Podcasting for Beginners: The Complete Guide to Getting Started With Podcasts

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Content marketing comes in many different shapes and sizes. Creators like you have a lot of options: blog posts, social media updates, visuals, video, slide decks, and even more. You can even add podcasting to this mix.

Audio is being used in clever ways to fit into the content plans of some of the top forward-thinking websites and blogs. Tim Ferris—author of The Four-Hour Work Week—recently started a podcast on his blog. Copyblogger runs their Lede podcast amid their traditional awesome marketing posts.

Podcasts seem to be a growing trend that is here to stay. Have you thought about starting your own? If so, here’s what I dug up for how to get going in this new content direction. Read on to learn the ABCs of podcasting for beginners.

How to overcome your fears of starting a podcast

I have always been podcast averse but never quite able to put my finger on why.  Then I read a pitch from Copyblogger for a podcast seminar. Demian Farnworth listed pretty much all my fears.

“My voice sounds weird.”

“The technical skills needed to record, upload, and store audio files are so far out of my wheelhouse.”

“The cost of quality equipment exceeds my small budget.”

“I want to pee my pants when I think of speaking in public.”

That’s me in a nutshell. I am not used to the sound of my own voice. I have no idea what’s involved in getting audio recorded and edited. I cringe at spending money on a microphone. And I’m rather uncomfortable speaking extemporaneously without the safety net of rough draft after rough draft after rough draft.

So what can someone like me—and maybe someone like you—do about it?

Reasons to jump headfirst into podcasting

When was the last time you listened to a podcast?

If it’s been awhile for you, chances are that someone you know has listened pretty recently. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults listen to podcasts at least occasionally.

Commuting–be it by train, subway, or car—along with the ubiquity of mobile devices represent a huge opportunity for the growth of podcasts. People who listen to podcasts via cell phone grew 10 percent from 2010 to 2012.

Then there are the strategic reasons, too. Michael Wolf,  chief analyst of NextMarket Insights (and a notable podcaster), sees podcasting as a less crowded content channel than blogging. It has deeper engagement, as listeners tend to stay tuned in longer than with blog content. Podcasts work as multitasking options, too—you can listen to a podcast while you cook or while you drive. The same can’t be said for blog posts or any form of visual content.

Done right, there are many advantages to starting a podcast of your own—new audiences, less competition, and greater intimacy among them. And it takes less than you think to get started. Here’s all that’s needed for a beginner to create an amazing podcast.

Gear to get started

A quality podcast will mean quality equipment. Sure, you can scrape by with a bare minimum setup. You can record a podcast with nothing more than your smartphone, but it’ll sound like just that—a phone call recorded on a mobile device.

Have you heard of the MVP concept? It stands for Minimum Viable Product, and it is a startup-y term for pushing out the bare bones version of whatever you have, seeing if people enjoy it, then building it up from there. It’s a lean approach we love at Buffer, and I think it makes sense for getting started with podcasts, too.

Invest enough to create a quality podcast, see if people like it, then advance from there.

Step one: Buy a microphone. 

Audio quality begins and ends with a microphone. The better microphone you buy, the sharper your podcast will sound. And audio quality reigns supreme when a person’s podcast choices include heavyweights like WNYC, NPR, and ESPN.

Fortunately, it won’t break the bank to get a good-enough microphone.

USB microphones—like the Snowball by Blue Microphones—start around $60. Most buying advice you’ll read about podcast microphones is to purchase a dynamic microphone that is front-firing with good rejection, meaning it picks up your voice clearly without the unwanted sounds of wherever you’re recording.

You can also pick up a headphone/microphone headset for around $30. This is a great option if you’ll be podcasting with cohosts or with guests (more on this below). If you opt for the standalone mic, you can always grab a separate set of headphones—even some you have lying around—and you might also consider buying or fashioning a microphone stand so that you’re comfortable for your podcast.

Recording, uploading, and promoting

Before you press the record button, there are a couple final steps to prepare for your podcast.

  1. Format: What’s your podcast going to look like?
  2. Content: What’s your podcast going to say?

Podcasts can take many forms: one-man shows, cohosts, guests, call-in, etc. Metafilter founder Matt Haughey, who has put in hundreds of hours on podcasting, recommends that your show involve two or three hosts.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and the most typical format is 2 or 3 hosts and sometimes one guest. I’ve never subscribed to a single-person podcast before because I’ve yet to find a single-person-talking podcast that is interesting enough to stick with… Two or three people chattering to each other is the most common format but it’s possible to take it too far.

