Podcasts have been around in potential since the early 2000s, but since Apple added podcasting to iTunes in 2005, the format has exploded in popularity. Podcasts offer creators a low-cost platform with a potentially huge audience exposure.
I was excited to be a part of launching the new Accelerate Business Transformation podcast for Apex Process Consultants. I've been producing podcasts since 2009 and the most common question I'm asked by people is, "How can I start my own podcast?" Well, since this stuff is extremely fresh in my mind, it's time to put out a definitive answer to that question.
In this article, I will explain how to create a podcast, how to make it available to listeners, and how to promote the show once you've created it. I'm going to presume that you already have an idea for a show, preferably one that is pestering you to be released into the wild. The more incessantly your podcast idea nags you, the more likely you will succeed in making it into an actual show.
Part 1: How to record a podcast
Compared to many creative outlets, the "barrier to entry" is quite low. Unlike books, you don't need an editor or publisher. Unlike radio, you don't need to have a broadcasting license. Unlike film, you don't need actors and a production crew. However, in the years since podcasting really blew up, more and more professionally produced shows have entered the field and people expect more from even the most amateur productions now.
Well, the good news is that producing a high-quality audio show is not nearly as difficult as you might imagine. You are going to need a few things:
You will need a decent microphone and would be better off with a good set of headphones as well. One thing I've noticed is that if you record using inferior audio equipment, listeners with better gear will not appreciate your work.
You can find a variety of inexpensive microphones of varying quality on Amazon or other online retailers. Pay attention to reviews. Some inexpensive microphones may work fine, but there may be subtle differences or sacrifices that you make when trying to save money. I've had very good success using products from Blue. The Blue Snowball is an inexpensive entry-level microphone that sits neatly on our desk with its own fold-out stand. It's good for travel. The Blue Yeti is a more sturdy, professional-quality microphone that can be boom-mounted or stand on its own base.
Out and About
If you're using over-the-internet or even in-studio recordings, these kinds of USB-microphones will work nicely. If you're going to be recording interviews out in the wild, you may find it difficult to lug around your microphone, headphones, and laptop. A portable hand-held recorder is the answer. There are many varieties of these, but many podcasters like to use a Zoom H2. Zoom also now makes an iPhone compatible microphone that can plug into a Lightning port to turn your phone into a higher-end recording device.
Quiet on the Set!
One of the biggest challenges for making professional-sounding podcast recordings is to make it quiet enough that background noises don't distract the audience. There are two aspects of this you'll need to work on. Reducing ambient sounds is part of good audio hygiene. Use equipment and tools to reduce the noise even further.
Reduce ambient sounds
It is amazing the stuff that can show up on your audio recordings that you don't notice when they're being made. Emergency sirens, aircraft, road traffic, neighbors mowing the grass, all just ease into the background until it is time to edit the show - then it's too late to easily get rid of them. So here's a quick list of audio hygiene tips prior to recording:
- Alert any roommates that you need silence during the recording
- Remove pets from the recording area
- Turn off any fans, air-conditioners, or noisy computer equipment nearby
- Try to record when neighbors are away
- If you hear any sirens, stop recording until they clear
- Same for airplanes going overhead - pause until they clear
- Silence your phones
- Disable computer notifications
- If you're using Skype or other software, make sure that all notices and alerts send audio to your headphones, not any external speakers
Dampen sounds further with equipment
In addition to using good audio hygiene, you can further reduce background and ambient noise pollution by implementing some filters and sound dampeners. If you're rich, you might consider lining your studio walls with sound-reducing foam. However, this can quickly turn into an expensive proposition. A less expensive approach is to line a document box with eggshell foam and put your microphone inside that for your recording sessions.
Additionally, if your recording situation allows for it, you can put up noise-reducing wall-hangings. These do a nice job of removing noise coming in from behind you while you record.
Can't afford any of that stuff? Are you young and flexible? One of the best recording environments (on the cheap) is a simple blanket fort. Sometimes when recording in hotel rooms, I place a bath-sheet over myself and my gear. This is especially helpful in studio-hotels with a lot of concrete for the walls. It is a remarkably effective, though ridiculous-looking solution to removing background noise. As Depeche Mode advised, enjoy the silence.
It's Showtime! (Almost)
Okay - you've got your recording gear. You've set up your sound-reduced recording environment. You've got your show ideas ready to go. Now it's time to record… but how? The answer is going to depend on what kind of show you're recording. Will you be doing monologues? Will you be recording with on-site guests? Will you be recording with interviewees connected by meeting software such as Skype or Zoom? Depending on the approach, you'll need to use different methods to get the best results.
The Monologue Podcaster
If you're just recording yourself, you just need to have a piece of recording software. There are many free or inexpensive recording apps out there but Audacity offers the advantage of being both free and also a fully-featured editing application. Here are some tips for recording your monologue episodes.
