I’ve been podcasting on and off for about two years. I started my own show because I believed I had something of value to contribute to people, and because I often found myself having conversations that I wished had been recorded. As everyone knows, when you want to start an endeavour and are not quite sure where to begin, you Google it.
As I searched around, I found a bunch of sites with lists like this, showing a step-by-step process by which you can start your own podcast and get it out there for the world to hear. I followed the instructions and was approved by iTunes within a week. It was awesome; anyone in the world could hear my voice. I felt like I had made it. But within a few weeks of actively podcasting, I realised that there is a lot more to “making it” in podcasting than just getting your show up on the internet.
So to help you, I have compiled a list of things that it is extremely important to address before you begin recording your first episode. Here they are:
1. Your microphone will determine your sound quality
Podcasting is obviously all about sound. You may think that your computer’s built-in mic is good, but I guarantee that your favourite podcasters have an external microphone hooked up to their computer. While you don’t need to sound like a professionally recorded radio program, people won’t want to listen if it sounds like you’re speaking into tin cans connected by string. That said, most podcasts can get away with someone calling in over Skype with a computer’s internal mic, as long as you aim for at least one person on the show having a good mic.
I would recommend a simple USB microphone, usually $100-200. I use a Blue Yeti mic, and it’s very reliable and sounds terrific.
2. A listener’s first impression is often your introduction
It’s a good rule of thumb to have something at the beginning of your show to gear the listeners up for your main content. That said, try to keep it short and simple. If you’re using music, make sure you have the necessary permissions to do so (which may mean using music by someone you know, or using free music from somewhere online; alternatively, I would be happy to write you an intro for cheap – my email is below). What tripped me up early on was keeping it short. If your intro is longer than 30 seconds, it’s getting a bit lengthy. Try keeping it between 10 and 25 seconds, especially if it’s the same intro every time, or else your listeners might be put off (but not necessarily).
3. Make sure you have a clear idea of your content
This is one that nipped me in the bum in my own podcast. The premise for my show was “to talk about stuff and look at things a little differently”. I know, that’s pretty vague. Without me clearly nailing down what I was going to talk about, it didn’t ensure a secure listenership. When a TV show has its first, “pilot” episode, what it is doing is testing the waters, showing the audience generally what to expect from episode to episode. This means a viewer knows within an episode or two whether or not they are going to stick with the show. It’s predictable (more or less). My podcast wasn’t. Even though the format didn’t change, it lacked a certain consistency that ultimately led to my show’s downloads declining.
What I would recommend is to define your show’s parameters before you start, so that you aren’t making things up as you go along (which is typically unsuccessful). You don’t have to state them in your first episode; you should try showing your listeners what to expect by example of your first few episodes.
Identifying the usual length of each episode early on is also an important step to take. You may want a longer show, but if it’s not dynamic enough, you may find people dropping out. And that brings us to…
4. Keep it dynamic
A good way to ensure a consistent listenership is to not always be exactly the same. Ways to do this include:
Interviews or guest appearances – it’s a different voice, and they may add their own flavour to the mix. Plus, their friends/fans might begin listening to your show as a result;
Recurring segments – doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate, but it’s always something to keep in mind;
Bonus episodes – if an interview went overtime and you had to cut it down, put out the whole thing as a separate episode; or if you have something to say that won’t be an entire show by itself, you can put it out as a mini episode;
Audience interaction – reading out listener’s emails, taking suggestions or reading reviews from your listeners can often motivate them to keep on listening. This feedback from the audience can sometimes be critical, but it is often helpful and could motivate you to keep going if you’re discouraged. Always promote audience interaction.
5. Find a hosting site for your audio
There are a thousand “how to…” videos that could show you the ins and outs of uploading your podcast to any number of hosting sites. Sites like Podbean.com are really good if you don’t want to jump through lost of hoops to get your show “out there”, and they show you really cool statistics, etc. But if you take that route, you can only upload small files before you have to start paying for the service (which, all things considered, is probably worth it). But, after an excruciating amount of time researching and trialling, I have discovered that…
6. You CAN podcast for free!
Trust me – I do it. Here’s how (it may get confusing, and may not be relevant, so feel free to skip this step!):
I host my files on the Internet Archive (archive.org), then embed the URL for each audio file in a WordPress (wordpress.com) blog post.
