Before anything, I have to thank Ray for inviting me to guest post on her outstanding blog. Her content is among the best on the Internet, and I will do my best to step my game up to her level.
She has asked me to explain how to begin podcasting. However, I’m going to kind of amend her mandate because starting a podcast is literally as simple as downloading the Anchor app. But this is not a good option if you’re looking to make your podcast truly YOUR podcast.
If you want to start a podcast the correct way, it’s a little more complicated in the short-term.
Please allow me to explain.
- Should you use a free Podcasting platform?
- What makes a popular Podcast?
- How to make your Podcast stand out
- What are the tools needed to start a Podcast?
- How to submit your Podcast to Apple and Google
- Can starting a Podcast increase your website’s traffic?
Should you use a free Podcasting platform?
There is no shortage of apps for Android and iOS specifically designed to make podcasting mindlessly easy.
The most popular of these apps is Anchor.
- Download and install the app.
- Use the microphone on your phone or use an external.
- Record the content.
- Edit the podcast in the app.
- Publish it to all major service.
However, there is a catch. Anchor will own your material and will place their ads all over your content. I get it. The service is free, and they have bills to pay.
In fairness too, they will release your content to you upon request. But, the revenue generated from your work will go largely to Anchor. You also will have no control over what they choose to use your work as a vehicle to promote.
I didn’t like that. I do see the appeal though; very quick, very expedient way to get your content on the Internet for listeners to consume. Having said that though, beyond the branding and ownership piece, there is a bit of a quality issue that steered me in a different direction.
Apple’s podcasting service accounts for fully 73% of all podcast traffic. They are the biggest dog on the block. Their service is somewhat selective in what is added to its lineup.
Anchor, however, has a deal worked with Apple. If you work with Anchor, your podcast goes on Apple’s service with no questions asked. Current statistics show that Apple has over 550,000 active podcasts on their service. Anchor claims to be powering over 40% of all podcasts originating since 2018.
What percentage of those podcasts, do you suppose, are worth listening to? How many of those Anchor podcasts are 11 year old girls gabbing about local boys and mall food?
I’d say a lot.
What Anchor basically has done is make podcasting so available that the market is flooded with shitty product.
What makes a popular Podcast?
Herein lies the problem. Just because you can podcast doesn’t mean you should podcast. And just as importantly, just because you can use a free app in lieu of actual recording equipment, doesn’t mean you should.
So, what do you have to do to break out of the noise? How do you set yourself apart? Simply put, you have to sound better.
Look at the top podcasts, as compiled by Podtrac.
What does this list tell us?
It tells me that the top ten most listened to podcasting operations are not Bethany and Brittany from The Gap or Vinnie from the pier. The most listened to podcasters happen to be some of the biggest names in news, entertainment, sports, and radio. Names like Will Ferrell, Colin Cowherd, and Joe Rogan, to name a few.
I don’t say all of that to discourage you. On the contrary, a lot of the names on that list began their podcasting careers in relative obscurity. But, look at the list again. Do you know what each one of those names has in common? Impeccable audio production quality.
Choose any one of those podcasts and what you will hear is clear and crisp vocals. You will hear clean and tight production elements. What you will never hear is shoddy recording and less than stellar content.
So, why would anyone serious about podcasting go into it knowing your kit is not up to snuff?
How to make your Podcast stand out
Back to the subject of this post. How to start a podcast. Step number one is committing to producing an aurally pleasing product. THAT is the best way to set yourself apart from 90% of the horses*it out there.
Let’s say I have two podcasts on the topic I am interested in to choose from. Podcast number one sounds terrible. Podcast two sounds great. Podcast two gets my click.
Assuming we can agree that equipment and production quality is important, the next step is to define what the right equipment is.
What are the tools needed to start a Podcast?
Budget is the biggest concern for most of us. Real people simply do not have thousands of dollars laying around to drop into recording equipment.
So, I have compiled a list of equipment that is important and accessible.
Creating a site can be free. But, most of the time, if you want free you will be unhappy with the limitations. Cheap though is possible. I use Squarespace. For around $140 per year you can have unlimited audio storage, hosting, analytics, and whatnot. To know how to add a podcast to your website, you can check this step-by-step article.
