How to Start a Podcast

The definitive guide for starting a podcast from scratch. This includes everything from developing a concept to marketing.
How to Start a Podcast

Development

Identify your goals

Identify your goals and set realistic expectations. Creating a podcast for profit compared to a podcast for your business are two very different shows.

If you’re looking to gain a large following then making a show where you chat with a friend about basically anything is going to be a difficult one to market. However it will require less effort and be fun to make.

Pick a Topic

When choosing a podcast topic obviously the first thing to consider is one that you are a subject matter expert on. If you’re not an expert then choose a topic that is interesting to you and interesting to others. This will prevent you from burning out quickly and you’ll learn a lot.

I’m not an expert on anything except podcasting but I find military strategy very interesting. So I would choose a topic related to that.

Niche vs. General

Pick a topic that has a bit of both. For the military strategy show, I would want to narrow it down something like the way military strategy has evolved over history. This gives me an obvious way to outline an episode list.

It doesn’t mean I can’t do episodes outside of that specific niche. For example an episode covering a list of brilliant military minds. Having a niche will make your show easier to pitch. It’s also easier to find dedicated listeners because you’re not competing with 400,000 shows in that niche.

Validation

Get your concept validated by as many people as possible. Ask them, “Is this something you would listen to?” And ask them to be honest!

The more critical feedback you get in all aspects of production the better your show will be.

Some of the one-off criticisms you disagree with should be ignored (everyone has an opinion) but when you hear the same one multiple times then take it seriously.

Don’t settle for someone just saying they like it. Ask them what specifically they think could be improved upon.

Format

When deciding on a format, choose one that fits at least 2 of the following.

  1. Interesting
  2. Informative
  3. Engaging

Interesting – Make your material simple and easy to understand. Avoid a lot of extra information that doesn’t add to the narrative. Look for what you find most interesting then cut out anything that isn’t important.

Informative – Provide information. Most people know Muhammad Ali but they don’t know that he was dyslexic. Do they know what Dyslexia actually is? How did it benefit his boxing? This is an example of a subject that is informative and interesting.

Engaging – What I mean by this is the charisma of the hosts (for banter/discussion shows) or the sound design (for scripted shows). The more time you spend in planning, the better your hosts will be able to perform. This should also amount to less editing. Whenever possible put together and outline before an episode.

Segments

How will your episodes be segmented? What will a standard intro sound like? For casual discussion shows I think you should put together a list of segments you can choose from to keep the episode somewhat structured. For example on a casual discussion show I co-host we have a segment where we review a romantic comedy film.

Naming

Does the name matter? Sure, but a mediocre one doesn’t mean failure.

Make a list and then run it by your friends. Especially the friends who listen to a lot of podcasts.

Prioritize names that allude to what your show is about. It doesn’t have to be an exact representation.

For example, if I name my show “The BeerCast” you can still have episodes about semi-related subjects like grilling. It just needs to be mostly relevant to your subject.

Graphics (cover art)

Pick something that is relevant and aesthetically pleasing. What would make you interested and represent what the show is about if you saw nothing but the artwork?

A cheap option is to download a free image off unsplash or pixabay and add some text with photoshop or photopea (free). Here’s a quick tutorial I made to show you how to make cover art with photopea.

The artwork should be 1:1 ratio (square) with a resolution of 1500×1500 pixels. Export it as a jpg or png and try to get the file size below 1mb.

Unsplash

Library of freely usable images. Access to over a million photos under the Unsplash license which makes them free to do-whatever.

Pixabay

A library of free stock music, images, video and graphics with an unlimited license for commercial use. No attribution or registration required.

If you use a designer, give them as much information, direction and examples as you possibly can.

Here’s a list of the information you should provide to the graphic designer.

