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How to Start a Podcast

Too many people think of the technical stuff first. In fact, that's the easy part

By Karen Unland, '94 BA

April 23, 2019 •

Podcasting has never been more accessible to creators and consumers. With little expense, you can make your own show and take advantage of this powerful and intimate means of communication.

Prospective podcasters often think their challenges are technical. What kind of microphone should I get? How do I edit the audio? How do I get the podcast into Spotify? Those are good questions, but you can Google them and, honestly, they aren't the most important questions. Here are some things to think about first:

1: Who do you want to reach?

A podcast is made for an audience. So who's yours? It's not everybody. Nothing is, but podcasts are especially good at serving a niche. Your podcast should be about something, not just gabbing about whatever strikes you. And it should be for someone, not just you. For example, Daveberta is for people who like to nerd out about Alberta politics. Bollywood is For Lovers is for people who love Hindi cinema, past and present. Each show reaches the kind of people who are crazy for that subject.

2: Why do you want to reach them?

If the reason you're starting a podcast is to get rich and famous, get used to disappointment. That's not how it works and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling hope.

A podcast can help you achieve business goals, demonstrate your expertise or make connections. A great example of this is Linda Hoang's Don't Call Me A Guru, which demonstrates her expertise in social media strategy and gives her a forum to shine a light on others. People will speak openly about their interests and passions. That's what Shane Lawrence does on Ed - Conversations about the Teaching Life, where he has built a global personal learning network by interviewing educators. A podcast also gives you useful content to share on your website and social media channels, and that's a good business goal for a podcast, too. Straight-up selling stuff? Not so much.

Other goals are just as worthy. Maybe you want to nerd out about something you can't stop talking about. Maybe you want a regular reason to talk to a friend about something you love. Maybe you want to make good art, as Neil Gaiman would say. If you understand the reason you're doing this, it will guide your decisions.

Having a strong "why" behind your podcast will help you reach a big enough audience to possibly bring in some money through advertising, crowdfunding or both. It will take a long time to get there and you're going to want to be sustained by something deeper to keep going.

3: Figure out what you can offer

Do a bit of market research. What do you like and what podcast is already serving your potential listeners?

What will make your podcast different? You, for one thing - nobody else has your personality, your voice, your quirks. But listeners don't know you yet, so how do you differentiate your podcast?

Maybe you've come up with an idea that no one else has. (It's still possible.) Maybe you've got a fresh approach to a common topic. Maybe you've come up with an interesting angle - "it's like Pod Save America, but about Alberta," or "it's like 99% Invisible, but about medicine."

Knowing what makes your show different guides your editorial decisions and sells your podcast to prospective listeners. It also helps you come up with a name and the cover art, which you're going to need in order to submit your podcast to distributors.

4: Choose a format and frequency

Listeners will develop expectations about frequency and format, so yours need to be predictable. Are you talking into a microphone alone? Interviewing a different guest every episode? Talking to a co-host? Gathering tape in the field? Performing a piece of fiction? Your topic, your format and your resources will determine how often your podcast drops. Common intervals are weekly, every two weeks or monthly.

A radio-documentary-style show takes longer to produce than a straight conversation. Interviews can be recorded in batches, but require co-ordinating with other people's schedules. Shows tied to current events likely need to come out more frequently to stay relevant. Set a realistic schedule and stick to it. If your goal for the podcast is to come out "whenever," it will fall to the bottom of your to-do list.

5: Equip yourself

You don't need an expensive set-up to start. Ultimately, you need a microphone, a computer or other place to store audio files and a quiet room.

If you're just starting, your phone has a good microphone and there are apps such as Anchor to help improve the sound. Some public libraries have recording studios. Once you're sure you want to keep going, you can buy a decent USB microphone for $50 to $100.

For editing, Audacity and GarageBand are free and have editing capabilities. Paid options include Adobe Audition, Hindenburg and Reaper.

You'll probably want some music for your intro, outro and maybe transitions. The Free Music Archive and YouTube's audio library can help if you aren't a composer yourself. Don't use copyrighted music - it's stealing and using it breaks the terms of service of any podcast hosting company.

For additional technical advice, I recommend Shopify's How to Start a Successful Podcast (for Under $100).

6: Publish

Once you've recorded and edited your first episode, you need to upload the audio to a podcast hosting service. This generates the RSS feed that you will submit to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher, so that listeners can subscribe and automatically receive each new episode. You should be working on the next episode as soon as you publish the first.

There are many hosts out there with different price structures, analytics, storage limits and features. I personally use Transistor, and have used Libsyn, which shares the benefits of longevity and responsiveness with Blubrry.

Most podcast hosting services will generate a website for you. You can make that the home base for your podcast audio and each episode's show notes, or you can embed the audio on a different website that has more features.

7: Promote

Your podcast's mere existence will not lead to its discovery. Use your social media channels, not only to share your latest episode, but to engage your listeners and people who are passionate about your topic.

Being a guest on other podcasts can be a great way to build listenership. And if you have guests, make sure you provide them with images, text and link to share acre across their networks. Hopefully they'll become fans who continue to spread the word.

Remember, your 10th show will be better than your first, and the only way to get to 10 is to start with episode one. It's work but it's also fun. Have you created a podcast we should know about? Share it with us!

Karen Unland co-hosts a podcast called That's a Thing?! in which her daughter teen-splains her media. She is also president of the Alberta Podcast Network, and evangelizes about podcasting at every opportunity. She can't wait to hear what you come up with.

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