How to Start a Podcast: The Ultimate Guide
Podcasts are an exciting, modern, and effective way to grow your personal brand or that of your company. Any comprehensive content marketing strategy should include a podcast. Done properly your own podcast can attract new listeners and provide a great way to connect with existing customers. Before you hit the record button and get your first podcast “in the can,” there’s plenty to consider, including things like editing software and what recording equipment will be used. Even before buying your first podcast microphone or getting into anything on the technical side, there’s research and brainstorming you need to complete. Here’s everything you need to get started, including a step-by-step process that will get you from podcast recording to post-production. Whether you want to make this your new hobby, grow your career or business, or own a podcast that can make money, we’ve got you covered.
Start With Strategy
Step 1: Choose What You Want to Talk About
The earliest decision any successful podcaster must make is what to talk about, and what type of content you want to produce. It’s important to know podcast listeners seek out knowledgable and passionate hosts in order to be entertained, educated, or sometimes both. For these reasons, and to keep yourself interested in routinely producing content, you’ll want to choose a topic you’re well versed in and something that excites you personally. Ask yourself: would your new podcast be solving any problems? If you have a blog or website, ask your readers what topics they want to see covered in podcast form.
The step-by-step process that builds a successful podcast and earns a profit through sponsorship or subscription revenue can be counterintuitive. The goal shouldn’t be to discover the path to monetization but rather audience engagement. Ask yourself what the goal of the show is, including an honest assessment of the topic you’ve chosen. Will your show connect to podcast listeners? Is there an existing gap in the type of content you want to provide, maximizing your ability to become ranked among popular podcasts? Within your chosen content field, research and listen to existing podcasts and podcast formats that have already proven successful.
Step 2: Chose The Format
- Scripted: There are a number of format options to choose from when starting a podcast. A basic distinction can be made between scripted and unscripted podcasts. While all of the best podcasts involve prep work and the use of show notes, some are more scripted than others. Many podcasts script the entire show and even bypass the need for podcast equipment entirely by hiring a voiceover artist to complete the production. When this option is chosen, templates can also be constructed to allow for easier production of new episodes. Other podcasts are less structured in that sense and allow for more flow of conversation.
- Serialized: Another format choice you’ll want to consider is whether or not you will offer a serialized podcast. Some podcasts are series-based and connect new episodes together in order to tell a larger story. A serialized podcast therefore is a series of podcast episodes that weave together and tell a story. The series produces as many episodes as it takes to tell the complete story, and none of them effectively stand alone. Other podcasts simply release new episodes under the same “show name title” but with standalone titles for each new podcast. Think of Netflix “series” when you think of serialized podcasts.
- Solo: Browsing through podcast directories you’ll find podcasts that include both a solo host as well as those with co-hosts. This typically comes down to the podcaster’s level of comfort and the availability of other contributors. If you prefer not to focus on getting guests then co-hosts are also a good volley partner when it comes to building conversation.
- Co-Host: Co-hosts are both a resource and an additional challenge for new podcasters. It can be beneficial to have an alternate voice to bounce ideas off of, and it can improve the listenability if there is good chemistry. Still, scheduling with other people can sometimes prove difficult and delay the production of new episodes. Modern video and meeting technology has made this easier. Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and other services such as StreamYard or Restream can make remote podcasting possible. Sound quality may suffer as a result. Some podcasters record individual audio files “locally” for each co-host, so as to maintain the “in studio” level of sound quality.
- Length: Episode length is an important consideration for all podcasters. There are many differing opinions out there among podcasters and listeners as to the ideal length. The truth is there is no perfect answer, because it’s based on your content. If it takes you only 10 minutes to cover what you intended, there’s no need to stretch. That said, some podcasts run over an hour or more. Some of Joe Rogan’s podcasts are four hours long. There’s research out there indicating podcast listeners will tolerate episodes of almost any length if they enjoy the content. It’s “on demand” audio meaning the listener can always pause and return at a later date.
Step 3: Choose the Cadence
The world’s most popular and successful podcasts, including the ones that achieve monetization, are notable for their consistency. Listeners come to expect notifications on their cell phone’s podcast apps on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, driving engagement. Research shows the best podcasts follow a strict methodology when it comes to how often and when they release new episodes. For that reason you’ll want to decide on cadence or when your episodes “drop” and use the same day of the week each time.
