A Guide: How To Start A Podcast (and Why You Should)
Next year I’ll have been podcasting for three years. I’ve hosted, edited and produced over eighty podcasts, and been interviewed on or guest-hosted a few more.
I started podcasting for three reasons. I’d been reading an article by Tim Ferriss in which he spoke about confronting fears head-on and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to overcome anxiety. I had a fear of public speaking and hated listening back to video and audio recordings of my voice. So I began to confront my discomfort. This personal challenge was the beginning of my podcasting journey and the birth of the This Is Horror Podcast. The other two reasons were less nerve-wracking: to reach a wider audience (we’ll return to this later) and because I’m a longstanding fan of the podcast medium.
Before you jump into the wonderful world of podcasting you’ll need a plan. What is your show about? What’s its niche and subject matter? What’s the format of the show? Will it be a solo show or will you have a co-host? Will there be guests? How regularly will you podcast? How will you promote the show? While you don’t have to have everything nailed down, do take the time to consider the basics. As a minimum, I’d suggest you at least know the format and frequency of the show. Knowing the subject matter is a given.
So, with that said, here’s what you’ll need to podcast.
- A microphone
- Audio editing software
- Call recorder
If you want your podcast to sound professional you’re going to need a decent microphone. That means upgrading from your standard in-built and on-board mic. The good news is this needn’t break the bank balance. I currently use and recommend the Blue Snowball. A great entry-level microphone that sounds better than most other microphones in its price bracket. Right now, you can grab the Blue Snowball from Amazon US for $49.99 (down from $99.99) or Amazon UK for £46.15 (down from £59.99).
Another solid option, though a little pricier for UK customers, is the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB. It’s the microphone recommended by veteran podcaster and entrepreneur Pat Flynn, of The Smart Passive Income Podcast, and will set US customers back $54.99 (down from $80.00) and UK customers £99.99.
If you can’t get hold of either of these microphones you may want to check out the rest of the Blue range or explore some of Samson’s microphones.
Audio Editing Software
Whether you’re putting together interviews or solo episodes you’re going to need some basic editing software to tidy things up and make it sound as good as possible. Beyond eliminating unnecessarily long pauses, dead air and cutting out mid-podcast interruptions, editing software is helpful for ensuring equal sound levels throughout, minimising background noise and even adding in jingles, sound effects and theme tunes. How much you edit is your call, but editing itself, well, that’s mandatory.
I use and have always used Garageband for Mac, which is easy to use, offers a range of options and provides all your basic editing needs. With the small price tag of just £3.99 Garageband really is a very good option.
For Windows users, Audacity is the obvious alternative to Garageband. Certainly not as aesthetically appealing with a more ‘back to basics’ interface, but just as competent. Best of all, Audacity is free, so for Mac users looking to start a podcast with minimal outgoings this may be an option to consider (though, personally, I’d fork out the £3.99 for Garageband).
In addition to your website hosting you’ll need a place to host your podcast media files. I use Libsyn as do a great deal of big name podcasters. Libsyn offer a range of monthly plans starting from $5. Another option I’ve noticed an increasing number of new podcasters use is SoundCloud, which is completely free.
If you’re planning on talking to people remotely, whether a co-host or interviewee, you’ll need some type of call recorder. You’ll also need to choose how you’re going to communicate with others. I’m a big advocate of Skype and have always used Call Recorder For Skype. It costs $29.95, has various recording options and is easy to install and use. The only drawback is it’s only available for Mac. Pamela is a decent alternative for Windows users.
If you don’t wear headphones you may inadvertently record the sound from your speakers. Do that and the podcast will have a horrible echo which will either render the audio file unusable or take you hours to remedy in the post-edit. To avoid this simply wear a pair of headphones while recording. I don’t recommend a ‘special’ pair specific for podcasting, so if you already have a pair of headphones go with them.