Stick to 2-3 people on your show.

Your best bet for a podcast that sounds organized and professional is to practice beforehand by figuring out what you’re going to say and coming up with an outline for your recording. You don’t have to go so far as to script things out. Just have a road map for where you’re headed and what you want to touch on.

Here’s a sample outline to consider, via Voices.com:

  • Show intro (who you are, what you’re going to talk about): 30-60 seconds
  • Intro music (repeat for each show so listeners identify the jingle with your show): 30-60 seconds
  • Topic 1: 3 minutes
  • Topic 2: 3 minutes
  • Interlude (music or break): 30 seconds
  • Topic 3: 3 minutes
  • Topic 4: 3 minutes
  • Closing remarks (thank audience, thank guests, talk about the next show): 2 minutes
  • Closing music (suggest same as Intro music jingle): 2 minutes

When it comes time to do the actual recording, the easiest solution might be a simple recorded Skype call. You can call up your co-host or guests via Skype, and record the call with special Skype recording software. When you’re finished, an editing application can help with the clean up, processing, music, and publication.

For Mac users, here is what you could use:

For PC users:

(Note: If you have cohosts, you might consider each of you recording your end of the conversation and stitching the separate audio files together in post-production. This makes for cleaner audio.)

Your final audio can be uploaded to a number of different places. Here are a few of the big ones:

After you’ve finished recording, editing, and producing your podcast, you can upload it to hosting sites like LibsynSoundcloud, and TuneIn, or you can aim to get your podcast live on iTunes. Here’s what’s involved in taking your podcast onto iTunes.

Step 1: Create an RSS feed for your podcasts. If you upload your files to a site like Libsyn, the feed creation is done automatically for you.

Step 2: Click on “Submit a Podcast” in the iTunes Store. Open iTunes, navigate to the store, click on Podcasts from the top menu, and the “Submit a Podcast” link will be in the right column under Quick Links.

podcast in itunes

 

Step 3: Enter your feed URL and fill out the other information required (Name, Author, Description, etc.)

Step 4: Click submit.

iTunes will give you a confirmation message, letting you know that there may be a review process for your podcast. Typically within 24 to 48 hours, you will receive an email letting you know if you’re approved. Three to five days after that, people can begin searching and finding your podcast in the iTunes store.

For promotion and sharing of your podcast, a lot will depend on the site where you upload. Places like Soundcloud, for instance, offer a robust set of sharing options built in. You can share directly to Twitter, Facebook, and more, and you can embed the audio directly into your blog posts.

soundcloud example

Embedding audio is perhaps the best way to sync your podcast with your blog content. Many top blogs use their podcast as an additional blog post, adding the audio directly into the body of the post and providing either a full transcript of the podcast or a list of topics and resources covered in the podcast. (Complete transcripts can be helpful for SEO and accessibility.)

The ideal everything for podcasts

We get quite a kick out of learning the ideal length and frequency for a number of different types of content, and podcasting is no exception. There’s less research out there about podcasts, so what I couldn’t find, I ran the numbers myself.

Ideal length of a podcast: 22 minutes

Stitcher, an online radio and podcast site, says that the average listener stays connected for 22 minutes. The science of attention spans supports this number, too. TED Talks have an 18-minute maximum because scientists believe we can’t hold our attention on a single presenter for any longer before we check out.

Best day to post a podcast: Tuesday

To find this conclusion, I pulled the numbers for the Top 25 podcasts in the iTunes store and noted their publishing schedule and the frequency with which they published new podcasts. There was a large variety of posting schedule among the Top 25, but a small trend did begin to develop. Sixty percent of podcasts with a regular schedule posted early in the week, before Wednesday. The most common single day was Tuesday (which just so happens to be the day when new music hits the iTunes store, presumably meaning more visits who might see a new podcast).

Best frequency to post a podcast: Weekly

Forty percent of the Top 25 podcasts with a regular posting schedule publish once per week. The next most common frequency is twice per week. Of the Top 25, only three podcasts did not have a discernible schedule to their posting. It seems that some publishing rhythm is preferred over no rhythm.

podcasting research tips

 

Podcasts to learn from

We love taking inspiration from others and learning how to best tackle new media like podcasts. As I mentioned up above, several key sites are exploring podcasts, and they’re doing so in really interesting ways. Here is a breakdown of five of the top ones and how they do podcasts.