Step 4: Choose a Title For Your Show
Choosing a name for your new podcast can be daunting. Everything from your podcast website’s URL to search engine optimization or SEO should be considered when deciding the podcast name. Generally speaking the name should be easy to remember, unique, on brand, and not overly explicit. Podcasts are sometimes rejected by hosting platforms like iTunes and Google Podcasts for violating standards within titles and episode descriptions. There are options to list your episodes as “explicit” if that matches your content.
Next, Think About Fundamentals
Step 5: Choose Cover Art
Selecting cover art for your podcast is arguably just as important as the show title. You’ll want to review the competition: what does the cover art look like for similar podcasts? Can you come up with your own creative spin? Perhaps a photo of you and your co-hosts can be stylized in a fun way. Check out websites like Fiverr and UpWork for artists that offer podcast cover art creation. Your image is like your show’s logo and should clearly communicate the message your podcast aims to convey. It also needs to be consistent with any logo you already use. All aspects of the design need to be considered, including the font and colors.
In addition to those considerations, file size is important. Specifically the number of pixels your image contains. Apple for example won’t accept any podcast cover art that’s smaller than 1400 x 1400 pixels, or larger than 3000 x 3000 pixels. Stick to either the JPEG or PNG format and avoid adding any periods to the file name itself. This can mess with the file name extension and get your image rejected. There are a number of websites that allow you to resize and compress images.
If you’re designing your own cover art you might consider programs like Adobe Photoshop, or graphic art design services such as Canva. There are existing templates there that make it easy to creatively design podcast cover art.
Step 6: Choose Intro and Outro Music
This is where the entire process becomes tied into personal preference, branding, and audio design. Some podcasts like to start out “dry” or without any music, only to then include the musical intro following a brief discussion that lays out the topics or mentions that episode’s guest. Other podcasts include highly produced musical intros that utilize sound effects, clips from previous shows, and professional voice over artists. One often repeated suggestion is to find either free music, or music that’s at least royalty free. This can avoid things like cease and desist agreements and episodes getting flagged on certain platforms with DMCA violations. Perhaps you know a friend or colleague with a musical background who might enjoy working on the project with you. Previously mentioned websites such as Fiverr also include content creators who make podcast intros and outros (similar to cover art). Finally some shows utilize the same song when “ending” the show as an outro, other podcasters enjoy picking different outro music entirely.
Step 7: Choose a Microphone & Recording Equipment
Before you start recording you want to give proper consideration to your choice of a microphone. Podcasters can leverage relatively low-tech setups that involve the use of a smart phone or tablet, while others build out fully professional studios with high-end microphones. The key is to know what works for you and how much you are willing to spend on podcast equipment. USB microphones are very convenient in that they will connect directly to your computer for easy setup recording. High-quality XLR microphones don’t provide a digital signal and would require a mixing board or converter device to record on your laptop. Generally speaking XLR provides higher quality but USB microphones are also sometimes better at eliminating background noise. There are many different microphone providers to consider including Shure, Audio-Technica, Blue Microphones, Sennheiser, and Electro-Voice.
Once you’ve collected the actual microphone you intend to use, find the proper accessories that go along with it. You’ll want to purchase a microphone stand or boom arm, depending on how you’ll be set up and where you’ll record. In addition to a good mic stand you will want to purchase a wind screen and pop-filter that matches your microphone model. Wind screens are those puffy nerf ball looking things that muffle background noise, while pop-filters avert the audio level from “peaking” or becoming over modulated when you hit a “p” sound. You should also have the microphone about a fist’s length away from your mouth to cut down on audio problems. If you’re using a XLR microphone you’ll want to invest in a multi-channel mixer or a device that converts XLR to a digital signal (USB).
Step 8: Choose a Recording Space
Again the key here is to be comfortable and practical. While some podcasts are recorded in professional studios and on sound stages, others are recorded by people in their own homes, at the office, or inside a closet (you use what you have available). Some parameters that should be followed circle back to audio quality. Echo is a key consideration. Hard surfaces like tile floors and low ceilings will cause considerable echo. You can overcome this in a pinch by using partitions with blankets or heavy coats hung up, and area rugs are useful in this way as well. For a more long-term solution you might consider purchasing acoustic tiles that can be tacked to walls or partitions.
