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My audio/video gear for creating online courses (and why I use it)

Much of my job now involves both audio and video. My courses all require recording a combination of myself and my screen, my books require 100s of interviews, and my podcasts obviously require crisp, clear audio. Even my software products have videos for support.

I figured it could be useful to share both what gear I currently use and why I use it. Just in case you’re looking to do some recording as well. 

I will also note though that when I began doing interviews and audio/video recording, I started out with the earbuds my iPhone came with and the camera that’s built into my iMac. Only once audio and video became both a source of income as well as something I had to do a few times a day did I start to invest in fancier equipment. And even then it was incremental—I didn’t start with the very best equipment, but I got there eventually, through trial and error and as my revenue grew.

All of the following gear is what I use for:

This all might seem overwhelming or confusing as well, but remember, your gear can be a slow and iterative process. And you don’t have to know precisely how something works if it helps you achieve what you’re after. 

Here’s the full kit with links: kit.com/pjrvs/gear-for-recording-videos-and-doing-interviews 

Zencastr – recording software
When I’m the one conducting the interviews for Company of One, or recording Creative Class with Kaleigh, I use Zencastr because it records both parties audio locally, then uploads it to the cloud and combines them for maximum quality.

Quicktime – recording software
A lot of folks don’t realize that Quicktime is powerful software for recording raw files. You can use it to record audio or video, but you can also use it to record your screen and mouse. I use it for almost everything when it’s just me speaking into my computer or doing a screencast.

I also very occasionally use Garageband to edit audio and either iMovie or Adobe Premiere (Pro or Rush) to edit videos. 

Shure SM7B – microphone
I’ve had over a dozen microphones over the years, both as a podcaster and a studio musician. I know “the best mic for podcasting” is a highly contested topic, but the SM7B is buttery magic for my needs. It makes me sound so crisp and clear, like I’m talking directly into your ears. No Yeti or Rode has ever done that for me. The caveat here is that this mic has an XLR connection, so it requires an interface to connect to my computer.

Universal Arrow – audio interface
This is what I use to get the right level of my audio and connect my XLR mic to my computer. It uses Thunderbolt 3 (which is ridiculously fast), so there’s almost no latency and it doesn’t have many knobs to fiddle with, which is good, since other than up/down for levels, I don’t know what I’m doing.

CL-1 – mic activator
This provides about +25dB of gain to the microphone, which is great because the SM7B’s primary complaint is that it doesn’t have a whole whack of gain. What does that even mean? Well, it lets you get the best possible audio output from a microphone—as loud and as clear as possible. It’s also built like a tank: solid metal casing with nice padded feet.

Sony MDR7506 – headphones
Call me old-fashioned but these are the best studio monitors (what pro’s call headphones) ever. Other than replacing the padding twice from wear, I’ve had mine for 20 years and they still work wonderfully. These give a bit of noise isolation when doing interviews and sound exceptional.

Auray TT-ISO
This mic stand is great because it doesn’t take up too much room and is mostly padding at the bottom which minimizes vibrations from your desk (if you type or click and record at the same time). It doesn’t have a boom arm, but I’ve never found a boom to be useful on a desk stand.

Sony a6500 – camera
I’ve tried almost every true “webcam” on the market and they’re all garbage in terms of quality (i.e. they all produce videos that look like they were filmed with a webcam). When I wanted to up my video game to look professional, I found that using an actual digital camera would be best. The Sony a6500 is perfect for my needs because not only does it have auto-focus, it has facial-focus which will automatically keep focus on my face during interviews! 

Sony 16-50mm – lens
I like this lens because there’s a bit of zoom, so I can get the shot I want without repositioning my tripod. For photos I prefer prime lenses (no zoom), but for video, it’s just easier to fiddle with the zoom than the tripod placement. This lens also has a 3.5 F-stop, which is nice for focusing on your face and slightly blurring whatever’s behind you.

Elgato Camlink 4k – HDMI capture
This is a magical little connector that connects the a6500’s mini-HDMI port to my computer’s USB port. It allows me to stream up to 4k from my a6500 into Skype, Zoom, etc! I can even use this device so my iMac serves as my monitor while I’m filming course videos. Using this connector, the right camera and professional lighting for video calls will make people go “WHOA” when you appear on their screen for the first time.

Elgato Keylight – lighting
This is a professional LED lighting kit that bolts onto your desk and telescopes up. Sure, there are $20-$90 LED lighting “rigs” on Amazon, but I’ve tried a few of them and they’re all awful. The Keylight is expensive AF, and totally worth it. Why? I can control the temperature and brightness from my iMac’s menubar. The pole mount is amazing in its simplicity and function (I wish they sold it separately so I could use one for my a6500), and I like that there are no batteries (because batteries run out, typically mid-way through recording something).

26oz Yeti Ramble – hydration
If you’re doing audio or video, always stay hydrated, since talking will dry your throat out. I like this Yeti because it keeps things cool or hot, but also because it’s big enough that I don’t have to keep refilling it. And what kind of monster doesn’t like seafoam?! 😉

So now you know all the gear I use to create quality audio and video for my business.

That said, this gear isn’t why my business generates money from audio and video.

My knee-jerk, default reaction to questions about the gear or software I use is typically “it doesn’t matter”. Lil Nas X doesn’t have a #1 song because he used Logic Pro instead of Pro Tools (I don’t actually know who that is, I just glanced at the charts on the day I wrote this—maybe I’ll take a listen later). Nor is JK Rowling a best-selling author because she used Scrivener instead of Microsoft Word.

Tools can make things better and easier, but they can also be a useless distraction in the beginning. If you want to start a podcast, use whatever you have currently (like iPhone headphones or your computer’s webcam). Tools are maybe 5% of the equation at most, the rest is you doing the work.

I too have a fascination for what tools people use, so I absolutely get it. But my own personal caveat is this: first I work at the skill I want to foster, then and only then do I dive a little into what tools could make it better. And sometimes I still stick with what I started using, even if it’s not the “best”—like using a mark-down text app for writing books or checking email from within my browser (instead of using a fancy app).

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