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6 Steps to Becoming a Podcaster

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One year and some weeks ago, I wrote an article here at Blogw—well, at the time it was Blogworld—called A Beginner’s Guide to Podcasting Basics. Thinking about what I wanted to write this week, I figured re-visiting that might be a good idea. More and more people are becoming interested in the medium all the time, after all. Does becoming a podcaster really come down to six steps? Well… not really. There’s a lot more steps once you start to break it down. Still, in the interest of not scaring people away, let’s just call it six.

Create a Show Overview

It would be cliché of me to say that if you fail to plan you plan to fail, right? So, I won’t say that. What I will say, is that planning and preparation begins long before you fire up the microphone and start making mouth noise. Start at the beginning. Open up Evernote, Word, Pages, Notepad, TextEdit—a pencil and paper will do. What I suggest is creating a document that will serve as your roadmap going forward.

  • What will your show be about? Knitting? Comedy? Baseball cards? The tragic rise and fall of the Turkish empire? Kangaroos? (It should totally be about kangaroos.)
  • Who will be hosting and/or co-hosting?
  • When will you record?
  • How long will the episodes be? Fifteen minutes? Half hour? More?
  • Who will the audience be? Where will you find them?
These questions should get you thinking broadly about the general direction of the show. You might also consider ideas for the artwork, how it will fit into your website (or if you need a new website), and how you might monetize the show (if at all).

Gear Up

You have many, many choices when it comes to podcasting equipment. Start cheap. If you’re a new podcaster and you don’t know if you’re going to enjoy it or not, there is no sense at all in spending a lot of money. Gearing up can mean simply buying a USB microphone headset if you don’t have one already, and a decent one can be found on Amazon, at Best Buy or at Walmart (to name just a few) for as little as $20-25.

Eventually, once you realize how awesome podcasting is and how much fun you’re totally having, you may want to upgrade to more professional equipment. A pro microphone, together with a mixer and a pair of pro headphones might set you back several hundred dollars, but you’ll sound like a million bucks.

Close enough.

Part of gearing up is considering your recording environment. You likely have a room you can record in. A bedroom or home office is good, but beware of room acoustics if the room is large. Too much echo, or reverb, can have an undesirable effect on your podcast. If you can’t find a room without a terrible echo… try a closet. Just remember to come out for air every now and then.

Record!

The fun part! You have your overview, you have a microphone and something to record your voice. You have Skype set up to bring in a co-host if necessary. Everything looks great, LET’S DO THIS THING! If you are hardware-based, you will likely have a dedicated digital audio recording device, but if you’re starting off with a USB headset and your computer, you’ll need software. The free Audacity app is a great choice for both PC and Mac users. Macs come with Garageband, which is also good, and if you have the budget, Adobe Audition is available for PCs and Macs.

Position your microphone correctly for best results: not too close to your mouth, not too far away. The key is to position it in such a way that you’re not breathing on it. Outside of a Star Wars podcast, nobody wants to hear Darth Vader on the mic. Test! Don’t press record for the first time and do your show for an hour—you need to test. Record a minute and play it back. See how it sounds. Once you’re happy, launch into your content.

Edit

If you want your show to sound professional, if you want to build an audience, you need to edit. This does not mean removing every second of dead air, nor does it mean removing every instance of “um” or “ah”. Aggressive editing of things like that can make your show sound stilted and unnatural. Twenty second pauses? Sure, cut those out. It’s about being reasonable.

More important though, is to take care of the most basic editing task: setting your levels. Your volume mustn’t be too loud. If it’s too low, listeners will have to crank their volume to hear you and then when they go to play a Justin Beiber song right afterward, their speakers will get blown out. And who will they blame?

His victims are innumerable, but you can’t pin this on him.

They’ll blame you for not setting your levels correctly, and then they’ll unsubscribe from your podcast. Every editor has a meter that shows you the levels. Aim for -6 dB to -1dB. That’s the range you want your levels to bounce in. Try for the sweet spot right in the middle of that and you’ll have it right.

