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PodSchool Podcast | Do you need a mixer for your podcast?

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Mixer for audio

Are you making things too complicated? 

Buying the right equipment when you’re starting a podcast can be confusing and it’s easy to get stuff you don’t need.  Like a mixer.

So, if you haven’t bought your podcasting gear yet and you think you might need a mixer let’s make sure you’re buying one for the right reasons.

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What does a mixer do?

As the name suggests a mixer takes a bunch of different audio elements and mixes them down into one track that can be recorded on your computer.

The different elements (or ‘inputs’) are determined by you, depending on what you need and what your mixer will allow.  Then all of the different inputs are controlled via faders.

You could plug in microphones (one per fader), attach your phone to record callers.  Or you could plug in your computer and play audio from YouTube.

The possibilities are endless and it allows you to add interesting elements to your show while you’re recording rather than adding everything in post.

Do you need to edit your podcast?

Read

Some common reasons people think they need a mixer…

They want to record their podcast on a computer

In this case, you don’t actually need a mixer you need a USB microphone.

If you’re planning to record your show directly onto audio editing software all you need is a way to get your voice into that software.  The easiest way to do that is by plugging a microphone into your computer via the USB port.

If you’re planning on using more than one microphone, be warned, it’s not as simple as plugging two mics into two USB ports.  It should be but unfortunately, computers weren’t designed with podcasters in mind.  So it takes some configuring to get both microphones to register.

But if you’re just looking to record yourself or you’re going to be chatting to guests or your co-host via Skype or Zencastr all you need is a USB mic, not a mixer.

How to record a podcast with people in different locations

Read

They bought an XLR microphone

Now we’re getting closer to “I need a mixer” territory but it’s still not essential.

If you bought an XLR mic and you plan to record your podcast directly into audio editing software on your computer you will need a way to turn the analogue signal into a digital one.  A mixer can do this but if that’s the only reason you need one, it might be easier to get an audio interface (DAI).

An audio interface doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a mixer but it can connect your XLR mic to your computer via USB port.

Or if you have a Zoom you can use that as an audio interface as well as a portable recorder which is a good way to get more bang for your buck.

What’s the difference between USB & XLR microphones?

Read

They want more control over their audio 

Now we’re talking.  In this case, you probably DO need a mixer.

Mixers come with a lot more features than your standard mic or recorder and you can play around with things like EQ and low pass filters.

If you don’t know what any of those things are then buying a mixer for your podcast could be a waste of money.  But, if you do have decent audio skills or you just want to experiment, a mixer will give you more control over the audio you record.

How to make editing easier when you’re recording a podcast

Read

They want to add interesting audio to their show 

If you’re looking to add audio texture to your show with callers, stings or other sounds you can do this with a mixer. 

You can also do this by recording those elements and adding them after your record in the edit.  In fact, if you’re new to podcasting I’d stick to putting this stuff in when you’re editing.

This is because when you’re getting comfortable behind the mic and improving your presenting it’s better to be in the moment than lost in the knobs and faders of a mixer trying to play sound effects.

If you’re a pro at recording audio then go for your life, but if you’re starting out, it’s best to focus on doing the best show possible and put all the fancy stuff in later.

Do you need a podcast intro and outro?

Read

They want to record a live show

This is the one scenario you’ll definitely need a mixer.

This is because you’ll want everything to play out live as you’re recording e.g. you might play your intro music as the show begins then fade it down as you introduce your show over the top of it.

Maybe you want to play some audio to your audience or take a call from one of your listeners?

To do this you’ll need a mixer although in this situation you’d ideally have an audio person at the venue twiddling the knobs and recording for you.

How to record a podcast

Read

Still keen on a mixer?  Here are some things to consider…

Don’t buy a cheap one

One of the annoying things about cheap mixers is they tend to come with a feature no one wants – an irritating hissing sound.  In fact, the more technology you add to the recording process the more potential for hums, buzzing, hisses and general noise which isn’t great.

You don’t have to spend thousands to get something good but I’d avoid anything under $100-150 (unless you get a solid recommendation).

The four things you need to start a podcast

Read

Faders give you more control over audio than knobs

Some mixers will come with faders (the long sliders) and others will come with knobs (volume dials like you’d have on a radio).

As a general rule faders give you more control over volume.  And when you’re recording audio it’s useful to be able to make subtle changes to the levels.

This isn’t a deal breaker if there’s a mixer in your budget you like with knobs.  But it’s good to know because it’s always a good idea to have as much control over levels as possible.

Why you need to wear headphones on your podcast

Read

Not all mixers plug into your computer

If you’re buying a mixer and you want to record your podcast directly onto a computer make sure you buy a mixer with a USB output.  If you don’t get that you’ll need another audio interface in between your mixer and your computer to connect them up.

Unless you love cords going everywhere and using more equipment than you need it’s best to avoid this situation.

What are the best podcast microphones?

Read

So, what mixer should I get?

This is a tough question to answer because it will depend on personal preference and what you need it for.  So, make sure you do your research.

But, if you’re looking for a mixer designed specifically for podcasting check out the RODECaster Pro.

RODECaster Pro

Photo: RODE.com

It’s slightly different to a traditional mixer in that it has touch pads so you can upload audio including stings and sound effects that you regularly use in your show. 

It’s also got pre-assigned settings that can help you get the best possible sound out of your mic even if you don’t know much about audio.  And you can link up devices like your phone via Bluetooth so you can record audio or include callers in your show.

If you’re really keen on being able to utilise the great functions of a mixer but you’re not an audio expert this is a great option because it’s been designed with first time (and experienced) podcasters in mind.

And there you have it!

A few things to consider when you’re thinking about whether you need a mixer.

