Podcast listenership continues to grow tremendously every year. According to Edison Research, 40% of Americans aged 12+ say they have listened to a podcast in 2017 while 24% say they have listened to one in the past month, up from 21% one year prior.
What this means for you as a business owner is that learning how to start a podcast is something you should consider to reach this expanding audience and grow your business.
You don’t need to be a very technical person nor does it require a lot of money to learn how to start a podcast. This guide will be your A-Z, step-by-step walkthrough on how to get started with audio podcasting and why you should create a podcast. We’ll cover everything from the very technical to the abstract podcasting concepts.
Table of Contents
- How to start a podcast
- How podcasting works
- Why start a podcast
- Why podcasting works as a content platform
- Getting started with your own podcast
- What you'll need to create a podcast
- How to record a podcast
- How to create a podcast: recording your first episode
- Getting an intro and outro
- How to edit your podcasts
- Podcast hosting
- Syndicating your podcast’s RSS feed
- Submitting your podcast to the right channels
- Launching your podcast
- Growing your podcast
- Start a podcast today
How to start a podcast
To start a podcast, at a bare minimum, you need to:
- Come up with a concept (a topic, name, format and target length for each episode).
- Design artwork and write a description to "brand" your podcast.
- Record and edit your audio files (such as .MP3s). A microphone is recommended (more on equipment later).
- Find a place to host them (such as a file host that specializes in podcast hosting, like Libsyn or Podbean).
- Syndicate these audio files into what’s called an “RSS feed” so that they can be distributed through iTunes as well as downloaded or streamed on any device on-demand.
The following guide will cover this in a lot more detail later.
How podcasting works
Podcasts can be played one of two ways.
The first is to simply stream or download the podcast from the RSS feed either in a feed reader like Feedly or on the blog/website itself where the podcast is hosted or embedded. Here’s an example of an embedded Shopify Masters podcast that's hosted on Simplecast.
The other is to use a player, such as iTunes or Pocket Casts. Load up the RSS feed into the player and play any of the episodes in the feed on a device, such as a smartphone or tablet. These are sometimes called “podcatchers”. Podcast players sync the data from the RSS feed to give a listing of episodes, show data (such as episode name and show notes), artwork and a link to the show file (usually an .MP3).
Why start a podcast
If you understand the value of creating content (e.g. keeping an active blog) for your business and brand, then you understand the value of podcasting. Creating a podcast allows you to reach a brand new audience: a group of people who might otherwise never find or consume your long-form content because they prefer the audio format.
You also don’t need to be an established content creator or have a blog to learn how to start your own podcast. A podcast is an excellent way to build an audience from scratch and position yourself as an authority in your industry.
In addition, podcasts also provide the potential to drive traffic back to your website or store. Every podcast directory gives you a link back to your website and since it’s your podcast, you can direct listeners to your website at the end of each show.
Podcasting is exploding. Looking at this pie chart, courtesy of Edison Research, 30% of time spent listening to audio sources goes to podcasts. This is impressive when compared to AM/FM radio’s 21% and owned music’s 23%.
With over 21.1 million hours of listening per day and growing, according to MacRumors, there’s a lot of opportunity in various niches. If your industry is underserved, you have the chance to be an early adopter and trailblazer.
On iTunes, there are dozens of categories and subcategories where listeners actively seek new content. This means your podcast content will be highly targeted. People who are interested in your topic will seek you out.
In 2015, podcasts had a balanced demographic with the listeners being equally male and female adults between the ages of 18-44. However, Edison’s 2017 data shows that podcast listeners skew slightly more male and a bit older (35-54 years old) in recent years.
Lastly, starting a podcast allows you to position yourself as an authority on your topic. It helps build your audience and also makes it easier to sell your product or service since you're the credible source. Being seen as an authority can help influence potential customers to purchase your products.
Why podcasting works as a content platform
Podcasts are a popular content platform because they’re easy to consume. People can listen to podcasts on the go, in the car, at the gym and even at work.
With devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, it’s becoming easier to listen to podcasts while at home. It’s not a content medium that requires all of your audience’s attention, like a blog post or a video would.
