How To Start A Podcast
Earlier this year, our very own Audio Producer and host of The Listening Books Podcast, Jessica Stone, teamed up with Rest Less Events to give a workshop for those interested in starting a podcast.
In case you missed it, here are the highlights! Read on for expert tips and tricks on starting your own podcast, brought to you by an industry professional.
Why a podcast?
“Anybody, literally anybody, can make a podcast.”
There are several advantages of podcasts:
- There is no gatekeeper - you don’t have to pitch a show to anybody, or fit into any particular programming
- Anyone can listen from anywhere and at any time. This means that people actively choose to listen to you, and they always listen to your show from the start
- There are no time constraints - radio, on the other hand, has a very strict time schedule
- They’re often pre-recorded, removing the pressure of talking live on-air
However, Jess warns, you have to work hard to get listeners, because people aren’t likely to tune into your show by accident, like they might with a radio show.
Why do you want to start a podcast?
“Thinking about what you want from [a podcast] and why you’d like to make it will determine what you view as success, and how fulfilling you find the whole experience.”
Reflect on why you want to start a podcast. It could be because:
- It would be a fun project to do with friends and family
- There’s a story that you want to tell, and this is the best medium to do so
- You have a business and you want to expand brand awareness, or engage communities with your brand
It can take a long time and a lot of hard work for a podcast to become popular. That’s why Jess believes it’s important to remain aware of your motivation to start a podcast in the first place, and to let this shape how you measure the success of your podcast.
Content and Format
“Making a podcast, I think, is just a series of decisions after decisions.”
Your first decisions need to focus on the kind of podcast you want to make, and what format it will take.
Examples of podcast categories include:
- Arts - books, food, performing arts, visual arts
- Society and culture - personal journals, places and travel, relationships
- Leisure - crafts, games, hobbies, home and garden
- Comedy - comedy interviews, improv, stand-up
- Education - how-to, language-learning, self-improvement
- Fiction - comedy fiction, drama, science fiction
Make sure that your podcast focuses on something that you’re very interested in, which you can work on for a sustained period of time. A useful tip for testing this is to see if you can come up with at least 10 different episode ideas for your given topic.
Different kinds of podcast format include:
- Solo - this is a monologue, so you don’t have to rely on anyone else to show up on time or bring good discussion points to the table. However, you’re not bouncing off other people, so without any audible or visual feedback, it can be more difficult to keep listeners engaged
- Interview - in this format guests help you create content and bring energy to your podcast, but sourcing guests can be difficult and time-consuming
- Round table - this tends to involve co-hosts or a recurring panel of guests. While multiple hosts can take the pressure off one person, relying on multiple people can be risky - everybody has to be on board and committed to the project. For anyone working with this format, Jess recommends checking in from time to time, to make sure everyone is still enthusiastic and that labour is being divided fairly
- Narrative - this could be either fiction or non-fiction. This format holds impressive storytelling potential, but often involves a lot of work as narrative podcasts tend to be heavily produced, with characters, sound effects, interviews, ambience, etc.
Naming your podcast
“When you think you’ve got a good name, Google it!”
When choosing a name for your podcast, consider:
- Does it already exist? It’s important to check whether there is already a podcast or any other product, group or service that carries the name you have in mind, because these could also appear when somebody searches for your podcast
- Is it short enough to fit in thumbnail cover art and still be legible?
- Does it indicate what the content is likely to be?
- Can you secure the social media accounts and domain name? If you think of a great name for a podcast that nobody else has, Jess advises that you create the social media accounts (and domain name, if you think you might want a website) before you do anything else, so that your desired handles and name branding are reserved
“Don’t let the cover art hold you back, because it can feel like a big obstacle sometimes!”
In order to submit your podcast to directories, you need to have cover art that can be displayed with your audio files. Cover art is the only necessary artwork for publishing a podcast, but other artwork can be really useful for promoting your podcast in other formats, such as on social media, for example.
Your podcast’s cover art needs to be 3,000 x 3,000 pixels, 72 dpi and under 512 KB in size. It can be difficult to make a high-resolution file that’s small in size, but to achieve this you can compress your artwork - Jess recommends using tinypng.com.
Consider whether you’d like to make your own cover art, or if it’s something you would like to outsource. Jess suggests that you could hire someone to do a mock-up for you if you’re not sure about designing something yourself.
Always make sure that you have the right to use the images and other design elements that feature in your cover art.
“Because, why not have your podcast everywhere?”
A hosting platform is the place where you will upload your podcast files to the internet, and it’s what will create the RSS feed that podcast directories (such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts) need to share your content.
Hosting platforms often have a free plan, but this is usually limited in terms of how much you can upload in a given month, what analytics you can access, and how long your files can stay on the platform. If you’re paying a fee to use a hosting platform, your files will usually stay on there for as long as your payments continue.
Examples of hosting platforms include:
When choosing a podcast host, ask yourself:
- Do they have the right pricing tier for my requirements and budget?
- Do they incorporate other tasks that could simplify production? An example of this might be online recording studios that allow you to record and produce your podcast within the host platform itself, rather than doing this externally and then uploading your files
- Do they submit to all the desired directories on my behalf? Jess believes it’s worth submitting to as many directories as possible
- How responsive is their support team?
