How to start a podcast in 12 steps
How do you start a podcast? Whether you want to start a podcast yourself or engage professional producers to work with you, here are the steps you'll need to know about in your journey. Although many different tasks are involved, here's an overview of the basic steps you need to be aware of to start your podcast:
How to start a podcast
Plan your podcast series and episodes
Find a producer
Find a presenter
Invest in the best kit you can
Decide how to promote and market your show
Do your research
Set up and recording
Edit your podcasts
Mix your final programmes
Choose a hosting platform for distribution
Promote and market your podcast (and make assets)
Let's dive into those steps in more detail:
1. Plan your podcast series and episodes
Maybe you've got a great idea, but before you begin it's wise to spend some time making decisions about the best way to approach this. Podcasting formats can be so much more than two people talking in a studio. You could make an investigation, write a fiction, present a mystery that unfolds over many episodes, create a comic panel discussion, or an award-winning piece of journalism. This treatment or format will handle your unique subject matter in a way that makes it compelling and accessible. At this stage, think big. You can always trim you idea to fit your budget later.
If you're making a whole series at once, it's a great idea to have an idea of what each episode will be about before you start recording. This will mean you have a bit of a feel for the 'narrative' of the overall piece and will help you conclude it naturally.
Your chosen presenter has a big responsibility: this person will not only be the right one to explore your story and narrate findings, but they will also have appeal to the kinds of listeners you want to make your story for. If they have strong credibility in your subject area, they may also bring their own followings of people to your podcast.
Thinking about how you can use sound creatively in your podcast is essential because it helps you present the content of your story in the most interesting, engaging and enduring way. Quality content is key to building respect and loyalty with a new audience.
To make decisions about this, you'll need to know what sort of listener and audience you are making your podcast for. What will entertain or intrigue them? What will make your audience come back for more? What is an appropriate and sensitive way to share your story for the medium? In addition to this, thinking about what most excites you, as the creator, is also important. If you have the passion it will come across in an authentic and powerful finished product.
What you want your podcast to achieve? Are you looking to move people to take action, or build a big audience with certain interests? Do you want to release regularly and build a listening 'habit' with your audience? Do you want people to go to your website once they've listened to the podcast, or join a mailing list, or is the podcast the place you want your most engaged audiences to arrive at once they've been on your website and social media and loved it? Thinking about this audience journey will come in handy later.
2. Find a producer
Making a podcast all by yourself as a beginner requires you to learn a lot of skills and think about many different things. Sometimes it's helpful to bring in a little professional help. You might even want to do this in the planning stages of your project, as a producer will also have good suggestions about how to use sound creatively, what makes a good presenter and what would be a unique and powerful way to present your stories.
A podcast producer can help with many different tasks, from research and writing to recording and editing, to providing kit, helping you stay compliant with privacy, GDPR and health and safety laws and working out a timeline for the whole production process. The benefit of hiring a podcast producer or podcast production company is that it means the work can be done efficiently by a safe pair of hands whilst you focus on the big picture of what you want to achieve with your programme.
Hiring a podcast producer or podcast production company can be a very collaborative process. However hands-on you'd like to be, they can be there to plug into your plans and provide advice and support where you need it. Having a discussion with a freelance podcast producer or podcast production company before you start recording your podcast is wise as it will help you plan your time and budget for starting your podcast. If you're a business you may already have people or department within your workforce that can work on different elements of the podcast production process. Making sure everyone's clear on what needs to be done and how they need to work together is a great start to your production journey and can avoid costly mistakes later on.
If you're a bit stuck for where to start looking for a producer, why not have a listen to the credits you'll often find at the end of other audio programmes. Pick an existing podcast programme that's got a similar treatment or theme to what you want to do and find out who made it - you'll then whittle down your search to companies that have an interest, specialism and experience your chosen area.
3. Find a presenter
How do you choose the right presenter for your podcast? Wow, there's a lot of choice! There are a few points to consider to whittle this decision down. Firstly, ask who can bring both credibility and appeal to the subject matter who also has appeal to your target audience? Then think about what budget you might have available. If you have a smaller budget, but still want a well-known voice, working out how you can incorporate them into the project without using loads of their time and energy could be a good workaround in the design and production process. For example, could a producer do your interviews and write a script for them to work off instead? If budget isn't a constraint, dream big! Of course not every presenter has to be a well-known voice - we all have to start somewhere. In this case, someone with fantastic communication skills, an engaging conversationalist and someone with a genuine passion for your subject can have all the right raw materials for a powerful listen.
At this planning stage, you might also have an idea of your dream contributors and interviewees for the podcast. Making contact with them early for an idea of availability and warming them up for a potential interview is a savvy move at this point too.
