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7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Podcasting

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MicrophoneI’ve been podcasting for three-and-a-half years now and it’s been quite a journey. What began as a goof (an answer to the so-called Mommy Blogger movement) has evolved and turned into a major part of my identity and brand. For the first year, I didn’t take it very seriously out of ignorance. Looking around, I saw professionals that I thought I couldn’t compete with and a lot of amateurs that were starting shows only to abandon them shortly after. I didn’t aspire to much at that time. Had I known and understood a few things, I would be in a much different place than I am now.

Here are seven of those things.

It requires passion

Thousands of podcasts have faded away over the years. Even a cursory glance at the iTunes directory will show a great many shows that just stopped posting new episodes. No farewell episodes, no tearful goodbyes, no high-fives on the way out the door. The shows just sort of… stopped. Some call this phenomenon podfade.

What makes a podcast producer or host give up on a show? Lack of audience? That can be fixed. Ran out of things to say? Chart a new direction. Podcasters that I’ve spoken with almost universally say the same thing: I let the show die because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. The passion went out of it.

If you’re not starting with a passion for the show or the medium, you are better off not starting at all and putting your energies into something you really enjoy.

It’s not always fun

There are days… oh, there are days… when the last thing you want to do is fire up the microphone and start talking. Even if you still have the passion for the medium and your show, there are times when
recording is a chore. Sometimes, skipping a scheduled record date is feasible. Sometimes, you need to put on your happy voice and just push through it.

You’ll be explaining it to everyone

“Nice to meet you. What do you do?”

“I’m a podcaster.”

“What’s that?”

It can be difficult for some of us to remember that not everyone is online as much as we are and that not everyone knows what a podcast is. Though it is gaining in popularity, if all your Uncle John or Aunt Betty knows about the internet is Facebook and email, you’re going to have to explain the concept of podcasting. After a couple of hours at your family reunion, you’ll wish you were a blogger.

Walking around NMX, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what a podcast is. Take to the streets of Anytown, USA, though, and it isn’t that difficult.

My go-to explanation is, “I’m an internet broadcaster, similar to what you’ve probably heard on talk radio.”

Pro-level recording isn’t that hard—or expensive

Peavey XR800F Mixer for Hire

A thirty-dollar USB headset and a quiet room will get you 80% of the way to pro sound in this medium. Learn how to use your editing software properly and you can improve it pretty dramatically. If you want to take it even further though, it isn’t hard to do and you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars (though you certainly can if you like).

While I would never counsel someone who is just beginning to spend a thousand dollars on audio equipment, I do wish I had known at the outset that a fantastic home studio could be built for under a thousand dollars. I would have done it sooner.

The real financial burden comes when you get into video, especially live video. Cameras, lights, props and set design all cost money that make my $300 Heil PR-40 microphone look cheap. It’s possible to do video inexpensively, but pro-level video will cost ya.

You can be yourself

Audiences don’t expect perfection. Spending an hour or two editing out every “um” and “ah” was the norm when I was getting started. I was convinced that people would tune out if I didn’t! After months—dozens of hours—doing that, I gave up. I just accepted that I would never have as large an audience as I could have; the editing was just killing me. A funny thing happened though. My audience grew. Oh, I won’t suggest that it grew because I stopped editing my verbal crutches, but clearly, they were not hurting the show.

Having said that, being yourself does not mean never improving. Those verbal crutches should be eliminated, but from your speech, not from your recording.

It requires patience

You are not likely to have a hit show immediately, especially if you’re  just getting started in the medium. Podcasting has a lot in common with other forms of broadcasting, including blogging. It can take months or  even years for a blog to build an audience of thousands. Podcasting is no
different. Just a few years ago the competition for listeners was manageable. Recently, with more and more professionals, comedians, and networks getting into podcasting, it’s getting tougher. Amateurs and aspiring pros can still rise to the top, but patience (along with hard work, creativity and skill) is vital.