- Learn to continue recording through mistakes. You will be able to edit the file when you're done, so if you make a mistake just pause, wait a few seconds, and speak your lines again.
- Use a script. You may not need to literally write out each word, but work from a bulleted list at a minimum and it will help you stay on topic while you're working through your episode.
- Try to avoid "filler" words. "Uh," "Um," and "You know" are common fillers while you think of the next thing you're going to say but they tend to accumulate and sound unprofessional. Whether you're editing your own work or hiring an engineer, reducing the number of times you say these will make the production work much easier.
- Check your levels before doing your real recording. A simple test-run with soundcheck to make sure you're recording successfully and that your levels are correct will also save you a lot of post-production effort and help prevent an accidental failure to record.
The Interview/Panel Podcaster
If you are recording an interview with others you will need to make sure everyone is being recorded. There are several bits of advice useful for this kind of work, some appropriate all the time, and others for when you're exclusively remote or face-to-face.
- Make sure you have recording software for both your own voice and the guest(s) voice. If you are using software like Skype, you may have to purchase some 3rd Party software to successfully record on the Mac (like eCamm Call Recorder) or the PC (like Pretty May recorder).
- Ideally, EVERYONE on the call will record their own audio track. These can be sent to the editor to put together in the editing suite. The reason you want to get this is that often Skype or other call software will garble or cut-out someone's voice intermittently during the call. If you can press on with the interview knowing that all sides are being recorded, then you can fix all that in post-production. (More on this later.)
- As with the solo recording, it is wise to do a soundcheck and test recording before the actual show starts. Adjust your levels as needed on either your microphone or your recording software.
Face to Face Interview/Panel
- Make sure everyone has access to a working microphone.
- Some recorders like the Zoom (above) can take on daisy-chain additional microphone inputs. These can easily be stretched around (or across) a table for multi-person discussions to make sure everyone is getting recorded.
- As with solo recording, having a backup recording method is a really important idea.
- Collect copies of backup recordings while you're all together so you can fix any issues in post-production.
- Make sure microphones are positioned to capture everyone's voices.
- If you are recording a public forum, make sure that any audience questions are repeated as part of the response so that podcast listeners will understand what the question was. For example: "The question was, why is blue the best color? Alright panelists, let's try to address this one…"
Now you've got the basics of recording down and you've recorded your first episode. What do you do next?
Part 2: Editing Your Show
Turning a good discussion into a great podcast requires careful editing. With digital editing software, you'll be able to get a visual representation of your audio as waveforms and you'll be able to see multiple tracks so that you can add in music, sound effects, and other audio elements.
The process of editing can be quite complex, and there are multiple packages of software to handle the cutting, pasting, layering, etc… Some people like to use Adobe Audition. If you have a subscription to Adobe's application suite, that might be the way to go for you. But if you're trying to get the show put together on the cheap, Audacity is the way to go. Audacity is free and has dozens of built-in tools for cleaning up your raw recording files.
Learning to be a professional audio editor is outside the scope of this article, but these are the most common things you'll need to do in order to edit your audio.
- Some basics on Audacity Tools
- Cutting out unwanted content
- Noise Reduction (with Audacity)
- Leveling audio (with audacity) or with Levelator
- Adding in additional vocal content
- Adding in music tracks (where do I get copyright safe music?)
- Converting to MP3 (within Audacity) - note: Before 2018, Audacity required installation of LAME libraries but the patents have expired so modern versions should not require this additional step.
- Adding ID3 tags with Audacity
There is a combination of skill and art required to hone your results, but keep at it and you'll improve with time and practice.
That seems like a lot of work - is there another way?
When you're starting out, the prospect of editing your work can seem daunting. Some people opt to not even bother - but it shows in their work. Hiring an audio engineer is an option. For a podcast, you can expect to pay $20 - $50 per hour of labor. That's not per hour of audio, but for how long it takes the audio you provide to be turned into a usable product. If you have more money than time, this may be an option for you.
Part 3: Uploading Your Show
Congratulations! At this point, you've managed to record something and are ready to actually make it available for other people to listen to your hard work. There are a few things you'll need to do in order to make your work available.
- Pick a hosting service for your audio
- (Optional) pick a website host for promoting your show
- Royalty-Free Artwork (copyright safe)
Picking a hosting platform
You might not have given this much thought before now, but where do all these .mp3 files for Podcasts reside? They have to be hosted somewhere, right? Nothing is ever really free.
You will need to host your files somewhere and there are a lot of choices. As of this writing, three of the most popular hosting sites for unlimited downloads at a flat-rate are Libsyn.com, Podbean.com, and Anchor.FM. I've had the most experience with Libsyn, which also happens to be one of the longest lived of these type sites. Short for "Liberated Syndication," Libsyn has been offering flat-rate, unlimited downloads for as little as $5/month for 50MB uploaded.
