How to Start a Podcast
Be an audio sensation on the internet
While video blogging soars in popularity, you might want to consider jumping in with podcasting—just the audio portion of delivering a show over the internet. Podcasting is a much less crowded and less competitive space than blogging, but still attracts big audiences. Research by PodcastHosting.org found there are over 1 million podcasts and more than 29 million episodes as of May 2020, with over half of the U.S. population tuning in.
Listen-only shows have a couple of other unique advantages. In addition to tuning in at home, 64% of podcast listeners in the U.S. catch up on a podcast while driving. As a host, you can show up to this work from home gig unshaven or without pants, which would be weird, but hey, you do you!
I fell into podcasting a couple of years ago when a local radio station asked me to do a public affairs show. I podcast each show after the initial broadcast, and post to social media. Now, thanks to the global health pandemic, I am interviewing and recording from home. This isn’t a novel idea—there are many popular radio shows that are podcasts.
Starting a podcast isn’t difficult and you don’t have to have a media background. The two key elements in my view is a little technical aptitude to learn audio editing software, and willingness to put in effort to promote your show.
Planning Your Podcast
Often overlooked, taking time to plan a few things out will help you be better organized for launch.
Choose a topic
You want your podcast to be focused on a particular topic or niche. The topic should be something you are passionate about, because that will keep you motivated to continue to produce shows.
Try to narrow it down to something you can speak about for many episodes but that isn’t so broad that you won’t appeal to your potential audience.
For example, instead of a public affairs show open to any nonprofit or community group, I agreed to the radio gig by narrowing the field to something I am passionate about— noncommercial interviews on environmental topics and related cultural issues—which can run the full gambit from water quality or recycling to indigenous planting methods or sustainable fishing.
Consider a co-host
You can increase the quality of your podcast by incorporating a co-host—someone you have good on-air rapport with that has shared values for your podcast topics.
I started out solo, and now am introducing a co-host. The main reason? Producing a weekly podcast takes a fair bit of time for not a lot of financial return. I have a regular guest that is producing a monthly speaker’s series of live environmental meetings, and we usually end up talking with her guests on my show. It was a natural to partner up once a month, cutting my workload by a quarter, and giving her group extra exposure.
However, unless you plan on starting out as a team, adding a co-host is not a decision you need to make right now. Make your show your own, then hunt for a good-fitting co-host.
Define your audience
Once you have decided what you want your show to be about, imagine who you think would be most interested in hearing it. Audiences are typically defined in age groups, by gender and by interests.
There is a wealth of data available for different demographics. For example, this article from the Atlantic provides great insight on Millennials.
Other shows may have an audience of diverse age groups that are drawn together by subject matter. You can do the same type of investigating by searching social media groups and blogs by topic and see what people are discussing.
Have your audience in mind and speak to them, during your show and during your marketing.
Choose a name
Keep your audience in mind when choosing a name. If you are targeting 20-somethings, your name can be more edgy. A senior audience might appreciate a more explanatory name.
You can scroll through Time’s list of best 2020 podcasts so far or look at the top Apple Podcasts chart to get some inspiration. You’ll notice some at least hint at the subject matter, but most are just clever names that don’t mean much.
Keep the name short. You’ll be saying it a lot and you want people to remember it. You may want to purchase a domain name that matches your podcast name (after you are sure you will stick with the name and the show).
Decide length and frequency
Google best podcast length and you will get a variety of answers, but one blog has some incredible information. Dan Misener collected data from over 18 million podcasts to find the average and mean podcast running time. He theorizes the mean running time is more accurate since it eliminates the outliers, like that marathon 11-hour Civil War podcast. So, according to data, just over 41 minutes is the sweet spot.
I have found 30 minutes works well for an interview show. A half-hour is long enough to really dig into a topic, but not so long that a guest has difficulty making the time commitment or coming up with interesting things to say.
Also, the longer the show, and the more often you plan to produce it, the greater your time commitment. You will be more enthusiastic at the beginning, but you need to be realistic about your time commitment in the long run. Start modestly then build from there.
Interview shows are popular because your audience gets to hear different topics from different points of view. As the host you get to ask the (hopefully) intelligent questions and express some opinions.
Having guests is one way to expand your exposure. They likely will want to share a copy of the podcast on their social media, blog or website.
There are also podcasts that are educational, such as teaching how to cook or do a DIY project. You might host a music podcast, pontificating about songs or artists between tracks. There are some very popular podcasts involving fiction and nonfiction storytelling.
Create cover art
Your cover art is the first impression potential new listeners will see as they browse through Apple Podcasts or other podcast directories. Apple Podcasts is the largest directory and also the pickiest when it comes to cover art, so it is a good idea to design to their specifications. Your art can then be used elsewhere.
Note most podcast directories use square cover art images, but you might want to create a horizontal version to be used elsewhere, like Facebook.
Apple Podcast cover art specifications: Minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and a maximum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels, 72 dpi, in JPEG or PNG format with appropriate file extensions (.jpg, .png), and in the RGB color space. To be considered a featured podcast on Apple, your cover art must be the maximum size.
Viewers will see your image for about a second as they scroll through the catalog. Your cover art should stand out and give a visual clue to what your podcast is about. Check out this article from Buzzsprout for more tips on creating cover art.
Choose intro music
There are a ton of places to buy royalty free music for your podcast intro and sign off. Some are free if you credit the artist, but these two are free with no strings attached:
Pixabay Music. A service from the well-known stock photography site, Pixabay Music offers free musical tracks. Users can filter songs by categories such as genre, mood, and movement.
Free Music Archive. Another great resource, on Free Music Archive has thousands of free tracks to browse through.
Get a microphone
Great audio quality is important, and there are a range of microphone available for podcasting at very reasonable prices.
One favorite is the Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB. I like it because it has both a USB connection to plug directly into your computer, and also sports an XLR connection for tapping into professional mixing equipment.
Time to Produce Your Show
Now that all the preliminaries are in place, it’s time to develop a list of topics and potential guests and start reaching out to record your first show.
Recording & Editing
Here are the top tools podcasters are using for recording and editing shows, starting with the best of the crop, Pro Tools. The last two on the list are free and are perfectly acceptable, especially if you are just starting out. Look through the features of each one to see which best meets your needs.
Before you start editing, create a template with your intro and closing so you don’t have to recreate these for each episode.
Recording a remote interview
There are several video conferencing apps that record decent audio for a podcast. I am currently using Zoom for remote interviews. There is a free version that allows you to record up to 40 minutes with up to 100 guests, or unlimited recording time for one on one interviews. You can record the show to your computer, or to the cloud with the paid version.
You can use your professional microphone by changing the app’s default settings. For best audio quality, ask your guests to use their phone handset (not on speaker) and not the built-in computer microphone.
Get a place for your podcast to live
Since most people don’t have their own secure servers at home, you will need a place for your podcast files to live to be accessible on the internet.
Here are the most popular podcast hosting services for you to review:
I use SoundCloud because the paid version is cheap—$6 per month—for the amount of storage available, plus it has good distribution options.
Once you have uploaded your podcast, you can share it to Apple Podcast and other directories, and share the episode to social media.
If you plan on growing your podcast as a business, you will want to build a website for the show. This is where you can expose listeners to more content you have produced and grow your podcasting empire.