4. Invest in the best kit you can
If you've hired a production company to handle the recording process, this part will be easy for you! For the rest of us, making sure we have the right kit for the recording comes down to three things: the easiest for remote contributors to use, the best quality sound for the environment, the best you can get for your budget.
Speaking generally, a recording setup requires a microphone for each speaker, sometimes to record them into, a way of monitoring or listening to the recorded signal, and some manner of connecting everything up, be it via wifi, radio, cables or other means. If you are recording remotely, you might also need a video interface to facilitate the conversation.
The type of microphone you need will vary with the number of people and the purpose. Microphones have different 'directions' or 'polarities' which basically means that different types pick up sound from different directions.
If you have one or more people sitting in a studio and want to give them a microphone each, the easiest option is to give them each one they speak into the front of and position it appropriately. These are called cardioid microphones and they record on one side most sensitively. Add a 'pop filter' to stop strong breaths distorting the noise and you're away. There are various podcaster-friendly versions on the market, some of which can be simply attached to your computer using a USB cable. Check out the Rode Podcaster, Blue Yeti or Audiotechnica's AT2020USB+ for starters.
If you're recording outdoors and want to gather a wide range of sounds around the mic, you might want to consider omnidirectional microphones which can record in a circular shape around the mic. These are also good for moving environments such as a reporters scrum. You will also need to consider fluffies or foam protection to buffer your recording from loud wind noise.
If you're ever in a stitch, don't forget your humble smartphone also has a good little mic built in too. Just hold it about 5-7 inches away, point the microphone below your chin (to avoid it getting hit by strong breaths) and record into your voice memos or voice recorder app. Very useful for backup.
You might be recording into your computer, but if you're on location, I recommend Zoom's range of handy portable recorders such as the H1, H4, H6 etc. which allow you a range of different mics and cabled mic inputs. They're very user friendly and allow you to transfer your files to a computer for editing later.
If this is all too complicated, there are also lots of programmes that allow you to do everything all in one go Have you had a look at Anchor, for example? This programme lets you record your podcast into a web programme, add sounds and music, and hit publish all in one go. A very simple beginner's solution that makes the tech side easy.
Whatever location you're recording in, don't forget to pick a quiet one. If you're indoors, avoiding rooms with high ceilings or lots of hard surfaces can minimise the reverberations. Go for a small, softly furnished environment without too much background noise where you can, avoid wearing jangly jewellery or banging the table, and make sure you're always talking into the correct part of your mic!
5. Decide how to promote and market your show
What? Should you really decide how to promote your podcast before it exists? Yes!
Having a plan for how you will promote and market your podcast online, on social media, in press releases, via email marketing, in adverts, sponsorships or audio campaigns means that you can gather the content you need along the way. Whether it's pinning a fantastic audio clip from an interview for use in an animated audiogram on Twitter, booking a photographer, or arranging to record some of your interviews as video so that you can turn them into Instagram videos, all the additional content you can have ready will mean that when your podcast launches, you will have a range of catchy multiplatform assets through which to promote it.
Just thinking about your audience journey at this point will really inform a strategy for making sure as many people discover your finished podcast as possible. It's also wise to plan this in advance if you need your digital team to spend time crafting posts and planning around other content. If you're a business with a busy content and comms schedule, it's essential that your teams have time to plan ahead. It also means that they can flag any conflicts or issues with release dates ahead of launch.
In addition, creating some fantastic artwork to go with your show is worth commissioning early. Whether you're making this yourself with tools such as Canva, or bringing in a graphic designer, ensuring you have attractive artwork and a title that is both eye-catching and gives potential listeners the right idea about your content. This artwork will become the shop window for people browsing their podcast apps and it will be a memorable graphic that you should include in all your visual advertising to build familiarity and - hopefully - eventual conversion to listeners.
Here at Podcast Pioneers, we don't just do audio, but offer design and creation on visual marketing assets too, from logo design right through to animations, video and graphics, so let us know if you need a hand.
6. Do your research
Before you start recording your podcast, researching and planning your episodes is a no-brainer, right? Great research will not only provide your presenter wth the tools they need to make a great interview, but it will also give your whole series a sense of direction and momentum. Doing the research will allow you to decide how best to present the content in your chosen format. What should you hold back for later and what should you reveal to hook listeners in and take them on a journey? What does the listener need to know before they hear the interview and how are you going to convey that without 'dumbing down' or pointing out the obvious?
Having great research and planning also means you can make the most of your scheduled and still have time time and space to react if you get some surprises along the way. That might be in the form of an exclusive revelation from one of your interviews, a discovery that changes your whole series thrust, or just someone running late so you're short on time!
