How to Start a Podcast: A Step-by-Step Guide
Your latest water cooler conversation probably started with the phrase “so I heard this thing on a podcast.” That’s because podcasts have emerged as one of the largest growing digital channels in the past 5 years. But how do you start one?
Podcasting has been around for almost as long as the internet. The early days of podcasting were filled with independent shows hosted by comedians, writers, or history buffs—or just featured clips from a radio show dumped into an iTunes feed.
Now, it seems like every celebrity is starting a podcast just to talk with their friends or rewatch a show they starred in. Is it even worth starting a podcast without having George Clooney’s phone number?
The short answer is yes. Podcasts are still one of the most effective ways to get your message out. And even though the podcasting landscape has gotten more crowded, the amount of people listening has grown too. The total podcast audience is growing at a rate of 20% each year.
Like most digital channels, gone are the days of creating an idea and people flocking to you. If you want to start a podcast, there are some foundational steps you need to take to get your show to the top of the charts.
What Makes a Good Podcast?
Podcasting is a creative sandbox for you to play in. There are almost no rules on how to structure your podcast. From audio dramas and true crime stories to interviews and news snippets, podcasts range from global to niche. Before you start your podcast, review some of the major podcasting styles that have made the medium so popular:
- Interview Podcasts: The most popular podcast style. It’s as simple as two people talking on mics about a certain topic. This can be formal and produced like Fresh Air or laid back and conversational like The Joe Rogan Experience or WTF with Marc Maron.
- Topical Podcasts: A twist on the interview format but focused on a specific subject. Typically a host has an expert guest or panel to discuss a certain subject or newsworthy event. This could be individual-focused like The Tim Ferriss Show or brand-focused like the Foundr podcast.
- Review or Rewatch Podcasts: These podcasts typically focus on entertainment, event, or product subjects. Shows like The Office Ladies, Jurassic Pod, and Still Processing break down movies, TV shows, or cultural events with insider views and unique perspectives.
- News and Information Podcasts: Traditional news platforms have heavily invested in podcasting because it’s a format that many of them have already mastered. These could be daily reports from the BBC, market updates like the Social Media Examiner, or deeper dives into a subject like Slow Burn or 1619.
- Storytelling and Performance Podcasts: When radio was first popularized in the 1930s, it was in part due to the fantastical storytelling artists that created programs using voice actors, music, and sound effects. Podcasting has continued that tradition and expanded to improv comedy, non-fiction, and historical storytelling. The storytelling nature of shows like Serial were partly responsible for starting the modern podcast movement.
Before you start recording a podcast idea you had in the shower, you need to stop and ask yourself the question “why should I start a podcast?” Lots of people start a podcast but few make them successful or sustainable. Thinking about the “why” is just as important as your first guest or which microphone to use.
What is your goal for starting a podcast? Do you want to gain more exposure for your consulting business, build your ecommerce brand, or use it as an excuse to talk with your friends about a shared hobby? No matter why you’re starting a podcast, always have a foundational goal to guide the rest of your decision making in the production process. Here are some valuable goals when thinking about starting a podcast.
- Networking: Podcasts are an easy way to connect with clients and people in your industry. Building relationships over our Foundr podcast is how we’ve landed some of our most successful course instructors and brand champions.
- Brand Building: The power of podcasting is that you can control the message rather than relying on traditional media. Podcasts are a perfect medium to build upon a traditional business or brand. Think of it as another powerful social channel to share information without the competition of swipes and junk email filters.
- Revenue Source: A podcast can bring in sources of income through sponsorships, subscriptions, or merchandise. More tips on monetizing a podcast to come.
- Community Connection: The intimacy of podcasting provides an avenue to speak directly into the ear buds or smart speaker of an audience. Podcasting can be a medium to connect and build a community. We started From Zero to Foundr as a way to share the incredible stories of our course students that are building businesses from the ground up. It’s a platform for us to celebrate them and build a greater community of followers and listeners.
