As TV grew increasingly popular, many assumed audio content was headed nowhere. The band Queen lamented “radio, we still love you” in the 1980s. The Buggles said it more directly: “Video killed the radio star.” More recently, Rolling Stone wondered why a pandemic forcing us to stay home wasn’t making radio more popular.
The answer is simple: because we’ve all turned to podcasting.
If you see podcasts as the next evolution of radio, the art form is doing just fine. 32% of Americans listen to podcasts at least monthly. Those who do listen? They tune in to an average of seven shows per week. It’s a relatively new medium, but it’s based on a 20th-century concept: people just like listening to things.
The good news? If you’re someone in search of an audience, there’s no easier way to connect with people than by talking to them. But you’ll still need ways to demystify the entire process. That’s why we’ve broken it down step-by-step so you’ll have every possible solution to publishing your first podcast.
How to Start a Podcast on the Right Foot
There’s good news and bad news. The good news: podcasting is incredibly popular. The bad news? Ditto. You won’t be the first person to start a podcast on personal finance, or gaming, or even obscure niches like chameleon ownership or the horses of The Lord of the Rings. It’s tempting to look at podcasting and conclude that the market is already oversaturated.
But remember, podcasting is a medium like anything else. You may not be the first one to sift through the podcasting sediment in search of gold, but you’re still the only you out there. The only question is how you’re going to find your audience and connect with them.
Picking a Podcast Name
It all starts with a good podcast name. There are some helpful rules of thumb you can use to make your name more memorable. Alliteration is memorable (Fantasy Focus Football, Metaphysical Milkshake). Plays on common sayings are memorable (Monday Morning Podcast, Over My Dead Body). Full, unique phrases really stand out (Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, This Is Actually Happening).
An important lesson here is to not overthink the name. A cutesy name might help launch a podcast and stand out from a crowd of poorly-named ones, true. But look at some of the top names on Apple’s list of top podcasts or our own list of top podcasts and tell us if any of the following top podcasts strike you as overly clever names:
- Crime Junkie
- The Daily
- Up First
- The Bill Simmons Podcast
Ultimately, a name is just a foot in the door. It’s up to you to deliver content people want to hear.
Pick From Popular Podcast Topics and Niches
You can’t understand how to start a podcast without choosing a topic first. Have you chosen your podcast topics yet? Good, because we can’t help you here. Only you will know what you’re passionate about. Does a topic have enough material to last hours per week? Are you comfortable with that topic for hours per week?
If not, let’s look at some of the niches in which you can start a podcast:
- Celebrity and guest interviews (Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Star Talk)
- Current events (The Joe Rogan Experience)
- Personal finance (The Ramsey Show podcast, Afford Anything)
- Sports (The Bill Simmons Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz)
- True crime (Morbid: A True Crime Podcast, Murdaugh Murders Podcast)
- Religion (The Bible in a Year)
- TV rewatches (Office Ladies, Talking Sopranos)
In some cases, a podcast might combine niches: Star Talk deals with both science and general celebrity interviews. Talking Sopranos includes a rewatch, but also interviews with The Sopranos actors.
In choosing your topic, try to pick something that uses two factors. First, you should be passionate about it. People will know within a few minutes if you’re not excited about what you’re sharing and tune you out. Second, other people should be passionate about it—enough to mean there’s an audience for it.
Choose Your Podcast Format
Once you settle on a name and topic, your next goal should be to choose your format. This is the basic structure you use to put together each podcast. Here are your options:
- Interviews: One reason people say “host a podcast”? Oftentimes, you’re having guests. The Laptop Lifestyle, for example, combines the topic of a “virtual” digital nomad lifestyle with guest interviews.
- Solo: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is one of the most famous examples of hosts who have earned a following despite focusing on monologues.
- Team/group: The aforementioned Office Ladies features a team of former actresses from The Office.
- Repurposed content: Some people want to digest the day’s news as they drive home from work. Repurposing content into a daily news summary, for example, might be exactly what they’re looking for.
The Cost of Starting Your Podcast
Think of podcasting as the digital century’s equivalent of talk radio. The difference is you don’t have to buy your own radio tower to broadcast anymore. You’re going to be your own podcast producer.
How much does it cost to start a podcast? Anyone with software, a microphone, and a voice can do it—often for far less than they imagined.
Is It Possible to Podcast for Free?
Sort of. You will still need the basics—a computer and a microphone. But let’s also imagine that you have those ready to go. Can you actually start a podcast for free? With the right equipment, you can. All you need are:
- Audio processing software: Try Audacity. Using this free audio editor is easier than you think. It’s also more than enough to give your audio a professional-sounding sheen.
- Distribution: Podcast platforms like Anchor.fm make it possible to distribute your podcast with free hosting. You can even skip the audio processing software and record directly into Anchor.fm, as well as handle podcast editing.
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Podcast Equipment You’ll Need to Start
You can record podcast content today; you’ll only need a basic setup. However, as the podcast grows in complexity, you can always upgrade your capacity for sound mixing. Here’s the basic podcast equipment you’ll need to get started.
Computer or Phone
Simply put, you need access to the internet. Services like Anchor.fm help you do everything from recording to distributing your podcast. But, unless you have a serviceable Internet connection and a capable device, the platform isn’t going to help.
