One of the most common questions that we get is, "How did you start a podcast?"
So I figured I would write this to point people to so they know our process and what we recommend :)
First of all, podcasting is not hard. In fact, once you have everything set up, it's really fun. It's just the getting started part that takes time and patience.
The TL;DR version
- Choose a topic
- Do your research
- Choose a format
- Start small (and practice)
- Get the right gear
- Learn how to record and edit a podcast episode
- Decide on the name, design, and essential information
- Choose the right podcast hosting
- Enlist the help of other essential technology
- Publish and launch!
- Promote and set up your marketing
Choose a topic
The most important part of starting a podcast is choosing a topic. The wrong topic, for the wrong people, even from the wrong people won't go anywhere.
You have to find a topic that is the right information for the right people. It's easiest to nail this down by answering two questions:
- Who do I want this podcast to be for?
- What purpose does this podcast serve?
Who helps define your audience, which narrows the range of topics you could talk about and the angle that you want to take on them.
What helps define the value that you want to add. It's the driving force behind the podcast and gives vision to what you're doing.
For example, Cultivate & Keep is (1) for the next generation of Christian men and (2) to bring honest conversations around the topics, issues, and lessons that matter for Christian men.
But you can't stop at the topic. To help you refine your who and what, you need to do some research to see what has already been done and what more you can bring to the table.
- What unique perspective do you (or co-host(s)) have on that topic?
- What hasn't been done before?
- What would you change about what's already been done?
- How can you stand out from others?
A great way to do research is to use a tool like Chartable or even the podcast player of your choice. Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Google Podcasts are all great directories to search through.
Start by searching through categories. For example, relevant categories for Cultivate & Keep could include Religion, Christianity, Life, or Self-Help.
Try searching keywords directly that are relevant to your topic. For example, relevant keywords for Cultivate & Keep could include Christian, Men, Marriage, Dating, Personal Growth, etc.
Choose a format
Format is one of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of a podcast. The format can be broken down into a few different parts:
- Number of hosts
Let's start with the number of hosts.
The Solo Show
Basically a monologue.
Pros: You don’t need to rely on anyone else to record your episodes, and you’re building a reputation as the authority on your subject.
Cons: One of the biggest challenges of the solo show is getting over the feeling that you’re ‘talking to yourself’ and realising that you’re actually talking to the listener.
The Co-Hosted Show
Presenting alongside a friend or colleague (or two or three).
Pros: A great way around the ‘mic fright’ or recording alone is to chat on the show with someone else. If you find the right co-host, you have someone to bounce off, debate, and joke around with.
Cons: Not only do you need to set aside time to record, but that time must also be suitable for your co-host. There’s also the question of ownership: who’s podcast is it, do you split any future income 50/50?
The Interview Show
‘Borrowing’ the expertise or entertainment value of others.
**Pros:**Doing an interview show gives you the opportunity to have a chat with someone you’ve always looked up to. On top of this, your guests will have their own audiences who may listen to the interview and end up subscribing to your show.
Cons: Interviewing is a skill that you’ll need to hone through practice, so don’t approach the A-listers in your field straight away. You’ll need to constantly find and approach potential guests, schedule interviews, and rely on others to show up (in person or digitally). You also need to rely on technology (like Skype) to work properly throughout each call.
Now let's look at the style.
Style is a rather subjective topic, but it mainly describes the "feel" of the podcast. Think about the tone and emotion you want your audience to be experiencing. Is it goofy? Professional and buttoned up? Laid back and inquisitive?
If you're like Jeremy and I, you really hate editing and want to convey a more natural, conversational style — so we don't do any cuts from our audio. But if you're going for more of a produced, fine-tuned feel, you may want to spend a lot of time editing, cutting, and buttoning it up so the flow is there.
Length is also another consideration. Generally, length can be categorized into three buckets:
- Bite-sized — 1-19 minutes
- Commuter-friendly — 20-40 minutes
- Long-form — 40-180 minutes
Length is a primary factor for listeners when deciding whether or not to listen to an episode. Everyone has different preferences, and you have to get your length as closely aligned with what your audience prefers as possible.
Inconsistent lengths can be discouraging for listeners because you want them to be able to expect what kind of commitment they need to make to listen to your episodes. If one is 5 minutes long and another is an hour long, they're two very different kind of podcast episodes for very different settings.
Cadence is also an important factor.
How often do you publish new content?
Usually, podcasts follow one of the following formats for cadence:
Episodic podcasts (no real beginning, end, or order) most commonly follow the weekly or biweekly cadence while seasonal podcasts (usually with an order or set number of episodes per season) might be released all together or "dripped" out over weeks or months.