- Transparency: In all industries, being open and honest about your business is critical. You could use a podcast as a transparency tool for your business, either externally to your audience or internally to your teams. Instead of a dry email update from a CEO or president, you could have a loose intimate podcast that builds trust and intimacy.
- Expression: The medium is built on the ability to be creative and to have fun. Think of it as an audio blog. Sometimes, the only reason to start a podcast is that you want to express yourself or share your thoughts.
If you’re familiar with Foundr, you know we’re all about the audience. Knowing your audience is absolutely necessary before starting a podcast. This will help guide you on all the rest of the steps of starting a podcast.
And don’t worry, your audience will change over time once you launch. Connecting and understanding with your audience will be a constant relationship you’ll need to nurture from episode one to 100.
Podcasting is a medium where niche communities are popping up daily. You could be into board games, cricket, Microsoft Excel, or Sex in the City and there are probably multiple podcasts focusing on the subject.
Although a niche isn’t required, if you’re starting from scratch picking a general topic (sports, movies, business) is probably going to keep you lost in the shuffle. Make sure your podcast has a twist on a topic or format. That could be as simple as pulling from your business or established brand. It could also mean focusing on a local market or specialized trade.
Instead of starting the “River Systems in Phoenix Podcast,” start a podcast called “River Systems in America Podcast” to capture a wider audience.
Instead of starting “The Global Soccer Show,” start a podcast called “The American Soccer Show” to differentiate and stay away from a saturated market.
These examples show the fine line between niche and too broad. Finding the balance will create an engaged audience with room to grow.
Make sure to do some market research before selecting a niche. Find out if there are already podcasts similar to your niche or an opportunity to fill a gap in the space. The art of focusing on a niche topic while not boxing yourself in is difficult, but it will help you to build an audience in the long run.
Theme and Structure
Now that you have a goal, audience, and niche nailed down, you have to build the skeleton of your show. Is your show going to be loose, where you turn on the mics and start talking like you’re at a coffee shop? Is it going to be more organized with a theme song and introduction? Here are the theme and structure points to think about as you build your show:
- Topics: What are you going to talk about on your podcast? Some shows are different every episode, while others have consistent segments. You could start your episode with industry news or have each guest do a rapid-fire questionnaire. As your listenership grows, reach out to your audience to see what topics and segments they most resonate with. Test, learn, and be creative.
- Timing: How long do you want your show to be? There are debates on the optimal timing of a podcast. Whether it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes—the only thing that matters is that the content is valuable, it aligns with your goal, and the audience is receptive to it.
- Outline: While most podcasts don’t have their episodes scripted, they probably have an outline. Think of your favorite 90s sitcom. It probably had a structure that made it predictable but also comforting. Building an outline with an introduction and closing, questions for guests, and ad reads will help you and your guests feel comfortable with your style.
- Production Level: The level of post production is critical in deciding how much time, energy, and money you want to invest into your show. The more production value—conversation editing, music, sound effects, intro/outro, ads—the more time you have to spend editing. If your time is more valuable than money, consider hiring a freelancer to edit and publish the show and/or a producer to help with booking guests, formatting, or scriptwriting.
The most common mistake people make when starting a podcast is over-committing to how many episodes they will publish. Like Instagram, consistency is critical to building an audience—especially early on. Audiences expect episodes to drop on a certain day and will be quick to unsubscribe if they don’t see a new episode in your feed.
Production burnout is easy when starting a podcast. You may commit to a weekly show, but after a few months, you may be overwhelmed with the amount of work and lack of ROI you’re seeing. Below are practical strategies to curb the consistency problem.
- Record Ahead: Before launching your show, you should have at least 3-4 episodes already produced. That way you can work ahead and not panic if your editor is taking a vacation or a work emergency calls you away.
