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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.