(include as many images as you can find that will help the designer conceptualize what you like)

  • Show Name:
  • Description
  • Mood/Tone:
  • Feelings you want to evoke:
  • Feelings/concepts you want to avoid:
  • Videos that set the tone:
  • Logo ideas you thought of:
  • Logos that you like:
  • Typography/Fonts that you like:

Hosts

Determine how many hosts will be on the show and if you want to include guests. How many will be recorded in one location versus remotely? This is useful for determining what equipment you need.

Pre-Production

Equipment

Hardware

If it’s just 1 person show then you can get by with a single usb mic. For 2 people in the same location I would recommend getting an audio interface.

(Note: You can use 2 usb microphones connected to one computer but an audio interface is much better)

If you decide to get an audio interface then get XLR mics. Most usb mics have XLR inputs as well.

I definitely recommend the Motu M-2 for your audio interface because of the value for the price. It’s $170 and has built-in loopback.

Loopback is important for recording your computer audio at the same time as your microphone audio. This is great for recording guests via skype, zoom etc. Also for recording phone calls with google voice and for streaming.

(Note: The M2 has 2 XLR ports)

Microphone

The Shure SM7B is the industry standard and despite what they say online you may not need a separate preamp depending on your audio interface.

You don’t need one for the Motu but you will for a certain portable recorders if they don’t provide enough gain. Do a quick youtube search (your interface + Shure SM7B + cloudlifter)

The Shure is a bit pricey if you’re on a budget. It costs $400. The good thing is it will give you excellent quality and last a decade.

Shure SM7B

The SM7B dynamic microphone has a smooth, flat, wide-range frequency response appropriate for music and speech in all audio applications.

$400

If you want to spend less you can definitely still get really good quality. I have an Audio-Technica AT2005USB that sounds perfectly fine and it was only $80.

Audio-Technica AT2005USB

Dynamic cardioid handheld mic with USB, XLR connections, built-in headphone jack for direct monitoring and a sturdy metal body.

$80

The quality is good enough to the point where no one is going to be turned off. It just won’t sound quite as warm or dynamic as the SM7B.

Headphones

You don’t need to spend a lot on headphones for recording but you DO want to use closed back headphones. Otherwise your mic may pickup the sound from them.

Earbuds will probably work fine but do a test recording to see if your mic is picking them up. If it is turn the volume on them down.

Studio headphones are more important for when you’re perfecting your mix but you can get very good quality without them.

Computer

You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on a computer. Most every laptop and desktop are going to be able to handle your recording and editing just fine since audio files are not nearly as cpu intensive as video.

However if you’re running skype, recording video, audio and want to edit video, it may be beneficial to at the least upgrade to a SSD and maybe some additional ram. For video editing always convert to proxies first.

(Note: Proxies are low quality versions of your video files that make editing much easier. Most editing programs have the ability to convert to proxy built in. There’s also free standalone software that will convert for you.)

Accessories

For most mics you’ll want a pop filter. These are very inexpensive. And you’ll want a boom arm for the mic that clamps to your desk.

You also may want some acoustic treatment if you’re getting a lot of reverb in your recording.

You can buy acoustic panels off amazon for really cheap. Mount them with Command poster strips. You can also hang some blankets for a cheap DIY method.

(Note: Large empty rooms are not ideal for recording. You want a smaller space with things that absorb sound like carpet)

Software

There’s several options for recording software or as it is sometimes referred to, a DAW (digital audio workstation).

There are free options for both Windows and Mac. In most cases these free options will do everything you need.

A more advanced but also inexpensive option is Reaper. If you’re already in the Adobe Creative Cloud workflow then use Adobe Audition.

Reaper

Using REAPER with your PC or Mac, you can import any audio and MIDI, synthesize, sample, compose, arrange, edit, mix, and master.

Can you use premiere pro to edit a podcast? Yes. Premiere has most of the same built in audio effects that audition does. However it’s a pretty easy transition to audition so if you’re not doing a video podcast you should definitely learn it.