Microphones like Audio Technica have thousands of ratings on Amazon. You can always upgrade microphones to improve the sound quality, but today’s audio equipment makes clear recording available to anyone, even on a shoestring budget.
Acquiring Podcast Music to Liven Things Up
Using music on your podcast should be easy. Download it, slap it on the file, and you’re done—right? Not exactly.
Playing songs on a podcast means you’re using music for commercial purposes. And you’re going to end up owing someone.
Technically, you can go without podcast music. But there are benefits to livening up a recording with music; pay attention to how Dave Ramsey opens each episode of The Ramsey Show with a familiar riff from Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Playing a quick hit of music to start off a show dials up the energy, creates a “signature” sound, and anchors your audience to a particular tone or style.
To find music that fits your podcast, you can try a royalty-free music service like Soundstripe.
Podcast Cover Art
Like music, good podcast cover art can help you define your signature brand. As people browse their favorite podcast apps for something to download, your goal should be to stand out from the crowd.
Another key here is that it’s not enough to get attention. You have to get the right kind of attention. Browse the other top podcasts in related podcast genres and pay attention to the colors they use. What patterns do you notice? A pink-and-purple theme might not go so well with true crime, for example—but stark colors like black, white, and red will capture the attention of listeners who browse for true crime.
Make sure your cover art isn’t just distinctive but that it also meets the requirements of platforms like Apple. You can find a list of artwork requirements on Apple’s website, for example.
Choose Your Podcast Software
NASA wouldn’t declare themselves “go for launch” without the right software in place. You’re not exactly launching a rocket here, but you shouldn’t declare yourself “go for podcast launch” until you’ve had a chance to do the same. Here are some suggestions:
- Podbean: Free podcast hosting, with up to five hours available of storage before you have to start paying. But you’ll unlock unlimited storage space with only $9/month.
- Simplecast: A little more expensive than Podbean, but a complete solution for publishing and tracking the marketing success of your podcast.
It all starts when you hit that “record” button. Although many options on these lists will let you record directly through the platform, here are two of the most popular solutions:
- Audacity: A free, open source DAW (digital audio workstation) that can give you everything you need for professional-quality sound. The only disadvantage? There might be a bit of a learning curve to get started.
- Anchor.fm: We’ve already mentioned this platform because of its do-it-all-with-one-solution approach. But like many other platforms, it includes the ability to record—even if you’re working from a phone.
Podcast Editing Software
What happens when you click “stop”? The editing begins. You don’t have to get rid of those ums and ahs necessarily, but you should try to clip your audio down to reduce “dead air” and keep the podcast’s momentum flowing.
- Adobe Audition: A professional-level audio station to help you mix and edit podcast content with ease.
- Hindenburg Journalist: Speaking of professional-level, Hindenburg Journalist gives you everything required to record, edit, mix, and publish your podcast audio.
Some platforms will include podcast transcripts with their offerings, but if you’re working from your own recordings (and without a platform), you can also enlist the following:
- Sonix: At about $10 per hour, most podcasts will only need $10 per session to have a complete, SEO-friendly transcript included.
- GoTranscript: At $1 per minute, GoTranscript is even more affordable while still offering 99% accuracy.
Where to Submit Your Podcasts
Let’s say you’ve got it all. Artwork, music, quality audio—the complete package. Now comes the part where you want to avoid the feeling of shouting in a cave. You’ve got to put your content out there. Where do you submit your podcasts to make sure that when people want to find them, they can do so with ease?
- Apple: Given that Apple Podcasts is the largest directory of podcasts in the world, this is the place to start.
- Google Podcasts: If you want your podcasts to help you with SEO, submitting to Google Podcasts is a must.
- Spotify: Spotify has ramped up its investments in podcasts over the past few years. Why not join the club?
It might be a pain to submit your podcast to every platform out there, so keep in mind that if you use a podcast publishing solution, they’ll typically include this as part of their package. That means you have a choice: Is it easier to pay for software to handle this for you, or would you rather go the bootstrap route and invest the time yourself?
Create Podcast Show Notes
Any time a potential downloader views your podcast, they’re going to want to know what’s in it before they commit an hour or so of their life to listening to you. To entice people into downloading, you’ll want to create engaging, informative podcast show notes. Here are some tips for writing a paragraph summary:
- Avoid “I” and “we” statements: This is a common mistake that makes your writing sound bland. Is it more engaging to say “in this podcast, we will talk about the most recent presidential debate,” or to say “[Presidential candidate] opens the latest debate with a faux pas”? The latter grabs your attention while still communicating the content of the podcast.
- Write it as a show summary: Hit on every topic your show covers. Don’t say, “We finish by talking about other things…” Instead, write: “After that, [Guest] joins the discussion to talk about the state of publishing…”
Publish Your First Podcast
There’s a lot of information to swallow here. From figuring out why you want to be a podcaster to Googling “where to submit podcasts,” you’ll have to learn about artwork, podcast niches, royalty-free music, and recording software.
But there’s also good news. You’re not the first person to start a podcast, which means there are plenty of solutions available that can help fill in the gaps of your knowledge.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Do you have a message? And is that message worth sharing? If so, podcasting can be the most direct link between you and your potential audience. All that’s left to do is to hit that record button and get talking.
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