We are in no way close to peak podcast. In fact, from a listener’s perspective, we are only getting started. There are over 500 million blogs worldwide compared to only 2 million active podcasts. Half of the United States population has yet to even listen to their first podcast. There are still underserved categories waiting to learn from your unique perspective. I’d like to spend some time sharing some lessons I’ve learned from producing over 600 episodes in the last 7 years. My goal is to help set you up for success both from a technical and storytelling standpoint.
But Why Make a Podcast?
It’s a common saying in the business world to start with the “why” and I would recommend you start here. Why would anyone listen to your podcast? They have 3 or 4 alternatives and they already have a packed weekly podcast schedule. What is it about what you’re going to create that will be a worthwhile use of their time? In the developmental state of a podcast it’s very important to build a listener profile. Keep asking questions that steer you back in the direction of providing knowledge. Over 70% of people that turn to podcasts are doing so to learn something new.
One trick to stress test your podcast idea is to ask yourself “Is this topic something I can speak about and provide value for 100 20-minute episodes?” Answering this question will help determine your level of passion for the topic. It can also safeguard you from boxing yourself in. You don’t want to get 5 episodes in and realize you have exhausted the topic.
Time to Brand
Don’t sleep on how important the name, cover art and description lines are. These are the single most important discoverability aspects of your show. Respondents in a recent survey said the number one motivator was the description. The shorter the better, be honest and to the point. This is where you want to drop that value proposition in the least number of sentences possible.
Cover art is that little square image that you see next to your show title. Start by doing some research on what other podcasts have done in a similar category to yours. For example, let’s say you’re going to interview detectives in the true crime category. After some research you may learn that brighter colors as opposed to gray tones will help you stand out. Keep in mind that the majority of people will be listening on a phone. Phone displays will project your cover art quite small in most cases.
You should obsess over the name of your podcast. Don’t rush to decide on something without giving it significant thought. It is also important to distil your podcast name down to as few words as possible. Doing this will also make designing your cover art easier. One of the best examples of a great show title is Serial. If you’re unaware of the subject matter, what would you guess it’s about? It’s clever because it creates intrigue from the one word. It gives you enough to be curious. Tapping into your listeners curiosity is very important to pulling them in.
Format & Length
The majority of podcasts are loose conversations between two people. It’s common to have a host who is a thought leader or influencer on a topic, and each week there is a new guest. Sometimes shows have scripts and follow them. But it is my personal opinion that podcasts should be informal and unscripted. It’s a part of the podcasting ethos to be loose and not hold your shows to a tight 20-minutes. Podcasts are unique in that they can take the time it needs to settle into a topic in detail.
A less popular and more labor intensive format is documentary. You still have your topic, but it plays out in parts containing many segments. These types of shows need more resources but are often far more engaging to the listener. The Gravitr team loves shows like Radiolab, TED Radio Hour and This American Life. All three of these shows are a masterclass in audio storytelling.
When deciding on format I would again suggest you return back to what we talked about at the beginning. Keep your listener in mind, figure out what is going to best serve them. Is it important to get them information in a weekly fashion? It may be too demanding on your resources to churn out one storytelling podcast a week. If you only want to treat your listeners to a produced story once a month it would be easier.
The same goes when figuring out what length you want to keep your podcast to. In a recent survey, only 1 in 6 people said they listened to podcasts during their commute. The popularity of home smart speakers also means more listening is happening at home. Think about who your target listeners are and when they are likely to download and play your sounds.
Episode Publishing Frequency
The most important thing is consistency – Think under promise over deliver. Humans are creatures of habits. Your show needs to insert itself into the daily schedule of your listeners. Many podcast producers will say Friday is the best day to release new content. Your listeners then have the weekend to start and finish your show. But again, I urge you to think about your target listener. If you’re offering a topical show around career improvement or something related. It may be more relevant to upload on Mondays to catch people when they are starting the week.
Pick a release schedule that won’t overwhelm your resources. Stick to that schedule come hell or high water. Always communicate several weeks in advance when you will be on holiday or not uploading.
One alternative way to attack this is to publish “seasons” once every few months or year. This can be a great hack to stay off the hamster wheel of content production. You can drop either one show a week or all episodes at once, freeing your listener to listen on their own time. This can also be less stressful from a production standpoint. You can work in sprints, get all your shows recorded and edited and have some down time.