If you're going to be uploading large files, you might burn through 50MB quickly. Most of my shows have been able to handle 3 - 4 episodes per month releases under the $15/month 250 MB plan. Each of these companies has variable rates depending on what services you want to utilize.
Do I need a separate website to promote my show?
You can host your show notes with the hosting platform of your audio files, but often these are rather uninspiring simple HTML offerings. Many people find that they like a sleek, modern, high-feature content manager such as Squarespace, Wix or even Wordpress. There are many hosting companies that will offer you high-feature, low-cost platforms to anchor your fancier looking show notes, online shops, fan forums, etc. Picking one is outside of the scope of this article, but you might need to work with your domain registrar to make sure that traffic to your domain name goes to the right site.
Depending on the nature of your podcast, you might or might not need show notes. A good thing to remember is that iTunes and Google Podcast platforms parse the show notes for search terms. When you are creating your show, you might want to consider what terms for each episode should you use to lure listeners. You can also add images, attach additional content such as .pdf files, links to related content and extra prose to augment the material in the audio file.
Yes, a podcast is an audio production. But don't underestimate the power of compelling visuals to enhance the podcast listener's experience. You can find many low-cost images that will be royalty-free and copyright safe by searching sites such as storyblocks, Shutterstock, istockphoto, or others. Follow any rules of copyright law if you use art from sites such as Wikimedia where the creative-commons rules might limit your use of their art on your podcast project based on whether you're a commercial endeavor or not.
Part 4: Submission to Podcast Aggregators
(iTunes, Google, etc.)
Now that you've got your show onto a hosting platform, you will need to submit the show to the various podcasting platforms that you want to be available through. You can not safely ignore platforms like Google and Stitcher because the majority of people listen to their shows through their mobile phones, and half of those are Android phones without access to iTunes. But we'll cover some of the major players here and you can search the rules and steps for any additional platforms you want to submit to.
Prepare your show's artwork
You might not think your art choices matter, but it turns out that in order to submit your feed to iTunes and Google (and others, no doubt) they want a consistent look and feel for the art. Your show art is generally divided into two pieces: A square "album cover" type piece of art, and an (optional) widescreen piece of art.
The square art needs to be between 1400 px and 3000 px. So that's a range of 1400x1400 and 3000x3000 in a square aspect ratio.
Get your RSS feed
You will need to know the RSS feed link for your show. This is the place where your podcast file host will feed your episodes out to the big podcast aggregators like iTunes, Google Play, etc… It's going to look something like this: [your show name].yourhostingsite.com/RSS
For example, our show's RSS feed looks like this:
Don't bother clicking that link unless you enjoy reading XML files. You don't need to understand RSS or XML because your various aggregators and podcasts do. If anybody ever asks how to subscribe if they don't use iTunes, giving them the RSS feed is the fastest easiest way for them to add your show to their personal player of choice.
Let's submit your show!
Here is the link for submitting your podcast to iTunes.
Here is the link for submitting your podcast to Google Play.
Here is the link for submitting your podcast to Stitcher.
Here is the link for submitting your podcast to Spotify.
Here is the link for submitting your podcast to Pandora.
Each of these sites will have a few different steps to go through, but one important one is that you'll need to verify an email sent to the account associated with the show. As long as that is you - and you can read the email to follow any instructions - you should be good to go.
Important: If there are any issues during submission, please pay close attention to the errors so you can go back to your podcast's hosting site and fix them. Common issues are that your art is not correct or you're missing some required field in the global settings of the show. Fix those and most of these sites will let you try submitting again immediately.
Part 5 - How to Monetize
I can't tell you how to make a ton of money on your podcast, but I can talk about the two ways most people manage to generate revenue. They can work together, but they're quite different in how they function. The first is donations, and the second is advertising. I'll talk briefly about both, but only in a technical sense. Figuring out marketing strategies is definitely more of an art than science, and is outside the scope of this document.
There are a variety of mechanisms by which you can solicit donations for your podcast work. You will need to be plugged into some kind of payment ecosystem unless you want to solicit checks through the mail.
PayPal - Love 'em or hate 'em, PayPal has become the defacto online payment system for many of us. You may be able to monetize without PayPal, but you will be operating at an extreme disadvantage. They allow you to accept payments through other PayPal accounts or through Credit Card and Bank Transfers. You can use their "donate" buttons to put a functioning payment method on your website, and you can setup a donation URL for people to send you money.
Patreon - The curated donation site Patreon has transformed the way that independent creators generate revenue. It provides a mechanism for content creators to setup per-episode or monthly payments, and to create tiers of donations so that content can be locked behind gated barriers limited by the donation level of subscribers. You can host your content on Patreon's site, and create a variety of rewards and automatic messages to thank people for their donations.
