5 June, 2011 by ehauke
Starting a podcast can seem like a daunting challenge. There are so many things to think about. There’s the content. The practicalities of making and recording it. Having the right equipment. And that’s before you even get to making the audio into a podcast. Hosting it online. Creating a feed. Getting it into iTunes.
If you’re thinking about creating a podcast for the first (or maybe even the seventh) time, it helps to have something to guide you. A process. A checklist. A handy way of thinking through all the details without neglecting the whole. Well, luckily for all podcasters out there, there is a five-step process. And even more luckily, every step begins with ‘p’.
So here we go. First step.
You’re sitting in your bedroom. Or office. Or office that serves as your bedroom at night-time. You’re thinking about starting a podcast. It’s exciting. You’re excited. But what should you be thinking about? You need an idea. Think about your idea in these terms, and you’ll have your podcast planned.
- Subject – science, arts, culture, music, literature – whatever floats your boat
- Content – discussion (needs more than one person), interviews (also needs more than one person), reporting, rants, reviews, quiz, listener questions (needs listeners who ask questions)
- Delivery – will you script the content, speak from notes, or riff completely off the cuff – think what suits you best; also bear in mind that recording without a script is not necessarily going to save you time – you’ll probably take as long to prepare your content as to write a formal script
- Format – you could have a single element to the podcast (e.g. a discussion) or you could have multiple elements (news, interviews, reports/features, quiz) – a sort of magazine format
- Repeatability – will each episode cover the same or different themes/subjects; will the format remain the same – i.e. use the same elements in the same order (can be very helpful for building your audience – in my experience)
- Length – don’t go epic unless your listeners have epic ears – 20-30 minutes is the most people tend to listen to, and you can pack value into as little as 60 seconds; remember the length will impact your file size and also the downloading time for your listeners as well
At the moment, this is your dream. Share it with someone else – it will be much more fun. And division of labour is never a bad thing. Presenting alone is a huge challenge. It limits your content and format options, and makes everything seem much harder than it needs to be. Plus, if you’ve ever tried telling jokes on your own – it really is no laughing matter (seriously, no one laughs). When picking your co-presenter try to consider the following points:
- Do you like them – it will be audible to your listeners if you don’t get along – plus it is NO fun if you’re not on good terms
- Do you bring out the best in each other – you want a co-presenter who will make you sound great – and as this is a team thing, you should also make them sound great
- Do you both have similar ideas about how your podcast should be – again, it will be a nightmare if you’re pulling in opposite directions
- Do you both have enough time to commit – think about division of labour here – you don’t want to start getting resentful if you’re doing all the work but only getting half the credit
- Are two enough – you might want to consider recruiting occasional reporters/correspondents to tackle interviews and research features, or a producer to help with the technical stuff
We’re nearly through all the thinking stages and into the doing stages. But it’s worth taking a little time to consider the best ways of getting yourself recorded. And for you, ‘best’ may mean cheapest, easiest, quickest, most professionally or any combination of those. So once you have your material prepared, you need to set a time and place to record.