Recording

Environment

Microphones are sensitive and sound bounces off walls. It will make your audio sound hollow with a slight echo. You can do a de-reverb effect in your edit but it’s very destructive so you want to avoid that.

If possible you can do some acoustic treatment by placing some sound dampening panels on the wall.

Another option is a mic isolation shield that places sound dampening around your mic instead of on the walls.

If you are recording in the same room as someone you want to position yourselves and your mics to avoid mic bleed.

A noise gate will help reduce this concern but only a certain amount. If you’re having issues with mic bleed then lower your gain and get closer to your mic.

Position your mic so it is facing in the complete opposite direction of the other person’s voice.

Mic Technique

This can vary depending on the microphone but by default you want your mouth to be about 4 inches away from your microphone. Always make sure the microphone is pointed at your mouth.

If you are having issues with plosives and sibilance then you should tilt your microphone off-axis. This will let your voice travel past the microphone instead of directly into it.

Unless you know how to use proper mic technique, that new $400 microphone isn’t going to do you any good. In this video, we’ll teach you the four (plus one bonus) techniques you can utilize…

Recording Podcasts Remotely

More often than not you’ll be recording with hosts or guests remotely. There’s some services that will facilitate this process but your guest will need to use a computer and headphones. Here’s a guide I wrote on how to record podcasts remotely.

Riverside

Remote podcast recording with 4k video recording, screenshare, live streaming, 48k audio and listener call ins.

Cleanfeed

Multi-track, multi-party live audio and remote recording using only a browser. Record high-quality audio on separate tracks for editing.

Soundtrap

Record your podcast remotely with guests, transcribe your audio, edit like a word document and upload straight to spotify or download the file.

Welder

Remote interviews recorded locally for uncompressed audio and high-rez video. Participant files are then auto uploaded to the cloud for access.

Squadcast

Record remotely, edit and create podcasts with continuous uploads, and a platform that allows you to connect with anyone, anywhere.

Zencastr

Web-based service for podcast production. Podcasters can record their guests remotely with separate tracks and lossless wav files.

Occasionally you’ll need to record a guest via a phone call. There’s a few different ways to do this.

  • If your interface has loopback like the Motu M-2 then you can record your computer audio on a separate track. This way you can use google voice or skype to make the call.
  • Connect your phone to your interface using a XLR to 1/8″ cable
  • Record your phone call with the Rev app – This is a free app and a useful backup if you use another method, however it only records to mp3 format so the quality may not be as high.

Editing

You want to keep your workflow simple and your editing to a minimum. After editing a few episodes see if you can map out any functions you use a lot into keyboard shortcuts.

Here’s a few effects you may want to use to help improve an audio track.

Mouth De-Click – Mouths make a lot of sounds you probably don’t notice when you’re talking. However when you boost your gain it becomes more noticeable. This the first thing I do to every audio track.

Noise Gate – reduces the gain of anything below a set threshold (like your computer fan)

Compressor – reduces gain of anything above a set threshold. If your audio has parts that are very loud and very quiet and then this is useful.

(Note: If you also use the compressor to boost your gain you’ll be making your audio more uniform)

De-Esser – if your sibilance is harsh then this effect will reduce gain at that specific frequency

De-reverb – if there’s an echo sound in your track this will help reduce it. Use this effect lightly.

Loudness

We measure the volume of audio in LUFS which stands for Loudness Unit Full Scale. If you’re exporting in stereo you want -16 LUFS. For mono that is -19 LUFS.

If you edit in stereo to -16 LUFS then export to mono, it will automatically become -19 LUFS. The reverse is also true.

Export

Your final file for upload should be in mp3 format. Make sure it is at least 64kbps but preferably 128kbps.

Launch

Trailer

Do you need a trailer? I think you do and here’s why. It’s an introduction to your show and your best opportunity to hook someone’s interest.

It can be really difficult to get someone to listen to a 40 minute episode, but it’s much easier to get them to listen to a 90 second trailer.