- Episodic: Making an episodic podcast means you’re committed to essentially recording until you die. There aren’t network overlords to cancel you, which means you ultimately make the decision of how much content you produce. A good suggestion is to align your episode cadence with your goal, audience, and the time it takes to make the show. Tell your audience that you’re releasing a new episode every Monday, bi-weekly, or every Friday the 13th. Setting episodic expectations for yourself and your audience upfront will help you produce effectively without burning your audience or your energy.
- Seasonal: Podcast platforms allow you to create seasons of your show, much like your favorite Netflix show. This can allow you to structure your show around a calendar or episode goal. This could mean your show’s season is 20 episodes or each season aligns with the school calendar. A seasonal show can give you an opportunity to set goals and test to see if your podcast is successful. It’s much easier to commit to a season of 20 episodes than commit to an open-ended podcast of weekly episodes.
- One-Offs: Is your niche focused on rewatching all 15 seasons of Supernatural? Is your goal to record the period before you launch your first business? Doing a one-off podcast focused on a specific or time-constrained topic is an easy way to dip your toes into the medium. It can also serve as a way to expand your podcast network as a spin-off. As always, manage expectations by letting your audience know whether they can expect a 10-episode show or a season that only covers the next campaign trail.
Time to get to the fun part—recording your podcast.
What Do You Need to Start a Podcast?
Podcasting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to share your message. Unlike YouTube, you won’t have to deal with expensive cameras, lighting, or worrying about your hair. Here’s everything you need to start your podcast.
In order for your podcast to be carried on apps like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher, you need to have a platform to send your audio RSS feed. Website platforms like Squarespace already have a podcast RSS feed built into their service. There are free podcast hosting services available, but it’s worth spending the cash for ease-of-use and analytics. Here are some of the most popular podcast hosting services:
- SoundCloud ($30): For those just starting a podcast, SoundCloud might be the best option for you. It allows free podcast hosting and allows you to distribute your podcast via RSS. Unfortunately, though, you won’t be able to access any of their analytics without paying for their pro package.
- Libsyn ($5-15): Libsyn is one of the oldest dedicated podcast hosting sites and the go-to choice for many podcasters, including Foundr. With Libsyn, we’re able to take advantage of their analytics feature and track everything from the number of downloads per episode to the geography of our listeners.
- Podbean ($108): Podbean offers a free option for podcast hosting, but you’ll have to pay in order to access any of their better features like analytics. They also offer a service where they can connect your podcast with advertisers if you’re looking to monetize your podcast at a later date.
Additional services such as Buzzsprout, Captivate, and Simplecast are quality options.
Audio technicians debate about microphones like drummers debate about cymbals—it’s subjective. There’s a baseline for getting quality microphones that will give your show a professional feel, but remember that the mics don’t make the podcast successful.
XLR vs USB Mics
This is one of the main differences you’ll see between mics on the market. USB mics mean you can connect and power using a computer. These mics are perfect if you’re doing a one-person show or conducting your interviews over Zoom.
XLR mics can only connect to a recording device, soundboard, or audio interface. These mics require more technical skill but they will have better audio quality.
Omnidirectional vs Unidirectional Mics
Do you ever wonder why it feels like Dan Carlin is standing right next to you while listening to a Hardcore History episode? It’s because he’s using an omnidirectional mic. These mics capture the sounds directly in front of the device and block out any other noise in the space. This is why your voice sounds so clear and why you need to be almost kissing the microphone for it to work. Most podcast mics on the market should be omnidirectional, but beware of cheap knock-offs that look like it.
Unidirectional mics do the opposite. They capture a wide range of sounds 360 degrees around the device. These mics are perfect for recording sounds or environments in the field. Unidirectional mics are traditional standbys for NPR reporters covering an outdoor event or a true crime podcaster that wants to help the listener visualize the forest where the body went missing.
Podcast Mics for Beginners
Whether you’re looking to build a mini-studio for your show or record a Zoom interview tomorrow, here are the podcast mics to get started with (pricing in USD).
- AirPods, or Phone Recorder: As each new iteration of phone or headphone is released, the fidelity of the audio has increased. If you want to save some cash, use your AirPods or smartphone recording device to kick-off your podcast. To enhance the quality, record your show in a closet or a small room with low ceilings.
