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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.

The Importance Of Planning When Producing Your Podcast

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One of the many fun things about “making a plan” is that once you have your baseline, it’s very easy to go beyond that and find something magical. But recently, I’ve been using the power of planning to do something else. To make sure my podcast went out when I had no idea what I was going to do.

Some background is needed for this one. Firstly about the podcast, and then why the pre-existing plan was so important because of, well, life.

This was my eighth year of covering the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through a daily audio podcast. The Fringe itself is mind-bogglingly huge (42,000 performances by 2,695 shows, almost 280 stages), and many years ago I wondered if one podcaster could cover enough of the Fringe to make a daily show feel comprehensive.

The clue, of course, is that eight years later I’m still doing the show to critical acclaim. This year I put out 26 episodes, each running over 40 minutes, the majority of them having four guests and a musical number (preferably recorded live) to finish the show. It’s not an easy show to put together, as it all needs to be recorded around Edinburgh, between all the shows, and then of course edited and social media’ed every day to succeed.

And I look forward to it every single year.

Except this year. 2012 has seen a little complication. The month or two that I would normally spend researching and prepping for the August run was taken up with far more important matters at home – #BlameVikkisCancer. For anyone keeping track, Vikki’s operation was a success, but with the Fringe approaching, I was facing a blank sheet of paper.

Here’s where the power of planning came in very useful, because I reached back to 2011 for all the planning documents, notes, and diary schedules from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Show. While the names were different, and the days were a little bit out of sync, this was something that I could simply trust that would let me deliver.

“Follow the plan, and the show will follow,” was my mantra at the end of July as I organized the interviews, reached out to various PR people, booked in shows to review, and sorted out the cross promotion arrangements with other sites. As I followed my diary and reports from 2011, if it happened last year on Wednesday 27th July, it was done on Wednesday 25th July this year.

Would this make for a show with any new ideas for 2012, that would really push the format boundary out? Probably not. But it would deliver a show, which was vitally important as the show is a co-production with The Stage newspaper and I had made the commitment to them many months ago.

It also matches up with one of my philosophies – every show needs a constant. In the case of the Edinburgh Fringe podcast this is myself, as the host. I’m the one conducting the interviews, reading the news, the voice that people would come back for.

The other constant is the structure of the show. It’s no coincidence that the format of the show follows the late night chat show template pioneered by Johnny Carson. That means the show itself was able to use all the same production notes, jingle beds, and interview grid layout as last year.

Because I had a well thought out plan that I could follow, I was able to build the foundations of the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Podcast while my brain, frankly, was focused elsewhere. Each morning, when I came to produce that day’s show, there were more than enough interviews and musical numbers to choose from, and I could focus on putting together and presenting some great content.

All because I had a pretty comprehensive plan.

Making a plan is essential, not just for a business or starting up a new website, podcast, or blog, but for every project you do. And not just a few headers, really sit down, think through every element, document it, and make sure it’s clear enough for others to read and understand, yes even yourself in twelve months time!

Was I expecting to use the 2011 plan in 2012? Not particularly, but I’m glad I could.

And the results? Why not listen for yourself.

What You Learn from Bird-Brained Ideas

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… by Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, Best-Selling Author, Change Agent and Sometime Cowboy

Passion is not a substitute for planning. Passion blinds you. And it can teach valuable lessons in business and in life.

Early in my career (but not so early I shouldn’t have known better), I thought pheasant farming was the most fabulous idea ever. After all, I love everything about pheasants. I love to watch them; to see them run & fly free. I love to hunt them and most of all, I love to eat them! When I took people with me, they loved it too. And when I served guests those beautiful birds soaked in my special marinade of buttermilk and hot sauce, they devoured them with delight.

I had never invested more money in anything in my life, but it was a no-brainer to me. And that’s literally what it was: all passion, no brains – the pheasants and me.

My passion fueled my desire and my business plan. I reached out to a bunch of friends and sold them on the idea. Many of us invested everything we had. We moved quickly to capitalize on the market and never questioned, researched or were even aware of the lack of competition. We became consumed with the idea. We saw money everywhere. We were pioneers. Our plan: to set up giant outdoor pens on the prairies where the pheasants could fly and run free. It would be a thing of beauty. We’d process the pheasants or sell them live to hunting operations. It was perfect. We found a farm and a recently bankrupt (should have been our first hint) slaughtering facility. Soon hundreds of pheasants were living and flying free within our giant netted pens on the South Dakota prairie. Our passion grew as we watched them. In our minds we were going to sell fresh and smoked pheasants to chefs, restaurants and stores worldwide. Visions of gift baskets with smoked pheasants shipped nationwide danced in our heads.

And then, it happened. One prairie thunderstorm and thousands of pheasants huddled together, looked toward the sky, opened their mouths and drowned. We ended up losing everything.

What happens when you hit rock bottom like that? When you’re done crying there’s nothing left to do but look at the wreckage and honestly confront what you’ve done. I let dreams of money and passion me away.

I say it again–passion is not a substitute for planning.

It’s fine to aspire to corner the market on something – own it top to bottom – but do your research. Find out if there is a market. Pay attention. Find out what the customer is saying (because you know they are always right!).

Give your business practices “The Mirror Test” and thoughtfully-yet-aggressively evaluate, deconstruct, and then reconstruct your business idea. Let passion push you straight ahead into a plan. Take enthusiasm for your dream, evaluate, put legs on it, and allow it to walk you into your future business; one that’s breathing strong and fogging the mirror every day.

JEFFREY W. HAYZLETT is an award-winning executive who received great notoriety during his tenure at Eastman Kodak Company, where he served as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Vice President. Since leaving Kodak, he has put his creativity and extraordinary entrepreneurial skills into play, launching ventures that blend his leadership perspectives, insights into professional development, mass marketing prowess and affinity for Social Media. He is a well-traveled public speaker, the author of the bestselling book, “The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing?” and one of the most compelling figures in global business.

Dubbed “The Celebrity CMO” by Forbes Magazine, Jeffrey has successfully leveraged multiple media appearances, including CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, and NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump. Drawing upon an eclectic background in business, buoyed by a stellar track record of keynote speaking, and deeply rooted in cowboy lore, Jeffrey energizes his role as a change agent. He is a turnaround architect of the highest order, a maverick marketer who delivers scalable campaigns, embraces traditional modes of customer engagement, and possesses a remarkable cachet of mentorship, corporate governance and brand building.

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