According to Edison Research, podcast listenership is at an all-time high. As a podcaster for over 2 years, I personally have seen a huge influx of people interested in starting their own podcast. Some want to be the next Mark Maron or Adam Carolla. Others see Welcome to Night Vale’s success with a glint of envy in their eye. Mmmm. Ahem. Sorry, where was I?
Oh yes, becoming a podcaster. When someone asks me how they can get started I tend to start with the same set of questions for them and often receive many of the same answers. So, if you want to become a podcaster, here are some things to consider.
What do you want to talk about?
Every show needs a subject. What’s yours? For every nicely focused show there are 20 other shows that consist of “a few buddies that drink and rant about whatever comes to mind.” The latter is rather unfocused and is unlikely to draw listeners beyond people who already know you. Unless you’re already some kind of celebrity.
Whatever topic you decide to focus on, though, should be something you’re passionate about. Doing a good job on your podcast is going to consume some time and, if you’re not passionate about your subject, it won’t be long before the podcast becomes a burden to you. Definitely talk about something you want to talk about.
Along those lines, don’t worry too much if you think your subject is too niche. Sure, there are podcasters out there attracting hundreds of thousands of listeners. If your passion is only applicable to a small group – maybe you love painting miniatures for table-top gaming – that small group will be more passionate and engaged than if you try to do something you don’t really care about. Own your niche and receive the adoration of like-minded fans.
What is your podcasting goal?
Some people create podcasts because they have something to say and want to feel someone else hears them. Others see it as an extension of their existing business and use it to make money. Some want to make a positive impact on society, while some just want to make art. Knowing what your goal is is key, because it will affect how you do things like marketing.
If you’re just doing it for self-satisfaction, don’t spend too much time and money on marketing. Just say your piece and see what happens. If you’re looking to monetize, though, you will have to consider things such as who your target audience is, what they want, and what they’ll spend their hard-earned dollars on.
How much are you willing to invest?
Once you have your subject and your goal, you’ll have to decide if you need to invest some money into getting off the ground. If you’re podcasting for your own fun, you can get away cheaply with equipment you probably already have. You can also find some Internet services, such as SoundCloud, that will host your podcast for free. Additionally, you can get a copy of the excellent Audacity for free to do your recording and editing, or you may have GarageBand if you own a Mac. These are fine to get started. If, however, you’re looking to gain an audience and possibly monetize your podcast, you will need to consider investing in a few things.
Nothing will turn off a listener faster than poor quality audio. Recording your show using the built-in microphone on your computer will give you something that no one but your mother will listen to. Get a decent mic. There are lots of options and, if you’re willing to spend around $50 US on a USB mic (such as the Blue Yeti or the Snowball), you’ll be ahead of many other beginners. Depending on your aspirations, though, and your available funds, you may want to do a bit better. Can you invest $500? If so, you start getting into the world of mixers and XLR mics and sound treatment for your recording space. While the budget podcaster may get by with a $50 mic and a blanket over his head, someone with deeper pockets can setup a far more comfortable and pleasing environment. Still, if funds are tight, start small. You can always pick up a paper route to make some money to upgrade later. Bottom line, though, is focus on sounding good.
Once you record your podcast you need to put it somewhere so people can hear it. There are lots of options, a few are free. Some people recommend hosting the files on Archive.org and then using another location, such as WordPress, to manage your feed. My understanding of Archive.org’s mission is that they wish to provide a free library of Internet content. I feel like using them to provide free hosting of a podcast is not in the spirit in which their service is intended. That said, I’m not you and I’m not going to judge you. Soundcloud also offers free hosting (to a certain size) and may be enough to get you started. If you’re looking to go big or monetize, you probably want to consider the paid services, such as Bulbrry, Libsyn, or Podbean (or many of the other fine businesses out there). Depending on the level of service you require you could spend between $5 – $30/month in hosting fees.
Many people will tell you to start with great content and the rest will come naturally. I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. Marketing has existed for thousands of years for a reason – people have to be told, and told again, that there’s something they’re missing out on. Putting out a great podcast and not doing marketing is like shouting in the middle of the desert. You’ll go hoarse and the sand won’t care.
Figure out who your target audience is, where they spend their time, and what will convince them to give a listen. THIS IS THE HARD PART!
Sorry to shout there but, if this were easy everyone would be doing it. It will take time. You will need to experiment until you find something that works and then, when that stops working (and it will) you’ll need to change your strategy. Make use of social media like Twitter and Facebook; it’s free to get started and you can start figuring things out about your audience.
Another often overlooked means of marketing is to have other popular podcasters, celebrities, et al as guests on your show. Obviously this is dependent on your chosen subject, but make use of other people’s followers to gain some of your own. You give them more exposure and they give you exposure to their fans. It’s a win/win.
Getting into podcasting has never been easier and there have never been more potential listeners out there for you to reach. If you’re intent on getting into it, start with this list of questions. If you’ve answered those and still have more questions, hit the back talk box below and let me know.
Steve is the founder of Straight Talk Entertainment and currently produces and writes for the audio drama Aural Traditions, recently voted Charleston City Paper’s Best Local Podcast. He’s also an Information Security professional and avid shark tooth hunter.