Ko-Fi - What if you just want a cup of coffee? What if you want to get paid in coffee? (I'm joking - but that's the premise of our next platform.) Ko-Fi was setup to help allow people to give tips to creators. It's expanded now to allow recurring payments, but the core idea of "tipping" the price of a cup of high-end coffee is there. You can set the default price to be in compliance with your favorite coffee. (Mine is Houndstooth in Austin, but your tastes probably vary.)
I'm sure there are other donation tools beyond these, but these are the most common in my experience. Once you've setup your accounts, you'll want to put the donation buttons on your websites, on your social media, and mention the links in your show content.
Taking on advertising can be challenging. You may have ethical or image concerns about what products are promoted. You might have difficulty finding big advertisers when you're a small show. You may not know how to set your rates. Those things are outside the scope of this article, but if you want to learn more about how advertising rates work, you should check out something like Digital Marketing for Dummies. There are a lot of factors to consider besides just wanting to take on ads. Terms like CPM, Impressions, Conversions, Affiliate Programs - these are critical concepts, but you should learn about them and what they mean.
Advertising Networks - There are a variety of advertising networks that may be willing to work with you to monetize your project. Typically they will want you to provide them with the MP3 file and show notes and then they will automatically do the inserts to put ads into either your "pre-roll" or "mid-roll" automatically. When they do this, ads will be played at the beginning and middle of your show. Sometimes you have access to control the kinds of ads that are presented. Check carefully and make sure you understand:
- What percentage of the revenue does the network take?
- How many "impressions" do they need to pay?
- What kinds of ads will they use - and how much control do you have over the selection?
Affiliate Programs - These are typically relationships where you will need to work with the advertiser to create a custom URL and write ad copy that is compliant with the advertisers rules. Often they will provide you with a script which you can personalize. Audible, The Great Courses, home-delivery menu services, and many other common podcast advertisers follow this model. Often you will not get paid unless someone purchases - and even then, you may have to meet some minimum threshold to get a check. For example, some advertisers only payout after you've accrued $25 or $50 in sales commissions.
Podcast Hosting Advertiser Programs - Perhaps the most passive of the advertiser programs are those offered by the hosting platforms. These vary, but may be the easiest to get involved with. In my experience, once you get to 10,000 regular listeners, you will likely be contacted by your podcast hosting company to see if you'd like to participate in a partnership. Be very aware of the percentages of revenue share. You might find it worth the effort to seek out your own ad network rather than give up autonomy for only half the ad revenue (as an example).
Part 6 - How To Build Your Audience
The thing about podcasting is that it allows you to talk about things you love. Chances are nobody is going to give you a weekly radio show to talk about your passion for Lego or your expert opinions on Gilligan's Island. But with podcasting, not only can you record your thoughts on these topics, but you can potentially find other people with the same passion and build a community.
Let's assume you've gotten past all the hurdles and now have uploaded several episodes of your show. You're available on iTunes, Google, and the other leading platforms. You can see from your download numbers that you've managed to get 30 or 40 downloads. What do you do next? These steps are not guaranteed to give you a huge audience, but they will certainly nudge you in the right direction.
Engage in Social Media - You may or may not be interested in social media, but if you want to build your audience you will need to let people know when you have new episodes. Some (but not all) of your listeners will want to give you feedback as well. Be polite. If people are critical, evaluate their feedback and decide whether to follow it or ignore it - but don't get into online fights. That will not help your brand. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn - there are many social media platforms. Find the one that works best for you and start there.
Advertising - Yes - you can buy ads for your show. If your goal is to make money, starting out by spending money may seem an odd choice but it is a surefire way to get exposure. Your success will vary, and you will want to target audiences that are interested in the kind of thing you're selling or working on or promoting.
Cross-Podcasting - Be a guest on a larger show, or have on guests from larger shows. This helps establish your name, credentials and ability to entertain and engage. This may be a hard slog depending on what your show is about and how effective of a communicator you are, but it is a very inexpensive way to build up your audience.
Pester Everyone - Make business cards. Carry them everywhere. When you run into people who are willing to talk about your the subject of your podcast, engage them for a bit then ask them to check out the show. Give them a card. Call your friends, your family, ask them to check out the show. Go to meetups related to the topic and take your cards.
Conferences - Try to get invited to conferences and speaking events around the topic of your show. Speak cogently about the topic and be sure to drop in a reference at the beginning and end of your talk about your show. If you have merchandise, set up a table and distribute your merch (and more business cards).
If you're passionate enough to create a podcast, you've got to be passionate enough to sell it. Now get out there and make your dreams come true! (And while you're out there, be sure to subscribe to our show Accelerate Business Transformation by Apex Process Consultants!)