So, you want to start a Podcast? Whether you want to discuss and share your favorite topics, provide information and/or entertainment, showcase your mixing ability, rant about your most loathed celebrity, or just get your voice out into the public, podcasts are becoming an ever growing presence in online media. With the continued shift in media from traditional to online, the increase of popular podcasts and online radio shows is becoming more evident and influential, demonstrated with record breaking subscriptions across multiple platforms.
Don’t worry, getting started with your own podcast may seem a daunting task but there are many resources (often free) that can aid you in creating a successful program. In the context of this article, we will review the basics of starting a podcast or radio show and tips associated with recording, hosting, distributing, and promoting your own show. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive but to provide enough information to point you in the right direction.
What type of Podcast are you creating?
To simplify things, we can break up the types of podcasts into two main areas:
- Traditional Podcasts - primarily talking or discussion based podcasts (example: AM talk radio or audio dramas).
- Radio Shows - primarily music based podcasts (example: traditional FM radio or live mixing).
The type of podcast you will be creating will influence how you distribute and promote. Both types will be discussed.
Equipment needed to get started
Assuming you are creating an audio podcast (as opposed to a video podcast), there are three essential items needed: a computer, microphone, and recording software (and a little bit of knowledge about all three).
Most basic laptop computers and tablets available today will be able to accommodate recording one or more sources. There are many software and app options available to record and edit audio for your podcast. If you are recording a live mix, many DJ software packages, such as Serato or Traktor, have recording abilities already built in. Low cost options for recording and editing software include Garage Band, SoundForge, and Audacity (which is FREE). These will be used to record, edit, and export the audio in a lower, space saving, formats.
One way to improve the quality of your podcast is to record using an external microphone (not the microphone built into your computer or tablet which are infamously horrible). There are two different types of microphones often used: Condenser Microphones (requiring external power) and Dynamic Microphones. Both of these varieties of microphones can be found in USB form for easier application if you do not have a mixer. To record a single source without using USB, the 1/8” “line in” or “microphone in” jack (typically located next to the headphone input of your computer) is used to connect to your audio source (one microphone or audio input) using an adapter. I have personally run into situations where there are no line or microphone inputs available with newer laptop computers. If this is the case, a USB audio interface can be used to connected one or multiple inputs.
If you are creating a traditional podcast with multiple people or a radio show, a mixer will most likely be required. These can range from a multi-channel physical (board) mixer, traditional DJ two or four channel mixer, DJ controller, or virtual mixer via software. It is important to control sound levels from different voices or audio sources so that one does not overpower any of the others.
Once you have recorded your podcast, common editing includes removing any excessive blank space (or dead air) at the beginning and end of the podcast, increasing or lowering sound levels, mixing multiple tracks (or recordings) together, adding or removing content, and encoding/exporting the audio in a listener friendly format. This format is typically an MP3 file, between 128 to 192 Kbps (CD quality audio). During this process you can embed tags (ID3), images, and descriptions of your podcast to help reference your material.
Recording Tip: To help prevent or reduce “popping” sounds when recording speech that may cause your listeners’ ears to bleed every time you say “popcorn” or “pound cake”, a pop filter is highly recommended.
This serves to eliminate the loud peaks and clipping in the audio when pronouncing certain words, such as the first “p” in the word “popping.” Additionally, microphone covers (wind screens) are helpful if you are recording in an environment with excessive wind or movement. Your listeners will thank you.
Once you have recorded, edited, and exported your audio file, you will most likely need to host your own podcast. The majority of distributors do not host the content themselves and rely on linking or pulling from sources. This is typically done by uploading your own server, ftp, or database. If you are running your own website, this will most likely be the best place to store your audio files. If you use a content management system (CMS) or blog system such as WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger, you can upload, host, and link to your podcast with their services. There are also hosting services from various sources such as Libsyn and Blubrry that help ease the process of uploading, tagging, hosting, publishing and distributing your podcast (typically at a cost).
There are other, albeit more limiting in certain aspects, options to host your content with sites like SoundCloud, MixCloud, HearThis.at, and Play.fm. SoundCloud (similarly HearThis.at) is a popular site geared more towards musicians that allows users to upload and share recorded audio and allow listeners to both stream and download your recordings. Due to recent crack downs on copyright material, there have been issues with Soundcloud removing content that includes popular or recognizable music. If your recording is a traditional podcast, as described before, there shouldn’t be an issue with using Soundcloud. MixCloud (similarly Play.FM) is geared more towards DJ mixes and is less restricting in music content than SoundCloud. A negative about this service, however, is that your recordings can only be streamed and your listeners will not have the ability to download your podcast (and subsequently you cannot distribute using this service either). A short list of other hosting sites can be found here.
To keep track of your episodic or periodical podcast, an RSS feed will need to be generated. An RSS feed (RDF Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication) allows your podcast recordings to be easily accessed for use on other websites and platforms. There are two different options for creating an RSS Feed: either automatically done or manually written.
The simple way to generate an RSS feed is to have a service such as WordPress or Libsyn generate a feed automatically for you whenever you upload a new podcast. The RSS feed (an XML file) needs to be constantly updated with your new content along with your old podcasts (if you want them to be accessed again) so that the various websites and platforms can alert subscribers that your new podcast is up and ready.
If you are not wanting to use a service to generate the RSS feed, you will have to write your own XML file. This can be to your advantage because some service generated RSS feeds can limit how visible your podcasts are on searches. In other words, you are in full control of what information you want to present if you create it yourself.
Now that you have your podcast recorded, hosted, and RSS feed generated, you will need to find places that people can access it. Because podcast and radio show listeners span a variety of platforms and sources, it is generally a good idea to have your podcast available in as many places as possible that fit your format and style. As mentioned before, there are multiple hosting services online, like Libsyn and Blubrry, which will distribute your podcast for you to a variety of sources, typically for a fee. Most, if not all, of these sources can be accessed for free if you submit the podcast directly to them. It is also good to keep in mind that some distributors will play their own ads (before/after) without compensation if you plan to monetize your podcast. Here is a short list of possible places to distribute your podcast depending on content:
- Instacast 5
- Pocket Casts
- Google Play
- Promotions and Social Media
Promoting on social media and other websites is incredibly beneficial to help direct people to your podcasts. This is very important for getting the word out about your podcast (especially if you are just starting out). Looking back where you originally heard about or saw information about podcasts or radio shows you were interested in is a good place to start. Sharing links on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram are always a great places to promote and also a good place to receive feedback and comments. Community sharing sites like Reddit and Digg are also good sources to generate interest in your podcast, especially if you share within related topics or genres. Another good, often overlooked, avenue for promotion is embedding your podcasts on other blogs and forums that relate to your genre or topic.
Successful Podcast Examples
Lastly, here is an incredibly short list of some of my favorite successful podcast examples that you may find inspiring too.
- StarTalk Radio
- Radio mix shows:
- 60Hz Sessions (by Artful)
- Community Service (by The Crystal Method)