Also you can cut it down for 60 second and 30 second versions to use in cross-promoting. Cross-promoting is advertising your podcast in another podcast just like an advertiser would.

See the marketing section below for more details.

Hosting

You’ll need to pick a hosting platform. These platforms store your podcast information and episodes on a server. When someone listens to an episode from apple podcast, spotify, overcast etc. it downloads the episode from the hosts server.

You’ll get download statistics on their dashboard or you can use an analytics service. If you do you’ll need to redirect your RSS feed through that service so they can measure the data.

Podtrac

Platform that ranks both podcasts and podcast publishers on a monthly and yearly basis. Provides data for creators and publishers.

Chartable

Detailed analytics for tracking downloads. Redirect your RSS feed and Chartable will analyze your data so you can see what’s working.

There’s a bunch of hosts and honestly they’re all probably going to work fine for you. Nearly all of them cost money. You can see a list of them and their pricing in our hosting resource section.

Personally I use Transistor. What I like about it is the ability to host multiple shows for no additional cost and the analytics. The design is incredibly intuitive and they give you a nice website.

Their pricing model is setup the way all hosts should do it… by downloads. Downloads are the main expense of a provider, not storage which is the way a lot of them charge.

Transistor

Host that allows you to create multiple shows under the same account for no extra fee and includes detailed analytics

Website

You don’t have to have a website but I do think it’s important. Think of it as a central hub for your show. You can use it to drive traffic to your show. Also you can drive listeners to your website from your show. There you can share extra information like bios and show notes, link them to your socials, engage with them and more.

Some of the hosting platforms like transistor give you a website that you can use a custom domain with however control over that site is limited.

For a website with with more control that’s also very easy to use I recommend Podcastpage. I’ve personally tested this and not only is it a very well built platform, it’s also inexpensive at only $8/month. They were nice enough to give me a discount code to share with you. I make no money off of this. It gives you 10% off any plan you choose. That’s a month free if you buy a year plan.

Discount code: buildacast

If you want total control of your site then I would recommend building your site with wordpress. It’s inexpensive, flexible and relatively simple to learn.

Note: There is a learning curve and you do have to worry about maintenance, security and updates.

Instead of purchasing a theme, I’d recommend using elementor. Elementor is a visual page builder that lets you design your site without code. They offer a free theme to use with it.

WordPress

A content management system that is used for approx 35% of the web. Think of it as a graphical user interface for creating a website.

Elementor

A visual page builder plugin for wordpress that replaces the basic editor with a live front-end editor so you can design without code.

First you’ll need a domain name. I’d buy it off google domains or namecheap. This will cost you about $15/year.

Then you’ll need a host. I personally use Siteground and Green Geeks. Both have good customer service. Siteground is currently $7/month for 1 website. The next tier is unlimited websites for $10/month. Green Geeks is a bit cheaper at $3/month for 1 site and $6/month for unlimited sites.

You also have the option to purchase your domain name through your host if you want to skip a step. If you bought it somewhere else they’ll have a guide on how to connect your domain to their server. If it’s giving you trouble make a support ticket and they’ll help you out.

What I really like about Siteground is their SG Optimizer plugin that makes it really easy to make your website fast.

Most any hosting provider you choose will have a simple way to install wordpress with just a few clicks. If you decide to use elementor you’ll definitely want the pro version which costs $50/year. There’s a lot of easy tutorials to follow on how to design your site with elementor.

So if you bought a domain with namecheap ($9/yr), hosting with siteground ($84/yr) and elementor pro ($50/yr), you’d have all the tools you need for $143/yr or $12/month.

For importing your podcast episodes into your wordpress site there are free plugins available to handle this for you. Here’s a couple of the popular ones.

Marketing

I see the question asked, How do I market my podcast? Or How do I grow my podcast? almost every single day.

I can provide some good advice but first I do need to state that content is key. If your podcast sucks then all the marketing efforts in the world won’t retain your audience. You want repeat listeners. So the very first thing is to make sure your podcast is good.

