I’ve been hosting The Busy Creator Podcast for over a year now, and the endeavor has allowed me to connect to 40+ amazing creative pros across a number of creative sectors. In recent weeks, numerous folks have approached me with the simple question “What do I need to start a podcast?” With growing interest not only in listening, but in hosting a podcast, I think it useful that I share some tips on getting started.
The important thing to note is that I am by no means an expert in creating a world-famous show, earning millions of dollars, building a full-fledged media company, or becoming a speaker/author/entrepreneur on the back of my humble podcast. Those things have indeed happened to Podcasters over the years — for example, Keith and The Girl, Entrepreneur on Fire, Grammar Girl/QD Now, or Chris Hardwick, respectively, but not for me [yet]. I have, however, started two podcasts on my own, without a team of sound engineers or web designers, and those early steps aren’t nearly as intimidating as you might think.
John Lee Dumas, the host and founder of the aforementioned Entrepreneur on Fire, has built a million-dollar business on the strength of his podcasts, including a private membership site, Podcasters’ Paradise. The motto of Paradise is simple: “Create → Grow → Monetize“. To borrow some equally succinct language, let’s dig a bit deeper into the “Create” stage and break it down further into “Plan → Record → Publish.”
Plan Your Podcast
There are some essential qualities of your podcast that you need to figure out immediately. These can evolve over time, but to get even the first episode out, you’ll have to make a decision and get to work. Here’s where to start:
Audience Who is this show for? Is it aimed at a specific profession? Is it family-oriented? Aimed at teens? Ask yourself who will be listening and what their concerns are; thinking with your audience in mind will help you make appropriate decisions down the line.
Format What kind of show is this? A five-minute, daily check-in? A monthly roundtable? A 10-part series covering a specific topic? You’ll have to pick a format that works for your listeners and that you know you can stick to. For example, if you have a full-time job and three children under 4, you probably can’t do a daily interview show with custom sound effects and precision editing. Perhaps a bi-weekly blog-style show is better suited.
Personnel Who is working on this project? Will the show have multiple hosts? Will there be a separate editor and web producer? If you’re splitting duties with a partner it can help make the workflow more digestible, but this also means you’ll have to coordinate and work together. Make sure all parties are committed to their individual efforts, and to the podcast as a whole. You don’t want to ruin any friendships over what is supposed to be a fun new project.
Scripted v. Talking Points v. Freeform Back to the show itself, there’s some further decisions to make about the programming. Scripted shows, as I mentioned above, are almost like audio blog posts where you read the content to a listening audience rather than have them read it. This may be the way to go if you aren’t great at improvisational conversation or if your strengths are more on writing than interviewing. Most discussion shows will have talking points or questions — elements to cover in each episode but still leaving room for personality — however there are some shows which are completely free-form and are essentially shows about nothing. While there is room for some variation in your shows — for example, a pre-written segment in what is otherwise a talking points show — it would seem odd if you have a short blog episode, and follow it up with a sprawling unstructured conversation the week after.
Main Topic What is your show even about? Probably should have asked this earlier, in fact. Unless you’re a great performing presence like Conan O’Brien or Stephen Fry, the topic of “whatever comes to mind” is probably too broad to keep you going week after week.
Tone & Personality Largely dictated by your personnel, you’ll have to think about the tone and personality of your podcast. Will it be completely zany? Friendly and approachable? Or severe and formal? Find an on-mic version of yourself that will make a connection with your listeners. To help, you can try plotting your would-be show on this matrix, finding your space on the content and delivery spectrums. Try to steer clear of your direct competitors or the most popular shows which may have big staffs and budgets.
Make a Recording
To record and produce a podcast, you’ll need a few things. At the most basic level, you’ll need a microphone, a computer, and some audio-editing software. These don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, and you probably have what you need laying around.
For a microphone, you can get by with the Apple earpods that came with your iPhone or iPod. The mic on these is surprising good and doesn’t required any additional hardware or cables. When you’re ready for something slightly more advanced, you can purchase a USB mic such as the Audio-Technica AT2005USB (which also has an XLR connection, not that you’ll need it yet). Ensuring you sound clear on mic is key to keeping people listening to your show.
For editing, you can download Audacity, which is an open-source editing suite for Mac, Windows, and even Linux. Like any professional software, it will look intimidating at first, but there are a ton of tutorial videos on YouTube. At the most basic level, you only need to learn how to cut and move clips, adjust levels, and maybe fade stuff out. You’ll figure it out in no time. On the Mac, GarageBand may be pre-installed and is a highly capable editor in its own right (though presented in a very
candy-ass user-friendly way). Again, lots of tutorials are available for free if you poke around. If you’re serious about this stuff, Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic, or Adobe Audition are powerful audio-editing tools, but all cost money.