You’re going to need podcast cover art to help you stand out from the crowd and to promote your show. I recommend sourcing a professional artist (FYI: I used Nick Gucker for the This Is Horror Podcast and Pye Parr for Paleo Minds). You’ll need this artwork for uploading to iTunes. As per Apple’s guidelines, “cover art must be in the JPEG or PNG file formats and in the RGB color space with a minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and a maximum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels.”
Tagging Your Podcast File
Once I’ve recorded and edited my podcast I drag the MP3 file into iTunes and start tagging the file with key information. This will help listeners search for and find your podcast.
With the file in iTunes I click ‘get info’ and navigate to the options tag and select ‘Podcast’ as the media kind. Next I navigate to the ‘Description’ tab and write a quick episode overview such as, “In this podcast Helen Marshall talks about Fantasy genre misconceptions, Clarion West Writer's Workshop and rules of writing.” Next I add my cover art to the ‘Artwork’ tab using the ‘add artwork’ function. In the ‘details’ you’ll want to include the episode title. I like to abbreviate the podcast name and include the episode number, I’ll also include the name of the guest interviewed and 3–4 key points covered in the episode. For example, ‘TIH 031: Richard Thomas on Writing Disintegration, Short Stories and Narrative Voice’. You’ll want to include the hosts in the ‘author’ section and the podcast title in ‘podcast’ (who’d have guessed that?). Remember to select ‘Podcast’ from the genre dropdown and to duplicate your episode description in the ‘comments’ tab. I like to add more information to the author and podcast fields. This will help users find you. Remember, iTunes is one big search engine. This is how the author field looks for the This Is Horror Podcast, ‘Michael Wilson, This Is Horror Managing Editor; Dan Howarth, This Is Horror Deputy Editor’. The podcast field is as follows, ‘This Is Horror Podcast: For Readers, Writers and Creators | Horror | Interviews, Author Narrated Fiction and Reviews’.
Uploading Your First Podcast
Let me talk you through how I uploaded my first podcast. I use Wordpress and a plugin called PowerPress, so the first thing to do is search for and install the Blubrry PowerPress plugin. Once this is done navigate to ‘Powerpress’ in the left-hand navigation and click into ‘basic settings’. Ensure ‘Media URL’ and ‘Media File Size and Duration’ are checked.
In the ‘Media Appearance’ settings you’ll want to have ‘Enable PowerPress Media Players and Links’ selected unless you’re planning on installing a separate media player on your website.
Now the great thing about PowerPress is it’s all fairly self-explanatory in terms of fields and options, but I’m happy to address any comments, concerns or questions in the comments section of this article.
Once you’ve configured PowerPress, set up a new post ready to post your podcast. There are no ‘absolute’ rules as to how you should set out your podcast post, but I like to follow this format: accompanying image, a one-sentence overview of the podcast, author bio, show notes and resources. I also provide a link for listeners to subscribe to the podcast and support the show via Patreon.
You’re almost ready to send the podcast live, but there is one more thing you need to do – upload the file to LibSyn and link to PowerPress. Here’s how: log in to LibSyn, navigate to ‘content’ and click ‘Add File for Download Only’. Go to the ‘Upload’ tab and ‘Choose File’. I like to keep my file names simple and follow this format ‘TIHXXX’ where XXX represents the episode number. So the latest episode is ‘TIH070’. Once it’s uploaded you’ll need the direct download URL, something like ‘http://traffic.libsyn.com/YOUR-PODCAST-NAME/ABC123.mp3’.
Return to your Wordpress post. Scroll past the post content to ‘Media URL’ and insert the direct download URL (from above) and click ‘Verify URL’. Once the URL is verified preview your post and if it looks good and the audio plays you’re ready to schedule or send live your first podcast into the big wide world. For subsequent episodes all you ever need do is upload the file to LibSyn and insert the link into your post. No messing about with the PowerPress settings.
Submit Your Podcast To Directories
To ensure others can find you you’ll need to submit your podcast to directories. iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play Music are the main directories at the time of writing, though it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for new markets and opportunities.
