Like everything else, launching a podcast is simply a matter of taking the right steps, mostly in the right order. Eventually you’ll end up with a finished product, and if you plan ahead, that product has a better chance of being good. Now that I’ve got The Build Cycle podcast up and running with a solid number of downloads, it’s time to share how I did it. Here’s how to launch your own podcast!
0. Determine your podcast’s niche
Before you read any further, decide what your podcast will be about, and how it will be different or better (or both) than what is already out there. If you’re not sure what else is out there, go search and listen. There are a million podcasts with new ones launching daily. If you’re just doing one because its en vogue, you’re wasting your time. Your podcast needs to stand out in some way. No pressure, but your first episode HAS TO BE GOOD!
Things to consider:
- Why am I creating a podcast? What’s my goal? (opening doors to talk to others? marketing my goods? creating a personal brand? becoming a thought leader?)
- Who is my audience? (as in, who do you want it to be?)
- What value can I offer that audience?
- What is my podcast’s niche? (how will it be different? better? why would someone listen to my podcast over others in the same category?)
Now that you know what you’ll be talking about and why, here are the basic steps to launch a podcast:
1. Listen to other podcasts.
Find a few highly recommended podcasts in different subject matters and listen to a couple months’ worth of episodes. This gives you time to see how they change from week to week, but also notice where they’re consistent. You want both consistency and variety. Consistency of format, variety of content. We’ll come back to that. What I noticed about the best podcasts was that they all had a consistent format to the beginning, middle and end. Production quality was also fairly decent, with unique music and introductions, usually using a different voice than the host’s for the intro.
2. Decide on your format…
Some podcasts are heavily produced, with a lot of music, sound effects and sequences. Examples include most of the NPR ‘casts, TED Radio Hour, and Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale. Others, like The Build Cycle, are more simple, relying mostly on an intro and outro, then dropping the (mostly) unedited interview between them. Which you choose depends on how much time you have to put into production (or how much you want to spend on production), and the vibe you’re trying to create.
For The Build Cycle, I came up with the following sequence:
- The Summary: who I’m interviewing and why it’s worth listening to. Mine is 50 seconds because I want people to quickly get into the main interview, and it keeps me from rambling. Having a “fixed” length intro also means I don’t have to rework my background music’s length for every episode, which saves time in post-production. This is where I hope to hook you into listening past…
- The Intro: this is the same on every episode, so it feels familiar. Keep it short, though, because subscribers will hear it over and over again, and it’s an easy place for people to drop out if it rambles.
- The Interview: I use a simple format without internal breaks or sound effects to minimize post-editing time.
- The Outro: The recap of the interview, calling out my highlights and key points. This is usually 60 seconds of recap followed by 30-40 seconds of…
- The Calls to Action: What do I want listeners to do next? Follow my blog? Subscribe on iTunes? Download something? Find me on social media?
3. Pick the best Podcast Equipment:
High-end Portable Podcast Mics:
I use the Zoom H5 ($269, above left) because it has multiple inputs and interchangeable mic heads available, but comes with a very good XY mic and foam windscreen and can plug into my Mac via USB and work as the input for Skype interviews. It’s portable, so I can easily take it with me in the included hard case, and its modular design allows me to expand it to have up to four separate mics if needed for a group interview, and it has a 1/4-20 mount on the bottom, so I can attach it to a small tripod during recording. For all those reasons, I felt it was worth the upfront investment.
There’s also the Zoom H6 with six total input options if you’re going to be doing larger groups and want everyone to have a separate mic. The smaller Zoom H1n ($119) is more portable and more affordable but loses the expansion ports.
High-end Desktop Podcast Mics:
If you will only ever record solo from your office, a stationary mic is a great option. At home, I use the Blue Yeti X (169.99, above right). It’s incredible, and does a much better job of killing ambient “hiss” than the H5’s stock XY mic. Both have a built in headphone jack for monitoring with volume control, and both have gain control. Where the Yeti X jumps ahead is the adjustable pickup patterns. I can set it to only pick up my voice from in front, which helps eliminate echos coming off the large, flat monitor directly behind it. Or I could set it to pick up in two or all directions if I’m recording multiple folks sitting across from or around me.
If you’re on a bit more of a budget, the non-portable Blue Snowball (~$70) is less expensive and has good reviews.
