What do I need to start a podcast?
I am not an expert at this.
Those are humorous first words for the first post of this (resurrected) blog, but there they are. My audio editing training is limited to a half a semester in a course aimed at print journalism majors who, come senior year, figured they should know more than writing.
So I’ve been that guy reading the blog post on throwing together a podcast—and then done it and not embarrassed myself. After recently doing a little Facebook Live on the subject for LexBlog, I figured I may as well write it out.
That’s been in the form of a casual weekly show with my brother and also a more put-together operation with the general manager and radio broadcaster of my favorite baseball team, a podcast that eventually regular became a television show.
Aaaand it’s also been in the form of a 20-something-year-old me carrying a laptop and nothing else into the University of Montana athletic director’s office and just hitting record.
Lessons were learned. Here’s what I’ve got.
A key thing to remember here is, once you set it, the little things you do for the first episode—from a format standpoint—are things you do for every episode, barring a format shift. The more variables you have, the more work to do.
Couple options here:
- Bantercast: This is the format most people are familiar with. It’s two or more people chatting, mostly casually, about a given subject or subjects. Purely conversational, not on a real strict or set path beyond laying out the subjects to be covered and the supporting evidence.
- Narrative-driven: This is closer to something like Serial, where you’re following a script. It can even be done by a single person, as is the case with this excellent vintage pop culture pod from my colleague and friend Garry Vander Voort—The Retroist.
Again, before you get rolling, consider the things you’d need to do for that first episode—because you’re going to need to do them a lot.
It could be wrangling your college-aged brother to set aside an on a night each week. It could be finding time on an MLB GM’s and MLB broadcaster’s schedules, with the latter frequently on the road and in varying time zones. Or it could be pulling together various audio clips and writing a detailed script. It could be, as it’s quite a popular format, wrangling and scheduling guests.
There is no correct format. Just be prepared for the work that goes into each one.
Equipment and software
This is where people have the most questions, and understandably so. And while I don’t have answers to all of them, I know what’s worked well for me.
Here’s the setup I’ve used and will use for the foreseeable future:
The Blue Yeti USB mic, basically the podcasting standard. It is a quality microphone, and has a cost—at about $130—that reflects that, the price tag isn’t as high as what else you’ll see out there. Can you do a podcast on any old mic or set of headphones? Sure. My brother and I used basic Apple headphones for a bit and we survived.
But, poor audio quality is the quickest way to have someone dismiss your podcast entirely. Also, avoid Airpods. They’re ubiquitous now and, with that, look cool and carry a certain status—but the mic really is not great, considerably worse than the old wired Apple buds.
Big thing here—it depends on if I’m recording with someone remotely or locally. Also, any recording setup you have needs to grab multiple tracks. Each speaker needs their own layer or mp3.
Locally? Ridiculously, I just use GarageBand and then export each audio track one by one when I’m done. Apple kiddifies everything so the interface for mapping microphones to individual tracks was super easy. When I’m done recording, I set each track to solo and export them individually, based on who’s speaking.
Many people, though, don’t have their guests or co-hosts in the same spot—or don’t have the time to make it happen. It’s easier to record remotely, from a logistics standpoint. The big issue, though, is the potential loss of audio quality when you run things over VOIP, say with a Skype call recorder. There’s a solution for that.
Zencastr is a fun little service built for podcasting. At least, figuratively, if it isn’t literally. It’s web-based, so once you have your own account and create a recording space/episode/meeting, you just send the other person or people a link, and they’re good to go. And instead of being at the whims of your internet connection, all tracks are recorded locally, and then uploaded as you continue talking. And it’s free for two speakers, provided you stay under eight hours of recording per month.
For a lot of people, your editing software is going to be your recording software. I’m different because I started one way and just left it. So what do I use?
Audacity is the standard, in large part because it’s free. It’s highly accessible and does everything you need to do. And as a result of it being the standard, if there’s something you don’t know how to do, you can find how to do it online—always.
While I’m here though, a question I’ve been asked is “What amount of editing do I need to do?” And you can edit almost endlessly, but what’s the bare minimum? A few quick editing things you should do, at minimum:
- Balance the two audio tracks. Make sure everyone is speaking at the same volume. Listening to podcasts is a passive exercise—nobody is going to go through 40 minutes of talk constantly adjusting the volume.
- If you’re recording locally, with multiple microphones, you’ll want to cancel out microphone bleed—when one person speaks and it carries into the other person’s microphone. Go through and zero out the mic whenever its user isn’t speaking into it. You can also do this when one person is starting to speak over someone else and stops.
- And last, fade in some music at the start, fade it out at the end.
How long does it take? Assume it’s going to be the same amount as it took to record.
If you’re completely new to this, something you might not realize is that you don’t actually upload your podcast to iTunes or Spotify or wherever else. The podcast has to be hosted someplace else before it gets sent to those places. And it has to have an RSS feed for that to happen.
I use SoundCloud and paid to upgrade to SoundCloud Pro, so I could have as many episodes I wanted and not worry about it. It’s worked well for me. For some reason that is beyond me, for my personal podcast I also ran it through Feedburner. That is unnecessary as, if you do go the SoundCloud route, it will enable you kick out an RSS feed.
If you want to find someplace to host for free, it can be done. I’ve heard the Internet Archive works well, but I have no experience with it.
This is where the RSS feed comes in. When you upload a new episode to your preferred hosting spot, various podcast directories/apps can see you’ve done so because the feed says so. But, you have to submit your feed first, just once.
There’s any number of options, but here are the places it has to go:
- iTunes/Apple Podcasts. Not sure what the preferred nomenclature is anymore—but it’s the industry leader.
- Spotify. Keystone platform in music, same for podcasting.
- Google Play. Best I can tell, a big one for Android users.
- Stitcher, while not as popular as the three above, is another option Android users ask for.
The thing is, you can’t submit your RSS feed until there’s something on it—either an episode or some kind of audio file. While it isn’t something I’ve done, if you’re looking to build up a following for a show before it launches, you can do so by putting together a quick—can be as short as a couple minutes—teaser, preview or trailer show. Just label it as such and get people subscribed.
• • • •
Just get started
Aaaand those are the basics. That’s the the baseline for getting off the ground. There are an infinite number of other things you could worry about, from social promotion to editing tricks to editorial strategy. And I’ve worried about those, and done some of them.
But the most important thing when it comes to podcasting is a piece of advice I heard in that LexBlog Facebook Live I mentioned, from LexBlog COO Garry Vander Voort—and creator of the excellent Retroist podcast.
Just get started.
Stop waiting. Stop planning. Stop worrying.— LexBlog (@LexBlog) April 24, 2020
Start your podcast already.
And find out how to do it with our recent episode of LexBlog Office Hours. https://t.co/9TSbSNxxpI pic.twitter.com/c6zqfMuYGe