Promote Your Podcast
Naturally the work has only just begun. You’ll need to encourage listeners to review, rate and subscribe on iTunes so as to signal boost your channel (thanks to Apple’s algorithms) but most importantly you’ll want to spread the word about your podcast and formulate a marketing strategy as you would for anything else, even if it’s just spreading the word through social media. If there’s enough demand I can write a podcast specific post on promotion in the future.
Why Should You Even Podcast?
So now you know how to podcast, you may be asking why you should bother. There are numerous reasons actually, but I think most broadly fall under the two categories below.
There are less podcasts than there are blogs and websites, so if you want to stand out from the crowd it makes sense to take advantage of this growing medium. Think about it, if someone Googles you there’s a lot more competition than if they search for you on iTunes. And iTunes is one of the biggest search engines available so it makes sense to get your brand involved. Let’s take for example This Is Horror. We have podcasts with Stephen Graham Jones, released The Elvis Room by Stephen Graham Jones and have run numerous interviews with him and reviews of his work on the website. If I search for ‘Stephen Graham Jones’ on iTunes UK or US all three of the podcasts we’ve had with Stephen appear on the first page. If I search for ‘Stephen Graham Jones’ on Google PT (I’m living in Portugal right now, so that’s my default) only one This Is Horror result shows up on the first page and if I switch to Google UK This Is Horror doesn’t appear until page three.
Consider that the people reading your blog or website aren’t necessarily the same people listening to your podcast. Some people prefer the podcast medium, others the written word. Often it’s a case of situation and convenience. Many people listen to podcasts while commuting or on the move. Let’s face it you can’t – or at least shouldn’t – read an article while driving, but you can listen to a podcast. The same goes for when you’re walking somewhere (though given the amount of people you see with their head buried in their phone some might challenge this).
Personally there are some podcasts I listen to regularly but I rarely visit the accompanying website and vice versa. You’re just creating more options for your audience. But on top of this there are podcasts I listen to that have turned me on to someone’s brand, website, publishing house, you name it.
Connection And Intimacy
There’s no denying that there’s something much more intimate and personal for all concerned about an audio interview. Tone of voice and nuances that would otherwise be lost to the page are exposed.
Connection and intimacy benefits everyone. The host gets to connect with experts within her field on a level that transcends written correspondence. The chances of striking up a friendship as a result of a real-time conversation are much likelier than as a result of an email exchange. I’d also suggest you can get to know someone better over a one-hour conversation than you could over, say, ten emails.
The listener, too, gets to deepen their knowledge of both the host and interviewee. You can’t redraft your answer as per a written article. The ‘on the spot’ nature of the podcast interview leads to a more honest and authentic interview than the written word. In listening to a podcast you feel like you’re spending some time with the hosts and guests. This is because you are. Thus you feel more connected and should you run into them at a convention or event you already have some talking points to start a conversation. It’s a weird feeling interacting with someone for the first time that you feel you know because you’ve spent many hours listening to their podcast, but it’s a good feeling. It’s how I first felt when I spoke with the guys from Booked.
If you’ve been considering putting out a podcast for a while, I encourage you to take the leap in 2016. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. If you have any questions about podcasting or would like me to listen to your podcast and provide feedback I’m happy to discuss things in the comments section. If you would prefer a private conversation drop me a line on Twitter @wilsonthewriter and we’ll arrange an email exchange. There are many excellent podcasts for writers out there, some of which have already been highlighted in 8 Great Podcasts for Writers by Max Booth (thanks for including This Is Horror). I would also add to the list A.C. Fuller’s WRITER 2.0, J. David Osborne’s new venture The Broken River Podcast, the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast and Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. Of course, there’s a little known podcast called Unprintable you may be familiar with, too. Finally, if you’re looking for great conversations and inspiration for life you have to check out The Tim Ferriss Show and Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces Podcast.
Happy podcasting. I’ll see you in the comments section where I’d love to hear about your favourite podcasts.
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