How To Start A Podcast in 2021: The Ultimate Guide

how-to-start-podcast

It seems like everyone these days is starting their own podcast – but figuring out how to begin can be daunting. That’s why we’ve created this ultimate guide to starting a podcast, so you should have all the knowledge and equipment you need to become an online success. 

We’ve broken down every step into clear and easy instructions, to help you set up and get well on your way to becoming the next audio sensation.

What Will You Learn In This Article?

In this handy guide, we will explore the equipment needed, how to find your audience, the different formatting options, and most importantly, how to make your podcast available. There are also in-depth explanations into common failings, and how you can succeed where others have failed.

Why Are You Starting One?

The first question you’ve got to ask yourself is why you’re starting this podcast in the first place. Are you trying to make a business out of it, or are you simply doing it for fun? This may not seem important at first, but your primary motivators will directly influence your dedication to your podcast.

For example, if you’re doing it for fun it may be worth getting a friend involved who’s also interested in the same thing. This can help to keep the conversation flowing, and maintain your enjoyment of the topic. 

On the other hand, if you’re primarily interested in making money from it, it would be best to research and realise that it does not come easily. The majority of people who create podcasts from a monetary standpoint, typically lack the motivation to continue the effort. 

Making podcasts is hard, and initially, there is little reward. Successful podcasts are usually made by people who are passionate about content creation, and giving their thoughts and opinions on a niche subject.

What Will It Be About?

This is where you decide what to make your podcast about. Usually, it’s better to make this quite niche, as this can help you actively appeal to a specific audience, rather than slightly appealing to a larger one. 

That specific audience is going to be the ones who listen to every show, and make up the majority of your fanbase (at least initially). Once you’ve become established, then you can expand a little more and see where it takes you.

You don’t want to start off too broad, because the majority of listeners are drawn in by something dedicated to the things they care about. It’s better to start small and expand, than try to start big and flounder. 

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Whenever you’re creating any type of content, it’s always best practice to have a target audience in mind. Creating a persona for the type of people you want to appeal to can even help you subconsciously develop targeted content for them – which is why all the top podcasters do it. 

So have a think. Who is your ideal listener? Are they male, female (or maybe non-binary)? Are they old, young, married, single? Create a character sketch and give them some background, and this will dramatically help you to reach your desired audience.

If you try and appeal to too many people at once, you’re more likely to not interest any of them. As Lincoln once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. 

Why Do They Care?

This is about specifics. Why does your desired audience care about the content you’re creating? Does it stand out from your competitors, or does it have a niche point of view? Is it informational, or entertaining? You might consider providing a viewpoint they haven’t recognised, maybe something they can easily identify with.

Whatever you come up with, it’ll need to be a particular reason why listeners should care about your voice in particular, and that’ll become your largest ‘selling point’. A good ‘selling point’ will not only entice listeners the first time, but also get them to keep coming back. Maybe even tell their friends about you. 

It’s important to try and tackle this idea now, so you can hit the ground running. Otherwise, you’re going to be sacrificing the authenticity of your podcast and alienating your initial listeners. 

What Will You Call It?

What is in a name? It may seem like the most integral aspect of your podcast, but you can easily get away with more generic names (like Criminal), as long as you have an engaging premise. 

Ideally, you want the name of your podcast to be memorable, without sounding too specific. That’s because you still want it to turn up in searches, but stand out from everything else you’re competing with. 

I’d strongly avoid naming a show after yourself (unless you already have a large following), as this can make it difficult for a casual listener to find your podcast – unless they are looking specifically for you. If you’re not already famous, that’s something they’re unlikely to do.

When Are You Going To Record It?

This doesn’t have to be incredibly consistent, but it should relate to your release schedule. For example, if you’re planning to release a podcast every Tuesday, then you should probably record on a Friday, to give you time to edit and iron out any imperfections, before upload and release. 

The most important point is that your podcast should always release on the same day. Recording last minute, or encountering unexpected technical errors can easily push the release of your podcast by a day or two. This sudden change can damage listener retention. So if you want to mitigate this, it’s always better to give yourself a good lead time between recording and publication.

