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  • Tom Kelly

1. The Mandatory Mindset for Producing Great Podcast Audio

Often times in life, the only thing holding you back from achieving greatness is yourself. I find this true to be for audio. In podcasting, there is this culture I can't quite wrap my head around that seems to always be aiming for the bottom. "Don't buy that nice microphone what you can totally get away with this $17 karaoke microphone from Radio Shack". Does that place still exist? Why are we trying so hard to get away with the minimal effort? This hack-a-thon mentality can be fun in some situations, but it shouldn't be the GOAL when you're obtaining your podcasting equipment.

What I'm trying to encourage is the mindset of aiming for the top, and working your way down if you're not quite ready for the "big leagues". There's PLENTY of great middle-of-the-road equipment out there that is very easy on the bank account, but it's important to note that one of the biggest factors in audio quality is the experience and skills of the person capturing and producing the audio. I can be wearing the best basketball shoes known to man, but Michael Jordan in loafers will still wipe the floor with me.

So where does that leave us? I believe the mentality we ALL need to have is to fully understand the value of proper equipment, to buy the best equipment we can afford at the time, and regardless of what hardware you use, you should learn how to use it properly. It's really as simple as that. Strive to learn more, to do better, and get the best results you can with the equipment you have available to you.

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My Signal Chain


Audio Interface: Apogee Ensemble

Microphone: Shure SM7b

XLR Cable: Handmade...


IzoTope RX6 De-Mouth Click

FabFilter ProQ3

Waves LinMB

Waves Vocal Rider

IzoTope RX6 Voice De-Noise

Waves L2 Limiter

Waves WLM Meter

Waves Durrough Meter

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For more info, or to ask any questions, check out my website and reach out to


Full Transcript:

What is going on everybody? My name is Tom Kelly, This is Clean Cut Audio, and before we officially launch this podcast later this month, we need to get a few things out of the way. We, my friends, desperately need to talk about the mindset and the culture in podcasting, especially in the way that it relates to audio.

As I already alluded to, this is not the official launch. I'm not sure of a specific date, but if you follow me on Instagram @cleancutaudio, I will definitely be posting a little bit more about when the launch is set to happen, a few teasers along the way. I'm going to launch with a ton of episodes so that there's something you're interested in on day one.

As I've mentioned many times on my YouTube channel, I transitioned from the music production world where audio producers are obsessive about the sounds that they capture and the way they mix them afterwards. There is no shyness of spending ungodly amounts of money on one specific tool that will help the low end of your bass guitar sound 3% better on this one specific bass, and hey, it might've cost $4,000, but I was really aiming for that last 3%.

Now, we don't have to spend this kind of money in podcasting. We are extremely lucky that we can get away with very few, very inexpensive and oftentimes free tools. What I want to relay is that obsessive nature of audio production that comes in music that I really fail to see from a lot of podcasters, and even a lot of podcast editors and producers.

Again, I'm not advocating for you to spend a lot of money. I have not. I have a relatively humble setup in my home studio, but the focus is on the overall quality. However, I find myself coming up against this problem in podcasting where people seem to be aiming for the bottom. For example, someone in a Facebook group asked, "Hey, I'm looking to spend up to $300 to upgrade my microphone. What should I get?" And the number of responses from people saying, "Oh, don't spend $300 you know, I have this $40 microphone from Radio Shack and it works just fine" actually outnumbered the number of suggestions where people were trying to get into this person's price range because they were clearly looking to upgrade. They were clearly looking to enhance their sound. And I don't think I've ever been in a niche that is so encouraging of trying so little and spending so little. It is really confusing for me, to be totally honest, why people don't strive to be the best. They're striving to get away with the worst, almost.

It's almost like this kind of weird hack-a-thon of who can do the most with the least. Which, hey man, there's some honor in that as well, but I don't think if people are asking for help to upgrade their sound, they should be encouraged to actually downgrade. Now I can already hear some of you rolling your eyes cause I know that often in podcasting at conferences, in the hallways on Facebook groups, people say that audio is not as important as the content, as the marketing, as consistency and social engagement, all that stuff. And here's what I have to say. I do not disagree with you. Let me answer a few questions...

Can your podcast receive downloads? Can it receive a whole lot of downloads without good audio? Yes. Can you get sponsors to pay you for your content without good audio? Yes, if the content is good. Can you go your whole life without giving a single sh*t about audio? Absolutely. You can. I know many people that do, and they are very successful podcasters. But if you find yourself asking these questions and wanting to challenge me on these things, this is not the podcast for you. I'm not here to say, yeah, audio is good, but... content!

