How to start a podcast
Part One: The Basics
Whether you’re a business looking to expand your content marketing methods or a zombie fanatic who has a unique view on The Walking Dead, the world of podcasting is a great one to be in. In 2019, 64% of US consumers knew what a podcast was, with half of the US population having actually listened to an episode. The audience for podcasts is growing more rapidly than ever, so this is the perfect time to step in and start your first podcast!
Starting a podcast might feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be, and we’re here to guide you every step of the way. You might think you need expensive equipment, a brilliant and unique concept, and a voice that would put Howard Stern to shame, but nothing is farther from the truth.
The one thing we’ve found is incredibly important is clarity, both for yourself and your listeners. If you don’t know what your podcast is about, how are your listeners supposed to? Aim to create a foundation you can build episodes on. You need an overarching topic, a structure that doesn’t change much, and at least one or two hosts who show up on every episode.
Why start a podcast?
First things first: make clear for yourself is why you’re doing this. There are many great reasons to start a podcast: for a brand it can be a brilliant content marketing strategy, for a teacher it can be a way to teach a larger audience, and for a storyteller it can be a way to have your unique talent reach millions of people all around the world. Watching podcasts fail and succeed over the last few years, we’ve learned that your motivation for running your podcast needs to be completely clear to you. It’s not easy to create a popular podcast. It takes months, if not years, of consistent content creation and more often than not, it doesn’t pay. If money is your motivation here, you should probably move on.
There are many types of podcasts, but they all fall into a few categories that you can use to decide what kind of podcast you’re going to produce. Choosing one or multiple of these categories can help your podcast become a success. Listeners like consistency, and especially for a new podcast it’s important to let them know what to expect. Choose a type of podcast and stick with it for a while to grow an audience. Later you can add on new types of content or even launch extra shows, but start small and be consistent.
A story telling podcast brings us back to our childhood, when a parent would sit on the side of our bed and read us bedtime stories. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to listen to a good story so if you enjoy telling them, this is the format for you. Storytelling podcasts range from comedians telling funny stories about their lives, to historians telling stories about The Great War. This type of podcast is often done by a single host, but can easily work with a host and a guest, or multiple hosts.
Interview podcasts are becoming more popular by the day, and for good reason. In this format, the host doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting, as they can interview or simply have a conversation with their guests. However, we’re not trying to say interviewing is easy, as there are plenty examples of bad interviews, but if you know this is something you’re good at, this is a great format for a podcast.
The personality podcast
Maybe you’re as entertaining as Joe Rogan, as entrepreneurial as Tim Ferriss, or as enlightened as Russell Brand. Well, then this is the format for you. Personality podcasts revolve mostly around the host of the show, whether they do interviews or tell stories. This type of podcast often overlaps with our other categories, but is always carried by the host. However, a personality podcast needs one obvious thing: a personality. As the host, you need to carry the show all on your own so unless you’re prepared to give it your all, you might want to try something else.
If your podcast doesn’t fall into one of the categories above, or feels like a combination of multiple types, that’s okay. In fact, we’d say most podcasts do some of the things we described in the categories above. Hybrid podcasts work, as long as they’re consistent. You don’t want to be a podcast that relies on personality one week, and on an interview guest the next. Your listeners want consistency and predictability. They come to you for the value that you’re bringing, and when that value changes week by week, they end up unsubscribing.
Not only is it important to define how your podcast is going to be structured, it’s important to create a structure for your episodes too. Podcasts that have a consistent structure simply do better, with almost the entire top 20 most popular podcasts structuring their episodes the same way every time.
The structure of your episodes will depend entirely on the type of podcast you’re producing. An interview podcast could start with an introduction of the guest by the host, with a little background on who they are, what they do, and why there’s here. There might even be a small introduction on the topic that is being discussed. Then the interview happens, followed by a Q&A from the listeners. A story telling podcast might not need much of a structure, and can just dive into the story straight from the beginning. Even here however, you can play around with structuring your content so your listeners stick around for your entire story. More on that in our next article, where we discuss writing, recording and editing your episodes.
You might already know what kind of podcast you want to start, or you might just like the idea of starting a podcast and are now wondering what you should be talking about. Either way, you need a topic that is broad enough that you can talk about it for a hundred episodes, without being so broad that your episodes don’t consistently cover a single topic. If you want to start an episode on sports, you might want to be a bit more specific and talk about American Football, or go even deeper and only talk about quarterbacks. Whatever you decide to talk about, make sure you stick with it for a while. Listeners come back to hear your content on a topic, so make sure you give them what they’re subscribing for.