I’m skipping a few steps, but once you make a recording, you should save as MP3. It’s the most widespread file format and is compatible with virtually every website and player, including Stitcher, iTunes, SoundCloud, WordPress, etc. To keep the file size down, save your files as mono rather than stereo, unless you’re publishing a music show. When you export, go for a 44100 Hz Sample Rate and 48 bps Bit Rate. You should see those options somewhere.
Publish to Your host and Your Blog
OK, so you’ve got yourself an MP3 of your show. Now what? In order to get it out there to the world, you’ll need to have it published on the Internet. But the thing that makes a podcast a podcast, is your RSS feed. RSS is a format for computers, really, but in essence it tells whatever system is reading it that some chunk of information — whether images, text, or audio — is published at a certain date and time. When the feed is updated, the systems are likewise alerted, and new content is delivered.
To get an RSS feed, you need a web host. Strictly speaking, you can host your podcast for free on a WordPress.com blog, or even via Dropbox, but I don’t recommend that. Instead, I strongly recommend Libsyn, which is a dedicated service for podcasters. Plans start at $5/mo, and can scale up as you need more hosting space, better statistics, and the capability to build an app. For now, start simple.
Although Libsyn does offer a public-facing version of your feed — making it a kind of blog — I recommend buying a domain of your own and creating a WordPress.org blog. This way, you can configure it as you like, use whatever theme you choose, and you are in control of your own domain name. It’s also much easier for potential listeners to visit
busycreator.libsyn.com, where you have to spell Libsyn, and whatnot. To make this happen, I recommend using Bluehost to register your domain and create a WordPress blog.
Pat Flynn has created a video showing exactly how to register for Bluehost and create a blog in a few minutes. I highly endorse Pat and his podcasting efforts, but I would be most appreciative if you click on my Bluehost link when the time comes, rather than Pat’s. This referral helps keep The Busy Creator plugging along.
When you publish an episode — that is, when you upload your MP3 to Libsyn and schedule it for release — it will update your RSS feed. You’ll need this feed in order to submit your show to iTunes and other podcast directories like Stitcher. Libsyn gives you the ability to update your authoring information so you can attach a show name, your own name, a link to your site, your show’s artwork, and other details.
Submit your feed to iTunes by following the rather hidden link on the iTunes Music Store Podcast Section.
If it feels like this part of the process is rather spartan, it’s because it is. iTunes doesn’t actually manage your show, but instead just reads your external feed. All the information about your show is handled there, which allows you to update your show at any time without having to alert or resubmit to iTunes. It usually takes 1 or 2 days for iTunes to approve your show for inclusion in the podcast directory, assuming you have a valid feed, and from there you’ll be given a big nasty iTunes URL where you show can be accessed.
I went through that all very quickly, and in fact skipped a few steps. The hardest part of starting a podcast is the performance part — pushing record and actually talking into a mic about a specific topic. This internet and audio stuff takes a minute to learn, but from there it’s nothing. In fact, everything here can be done over a weekend; the scale isn’t huge. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed. Here’s a few tips to help make it happen sooner, and smoother.
Go one step at a time Create a launch list for yourself (based on this post) or use the one John Lee Dumas has created. Try to do everything at once and you’ll quickly get freaked. Instead, be systematic and patient and you’ll be finished in no time.
Keep organized, and keep all files separate Since you’re likely creating a podcast with a distinct name, you should also create a separate email address and area of your hard drive to save all files, documents, links, and MP3s. Keep things organized so you can refer to them later, and improve your workflow without having to later extract your podcast from the rest of your life. I build a multi-step workflow in Freedcamp, but at the very least save your passwords and links in something like 1Password or Evernote
Set aside a budget Hosting, audio gear, software, and later promotion all cost money. If this is a hobby, set yourself an annual maximum you feel it’s worth. If you’re a business, map out a monthly expenditure for both time and money that feels reasonable. I don’t want you to launch with gusto, only to pull the plug because you can’t afford a web host.
Do more research For nearly every step I’ve mentioned here, someone has recorded a tutorial video or written an entire blog post about it. I’m giving you the basics, and showing that getting started isn’t the hard part … that would be consistent publishing, continual improvement, and audience growth! Come see me in a year when I’ve mastered those.
If you’re launching a podcast, I’m happy to offer some feedback and insight. Feel free to leave a comment below on this post or reach out via the contact form.