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How to Start a Podcast: Your Ultimate Guide
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Emily Long
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Wondering how to start a podcast and get yourself famous on itunes podcast directories? Podcast hosting isn't necessarily an easy or cheap hobby, and starting a podcast can be quite time consuming. But you're in luck, because we've got a step-by-step guide for you so you can see your own name and the cover art for your podcast among your itunes podcast feed soon.

The podcast landscape is big and broad and continues to grow — so much so that Hollywood talent agencies are looking to bring creators on as clients. Apple Podcasts, which serves as one of the major listening platforms, offers more than half a million active shows in more than 100 languages. Half of all American homes consider themselves podcast fans, and 17 percent of the U.S. population — 48 million people — listens to podcasts on a weekly basis. The percentage of Americans who listen to podcasts more than doubled between 2008 and 2016.

Podcasting sounds simple: You have a theme, perhaps a co-host, and a recording app on your smart phone. In theory, this is all that’s required to get going — but producing a high-quality show that attracts an audience takes a few extra pieces of equipment and a lot of time. Here’s what you need to know.

To Succeed, You Have to Commit

Think about your favorite podcast. While it may sound like a well-rehearsed monologue or a natural, organic conversation between hosts and guests completed in one take, it’s more likely that each finished episode has been carefully curated from more raw audio than the published version you downloaded. An hour-long show may have required two or three hours of recorded content — plus an hour or two of planning and another few for editing and publishing. Even quick-hit podcasts that run five or 15 minutes in length demand planning and production time.

Podcasting requires an investment not only of time, but also of money. While many tools used to record, edit and publish are free, upgraded equipment and software can make a big difference in the quality of your show and, in turn, the size of your audience. If you want to start a podcast that’s going to succeed, you have to commit to it.

“Before I started, I wish I'd known how much time, money, and energy it takes to keep a podcast going,” says Sally Mercedes, co-host of A Year Ago Today. “I had an idea of it, but it still felt like a lot once we were actually doing it.”

Define Your Purpose 

The first thing you need to start a podcast is an idea of what you want to create — right after that, find someone who will hold you accountable to your commitment to “get the energy moving and the wheels turning,” Mercedes says.

Next, you’ll need to iron out the logistics: the structure, frequency, and purpose of your show. Do you want to inform your audience on specific topics? Will you have a co-host? Is the podcast based on interviews with guests? How often do you want to record and publish? If the show is based on current events, do you need to record and release weekly shows as the news comes along, or can you create a handful of episodes at once and publish them over time? Are you committed to a limited number, a multi-season show with breaks in between, or an indefinite run?

To build an audience, and certainly to monetize your podcast, consistency is key. It comes back to your purpose — if you are just in it to experiment, you have more flexibility than if you are hoping to create a top-rated show.

Buy Your Recording Equipment

You can certainly start a podcast without spending any money — using the Voice Memos app on your iPhone and your headphone mic, for example — but a small investment in better equipment will go a long way toward improving sound quality. There are some ways to upgrade...

Recorders & Mics

According to OSTraining's Beginner's Guide to Podcasting Equipment, buying equipment for podcasting is an area that can be incredibly frustrating — and many podcasters suggest poor equipment, software and set-ups.

There are two primary ways you can record, according to the guide: either straight to your computer or by using external devices like a digital recorder and a mixer. Plus, how you record will determine your pre-production (what you do before recording) and post-production (what you do after the recording) workload. The guide recommends recording into an external device like a digital recorder and not into your computer.

If you want to move beyond your smart phone’s voice app, consider a portable digital recorder. An XLR recorder can capture quality sound with or without external analog mics and allows you to record multiple tracks and store your files on a separate external memory card. These can be reasonably priced or very expensive — a device like the Zoom H4N Pro has built-in mics and would allow you to record multiple tracks at once.

You can also plug microphones into your computer to record directly into your production program, though software can crash and cause you to lose your work if it’s not saved elsewhere. Another advantage to a portable recorder is the ability to do field interviews, record sound effects in nature, or capture live events.

If you do want to plug your analog mics directly into your computer, you’ll also need an audio interface to convert the audio to digital. 

Some recorders the guide suggests include the following:

  • Roland R-05 Studio WAVE/MP3 Recorder. "Roland makes excellent products and the R-05 is one of them. My two favorite features of this recorder are its size (slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes) and the record/pause feature (allows you to pause a recording instead of completely stopping and starting a new one). The downside is it doesn’t have an XLR mic input."
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder. "This model is used by Alex Blumberg in recording his podcast ‘StartUp’. The Tascam offers a durable construction, 2 XLR inputs, and two sets of microphones for cardioid or omni-directional pickup."

Then you'll need a mic. Here's what the guide suggests:

Have as many microphones as there are people on the podcast, says Robert Patterson, co-host of All We Got. This is easier than passing a mic around the table and simplifies the process of separating and cleaning up voice tracks to cut out people talking over one another, coughing or sneezing, and background noise.

“You can record on your phone sitting on a table with one or two or five having a conversation,” Patterson says. “You can capture and edit that, but it won’t sound very good, it gives you limited editing freedom, and the production quality is low. It’s definitely one of those things where the more money you spend, the better it’s going to sound.”

