So all of a sudden you’re recording videos, messages and going live on social media like you never have before.
While the coronavirus may have ramped up your online presence, the digital future was on its way anyway for church and business leaders.
I’ve been podcasting and shooting video from home for years, and almost every day, leaders keep asking me what gear I use, so I thought I’d put this into post form.
First, the good news.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money, at all.
Expensive gear doesn’t generate extensive impact online. Quality content does.
They say content is king. I agree and would say great content is both king and queen.
Gear helps, but there are lots of people with thousands of dollars of gear and no audience.
Great gear doesn’t make bad content better.
If you want more on making content people can’t ignore, I outline 7 tips here.Great gear doesn't make bad content better. Click To Tweet
If you have a smartphone and/or laptop, there are very modest gear upgrades you can make that will make your videos and audio better.
So I’ve organized this post into three sections:
Level One Basic Gear: Start-up gear for under $100
Level Two Upgrades: Mid-level upgrades for under $1000
My Current Studio: What I’m using right now (hint: even this isn’t crazy expensive)
To give you a better idea of how very little gear goes a long way, I hit my first few million page views in blogging with a $75 investment in a WordPress theme (that plug-in no longer exists).
I had my first several million downloads in podcasting out of an investment of under $1000 in gear.
You don’t need to have a big budget to have a big impact.
And even now, over 11 million downloads into podcasting and 25 million page views into blogging, I don’t spend a ton of money on gear, other than to keep my phone and computers current. I don’t even have multiple monitors or expensive DSLRs like all the cool people do.
So, if you want to get started for $100 or less, here’s your guide. (For full disclosure, please note, some—not all—of these links are affiliate links, which means I will receive a commission if you make a purchase. There is no cost to you.)
Final note: I am not a tech expert. There are technical people who give great advice on gear who are way more pro than me. (Sean Cannell and Brady Shearer are two leaders I listen to in this category.)
This post is for leaders who, like me, just want to get their content out there with minimal fuss and maximum impact. And you keep asking, so here it is.
Having gear you can operate yourself without having to bring in a crew will help you produce more content and eliminate barriers to publishing.
So, I keep things simple.
If that’s what you want to do too, let’s get started.Expensive gear doesn't generate extensive impact online. Quality content does. Click To Tweet
Level 1 Basic Gear: Start-Up Audio and Video Gear for About $100
So what do you need to add to your smartphone or laptop to get a decent quality video?
Here’s my basic kit that will get you started for about $100:
Shure Lapel Mic
Shure MVL Omnidirectional mic. While I have purchased a ton of mics over the years, for simple shoots, 99% of the time, I use this one.
Just attach it with the adapter your iPhone comes with and you’re ready to go. It’s under $100 and works great.
Basic Desk Tripod
You’ll need a way to prop your phone up other than a stack of books on a coffee table.
The Targus Grypton Tripod is super cheap, versatile, wraps around objects and I still use mine. Not perfect but hey, it works.
If you want something more robust, the Joby GorillaPod is a higher-end alternative.
Selfie-circle ring light. Often natural room light is enough, but if you need a light or are recording at night, a simple circle ring light works just fine. Or honestly, just shoot near a window (without the window behind you in the shot). There are dozens of super low cost selfie ring lights around but if you’re going to spend more than a couple dozen dollars on a ring light, you may want to jump up to something more pro and versatile like the Elgato Key Light Air. Otherwise stay with the cheaper models like this or save your money and use natural light.
Boom…there’s your starter kit for around $100.
If you can only afford one piece, buy the mic and have someone hold the phone or prop it up on books etc. Most people will tell you good audio is more important than perfect lighting or camera angle.
The Shure mic eliminates almost all echo and bounce and comes with a windsock if you’re shooting outside.
If you want to see me use the tripod and lapel like with zero additional lighting, check out this IGTV video series I’m doing. It’s this kit exactly minus any special lighting (just room and natural light). All the videos since March 2020 were shot using just my iPhone with the Shure MVL Omnidirectional mic and Targus Grypton Tripod. Plenty of views. $100 kit.
