…or How to Podcast on zero Altarian Dollars A Day, or indeed Earth Dollars! Or fairly close.
The first part in a series on making your own podcast that won’t break the bank, concentrating on DIY and low-cost podcasting.
I’ve noticed a lot of badly written guides on how to start podcasting out there since the post-Serial boom…ones that give the impression that podcasting is only for ‘professionals’ and thus needs expensive ‘professional kit’, or that people need a degree in audio engineering to start. What B.S! I really do wonder if they are sponsored by gear manufacturers or are just wanting the Amazon affiliate link money, because that isn’t the case at all. And seem to be written by people who haven’t been podcasting for a long time.
(They are not all bad, this one by Diana Stegall is pretty good from someone who has been there, feel free to read it alongside this one, I’ll going rather more in-depth and aimed at the complete beginner, but will try not to duplicate some of her points about audiences, sites and planning.)
So as someone who has been podcasting since 2004 (Hello Radio Clash!), and used all kinds of kit ranging from sticky-backed-plastic and toilet-roll DIY (quite literally as you’ll see) and Poundshop Chic all the way through to professional gear that adorns small studios, I thought I’d try to write a better guide.
Obviously as soon as I put pixels to screen this will be outdated, so I won’t focus too much on this or that bit of kit, that’s what Amazon reviews and Google is for – but I can give you some pointers in the right direction giving some handy names, if you even need to get anything at all. I’m going to assume this will be read by people who are beginners or fairly new to audio editing and podcasting as whole, remember if you already record music, mix or remix tracks, or have done any sound editing or production you are most of the way there to your first podcast already…it’s quite simple.
In fact most of the gear to create a podcast you probably already have, or can acquire really cheaply. But first:
What’s It All About Then?
The first thing is not to run off and buy loads of gear like those other guides, but the most important step – what is your podcast about? What do you want to talk about, or tell people? Do you know these people – friends, family, colleagues – or are they strangers? What stories or information do you want to impart, and how? Don’t get too bogged down in detail, after all the first podcasts were people who just turned on their laptop mic and talked. If you are the sort who can captivate a whole room by speaking, or have strange, unusual or funny stories or facts to tell – then go for it!
For the rest of us, a little planning helps to stop the long pauses and hours of editing. The more you’re sure of what you’re talking about, the less you ramble on. Rambling can be fine, depending on what your audience like – some podcasts it’s expected, others it’s a capital offence – business people or time-poor audiences won’t wait around for you to get to the point. (Then again this series isn’t aimed at marketing or business people, really).
I find it’s always best to work with what you know – everyone has a story to tell, or indeed apparently a novel in them. I knew about mashups and music, and was already in that community of DJs and remixers so it made sense to do a podcast about that. Find out what you can share, that’s unique – everyone has something. It might be for a very small niche audience, but if you’re the best Belly Fluff Collecting Podcast (for instance) out there, then you will mean the world to those people…and there are a lot of people out there, so it’s likely someone will dig what you have to share. Maybe out of their navel!
Do NOT stare at the listener numbers (or lack of them) in the beginning and stress out, it takes time to create a podcast, it won’t happen overnight unless you already are a media/celebrity or have a bigger platform to promote it. And that’s fine, because your audience will learn with you, and making your mistakes to a few people is preferable to a lot, and later you can be that proverbial ‘overnight success’. Which as we know, never actually is – it takes a lot of work to get to that point. But I can tell you one thing, thinking of ‘markets’ and ‘branding’ will shrivel up any creativity you have at this stage. And probably most of the stages, since I think audiences can tell if you’re faking it, the love you have for something will come through the podcast and everything you do, and help spread the word.
This might be a good idea to immerse yourself in places your prospective audience are if you’re not already involved – social media, forums, meetups, networking, gatherings. This will help later, and give you ideas for episodes just by talking to people about your upcoming podcast, or just the subject you’re interested in. People readily give you ideas, especially when drunk. I ascribe to the KLF “Drunken Friend” school for naming things as well, so you might get a good or better name for your podcast too.