Step 10: Choose Your Podcast Host
This is a basic consideration and in many cases you will already have the host in mind, especially if you want to be the main voice for your podcast. Still, the co-host option is part of this decision. Similarly, some people who own, maintain, and distribute podcasts never spend any time behind the microphone. In this scenario you’d likely be writing out the script and then sending it to a voiceover artist, or hiring and host/producer outright for the production.
Step 11: Choose Your Guests
Some podcasts rely heavily on the guest-interview format. One or two co-hosts spend the entire time or a portion of the podcast interviewing that guest. For this reason you’ll want to choose people who are funny, entertaining, informative, or some combination of the three. Also podcasts are always looking for ways to self-promote, so having other more established podcast hosts on as guests can be a benefit.
Again as stated earlier: there’s no shortcut to a popular podcast or growing your audience. There can be a tendency to focus on getting a “big name” as a guest, but you should be prioritizing guests who drive conversations. Engaging conversations that match with your brand and podcast mission make for good guests.
Now, It’s Time for Production
Step 12: Record
In order to record your podcast and have actual audio files to work with you’ll need to choose from a number of recording software programs. There are a number of free options and some that require a subscription or payment prior to using.
- Garageband comes with all Apple laptops and allows for multitrack recording and editing. More complicated edits can be difficult to pull off in Garageband, but for the most low-fuss podcasts this is a good option.
- Audacity is free and there are versions available that work on both Mac and PCs.
- Riverside.fm is a paid option that allows you to record both audio and video within your web browser, including co-host and guests. Squadcast is a competitor who offers a similar service. Other platforms include StreamYard and Restream, but they also offer free options with fewer features.
Step 13: Editing
Some of the aforementioned programs such as Audacity and Garageband allow for podcast editing in addition to audio recording. Adobe Audition is a program you must pay for, but it allows recording and editing similar to Audacity. A key distinction between Adobe Audition and Audacity is the ease of completing “multi track” editing which can be needed for adding music and similar elements.
If you are adept at using audio editing software then this step won’t prove much of a challenge, as most podcasts don’t typically require a lot of complicated edits. Most often you just want to make sure your show is “topped and tailed” meaning there are no errors or “dead air” at the start and finish. There may also be some minor edits you noted throughout the recording, such as when someone sneezed or had to clear their throat. Finally some guests will contact you after the fact and insist a portion of the episode be removed (this can be frustrating and ultimately may force you to make an editor’s decision).
In addition to content-based edits, now is the time to add in your intro music and outro music. Some podcasts also enjoy adding a “production tag” that is identifiable such as a sound effect, distinct set of words spoken by the hosts, or a clip from a movie or TV show.
Finally, keep audio levels in mind when editing. Making the music too loud will drown out the host audio and make it difficult to hear. Producing an entire file that’s too low in volume or too high in volume will make it hard on your listeners. Apple podcasts require specific settings when it comes to uploading files for podcast distribution, which you can access here.
Once It’s Perfect, It’s Time for Distribution
When the podcast has been edited and you’re confident the final product is ready to go out to your listeners, the next consideration for all new podcasts is distribution. This involves the creation of an RSS feed which can then be linked up to a variety of distribution platforms. RSS stands for Really Simple Streaming and is a standardized computer-readable format.
There are a number of websites that can help you set up your podcast’s RSS feed but more technically savvy individuals will find they can set it up themselves. Here’s a free resource covering how to do that.
There are also a number of services you might consider that focus on podcast distribution and making it easier for new podcasts, such as Anchor, owned by Spotify.
Step 14: Pick a Podcast Hosting Platform
Creating your podcast and producing the episodes themselves provides you the opportunity to share content with your customers. You also want to know how that content is being enjoyed, and chart the metrics associated with each episode. A number of podcast hosting services such as Simplecast, Captivate, and BuzzSprout will handle this for you.