Affordable Podcast Mics:
When traveling light, I use my iPhone with the free Voice Memos app to record interviews with the guest and I sitting very close to each other and the phone. The Maona lavalier mic ($20) does a great job of cancelling out background noise, but has a narrow pickup field. And you’ll need the Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone jack converter to use it, but works great for interviewing subjects in noisy environments, and it’s cheap.
Even better, the Rode SC6 mic splitter ($20 for the standard 3.5mm audio jack, $79 for the SC6-L for iPhone Lightning port) allows two Lav mics to plug into it, plus a headphone port so you (or someone else) can monitor the sound. I’ve used this outdoors to record an episode and it worked well with the Maona mics to focus the sound on me and the guest and minimize ambient noise (Pro Tip: DON’T use the Rode app to record the audio, I’ve had serious problems with static…try Voice Memos on iOS or similar).
What should my podcast guests use as a mic?
When recording remotely through Skype, I ask my guests, at a minimum, to use a wired headset like the one that comes with most cell phones. But I also send them a Pre-Interview Checklist with nicer mic recommendations (like the Plantronics Blackwire C3210 shown on left).
If you’re recording a very important interview and want to ensure high quality, it might be worth buying one of those mics and sending it to them in advance. Some podcasts hire a freelancer or friend to meet with the guest and physically place a recorder in in front of the guest. Whatever works for your budget.
What you DON’T want is for your guest to be talking directly into their computer’s built-in mic – it will sound terrible. Bluetooth headsets are hit or miss, but I’ve heard good results from Apple’s Air Pod Pros.
If their environment is too noisy or echoey, you can suggest that they sit in their car. I’ve recorded several interviews where I, my guest, or both of us were inside a vehicle and it works surprisingly well…just make sure the A/C isn’t blowing on the mic!
Always wear headphones when recording!
Technically, there is such a thing as “podcast headphones” where a boom mic is built in. Gaming headphones have these, too. But all you really need are earbuds. Anything that sends the audio directly into your ears will prevent your mic from picking it up and creating an echo or feedback loop.
I wear over-the-ear headphones because they’re more comfortable during long interviews. You may also want a “Pop Filter” and/or foam windscreen for your mic to prevent harsh “S”, “K” and “P” sounds from cracking your levels.
4. Create a Podcast Studio
Creating a podcast “studio” is easier than you think. Personal opinion, but if you can find a quiet room, I don’t think you need to create any special environment. I record some intros and outros in my garage (because it’s way too cluttered!). Several friends simply sit in their closet, which is lined with clothes and soft surfaces to kill echos. A soft couch, curtains, houseplants, or a little “egg crate” wedge foam can help with killing echoes if that’s an issue.
If you’re on a budget, start with the mic and other gear above before investing in mixers and other sophisticated equipment. You’ll probably find you don’t need them…I don’t use them. Don’t be afraid to put the mic very close to your mouth, especially if you have a Pop Filter. But you will need some basic software…
Podcast Recording Software Options:
Podcast Recording options: When recording a remote podcast guest (meaning, not sitting next to me in the same room), I use Skype (starts at Free) with the eCamm Call Recorder software ($29.95, or $44.95 bundled with FaceTime Recorder). Just make sure to put some credit on your Skype account if you’re calling a phone number rather than directly to another Skype account.
Zencastr is another highly-rated option for recording through Skype or Google Hangouts, but it’s an online subscription service rather than a locally installed, one-time purchase like eCamm.
Podcast Production Software Options:
Most podcast software has similar options, but you mainly want something that lets you create separate tracks for each part (intro, outro, interviewer, interviewee, etc.), and adjust the levels for each track (and parts of each track) individually. More on how to do this further down in the guide.
I use Garageband, which comes free on every Mac and is very full featured. For PC (and Mac, too), check out Audacity – I haven’t personally used it, but it’s free and has good reviews. Hindenburg Journalist came recommended (and is used) by popular outdoors podcast The Dirtbag Diaries and sells for about $100-$400 depending on version. There are more expensive and complicated options, like Adobe Audition, but the three above should get the job done easily and cost effectively.
5. Design and record your intro.
And outro, as needed. I used Garage Band to create the music and (originally*) had a friend read the intro voiceover. I wanted someone else’s voice for the intro to provide a very clear break between my pre-show summary and the main interview.