Another reason podcasts are easy to consume is that they can be listened to on any device. Your listeners don’t need a radio or to be sitting in their car to listen. They can listen on their smartphones, desktop computers or tablets. Unlike radio, podcasts are on-demand, which means your audience can listen to what they want, when they want.
Compared to other content platforms, podcasts allow you to create an intimate connection with your audience. Imagine being in your target listener’s ears for 30 minutes or more. They’re hearing you talking to them, one on one.
This is your opportunity to form a more personal relationship with your audience. Because of this level of engagement, people even listen more closely to the ads. Whether you’re looking to start a podcast to promote your business or to monetize with ads, Midroll found that 61% of listeners purchased a product or service after hearing it advertised on a podcast.
Lastly, podcasts are free. They’re free to create and free to listen to.
Getting started with your own podcast
Learning how to start a podcast begins with identifying the premise or theme. Each episode should be relevant to that premise. For some, this theme will be obvious. For others, especially in unique industries and niches, you’ll need to get creative about your topic.
For example, if you sell sunglasses, you might not be able to start a podcast exclusively about sunglasses. However, if your customers are world travelers, then maybe a podcast about travel is a better theme.
Your theme will also come down to what you're either an expert on or passionate about. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you'll be both an expert and extremely passionate about your theme.
Before committing to a theme, check to see if there’s enough for you to talk about. Try coming up with a list of at least 10-15 episodes. Then look for similar podcasts on iTunes and look at their popularity, such as number of reviews and number of followers on social media. Competition is a good thing! It can tell you whether or not the theme is viable.
The next important component is the episode format. What will your podcast be like and how will it be structured? Here are some ideas:
- Interview style
- More than one host
- Hybrid (some combination of the above types)
Lastly, how long will each of your episodes be? It’s a good idea to have a consistent episode length so that your listeners know what to expect. If your podcast is 20 minutes every episode, and your listeners are used to that, it’ll be easy for them to time their listening with a daily commute, for example.
What you’ll need to create a podcast
Podcast listing information
- Artwork (minimum 1400x1400, maximum 2048x2048): Your podcast artwork needs to be beautiful. Don’t neglect this aspect of your podcast as Apple and iTunes in particular seem to only feature podcasts (more on this later) if they have professional-looking artwork. You may need to invest some money into hiring a professional to design your podcast artwork. Whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, use words and images that are large enough to be clearly legible at almost any size. Take a look at the artwork that catches your eye on iTunes and model your artwork for your podcast after that. I’d recommend trying Fiverr or, better yet, hiring a graphic designer from Upwork to create something beautiful for your podcast.
- Podcast name: Your podcast name should speak to you and your audience. Ideally, listeners should know what the podcast is all about from just the name alone. Having a very descriptive name can help. However, this isn’t entirely necessary since most podcast platforms include a “hook” or short description along with the podcast name. This helps with optimizing your podcast's searchability on platforms such as iTunes. For example, “Grub Podcast - All about healthy eating and helping you cook better” or “Xtreme - interviews with famous skateboarders such as Tony Hawk, Chad Muska and Rick Howard”.
- Podcast category/subcategory: There are dozens of categories and subcategories on iTunes. Everything from arts and politics to comedy and religion. Choose the category that best suits your theme. It doesn’t need to be the exact topic. If you’re struggling to decide on a category, look at other podcasts on iTunes that are similar to yours and note which category and subcategory they use.
- Podcast description: You don’t want to skimp on the description of your podcast. You’ll want to include as many relevant keywords as possible. This is going to help with the search engine optimization (SEO) of your podcast listings. iTunes is a search engine, so many people who find your podcast will find it through a simple search.
- Prominent guests and collaborators: As your podcast grows, it’s also a good idea to include the names of big guests you’ve had and the topics of your most popular episodes. This way, new listeners know immediately which podcast episodes to check out, making new listeners more likely to become long-term fans.
- Podcast rating: The podcast rating tells you which audiences the content is suitable for. You can adjust the rating for each podcast episode. This is important, as you want to be consistent with it. Ideally, every episode should either be clean or not.
