The golden age of podcasting is upon us—everyone and their mother seems to want to host a digital radio show. But how can you compete with the nearly 300,000 podcasts currently listed in iTunes? As someone who’s produced both StoryCorps and the Moth Radio Hour, and is now Director of Audio at BuzzFeed, I can help. It’s going to take some doing to make your show stand out. And though the podcasting community is about as white and male as it could possibly be, more and more women and people of color are coming to the forefront, hosting smart, engaging shows. Read my how-to, and you could be next!
1. Subjects, Themes, and Formats
- So what topics make for a good podcast? The truth is, there’s no right answer. The only important thing is that you’re passionate about your subject. That’s what will give your podcast a truly authentic voice and perspective.
- Ask yourself: Will this subject matter and the way I’m presenting it be interesting to other people? Why? Then have a really honest conversation with yourself and maybe also your best friend about the answers.
- Narrow your focus. Be your THING and own that THING.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Formats, themes, segments, ideas, even your podcast’s length can change from week to week.
- But do be consistent about its release. Whether you want to put a podcast out once a week or once a month, just be sure to do it on the same day every time.
2. Equipment and Software
- I prefer to use a recorder; a simple Zoom H4n or Tascam DR-40 will do the trick. (They’re cheap and sound almost as good as fancy, expensive ones.) You can also record directly into your iPhone or computer if you don’t want to invest in too much equipment right off the bat.
- Recorders come with built-in mics but they’re usually not very good, so I recommend using a recorder and a mic. I like a Samson GOMic (about $50)—it sounds great, plugs in with a USB, and is about as big as a pack of gum.
- My favorite affordable editing software is the straightforward and simple Hindenburg (3 licenses for $100). Try the free version if you want to take it for a spin first.
- Podcasting noobs should go to Transom.org, an amazing radio production non-profit, to find out exactly what to get for your budget.
- Join the Association for Independents in Radio (AIR) for a peek into the inner-workings of the radio and podcast world, and explore their great community listserv of audio producers for advice on software, equipment, and distribution.
- Nab a copy of Radio: An Illustrated Guide by Jessica Abel and Ira Glass. It shows you the behind the scenes of radio making in comic book form, and, using This American Life as an example, explains how to edit sound and mix a radio story among other important things.
- The Hindenburg editing software I recommend comes with good training manuals and videos that will teach you all the basics. Plus the company is super helpful and responsive if you have any issues.
- A major rookie mistake involves talking…and talking…and talking. Listeners start to drop off rapidly after 22 minutes of a podcast, so set a recording clock. If you want to make an hour-long episode, give yourself 75 minutes, and edit it down from there. You can cut out the fumbles.
- Here’s a super simple editing trick that saved my life early in my audio career: if you’re connecting sentences or words over a breath, cut from the END of the previous breath to EXACTLY the start of the next word. Nine times out of 10 it will sound seamless. Zoom in close to the waveforms for precision.
- Listen to your show and note every part where you start to drift off. Then ruthlessly cut those boring sections. Remember the timeless editing rule: you can’t always be brief, but you can always be concise.
4. Finding Listeners
- Podcasts take a while to catch on, especially ones that aren’t affiliated with networks. Don’t get dismayed! Be patient. There are some very popular independent podcasts, like Call Your Girlfriend and Welcome to Night Vale.
- Social media is vital: Use Twitter and Facebook to establish your presence and to get the word out about individual episodes.
- You’ll need to give podcatchers—a blanket term for services like iTunes or Overcast where people find and share podcasts—an RSS feed when you register your show. Use a hosting service like Acast or Soundcloud to create one. They’re simple and reliable, and they’ll also provide decent stats and give you a player that you can embed on a site or use on Twitter.
- Create or commission some baller podcast art (a 1400×1400 pixel image is another typical podcatcher requirement).
- It’s really important to get to know other audio and podcast nerds. Attend meet-ups, or start a Radio Club in your city. Ask your favorite podcasters to do crossover episodes, which can bring in their audiences.
- Ask everyone you know to listen (individually, rather than in a mass email). Then ask them for feedback. If they like it, ask them to share it. Podcasting’s about word of mouth; appreciate your early listeners and they will help you grow.
Article by Jenna Weiss-Berman
Illustration by Nicole Daddona
This article originally appeared in the October/November print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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