The potential for wasted time is enormous

With so many “solutions” available, it can be incredibly hard to know how to get started with podcasting. If you’re anything like me, and I know I am, you will be tempted to try out every piece of software looking for perfection. In my first year of podcasting I tried everything. Never mind
that I was using a Mac, which ships with GarageBand, an excellent tool for beginners. I had to try other programs! The end result was dozens of hours wasted—hours that I could have spent making my content better or promoting my show.

Hardware is no different. Some podcasters will spend many hours (and a lot of money) trying out new microphones or headphones. Unless your show is about trying new equipment and reporting on it, this can be a huge drain.

If you have found something that works (and it’s easy to find what works), I recommend sticking to it. Your audience doesn’t care what recording software you’re using. The audience cares about what you have to say.

What do you think?

Are you a podcaster? I’d like to know what you would add to a list like this. Let me know in the comments! Not a podcaster? Now is the best time to start a show of your own! Are you intimidated? Do lists like this help? I’d love to know what you think as well.

Thanks for reading!


Feedback

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  • MattMcWilliams2

    Great post Daniel.
     
    I’m not currently doing a podcast but have and will be again soon and agree with the list 100% except #5.
     
    #5 should read “You MUST be yourself”
     
    It’s absolutely critical. Anything else will just flop.
     

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @MattMcWilliams2 GREAT point, Matt! Must is a must, isn’t it? 🙂

    • blogworld

       @MattMcWilliams2 I agree Matt good point!

    • danielmclark

       @MattMcWilliams2 How about “you must be yourself, if yourself is someone that people will want to listen to” 😉 I’ve always said, in response to the charge that we should be “authentic” (I hate that word), that if you are authentically an a—— (let’s keep it family-friendly) then you probably shouldn’t be authentic in public. Few people can pull off <em>that</em> kind of authenticity and keep people tuning in.
       
      But I agree, Matt, on the whole. And to the narrower point of being yourself with regard to your vocal talents or verbal crutches, I think you’re right: you must be yourself.

      • MattMcWilliams2

         @danielmclark Well said Daniel. Of course, if you are a jerk, I would say two things…
         
        1. You’ll never make it trying to be nice.
        2. There is a market for jerks. That angle could work. 

    • danielmclark

      @MattMcWilliams2
      How about “you must be yourself, if yourself is someone that people will want to listen to” 😉 I’ve always said, in response to the charge that we should be “authentic” (I hate that word), that if you are authentically an a—— (let’s keep it family-friendly) then you probably shouldn’t be authentic in public. Few people can pull off *that* kind of authenticity and keep people tuning in.
       
      But I agree, Matt, on the whole. And to the narrower point of being yourself with regard to your vocal talents or verbal crutches, I think you’re right: you must be yourself.
       

  • MTRHost

    I been broadcasting since 2006 and I can attest to the fact that some days it feels like work. Those are times that I remember that my audience tunes in to be entertained by me and my on air product. I agree with this list 100%

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @MTRHost Almost six years? Congrats! No podfade for you!

      • MTRHost

         @WordsDoneWrite  I started off hot and I did burnout for a bit but I sat down and reevaluated what I was doing and streamlined it into my current product. Now I bang out 3hrs of live show with minimal annoyance. Some weeks I hit 90 minutes and wrap it up but its because I need to sleep lol.

        • danielmclark

           @MTRHost  @WordsDoneWrite That’s awesome. I think that reevaluating what you’re doing should be at least an annual thing, if not every six months. It helps to refocus and tweak the show(s) to better reach the target audience. We’ve probably all seen TV shows that lose the plot after being on for a few years – IMO, it’s because they didn’t reevaluate in a consistent enough basis. That can happen to our podcasts, too!