What equipment and software you need
In this section, we’ll go over the equipment and software you need to start a podcast. This guide will also go through the most basic setup for recording a podcast.
- Can you start a podcast with just an iPhone?
- Audio recording software
- Call recording software
- Equipment to improve quality (not required)
Can you start a podcast with just an iPhone?
The short answer: yes, you can start a podcast on an iPhone. Since iPhones have microphones, they have everything you need to record the audio. However, the audio may not be as clear or the professional quality you’d like.
That being said, there are several apps you can download that will turn your iPhone into a podcast audio recorder. Some hosting solutions, such as Podbean and SoundCloud, also offer in-app podcast recording capabilities. Many of these apps are available for Android devices, too:
The most important thing you need when starting a podcast is a microphone. Virtually every desktop and laptop computer has at least one USB port, allowing you to connect a device, like an external microphone. These devices are plug-and-play, which means no drivers (or installation) are required. The good news is you can get a USB microphone of decent quality for under $50 USD.
You may choose to invest in a more expensive XLR microphone that plugs into a mixer, which might provide better sound quality for your podcast. However, the audio quality you can achieve with a really good USB microphone is more than enough for most people. Many popular podcasts today have some of the most simple setups and still use USB microphones.
Your computer or laptop probably comes with a built-in microphone, but I forbid you from using that for your podcast. The audio quality will be abysmal, I promise. Those built-in microphones were not designed for podcasts. You'll need a decent external microphone if you're serious about starting a podcast.
Here are two that I recommend:
- Samson Go Mic (less than $40 USD): The Samson Go Mic (available in two different models) is a basic, plug-and-play microphone that comes with a mic stand or clip (to attach to your computer) and a USB cable. The audio quality is very good for the price; it’s a great bang-for-your-buck microphone if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
- Blue Yeti USB Microphone ($129.99 USD): The audio quality on the Blue Yeti microphone makes it worth the price. I've used the Blue Yeti microphone for a long time for my own podcasts and it's produced very high-quality voice recordings.
Audio recording software
The software recommended in this section will allow you to record the audio from your microphone and save it as an .MP3 file. The following software will also allow you to edit your recordings, which I'll go over in more detail later in this guide.
- Adobe Audition (PC/Mac; $20.99 USD per month): If you want really powerful audio editing software with all the bells and whistles, Adobe has it with Audition. It might be more than what you'll need to edit your podcast, but if you're using a mixer and high-end equipment, it could be a good idea to look at Adobe Audition as well.
- Audacity (PC/Mac; Free): Audacity is a great alternative to paid, premium audio editing software. It’s easy to use and there are a lot of tutorials available online to help you learn how to use it.
- GarageBand (Mac; Free): GarageBand comes with all MacBooks and is good enough for most of your audio editing needs. GarageBand allows you to record the audio from your microphone and save it as an .MP3.
Call recording software
If you plan on conducting interviews for your podcast, you might want to use software that records your calls. If you're using a mixer that records all sound from your computer, this software won’t be required. However, if you’re using a basic setup and a tool like Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct interviews, here are some recommended call recording tools:
- Ecamm Call Recorder (Mac; $39.95 USD): Record Skype calls on your Mac.
- Pamela (PC; $16.67-44.54 USD): PC alternative to Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype. There’s a 30-day free trial to test the software before buying.
- UberConference (PC/Mac/iOS/Android; Free): The free conference call software allows participants to join the call via desktop or phone, and the moderator can record the calls.
- Callnote (PC/Mac; Free to $39.95 USD per year): Callnote records Skype, Google Hangouts, Viber, FaceTime, Facebook, GoToMeeting and WebEx conversations.
Equipment to improve quality (not required)
- Pop filter (typically $5-20 USD): Pop filters help keep the clicking noises your mouth makes when speaking close to the microphone from being recorded.
- Neewer Broadcast Studio Mic Boom Arm ($23.24 USD): Boom arms help keep your microphone in front of you, hands-free. They also allow you to easily adjust the height and distance from your mouth on the fly, so that you can move around while you podcast or simply keep it out of sight when you’re not recording. This is handy if you’re recording at your home office desk.
