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Starting a Podcast

Updated on March 31, 2017
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John is a fervent writer, avid gamer, and guitar lover. He earns his sandwiches fixing automatic transmissions.

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Podcasts are one of the most alluring forms of content creation to emerge from the hotbed of creativity that is the Internet. Like writing a novel, the amount of equipment needed to get started is minimal. Unlike writing a book, however, a podcast can be done in a relatively short space of time. It can be a great tool for marketing, a brilliant vehicle for information, or just a really fun time. Let's take a look at how to do it.

Planning is Key

We're referring to your podcast as a whole at this stage, not individual shows. It's very important to have some idea of what your podcast is going to be before you start. It may be that your intention is to just switch a microphone on, talk for half an hour, and upload the audio un-edited. And that would be a perfectly legitimate approach, but you need know that that's what you're going to be doing in advance so you can build your podcast accordingly.

Planning out your content can ensure a smooth, easy to listen to podcast.
Planning out your content can ensure a smooth, easy to listen to podcast. | Source

Is your podcast going to be regularly posted and run indefinitely, or will be a series with an end point? Are you using your podcast as a marketing tool for a product or service? Is there a goal at all, or is it just for fun? These are the kinds of things you should establish before you ever pick up a microphone. If your podcast will be a series of interviews with knowledgeable people in a particular field, can you get enough qualified and credible people to do your show? Counter-intuitive as it may seem, it might be worth trying to get some kind of commitment (even if it's just a "sure" on Twitter) from potential interviewees before you announce the podcast itself. If you want your podcast to be weekly, make sure you and any co-hosts you might have can commit to that; inconsistency is a huge turn off for podcast listeners, especially when a particular schedule has been promised.

Another thing to consider is scope. If you're venturing into the world of podcasting for the first time, don't go too big. Don't announce a daily podcast before you really understand how much work is involved. Remember, adding more shows will rarely be seen as a bad thing, but taking shows away always will be looked at as a negative. Another example of too much scope could be starting an interview podcast and aiming too high. If your podcast is about science, you should be able to find professionals who are willing to talk to you, even on your unknown podcast. If your podcast is a celebrity gossip show and you're hoping to get the likes of Kanye West, you're almost certainly going to be disappointed.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with most things in life, the more you do something the better you're likely to be at doing it. Podcasting is no different, but unless you had a previous job as a radio or TV host, there's a good chance you're not particularly experienced in the skills you'll need as a podcaster.

My advice to you is to record at least one practice run before you ever publish a real show. It doesn't have to be "full production" (assuming your podcast makes use of any production), but you need to hear how you sound on the mic, what your dynamic is with any co-hosts you might have, and how the show feels as a whole. Ideally you will play this practice run (or runs) to friends or family to get a second opinion. The aim here is to work out any drastic kinks in your show before it reaches a regular listener's ears. Your podcast doesn't have to be perfect when it goes live, but you don't want any glaring problems that will turn a potential audience off before you really get started.

Recording Equipment

Now we're into the part that tends to hamper new podcasters the most, because it's the part that requires money. Now, if you're comfortable financially, this probably won't be that big a deal. I mean we're talking in the low hundreds for a good podcast set up, not thousands.

Recording a podcast requires equipment, but you don't have to break the bank.
Recording a podcast requires equipment, but you don't have to break the bank. | Source

First of all, do not worry about equipment until you've had a test run of your podcast. There are many reasons you may give podcasting a try and decide it's not for you, and you don't want to come to that conclusion after you've spent £150 on audio equipment. Your test podcast (or podcasts, if you want to be thorough) doesn't have to be great audio quality. You could even just use your phone if you liked, the point of the test run is to make sure your ideas work as well as you think they will, that you have good chemistry with your co-hosts, that you are happy with your own voice in this format, etc.

Once you're through the testing phase, and assuming you've decided to stick it out and go ahead with the podcast, what kind of equipment do you need? And how much should you spend? Well in truth the only equipment you really need is your computer and a good microphone. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Most podcasting needs can be met with software, and most of that software can be found in free offerings, so your main concern—to begin with, at least—should be the microphone you're using.

Tested in Depth: Audio Equipment for Podcasting

Unless you're setting up a fully kitted out recording studio, you should probably opt for a USB microphone. Going USB gives you the ease of plug and play, and it also allows you to easily move your set up around. Recording a podcast on the move would only require you to have brought a laptop and your microphone, as opposed to your laptop, microphone, audio interface, power brick, XLR cables, and possibly more.

Software-wise, things can either be really simple or really complicated depending on what you intend. If your podcast is mostly just spoken word—perhaps with a little intro and outro jingle—you needn't spend any money on audio software. There are many free audio editing and production applications out there that are more than capable of meeting the more basic needs of podcasters. If your audio production needs are a bit grander, however, you might need to invest in a bit of software. For example, if you're making sound bites yourself, or if you intend to record the podcast "live" and need sound effects ready to play when you're recording.

And The Rest...

So you have your format worked out, you've tested it, you've got some nice audio equipment to record it, and you're ready to go. The next step is to consider how you're going to get your podcast out there. There are ways to host a podcast for free—such as the Internet Archive—or cheaply on services that are created specifically for podcast hosting. Where you host your podcast is a tricky issue as free hosts tend not to be suitable for popular podcasts that see a lot of downloads, but paid hosts cost money, and it's not like you're going to be making any from your very first podcast. On the other hand, migrating a podcast away from one host to another can be a major pain , and it only becomes more of a pain the more episodes you have.

On the website side of things, a free host (such as Wordpress) should be fine. If things start to take off you can always upgrade or move to another blog host or your own website. As a personal recommendation, I would use a podcast plugin with whatever web presence you choose. These plugins can automatically tag your podcast and update your feeds, generally removing a lot of the minutia of making a podcast. The less tedium there is for you to deal with, the less likely you are to lose interest.

How to Start a Podcast for Free

© 2017 John Bullock

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