Monetization is also a major factor to the overall format of the podcast.
The most common forms of monetizing a podcast include:
- Sponsorship — reading an ad or promoting an affiliate link of a product
- Patreon — offering rewards for patrons such as exclusive content or another podcast feed
- Self-promotion — you or a business might be hosting the podcast in order to raise awareness and demand for your products or services
- No monetization — maybe it's just a hobby or passion project
The type of monetization that you choose will have an impact on the overall format of the podcast. Choose the one that makes the most sense for your long-term goals and is aligned with your audience.
For example, Cultivate & Keep uses Patreon to offer bonus episodes and special perks. We don't like sponsorship that much (but are willing to test it) so we opted to go with a membership model instead.
Start small (and practice)
Before you go out and buy a ton of gear, do some small practice runs. You may find that you want to do a different format or possibly that you don't like podcasting at all.
Start practicing with your phone. Your phone (especially if you have an iPhone) has a great mic and the Voice Memos app that's perfect for starting small. Regardless of whether it's just you, two of you, or even four of you, start with your phone and do some practice.
Talk for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes.
Then listen back and see what you think.
You may find that you really need to have a written outline in front of you because it's too hard to remember what you want to talk about next. Or you may find that you sounded really nervous and needed to take a few breathes before hitting the record button.
Practice, and starting small, will bring clarity to your format and confidence for the kind of gear that you want.
Get the right gear
Despite what you may see or hear from others, podcasting gear is rather straightforward. You don't have to get $500 mics or a mixing board the size of your dining table. The only difference (and where it gets more complex) is when you have multiple co-hosts.
The most essential gear breaks down into just a couple categories:
- Audio processor
- Audio editor
Microphones are essential for obvious reasons, but your audio processor could be your laptop or a specialized mixing board, and the audio editor could be a variety of different free or paid options.
Here's what I recommend for people that can last for years and years to sound super crisp and professional:
- Microphone: Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB
- Pop filter: Find one that will work with your mic. This one is a good start.
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD 202 II
- Editing software: Garage Band or Screenflow (for Mac) and Audacity (for PC)
Here are a few other gear guides:
Learn how to record and edit a podcast episode
How you record and edit is going to heavily depend on your format.
Here's some tips that stay consistent across formats:
- Position your mouth about 1-3 inches away from the microphone for the best quality
- Make sure your microphones have ample power to adequately capture the input
- Save your audio in .MP3 in a bitrate of 128kbps or 256kbps — this will ensure the quality is preserved
If you're a single person podcast, it's as simple as hitting the record button, adding in the intro and outro, and then cutting any "ums" or bloopers.
If you have multiple hosts, you can either record both voices onto one file or you can record them separately and then load them in to your editing software separately.
Most podcast interviews (or co-hosting calls) still take place over Skype.
To record the audio on both sides, you can use Skype Call Recorder or Audio Hijack Pro. I also use ScreenFlow, which is screencasting software, but it works really well for recording audio as well.
Where do you get theme music?
You can get theme music from Premium Beat and Audio Jungle. I got my music from someone local here in Vernon, BC. You could also have a friend record a custom jingle for you if you know what you're going for or trust their creative direction.
If you run an interview show with people who come on for guest appearances, you'll need a streamlined way to communicate and schedule with them. Send people genuine emails that show you know who they are, and what they're passionate about. Also, use Calendly so they can choose a time that works best for them.
Decide on the name, design, and essential information
Deciding on a name is no easy task. However, it should be something that is:
- Easy to read and understand
- Relevant to your target audience
Your podcast name should speak to you and your audience. Ideally, listeners should know what the podcast is all about from just the name alone.
Bonus Tip: When submitting to podcast players, adding in additional keywords or phrases to the end of your name can help make your podcast easier to discover. For example, instead of submitting "Cultivate & Keep," we submitted "Cultivate & Keep: Empowering The Next Generation Of Christian Men." This enabled us to include the keywords "Christian," "Men," and "Christian Men" which are broad terms we're confident will help land us some additional listens.
Artwork (minimum 1400x1400, maximum 2048x2048)
Your podcast artwork needs to be beautiful. Don’t neglect this aspect of your podcast as Apple and iTunes in particular seem to only feature podcasts (more on this later) if they have professional-looking artwork. You may need to invest some money into hiring a professional to design your podcast artwork. Whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, use words and images that are large enough to be clearly legible at almost any size. Take a look at the artwork that catches your eye on iTunes and model your artwork for your podcast after that. I’d recommend trying Fiverr or, better yet, hiring a graphic designer from Upwork to create something beautiful for your podcast.