Also Google your intended name and check if it’s taken as a domain, or indeed there is already a podcast that sound similar, you might want to rethink if that’s the case. Rather disheartening to find it’s already there, but it’s even more disheartening if you work hard and build up some name recognition and then find a lot of unimaginative twerps have decided to ‘borrow’ it. (I have written the book on that one. Even one light-fingered podcaster who also stole all my idents including my voice while also appropriating my podcast name, and thought I might be fine with that! Err, no. I did borrow my podcast name from The Clash I guess, but it’s happened with my original DJ names as well. No honour among thieves, eh?)
You might want to be a little coy about names as well, which I talk about in part five, and register any domains before telling people about it…Most people are lovely but not all – you don’t want someone to steal your nice shiny domain and/or idea do you?
So, you have your podcast idea – you have an audience in mind, who hopefully you’re already a part of (literally or virtually) and even some ideas for episodes and maybe even a name. Time to make some plans…
Making Plans for…err…Nyquist?
As some will tell you, it’s all about length and frequency. No, I know what you’re thinking and I approve, but more the length of your podcast and how often you, err, get it. *cough*
Shorter shows fit certain subjects, others can be longer or more freeform. If you’re doing a solo talking show, without something breaking it up (music, interviews, other people, the police) I’d say 15-30 mins is probably about right to listening to one person, solo. For shows with guests, interviews, music, you can go longer – my shows started at 30-45 minutes due to lack of space on my site, and now are at around 2 hours. Some would say that’s too long, and my target is around 1:30-1:45 but I often overshoot!
So think small, you can always extend later, and probably will talk longer than you expect. And a 3 hour podcast as your first episode is a daunting prospect for new listeners! (I know, my comeback show was 3 hours…oops. Yes, don’t do that, don’t be like Tim.).
This might be also in part limited by what hosting space you can afford, which we’ll go into more in part five – you might have to adjust frequency or length according to what will fit if money is tight, although some of the free hosts are quite generous, if you have a longer show you might have to post it less frequently, that’s all.
Frequency is how often you want to do your show, now to begin with it’s going to be a honeymoon period, all shiny and exciting and you’ll probably podcast quite frequently. Then you will settle into a schedule that you can fit around your life, and leaves your audience wanting more rather than less. But it’s a good idea to keep a regular frequency for a while especially in the beginning as people find you, posting on a certain day or certain interval – daily, bi-weekly, weekly, monthly – whatever suits you and your audience. More frequent means people are more likely to come back, but then again longer shows they might not want to listen every day.
It’s not something set in stone, but worth considering even at the start since your first episodes will take a while until you get a process going, then you will speed up…or it might not if you experiment with more complex structure or content. So it’s important to set aside time for recording, editing/post-production, encoding, tagging, cover art, uploading, posting online. Sounds like a lot of work, and not every podcast needs all of those, but usually some of them at least, or a little of all.
So it’s important not to overextend yourself, many podcasts have flared brightly and faded…make sure you do have the time (it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, a few hours per show upto days of work, depending on what you are trying to do), and have fun and your audience will respond to that. And break ALL of these guidelines if it feels right, be spontaneous, don’t tie yourself to your ‘desk’ – this is a hobby after all. (Yes, hobby! Note: the only people who make money on podcasts are the people who sell the dream of making money…via podcasts. Expect to not turn a profit from the podcasting, and anyway this is all completely the wrong reason to do be doing this…).
Personally I say nuts to radio formats and like to keep things fairly freeform, but you might want to think about how the podcast will flow and be structured. For example, the ratio between talking and music, or you talking versus guests, for instance do you want a preamble at the start without a guest to introduce them, or dive straight in? Do you want to rotate hosts if there is more than one, alternate interviews with solo shows, have a chair/facilitator in some group discussions to keep things on track? Again, this might be best done after you’ve done your first podcasts, but having at least a loose structure agreed will help with the recording and the editing, even if in future you decide to do something different, or have a different structure for every show. And as you create each episode, you’ll probably get a clearer idea what works for you and feedback from your audience.
Coming up in part two: I’ll talk about devices that you need to podcast, a gear fetish that doesn’t involve leather, and what’s the best software for free or cheap, gorge DAWs.