You don’t have to do this, but every good podcast I’ve heard has some way of clearly transitioning from one part to the next. For the outro, I created a similar piece of music that I can loop as needed for length, then fade out.
This part is very important to make your podcast sound professional. You could just start talking, but music and a 3rd party intro gives it presence. I’ve had numerous compliments saying it “sounded very well produced, especially for a new podcast.” You want listeners focusing on the content, not flaws in sound production.
UPDATE: I’ve since eliminated the intro my friend read in order to streamline production and shorten it up a bit. Here’s why: Even though the intro was good, your regular listeners will tire of it, so keep it really short. Mine was too long…meaning, it was descriptive for new listeners, but too much for regulars. I’ll re-record a much shorter intro to replace it, but the takeaway is this: Keep your intro so short that people won’t try to skip through it.
How to add intro music to your podcast:
So, how to get free music for your podcast? I use Audio Hero for music for various projects. Free Music Archive was recommended by several other podcasters I know, or you can search the Creative Commons’ catalog.
6. Find a Podcast host.
iTunes, Stitcher and the other players don’t actually host your podcast audio files, so you will need to host those files somewhere. You could host your podcast audio files anywhere you want (your own servers, Box, DropBox, Amazon AWS, etc.) but you don’t want to.
You want to use a highly rated podcast hosting service that specializes in this because they make it very easy to attach a title, cover image and description to each episode and will create the RSS feed for you. The RSS feed is what you provide to iTunes, etc., and that’s how they find your podcast episodes, artwork, and anything else they need. They also provide an embeddable player like you see above, making it easy for people to listen to the episode directly from your website.
I use Podbean for both The Build Cycle and Bikerumor podcasts. It’s affordable (under $10/month if you pay annually), has all of the features of more expensive hosts, is well rated, and provides good download analytics. LibSyn and Blubrry are also popular for hosting, but both have upload or other limitations, whereas Podbean includes unlimited upload and bandwidth.
7. Brand your Podcast
You need a good name, and then a good logo. Look through iTunes’ top-rated charts in all categories and you’ll see that most of those podcasts have catchy logos and names. And those logos pop, even in the small square shape on your small rectangular phone screen. This is the low hanging fruit for getting people to check it out. Ideally, the name is both catchy and relevant to your subject matter.
Then, I use this theme to create individual episode images like this. The square one is the cover image that shows up in iTunes, etc., and works well for posting to Instagram, and the rectangular one works best for Twitter and Facebook.
UPDATE: I’ve switched to using a consistent image for every episode when uploading to Podbean. Not every player shows episode-specific artwork, and it’s possibly not worth the effort if you’re doing all of this yourself. But, I still create episode-specific artwork for the blog post and social posts to set them apart.
8. Create your podcast template
If you’re using Garage Band, Pat Flynn’s YouTube tutorial on how to create a podcast in Garage Band is excellent and comprehensive, so no need for me to recreate that here. In this step, you’re simply creating the template for a Master Episode. This saves you a lot of time creating individual episodes because the intro and outro are already in place, so you simply need to drop in the audio segments from the interview.
PRO TIP: Inevitably, you’ll sometimes end up with your guest’s (or your) volume way too low. One of my favorite hacks for increasing the volume of a track is to simply duplicate it (sometimes more than once…I’ve had up to FIVE of the same track in a file in order to get one guest loud enough). Creating separate tracks for you and your guest lets you independently fix the volume for each person (eCamm makes this easy).
Then it’s time to…
9. Invite good guests to be interviewed
Use any connections you have to line up interesting subjects. Since I run the world’s largest cycling tech blog, it was easy for me to get some heavy hitters in the bicycle industry to come on the show. But I quickly branched out from there to include climbers, nutrition brands, marketing experts, other publishers, etc., to keep the variety and interest level high.
Or just cold call people that would be interesting. People are usually flattered you want to hear their story. My strategy has been to contact well known people, and continue to ask more and more well-known people or brands with every episode. Your audience wants to hear about people and brands they already know and care about, so be sure to mix those in with some unknowns and surprises.
- Reach out to people on LinkedIn with a message explaining why you want to connect with them.
- Find a marketing or PR contact on the website where they work and let that person help make the connection. Any exposure for the brand and its leaders is good advertising, so they may help make it happen.
Keep it Fresh!