Who Will Be On The Show?

Is it exclusively your show, or are you going to have a co-host? Will you have a group of co-hosts that you rotate between, or potentially even have multiple people together. 

These are decisions you need to think through towards the beginning of your podcasting journey, because not only will their recording schedule need to match up with yours, but you’d need to figure out what ‘rights’ they’d have over the material that gets produced. 

If you start earning royalties, will they deserve any for their help in your venture, or if was joined then would you split it 50-50? And what would happen if they got bored and no longer had an interest in creating a podcast with you?

Keep these questions in mind when you’re deciding to involve other people in the podcast. The last thing you want is to start a podcast with someone and have it fall apart, just because your availability doesn’t match up.

Will You Have Special Guests?

Special guests may be hard to incorporate when you’re just starting out, but after a time you may feel like it would be a good move to invite some more famous voices onto your show. Special guests can help to grow your fanbase, since people who may not have listened to your podcast may be tempted to give it a go.

Of course, the guests have to be relevant, and not every podcast suits a special guest. Hosting a podcast about science and literature would not benefit from inviting someone versed in reality tv, for instance.

Should You Write A Script Or Go Freestyle?

scripted-podcast

Typically, unless you’re creating a large production with a clear goal and an in-depth series arc, you’re not going to need to write a full ‘word for word’ script. Does this mean you don’t need to write any sort of preparation though? Of course not!

The best ‘script’ you can write for your podcasts is a bullet point list of the points you need to cover. This will help you to stay on track, while also allowing you to fully encapsulate the naturalistic, conversational features of a podcast. 

As you progress, you may find that your script needs less and less detail. This comes with practice and experience though, so there’s no point trying to do this from the start. Worst case scenario, you ramble on and completely destroy the enjoyment of your listeners.

How Long Will Each Episode Be?

There is no set guide to how long each episode should be, or even that every episode needs to be similar in length. Sometimes you can release shorter episodes up to 15 minutes in length, whereas another may be closer to an hour. The length of a particular episode doesn’t matter as much as the content.

With that in mind, there’s no reason to cut a quality conversation down just to meet a certain time. Alternatively, the opposite is also true, don’t fill a podcast with superfluous material just because you want to make it longer. 

Once you’ve developed a core fanbase, they can let you know what their preferred length is, but even that isn’t set in stone. Changing it up every now and again can help to revive things when they may start to feel stale.

Will You Make A Series, Or Will Episodes Be Individual?

There are two main schools of thought here. You can either make a series, where your podcasts will typically follow a certain arc – or you can make standalone episodes which may have little to no relevance to each other.

Making standalone episodes is initially easier, but they can leave you running out of ideas as you seem to exhaust all the topics to talk about. Alternatively, a series is harder to organise and create a structure for, but once you have that it’ll be extremely manageable to consistently create content.

Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t mix and match aspects. For example, releasing standalone episodes in a serial format can provide your mind with some much needed rest, which can help to keep the ideas flowing and maintain your content creation.

How To Talk To Your Audience

You might have everything set out, but do you know how to actually speak to your audience? Talking to the audience rather than the microphone is a major skill you’ll have to develop if you want to be successful. 

If you feel like you’re talking to yourself, then you’re likely to feel nervous, stupid, or both. To overcome this, imagine you’re talking to the embodiment of your audience as if they’re a real person. It’s also important you try not to sound too rehearsed, because your listeners will be able to pick up on it immediately.

If you’re still struggling to get the hang of it, try doing an episode or two with a friend present. This can help you get the feeling for talking directly to someone else, rather than an empty room. 

If it’s your clarity you need help with though, then drinking plenty of water and doing various vocal exercises can help to improve your spoken voice. Tongue twisters are another excellent way to easily improve your pronunciation. It’s best to cycle through a couple of different ones, and focus on both speaking quickly and enunciating each word.

Remember, practice makes perfect. You’re not going to be amazing your first time, but don’t beat yourself up about it and be ready to go again. Eventually, you’ll sound just as professional as your favourite podcasters.