There is a way to set up an RSS feed (which iTunes gets your new episodes from) in WordPress, but I won’t go into that here. In short, I take WordPress’s RSS feed and use it to create a new, shorter, personalised one in Feedburner (feedburner.com). Feedburner also has some statistics, but not as many as a paid site. Just Google how to set up your RSS using WordPress and Feedburner; it’s pretty simple.
I go to one of my already uploaded episodes on Archive.org (again, skipping the part where you actually upload it, which is easy), then open the VBR MP3 link, copy the URL (http, not https – just delete the S and hit enter) and pasting it in the “embed media from URL” slot in a WordPress blog post (under Insert Media). Once that embed code is inserted into the post, I write a description for the episode, make sure the correct Category box is selected, then post it.
If your WordPress and Feedburner are working together properly, not only should you be able to play the episodes on your WordPress site (using the cool little player), but if you type your Feedburner feed into your web browser, it should take you to a list of your show’s episodes that will allow you to select “Play now”. That is how it should show up.
But how do I get my podcast in the iTunes store? Here’s how…
7. Submitting your podcast to iTunes
This should be one of the simplest things about setting up your podcast. There are very clear instructions on the iTunes website that show you how to submit a podcast in the iTunes Store. Basically, you need a podcast description, you need a working RSS feed with at least one episode on it, you need a picture for your podcast (which has to be pretty big) and you need to select whether it is explicit or not. And also, you need to relax. Once a podcast RSS feed is submitted for review, it will most likely get approved. If you’re a regular podcaster that doesn’t have any bad stuff (like racist content, for example), you can take it easy. It is probably going to get approved. They will notify you when it’s up, and then you can start sharing your podcast with the world.
8. Sometimes gaining momentum takes a long time
Getting the word out there about your podcast will take some shameless self-promotion. If possible, I would suggest trying to ramp up to the release of the first episode before it airs so you start out with a wide exposure. To do that, you should do your best to get your friends and workmates on board, asking them to spread the word (by sharing a Facebook post, or by plugging it on their own shows, or in their own networks). It’s an unfortunate truth that the podcasts that “blow up” are few. Most people that have successful podcasts already had some kind of pre-existing platform that they started from, whether that was as an author, musician, actor, politician, etc. It can be hard for the rest of us to get off the ground. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen eventually!
9. Podcasting alone can be difficult to maintain
Firstly, if you’re all by yourself on the mic, people may eventually get bored of you (which is why keeping it dynamic is important!) – sad, but occasionally true. I often found it hard to maintain a good quality of content if I had no one to discuss things with, too, so I began to do interviews. Having another person or two on the podcast may mean you have to share the glory, but if they’re the right person, your show could get exponentially better as time goes on. Having a co-host not only means more variety, but also a broader initial audience (they’ll know some people you don’t, and vice versa), and more ideas. On top of that, maintaining consistency with releasing episodes can be very difficult by yourself. With a co-host, you can keep each other accountable to recording dates, motivate each other and share the workload. It’s always more fun to hear two friends banter with each other than to hear one person by themselves (with a very few exceptions).
10. Have fun!
I know it sounds cheesy, but if you take yourself too seriously (like I did), you will probably find the slow start pretty frustrating. Remember that you’re just a person talking into a computer hoping that someone will listen to what you have to say. If you think about it, it seems pretty ridiculous. When I first started, I thought that my voice was the only voice that mattered. I thought that people who chose to not listen to me thought they were better than I was. I was wrong. I was pretentious and entitled, and it sucked the joy out of the experience. Podcasting is about being interested in what you’re talking about. You’re not the final authority on whatever topic you choose to address. You’re just you. Remember to have fun – you’ll miss out if you don’t.
Does that list help? Let me know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.