At first glance, starting a podcast from scratch may seem to be a daunting task, or something that would require a lot of creativity and on the fly improvisational skills. The truth of the matter is that podcasting is more simple than it seems. There are some basic steps that you can follow that will give you a strong foundation to start with and build upon.
The information we are going to share with you is designed to be simple, intuitive, and efficient in teaching you the art of creating and maintaining a successful podcast. Here at PodBelly, we will guide you step by step through the entire process from start to finish. By the end of this tutorial, you should feel confident and ready to put your voice out into cyberspace to be heard.
BACON BITS – Make sure to keep an eye out for bacon bits throughout this tutorial for some extra tips!
Genre & Audience
To kick off the planning process, the first thing that you should do as a potential podcaster or group of podcasters is to decide what the aim of your podcast will be and who your target audience will be. Will it be comedic, business related, within a certain niche or more broad, or is it perhaps going to be your own personal take on current events or history? We encourage you to delve deep and find something you truly think you will be comfortable shedding light on in an entertaining/informative way. By choosing a solid foundational idea and a genre for your podcast, you set yourself up for consistency between episodes. Even if your podcast will discuss a broad array of topics, some level of consistency should be present. A couple of examples of this would be keeping a lighthearted approach while covering heavy information, or conducting free-form interviews vs using a structured list of questions.
Once you have settled on an idea and genre, start thinking about what kind of audience might be interested in your show. Is it something that people are going to listen to while they work? Is it something people might listen to in their car as they drive long distances? Or maybe it’s something one could throw on after a stressful day of work in order to get a well needed laugh. Whatever the intended style, if you want to be successful you must effectively reach and engage your audience. Below are some quick tips and suggestions you can use to ensure that your idea is effectively hitting all the right targets.
- Speak in a way that is easy for a broad audience to understand
Even if your show targets a specific niche, we recommend you structure the discussions in a way that an everyday person who might not be an expert on your topic could still enjoy. This could lead to another fan, or lots of them.
- Pick a topic that interests you
Why force something if your heart isn’t in it? This is crucial in order for you to be excited about and invested in your podcast. When a person has a true passion for something it shows and is oftentimes infectious. Imagine forty episodes down the road. If you aren’t passionate about your topic, you might lose interest and the podcast will likely fail.
- Plan for longevity
Choose something that think you can make work for at least a hundred episodes. Your idea shouldn’t peter out after only a month or two. Longevity is key. It is important to be honest with yourself in the planning phase. A good way to do this is to consult friends, family, and anyone else whose opinion you trust and ask their input on whether your idea seems to them like something that could stay interesting and fresh.
- Choose something comfortable
More important than anything is that you choose to go with an idea that you and your team are comfortable with. Pick something that allows you to relax and talk without having to force anything or feel nervous. Doing this will benefit you in the long run, because it will allow your true personality to shine through and help develop an audience that knows you.
We also recommend that you select something that remains timeless. For example, a podcast that is all about current events and current popular culture seems like a good and sustainable idea, but there is a strong likelihood that your episodes and content will expire as time passes. New listeners won’t have much interest in going back and listening to past episodes because the subject matter is no longer relevant. So remember that, in most cases, current events will have an expiration date.
The possibilities are endless: comedy, drama, crime, serial, conspiracy, politically correct or not, family friendly, NSFW, the list goes on. Will you need to put disclaimers in your opening? It’s all up to you. Whatever you decide, if you follow our advice, you have a recipe for success.
BACON BIT – Think about your favorite podcasts and what you like most about them. Can you borrow some of those concepts and do them in your own way?
Formatting is the meat and potatoes of any podcast. Your format will be a major factor in distinguishing your podcast from all the others out there as well as establishing a style and rhythm that your listeners will enjoy. Will your show focus on giving advice where listeners call in or submit questions by some other means? Will your show be interview based where you feature guests and have lengthy discussions about different topics? Will it be more freestyle discussion where you talk for blocks of time about whatever topic you choose? You could even mix it up and use multiple styles. Whatever you decide to do, it is important to plan out the time it will take for the different sections of the podcast.
You should also decide how long you want your episodes to be. Podcast lengths range from less than 15 minutes to 4+ hours, so the options are wide. Your genre, format, and release plan should help you form this. Once you have decided, be consistent. Throughout human history, consistency has always been one of the most desired traits in any artform. With consistency, your audience will know what to expect out of each episode. Planning for consistency will require you figuring out how much material and prep you will need for each episode.
Perhaps the most important part of formatting is coming up with something as a team. Many podcasts have multiple showrunners, and it is very important that everyone on board is clear with what the intentions are. Sit down with your potential partners and draft an outline of what you want your episode to look like on paper, complete with an overall runtime and blocking of that time. Add notes and light details into it, and keep it somewhere safe so you can always remember what you are about. Remember that whatever you come up with does not have to be carved into stone, but you can always go back later and revisit some of the points to check yourself and stay on track. Maybe a certain section isn’t working out how you thought it would. Maybe a certain feature just isn’t working anymore. It is ideal to plan out a strong strategy that is impervious to leaks or cracks in the first place so you don’t have to make too many changes down the road. Here are some useful things to include in your outline.
- Length of opening
- Length of outro
- Rough time limit for talking points
- Any possible breaks
- Possible advertising time
- Time to wind down
Make sure to plan a schedule for recording that everyone can agree with and stick to. Consistency is very important. Another thing you will have to consider at this time will be your release schedule. How often will your new episodes become available for download? Come up with something you can manage. An episode every week is normally a good idea. An episode every day might be a stretch if you want a life outside of podcasting and editing.