Will You Have An Intro Song?

recording-intro-song

One necessity of running a podcast is needing an introduction. It doesn’t need to be a song or theme tune (though they can help), but some sort of signifier is required. It shouldn’t be very long either, up to 15 seconds is the maximum I would suggest.

If you do want to sound more professional, then you’ll be going down the musical route. There are plenty of ways to try and source a piece that fits your show. Firstly, there are sources online such as Incompetech, which offer truly free music to use. The only drawback is that everyone else has access to these too, so it’ll be harder to stand out.

If you don’t mind paying for a piece of music though, royalty-free websites such as PremiumBeat let you use a piece from their music library for a one-off fee. This will make you sound more professional, although this can be expensive. 

Another option is to contact a musically talented friend (or band) to write and record you a short intro and outro. This will make you sound truly unique, as there’s no way your intro music can be used anywhere else. Plus depending on your friendship, they might even do it for free.

Whatever you decide with regards to music, it’s important to remember that using it effectively can massively increase the popularity of your show. 

What Equipment Will You Need?

It should go without saying, you’re going to need at least a good quality microphone and computer before you begin with your podcasting endeavour. A boom arm, pop guard, and shock absorber can reduce the amount of editing you need to do, but they will increase your costs. Instead, look for microphones that are already packaged with additional equipment.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on building the perfect set-up, but using cheaper equipment will make your podcast sound cheap too. If your budget isn’t very high, or you’re unsure about committing to podcasting, I wholeheartedly suggest getting a less expensive USB microphone. The TKGOU Plug & Play Computer Mic is a brilliant first mic. It comes with some decent equipment to improve the audio quality, without being too expensive. 

When considering an upgrade, however, then be sure to check out our guides for the best computer microphones, or best microphones for streaming. The microphones on that list should help you to sound like a professional podcaster, leaving the rest up to you. 

Editing Your Podcast?

Don’t let the cost of microphones put you off though! There is some excellent editing software which can get for free. My personal choice is Audacity, since it has loads of easy-to-use features for adding in multiple audio clips, fading sound in and out, and splicing together a brilliant podcast. It also has a crash recovery system, so if the program stops unexpectedly your work is not lost!

My biggest gripe is that Audacity doesn’t have clear links to any tutorials, though these can easily be found on YouTube.

If Audacity isn’t to your liking, then there are other audio editing programs you can use. If you don’t mind paying a monthly subscription, Adobe Audition springs to mind. For nearly $21 a month, Adobe gives you access to some of the finest software features. These include industry-leading audio cleanup, and even specialised guides for editing podcasts in their program. 

It is important to remember that Audition is a professional program, so the purchase and use of it should not be an impulsive decision. There’s no reason why you can’t experiment with other programs, so only go for Audition is it’s completely necessary. 

What Will Your Release Schedule Look Like?

Each new episode should always be released at a consistent time. It doesn’t really matter if you release every week or every month. What is important is that you retain regularity. People, in general, like to stick to their routines, and by following a strict release schedule you’re able to slot into their lives.

If you’re uploading on a different day each week, or not uploading for months at a time, you’ll find that your audience quickly drops off. So pick a time and date for each new episode, and make sure you stick to it. It’s better to release once a month on the same day, than once a week with no consistency. 

How To Choose An Episode Title?

As a rule, never name your episodes “episode 1”, “episode 2”, and so on. This type of titling offers no information except chronology – potentially turning them away before they’ve even pressed play! Funnily enough, how you name your episodes is arguably more important than the podcast itself. 

The titles should always be clear and concise. If your episodes are standalone, then it must provide an overview of what is discussed in that episode. If you have a special guest, always put their name in the title too. It’ll draw the attention of less regular listeners who may then decide to listen to your other content.

oxbox-episode-title

This title from OutsideXbox’s DND Podcast clearly lists which episode it is (7), the name of the campaign (Wild Wild Woods), and which section of the campaign this episode is (Part 1). This allows repeated listeners to keep track of where they are in the adventure, as well as offering newer listeners a more recent place to begin. 

