When recording a podcast, background noise can be a problem if you don’t know how to reduce or eliminate it. No one wants to playback a recorded interview and hear their furnace kick on and run. You might think, “Wait! I didn’t hear the furnace when I was recording.” And you might not have because a microphone will pick up sounds that you might not hear, or that you’re so accustomed to hearing, you don’t hear it.
That’s why having a room that’s as noise-free as possible is crucial to podcasting, and why I am going to show you how to soundproof a room for podcasting in this article. You don’t want to spend time removing background noises, or you might not have the equipment to do it, and that means hiring a professional or maybe even scheduling a re-interview, both of which cost time and money.
What can you do to soundproof your room? Let’s take a look.
What is soundproofing?
Before we begin with the application of soundproofing, let’s take a moment to discuss what it really means. Soundproofing is the process of applying materials and methods to absorb, reflect, dampen, or deaden sound. It can be as simple as putting a towel under your door to quiet outside noise, or as complicated as installing acoustic paneling.
Sound can come from many different places and interrupt a perfectly good recording, It’s imperative that you take the time to make sure any unwanted noises aren’t going into the mix. Trying to edit out microphone bumps, air conditioning fans, car horns, people talking, and low-frequency rumbles can be a complete nightmare in post-production; which can end up costing valuable time and money.
Soundproofing vs. Acoustic Treatment
Whenever sound leaves a source, like your voice, it travels outward in waves. These waves go out in all directions and are either absorbed into a material or reflected back into another direction. If there isn’t much to absorb the sound, you get many waves bouncing all around the room. Those waves can then come back into your microphone at different times and angles, causing major problems for your audio.
Think for a moment of a time you were in a completely empty room with a hard floor, like hardwood flooring or tile. Whenever you talk in a room like this, you hear a lot of echo and reverberation, or the collection of echos combined together.
For a world-class symphony, this provides a beautiful sound as the instruments’ waves mingle and create a more majestic tone. But for a podcast, the reverb is disruptive and unpleasant to the person on the other end listening. You want nice, clear audio that is crisp and free of echo so that the listener can have the best experience possible.
Soundproofing is when you take necessary measures to remove or cancel out any of that unwanted sound. Acoustic treatment, on the other hand, is when you want to improve the sound. This usually takes into account what the final audio should be like and works towards that goal. Examples could include strategically placing acoustic panels that not only remove unwanted sound but also reflect and redirect the sound in the desired way to produce a certain vocal tonality.
5 Steps to a Better Sound
To set up your home or studio for recording, there are some considerations that you will want to make ahead of time. Thinking about the room you will be recording in, the layout, what’s in it, and other factors can play an important role in how the quality of your podcast comes out. Take a moment to assess where you will be recording, and what steps you can take for the best possible show.
1. Pick the Right Room
You’ll want to record in a smaller room rather than a big, open room if that is an option for you. This will prevent reverb and echo that can occur when sound waves bounce off of walls and high ceilings. The smaller the room, the less chance of background noise you’ll pick up.
Given the option, you’d be best to pick a moderately sized room that doesn’t have a lot of hard, flat surfaces like windows and doors. If the room is empty, you will need to fill it up to absorb some of the sounds or you will need to treat it appropriately with equipment and other items listed later on in this article.
Closets are a good choice if you are on a budget because the closet provides limited space for sound waves to bounce around. Typically, they are the least noisy rooms in the house because they are secluded from the main areas. Also, closets are usually full of soft clothing and odd-shaped objects that can really help soak up some of those sound waves. One thing that you do want to be cautious about is that since closets are so small, they can pick up extra sound if your voice is bouncing off objects right next to you.
When choosing the best place to record, you will also need to make the decision if you want your setup to be permanent or not. If you have the extra room, creating a dedicated recording space with soundproof paneling, proper acoustic treatment, and all of your gear set up and ready to go is the best option. Otherwise, you might need to put up and take down your soundproofing materials, or you could opt for a portable podcasting isolation booth if that is in your budget and makes sense for what you want to do.