Step 15: Upload Your First Episode
When the time comes to upload your first episode, you’ll find there’s no shortage of options as to where they can be featured. Apple Podcasts are well known and the term “podcast” dates back to original iPod. Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, Stitcher, Tunein and Youtube are also all places you might consider. Youtube does not require an RSS feed and is a bit different than other options. Still, any podcast that includes video would be wise to consider YouTube and other video platforms.
Finally, It’s Time to Promote Your Podcast
- Website: Your website is a natural place to promote your podcast. You’ll want to prominently feature your feed url or RSS feed, which will update in real time after you’ve uploaded new episodes of your podcast. You can also use plugins on your website to share podcast episodes, particularly if you host your site on WordPress. If you’re skilled at SEO, which stands search engine optimization, you’ll put yourself in a better position to attract new listeners who google podcasts and find shows that way.
- Transcription: You may also choose to turn your podcast or snippets of the show into blog posts and entries on your website. Accomplish this through transcription. Either you will have to listen back to segments and type them out into text, or you can use a transcription service, which typically bills by the minute.
- Social Media: Most podcast hosts engage with their audience on social media and utilize the various platforms to promote new episodes. There are also social media accounts that specifically focus on podcast promotion and supporting content from fellow podcasters. Generally speaking there’s no shortcut to growing your following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. Consistently posting content on a set day and cadence will help train your audience as to what they should expect.
- Email: Generating a mailing list and using it to reach out to potential listeners as a way to promote your new podcast can be very effective. You can also then use that email list to send out blog posts by way of transcription as mentioned, or to promote upcoming episodes.
- Other Podcasts: Going on other people’s podcasts can be a great way to promote your own. Many podcasters are routinely looking for guests (something you’ll soon learn) and they’re often open to people who reach out and ask to join. When that podcaster promotes the finished episode, you will be exposing yourself and your own show to new listeners.
- Radio: Some podcasts start as radio shows and are then turned into podcasts after the fact in post-production. The opposite can also be true. Many AM talk radio stations offer “paid programming” on the weekend, in which people can buy air time for promotional purposes. Some podcasters utilize this option for promotion, buying a block of time, and instructing the radio station to use the podcast audio files as the broadcast.
- Paid Media: There are a number of companies that focus on promoting your podcast for a fee. Similarly, many podcasters purchase targeted Facebook ads, or launch similar campaigns on different social media platforms. Depending on your podcast’s topic an advertisement in a trade publication could make sense.
Let’s Dive into Other Frequently Asked Questions
How do I start a podcast for free?
Answer: to accomplish this focus on a more no-frills low-tech approach. Utilize your smartphone to record by downloading a program that uses your built-in microphone to record MP3s. Make sure it’s either an MP3 or WAV file so a free audio editing software program like Audacity recognizes it. From there you’ll want to research the many free hosting platforms that will get you a RSS feed and allow for easier distribution of new episodes.
What is the best podcasting platform?
Answer: there is no “best” platform, and many podcasters promote their show on multiple platforms. If you visit some top podcast websites you’ll likely see a section where downloads are offered on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and even traditional media companies like iHeartMedia and Audacy. The key is to choose a platform or several and consistently produce content. There are also a number of “how to podcast” tutorials on YouTube in which content providers have shared varied experiences with different podcast platforms.
How much does it cost to start a podcast?
Answer: a wide range of budgets can apply to podcasting. For one thing, choosing to hire a host or working with a script and voiceover artist is a completely different undertaking when compared to hosting the show yourself. Provided you have a computer already, a USB microphone for close to $100 could get you started. You should also experiment with Audacity or another free audio editing software option to gauge your expenses there.
Do podcasts make money?
Answer: many podcasts do make money whether through sponsorship or other monetization programs like affiliate marking. Some podcasters set up paywalls in which their new episodes are only available via subscription. Other podcast owners solicit contributions from listeners via things like Patreon or even apps like Venmo, PayPal, and CashApp.
So there you have it, the ultimate guide to starting a podcast
One final thing we’d like to leave you with is that starting a podcast needs to be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build an audience — sometimes years. Consistency is key and if you stick with it the payoff is completely worth it. If you have any other questions about how to start a podcast don’t hesitate to contact us, we would be glad to help.