For Audio (Podcasting)
If you are looking for a low-cost podcasting mic, the Shure MVL Omnidirectional mic (shared above) could serve that purpose too.
However, if you want a more solid desk mic…
The Audio Technica ATR-2100 is a remarkable value.
While I don’t use this mic as my studio mic, I own two Audio Technica ATR-2100s I use on the road when I podcast.
Honestly, while an audio technician could hear the difference between this $99 Audio Technica ATR-2100 and my expensive studio mic, I really can’t. I’ll bet listeners can’t either. Plus it comes with the stand thrown in.
If you want to get super nerdy, listen to my last interview with Patrick Lencioni. The first 5:40 is recorded on my expensive studio mic. Then it switches to the inexpensive Audio Technica ATR-2100 for the interview. Can you hear the difference? Not much…(But the studio mic makes me feel cool.)
Simple gear like this will give you a relatively pro sound and look for very little money, which allows you to focus on content.You can spend as much as you want, or you can improve the quality of your online content for as little as $100. Click To Tweet
Level 2 Upgrades: Mid-level Podcasting and Video for Under $1000
So maybe you have a bit more budget to spend. Where would you invest it?
A few hundred dollars can go a long way to improve the quality of your online content.
Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam. I bought this webcam as the first step above the built-in iSight camera on my iMac. Not my fave (the Brio Logitech 4K webcam is far better for color and crispness), but it was a step up from the built-in webcams on my devices and it’s less than $200. So a decent budget choice.
Phillips Hue Portable Lights
Phillips Hue Play Smart Lights provide a low-cost initial step into better lighting.
Phillips Hue Go Smart Light is a round version of the above light. Better yet, it can run without a cord so it’s truly portable.
Note: you will need to buy a Phillips Hue Smart Hub (Bridge) to get your set up working with your phone.
Phillips Hue Replacement Bulbs
Phillips Hue White and Color Ambiance Bulbs have replaced been the bulbs I’ve used to all the standard bulbs in my office. You can get them to change color, hue, brightness, and vibe right off your phone without having to hardwire in smart fixtures at 10x the cost. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get better lighting that is 100% controllable and customizable right off your phone.
Experimenting with a modest upgrade like these can make a meaningful difference.
My Current Studio (Including Free Software)
Because I get asked this question a lot, I’ll share the exact studio set up I currently have.
I’ve built this up over the last five years, and remember, I had momentum in my online platform before I built my current studio.
Again, compared to most pro studios it’s not much, but that’s the point. And just a note that buying the same gear will not buy you the same results. But this is the gear I’ve found most helpful and useful after years of experimenting.
So let’s start with the free stuff.
When I tell pros this, it disappoints them, but I actually run my podcast off two pieces of recording software that cost nothing.
Free Podcasting Software
Skype I still use Skype for all my remote interviews. Yeah, I know, so 2009. Why? Two reasons:
Skype has better audio quality than Zoom, and 99% of my podcast audience listens by audio. Only 1% watch any video I upload. I’ve used Zoom every single day for years and love it for meetings, but the audio on Skype is superior.
Skype also has less lag time in conversation than Zoom. This means I am less likely to interrupt my guests or talk over them or vice versa.
Note: In my experience, Skype needs better internet bandwidth to function as well Zoom does. I happen to have super-fast internet, but if you have a sketchy connection, Zoom might work better even though you sacrifice sound quality.
GarageBand Again, bothering many purists, I record my podcast intros and extros and in-person interviews into GarageBand. It’s free. It works.
DropBox. When I’m done recording here, I dropbox all my files to my virtual team. Although I now use a paid version of DropBox because of the size of my team and our usage, the basic version is free.
Please note: I have a producer who does full final production in his studio using different professional tools. I’ve never produced an episode myself. This is basic recording software I used to capture interviews and my recordings on my end. But you could produce your entire podcast in GarageBand if you chose to. I hired a professional producer from launch so on so I can focus on content.