- Audio Technica AT2020 ($99): A solid USB mic where all you need to do is plug it into your computer and immediately start recording.
- Blue Yeti Mic ($133): Blue Yeti mic is the go-to microphone for anyone starting out in the podcast industry. This is perfect for a solo show or if you have one guest (you’ll have to huddle the mic if you only have one).
- Rode Podcaster Mic ($230): As you get more experienced with podcasting you might want to start investing in mics that are specifically designed for podcasting. This is still the official mic of the Foundr podcast.
- Shure SM7B ($400): The standard brand and microphone of the radio industry for years, Shure microphones will take your podcast from grassroots to professional.
Still unsure? Save some time reading reviews on Amazon and reach out to professional audio companies like Sweetwater or B&H. They have expert and fast customer service that can find the right mic in your budget and needs.
Podcast Recording Devices and Soundboards
There are traditionally 2 options to record a podcast. One is to record the show on a device then upload the raw files to an editing software. The second is to connect your microphones directly to a computer that captures the audio from the microphones. Here are podcast recording device and soundboard options if you’re using XLR microphones.
- Behringer Xenyx 1002B ($59): If you bought a high quality XLR microphone but don’t plan on building a studio for guests, this is an easy way to connect your microphone to your computer for recording.
- M-Audio M-Track Duo USB Audio Interface ($69): Another simple interface that allows for two inputs. Perfect for co-hosts looking to set up shop in a home office or at the dinner table.
- Mackie Mix8 8-channel Compact Mixer ($89): If you plan to have multiple hosts with an additional guest, you’ll need more inputs to connect mics. This Mackie soundboard is not as intimidating as ones you’ll see at a concert venue and it allows you to program in additional sound effects or intro music.
- Zoom H6 Handy Recorder ($350): This all-in-one device is perfect for a podcaster on the go. It can record directly to an SD card or connect to your computer as an interface. Its attachments allow you to transform the device into a unidirectional mic or add more inputs than its base-level 4. If you’re hoping to create the next Serial, this device is for you.
- Zoom PodTrak 8 ($550): Zoom’s podcasting-specific soundboard has 8 inputs, 9 sound pads, and four banks accessing up to 36 sound effects. Like the H6, this can record directly onto an SD card or connect to a computer. This is the pro-level device if you plan on your podcast becoming a hit.
Now that you have a mic, outline, and a message, you can record your show. This is where editing software comes in. Here are widely praised editing software options:
- Audacity (Free): Available for both Mac and Windows computers, Audacity is a great free alternative to any of the paid or premium audio editing software. It’s a great tool with tons of tutorials out there for you to reference. It also allows you to record directly from a microphone straight to the program itself.
- GarageBand (Free): Packaged with all Apple devices, Garageband allows you to do most of what you’re looking for when editing a podcast. Just like Audacity, Garageband also allows you to record directly onto it and save it as an MP3 later.
- Adobe Audition ($20.99 p/m): If you’re planning on having multiple mics or high-level post production, you should go with Adobe Audition.
- Pro Tools ($29.99 p/m): Similar to Audition but with expanded capabilities. This software is typically used by professional musicians and might be more than what’s necessary for your first podcast. But if your band is starting a podcast this is a perfect one-two punch.
- Auphonic (Varied Pricing): If you’re not keen on editing your audio levels yourself then you can use a post-production service like Auphonic, which will take care of the leveling, volume normalization, and other details for you.
- Upwork (Varied Pricing): If you decide to outsource your editing, you can easily find a good editor over at places like Upwork.
Want to know a secret? You don’t need a fancy set of studio headphones to make a podcast. Apple AirPods or the headphones you use to exercise with are all you need to record your podcast. Like mics, you can always spend more on headphones. Studio headphones are important for when you have multiple guests, audio inputs, or if you’re recording in a space with noises in the background.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M30x ($69) or Sony’s MDR-7506 ($99) are perfect for monitoring audio levels from a soundboard or mixing device.