One caveat: I’ve heard the same “origin story” for Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins on a million podcasts. I don’t want to hear it again. If you’re interviewing someone that’s a regular guest on other media outlets, find something new to talk about rather than have them regurgitate the same story they’ve told in every other interview. They’ll appreciate it, and it’ll pay dividends in growing your listenership.
Help your guests prepare to be interviewed
I provide each guest with a Pre-Interview Checklist to give them a heads up of what we’ll talk about. More importantly, it lets them know they’ll need to have a mic, a quiet place, and about an hour dedicated to being a guest. The microphone is very important.
Without it, volume levels can vary dramatically, and if they’re talking directly into a phone’s mic, you might end up with a lot of sharp “S” and hard “K” sounds that crackle during playback. And if they’re using a built-in mic on a laptop, you’ll probably get feedback and crappy sound. There are tips for inexpensive guest mics in the Checklist, feel free to copy and use what you want from it.
10. Record your first five episodes
When you first connect with the guest, talk a little and check volume levels. Some of this you can fix in post-production, but if you can get your volume close to theirs from the start, the end product will be better. If the “S”, “T” and “K” sounds pop or crackle when they’re talking, ask them to move a little further from the microphone. If they don’t have one, you could ask them to try putting it on speakerphone and see if that works (might be too much ambient noise), or grab their phone’s headset. Hit record.
Then go ahead and produce the first five episodes. Make sure the sound levels are consistent between speakers, intro and outro. Nothing’s worse than a low talker paired with a loud host (or vice versa). If the sound variables are too great, it’s very difficult to listen to, particularly when driving or in a noisy environment. You can usually fix this in post production (use my hack in Step 8). Mostly, I leave the conversation unedited. Occasionally I’ll remove any pauses that are too long and aren’t needed for effect, but I try to leave the conversation as it happened.
If you want to get fancy, you could intersperse the audio equivalent of chapter headings and side notes – a good example of this is NPR’s How I Built This podcast. But it takes a lot more production work, and they have an entire studio of people to produce for them. If you don’t plan on producing the episodes yourself, just Google “podcast producers” and you’ll find plenty of folks willing to turn your raw interview audio into a finished product for a fee.
11. Upload the first three episodes
Virtually every pro podcaster recommends uploading your first three episodes at once, then letting iTunes and Stitcher know about them. This increases the likelihood that you’ll get more downloads right off the bat because any subscribers will automatically get three, tripling your initial numbers.
PRO TIP: record a very short (2-3 minutes) introduction episode that simply tells listeners what they can expect from your podcast. This is a really easy way to grab extra downloads with virtually no downside (or effort).
I recommend having the first FIVE episodes recorded and ready, then trickling #4 and #5 out over the next week, then getting into a steady rhythm of regularly scheduled episodes. Why? Because a) things sometimes come up that prevent you from sticking to your schedule, so I like to have a few in the bank just in case; and b) because if you can maintain momentum and keep getting more downloads, you might end up in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy section, which means you’ll be instantly put in front of millions of potential listeners. You only get the first eight weeks after launch to make this happen, so…
12. Promote the heck out of it
Ideally, you’ve pre-hyped your podcast to an existing audience. Maybe even built up an email list that you can alert when it goes live. As soon as you’ve uploaded your podcast and it’s showing up in iTunes, promote the heck out of it to your audience. Consider social media ads targeting your audience, too. The more subscribers, comments, ratings and downloads you can garner in the first few weeks, the better.
My promotional process starts about an hour after publishing an episode (to give it time to populate in iTunes, etc.) and looks like this:
- Post an episode-specific story with show notes to my blog (immediately)
- Post link to story on Facebook (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on Twitter (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on Instagram (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on LinkedIn (+3-4 hours)
- I recommend Publer.io for scheduling posts, which works for all four of the social media networks listed above!
- Send links and episode cover images to the interviewee and ask that they share with their audience and social media followers (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on my cycling website, Bikerumor, if the subject matter is relevant to that audience. This automatically sends it to Bikerumor’s Facebook and Twitter. (+2 days)
- Post story with iTunes, Stitcher & Google Play links to Medium (+3 days)
- I’m updating the PDF guide with this new info and will re-link here soon…follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to get an alert when it’s live!
- Need inspiration? Tim Ferris describes how he built a #1 ranked podcast.
- Pat Flynn’s YouTube tutorial on how to create a podcast in Garage Band.
- Apple’s iTunes submission process and guidelines is here.