Podcasting may have become the year’s biggest medium, but it still feels like a radio backchannel: A secret, member’s-only club where radio hosts, bloggers, and enthusiasts bleed in the name of the content, instead of monetary compensation–though that doesn’t look to be far behind.
One problem that podcasting still faces, however, is that it can seem difficult to get started. It’s accessible enough that anyone with a mobile phone can create one, but at this point it’s still hard enough that you have to want to create one. It doesn’t come without a bit of brain juice and elbow grease.
“I think Serial is a very big moment and has got people podcasting who never would have before–that’s great for all podcast makers,” says the host of WYNC’s New Tech City, Manoush Zomorodi. “But until the same audience that watches the Today show also knows how to podcast, we aren’t there yet.”
Due to podcasting’s bootstrap nature, shop talk has always been somewhat part of the culture. People like to talk about what gear they’re using to get shows recorded, how it came together, and how the other interested folks can join in. It may be a member’s only club, but membership is definitely open to all.
“My podcast is all about the human dilemmas that come with technology–for busy people with kids or elderly parents and maybe not much indie tech savvy. I hope (and pray) easier podcasting will turn New Tech City into a mainstream hit,” adds Zomorodi.
And, hey: It could happen to you too.
It’s all about the sound, which means it’s all about the microphone and a decent pair of headphones and where you choose to record.
Even though you can literally get started podcasting by using your phone’s microphone to record yourself talking, getting a dedicated microphone is the best place to start. There are a lot of choices too. Dan Benjamin, who’s been running a network of podcast shows and recording audio for years, has recently updated his list of podcasting recommendations; the mic he suggests for entry-level users is the sturdy Samson C01U Pro USB Studio Condenser, which costs about $79, stand included.
Among the different helpful parts, he breaks down the selection of gear by price and seriousness, beginner or advanced. Benjamin has also recorded a video on microphone technique–a critical part of making your quality mic sound as good as it can.
A decent pair of headphones can also be key. Again, any old earbuds will let you hear the conversation, but having a dedicated pair of headphones, even if inexpensive, will let you hear every last little detail—and every annoying pop. This is important, among other reasons, as Jason Snell from Six Colors points out, to help with mic technique. The Sennheiser HD 202 IIs run for about $25.
For those a little more serious, extra items like a pop filter, mic wind screen, or boom stand can enhance some of the finer details and make the recording sound that much nicer. Having the mic on a stand instead of the table, for example, alleviates noises causes by touching items on the desk, frees up space in front of you, and lets you use your hands freely to take notes and have a real conversation.
Doing a podcast by yourself is as simple as just recording audio (don’t get too close to the mic). The part that gets tricky is when there’s more than one person, especially if they’re not in the same room. Casey Liss, part of the Accident Tech Podcast (or ATP) recently wrote about about how to record a show with two other hosts who aren’t physically with you.
- Skype to actually call each other
- Piezo to record my end of the call directly off the mic
- Call Recorder to record both ends of the call, usually for redundancy
When you record audio, you’ll either be recording everyone talking on the same track–the way it’d sound to listen to a bunch of people talk on a conference call–or record everyone to their own track.
A popular option with remote recording situations for podcasters is to have Skype facilitate the call, while each person records themselves on their own computer. After the fact, someone will need to take each of the recorded tracks and mix them together into an audio program. “First and foremost,” writes Marco Arment, “as a listener, I should never know that you use Skype.”
Giving everyone their own track means that any sort of editing can be done much easier–volumes can adjusted or cross talk cut out. This, or some variation, is what you’ll want to do to get a better sounding podcast.
WNYC’s Alex Goldmark, producer of the New Tech City podcast, recommends Reaper as a powerful piece of software for editing audio. For $60, it offers similar features to a more expensive program like Pro Tools.
There’s also GarageBand on the Mac or Audacity, which are both popular, and free, options for their respective platforms.
The trickiest part of podcasting is getting it out to people. The basic idea is that you record audio, put it on the Internet, and then have that audio linked to a podcast directory. The iTunes store is, of course, the largest and most popular place to find and manage podcast subscriptions. But iTunes doesn’t actually store audio—it’s just the largest single distributor for links to audio.
You’ll need to find a place to keep the audio online. Be prepared to spend some money on hosting the audio files, but depending on how many shows you record and their length, hosting doesn’t have to be expensive.
Libsyn is one of the more popular options with plans starting at $5 per month and going up from there. Simplecast is another service that costs $12 per month, but advertises the quickest and simplest option to get started. You can also upload your podcast to SoundCloud as an audio file, but that won’t allow you to distribute it through RSS, iTunes, or other services, unless you’re a member of the SoundCloud’s podcast beta program; the company is currently accepting applications here.
You can also host the podcast files yourself, of course, but it can get quite expensive if the show becomes popular. A separate hosting service is the best bet for those just getting started.
Once you have your podcast uploaded to the Internet, you’ll need to create a feed that you can submit to the iTunes store or to other distribution channels. Again, this may be a reason to consider a podcast-focused host as they’ll provide an iTunes compatible feed. The reason you might want to use a third-party service like FeedBurner to manage a master feed is so that if you do switch hosting providers, there’s less likely to be an interruption getting the show out to listeners.
Apple lays out a few guidelines, including the size of album artwork, that you’ll need to have in place. One advantage to hosting your podcast on a dedicated podcast service is that it standardizes the input of information needed for iTunes compatibility.
At that point you can also submit your podcast’s RSS feed to other stores and directories like Stitcher Radio. Good shows will often get featured in the different directories (stores), but you can’t count on that as a way to get people listening.
In promoting your show, figure out where your podcast topic fits and join forums to spread the word about your podcast. Places like Reddit have an area dedicated to almost every subject imaginable with people truly interested in finding new things. If you’re show is worthwhile, this can be a good way for it to spread.
There are also apps and sites highlighting great podcasts like Podcast Gift, which focuses on business, design, and tech. Podcats is another one which surfaces new podcasts by letting users vote on their favorites.
Here are some miscellaneous tips and tricks that might be helpful whether you’re new to podcasting or already know the ropes.
- Jason Snell on being aware of your surroundings: “Curtains and bookshelves and other features that absorb or scatter sound can help. Record yourself in different rooms and find a place that reduces echo and ambient noise.”
- Marco Arment on improving the sound quality: “In your audio editor of choice, apply an EQ adjustment that rolls off the bass (and maybe some of the upper treble) and has a slight narrow reduction in or near the 1–2 kHz range, so it’s almost shaped like a very short, wide ‘m.'”
And Manoush Zomorodi’s three main recording tips:
- Be sure to leave plenty of space before you start/finish talking. It makes editing later easier.
- Do write out your introductions and goodbyes. It’s harder to riff on the fly than you think.
- Listen to your favorite podcasts and think about what kind of pacing you like. Do you want listeners to move quickly or mellow out when they hear you?
Last but not least: You may not become a huge success overnight (or ever), the kind of person who draws in half a million downloads a week, or who gets $6,000 for mentioning MailChimp, or be the subject of a giant backlash, but you won’t get anywhere without having something to actually say.
The constant piece of advice a lot of these recently published posts from podcasters mention, is the importance of caring, really caring about what you’re sharing with the world. Forget all the above for a moment: If you care about what you’re recording and talking about and spend enough time on the details, you could have a veritable piece of Fresh Air on your hands–regardless of the gear.
Have other suggestions for budding podcasters? Leave your thoughts in the comments.