A year and a half ago, I started a podcast about books and pop culture with three of my friends. We named it #BookSquadGoals, and this week we published our 40th episode! It’s crazy to think we’ve spent 60+ hours screaming our opinions at each other, and even crazier to think there are at least five people on this planet who’ve willingly listened to all 60+ of those hours.
When we started, the four of us were complete and total amateurs, and to be totally honest, we still are. None of us have professonal experience with podcasting, but that’s sort of the beauty of podcasting, isn’t it? Sure, there are a ton of podcasts put out by professional media outlets and podcasting companies, but this is a medium that’s been utilized by plebs like us for more than a decade now. The fact that any average person can have their show published and distributed is kind of the point.
That being said, starting a podcast is not completely effortless. It’s a learning experience, and it’s a ton of work, but I’m here to tell you it’s totally doable and totally worth it, especially if you’re passionate about podcasts. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from my own experience – so, for those of you who have the passion but have no idea where to start, I present this scrappy little guide.
Make a plan. Execute the plan. Cultivate a presence.
This is the most obvious step of this process: to start a podcast, you’ll need an idea. Once you have that, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself.
- What’s the format of my show going to be? Will every episode follow the same structure? If so, what is that structure?
- How often do I want to release episodes?
- Who’s going to listen to this? Who is my target audience?
- How can I catch the interest of that audience through the title and branding of my podcast?
We started #BookSquadGoals because we already had a book club, all four of us love podcasts, and we’re narcissists. (Just kidding, I can only speak for myself on that last one.) We thought it would be fun to share our book club with others, so our plan was to announce the books we’d been reading several months in advance to allow people time to read along.
Of course, we’re busy people, and for some of us it was unrealistic to commit to reading more than one book a month. But one episode a month seemed too sparse, so we decided we’d release every other week: a book episode once a month, and on the off weeks, a mini episode about movies, TV, or other pop-culture topics.
Needless to say, this required a lot of planning and scheduling. In fact, half of your time spent working on your podcast will involve figuring out what you want to talk about and when. If you’re going to start one, the best thing you can do for yourself is try to have your schedule planned for at least a month out. That way, you’ll always be ahead, and you (hopefully) won’t ever have to scramble for content.
Before you even start recording, I recommend setting yourself up with a website. We use Squarespace, but there are lots of lower-budget options out there, and you can purchase a domain name for less than $10 a year. Even if it’s just one page with information about the podcast, your show needs a home on the web!
You’ll also want to create a social media presence for your podcast. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are what I’d consider the essentials, but there are also Youtube, Snapchat, Tumblr, and a shit ton of other things I’ve never heard of because I’m not in high school. Make use of the platforms you think your audience will be using, and hashtag the living hell out of every single post. It might feel tacky, but you never know who might find you through tag searches!
Assign roles, divide up the work.
Hopefully you’ve managed to wrangle at least one other person into doing a podcast with you. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to do on your own – it’s just going to be waaaaay harder.
Once you’ve agreed to work together, you’ll want to figure out where your talentes lie and divide up the work accordingly. For example, when we first started, I took on the branding design and audio editing because I’m a graphic designer and I had some experience with sound editing.
In addition to branding and editing, responsibilities to consider include: website upkeep, scheduling and managing the calendar (BSG uses Google Calendar & Google Drive to keep things organized), social media, advertising, development, and other more specific tasks depending on the format of your podcast like scheduling interviews or guest hosts.
On BSG, we switch up our roles all the time, but the point is that we do our best to share an equal amount of responsibility so nobody feels they’re doing too much or too little work.
Learn how to edit and invest in basic equipment.
This is where I feel the need to reiterate: I am NOT a professional. Take everything I tell you about podcast editing with a grain of salt, because I’m simply telling you how we do it, and we are making this up as we go. What I’m trying to say is, Google is my best friend.
BSG uses a very basic audio editing software called Audacity, which you can download for free here. The fact it’s free is a huge part of why we use it, but it also has a lot of features uniquely suited to podcasting including a pretty efficient noise reduction tool. If you have any experience with sound editing, Audacity is easy to pick up quickly. If not, you can totally learn how!