You know, there's so many podcasts out there that talk about the content. They talk about the marketing, they talk about the workflow, the systems, the processes. This is not that podcast. The only thing I will ever talk about on this podcast about podcasting is very specifically audio for podcasting. I do not believe that audio is the most important factor in podcasting, but it is the most important thing to me, and this is my podcast, so we will only talk about the audio.

This show is specifically for people who are looking to do one thing and do it well, increase the audio quality of their show. Now, I do encourage you to also get better at marketing and your systems and your workflows, in regards to getting the podcast and all its supplemental content out. We will be talking about audio workflows as well, but that's a different thing. I just really want to be clear. This is not a podcast about podcasting. This is a podcast about podcast audio. That's it. Nothing more. So with that out of the way, let's get into a couple of things here.

There's a common word that I really want to draw to your attention, and I want to warn you against people that use this word. The word is "overkill". A lot of people in podcasting forums use this word when they're discouraging someone from spending an amount of money that they think is unnecessary. Now, here's the thing with audio production, you get what you pay for. I mean, as you start spending more and more money, there are diminishing returns, but everything that you use to record and mix a signal is called a signal chain. Microphone, XLR cables, interface, converters, preamps, all of that stuff. It's a chain. And as with all chains, it is only as strong as its weakest link. So you can have an $18,000 microphone going through a $50 interface, and now that $50 interface has degraded the quality of that great microphone.

So across the board, you want to get the best equipment that you can afford at the time because you don't want to buy a $20 microphone and then upgrade to a $40 a microphone and then upgrade to a $60 microphone, then upgrade to $100 microphone. You've now just spent close to $300. It would have been preferable if you saved up a little bit longer and got that hundred dollar microphone from the beginning.

Now again, I know that money is a weird thing and we don't always have as much as we need at all times, myself included, but, it will save you in the long run. But definitely don't not do a podcast because you don't have the ideal equipment you want at the time. You should at least be striving to always do better and always sound better.

Now, I'm not advocating that you stretch yourself too thin. Spend money. You don't have load up a credit card or anything like that, but the mindset that I want people to start thinking with is to start at the top rather than at the bottom. And what I mean by that is look at the two or three microphones that are regarded as the Holy grail of podcasting or broadcast microphones.

You have the Shure SM7b, which I record on. You have the RE20 or the Heil PR40 or other microphones of that nature. These microphones range from $400 to $450. Now Again, the fact that this is Holy grail is outstanding because in music production, in vocal production, Holy grails are five figures. You're spending $18,000 for a vintage AKG C12 vacuum tube mic. A decent microphone starts at $1,500 and mid range is about $3000. So our Holy grails at $400, while that's more money than most people have to just throw around, in terms of audio, we are very lucky that it is that "affordable" compared to the rest of the audio production world. I want that to be clear as well.

Now we look at the top. If you don't have $450 to spend, okay, what's the next tier down? Maybe now we're looking at RE320's which are around $300 or so. That might be closer to your price range, but if not, you need something a little bit cheaper. All right. Now we're looking at possibly Sennheiser e835's, Shure SM58's in the $100 price range, and maybe that's something you can afford. Awesome, g`rab the Shure SM58 or the e835 if you want a little more brightness, a little more sparkle in your voice. But, with this exercise of starting at the top, we look at what we have to strive for, what we have left to achieve if you want to eventually get up to those microphones. But by working our way down, we now have the best piece of equipment that we can afford rather than just grabbing the cheapest equipment because it is the cheapest.

To recap all that long-windedness, what I'm saying is we should be striving for the best we can do, not the cheapest we can do. There are microphones that can fit any price range, and if you can only afford a $40 microphone, then that's fine. Then buy it. I'm not advocating that you spend all your money, because here's the other important part of audio production. A very skilled audio engineer can do more with a $40 microphone than an unskilled audio engineer can do with an $18,000 microphone. Really what all of this sound comes down to is education, maybe a little bit of experience, tour room in microphone technique. This is a different episode, but again, going back to that signal chain, your sound is only as good as the weakest component of the signal chain.