When you’re starting out it’s always best to keep things simple but if you’re a ‘balls to the wall’ type who wants to jump in the deep end hopefully this will help you make a more informed decision.

Got a burning question you’d like answered on the podcast? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for my online podcasting course, PodSchool.

Got some time on your hands? Read the full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to the show. I'm wondering whether there's something in the podcasting waters at the moment because I've received quite a few emails over the last couple of weeks about mixers from people who are just starting out with their podcast. Some of them have purchased mixers, some of them are wondering if they should. So, I thought it might be a good time to do an episode on mixers to tell you a little bit about what they do and why you would need one.

There's only a few reasons you might need a mixer. The first is if you have analog microphones. Those are the microphones with the XLR plugs - the three pronged plugs rather than a USB cable. If you're recording into a computer not an external recording device that has an input for your XLR mic you need to get the sound from your mic into your computer. You can't plug the little three prong plug in there. So often people will use a mixer as the bit in between and you can plug that three-pronged plug into the mixer. And then plug the mixer into the computer. There's also a thing called a digital audio interface which can be just a simple way of getting the sound from your analog microphone into your computer. But if that is all you are using a mixer for I would advise you get an audio interface or alternatively that you get a recording device like a Zoom where you can record directly on it. It also allows you to have control over the levels of each of the microphone but you don't have to have the complexity of a mixer.

The other reason somebody might use a mixer is if they want to have multiple channels of inputs. So maybe you want a whole bunch of different microphones. The limitation of using a USB microphone is that you can only use one even if you've got multiple USB ports. To get more mics to register you've got to do a bit of audio configuring so what a mixer can do is allow you to have multiple microphones. You can also use the channels to plug other things in, so you might want to use one channel to plug in an iPad that you use for sound effects as you're doing a show. You might want to use another one to plug your phone in so that you can take phone calls or have Skype there. You might want another one to plug your PC so that you can play YouTube videos as you go. The reason you would do that is if you were doing things a bit more live. So, this is actually a good thing to have if you're doing your shows live on stage in front of an audience. There are not going to just record the raw audio of you or you and your cohosts talking and then edit stuff in later. If you are doing a live show you're going to want all of that stuff to actually play live.

So, if you had intro music that you wanted to play and then you were going to start talking over the top of that intro music and then halfway through you play an audio clip that you're going to refer to and then maybe you take a call from somebody. If you wanted to put all of those elements into your show and record it as it's happening, you would certainly need a mixer. A mixer will allow you to have all those different things on different channels and play them at the same time and record the output of that.

Chances are if you're just starting out you're not going to need anything that complex. So, if you bought a mixer or you're just thinking about buying a mixer because you think that's how you plug a microphone into a computer that's not actually the case. As you're getting more comfortable with audio and if you want a bit more control over what you do and you want to run things a bit more "live" e.g. play your intro music and talk over the top of it as you're recording then that's when you'd need a mixer. Or maybe you want to play audio from a YouTube clip and comment on it in the show. Again, that's where a mixer would come in handy.

If you get to the point where you want to do that sort of stuff a mixer will certainly come in handy but I advise when you're just starting out to record your audio cold and put those elements in, in the edit. Because what having a mixer does is that it adds a level of complexity that means that your mind is on the mixing panel rather than on your show.

When you're just starting out it's always better to be in the moment with your co-host or your guest and then worry about all of those bells and whistles later.

Of course, one of the other reasons to have a mixer is to have control over the audio. You'll notice there are a lot of knobs on the console and they'll give you control over things like EQ but if you're just starting out that's more of an audio engineer’s domain. As you start to get more familiar with audio you can play around with that kind of stuff but when you're starting out it's much easier to just use a USB mic.

Alternatively, if you already have an analog microphone or that's what you want to purchase and you're going to be out and about doing interviews it might be best to buy a portable recording device like a Zoom. Then you can plug your XLR mics directly into that and either record on the device or plug it into your computer.

If you desperately want a mixer there are some things you should consider. The first is don't buy a cheap one. One of the things I've noticed a lot online is that people who've bought cheap mixers say there's a "hiss" that comes along with it. So, when you plug your microphones in there's a base level of sound and you want that to be silence. But often with cheap mixers there'll be a hiss you can't get rid. So, you don't want to scrimp when you're buying a mixer.

The other thing to think about is faders (the sliding things on the console) will give you more control over the audio than knobs. Now there are a bunch of other things you should think about as well so make sure you do your research. But the other thing you should be mindful of is that not all mixes have a USB plug. If you want to record onto your computer, you'll need a mixer with a USB cord otherwise you'll need to buy another device to hook your mixer up to your computer and then you'll have 700 pieces of equipment when all you needed was a microphone.

So, those are some things to consider if you're thinking about using a mixer. Don't over complicate it. At the start, really you want to focus on the content, learning how to present, getting comfortable behind the microphone, working well with a co-host or nailing your interviews. To focus on these things, it's best if you don't have the distraction of a million faders in front of you. Having a mixer can add a level of complication that you don't need when you're a beginner.

If you're thinking of recording a live show you might need a mixer because you'll want things to play out live but if you're just recording things to put online it's easier to record your audio and then edit in the bells and whistles later.

Thanks so much for joining me for this episode. If you're finding these tips useful I would love it if you left me a review in your favorite podcast app. You can find the show notes where I'll put links to microphones that I recommend at PodSchoolPodcast.com. Just type "mixer" into the search bar and they'll pop up. I'll see you next week and until then, happy podcasting.

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WANT TO START A PODCAST BUT HAVE NO IDEA HOW? THIS GUIDE TAKES YOU THROUGH ALL THE TOOLS AND TECH YOU NEED TO GET GOING!

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