The experience of listening to a podcast feels like an inherently personal one. One or multiple people are right there, in your ear, talking to you as you drive, do the dishes or pretend to work. This is why having the right host(s) is of utmost importance. We believe it’s best to have multiple hosts, with 2 or 3 hosts being the perfect number. You might be interesting, but your podcast will be much more engaging when there are two more people giving your listeners multiple angles to look at a topic. Finding the right hosts can be challenging, but there are a few things you can look out for. First, you need to have good chemistry with your host. Nobody wants to listen to two adults bicker for half an hour every week, so make sure you are at least able to speak to each other respectfully about a topic. You don’t need to agree, but you need to enjoy working together. Secondly, you need hosts who can consistently be on episodes. Your listeners attach themselves to these hosts, so if you keep having to switch them out, it’s going to be more difficult to have listeners come back for every episode. Make sure your hosts are in for the long run, even if that means promising them they only need to come on to talk for an hour, while you do all the editing.
Producing a podcast can become a very expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, we recommend you start as small as you possibly can. Why invest thousands of dollars into something you might not end up enjoying at all?
The microphone is the most important part of your podcasting equipment. It shapes the audio of your podcast and while it’s possible to improve the quality of your sound with editing software, it’s much easier when your source audio is of a reasonable quality straight from the get-go. Fortunately, cheap, high quality microphones are easier to find than ever. For starters, an affordable but high quality USB microphone is the Snowball by Blue. It plugs right into your computer, so there’s no need to get an audio interface or mixer. The sound quality on the Snowball is good enough for your first series of episodes so you’ll have time to figure out if podcasting is really something you want to get invested in. If you’re willing to spend a little more right from the start, take a look at the Audio-Technica ATR2100 and the Samson Q2U.
There are many ways to record your voice, ranging from free software like Audacity, all the way to expensive recording & editing software like Logic Studio. If you want the best of both worlds, you should look at a cheap but incredibly powerful tool called Descript. Descript allows a podcaster to record their podcast, have it transcribed automatically, and then edit the podcast by editing text. The software then automatically adjusts the audio to reflect those edits. Their coolest feature (which is currently in beta) is called “Overdub”, which allows you to not only remove content from your audio, but add content too, without needing to re-record. For an explanation on all Descript’s features, watch their product video. Descript is free for the first three hours of content. For the average podcaster, the $10/month package is most likely the best fit. It gives you unlimited transcriptions and for the feature set, it’s very inexpensive.
You’ve figured out what you’re going to talk about, and you have what you need to do it. Now you need to get creative and come up with a name and cover image.
Your podcast's name
There is no such thing as the perfect name for a podcast. Some people will love your name, some people will hate it. However, there are a few guidelines you can follow to come up with a name that will at least be effective. Firstly, you don’t want your name to be too descriptive of your content. “Walking Dead and its value in modern day media” might perfectly describe what your zombie podcast is about, but it sounds more like a master thesis than a podcast. “Talking Dead” however, still refers to your topic, but it’s not overly descriptive.
Secondly, there is such a thing as a name that isn’t descriptive enough. If your name has absolutely nothing to do with your content, it might become difficult to get new listeners just from seeing your name in a listing. A name can sound really good, and be completely ineffective. So, make sure your name at least has a shot at attracting your potential audience.
Lastly, make sure you really like your name. You’re going to be saying, writing and dreaming this name, so you need to make sure you love it. If you don’t, it’s going to be much more difficult to get your listeners to like it and if they don’t like your name, they’re not going to share your podcast with their friends.
The cover image
Your cover image is the one place where you’re going to be bringing some branding to wherever your podcast is featured. It will be the image your listeners recognize when they see it in a list of other podcast images. Therefore, it’s important that your image is at least unique to your podcast. It doesn’t have to be the most creative piece of art, but it needs to be memorable in some way. Get creative, do something new and unique and make sure it’s at least somewhat representative of the brand of your podcast.
This article has focused nearly entirely on setting you up to start podcasting. After reading this, hopefully you understand how to create a structured podcast, setup your equipment and create your brand. In future articles we’ll cover recording, editing, publishing and marketing your podcast. We’ll also dive deeper into podcast equipment and even bring you interviews with successful podcasters who can shine a light on the secrets of the industry.
Now go out and podcast!