To point out the obvious, a well-researched and thought-out interview also allows your presenter to gain the trust and rapport of their guests, AND their listeners. There may be some preliminary writing to do at this stage, so it's a great opportunity to think about which contributors are the best people to speak to and to have a pre-recording conversation to understand their viewpoints and expertise. Research calls are normal for a producer to undertake in order to understand the interviewees particular thoughts and opinions ahead of interview. If these are impossible to schedule with a busy guest, you may have to get creative to find out more about the sorts of things you think they might say - reading articles or blog posts, or even trawling their Twitter feed to find out what makes them tick!
A tip here - it's rarely a good idea to fully script interviews as this will not only make your presenter sound forced, but might mean your contributor prepares a script in response. Scripted conversations can feel very strange to listen to and don't give that compelling sense of a live and free-flowing conversation between real, fallible human beings, so do try to avoid this. Some bullet pointed talking points will do the trick for nervy guests and preppers!
7. Set up and recording
Depending on what sort of podcast you want to make, and how many people are involved, this could be a cinch! Simple two guest podcast formats are down to the diaries, time zones and flexibility of two people and whoever is recording it. But more complex productions can present a scheduling juggle.
I'm currently working on one such project, which requires a presenter to do three separate recordings per episode. We have very little time to turn a great project around. The presenter is in demand, well-known and hella busy. But as the common denominator and a hugely valuable part of the show, it's their schedule that we need to work around in this instance. This is possible because the content isn't massively time-sensitive and our contributors are really flexible. Hurrah! However, if you're in a situation where you have one chance to catch the interview of all interviews and your presenter isn't available, it's worth having a correspondent available to step in and get the tape. Whether this is an on-mic voice or a producer who you can chop out in the edit, don't miss out on an amazing interview just because the stars won't align!
If you've reached out to potential guests early enough in the planning process, hopefully you will have caught them far enough in advance to have an idea of available dates which you can now pin down.
Another factor to setting up recordings is how to make it as easy as possible for everyone involved. A great interview can happen when people aren't worrying about equipment, wifi connections or distracting external noise. Having a briefing call with your guests to make sure they know what the recording process involves and what you'll need them to do will mean everyone arrives prepared and ready for a cracking conversation.
If you're recording on location you might also need to book in pre-site visits or reviews so that you can do a health and safety risk assessment and create a backup plan for any unexpected circumstances, such as rain, riots or lions that have escaped from a local zoo.
Recording your show, in whatever situation, requires some thought and care with regards getting the best quality sound. Even in a quiet location, it's worth getting some atmospheric recording without any speaking so that you can use this as a profile for noise reduction later on, or to help smooth the transitions through difficult edits. Okay, yes, I mean mask them.
In addition to that, making sure you have the right kit for the situation and that you have briefed your guest how to use that kit (i.e. speaking into a certain part of the mic, at a certain distance, avoiding rustling their clothes or objects in the recording space etc.)
If you're recording remotely and people are in big, echoey rooms, you might want to ask them to go somewhere smaller or with softer furnishings to absorb some of the reflections that can otherwise make things sound echoey.
The goal of getting the best recording sound is not only to reflect on the professionalism of you as a creator, but also to make it a pleasant and attractive thing to listen to. Listening takes energy and having to work hard to hear or process poor quality audio can be a drag when you just want to enjoy a great podcast at the end of a long day.
8. Editing your podcasts
Do you want to edit your own podcast? If you haven't hired an external editor or production company, this can seem like an arduous task. Let me make the case for editing though! Even in a simple conversation, there will be hesitations, verbal stumbles, ums, ahhs and 'let me start that again's. Leaving these in the final programme may bring a certain rustic charm, but it can also infuriate your listener and waste their time. And the last thing you want to do is make your listener think you don't respect their considerable time investment.
What's more, if your listener becomes annoyed or distracted by tics or tangents in the conversation, they might focus instead upon how things are being said, rather than the all important WHAT.
There are some really simple programmes available to edit your podcast, such as the free to download Audacity. There are also some very beautiful, complex programmes that can do wonderful things with sound. If you have a big idea but no experience, it's worth hiring an editor to assist, share tips and tricks or at least give you some coaching on these programmes. Learning a new skill can be slow at first but very rewarding. Just bear in mind that if you're determined to learn to edit yourself, you'll need to factor in plenty of extra time to do it. A decent editor will probably spend two to three times the length of the recording time on a basic edit and cleanup, but that can depend on how many people are talking and how natural the speakers are on mic. If one of your guests has a stutter, for example, expect to set aside extra time to get them sounding smooth.
9. Add narration
Once you've cut down your interviews, you might want to write and record some further interviews, or add narration from you presenter in order to tie everything together in a tidy narrative. The choices you make in this stage can really alter the pace, interest and energy of a story, so taking some time to reflect upon what you've learned, how you want to share that information, and even gathering a bit of input from your colleagues and presenter is a great way to make sure this stage is as creative as possible.