Another important feature that we mentioned before is the Intro/Outro of the podcast. Unless your team possesses the talent and ability to create and record your own original intro, we recommend that you use a service like Fivrr to create your intro and outro. You might think it will be really cool to use a song from your favorite band for this, but that music is licensed and without permission to use it, your show could be barred from posting to certain pod sites. You might also receive legal threats depending on what music you use. Plan ahead and use unlicensed music or hire someone to create something for you. It will save you a few potential headaches down the line.
BACON BIT – Work to create a smooth transition into your ending during the last 5-10 minutes of your podcast. Having a podcast end abruptly and without warning can be jarring to the listener.
Naming your podcast well is one of the most important parts of having a successful podcast. A catchy or memorable name can sometimes spell the difference between salvation and doom. Try to make the name of your podcast tell people something about what it is.
For example, if your podcast is about Star Trek, but you want people to know you’re a real geek about Star Trek, naming it something obscure that only other true fans would know will tell them not only that your show is about Star Trek, but that it is going to dig deep. Ideally, your name will be able to draw in potential listeners on its own. Your name will be the first thing that people see about your podcast. It is your first opportunity to grab their attention, so make sure to come up with something that you are happy with and that will draw the interest of the public.
Once you have your name try to secure it on every social media you can. This will be important later when it comes to marketing your podcast. You don’t want to be making concessions on twitter or instagram fifty episodes in.
A few tips:
- Keep it simple
- If possible, choose something that is available across all social media platforms
- Test your ideas on some friends
- Pick something you can live with for the duration of your podcast
BACON BIT – If you are struggling to find a name for the podcast, try making a few practice episodes first. The act of doing something instead of just theorizing might cause inspiration to strike. You never know, a name might just jump out at you!
Your partners you choose are going to make or break your entire podcast. Nothing in the planning stage is more important than evaluating your potential partners and choosing people you can count on. The number one killer of podcasts is unreliable partners. It is very important to release your podcast on schedule every time. If you or your partners drop the ball on even one episode and you miss an upload, you will likely notice an immediate hit to your number of listeners and downloads.
While reliability is the gold standard in terms of potential partners, the silver to that gold is how easy they are to work with and how their personality meshes with the rest of the group. You must strive to find someone who is interested in being part of the team that you can talk to easily for long periods of time about whatever topic of your choice. A good idea is to go with your friends. The upside to podcasting with friends is that you already know them well enough to know if they will be reliable and you already have a chemistry developed that will translate onto the podcast. However, as a disclaimer, while podcasting ideally will prove to be a fun experience for you and your friend(s), it can also come with some responsibilities and stress. It is important to maintain a high level of communication in order to reduce the stress and address any problems as they come. Here are some tips to help you remain friends through all the possible struggles that may arise during the course of your podcasting partnership.
- Partner with people that are reliable.
- Be sure you have the same level of commitment.
- Conduct yourselves with a high level of honesty.
- Be clear about who will be responsible for what.
- Be clear about expectations and goals.
- Decide how you are going to deal with any money you make.
- Have a reliable method for communication.
Remember at the end of the day that you are all partners. You are a team that has come together to show the world something entertaining and noteworthy. Your success or failure will depend on all of your commitment and cohesion.
BACON BIT – Try to plan ahead for any trips or events that will interfere with the podcast and record an extra episode ahead of time to compensate for the time lost.
Practice Makes Perfect
One of the most important lessons that we teach here at PodBelly is that the big secret of podcasting successfully is really just the art of learning how to be yourself and be comfortable.
Essentially, once you find a comfortable environment and rhythm with people that you trust or enjoy, all you have to do is behave and talk like you normally would. Now there are obviously many different types of podcasts, and some of those may involve playing a character or hamming it up for comedic effect, etc, but the basic and most important detail remains to be relaxed and in your comfort zone. You want to be able to reach a point where you can start the podcast and be yourself, and trust us, your audience will like and respect you for it.
One of the worst things you can do with a podcast is force yourself to be funny, or force yourself to be a character that you don’t feel at home with. It is normal to struggle through episodes at first, but one way you can combat this is to do a few practice episodes. There are many benefits to starting off with practice. Here are some objectives that you can have in your few practice sessions.
- Work out any kinks that you might have in your dynamic or flow. You start to realize what kind of system you or your group can have in regard to moving through content.
- Gain a level of comfortability in the subject matter. Having a bit of experience under your belt with your team will help you really nail your first episode.
- Figure out how to limit any editing. Editing a podcast can be extremely time consuming. Because of this, it is wise to work out a system in your practice that will allow you to do the least amount of editing work in the end.
It is likely that everyone will benefit from practice sessions, but the overall point is to do two or three trial runs before your first official episode is released to work out any kinks. You want your first episode to be good, like a pilot to a TV show. It is likely your first episode will have your most listens, so practice a few times before you drop the first one. This will make you sound a lot better when people hear you for the first time. As a general strategy, waiting to release new episodes until you have a few in the bank can be beneficial in many ways. Most everyone will experience a “rainy day” at some point in their life during which things just don’t go your way. It is a good thing to have a few episodes in the bank in order to keep things running smoothly.
Additionally, iTunes has a “New and Noteworthy” feature which could potentially land you on the front page of their service and net you a large amount of exposure. Having more than one episode in store for this could be huge. A good strategy is to be patient and get a few episodes recorded and in the bank. So when you have your grand release listeners have the option to binge more than one episode increasing the potential listens for you Itunes debut.
BACON BIT – One thing you could do with those extra saved practice episodes is to release them later as bonus content for supporters of the podcast!
Now having a good understanding of what it takes to plan and start a podcast, you should feel confident and ready to put your voice out into cyberspace. Understanding and implementing the basic steps mentioned above will give you a strong foundation to start and build upon.
Ready to move forward? Let’s move to our next topic and learn about creating a brand for your podcast.