- If I decide to leave, how easy is it to migrate to a different host? (This one’s important!)
Recording and equipment
“There are levels. You can spend a lot or very little… but the bottom line is that, for every recording scenario, you will want some headphones.”
Whether you’re using big headphones or small earbuds, to record a podcast you need headphones so that you can monitor what your microphone is picking up. If there is some noise interfering with the recording, using headphones will allow you to spot it and stop it at the time, which is a lot easier than trying to fix sound issues in post-production.
In terms of a microphone, you may be able to use the internal microphone in whatever device you’re using, as modern laptop and phone microphones can be very good quality.
There are 2 main types of external microphone: dynamic and condenser. Unless you have a studio-type environment, you probably want a dynamic microphone. Microphones can come with a USB or an XLR output. The USB output can plug straight into a laptop, whereas the XLR would fit into an interface or a recorder. Jess recommends the Shure MV7 microphone because having both a USB and XLR gives you some versatility, allowing you to get started right away with just a laptop as well as the ability to upgrade your setup down the line.
You’re also going to need something to record audio - this could be an application on your device (e.g. Reaper, GarageBand, Audacity, Hindenburg, Pro Tools, Adobe Audition), a dedicated recorder or an online recording studio.
Some examples of what a recording setup could look like include:
- Remote interview
- Dynamic microphone
- Online recording studio e.g. Riverside.fm, Zoom, Squadcast
- In-person round table
- Dynamic microphone for each person - this gives you separate tracks which allows you to adjust each person’s audio separately
- At least one person with headphones
- A recorder with enough inputs or an interface with enough inputs connected to computer
- On-location (for a birding podcast, for example)
- A recorder like the Zoom H1 or H4 that have in-built microphones
- Additional microphones if required
- Maybe a shotgun mic, which picks up sound from a specific direction while filtering out background noise
“The aim [of a recording space] is to prevent unwanted noise coming into your recording environment, as well as prevent the sound that you’re creating from bouncing around inside your recording environment and creating lots of reverb.”
To achieve this, Jess recommends adding lots of fabric and cushioned objects to your recording space - duvets, curtains, upholstered furniture, towels, rugs and carpet are all useful for this.
The spaces you need to pay the most attention to are those behind your mic and behind you, because this is where sound will try to bounce the most while you’re talking.
Editing, mixing, mastering and publishing
“Respect your listeners’ time.”
After recording your audio, there are four stages that go into releasing a podcast episode that your listeners will enjoy: editing; mixing; mastering; and publishing.
The main goals of each stage are:
- Editing - remove anything that distracts or detracts. This could include repetition, long pauses, overuse of filler words
- Mixing - make sure that voices are level and that any music you include doesn’t drown out speech
- Mastering - master your podcast to the recommended loudness of -16 LUFS. This will make sure that when a podcast goes out to different directories that might have their own level that they like to play things at, there shouldn’t be too large a difference between what your podcast is providing and what they play it at
- Publishing - export your recording to an mp3 file for publishing
Remember, all of these stages can also be outsourced if you don’t have the skills or time to take charge of them.
How will people find your podcast
“Honestly, everybody is working hard to get listeners, because there’s so much now competing for people’s attention. So you try to make the best show that you can, and then you try to get the word out.”
Jess recommends that, when promoting your podcast, you ask yourself:
- Who else is interested in your topic? Are there any other groups you know who might enjoy your podcast, such as facebook groups, or a community group at your library, for example?
- Can you be a guest on someone else’s podcast, or have another podcast host as a guest on yours? Research other podcasts on similar topics to find people to collaborate with
- Can you create sharable content that will help you promote your podcast on social media? An example of this might be an audiogram - a waveform visualisation of a sound clip from your podcast. Jess recommends using Headliner to make these
- Can you make a transcript of your podcast? This helps your podcast appear in keyword searches and achieve a higher search engine optimisation ranking, and improves its accessibility
- Do your show notes use keywords that people might use to search for content like your podcast?
The don’ts of making a podcast
“Comparison is the thief of joy!”
Now you’re ready to start planning your very own podcast! Jess’s final reminders are not to:
- Slander any individuals or companies in your podcast
- Use copyrighted material without express, written permission from the copyright holder
- Negatively compare your podcast to shows created by professional production teams
- Get consumed by statistics - focus instead on cultivating gratitude for anybody who finds it valuable to spend time listening to your podcast
For further inspiration, why not tune into The Listening Books Podcast? To listen to Jess’s conversations with the authors and narrators of your favourite books, please click here.
Listening Books provide a charitable audiobook lending service for people of all ages in the UK whose illness, mental health condition, disability or learning difficulty makes it more challenging to read print or hold a book. Online access to our collection of over 10,000 audiobooks costs just £20 a year, with completely free memberships available to anyone who would find this cost a barrier to joining our service. To learn more about becoming a Listening Books member, please click here.
Rest Less Events offers a comprehensive programme of online events, designed to bring like-minded people together to share interests and experiences, learn new things and make new connections, at home and around the world. To learn more about upcoming events, please click here.
Author: Emily Pye
Adapted from a talk by: Jessica Stone