Lots of people talk about making podcasts, but don’t follow through. Maybe time, funding, and patience – or confidence – are in short supply. None of this should stop you. Unique, personal experience is what makes a podcast work, along with good sound quality and some careful planning. With all the big changes happening in society right now, your podcast can serve as a message in a bottle to those at a distance or for future generations. It can help you build community and make change. It can even be (dare I say it?) fun. If you’re thinking about it but still on the fence about committing, I am here to tell you to go for it. With a few tools and some planning, now is a great time to make a podcast.
Professional studio access can be expensive. However, it’s not difficult to make a recording setup in your home. If you’re reading this, you probably already have the most important tool you need: a smartphone, tablet, or computer. There are apps that you can use to record your podcast on iOS or Android. Some apps, such as Hokusai, will even let you edit your podcast on the recording app. Audacity is a free software for Windows that many people use with good results. GarageBand comes with most Macs. You can even get good mics which work with your smartphone.
Whether you live in a small apartment in a city or a house with other folks, making quiet recording space is possible. Ira Glass recently tweeted that he recorded some of This American Life from his closet; Ella Watts of BBC Studios has tweeted photos of her delightful blanket fort recording setup. The goal is to make sure that your voice has as little echo, or reverb, as possible. Unless you want to sound like you’re in a cathedral, hardwood floors and drywall cause enough of an echo that even if you can’t hear it, your microphone will pick it up on the recording. For smoother, more inviting sound, you can pile pillows around your microphone, tent a blanket over a couple of chairs, and make a safe space for your voice.
You don’t even have to stay indoors. If there are unique environments you want to explore, do it. Field recording enriches your listener’s experience.
Don’t ever forget about libraries. Most libraries are hubs of digital information. Some have classes on how to make a podcast. In any case, they can provide computer access and a quiet space.
Before you start piling pillows and getting ready to record, though, you need a plan. Grab a notebook and a pen, and scribble down your thoughts. Ask yourself:
- What’s this podcast about? It should be something you love, and that other people care about, too.
- Fact or fiction? Do you want your podcast to be more journalistic or instructive, or do you want to create a radio drama, or tell stories?
- What format do you want to use? For example, do you want to chat with a friend or two about it, interview experts, or explain it solo? All have their benefits. Be flexible enough that you could change your format once in awhile to keep things interesting.
- How long do you want each episode to be? Many podcasts are about 20 minutes long. However, some are an hour or more, and some are only a few minutes. Give yourself a time framework.
- How much time can you devote to this, and how frequently do you want to release episodes? If you’re working full-time and have family members to care for, making an hour-long podcast every week is probably unrealistic. On the other hand, if you have six hours a week of free time, making a 20-minute podcast every week can be reasonable.
- What do you want your podcast to sound like? Do you want music, sound effects, live environments, the great outdoors, or just your voice and nothing else? This is the time for blue sky thinking.
- What would you really like to get out of this? Do you want people on the other side of the world to know what your life is like, have you got notebooks full of your great-grandmother’s poetry, do you want to interview the top ten fly fishing champions in Minnesota? Again, dream big.
Once you know what you want to record, when you’ll record and edit it, and how you want it to sound, plan this in detail for three to five episodes. Three to five is a pretty arbitrary number, but it’ll let you know if your podcast is an idea that you can sustain, or not.
To make things even easier, you can use an inexpensive tool like Alitu. The interface is almost completely drag and drop. It lets you add music, it makes your voice sound better, and it’ll even help you publish your episodes.
Media hosting is one of the inalienable price tags in podcasting. However, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. You might ask, “what if I just upload it to Soundcloud or YouTube?” You certainly can, but that won’t give you an RSS feed. A media host is where your sound files live, and the RSS feed is the bus that drives them to work every day, in your listeners’ ears. The good news is that once you set up that RSS feed, you can submit your podcast to Apple, Spotify, Google, and many other directories. This makes it easier for people to find your podcast. Hosting can cost as little as around $12 a month, and some are less. Many offer assistance with publishing, marketing, and transcripts.
No podcast is an overnight success, unless you’re already a celebrity. Even in that case, not everyone will listen to your podcast. However, I can tell you that the people who do listen will care. Because the experience of listening to a podcast is so intimate, it motivates people and reaches them on a visceral, emotional level. A good podcast is like a dream. It uses sound to conjure vivid experience and stimulate brain activity. Try out some tools and techniques, and give podcasting a try.
Top photo via Pexels
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Lindsay is a playwright and podcaster from Philadelphia. She writes for The Podcast Host, and created the podcast Jarnsaxa Rising, about Thor's ex-lover's revenge.