Since we started BSG, two of my co-hosts have learned how to edit as well, which I am extremely grateful for. Audacity’s online user manual is a great place to start. You’ll also want to download a program like The Levelator, which you’ll run each episode file through before uploading. This program will help even out your audio so everyone’s voice is at roughly the same volume.
As for recording, it’s perfectly acceptable to use your computer mic, especially if you’re just starting out. But if you want to sound a bit more professional, I highly recommend purchasing a USB microphone. When we started BSG, all four of us bought this $22 microphone, which served us well enough for awhile. Now, we use this $49 one, which offers better quality and is, quite frankly, way cuter. It looks like a lil Star Wars droid sitting on your desk. You may also want to buy a pop filter, which will help to soften some of the sharper sounds you make when speaking.
The way you record will depend a lot on your situation. For BSG, we all live in different places, so for each episode we do a group call on Google Hangouts and each record our own track separately. Then, we send our tracks to whoever is editing that week, and that person puts it all together. This strategy works but makes for a lot of extra editing; because of the lag in our internet connections, we often talk over each other, and we try our best to take those parts out so we don’t sound like complete assholes. Thus if you and your cohost(s) can record together in person, I’d recommend it.
Find a podcast host and put yourself out there.
This is where things get a little technical, so bear with me.
In order to publish your podcast to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or any other podcatcher, you’ll need to create an RSS feed. Here’s a boring definition for you: “RSS is a type of web feed which allows users to access updates to online content in a standardized, computer-readable format.”
Basically, it’s like a blog, but a blog that can be accessed through a number of different providers. So think of your podcast as a blog, and every episode as a blog post. When you submit your podcast to any app, you’ll be asked for the URL of your RSS feed. This allows the app to receive updates automatically. Whenever you upload an episode to your RSS feed, every app you’ve submitted to will publish it without you having to do any extra work.
If you’re not a computer person, I know this might sound a little complicated. It was for me, and being a computer person is part of my actual job. Luckily, if you’re not totally sure how to create an RSS feed on your own, there are a number of podcast hosting websites that will do it for you for a small fee. We use Spreaker, which is dirt cheap and lets us view download statistics for all our episodes.
Podcast hosting sites allow you to easily upload every episode, and then automatically generate an RSS URL for you to use when you’re submitting your podcasts to apps.
Once you’ve got your feed URL, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MUST DO is immediately submit your podcast to Apple Podcasts (AKA iTunes). I’m telling you to do this because Apple may take up to two weeks to approve your podcast, and the last thing you want is to upload your first episode and realize it won’t be available via most podcast apps for a significant period of time.
That’s right, I said ‘most podcast apps’ – because there are a lot of apps out there that don’t require your submission, but draw their libraries directly from Apple. Luckily, you only have to submit your podcast to Apple once, and after that your RSS feed will take care of the work for you.
There are also quite a few apps out there you’ll want to submit to that don’t draw from Apple, including Spotify, so I recommend combing through this list or one like it and submitting to every app that will let you. The more chances people have to hear you, the better.
If there is one thing I think has kept BSG going for as long as it has, it’s the fact that no matter what’s been going on in our lives, we’ve done our best to stay consistent. For a year and a half, we’ve never failed to publish an episode every other Monday. We post on our social media platforms once a day, we keep up with emails, we keep begging our friends to listen to us, and even though we are still very, very small compared to a lot of podcasts out there, we’re still here, and we’re growing (albeit at the speed of a baby tree).
The best advice I can give you if you want to start a podcast goes back to the first step I listed – make a plan and stick to it. If you say you’re going to publish on Monday, publish on Monday, even if you know you’re only going to get four downloads and those will be from your immediate family members. If you want your podcast to function like a successful business, you need to treat it like one. This might be your hobby, but a lot of the time it will feel like your job. That might not sound appealing, but I assure you, the more seriously you take it, the more rewarding it’ll be.
Kelli McAdams is a Graphic Designer and amateur podcast host. She is a Florida native but currently lives in Brooklyn with her vast collection of junky miniatures and her angelic cat Penelope. She enjoys binge-listening to podcasts, eating dessert in bed, fantasizing about Grace, and talking shit about basically everything. You can follow her on social media @kleemcadams.
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image courtesy of lum3n