Recording a radio play

Hi there,

I’ve got a script, a cast of four, someone’s dining room with a nice big dining table to sit around, and a laptop.

I need to record the play on to my laptop. What other equipment do I need? If anyone can just point me to a starter guide then that would be a massive help, been googling like mad and are finding things really quite baffling.
Thanks in advance


There are no limits to the complexity we can generate with a question like that. I picture a nice sound mixer with monitoring and four microphones, etc.

However, before I start throwing part numbers, does your laptop have a built-in microphone? Have you ever used it to record anything? Does your laptop make noise while it’s running? Like periodic fan noises?

I would do a test where I put the laptop in the middle of the table, set Audacity to record the built in microphone and crank through the first several minutes of the play. You may find that the echo-y acoustics of the room – and especially that MetroBus outside the window will prevent you getting a good performance no matter what equipment you use.

Sound kills more performances than anything else, video or audio.

That’s a staged shot, but it’s not staged very much. That microphone (RCA 44BX) has sensitivity both front and back. The performers would walk up to one of the two faces and do their lines. It’s not unusual for a small group of people to do a whole show with that one mic.

You never said anything about music. Stingers, intro and outro, mood music. etc. do wonders for a show, although you can certainly put them in later in Audacity post production.

If you’re doing a soap opera, you have to use a Hammond organ or equivalent.


there are a number of ways depending on what quality you need, your budget, and how much work you want to put into it

how many people do you have? a “cast of 4” could be done by one voice over professional as they can do different voices.

then one mike with your pc (might be built in mike) would record
but would that quality be good enough?

what do you want to do with this when you are done?

your room may allow for external noise to be recorded too
it may have its own sound due to reflections from walls that is different than you might expect

that said one possibility assuming 4 people speaking and only a home quality recording with no commercial aspirations you could do this:

get a mixer for 4 mikes - about $100 or less
get 4 MXL990 condensor mikes or equivalent - total under $300
(could save money getting 4 sm58 Chinese lookalike mikes for about a third of the condensors)

get an external interface see this forum for reviews - under $100?

hook it up and record your play
$500 or less for kit you can use over, or you could rent something for less for a one-off

get an H2 by zoom - about $150
set it on the table and record using all 4 internal mikes
quality not quite as good as separate mikes closer to speakers
but a lot cheaper and easier
drag and drop the file from the zoom sd card into the pc
edit with audacity and burn your final cd

there are other approaches
if you dont like these should have info
not sure what you googled for but there is a lot of good info out there - books are mostly less useful as most of them are really bad
however the one by bruce bartlett might be worth checking out

What a fantastic prospect :slight_smile:

The two elements that you miss out are:

  1. This is:
    just for fun.
    for local hospital radio,
    a demo to catch the interest of a producer,
    the start of a new career in audio book publishing,
    a commercial project,
    … other.

  2. My budget is:
    less than $1
    under $10
    under $1oo
    under $1000
    under $10000
    (keep adding 0’s if you want to :wink:

<<<2) My budget is:
less than $1
under $10
under $1oo
under $1000
under $10000>>>

See? This is probably why you got lost so fast. Each one of those ascending steps gets you closer to a Network Studio Production – assuming that’s what you want.

I’d still do one one into the built-in microphone and then rip it apart for quality and problems – better, post it and let us rip it apart [sharpening claws].



This is me writing that down.


Marvelous stuff…thank you all for your interest.

Okay, bit of background; it’s a sitcom that I plan to release as a series of podcasts. Essentially, it’s for fun but I obviously have a dream that someone from the BBC will hear it and it gets played out on Radio 4.

I’ve tried it with laptop mic and it was rubbish, you could barely hear people speaking. Interestingly, I’ve been taping rehearsals on an Olympus Dictaphone and that seems alright to my untrained ears.

£100-£150 which I guess is $150-$220

A good option in that price range is a digital Dictaphone with a Conference Record setting. Probably something just like your Olympus. :unamused:

Other than that, it would be nice to get a microphone on each performer and use a mixer, but that’s going to be tough at this price point.
Does your Olympus have a Conference Record setting? If it does, could you record a 3 second audio clip with it set up as you would use it for the play, and upload it to the forum? It may be that your budget will be better spent on some other bits and pieces, such as some nice headphones for mixing the recordings.