  • MarloBoux

    I started playing around with the podcasting medium in 2006. I agree 100% on the passion piece. I tried a number of subjects until I found one that was compelling enough to me personally to sustain it. After a stint in mainstream (traditional) talk radio I returned to it with more focus. I started reading more books on interviewing techniques etc. I’m still building my audience but am pleased with the 1600-1900 downloads/mth I’ve been getting so far. Once the novelty wears off, discipline, passion and focus need to carry you when you. 

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @MarloBoux Great story, Marlo! I’m glad you’ve found the passion piece early in the game!

      • MarloBoux

         @WordsDoneWrite thank you! Me too. Makes it easier to stay the course.

    • danielmclark

       @MarloBoux Love it! Spending some time in radio is awesome – it’s something I’ve been thinking about myself, but I haven’t yet explored how to go about it. Ironically, I majored in Communications for a short time and interned at a radio station about 20 years ago, but didn’t pursue it. I regret that somewhat now, given my interest in podcasting!

      • MarloBoux

         @danielmclark Traditional radio is definitely good experience. I learned so much! Being live with an open line show and only a 30 second delay means you have to be on your toes. It really helped me to learn and utilize the show prep process. Very thankful for that.

  • ScottWallis

    Great post. My “Swish Edition” co-hosts and I have a year and a half and 90 episodes under our belts and all of these points ring true for us. We’re slowly building our brand and audience and it is a lot of work, but terribly rewarding, if not yet profitable. 😉

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @ScottWallis 90 episodes? Congrats, Scott!

    • danielmclark

       @ScottWallis 90 episodes is great! As far as profitability, there are ways… but it all depends on the size of your audience and we all know how long it can take to build up a massive audience!

  • RickWolff

    Does your list intimidate? Hell yeah! Count the number of variations of “don’t podcast of you don’t intend to…” I’ve never wanted LESS to podcast than at this moment. Thanks.

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @RickWolff Don’t be intimidated, Rick. Just use this as a cautionary tale so you know what to expect. Going into something with blinders on can be just as overwhelming sometimes 😉

    • danielmclark

       @RickWolff But isn’t that true of anything worth doing? “Don’t blog unless you intend to…”, “Don’t go into filmmaking unless you intend to…”, “Don’t have kids unless you intend to…”
       
      Which things were most intimidating to you? Perhaps I can go into a bit more detail to try to alleviate the concerns 🙂

  • jflopezd

    I have to disagree about the expense of pro-level recording. Sound quality is a big deal, and you pay for it. Good-sounding microphones, recorders and sounds mixers can all easily be hundreds of dollars. Then are smaller expenses like software. But right on with the other points! Let us know how we’re doing at http://psychtalkradio.com

    • danielmclark

       @jflopezd Sound quality is a big deal, but the differences between the mid-range (as far as price) and the really high-end stuff is, for podcasters, pretty minimal. No podcaster needs to spend $20,000 on audio equipment… we’re releasing compressed mp3 recordings at 64kbps or 96kbps after all. Any of the fine detail that high-end gear captures is going to be lost in the compression anyway.
       
       Like I said, you can set up a nice podcasting studio for under $1,000 – the gear I used to do that is a Heil PR-40 mic ($300), a Mackie 802-VLZ3 mixer ($200), Shure SRH240 headphones ($50) and a Tascam DR-07 recorder (no longer made, but I think I paid $150 for it). That’s about $700 – and I spent probably another couple hundred on optional stuff like the mic boom and the compressor/limiter/gate unit.
       
      (And if I had to be super honest, I’d say my beloved Heil mic is a bit overkill for podcasters – the Shure SM58 at a third of the price is great, and I’d be willing to bet that in a blind taste test, most people couldn’t tell the difference between the two in a podcast recording).

      • jflopezd

         @danielmclark Well said–I got a distorted impression on the first read. I use a Blue Yeti ($140 USB mic) for some voice-overs, and after compression I’m happy with it, though I the Electrovoice Re-20 ($400) I use for interviews does sound better (I’d expect the same for your Heil PR-40, especially at the 112 or 128 kbps I usually do).

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