- First up, think about location – a studio offers the best acoustics and will sound professional – you might be able to get access to a student radio station or a hospital radio station, which will broadcast your podcast as a live show but also allow you to record it and podcast it too
- Studios usually come with microphones and recording equipment, saving you money and equipment and a studio with a professional desk will allow you to mix in any sound effects, jingles and theme tunes live, saving you time in the edit; also if you record ‘as-live’ – meaning that you don’t stop and start, and you just plough on through any mistakes – you won’t need to spend any time editing
- If you don’t have access to a professional-ish studio, you need to find the best environment you can – look for somewhere with plenty of soft furnishings – sofas, curtains, cushions, carpets, bedding; avoid anywhere with lots of hard surfaces, which will reflect the sound and make you sound like you’re in a warehouse
- Your living room (or bedroom) probably doesn’t come with lots of fancy recording equipment, so this is what you’ll need – some sort of microphone and a digital recorder – these might be one piece of kit (as in a computer with on-board microphone, or as in a digital recorder like a Zoom H1, H2, H4 or H4n) or separate (as in a computer with a USB microphone, or as in a Marantz plus microphone – such as a Beyer M58)
- If you are recording directly into the computer you need some recording software such as Audacity (PC or Mac) or GarageBand (Macs only) – both are free and will allow you to edit your audio afterwards – you might want to add in pre-recorded elements such as interviews, jingles and other effects at the edit stage
So now you have your audio recorded. Technically you have a podcast, ready to go. You should have edited anything that needed editing, added any finishing touches like jingles and be ready to get that audio file out there. There is a bit of a lengthy process involved here (the first time it took me nearly 10 hours, but now I’ve got it down to about 30 minutes!)…
- Your audio is probably still sitting in Audacity or GarageBand. You need to export the audio as an mp3, or else no one else will be able to hear it
- When you export the file you will be asked what bit rate (kbps) you want – this will affect the file size. Pretty much for a podcast, you don’t need more than 128kbps, but you could go as low as 64kbps if you want (speech-based shows will not be too badly affected by this bit rate) – if you’re paying for hosting, file size might be an issue
- Also at this stage, you need to address the ID3 tags – in GarageBand you need to do this before you export, in Audacity it is during export – try to be consistent in your file labelling – it will help you down the road!
- So now you have an mp3 – you need to get it ‘hosted’ on the internet somewhere – you could try a subscription service such as podbean.com – this is free for the most basic package – or you could host the files on your own site
- You will need to create a feed – this will let your listeners know when a new episode is available, and will also ‘feed’ your episodes to iTunes – a service like podbean will do this for you, otherwise you need to create your own (make a free blog site, link the mp3 of each episode to a post, and then use Google’s free Feedburner service to convert the feed into a podcast feed)
- If you need to manually add your feed to iTunes, just go to the podcast page in the iTunes store and sign-up – a good tip is to create your feed first, and then add it to your iTunes library manually – giving you a chance to see what it will look like in iTunes and to correct any mistakes in the titling or information – before you sign up the podcast in the iTunes store (it is really hard to change anything after sign-up)
- Creating the feed and signing up to iTunes is a one-time deal – once it’s set up, you just add new episodes – either to your automatic service like podbean, or via your dedicated blog – iTunes will trawl your feed every day looking for new episodes, so they will appear in the store as if by magic!
Congratulations on the birth of your new baby podcast! It’s out there, it’s done and it’s all yours. The trouble is, you want it to be everybody’s. So you need to tell people. Now if you tell a bunch of people, some of those people will hear you, some of those people will download the podcast and some of those people will actually listen to the podcast. So you need to tell a whole lot of people. And get that whole of people to tell a whole lot more people. Don’t panic if only three people download the first episode – this all takes time! Here are a few tips.
- Tell everyone you know
- Get everyone you know to tell as many people as possible – if you send them an email, they can just forward it on
- Get it out on Facebook – get it on your profile, make a page for the podcast and get people signing up and ‘like’-ing your page
- Get it on twitter – ask people to re-tweet. Especially famous people – they have a LOT of followers!
- If iTunes make you ‘New and Noteworthy’ or chart you or front page you – tell people
- Promote each and every episode as if it were the first and only episode – you’ll feel like a prat, but people will pay attention eventually
- With every promotion, include the iTunes link, your website link and your feedburner link – give people as many ways to listen as possible
- Make your announcements sexy – include pictures, making of video clips and even sound bites – you could even audioboo about your podcast – go PROMO CRAZY
The thing is there are probably loads of people out there who would love to listen to your podcast. They just don’t know that they want to. It is your job to help them out, and let them know.
Now we have come to the end of the 5 ‘P’s. It is very sad, but the work is done. It is time to sit back and enjoy – what? The money? The worldwide fame? The adoration of millions of screaming fans? No. Sadly not. But you’ve done it. You’ve made a podcast. You’ve attracted an audience (so what if it’s your Gran and your cat). Hooray!
Please let me know if you think I’ve missed anything out of this 5 step process. I’m all ears for your comments. This is a work in progress. Also, I will be writing a full post for each step shortly, so if you think there needs to be more detail, there will be!