There are several types of microphones, each with a range of prices. USB mics tend to be less expensive, but analog XLR options used in studio recording generally produce a cleaner, higher quality sound. Dynamic mics tend to work well for outdoor environments, while the more sensitive condenser mics produce quality sound in more controlled settings. There are great options for both, so research what’s available within your budget. Patterson recommends buying the best microphone you can afford that makes sense for your recording environment.

Your Computer & Mixers

You’ll need your computer to edit and publish your podcast — and record if you don’t have a separate device. You probably don’t need to upgrade your computer just to create your podcast, but you do need to ensure it has all the ports required for any equipment you plan to plug in or that you can purchase the necessary adapters.

You'll also need a mixer for audio editing, and here's what the guide suggests:

Cables

You'll need cables such as the following: 

  • ⅛" to ¼" audio cable
  • RCA to 3.5mm audio cable
  • XLR mic cables
  • ¼" speaker cable
  • ¼" Y cable

Quiet Space

You don’t need a full sound studio for your podcast, but it’s best to record in a quiet room — a basement, a bedroom, or even a car parked in a remote spot — to avoid echoes and distracting background noise. If your microphones and recorder aren’t high quality, your space matters even more. 

Headphones

And you'll need headphones, like this suggestion from the guide:

Extras

To further upgrade your recording space, you can look into suspension booms and pop filters. The former allows you to mount your mic at the right height so you don’t have to bend over for your recording session, while the latter reduces or eliminates the popping sound captured by air moving over your mic as you speak.

Plan Ahead

Of course, once you have your recording equipment, you need something to talk about and an outline for each show. The amount of preparation you do will depend on the format and how much editing you expect to undertake. Generally, more preparation means more efficient recording sessions and less effort spent producing the final episode.

“Decide what type of podcast you want to have — a loose conversation, something structured and semi-scripted, an interview style, or storytelling,” Patterson says. “If it’s more casual and you are just interviewing or talking you might not need to do a whole lot of work, but if you want it to sound ‘produced’ will have to learn sound effects, how to structure a story, and how to write so what you say isn’t punctuated by filler words.” 

In addition to any required research and scripting, Patterson recommends practicing speaking into a microphone before you record. Even though podcasts aren’t live, which allows you to do as many takes as you want, it’s easier to edit down if you are comfortable with volume, phrasing, and cadence. Try emulating patterns of established podcast hosts.  

Record!

This is the fun part. Turn on your recorder and go for it! A few things to keep in mind:

  • In general, it’s easier to have more audio and to record until you get the content you really want than it is to spend time editing something that’s not quite right.
  • You can record and re-record or simply record your entire conversation from start to finish and keep notes about when you completed the audio take you want to use. This is also important if you aren’t editing each episode yourself.
  • You may consider recording multiple episodes at once, especially as you are getting started, so you have content to last you for longer.

Edit and Publish

You can edit your show yourself using software on your computer. If you have a Mac, GarageBand is a built-in sound editor. Audacity is a free, open source program that allows for multi-track recording and editing. Avid Pro Tools and Adobe Audition are subscription-based editing and audio mixing software options.   

Another option is to hire a sound editor. This will save you time — especially if your episodes are long and you don’t already know how to use editing software — but will certainly add to your costs. Mercedes says she’s seen editors charge anywhere from $25 to $500 per hour of work.

“If you're hiring an editor, I recommend having them do some sort of edit test beforehand because quality ranges quite a bit also,” she adds. “This is something we discovered only after interviewing several editors and having them each edit about 5 minutes of audio.”

Check out sites like Upwork to post editing gigs and find freelancers. You can also check out services like We Edit Podcasts and Podcast Press — like recording equipment and editing software, the options you have will depend on your budget and your priorities. 

Once your podcast is edited and ready for consumption, you’ll need a way to publish — an RSS feed and a place to store your episode files. There are many platforms for this. Mercedes uses Cast for their show because it is affordable — about $10 per month — and allows she and her co-host to record and edit multiple audio tracks from opposite sides of the country.

Simplecast, Libsyn, and Buzzsprout are just a few of the other hosting sites available. Most will interface with popular directories like Apple Podcasts and Stitcher and will also provide analytics so you can keep track of what your audience is listening to on various platforms. 

Market Your Show

Once your podcast is ready for publishing, you need an audience. Make your hard work worthwhile by growing your listener base. Of course, an easy way to start is to share via social media or by personally reaching out to family and friends and asking them to write a review or a blog post — or also to share on their social media platforms, too. You can create a website for your show, ask other similar shows to partner with and promote you, request that listeners subscribe, and work on optimizing both your website and podcast listings with relevant keywords.

Like with any content, the more you can appeal to what your audience cares about, the easier it will be to attract and retain listeners. But your show also has to be a project you (and your co-hosts and guests) are passionate about. If you don’t love what you are doing, recording and producing your show will feel like a burden.

“Having a podcast is like any major creative project, except that there's no clear end in sight, unless you know you're doing a limited run,” Mercedes says. “It's really important to focus on having fun and enjoying the process. If it's not working for you, it's not going to work.”

So, you want to start a podcast? You are not alone! Starting a podcast isn't easy, but if you follow the above guide, you should be able to get going on your very own entrepreneurial journey and submit your podcast to itunes in no time.

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