There are dozens of categories and subcategories on iTunes. Everything from arts and politics to comedy and religion. Choose the category that best suits your theme. It doesn’t need to be the exact topic. If you’re struggling to decide on a category, look at other podcasts on iTunes that are similar to yours and note which category and subcategory they use.
You don’t want to skimp on the description of your podcast. You’ll want to include as many relevant keywords as possible. This is going to help with the search engine optimization (SEO) of your podcast listings. iTunes is a search engine, so many people who find your podcast will find it through a simple search.
Prominent guests and collaborators
As your podcast grows, it’s also a good idea to include the names of big guests you’ve had and the topics of your most popular episodes. This way, new listeners know immediately which podcast episodes to check out, making new listeners more likely to become long-term fans.
The podcast rating tells you which audiences the content is suitable for. You can adjust the rating for each podcast episode. This is important, as you want to be consistent with it. Ideally, every episode should either be clean or not.
Choose the right podcast hosting
Hosting requires two things:
- A website (homepage) for your podcast and the RSS feed
- A place to host your audio files
There's a whole array of different podcast hosting solutions, websites, file managers, etc. You want to make your life as easy as possible.
Don't overthink it. You only need two things from your podcast hosting, remember?
For this, I recommend Transistor.
For $19/month they provide:
- A website for your podcast (no need to fiddle with Wordpress, Bluehost, Squarespace, etc.)
- Fast MP3 hosting on our CDN (so your listeners can download your episodes fast)
- An iTunes-ready RSS feed (so you can submit your podcast to the podcast players — more on that later)
- Landing pages for each episode (so you have somewhere to point to when you're promoting and marketing new content)
- Detailed podcast analytics (so you know when, how, and how many people are listening)
Enlist the help of other essential technology
Alitu is a super easy to use podcast editing and publishing software. You can easily add in music, cut, etc. if you don't want to learn the more sophistacated software like Garageband or Audacity.
Canva allows you to create graphic designs super easily. Create your artwork, social media posts, even your logo. And it's free!
Mailchimp is a free email marketing (and now much more) tool that you can use to build a subscriber base and have an audience to connect with. 10/10 would recommend.
Publish and launch!
The most important channel for your podcast will be Apple Podcasts.
Here's the process for submitting your show, and improve its chance of getting into New & Noteworthy:
- Have 3 episodes recorded and in your RSS feed before you submit to iTunes.
- Submit your feed by going to Apple Podcasts Connect.
- You'll need to wait 24-48 hours (or longer) for Apple to email you a confirmation email.
- Once it’s live in iTunes, it’s time to start hustling. You need to get as much initial traction you get (rating, downloads, subscribes) will determine how you rank in iTunes.
- Write your network individually, and ask them to rate the show.
- If you use Overcast to listen to podcasts, you can share the show on Twitter.
- Submit your podcast to all the other podcast players using the links they provide.
- Find an online community that would be interested in the show. Examples: Facebook groups, subreddits, forums, etc.
Promote and set up your marketing
The way that you market and promote your podcast is going to depend heavily upon your audience. You'll do just fine as long as you remember two rules:
- Be where your audience is
- Don't be spammy
They may sound pretty obvious and oversimplified, but the reality is that most people don't take this into account or forget over time.
If your audience is heavy Instagram users, be on Instagram. If your audience is on a thriving subreddit, participate in that subreddit. If your audience is on a few niche forums, be there. And don't self-promote.
Everything must be communicated and delivered as helpful. Once you start sounding like, "Look at me! Please do this thing! Go subscribe!" then it's over. You've lost their trust. Be helpful. Be valuable.
Essentially evergreen marketing channels that are worth your time exploring for your podcast include:
- YouTube (which you can automatically post to with Transistor)
I've found that Facebook and Instagram Stories are a great way to get eye-balls without being too self-promotional. Twitter isn't so effective unless you've already built up a large following. Try doing some Tweetstorms based from your podcast episode outlines to make for some engaging content. YouTube is the second largest search engine and has a growing podcast audience there. Reddit can be great if you follow all the rules of each subreddit. Google continues to be a great way for people to discover content. Target keywords and make sure your website is optimized for search (like Transistor's are). Make sure to capture emails on your website so that you can bring listeners back in and maintain an "owned" audience.
This section could get really long, so I'll stop there, but don't be afraid to get creative.
You can do it!
I know it seems like a lot, but it's really rather simple. Once you get everything set up, 90% of the work is behind you and you can focus on creating amazing content!