E-Camm Call Recorder This $39.95 plugin records your Skype calls for you and converts them into MP4 files.
E-Camm Movie Tools This free software converts your downloaded files into whatever format you want for production and splits the tracks into two separate channels so you can EQ and mix the guests on your interview separately for a great final product. Again, I just DropBox it, and my producer works his magic to make it all sound great.
Podcast Studio Mic
If you’re recording audio frequently, you may eventually want a top tier mic. You could spend more, but you don’t need to.
Shure SM7B I switched to a Shure SM7B last year and am really happy with the sound. It’s a little flatter and warmer than my old Heil PR40, and the Shure SM7B has become the industry standard. I own several for guest interviews (and as spares for my wife’s podcast studio as well).
Heil PR 40 My first four years of podcasting were on this mic and sounded great. A little more forgiving if you’re not talking right up against it. No reason to change other than… I like change. (BTW, the Heil PR40 is in the pic in this post).
Whether you go with the Heil PR40 or the Shure SM7B, you will get top tier sound for the $500 price level.
Studio Mic Boom Arm
Heil PL-2T Boom Arm I have tried several boom arms and this Heil is by far the best. Very flexible and long, and extremely well built. So yep, right now I have a Heil boom arm holding a Shure SM7B. The heavens are shaking, but it works perfectly for me.
Once you get into pro mics like the Heil or Shure SM7B, you’ll need a mixer both for better sound and because the XLR cables don’t plug into your computer.
Focus-rite Scarlett 1818 mixer has been my mixer for years. Reliable and simple. I have the four-channel version which allows me to mix four mics (for four guests). I’ve never used more than three, but still… nice to have a spare.
iPhone 11 Pro Max This is not a cheap phone but the camera is fantastic. I shot two courses on my iPhone during the coronavirus lockdown (crews couldn’t come in) and you could barely tell the difference from a pro shoot I would normally contract with a crew who bring cameras worth $5K-10K and tens of thousands of extra gear to shoot with.
If you’re curious, my free How to Lead Through Crisis course was shot entirely using the
Elgato Key Light Air (below)
I may go back to pro crews in the future, but still… not bad for the phone in my pocket and a few hundred dollars in gear in the lockdown.
Brio Logitech 4K webcam. This is a massive step up from both your computer’s built-in camera and my old Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam. This video podcast episode shows you the Brio in action. It’s a very recent purchase and I love it.
Elgato Key Light Air I’m not a fan of clutter, so I have two of these Elgato Key Light Airs on my desk. They run off your phone, are fully adjustable for temperature and brightness and are very easy to run.
They sit nicely on your desk and you can remove them easily when you don’t need them.
Desk and Chair
Only because I get a lot of questions about my desk am I sharing this. It’s not cheap, but after decades of Ikea desks, a few years ago I bought this one. It will likely last a century. It’s made of wood and cast iron:
Pottery Barn Pittsburgh Crank Desk You literally turn a crank to raise and lower it. It’s like you’re living in the 19th century but it’s awesome. I love being able to stand and sit at different points in the day. Note: The standard desktop was great but a bit small for all my gear so I had a custom walnut live-edge top made. Now everything fits perfectly.
Aeron Chair I don’t have back issues except when I sit for hours (or days) on end. So after years of trying different chairs (and back forms), I invested in a Herman Miller Aeron Chair (the updated version). I have not had a single back flinch since getting this chair.
Please know I’ve built this studio over many years, and you do not need it to do great work or to get started. And now that it’s my day job, not my hobby, I’ve invested in these tools.
And hear me, pros have much better gear than this. But this is what helps me.
And–final word— please don’t break the bank if you don’t have it. Stick with the starter kit.
You can literally hit thousand/millions of views, downloads, or visitors with spending almost nothing. At least that’s what I discovered.
But I hope this helps!