10. Mix your final podcast programmes
Mixing your final podcast programmes is actually the very end layer of the editing process. Before you mix your programmes you will have brought together all the creative elements you need into a structure and cut it down to time - from sound effects to narration, interview clips to archive material and of course, music! The mix is a masterful moment of making all that chaos fit together for a clean and coherent sound. This is the point where you listen out for and correct any remaining inconsistencies in volumes, use tools to balance all the elements within the overall sound, perhaps do a final clean-up of background noise and export your programme as a finished audio file, perhaps an mp3, m4a or WAV. A special moment.
This stage is also a great point to take a step back from your programmes and hear them as a listener would. I like to write all my episode materials at this stage too, including episode descriptions with links and relevant information, press releases, blogs and reference material.
A good standard audio format for podcasts balances the need for a quality sound that incorporates music and speech, with a smaller and universally easy to use and share audio file. That being said, mp3s at a bit rate of 128kbps are a good standard format for podcasts which feature various different elements, although speech-only programmes can handle lower bit rates without presenting much of a barrier to listening.
If you want to find out more about this, you can check out my book Step-by-Step-Podcasting for Business which explains what these terms mean.
11. Choose a hosting platform for distribution
Those are the basic questions. Podcasts can be made available publicly via hosting platforms or distributors. These are generally web-based programmes that charge you a fee for hosting your audio depending on how big your files are or how many / how long. A provider will then make it possible for you to create a syndicated web feed on which to publish this audio on a regular basis. This feed updates regularly and can be accessed at any time and on an ongoing basis by the many apps and players that you can listen to podcasts on.
You can then distribute your RSS feed manually to directories such as Apple podcasts via Podcasts Connect (you need an Apple ID), Spotify and so on. Quick tip - once your podcast is on Apple, many listening apps will automatically be able to access your RSS fed. Similarly for Google and Spotify, once your podcast feed is live on your hosting platform you will be able to find and claim them.
But hosting platforms do much more than just offer a home for your precious podcast audio. Whilst every provider has its own unique collection of benefits, many of them cross over. Depending on what your priorities are for your project, you can create private RSS feeds, access analytics and data about listeners, run surveys, create microsites, generate social media assets, make embeddable players, offer access to multiple administrators, insert ads, monetise your content, generate transcripts, integrate with programmes such as YouTube and Wordpress.... basically anything you can imagine. If they haven't invented it yet, they're probably just about to. Prices for these services and add-ons vary, so it's worth shopping around to see which options best suit your needs and budget. One thing to consider, especially if you're looking for reliable and accurate statistics, is what status that platform holds with the guidelines from the internet advertising bureau. Here's a link to find out more:
12. Promote and market your podcast.
How should you promote your podcast? Alongside the production process, you've hopefully been creating some eye-catching or intriguing visual assets to use as animations, clips and images on social media.
With millions of podcast episodes available for listeners around the world to choose from, the biggest challenge to your success is in making sure the right people know where they can find you, and making it easy for them to listen.
Thought you'd put your feet up did you?
Even if you've made the best piece of audio in history, without telling people it exists, there are certain barriers to finding this organically. You need to make sure your podcast is discoverable in this sense by using written online materials - from SEO-optimised web pages, making transcripts and descriptions detailed and available for search engines. Do also submit your podcast to review sites and publications with a press release - great content can speak volumes, especially when a trusted, independent voice is endorsing it.
When it comes to marketing and advertising, returning to your intended audience, their interests and habits can save you time and money on using irrelevant platforms.
And if you're marketing your podcast to specific audiences, whether that's through social media, advertising, paid endorsements or direct email, the content you create to support this should be relevant to the platform. An eye-catching image or animation on social media is your best shot at pausing someone from their scrolling habit. A powerful quote can do the same. From that point you need to make it as easy as possible for them to listen, so using smartlinks via programmes such as podfollow will allow you to set up a URL that automatically opens the app most relevant to the device that's accessing it.
If you're emailing your audio to mailing lists - why not embed the player so they can stream the audio straight from there? Or at least pick out excerpts of your content that you think will be most compelling to the recipient to whet their appetite.
A final tip is to ask everyone involved in the episodes to share it with their personal networks. Podcasting is a trusting, word of mouth medium. With so much choice for listeners, they're more likely to listen to something recommended by a trusted friend or colleague than that of a search engine. What's more, if you've had well-known or credible guests on your programme, their followings may also be interested in the kind of content you're making. If you are a business or organisation, asking people to advocate for your show there can also add to this network effect.
How do you make a podcast?
Well, now you have the answer in 12 steps. Hopefully that's demystified the process of planning, producing and marketing a programme a little for you, and you now feel ready to begin your adventure.
Whatever it is you're working on, good luck, and most of all HAVE FUN! If you need support or advice in any part of this process, Podcast Pioneers is here to help. Just drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about podcast production in our book Step-by-Step Podcasting for Business, available on Amazon now.