There are a ton of services out there that will host your audio, if pure audio hosting is what you’re looking for. A lot of podcasters use SoundCloud for their hosting. I don’t pretend to know how that works.
The sky is the limit when it comes to computing. However, the most important thing when it comes to a computer meant for audio editing is RAM. You have to have RAM sufficient to handle the workout it is going to get when editing an involved bit of audio. Most Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) suggest a minimum of 4gb, with recommended 8gb of RAM.
As far as platform goes, Mac and Windows are your only real options. There are web-based apps for ChromeOS, but they are not intuitive and extremely limited in functionality.
Having said that, when I started my podcast I was using Twisted Wave and Beautiful Audio Editor for ChromeOS. Both apps are free, and somewhat functional. All you need is a really good Internet connection.
But as I said earlier, Mac and Windows are the best options. The industry standard for audio production/editing is an app made for Mac. It is called ProTools. It’s the software used by major recording studios. And it is so expensive that I shudder to think of anyone actually buying it for use in podcasting.
The other Mac app that a lot of people are using is Cubase. It has been around for a long time and Steinberg just keeps making it better. Again though, it is kind of expensive at around $400. You know what though? Macs are fu**ing expensive.
The options for Widows are much more affordable, as are the computers. And nearly as functional. Cool Edit Pro/Adobe Audition is a radio industry standard for recording and editing. $200 price tag though.
I use a program called Reaper. It is a full line audio recorder/multitrack editor that can do pretty much everything a podcaster could ever dream of. It comes with a plethora of MIDI effects for changing pitch and adding elements to a vocal. It also has a very good noise isolating plugin that can reduce/eliminate background noise from a recording. $60 price tag was in my budget range.
It is worth mentioning that there is a DAW out there called Audacity. It is a free software suite that is very, very good. A lot of podcasters use it exclusively. I have used it as well in the past. My only complaint is stability. It crashed a couple of times when I was using it. That pretty much ended my association with that program.
Again, the sky is the limit when it comes to microphones. You can spend as much as you like. However, do you need a $4000 Neumann condenser? Probably not. There are several microphones you can use that are budget friendly.
I am getting ahead of myself. There are two types of microphones that are used in podcasting: They are Dynamic and Condenser mics.
Joe Rogan uses a Shure SM7b. That is a legendary broadcast microphone. But, it is also a dynamic mic. With a dynamic microphone, you must have an audio interface that feeds into your laptop. And that is where sh*t gets expensive.
Dynamic mics are also very flat sounding out of the box. So, in order to have a dynamic mic sound full and pleasant you must also buy a mic processor. So, why do people buy dynamic microphones? Simply put, they are better.
Dynamic mics have been around for 100 years, and we are very good at making them. They also are more forgiving. A person doesn’t really have to worry about background noise and pop filters as much with the dynamic mic.
Condenser microphones though, that is a different animal entirely. This style of mic is more along the lines of what you will be in the market for. They are reasonably priced, sound great right out of the box, and plug directly into your computer via USB. That last bit is huge!
No need for an expensive audio interface with the USB mic. For the purposes of this post, I am going to steer you in the direction of the condenser.
A company named Blue makes a line of mics that have become the industry standard for podcasting and YouTubing. They range in price from $60 to $250, based on features wanted and style.
I use the Blue Yeticaster. It retails for $199 and comes with the Blue Yeti, shock mount, and boom. I chose this particular mic because it has 4 settings that can be adjusted based on what I am trying to do. Most importantly though, it has a punch jack for my headphones. This gives me the ability to listen to playback or vocals in real time.
But, I did not always have the 200 bucks to drop on a microphone. When I first got started I was using a small condenser mic I bought from Amazon. It is made by a company called Fifine.
The K669 is a USB condenser mic and retails for $35. It is an outstanding little microphone. The damn thing sounded great and, honestly, performed better than some of the more expensive mics I tested. It is unidirectional, meaning that it hears what is directly in front of it. This is perfect for the podcaster who works in a room with environmental noises.
I can go on all day about headphones. It is important to remember though, the point of headphones. I have to remind myself all the time why I need headphones in the first place.
Podcasters/broadcasters use headphones to simulate what their work is going to sound like to the average listener. That is all. And that is the sticking point for me.