The inverse is also true. Your podcast could be very good but if no one knows about it then you won’t build an audience. However if your show is good then any marketing efforts you make will be powerful.

Communities

Know who your ideal listener is and find them online. If my show is about military tactics then I need to seek out online communities about military related history or strategy and share my podcast with them.

Spend 20 minutes googling every online community, forum, and group related to your topic and become a contributing member to them.

Avoid spamming , no one likes that. Share episodes that are relevant to a specific discussion. Spend time crafting a post or comment that provides value, then link or mention your show or episode.

Guest Hosting

Guest hosting is when you guest host on another podcast or have them guest host on yours. This will not only give you valuable experience, you’ll also leverage each other’s audience and social media reach.

For guests that don’t have a podcast, prioritize ones that will provide value to an episode through one or more of the following ways.

  • They are a subject matter expert
  • They have direct experience with the subject
  • They have a good social media following
  • They are decent on mic

Don’t be afraid to reach out to high profile guests to come on your show. You may have trouble getting Keanu Reeves to come on but you’ll be surprised how many people say yes. Especially if you can offer them value.

I usually include “I’m happy to promote your [blank] when I introduce you and in the credits.” Most won’t ask for download numbers but if they do just tell them “I expect this episode to get x amount of downloads.” Don’t say something outrageous but be optimistic.

Here’s what my typical email looks like.

Interview Request

Hey,

My name is [Name]. I’m a podcast producer for the show [Show Name]

I’m producing an episode about [Topic] and I would love to have you on to share some insights at your convenience.

Happy to promote your [Blank] when I introduce you.

Thanks!

[Name]

(Note: Academics are usually excellent guests because they’re subject matter experts who are used to speaking and their contact info is listed on their university page)

Cross-Promotion

This is where those 60 second and 30 second promos becomes valuable. Reach out to semi-popular shows related to yours and ask if you can buy a pre-roll or mid-roll spot. This is a great way to reach an audience that you know listens to podcasts and you know is interested in this subject.

There’s no public data on podcast downloads so you’ll have to estimate which ones are worthwhile. You can also ask them to provide their download statistics. You want to ask for the statistics of an episode in it’s first 30 days. The industry standard is $15-$25 per 1,000 downloads. We call this CPM.

Social Media

Post consistently and engage with everyone. I’m not an expert regarding the value of paid ads on platforms like facebook or instagram but give it a shot and see what $50 can get you.

The important thing is to have social media profiles for your podcast and to keep them updated.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

This is where your website becomes even more valuable. Generating traffic from the search engine results page.

It’s a good idea to have each episode transcribed into text and added to your wordpress episode post. This will allow search engines like google to index your content.

I use descript which has a free trial but there are several other similar services out there.

Spext

Cut your audio by trimming auto-generated transcripts. Edit, add music, and get automatic transcripts of episodes.

Auphonic

An automatic post-production tool that will cleanup your audio, optimize it and send it directly to your podcast host for publishing.

Descript

Record, transcribe, mix. Edit audio by editing text. Drag and drop to add music and sound effects. Use the Timeline Editor for fine-tuning.

I’d recommend formatting your transcription like this very guide so whenever possible utilize headings to structure the content.

Another thing you can do to drive traffic is to write an article for a topic that people are searching for related to your show.

First you would use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs. It’s an expensive tool at $100/month but they offer a $7 for 7 days trial. You can do everything you need in less time than that.

Do some keyword research to see what people are googling related to your show. Export a list of those terms for future reference. Choose terms that have high traffic and low difficulty.

Pick one to start with and google it. Find the top result. This is your reference point. Your next task is to create a post that’s better. This is what’s known as The Skyscraper Technique.

Conclusion

Don’t be discouraged by initially low download numbers. Growth takes time but if you get as much feedback as you can and put in the effort to making quality content and marketing then you will succeed.

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