Two components of the signal chain are your room at the very beginning and your ears at the very end. A lot of people forget about the ears. Anyone can make great audio sound bad if they do not have good ears and they don't have good mixing intuition. So if you can only afford that cheaper microphone, that's great, but really learn how to use it. Learn the ins and outs of the microphone, learn its shortcomings, and hop into Facebook group and , don't ask anyone. Ask specifically for an audio engineer or an audio professional to help you get the most out of this microphone. Because I could be the one wearing Air Jordans, the professional basketball shoes, but I will never beat Michael Jordan in a match even if he's wearing loafers. The shoes can help, but they don't really matter.

It's all about the skill. It's all about the experience, and I personally believe a lot of it is about the mindset. How much do you want to accomplish in terms of your sound? I think if you're listening to this show, you want to accomplish a lot because the show is only about sound. You wouldn't be dedicating your time to this podcast if you didn't truly care.

So, I applaud you for being here and again, I still have a lot to learn in audio. I'm not where I want to be. I've been doing this for 10 years and I really, really have a lot left to learn. So to sum this whole thing up, what are we going to do? We're going to avoid taking advice from people that use the word "overkill". That is a red flag. Now, if someone is recommending 128 channel SSL board that costs a quarter million dollars, sure, that's overkill for your two person podcast. But if someone's saying that a $100 microphone, a $200 microphone is overkill, that is not a person to listen to if you are looking for sound engineering advice. And the last thing is to just really strive for the best. Aim for the top and work your way down if you're not there yet, rather than just immediately aiming for the bottom.

I think that there's a lot of good work that can be done with very middle of the road equipment. You don't need the highest of the highest end stuff. But, the mindset should be to always try your best and do your best with what you have, regardless of what you can afford. It's all about education. It's all about training your ears, and in this podcast, we will be training our ears. So if you feel like you don't really know where to go yet, stick around. I'm going to launch this podcast with a ton of episodes, like more than is recommended just to have some good stuff ready for you out of the gate.

We're going to start with my signal chain. What am I using, and then I'm going to play around with effects a little bit in real time to show how you can make a sound better or how, if you don't really know what you're doing, how easily you can make this sound worse. I'm going to talk about some of my insecurities in mixing so you know that if you feel unsure or uncertain of the way your podcast sounds, I do too.

I worry every day that what I'm putting out doesn't sound great. I'm monitoring my audio as I'm talking right now and I'm thinking, "Oh my God, is it a little bit too much high end? Do I need a little less 150Hz like..." There's a lot of uncertainty, it's subjective, it's a lot of training, a lot of ear training, and a lot of listening exercises. But, this can be a really fun thing with the right attitude.

So stick around for the official launch of this podcast and follow me on Instagram @cleancutaudio to get updates on this show, when it's going to launch, and some teasers of unreleased episodes, and I'm going to be trying to get some really cool partnerships going. Most of the announcements will be found on my Instagram. That will be the best resource for this show.

You can also check out to find all the resources mentioned in this episode, to find past episodes, and that's where you'll find all the future episodes as well. If you have a friend that is podcasting and they want better audio, please share this podcast with them. I want to help you, I want to help your friends, I want to help everyone I know and everyone that I don't yet know. The best way for podcasts to sound better is if we all get better together. This is not something that we can do in isolation, especially if we're trying to change the culture of podcasting and encourage higher standards of audio. This is not something I can do alone. It's not something I wish to do alone. I want to do it with all of you. I want to help your show sound better. I want you to help my show sound better and have better content. So it would mean an awful lot if you share this show with a friend, and if you're feeling generous, feel free to rate and review it in Apple Podcasts or Overcast or anywhere that you are listening.

It may not do a lot for discovery, but it is social proof. So when people are trying to find a good podcast to listen to, they're going to see a lot of great reviews and they're going to put their faith in this show and possibly hit subscribe.

So, here is your homework. Identify every component in your signal chain. Look at your microphone. Look at your XLR cables, your interface, or mixer. Your USB cables from the interface to the mixer. What is going on inside your computer, your compression settings, your eq settings, de-essers, gates, limiters. How are you bouncing down your MP3s. What is the bit rate? What is your sample rate? What kind of headphones are you listening on? What kind of speakers or monitors are you listening on and what is your environment like? While you're recording and while you're listening to these episodes, every component in your signal chain is equally as important because one bad component will take down all of the good ones.

So take stock of every tool that you have, write it down in a list, and that's it. We're not analyzing yet. Just make sure you know everything in your signal chain and we're going to take it from there. Thank you so much for listening, guys. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel for some more tutorials and deep dives of tools, mixing exercises, and workflow tips, and I will see you all later.

Thanks so much. Bye.



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