I love headphones. I love expensive headphones. I own a pair of AKG headphones that were so fu**ing expensive I don’t even take them out of my house. And while they are the most amazing “cans” I have ever put on my ears, they are not worth a f**k for podcasting. They make everything sound sexy. In short, there is no realism.
As someone putting out a product, I need to hear exactly what my listener will hear. So I use two different sets of headphones when I am working on an episode.
The headphones I use when recording, editing, and for mastering are the Sony MDR-7506 Studio Monitors. Broadcast industry standard. Howard Stern has been faithfully using them for 30 years. Why? Because they are the perfect headphone for broadcast and audio work.
They’re comfortable, closed ear designed (to prevent feedback), durable, and inexpensive. I paid around $80 for them knowing I will be able to expect 8-10 years of longevity. And most importantly, proper closed ear headphones simulate what your audience will hear when listening in their car or on a speaker.
The second set I use are purely for listening to the finished product. Immediately before uploading a new episode to the website, I put in my Bose wired earbuds and listen.
I love the Bose earbuds for a hundred different reasons. But, in the context of podcasting, I love them because they don’t lie to me. I get a true sound out of them. I have experimented in the past with the Apple EarPods and the Beats earbuds. Both of those products, while very good, lie to the listener. Beats, in particular, is too bottom heavy. This makes audio production sound muddy and unclear. A podcaster can listen through Beats earbuds and think their work is mixed incorrectly. Hell no.
The result of working with lying headphones is a finished product that sounds great in the lying cans, but sounds like sh*t to everyone else.
Quick note on music. Music isn’t usable on your podcast, even if you paid for it. You have to secure broadcast rights for songs. It is a pain in the a**, and quite expensive. There are a hundred different “royalty free” music services on the web. Find one you like and go with it.
And that really is it for my dissertation on equipment.
Summary of suggested tools:
- Fifine Mic: $35
- Laptop: I bought a refurbished Lenovo ThinkPad for $230
- Headphones: Don’t skimp here. $80
- Digital Audio Sofrware: Audacity is free, but I paid the $60 for Reaper
- Website: Squarespace – $140 per year
It is important to note that the learning curve on audio software is steep. If simplicity is more important than features while you’re still cutting your teeth, I suggest going with the free option rather than paying for a product you do not know how to use.
How to submit your Podcast to Apple and Google
Fill out their forms, agree to their horses*it, and insert your RSS feed into the field. Then you wait for them to approve you.
Kind of a daunting list of things to buy and learn right? I know it is.
It is especially daunting when there are services out there, like Anchor, that offer you the immediate gratification of installing a free app and publishing a podcast within minutes. But, you have to ask yourself where you are wanting to go with this podcast.
If you are looking to just record fart noise and talk sh*t at the mall, then Anchor is perfect for you. You may even make a few dollars from ad revenue they sell for you.
But, if you are thinking long-term, committed to creating a product that is better than most of the field, want the option to place ads or not, and you want to own your work then doing some variation of what I detailed above is the way to go.
Can starting a Podcast increase your website’s traffic?
The traffic I have received due to the podcast has been different. More eyes are seeing my content, to be sure. But, actual interaction with website content has decreased.
To clarify, when I was blogging exclusively, it was like pulling teeth to get people to stop “liking” my post notifications on Twitter, and actually go read the damn blog. People on Twitter are very supportive of other bloggers, but the overwhelming majority of them do not actually read as much as they “like.”
I would publish a new post and I would be lucky to get 15-30 views per day. However, the people who did view the content gave me feedback via Twitter or through my contact page. Comparing that to the traffic generated from the podcast is like apples and oranges.
When I publish a new podcast episode I am seeing 75-100 views per day. But, they aren’t doing anything other than looking over the main page and clicking out. The burden is on me now to figure out how to keep their eyes once I have them.
My energy for blogging has waned somewhat since really diving into the podcast. I feel like I get more “bang” out of the podcast. I use the idea I would normally write about in the podcast. I really love the “theater of the mind” aspect of audio.
And honestly, I am a slow typist with giant hands, so when I get done knocking out a post my hands ache. I think there is a way to do both, I just haven’t figured that out yet.
And again, thanks to Ray for inviting me. Her work is some of the best I have ever seen. Being invited to guest post on her blog is an honor.
AJackson has 15 years of experience in commercial broadcasting and 10 years in food service management. BS, MBA, and CEC.