- Sony ZX Series Stereo Headphones ($15.15 USD): A good pair of headphones are important if you're interviewing guests. You don’t want to have your guest’s speech come through your speakers and get picked up by your microphone, which would cause echo.
- Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder ($99.99 USD): You might want to record your audio to an external device before importing the recording to your computer for editing. This prevents losing all your data if your computer crashes or loses power mid-session. Recorders are usually portable, meaning you don’t need to have a computer if you're recording while traveling.
How to record a podcast
When it comes to how to record a podcast, all you need to do is plug in a USB microphone and open the audio recording software on your computer.
Ensure your microphone is plugged in and on, and that your microphone is the default input device for your recording software. Simply click the record button in your software of choice and talk away!
There’s no need to stop or pause the recording, even if there are mistakes along the way. You can always edit the recording later using the same software.
To record your first episode in GarageBand, here’s a nice four-minute video that will easily walk you through the process:
Once you finish recording, you'll want to save your podcast. Ideally, .MP3s are the best format for your podcast files since they compress well (low file size) and can be played on most devices.
You'll want to save your .MP3 as a fixed bitrate and not a variable (VBR) one. Most recording software will ask you for this information upon saving. A good bitrate to use is 128kbps. This bitrate keeps the file size low while maintaining good audio quality. For the sample rate, I recommend 44.1Mhz, which is CD quality.
How to create a podcast: recording your first episode
Now that you know how to record an episode, it’s time to do it.
What do you talk about in this first episode? Talk about yourself! Introduce yourself and the podcast to the world. This can be your "episode zero". This is your opportunity to let everyone know what your podcast is about and where it’s going.
It’s okay to be a little nervous, especially if you’ve never sat down and talked into a mic for 20-30 minutes straight before.
The first thing to help combat this nervousness is to not be self-conscious about your voice. You don’t need a professional radio voice to get people listening. Speak naturally and don’t put on a "radio voice". When you listen back, don’t cringe. Everyone hates the sound of their voice at first and, eventually, you'll get used to hearing it.
If your voice sounds shaky or nervous, remember that improving your confidence on the mic takes a lot of practice. When I listen back to my first few podcasts and compare them to today’s, I can see how much I’ve improved.
Also, remember that you can always clean up and edit the audio after you’re done recording. If you lose your spot or forget your next point, don’t be afraid to sit in silence until you can regain your composure and continue. You can edit those gaps and mistakes out later.
That brings me to my last point: don’t read off of a script. Your podcast should sound natural. People who listen to podcasts don’t want to listen to an audiobook. They’re used to listening to the dynamic conversations and discussions that happen on podcasts. It’s okay to have a few bullet points to work off of, but practice speaking about topics off the top of your head.
Getting an intro and outro
Having an intro and outro for each episode of your podcast adds flair and personality. Usually, intros and outros are short voiceovers with music that introduce the podcast, episode number, the host(s), and the “hook” or tagline of the podcast. These intros/outros are also sometimes called bumpers.
If you’ve got the chops, you can record these yourself. Alternatively, you can hire someone with a great voice to do your intro and outro for you. I’ve used Fiverr in the past to create the intro and outro for my podcast. I would recommend listening to other podcasts in your niche to get some inspiration for the intro and outro.
How to edit your podcasts
Editing your podcasts allows you to add your intro and outro, stabilize the volume, and remove gaps of dead air and any mistakes you might have made. Any of the software recommended above (e.g. Adobe Audition, Audacity, GarageBand) should do the trick.
In your audio editor of choice, look for settings that stabilize the volume automatically so there aren’t spikes of high volume (headphone listeners will thank you for that), and eliminate background noises and pops.
If you struggle to learn the software or simply find the process too time-consuming, you can hire someone to edit your episodes for you. There are freelancers on Fiverr and Upwork who can edit your podcast episodes for you. It’s a good idea to stick with someone after you find the right person since they will know your style and editing preferences.
There are also post-production services, such as Auphonic, which will do the leveling, volume normalization and a few other things for you. Whatever you use, it’s important to normalize the volume of each episode. You don’t want one episode to be significantly louder or quieter than the others.
