.) If you’re looking to have multiple hosts or guests in one location, don't skimp, buy the Røde Podcaster (and Shockmount and Arm) and rest easy.
Full Gear List
3x Røde Podcaster Mics
3x Røde PSM1 Shockmount
3x Røde PSA1 Swivel Mount
(You can save money by purchasing the bundle which includes one of each)
2x Tascam DR10Ls
(We still use these to record in the field)
Macbook Pro 13”
Cable Adapter for USB-C to USB-B
(needed for a computer with only USB-C inputs)