Publish

Once you’ve recorded and edited, it’s time to give your show to the world. Although you don’t technically need your own website, you really should have one, and it really should be based on WordPress. While it is possible to be a podcaster using a different platform, it is not recommended unless you already have extensive knowledge of that platform. Podcasting support and resources for non-Wordpress platforms tends to be very thin.

Your show’s MP3 file needs a home, and it should not be on a shared web hosting environment. Shared web hosts will shut you down if you chew up too many system resources, and a popular show serving up 30-50 MB files to thousands of people is considered out-of-bounds. A dedicated media host like Libsyn or Blubrry is the way to go.

Get Feedback, Grow

Arguably the most important part of being a podcaster isn’t the equipment, isn’t the show, it’s the audience and the feedback they provide. Your show isn’t perfect. Your audience will tell you what needs fixing. If you fix it, you grow. If you don’t, you lose your audience and then it doesn’t matter that you spend $300 on a microphone because nobody is listening. Make feedback easy for them to send and for you to collect. A contact page on your site is vital. A listener call-in line (free through Google Voice) is awesome. Making yourself available on Twitter (and to a lesser extent in my opinion, Facebook) is a great idea.

That’s it, Right?

Nah, that’s not it. Like I said, there’s way more than six steps once you start breaking these things down into their components. My aim here is to outline the basics in such a way that people interested in podcasting will have a general overview of what the process is like. Thoughts? Questions? The comment section below is wide open, I’d love to hear from you.

One piece of advice? Do it live.

Author:

When people who are starting out in podcasting ask me for one piece of advice, I don’t talk about equipment or applications, technology or social network marketing. I go for something that’s even simpler than that. Something that can not only get them started down one fruitful path of podcasting, but one that will continue to reward them outside of podcasting – no matter if it is their hobby, passion or profession.

Do it live.

By that I don’t mean go and set up a Ustream channel, and have everyone listening at the same time around the world (although that is an optional benefit), but gather everything you need around you, from a script and guests, to musical cues, audio stings, sponsor messages and the occasional special effect… I keep a kazoo next to my microphone, for no other reason than sometimes it can be funny to throw it into the mix of a chat show.

I’ll be the first to admit that if you’re starting on your podcasting journey it will add to the workload, but these are the formative days that are going to shape your brain, so start doing it the most productive way.

Yes, productive. You will always have the safety net of a post recording edit, but it’s far quicker to simply catch a stumble than it is to re-assemble twenty different readings like some demented wave-form of a jigsaw. That means less time in post-production, less time while recording (a thirty minute show will take… thirty minutes), and while you’ll initially need to spend more time in prep, that investment will pay off.

And long term you’ll find more benefits. Starting off with a more natural sounding show, you’ll also start to multi-task better, talking and reading at the same time, but you’ll also gain one of the most important things possible.

Confidence.

Initially you’ll just feel this behind the microphone of your own show, but as you spend more time podcasting, you’ll find that this is one of those acquired skills you can apply to many areas in your life. The obvious one is public speaking – you’ll need less of your brain to actually do the talking part, while the part normally juggling sound levels, jingles and other areas an now be spent focusing on the audience, thinking about other areas of the presentation, and making sure that you enjoy the talk!

One of the other areas that I found an improvement in was when I was being interviewed by other people. It was easier to try and keep the interview on the subject that I wanted to stay on, to get over my ideas, and to be able to think about the bigger picture while answering small details.

Finally, and one that now seems obvious, if you move on to other media, especially radio or video podcasting, you’ll find it much easier to feel comfortable and come over more relaxed – which is good as these areas are a lot more unforgiving of errors than pre-recorded audio.

To sum it up, I think that “going live” has a bundle of benefits that will become clear over time. That’s why it’s my big piece of advice to anyone who asks.

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