Once you finish editing your recording, save it as an .MP3, as recommended earlier, with a 128kbps bitrate and 44.1Mhz sample rate.
Once your .MP3 is saved, I suggest editing the ID3 tags of the file. The ID3 tags are your way to tell .MP3 players and devices more information about the file, such as the name of the episode and name of the “artist” (podcast). This way, .MP3 players have track information to display.
On Mac and Windows devices, using Audacity and DataONE’s metadata editor allows you to add ID3 tags, such as: artwork, episode name, and podcast name. This can also be done in iTunes. There’s the ID3 Editor ($15 USD), which makes the process of editing tags on Mac a lot easier, as well.
Editing ID3 tags isn't a required step and doesn’t affect or help your podcast’s listing on iTunes. However, it’s a nice touch, especially for listeners who download your podcast episodes to play them later on different devices.
You'll need a separate host just for your audio files. Even if you already have a web host and a website, you don’t want to host your .MP3s on the same server. Those shared web hosts don’t have the bandwidth or speed for the demand that downloading and streaming .MP3s creates. Fortunately, media hosts are affordable. Here are the ones I use and recommend:
- Libsyn: Podcast hosting starting at $5 a month for 50mb of space with unlimited bandwidth.
- Blubrry: Podcast hosting starting at $12 a month for 100mb of space with unlimited bandwidth.
Think about how many episodes you'll be publishing per month. For example, let’s say you're releasing a new episode every week. That’s roughly four episodes a month. If your episodes are an hour each, every episode might be around 50mb. This means you'll likely need over 200mb per month.
This is just an example, you'll need to figure out what plan is best for your needs and proceed from there. Generally, you’re better off paying for the option that allows for a little more space than you need, just in case.
Syndicating your podcast RSS feed
Once you have your media host configured and at least one episode uploaded, you'll be provided with an RSS feed by your media host. This feed contains all of your episodes and the associated data, such as each episode’s: title, artwork, description, and .MP3 file location. Fortunately, your media host handles all of this for you, so if this sounds complicated, it’s not.
This RSS feed is what you'll be submitting to podcast directories, such as iTunes. You only need to submit this feed once. Every time you upload a new episode to your media host, the feed is automatically updated on iTunes and any other directories you’ve submitted the podcast to. I will go over this in more detail in the next section.
Submitting your podcast to the right channels
- How to start a podcast on iTunes
- How to start a podcast on Stitcher
- How to start a podcast on SoundCloud
- How to start a podcast on YouTube
- How to start a podcast on Spotify
There are many directories where you can list your podcast. I’m going to recommend the most popular, but you can distribute your podcast across as many channels as you’d like. You’re going to be asked for your podcast’s name, description, category, artwork, etc.
How to start a podcast on iTunes
iTunes is the largest podcast directory and it should certainly be your focus. If you’re only going to submit your podcast to one directory, this is it. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to iTunes.
How to start a podcast on Stitcher
Stitcher is the second largest podcast directory and another great way for people to discover your podcast. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to Stitcher. Basic Brewing Radio, for example, has a podcast on Stitcher where they discuss homebrewing beer. Wine enthusiasts, on the other hand, can tune in to the Wine for Normal People podcast on Stitcher.
How to start a podcast on SoundCloud
SoundCloud is another channel where you can list your podcast to amplify your reach. The platform is made for audio recordings, so it’s ideal and well-suited for podcasts as well. Click here to submit your podcast and RSS feed to SoundCloud. PlayStation, for example, has built up an audience of nearly 5,000 subscribers for their SoundCloud podcast.
How to start a podcast on YouTube
You might want to put your podcast up on YouTube to reach even more people. You’ll need a video file to upload as you would for any other YouTube video. For the visuals, you can use a static branded image that complements your other artwork. Or, you can include a video. Many podcasts have video recordings of the speaker(s), such as this one from Bulletproof:
How to start a podcast on Spotify
Spotify has been testing the proverbial podcast waters, opening up a beta program for podcasters to submit their content to the platform. The way you can go about getting your podcast on Spotify depends on your media host, as you’ll have to submit the content through them. Your host should have a support page on their website that tells you how to go about doing so.
