Since emerging in the mid-2000s, podcasting is showing no signs of slowing down as a growing medium for informative, entertaining content. Over 48 million adults in the US, and 6 million in the UK, listen to at least one podcast a week – making it a fantastic way to get your message, your insight and your expertise out there to an engaged audience.
I’ve been podcasting since 2006, when I began by publishing a series of downloadable commentaries for a TV show to an audience of about twelve; and I now host, co-host or produce several popular ongoing series, as well as overseeing Social Communications’ own in-house podcast production offering. Here are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up in that decade-and-a-bit for how to make a podcast that really works and connects with listeners.
All you need to start podcasting is a way of recording yourself speaking, and a way of getting that audio on to the internet. That’s it.
Will it be the best podcast in the world if you just record yourself talking on your phone? Possibly not, but if you have engaging content and you deliver it well, then you’ll be further along the way than if you’re dressing up bad content with crisp sound quality and elaborate jingles.
Don’t do a podcast because you want to “do a podcast”. Do a podcast because you have something to say that you know there’s an audience for. If those things are true, everything else will follow.
That said, of course, while many podcasts manage to be popular and successful despite not always offering the best sound quality, you’ll be removing barriers to your listeners if you give care and attention to how your audio sounds.
This doesn’t necessarily mean spending £300 on a microphone (although if your podcast is shooting for broadcast-level quality, then by all means invest in microphones, pop shields, mixers and the like). But if you can reduce elements such as background noise, keep your voice and enunciation sounding as clean as possible, and edit out stumbles and fluffs, then you’ll give your listeners a much more pleasant experience – and increase the chance that they’ll come back for your next ep.
And while professional editing software such as Adobe Audition will always give you more in the way of options to tinker with, you can produce a perfectly professional-sounding podcast with a free multitrack editor like Audacity.
A large part of making sure your podcast sounds good is to ensure that your content flows well. A podcast can be fully scripted or completely free-form, or sit at any point between the two – that’s entirely up to you.
But you should never go into a recording without some kind of plan. Know the points you roughly want yourself and/or your guests to hit, and keep a steer on things. It’ll help avoid repeating yourself unnecessarily, or filling the podcast with “ums” and “ers”.
The beauty of a podcast is that you can record a conversation between two people in the same room, or five people all on different corners of the globe. Recording conversations over Skype is a popular method of podcasting, but if done wrongly, it can make for a difficult listen. Connection glitches can lead to nasty, distorted-sounding audio or even dropouts mid-sentence, and there’s also an increased risk of talking over one-another when you’re not in the same place to work with visual cues.
So if you’re recording your episode remotely, here’s a tip: ask each of your guests to record themselves separately while they’re talking to you, then combine all their tracks in the edit. The benefit of this is that if you do have any instances of cross-talking, or even if somebody coughs or makes a noise while someone else is speaking, you can simply mute or cut their track at the appropriate point.
Just make sure you remember to ask everyone to clap loudly at the start of the record, so that you can use the noise as a point to line the tracks up in the editor! Oh, and of course, make sure they’re all wearing headphones…
There’s no set length for a podcast episode. From ten minutes to three hours, the right length for your podcast very much depends on the type of conversation you’re having, what it’s about, and what your audience are like.
But while there’s no one standard across all of podcasting, you should have in mind at the outset of your record how long you want your episode to be – and stick to it, either by keeping your recording session tight, or being ruthless in the edit.
Do your research, look at what other podcasts of a similar type to yours do – and once you have an audience, engage with them to find out what is and isn’t working for them.
As with episode length, there’s no standard agreed-upon volume level for a podcast. But a good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on the “peak” monitor, whether live with a mixer or later in your editing software. If you’re regularly hitting red, then take the volume down a shade. You want to hit that sweet spot where listeners on headphones don’t get blown away, but those on speakers don’t need to be turned up to full volume just to hear you.
Of course, keeping an eye on the peak volume is only one thing – you also want to try and maintain a consistent, normalised sound. This can be tricky to achieve with multiple speakers, so if you’re not managing it live in the edit, you may find that the relative levels vary wildly.
Fortunately, there are tools out there that can help you with this – the best of which is a free program called the Levelator. Simply give your edited audio (as a WAV file) to the program, and it will cleverly balance out all the voices to a level that works well for podcasts. Just make sure to do it before you edit in any music or other types of sound!
From episode length to audio levels, naming convention to bitrate, you have plenty of decisions to make over your podcast’s format. Which options are the right one depends on you and your show, but the most important thing is: be consistent. Don’t put one episode out in stereo and the next in mono – settle on a format and be reliable with it.
And if you can, be consistent with your release schedule, too. If you’re doing an ongoing series, then decide how often you’re capable of putting episodes out – whether daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly – and stick to it. A regular release schedule is vital for listener loyalty – drop off the radar and you may find that fewer of your listeners come back when you do.
Many podcasters record their material directly onto the same computer they’ll then edit it onto. This is fine in principle, but it does leave you open to the possibility of your machine crashing before you’ve had a chance to save the audio – or even for the audio to be lost during the saving process.
Speaking from painful experience (!), a better way to ensure you don’t lose your audio is to record onto a dedicated device that only exists to capture sound and nothing else. Then you can leave it happily ticking away while you concentrate on getting the content right. You could use a Dictaphone, or even your mobile – or if your budget will stretch to it, a dedicated recording device such as the Zoom H1.
The downside of a dedicated device is that, unlike with computers, you usually can’t use a plug-and-play USB microphone (such as the all-conquering Blue Yeti with them. You’ll more likely require a traditional XLR mic, and some kind of amplifier or phantom power interface to sit between it and the device. But it can be a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing your precious audio is safer…
Thirty minutes of yourself talking on a particular subject might technically be a podcast, but it still needs a little more to be a show. You certainly shouldn’t just start talking without some kind of introduction, and ideally, you should find a piece of music to use as an intro/outro jingle or sting. If you want to get really elaborate, you can even include “beds” underneath your speech at appropriate points.
Of course, music can cost money to use (don’t make the mistake of using a pop song you like – commercial music requires a license to use, even in a free podcast) but if you don’t have the budget to pay for a licensed piece, there are lots of places where you can find freely-available, Creative Commons-licensed music. Try the Free Music Archive, Bensound or Jamendo – and look for something that fits the tone and style of your podcast and brand.
You’ll also want to make sure your podcast stands out in the Apple Podcasts (iTunes) store and other podcast directories. Good cover art can be the difference for a passing listener – and if you’re able, it’s good practice to produce a dedicated cover for each individual episode as well as your series cover – it helps differentiate multiple episodes of the same show in a listener’s playlist, as well as often just looking cool!
The biggest tip of all: have fun! Podcasting can be a hugely enjoyable experience, and the key driver behind doing it should be that you want to talk passionately about something you care about. If you’re enjoying yourself on the recording, your listeners will be able to feel it, and they’ll enjoy themselves more as a result.
Keen to launch a podcast but not sure where to start? At Social Communications we can support you at all stages of the process: from development through production, recording and even hosting, all the way to publishing, branding and marketing. If you’re interested, find out more here and get in touch!
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It’s been a pleasure to work with the team from Social. It’s been a seamless process and the end product was exactly as we briefed.
Jonathan North, Digital Communications Manager, UK Sport