When my wife and I launched Kamakshi Media LLP in January 2016, we used a 10 year old laptop and a $40 ATR 2100 USB mike. The calls were recorded over Skype, and we used Skype Call Recorder that worked well on Linux. During the first three months, the learning curve was steep. We learnt the finer aspects of podcasting such as how to record in stereo versus mono, how to reduce ambient noise, and how to effectively soundproof the recording area. Over a period of time, we read, discussed and experimented to make our setup as frugal yet functional as possible. By April 2016, our $100 studio was ready.Let us call this setup our mini-studio.
Note that frugal does not mean compromising on quality. It simply means not investing in expensive equipment, and using simple ideas that achieve the desired results. Since January 2016, we have recorded over 100 podcast episodes, majority of them using out super functional setup. The audio quality has been great, and the reviews have time and again mentioned the good audio quality.
Before you ask what is a Raspberry Pi3, let me say that it is one of the best things to have happened to computers. It is a credit card sized computer that costs only about $35. It is mainly used in IOT applications, but I decided to use it for setting up my podcasting studio.
This post describes how we went about it. I had written a post about it on Medium a few weeks ago, this post is more in-depth, because we begin with the basics here.
What You Need: The Basics
•I use $ 35 Raspberry Pi3 that runs on Linux.
•16 GB card to install the operating system and the recording program cost another $ 5.
•Sound editing software (I use Audacity, which is an open source software. And yes, it is free)you can even use the basic audio editor that comes with Google Docs, but it does not have very good reviews. Cost $ 0
•Microphone: I would very highly recommend the ATR 2100 USB Microphone. I have also used a Sennheiser PC8 USB Microphone in the past, but the ATR makes a fantastic beginner microphone. Cost: $ 40 to $ 60 for ATR Mic; or $ 30 for the Sennheiser. (If you get a deal on Amazon, the ATR mic is sometime available for less than $ 35).
•A used computer monitor. My cost: Cost $ 0, because I used an exiting 21” LCD monitor. You can connect the Raspberry Pi3 to the HDMI port of your TV, which eliminates the need for a monitor.
•HDMI-VGA Adapter to connect the Raspberry Pi3 to the monitor $ 5
•HDMI Cable $ 5
•Keyboard and a mouse. See if you can borrow a used USB keyboard and mouse for $ 10.
•Chrome Browser Two of the audio recording programs I prefer to use, namely, Zencastr and Cleanfeed, both run well on Chrome Browser. I would highly recommend using Zencastr. Chrome, unfortunately, does not work well on Raspberry Pi3, and therefore Cleanfeed may not work well. Cost $ 0
•A Sound Enclosure Simply put, anything that will prevent your voice from dissipating away from the microphone. I use a very D-I-Y setup, which is practically a used amazon shipping box and a hand towel, with some bubble wrap thrown in between. The whole setup took me two minutes to make, and I have used it for 6 months without any worries. It is not very aesthetically appealing, but it works! Cost $ 0
•Heavy drapes or cloth for soundproofing:I learnt this the hard way. If you do not want any echo to get captured in your audio, you will have to invest in as much soundproofing as possible. If your setup is facing a wall, make sure the wall has materials that absorb sound. I use thick cardboard, a corkboard will also be a good option. Around you, make sure there is enough material to absorb as much sound as possible. If you use household material, cost is $0.Total Cost for the setup: $ 130-150
The Key is to minimize the peripheral noises while recording. The more the efforts you put in to enhance the audio quality at the time or recoding, the better.
Skype: The most widely used program for recording audio calls over the internet, particularly for podcasts that involve more than one guest. Skype does not work on the Raspberry Pi3 easily, but if you use an older computer that runs on Linux (I would not recommend windows).
Bookshelf: Very useful! Zelco, who used to do the audio editing for me earlier this year, very highly recommends it. I moved the bookshelf closer to my working desk, and while my wife was upset, it worked wonders for the sound quality. I use the backside of the bookshelf as my whiteboard.
Internet Connection: Invest in the highest plan- both in terms of speed and bandwidth. Particularly in India, do not compromise on the Internet speed. I use a 20 MBPS / 60 GB plan, once I move to recording more video interviews, I will simply double it. It is totally worth the investment. Cost: $ 20 a month.
Audio Editing: I have found some fantastic audio editors on Upwork, who charge between $10 and $ 15 per episode. You can also do the editing yourself, if you know what you are doing.
Putting The Pieces Together
1. Set up your workstation at your workdesk. Try and make it permanent if possible. That is, once you mount the arm for the microphone, the pop filter, and the soundproofing enclosure around the microphone, try and not to move it. I use a standing desk, and the setup is more or less permanent there. I only take out the microphone in case we have to do the recording outside my home office.
2. Hook up the microphone to the laptop which is connected to the Internet. I recommend using hard wire over wi-fi, to ensure that you get a steady data quality. The Rapsberry Pi has an ethernet port, as well as Wi-Fi.
3. For solo casts, fire up audacity and start recording into it. XYZ site has a good tutorial on using Audacity for recording.
4. If your show has more than one participant, you will have to fire up Chrome browser, and set up an account with either Zencastr. There is a good video on How To Use Zencastr.
Does the Setup Work?
Sample recording on Raspberry Pi3 + Audacity (Raw Audio). I recorded this sample in the studio that I just described.
You can listen to a sample recorded on Zencaster here
Why Not Skype?
Without getting into the technicalities, Skype does not work on a Raspberry Pi3. You can find discussion on this topic by running a google search. I found this article to be useful for using Skype for video recording
Summing it all up
I am a firm believer that recording quality audio does not have to come at a high cost. I have written about it in the past, and now I want to share my learnings with others. I learnt from others’ experience, and it is my time to give back by sharing my experiences with my homemade studio.