After 250 episodes of podcasting, you might think I could tell you how to do it. I would think that, especially after spending over one thousand hours of my time on our podcast. I feel like I should be on the path to becoming an expert podcaster.
However, here’s the thing: I have no idea how to start, edit, or post a podcast. My co-host Chris does all that. I’m embarrassed to admit my cluelessness but glad you asked because it is time I learned.
Now, that isn’t to say I am only the on-air talent. If you want to talk about booking guests and making outlines that are good preparation but not stiff scripts, I can explain my methods. If you want reassurance about your fears (truly, everyone hates their voice) or ideas for episodes in your topic area, I’m full of advice.
I can even help a bit with microphone technique: get a mic with plug-in headphones; hearing your voice is critical to good sound. Each time you start recording, get really close to the mic (really close, like frenching close) and then count from one to ten, easing back a little with each number (~1cm or 0.5in). Choose a number that makes your voice sounds round and full, like it does in your head (it is usually 4 or 5). That is the distance you have to maintain. It will likely be much closer than you expect. If you can hear spitting sounds (plosives), put a clean, fuzzy sock over your mic (or buy a pop filter). Also, you’ll get a better and more professional sound if you stand up during recording. Why? Standing makes it easier to breathe with your diaphragm which not only keeps your brain oxygenated for snappy comebacks, it also keeps your voice strong. Realistically, I don’t stand up during recording, I like to be comfortable. I have been known to slouch (it is my natural posture). However, you are going to do a better job so if you aren’t going to stand up, at least sit up straight.
A good mic is important. You needn’t go all-out with a fancy studio setup. I like the Samson Meteor. It is the mic we send to guests. The Samson Go is good too, but read the manual; there is a talky-side and a non-talky side, and it sounds much better if you speak into the talky side. I don’t recommend the Blue Yeti unless you also get a mic stand for it (and a mic stand that can support its hefty weight). There is also the Zoom H1n which is good for recording without a computer. Having said all that, in my opinion, any USB mic that is external to your computer but not a headset is usually good enough in a quiet, ideally padded room. However, there is a lot of debate about mics. Many have other opinions. Dan Benjamin is the guy to listen to.
I can also help with nerves: before recording, pretend you are Superman. Put your arms up and open your shoulders. Heck, stand up and pretend to fly. Stretch. Roll your neck. Blow your nose. Take a drink. Now do the Superman pose a bit more. Feel better? You think I’m kidding, but it works.
So, once you are physically ready, you may need a little more of mental shift. I have a 3 to 5 minute spiel before each show with guests where I ask them easy questions (like “how do you pronounce your name?”) to get into the rhythm of questions and answers. I also script the first few minutes of the show, so no one gets lost and feels stupid before the conversation takes hold. Confidence building is important. Keep the initial part of the show easy, whatever gets you into the groove is good.
And yet, I haven’t answered your questions about podcasting at all, have I? This is all the stuff I knew how to do, nothing about getting starting, editing, or posting a show. Well, let’s look this up together and get some help from other people.
First, let’s break podcasting into four stages: preparing, recording, editing, posting. I’m best at preparing but that is mostly about writing and finding guests. So, let’s skip to the more technically daunting topic of recording.
To record you need a mic and some software. For the Apple people, the software is likely QuickTime or GarageBand. For Windows or Linux, the software to record with is likely Audacity. These are all free to download on the internet. On Embedded, we use Logic because my co-host is a musician who uses the program for other projects.
Always record for a minute while you warm up, then play back and listen to it. It is remarkably easy to record silence or only the sound of an air conditioner blowing on the mic. Trust me on this; I felt like a complete idiot as I finished recording but realized the blinking light meant the recorder was paused.
On Embedded, we do an interview show with different guests each week. Initially, we had guests come over and record in our home studio. However, that limits the pool of possible guests. Eventually we tried recording via Skype. It provides an easy user experience for guests as well as giving us audio without too many glitches. We’ve also tried Mumble (guests to have to install and configure) and Zencaster (easy but we didn’t like the audio as much).
Many podcasters do no editing, posting exactly what they say. Other (usually professional NPR) podcasters will record 60 minutes of audio for each minute of show and edit extensively. How much editing you do is up to you… but I suggest starting with the easier path of very little.
As we record the show, Chris will add marks for things to edit out. Marks are notes at a given timestamp. They may include me stuttering or the guest coughing. Sometimes we’ll re-do a question or remove a long pause between questions or answers. We don’t edit the content; what you hear on our show is pretty much what we said, minus a few tweaks.
Chris also has a number of filters to make the voice quality on the show better and reduce background noise. These are advanced techniques and not strictly necessary for making a show sound good. The first 90% of audio goodness is obtained by having a decent mic in a quiet room.
The final part of editing is to bounce the audio which means that you need to output it to an audio file appropriate for podcasts (this is a .mp3 file). On the recording and editing software, there is usually a button you choose to output to mp3. However, it often takes a bit of time for your computer to process the audio. After it is done, you upload the audio to your podcast hosting service. In the figure below, the audio is ep001.mp3; as you can see there is a lot more to podcasting.