I would go with the zooomH2 at that budget
4 mikes is good to record around a table
if the room is quiet you can get a decent recording
especially if you use a card table instead of a big dining room table

I would think if you want the beeb to pick it up
you would need broadcast quality not podcast quality

the olympus is good for voice with one person especially when close
but can it do 4 people around the table well, at a larger distance ?

to further complicate things
do you need any sound f/x ?


Not always. We’re generating a history of producers getting an idea from a “home” podcast and upgrading it to a formal theatrical release. It helps if you’re polished at the start, but not a requirement. You do have to be able to hear the production and it’s handy if it doesn’t sound like you’re recording in a echo-filled room.

So when do you post the sample? We work much better from a hard sample instead of working in a guesswork vacuum. You can Export the work as WAV for archive and then export it again as FLAC for posting here. FLAC is a gentle compressed format that doesn’t cause damage.


I’m reminded of a podcast we reviewed a while ago. I singled out one of the performers who clearly should not be doing theatrical voice work. The actor turned out to be the producer who wrote to us asking for help.

[Booming Kettle Drum Sound]

I told him as a theatrical actor, he was a terrific Producer.


When we get further on with this, I’m going to kill the dining room table idea. They’re very difficult to use without oddball sound effects because of wooden reflections and other noises. Plus, it kills multiple people using one microphone closely. Yes, you can do that with a mixing desk and multiple microphones in front of a sound-proof glass wall, but probably not starting out.


If using a conventional microphone, I’ll be agreeing with you, though I’ve heard some excellent voice recordings made using a PZM placed flat on the centre of a table. Admittedly it was a rather expensive PZM microphone (and a very solid table) and the room was acoustically treated. With a conventional microphone (or a “Zoom H2” or similar device) the problems are from picking up vibrations and picking up reflections from the table.

too bad radio shack doesnt sell that cheap pzm anymore

reflections could be a concern except that this is a diy rollyourown
homebrew podcast not a professional production
i would worry more about the performers timing and voice changes
cell phones, HVAC, refrigerator, kids yelling, yada yada

It’s those “yaddas” that kill you.

I wish I had a better idea what they were doing. Some shows kill production tools immediately because of physical limitations.

But yes, I have wrapped a conventional microphone in multiple layers of flannel (Duvetyne) and left it in the middle of the table with its nose sticking out. As long as nobody drums their fingers or slaps the script around, it can work out very well. The microphone doubles sensitivity and you cut off half the room noise (the downward part). PZMs are just a formalized construction of the idea. As ElecroVoice points out, any microphone will work and they make special foam “Stage Mice” to hold the microphone just up from the floor.

There’s a reason classic radio shows were produced standing up. There’s room to hold your script and you approach the microphone and leave as your part dictates. There are a lot of productions who would rather open a vein than type a formal script. Those shows are a nightmare to capture. We have shot movies like that and the whole crew goes home tense and soaking wet from the effort of shooting actors who themselves have no idea what they’re going to do minute to minute. It’s not fun.


Hmmm. Olympus recorder. Two possible problems. Voice recorders tend to have custom fidelity curves because most people want a clear, not necessarily pleasant voice. Some of the microphones are directional.

Try putting the Olympus on two or three layers of folded bath towel or maybe wash cloth in the middle of the table. The microphone will increase in sensitivity and as long as the table isn’t too big, might be all you need. We generally frown on this, but you can apply fidelity compensation inside Audacity.

And we’d be a lot more accurate having listened to a sample…


You’re all absolute gems. Will get a sample of the last recording I did a post it when I get home from work tonight.

Okay, here’s a little sample of the recording done with my Olympus thing. Listening to it now, I can hear lots of squeaks and whistles, which isn’t ideal. But I guess my question would be, how bigger increase in quality am I going to see for $200 or so?
Thanks and thanks again
Tester.aup (7.38 KB)

AUP files aren’t sound files. Audacity will not save a sound file. To get a file for posting, Export As FLAC and post that. FLAC isn’t the most popular sound format, but it will not damage the music and performs mild compression.


blair witch
no script
improv based on directors pointing direction
sort of like a reality show on tv
director sets the scene
gives general direction to actors
lights camera action !
the stress should be felt by the actors to improv the right stuff
not on the crew taping/filming it