The popular Stuff You Should Know podcast has added Spotify to their list of channels, which helps them reach an even larger audience.
Launching your podcast
When you launch, there's an opportunity for you to be featured in the “New & Noteworthy” on iTunes. The New & Noteworthy section is where iTunes will feature new podcasts for eight weeks.
Just imagine how much this could grow your podcast in a short period of time. This would give your new podcast a lot of traction since it’s free advertising on the iTunes podcast homepage.
To get noticed by iTunes and increase your chances of being featured, you’ll want to launch your podcast in a way that you receive some listens and reviews immediately. This is going to put you in the position to be featured. While it still isn’t guaranteed, launching your podcast this way will help you grow organically, too.
To do this, make the launch of your podcast an event and generate buzz around the launch. Create a landing page for your podcast, letting people know what you have planned. This landing page should also give people the chance to opt into a mailing list, which you can use to reach out on launch day.
Building a small audience pre-launch is critical since this will give you an audience to launch to immediately, hopefully creating a snowball effect.
The idea is that the day you debut your podcast, you should launch it with a few episodes, ideally three. This is a good number of episodes to have your audience listen to immediately without overwhelming them. If you launch with just one episode, you likely won’t get the listen numbers you need to get noticed by iTunes.
You also need to show your listeners that you'll be putting out content regularly, and that there’s something to subscribe to. Having multiple episodes at launch (i.e. showing episode #1, episode #2, etc.) implies that there’s much more to come.
Announce the launch to your email list, and ask them to subscribe to the podcast and leave a review after listening. It’s really important that you encourage your subscribers to leave a review as having reviews (and subscribers) the first day can help you get noticed by iTunes, increasing your odds of getting featured.
Growing your podcast
Yay, you’ve figured out how to podcast and published your first few episodes! What’s next?
One word: growth.
Get into the habit of asking your listeners to leave a review on iTunes and to subscribe to the podcast. Having more subscribers and more reviews can help you get more listeners.
Encourage this on your website, on social media and in emails as well because people listening to your podcast might not be near a computer or able to leave a review when you ask them live.
A strategy that I like to use to encourage reviews and engagement is to reward the listeners who do so. For my podcast, I encourage listeners to leave a review on iTunes and every week, I read a random review on the show and give a free Kindle book to that listener. It gives my listeners more incentive to actually leave a review since they have a chance to get something for free.
Another important key to your success is to be consistent. If you plan on releasing a new episode every week, do it at the same time and on the same day every week. You need to have patience and you need to put out regular content to show your audience that you’re serious. Nobody wants to listen to or follow a podcast that promises to put out content regularly, but doesn’t follow through.
Another great tactic is building a mailing list and encouraging listeners to subscribe to your email list so that you can communicate with them. One Campaign Monitor report found that email marketing resulted in an average $44 ROI for every dollar spent in 2016.
Simply having your listeners only subscribe to your podcast isn't good enough. When you need to promote or tell your audience something, email will be more effective than exclusively using your podcast or social media.
How to make money with a podcast
There are different ways to monetize your podcast. Your focus first should be to build your audience and their trust. Then you can think about monetization.
One of the more popular ways to monetize a podcast is to take on sponsors, and do “reads” promoting relevant products and services. If you’ve listened to other popular podcasts, you’ve likely heard these advertisements where the host reads ad copy and directs listeners to a specific link.
The other way is to simply use your podcast to promote your own products and services. Just like you would in a sponsored read, you can direct your listeners to one of your products or services at the beginning and end of your podcast. If you want to track this, give your listeners a unique link or discount code.
Start a podcast today
You can create a podcast today. Begin with the podcast listing information and start looking on iTunes for podcasts that are already doing what you want to do. If you already have an external microphone, record a short episode today, introducing yourself and your podcast idea. When diving in, get comfortable talking into a microphone for a long period of time and then listening to yourself afterwards. You don’t have to upload the episode you record today, but it’s good to get some practice and familiarity with the process.
If you have any questions about starting a podcast or any comments about this guide, please be sure to leave a comment below. I engage and respond with them all.