2. Treat Hard and Flat Surfaces
There isn’t much more that will cause you huge problems when recording than hard, flat surfaces. These conditions make it perfect for audio to reflect off of and get back into your mix. You need to spend the time and money to eliminate as many hard and flat surfaces as possible to get the best possible recording that you can. Some areas you can always improve include:
- Walls – The last thing that you want in your room while recording is hard, flat, and parallel walls. This creates the perfect situation for echo and reverb to run rampant around the room, so it’s best to put something on the walls to cancel out the waves. Soundproof foam and acoustic paneling are best, but really anything attached to the walls to break up the surface will work including pictures, bookshelves, and even a blanket hung attached to the wall.
- Floors – Hardwood floors might look great, but when you’re recording a podcast, you’ll want them covered to avoid echoing. This goes for any type of flooring other than carpet or rugs, including tile, vinyl, and paneling. You can choose to add wall-to-wall carpeting to your sound studio or purchase an area rug that will cover all or most of the room. You won’t need an expensive area rug, just something to prevent sound from bouncing up from the floor.
- Ceilings – High, vaulted ceilings always pose a risk for recording. They’re hard to get to and create a great place for sound to bounce and come back to your microphone. If you can, treat your ceilings with paneling or at the very least try to hang something up like a sheet or tapestry. Even a flat and soft fabric will do better than a bare, flat ceiling.
- Doors – You’ll need to take care of any cracks or crevices that can let in sound. Most doors aren’t flush to the floor, so you’ll want to cover the crack with something. A towel will work or you can buy products to help seal doors and block the area underneath the door. Be sure to take note of how thick the door is too. A very thin door will be much more susceptible to letting in unwanted noise than a thick wood door.
- Windows – There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a podcast interview, and someone pulls up in a car outside and blasts their horn or the neighbor’s dog starts barking. Windows are also hard and flat which makes them perfect objects for sound to bounce off of. If you must be in a room with windows, you’ll definitely want to get noise-reducing drapes. They aren’t overly expensive, and if you can’t find them or afford them, get a ceiling-to-floor drape that’s insulated. You can purchase them new, and sometimes you can find good ones at a yard sale.
- Other Surfaces – Take a look around the room and figure out what other surfaces might be causing problems. Anything from a full-body mirror to a china cabinet with glass panels can cause problems. Remove these items from the room if possible or at least try to cover them up.
3. Eliminate Unwanted Noise
When soundproofing your studio, you will want to listen for any other unwanted noise. The best way to do this is to set up a microphone and record a couple of minutes of audio. When you listen back, you’ll be amazed at what your microphone picks up.
Check for any other sound entry-points, and be sure to eliminate them. Computer fans, ceiling fans, A/C vents, furnaces, and other electronic devices can seep into your final mix. As microphones will pick up the sound of a furnace or air conditioner, turn them off if feasible. If not, shut any vents in the room. If the vents don’t close, cover them with something while recording so that you don’t have a continuous humming sound in the background. Remember, you might not hear your furnace, but your microphone will.
4. Choose the Best Equipment
Aside from treating the room itself, you will want to make sure that you have the best possible setup for podcasting to reduce editing in post. Make sure that you research the best gear for your particular setup, as different types of microphones and other equipment can have a serious impact on your final output.
- Microphone – No doubt, the most important piece of any podcast is the device that captures the sound. Without a good microphone, no amount of soundproofing and acoustic treatment in the world can make your show sound better. Invest in a good microphone up front, but also do proper research. Most people go out and buy a microphone based on a recommendation, but they never stop to ask themselves if it’s the right microphone for the job. For starters, condenser microphones, though they tend to have superior audio quality, are typically more sensitive than dynamic microphones. A poorly treated room will pick up a lot more echo in a condenser microphone than a dynamic one.
- Pop Filter – Soundproofing is all about removing unwanted sound and so I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention getting a good pop filter or at least a foam ball for your microphone. These help remove harsh “plosives” like the B’s and P’s that you say when speaking by providing an absorption-like material in between you and the mic.
- Shock Mount – The shock mount holds the microphone in place but its main body is suspended with rubber bands. This allows the microphone to move freely and will keep you from picking up any loud pops when the microphone is hit. IF a guest accidentally bumps the table during an interview, the microphone will just sway with the rubber bands and not get picked up in the recording.
5. Time Your Recordings
It always amazes me at how many people go through all the trouble of soundproofing their room but never stop to think for a minute about what time of day they’re going to record. Though interview times and schedules dictate a lot of when to record, you should at least plan your recording times appropriately.