How To Create Cover Art?

One thing your podcast will definitely need is good cover art. If you’re not a savant in digital design, you don’t have to create this yourself. You could always ask a particularly artistic friend to give it a go. Failing that, there are plenty of freelancers available on sites like PeoplePerHour and Fiverr that are more than capable of designing artwork for you.

The final product is something that’ll need to be clear and easily identifiable. Despite the fact that your actual image should be much larger, most people will view it at a meagre 200px. It’s best to avoid overfilling the image with unnecessary information, especially if that can be put in the description of series/episode. 

podcast-artwork

Take a look at these popular examples. The podcast titles are distinctly visible and there isn’t too much happening in the image. The busiest is Off Menu, but the main features (the title and faces) are still clearly identifiable. 

Creating Merchandise

One incredibly successful and long-lasting podcast is Welcome to Night Vale. After developing a large audience, this episodic podcast took advantage of their popularity and began creating WTNV merchandise for their fans. 

wtnv-merch-example

Creating and selling merchandise is not something that can be done immediately. You’ll need to build up a steady fan base first, but it’s a fantastic way of making your fans feel like they belong to a community. Once you’re large enough though, it’ll aid in listener retention, and also allow you to receive an income from your podcasting efforts.

Adding Music And Sound Effects Into Your Podcast

Music and sound effects are not necessarily an integral part of a podcast, but they do give an extra layer of flair. Plus, when you consider that all the most popular podcasts use music and sound effects throughout their show, you’d be doing yourself a major disservice not to.

When it comes to integrating music and sound effects, you don’t want to overdo it. If you’re telling a story, then having tense background music during a suspenseful sequence can have a profound effect on what your listeners feel.

Likewise, use sound effects to punctuate your largest points. It’ll provide your podcast, and make sure your audience take note of that specific point. Just like using intro music though, incorporating music and sound effects can prove to be expensive – unless you use the cheaper methods listed earlier.

Where Will You Host It?

When I first learned about podcasting, I too believed the audio files got uploaded directly to Spotify, iTunes, and all the rest. This is not the case. Instead what actually happens is you upload the audio files to a hosting website, then submit your uploaded show to a directory (like Spotify, etc).

So where should you host your content? We have a couple of options for you: 

Potentially the best host on the market, with PodBean you get easy-to-use publishing tools, custom domains, and a range of promotional services (like social media sharing). For $9 Per Month you get access to all of PodBeans fantastic features, including unlimited storage, high bandwidth, and even download stats. 

PodBean is certainly my preferred choice of host, especially due to how easy it is to submit your podcast to directories. They take all the technical work out, meaning you only have to worry about content creation. 

A strong choice for anyone, regardless of their podcasting experience. Transistor offers incredibly useful features such as easily embedding your podcast into WordPress, and individual podcast analytics. This can help you see which topics are more successful than others, and can help steer your content in the future.

It is the most expensive of the three though, at $19 a Month for the cheapest plan. You’ll also find your downloads limited to around 10,000 a month unless you opt to upgrade packages. 

Incredibly easy for beginners to use, BuzzSprout have been offering their services since 2009 and have built up one of the largest user bases in that time. It’s incredibly simple to simply upload an audio file and have it automatically submitted to top directories. 

The free plan is quite strict on content, and while paid plans start at $12 Monthly, uploading more than 3 hours per month will cost you extra. 

 

Of course there are many other hosting sites, some of which are free to use. Personally though, I’d steer very clear from these. Free Hosting can overfill your podcast with adverts and make it extremely difficult for your audience to connect with. 

You’re All Set

And there you have it. Everything you need to know to start recording and releasing your own podcasts. When it comes to growing your audience, there are no ‘quick and easy schemes’. You’ve just got to keep creating podcasts, and find your niche. It’ll take time, effort and luck, but eventually you’ll get there. 

If you have any specific questions that aren’t answered above, please leave them in the comments and I will answer them as best as I can. 

 

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