You can’t post your podcast to your normal text blog. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. There are two reasons for this: bandwidth and podcast catalogs. In the first place, podcast audio is big. Downloading the file takes up a lot of bandwidth and can be slow for your listeners. If too many people listen to your show, your service provider will likely charge you a lot more (or throttle your listeners’ download speed). Instead, use a company that specializes in large files like audio and video. They promise faster downloads and more bandwidth.
We use Libsyn, a service that specializes in hosting podcast audio. It is not the only one. Fireside.fm is another one that I’d recommend. These services differentiate themselves based on price and analytics. With the analytics, you can see how many people are downloading and from where; I try not to get caught up in this information because pleasing all the listeners is impossible but you’ll need the information if you want paid advertising.
In addition to the higher bandwidth offered by a podcast host, you need a blog that is dedicated to your podcast so that podcast catalogs will list your show. The podcast blog is shown as Podcast Website in the image above, but it can be just a normal blog. If you have another blog, you already know how to do this step; it can be hosted anywhere a blog can be hosted.
We use Squarespace for our podcast blog host. (If I had to do it all over again, we’d use Libsyn for podcast hosting as well as blog hosting, but many people have two services.) Your podcast blog must contain the audio and a title. You’ll likely want to write show notes, a short description of the episode.
If you mix your usual text blog with your podcast blog, the podcast catalogs like iTunes won’t list your podcast. If you want to cross-post to your other blog, you can do it by copying the show notes into a blog post. Or you can simply promote the show on your blog and link to the podcast blog or iTunes.
When you release a show, you upload the audio to the podcast host. Then you write the podcast blog post with a link to the audio. However, your podcast doesn’t necessarily go anywhere yet. You have to submit the podcast’s RSS feed to podcast catalogs (like Apple’s iTunes). To do that you’ll need a logo, the name of your podcast, and the RSS feed. Apple has some good advice regarding creating and submitting a podcast for iTunes.
You will also have to submit the blog feed separately to Google Play, Spotify, and all of the other podcast aggregating catalogs. Once the feed is in the podcasting catalogs, it will automatically update with your new episode. You only have to go through this tedium initially (and whenever a new catalog pops up).
Wait, this wasn’t part of my list of things of things you need to know. There is a reason for that: I hate promoting the show. I’m no good at it and I don’t care about the listeners. Really, I don’t care about the listeners. Oh, I like them quite a lot individually when we meet over coffee or email but, overall, I find listeners somewhat intimidating and anxiety inducing.
I use Embedded to talk to interesting people and ask them impertinent questions. If I record it and call it a podcast, people actually answer when I ask them what their favorite dinosaur is. (Why is that not a socially acceptable party question after the second grade?) Much of the time I pretend we don’t have listeners or that there are about 5 of them and we are all having lunch together, but they are being shy and not saying anything.
Anyway, the more I think about the listeners and what they want, the less I follow my own agenda. It was my agenda that got them interested in the show to start with. It is a tough balance to be open to listeners and responsive but not follow their (unending) requests too literally.
Of course, before you can start pretending they don’t exist, you may want to get some listeners. The podcast catalogs will ask for the category of your show and some keywords. Choose lots of keywords that are related to your show. This helps when people search in their podcast player.
Searchability is also where writing good show notes comes in. By writing about what you discussed, the material is more available to search engines. You can and should promote your show via all your social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and so on). You may have to start with your friends, tell them about your show. This is hard for me; I don’t like to do self-promotion, it feels like bragging. But if you aren’t proud of your show, why should anyone listen?
I’ve gone to many conferences in my field and not added any listeners despite handing out stickers and talking about the show. On the other hand, appearing on other podcasts was quite helpful for reaching new listeners; people who listen to podcasts are more likely to listen to your podcast. When you email to get yourself invited on their show, try to tell them how it will benefit them. And spell their names correctly (ELECIA, like electricity).
The best way to get more listeners is to ask any current listeners to tell other people about your show. One way they can do this is to rate your podcast on iTunes. More ratings will lead to iTunes showing your show to new people.
Finally, Chris was insistent that we release the show on a regular schedule which turned out to be weekly for us. Whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly, it should be regular so your audience knows what to expect and when. I think this helped us quite a lot. The shows that are intermittent fall off my listening radar quickly. Plus, the routine practice helped us get better at podcasting.
Posting is hard. I’ve never done it. I’ve never even watched Chris do it. Finding out the steps was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I’ve said before that finding a producer who loves you is important but that was mostly because he makes me sound good through audio magic. Now I understand he does even more for the show.
Creating and maintaining a podcast isn’t easy. The good news is that you can start small and build up, record a few episodes and then do the podcast hosting and podcast blog, then go on each podcast catalog aggregators one at a time. We usually end up spending around ten hours per week on the show including preparing, recording, editing, and posting. We do a little bit of marketing too, but not as much as we probably should.
Finding an audience is tough. People who listen to podcasts and are interested in your topic are your best audience. All you must do is find them and then be interesting enough to keep them.
- Libsyn has a webinar about starting a podcast.
- SoundCloud can act as a podcast host and podcast blog (they have set-up instructions).
- Apple has some good advice on starting a podcast.
- Dan Benjamin talks about mics and gear.
- Saron Yitbarek wrote about getting excellent audio sound by recording near pillows.
- There are also podcasting for dummies books out there but I didn’t read them.