If you are recording at home, make sure you are doing it when you can have quiet time in the studio. Interruptions from your family or other personal obligations can really hinder your workflow and possibly ruin a great take. Politely let your spouse, children, friends, or roommates know what time you need for recording so they know the expectations and you can record in peace.
Also, be aware of what is going on outside of the studio. Too many times a podcaster will get everything set up and prepped to record only to find out that construction on a new house next door started the same day. Take the time to note when the garbage delivery truck comes, when your neighbor mows their lawn, or when the ice cream truck likes to roam your street. You may find out that 8 a.m. on a Monday is a very busy time for your town, but by 9 p.m. everyone is tucked away for the night and you can record with no interruptions.
Equipment for Soundproofing
Now that you know the fundamentals of soundproofing your studio for podcasting, let’s take a look at some equipment and materials that can help you out. The following list isn’t everything that you might need, but gives you some ideas and shows the basics of soundproofing.
These can have different names like acoustic foam, soundproofing foam, soundproof panels, and so on (even though soundproof panels are usually made from a different material than foam). They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The panels are usually square in shape and can be arranged in many different patterns to absorb and disperse the audio waves. You can affix the panels directly to the wall, or you can create frames to glue the panels to and then mount those frames on the wall instead.
Price: Under $20
Insulated acoustic blankets are specifically made so that they can be draped, hung, or thrown over anything that is making extra noise. They do a really good job at soaking up the sound and are great for a non permanent podcast studio setup. It’s also handy to have a couple of these to take with you on the road if you are doing interviews in the field. Once you interview someone in an untreated room, you’ll be glad you had some acoustic blankets to hang up. If you can’t afford acoustic blankets specifically for audio, any type of blanket with some insulation will be better than nothing.
Price: Under $100
Just like the acoustic blankets, these curtains are made for the sole purpose of treating a room for sound. Acoustic curtains not only serve the purpose of dampening out unwanted reverb, but they can look really great too and add a little pizazz to your show; especially if you’re doing a video podcast. Curtains can help block outside noise coming in from a window and they can prevent sound waves from bouncing off the flat surface of the window. Again, if you can’t afford special acoustic curtains, at least hang something up from your local retail store to help with the audio quality.
Price: Under $100
Door Sealing Kit
If you are in a situation where audio is coming in from another room, you might want to consider treating your doorway. A proper door sealing kit will make sure that there is an air-tight closure around the door frame. It usually comes with sealing strips and a sweep kit that goes under the door frame and blocks the opening that is usually the biggest culprit of letting outside noise in. These kits are pretty cheap but can go a long way in making sure you keep the wanted sound in and the unwanted sound out.
Price: Under $40
Isolation shields can be used by themselves or in conjunction with other soundproof treatments in the room like acoustic paneling. These shields are the same foam paneling, just bent around the area immediately in front of the microphone. This stops the audio immediately from escaping the confines of the microphone area and absorbs all those extra sound waves. The result is pretty amazing and can really boost your audio quality. If you can’t afford the other equipment in this list or want a more non permanent solution, then check out these isolation shields.
Price: Under $50
Podcast Isolation Booth
When asked the best method for controlling the sound and quality of your audio, there is no better option than an isolation booth. These smaller rooms are built from the ground up with audio quality, acoustic treatment, and soundproofing in mind. They provide room for someone to sit or stand, acoustic paneling around the whole room, connections for audio equipment, and typically a window to see out to a producer or editor. This is a great option for solo shows if you really want complete control over your sound, but wouldn’t be too ideal for a show with guests or co-hosts.
Price: Check Online
Getting the best sound for your show should be one of your top priorities as you grow. Some people like to start simple and not worry about soundproofing when they’re starting out, while others like to think of this before the first script is written. Either way, you will probably come to a point where you will want to know how to soundproof a room for podcasting if you want to take the show to a professional level.
By having the right equipment, thinking about the space you will be recording in, and being attuned to things going on outside of your studio, you will be lightyears ahead of other podcast shows. Even if you can’t do all of these or have a limited budget, see if there is a simple solution to treating the area you are in if you are having bad audio problems. Good luck and keep on getting your voice out into the world!