Tim Ferriss – Four Hour Work-Week blog

  • Average length of the past five podcasts: 48 minutes (Ferris sprinkles in short “audio essays” of 10 to 20 minutes alongside his longer podcasts of over an hour)
  • Podcast frequency: Twice per week
  • Embedded audio: Libsyn
  • On iTunes? Yes
  • Full transcript in post: No
  • Show notes: Yes

Examples:

Copyblogger – The Lede podcast

  • Average length of the past five podcasts: 24 minutes
  • Podcast frequency: Weekly
  • Embedded audio: Flash player
  • On iTunes? Yes
  • Transcript in post: Yes
  • Show notes: Yes

Examples:

Fizzle

  • Average length of the past five podcasts: 44 minutes
  • Podcast frequency: Weekly
  • Embedded audio: Libsyn
  • On iTunes? Yes
  • Transcript in post: No
  • Show notes: Yes

Examples:

Convince and Convert – Social Pros podcast

  • Average length of the past five podcasts: 48 minutes
  • Podcast frequency: Weekly
  • Embedded audio: Flash player
  • On iTunes? Yes
  • Transcript in post: No
  • Show notes: Yes

Examples:

Social Media Examiner

  • Average length of the past five podcasts: 40 minutes
  • Podcast frequency: Weekly
  • Embedded audio: PowerPress player
  • On iTunes? Yes
  • Transcript in post: No
  • Show notes: Yes

Examples:

Recap

At the top of the post I mentioned a few of the fears that stand in my way for thinking about podcasting.

“My voice sounds weird.” “I hate public speaking.” Many of the best podcasters began with the same fears, and once you hear the wide variety of voices in podcasts, you’ll feel okay, too, about starting your own.

“I don’t have the technical skills needed to record.” Technical skills are easier and easier to come by nowadays with the technology available. And there’s really not much editing to be done with a simple podcast.

“The cost of quality equipment exceeds my small budget.” Forty dollars should be within most everyone’s budgt, and that’s all you may need to get a viable microphone set up and begin podcasting.

Hopefully you’re feeling better about those fears now.

What questions do you have about podcasting? If you’ve already dabbled with podcasts, what lessons have you learned along the way? What podcasts do you like the best? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image credit: M. Keefe

  • Jimmie

    Super solid advice, Kevan. I started my first podcast over 4 years ago (and put it out every week for 4 years) and just started a second show (which is bi-weekly. I’m playing with a couple format and frequency ideas with this one).

    The Blue Snowball is an excellent starter microphone, and the one I still use. The Yeti is a step up and it (and the Snowball) are both USB. Once you get a bit more advanced, you can step up to an “analog” mic, for which you need a mixing board. You can get a very good one of those for a relatively low (sub-$100) price. The Yeti comes in a “pro” model or you can step up to the Heil brand. Whichever mic you choose, make sure it gives you the very best sound quality you can afford. Don’t compromise on sound. Get the best sound you can get.

    One huge consideration here is consistency. If you start a podcast and don’t resolve to put it out regularly and on a reliable schedule, you simply won’t get listeners. We all, or at least most of us, like consistency. If you want a weekly show, do what you must to get that show out on the sane day every week. If you can’t commit to that, go bi-weekly.

    The half-hour show is, by far, the most popular. However, plenty of shows go well past that. I’d recommend, if you run a show longer than 30 minutes, you build in a break at that mark. That way, folks who listen to your show on their work commute (which is lots and lots of people) can get one half on the ride in and the other half on the ride home. Sneaky, huh?

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Such great tips, Jimmie! Thanks for sharing these. :) I love to hear what it’s like from someone who is aces at podcasting. Love the tip about splitting a long podcast with an “intermission.” Just like on Broadway! :)

      • Jimmie

        Funny you should mention Broadway, Kevan. The theater was my inspiration for setting my shows up that way. Most podcasts built for radio have several segments of varying length, to give more room for advertisements and to keep people’s interest up. I figured, since I didn’t have any advertisers, why couldn’t I set the show up like an old movie, with a nice break in the middle for folks to grab a drink or take a breather from the Stairmaster or to go into work?

        The bonus is that I could either stay with the topic I had in the first half, spin the topic in a different direction (with a brief recapitulation for those whose break might have been longer than a few minutes), or introduce a brand new topic. Or, I could have a guest in either half or both halves. A brand-new topic or a guest made it seem like two different shows, if you only listened to one half at a time!

        • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

          Sounds great, Jimmie! Thanks for the kind offer and the great conversation. :)

  • http://jaredrypkema.com/ Jared Rypkema

    Thanks, Kevan! I’d love to see more about audio hosting vs just using a web host and some of the options. It’s always one of those “technical” issues that most beginners have trouble with.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Great one, Jared! I can see how this could be super important, especially as you think ahead to how podcasting will scale. With Libsyn, I believe that they have huge reservoirs of storage available for an archive of podcasts, so it would be my recommended way to go if you’re thinking about hosting audio for current and older episodes. Hope I’m in the ballpark of your question here, Jared. Let me know if I can answer any differently!

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      Jared Rypkema, the problem with hosting your media on your web host is that each request slows down your server. While you may have “unlimited” bandwidth, that doesn’t mean you can store large files (25–500 MB) for hundreds or thousands of people to try downloading within the same amount of time.

      Your host may even have policies against media hosting, or they may not meet certain technical requirements.

      LibSyn, Blubrry, and similar media hosts provide the backend designed specifically for podcasting.

      Check out http://TheAudacitytoPodcast.com/hosting for more information.

  • Jevon Millan

    And so the question is: When is the first Buffer podcast? :)

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Haha, great question!

      • jenniferjtai

        as Thelma
        explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
        on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • Helene Van Doninck

    Great post, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while for my wildlife rehab centre. Thanks for spelling it all out :)

  • http://thebrokerlist.com/ Customer Service

    Thank you so much for all of this research and for dispelling the issues and hurdles many of us thought were there. I love the concept of baby steps as it makes so much sense. I love the Buffer “how to” blogs! Good job.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Really glad you enjoyed the post! Hope it gave you a good nudge toward getting started. :)

  • Nokthula

    Great post Kevin – been meaning to do some research on this topic and now you have given it to me all wrapped up, and with a pretty little red bow. Your posts are insightful, keep up the good work.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Excellent! So glad I could deliver!

    • Rachel Wesseling

      My thoughts exactly, Nokthula! Awesome job, Kevan! I’ve been looking for an article like this! I love how thorough your articles always are! Fantastic job with great content!

  • http://careerstair.com Mary Isabale

    Awesome post,compact solution ..keep it up

    http://www.careerstair.com

  • http://www.ChuckFeerless.com chuck

    When is the Buffer podcast coming out??

  • http://www.toddejones.net/ tejones

    Very good practical information . . . bookmarking

  • Agnes Dadura

    people keep telling me I have a squeaky voice, and I must say I agree… I think I will only ever listen to podcasts

  • Dave Lambert

    I would love to do a podcast. I am a reseller with 8 suppliers. My idea is to have each supplier tell when and why they began producing healthy chocolate. What equip. must each supplier have? What kind of cost am I up against?

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      Dave, I would recommend getting a few extra microphones, like the Audio Technica ATR2100-USB or AT2005USB, and mailing them to your guests. Have them wear headphones, too. This would ensure a high quality connection via Skype, Google+ Hangouts, or whatever method you choose.

  • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

    Generally good post! I have some disagreements over the methodology of examining what other podcasters do and cite that as steps for success.

    The Snowball is actually a generally poor choice for starting out. It locks you into a USB workflow and you have to throw away the mic when you get professional gear. It also gives inferior audio quality to better mics in the same price range—like the Audio Technica ATR2100-USB or AT2005USB.

    I was a little disappointed to see none of the podcasting experts cited or recommended—Dave Jackson, Ray Ortega, Cliff Ravenscraft, or myself (Daniel J. Lewis).

    Transcripts aren’t the right way to go. Humans (and search engines) want quality content and a transcript is usually not quality content because it wastes so much time with the dialog. The best kinds of show notes for humans and SEO are concise and written like a blog post. Humans love it, Google loves it, and you make your content far more accessible to readers.

    • http://msileanespeaks.com/ Ileane

      I agree with all your points Daniel!

      Kevan nice to see you talking about podcasting however you really can’t have a credible discussion about starting a podcast without referencing the outstanding resources provided by Dave, Ray, Cliff or Daniel (IMO).

  • http://louisefindlaybooks.wordpress.com Louise Findlay

    I use Podbean to upload podcasts for a fellow author.