There’s a subject that’s fairly taboo when it comes to podcasting: the spending of money. I haven’t met too many people who want to invest any money into new mics, new audio devices, or new software for their shows. This isn’t meant as an insult, but the attitude seems to be that if you are doing anything creative online, it shouldn’t cost you anything to do. I don’t agree with that idea, but starting out on the cheap is a good tactic, especially when you are uncertain if podcasting is for you. After that, if you are planning to stick around, maybe it’s time to spend a little bit of money on your setup.
Yes, we have computers that cost us a lot of money. Even my two and a half year old podcasting computer ran me upwards of two thousand dollars when I got it, and the only thing I use it for is audio. That’s a lot of money for the most basic of audio tools, not to mention the software to go with it.
And yes, I could have used Audacity to do my mixing (I do use it, for one simple function, but that is all), but I wanted something more user friendly with a few more options. Free is nice, but free doesn’t necessarily mean good. After messing around with Audacity, I think I have saved myself a ton of frustration and time investing in software (Logic) that helps me get more out of my editing time.
Podcasting is an art. At least, doing it well can make it into art. That means investing time into it, but also investing money when the time comes. You can’t paint without buying paint and brushes and canvases. You have to buy new strings for your guitar every so often. That is part of the cost of doing art.
I see three main reasons people don’t like to spend money on their podcasting setups:
Not knowing what to get:
We are not lacking for options. There is tons of audio equipment out there, but knowing what to get is the struggle. Everything is touted as being the best solution, everything has some new acronym that makes it record faster and better. I fully admit, I have a few microphones I wish I hadn’t bought. I have one more audio in/out box than I really need. I’ve wasted money trying different things that didn’t work for me, and would love nothing more than to have that money back.
I don’t what that to happen to you, especially when all you need is one or two things, and those things you buy need to work together. You don’t want to buy an audio i/o box and a mic, and find out you can’t use that mic with that box without another device to go in-between. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, which makes it even harder to pick the right solution.
The “Will I like podcasting” question”:
I don’t know anyone who knew, beyond any doubt, that they wanted to be a podcaster. Until you dive in and start podcasting, it’s hard to tell if you will like it. Being your own producer, talent, editor, manager, and web guru is a lot of work, and it isn’t for everyone. It’s hard to imagine the scope of what it takes to produce an independent podcast, until you jump in.
So who wants to spend money on that? Who wants all that gear collecting dust, staring back at you and asking why you two never get together any more? I wouldn’t want to. When I started blogging, I got a free Blogger account first, and waited six months to get a self hosted WordPress setup. I’m happy I did, and invested a little money later. Podcasting should be the same way.
Availability of funds:
If you don’t have the money, you don’t have much choice. There are many creative people who are the prime example of the starving artist, and even a $100 microphone looks expensive when you are deciding between eating and washing your clothes. I couldn’t afford to make a financial mistake when I was in the middle of my short-lived college career. There was no way I was going to spend any money on anything extraneous when I was eating spaghetti and ground turkey for a week, barely scraping together $250 a month for rent. Believe me, I understand.
So what do you do? If you want to spend a little money, where do you start? How do you justify it? What should you buy? These are more suggestions rather than rules, but I think they make a lot of sense.
Set a budget, and build on it –
How much do you want to spend? How much could you spend per month? Twenty dollars? Fifty? If you were buying a piece of equipment at a time, rather than a complete studio all at once, what would you be happy getting? And how much would it cost?
I would never advocate spending gobs and gobs (a technical term) of cash on gear. There isn’t any real need. NPR doesn’t need mics that cost over $3000, and you don’t need mics that cost $250. NPR DOES have mics that cost over $3000, but that is just how they roll. You and I can be a little more realistic about things.
Set a dollar amount, and stick to it. There are plenty of sites out there that can tell you how to achieve your financial goals, but cutting one or two things out of your spending may be all you need (drink your beer at home where it’s cheaper, buy one less book you will never read, use everything you buy, etc). After that, throw your change into a jar, and call it your podcasting fund. You could easily pay for your hosting each month that way, eliminating one more expense for your podcast. How much would a comfortable pair of headphones cost, and how long would it take to buy it with your change (answer: $69 and maybe two-three months)?
Buy a piece at a time –
There are several podcasting bundles out there that knock the price of gear down, but they aren’t always the best choice for your needs. Maybe the mic isn’t right, or it comes with a mixer and you need an individual in / out box. Chances are, you can live with building your studio (and I use that term as your recording space, not as a massive undertaking) a piece at a time, and using what you have while you build. Look for special deals, but keep away from pouncing on the cheapest available gear on sale. There may be a good reason it’s on sale in the first place.
Ask other podcasters what they use –
If there is a podcast you like that sounds really good to you, write them and ask them what they use. Unless they really don’t have the time, or are flooded with correspondence, they will usually get back to you. Ask several podcasters, so you can get a good feel of what the field is like. Chances are, they were in the same boat you are at some point.
I posted a page on one of my podcasts detailing what gear I use, with links to manufacturer pages or places to buy and review the gear. In the future here on Pod Geek, I hope to talk to other podcasters about their studios, what worked for them, and what didn’t. I would encourage you to great a studio page as well. You never know who you might help along the way.
Read reviews –
Take user reviews with a grain of salt, but if there are over-arching themes (hard to use, bad drivers, bad support), keep them in mind. Some reviewers will post their complaints about something they bought without reading the manual, quick start guide, or before trying to really understand what their equipment does.
Most professional reviews for audio equipment is geared towards musicians. That’s the market that’s large enough to support the magazines and websites that review the equipment, and it’s where most of the gear is going. Keep this in mind when someone tells you a piece of gear will work for any application. Your needs may not fit into their definition of everything.
Buy for need, not want –
I have some buyer’s remorse for things I have bought. I recently bought a $100 handheld flash recorder that isn’t seeing enough use, and a $100 headphone amp that doesn’t do what I wanted (or needed) it to do. It bugs me that I went out and wasted my money on them. I don’t need these things, and had I sat down and resisted the urge to buy them, I would have a little more money in my pocket to invest in what I really want (a firewire mixer). I can’t use twelve mics, but have at least that many. I could do just fine with four or five of the right mics. Mics are great to have kicking around, and variety in microphones is a good thing, but if I were buying to satisfying need rather than want, I would have made a few smarter decisions along the way. I have no need for a dozen mics when I can only use four at a time, or two in the field. Had I thought about it this way, I would have saved my money.
Hopefully, my mistakes can save you a few dollars when it comes time to spend your money.
Consider your money spent on your podcasting rig an investment, and that should be the best guiding factor for you. Rather than go entirely on the cheap, think about what you would like to make better for yourself, and what direction that leads you. After that, it’s time to shop a little.