Podcast Cover Image
The final step to launching your podcast is to create your cover image. Think of this as the logo for your show. Like YouTube thumbnails, cover images are critical to grab an audience’s attention.
Cover images are square (1080×1080), so you won’t have much space to get your message across. Include the title of your show in bold lettering with an additional graphic or icon that will be instantly recognizable when your audience opens up their podcast feed.
Upload your image to your preferred hosting platform and your podcast is live.
How Do You Monetize a Podcast?
If you’re making a podcast to get rich, you’re probably in the wrong medium. Creating a self-sustainable or profitable podcast requires strategy, investment, and time to nurture a robust audience. But if you’re just trying to cover the cost of your equipment, freelancers, or staff time, there are some simple ways to monetize your show.
- Sponsorship: There was a period where every single podcast was sponsored by a mattress company or meal subscription service. Now, more and more advertisers are getting into the podcast world. A sponsor for your podcast is still an easy way to bring in consistent cash for your show but be careful to curb sponsor expectations versus the goal of your show. Find sponsors that are easy to work with and resonate with your audience or theme.
- Subscriptions: Apple Podcasts is the most recent platform to use a subscription or premium model to allow podcasts to offer exclusive content to listeners who are willing to pay extra. Patreon is another platform that can offer a more robust subscriber model and can connect with community-building platforms like Discord.
- Podcast Network: Large podcast networks like Ringer, Wondery, or Luminary help produce, create, and promote podcasts. But if you’re just starting out, platforms like Anchor offer an easier entry into a network. Networks can connect you with sponsors that are looking to advertise in your niche. As your show grows, try pitching independent networks that are looking for fresh talent. Tread lightly and remember your original goal for starting a podcast. Joining a network is going to require you to give up either creative control, a financial fee, or the actual rights to the content.
- Merchandise: Once you’ve built up a large enough audience, start offering merchandise to your listeners through platforms like Redbubble. You can also use your podcast to sell and promote your current products.
How Do You Market a Podcast?
Podcasts are accessible to anybody in the world with an internet connection or smartphone. But that doesn’t mean they will find your podcast—even if they’re interested in what you’re talking about. Here are the essential strategies to market your podcast and gain listeners.
- Video: We know that video is critical to building a business or brand. In the past 2 years, more and more podcasts are recording their episodes on video or simultaneously streaming via YouTube or Twitch. Zoom allows you to easily record an interview or you can use an affordable service like Wavve that will create and caption audio clips and turn them into digestible videos. See below for an example of how we adapt our podcast episodes for video.
- Social Media: Podcasting is still at an early stage when it comes to analytics and listener tracking. Creating a social media presence for your show is another avenue for your audience to connect with you and other listeners of the show. You can also use Facebook Ads to promote your show to a target audience that will most likely listen to your podcast.
- Guests: The single most important way to grow your podcast quickly is by getting quality guests—trust us, we built Foundr on the model of interviewing guests. Pitching and interviewing guests will help you grow your audience and give legitimacy to your show.
- Reviews and Ratings: Until Apple Podcasts build a PPC model, reviews and ratings are how platforms and potential listeners can validate your show’s popularity. Use creative giveaways to motivate your audience to review the show or read out reviews on the air as a way to thank your supporters.
- Show Titles and Notes: Just like email subject lines and naming YouTube videos, the title of your podcast episodes can catch the eye of a potential listener. Most podcast search engines are basic, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still optimize your title and show notes for associated keywords that your audience will be searching for.
- Partnerships: The podcasting world may seem saturated and competitive, but you’ll be surprised how many other shows and hosts are just like you. Partner with a like-minded show for a crossover episode or recruit subject matter experts to create mini-episodes that live in your feed. If your audience is wanting more, build a mini-network under the same brand with multiple shows with different hosts or subjects.
Ready to Build Your Brand Through Podcasting?
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