Choosing Good Episode Titles
If you have an education based show where folks are tuning in to learn something, keep it simple. Explain what they will learn or the value they will get from having a listen. Some producers like to include the podcast number, that’s fine. But you never want to lead with that metric. Knowing the episode number will provide them with zero valuable information. If you want to keep the number in the title for organization purposes, put it at the end.
When shows are more documentary storytelling in nature you can be a little wild. Some amount of intrigue or ambiguity can be good. And in our view, with these types of shows the specific episode titles are less important. Descriptions, Cover art, and sound quality will pull folks in for this type of show. Keep it short and punchy!
The Hardware and Software Needed
You don’t need anything to start podcasting. If you have a smartphone and/or laptop, you have everything you need to publish a show. Your laptop or phone has a microphone built in and you can record using an app like Audacity. You can also manage your RSS feed with Soundcloud. This lightweight, free technique might actually be the best way to test out an idea. Before spending any money you can publish and get feedback.
The first step to better sound quality is ordering a USB microphone. A popular choice is the Yeti mic which is very user friendly and is plug and play with things like Google Meet and Zoom. Some shows send their guests a USB microphone in advance. This way the remote sound quality is good on both ends of the conversation.
In a blog post for another day we will dive deep and nerd out about all the gear that will make you pro-level. For the purposes of this high level post, I will break the gear spends down into three groups:
- Free – Use all the free software and built-in microphones on your current device.
- <$200 – Get a USB microphone to help block out ambient noise
- ~$1000 – Sound mixer, Mic arm, mic, and subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud
Recording Remote Guests or Co-Hosts
Regardless of the format you decide on, at some point you will record a remote guest. There is plenty to trip you up here because of the sheer amount of technical issues. For this, you need to plan in advance and even have a prebuilt document that you can mail to your guest. In that document you can give them specific details on how to prepare for the recording.
First, everyone involved in the recording needs to connect to a stable internet connection. Instruct your remote recorder to plug into an ethernet cable when possible. USB microphones will be useless unless you have a stable connection to the internet. I would also suggest everyone run an internet speed test to verify the connection speed. In the United States, your obstacle will be ensuring you have good upload speed. Your download speed should be at least 30 mbps and your upload should be at least 5 mbps.
Second, control of the environment. Do an audit of the room your guest plans to do the interview in. Ask questions about the floor they live on, do they have pets, will they be able to close off the room to foot traffic. Try to avoid setting up in rooms with concrete floors, walls, or other places with a lot of acoustical echo. Sound reverberation once recorded is a very hard thing to fix in the editing process.
Where to host your show (the RSS feed)
What the hell is an RSS feed and why do you need it? RSS stands for: Really Simple Syndication. It’s the method iTunes and the other podcast apps use to pull your new uploads onto their services. The RSS feed is where you will put the mp3 file. New podcasters may assume you upload your show to each service, that is not the case. The same is true for your cover art, title, and description. All are a part of the code within the RSS feed.
RSS Feed Services:
- Soundcloud – free for your first 25 episodes
- Anchor – turnkey solution with analytics and monetization tools
- Guide for making your own
You still need to tell those platforms that your RSS feed exists. To do that you need to copy and paste your podcasts RSS feed link into the appropriate field on each platform. This will also trigger the approval process for you to be on their platforms. The last time I submitted a feed to iTunes, it took about 5 days to get approval. Based on my research, it can take a varying amount of time based on demand. A safe thing to do is plan for a 2-week approval period that way you don’t need to delay a release.
Which platforms you choose to publish to is completely your choice. In most cases, you should be everywhere. You need iTunes and Spotify because they are the most used. Google and Amazon are important because you want people to call up your show via a smart home speaker. There are more and more of what I would call secondary apps like Acast and Overcast. I would consider setting yourself up on everything. But again, figure out what your target audience is using and lean into that.
To make it easy for you, here are links to setup your RSS:
The one metric that’s hard to remove is the amount of time you will need to dedicate to managing your show. Some choose to outsource the production editing part of their show. This is work I have done for many years. Another time suck can be marketing your show once it’s published. Episode descriptions, show notes, and managing social media can end up being a full time gig. Gravitr can help you with any or all aspects of podcast production. Get started here.