8 tips for budding podcasters

A microphone
Photo by cogdogblog

Podcasting can be a hugely rewarding hobby. It’s also very accessible. If you are sat in front of a computer with a smartphone in your pocket you’ve already got what you need to get started within arms reach. Just add some free audio editing and recording software (such as Audacity), google ‘free podcast hosting’ and you’re ready to go!

Of course in reality there is a little bit more to it than that. I’ve been podcasting since 2011 and here are my top 8 tips for podcasting beginners.


1. Find a niche.

When choosing a subject for your podcast, you may think it is best to choose a subject that’s going to appeal to the widest range of viewers, right? Actually no, going for a broad appeal subject means you are going to competing with a huge number of other podcasts on the same subject. When I started podcasting in 2011, there were a butt-load of podcasts already out there competing for listeners attention. Today, there are a mega-butt-load of different podcasts out there, so if you are going to stand out you need to find a unique niche.

Say you love movies, and want to start a movie review podcast? There are already thousands of movies review podcasts out there, how will yours stand out? Maybe you decide to do a podcast specifically about horror movies. You are getting closer, but there are still hundreds of horror movie podcasts out there. Make it just about British horror movies and you are still competing with dozens of podcasts. Make it about British horror movies of the 1970’s. You’re getting there, but there are still a good half-dozen or so podcasts about that very thing. However, make it about British horror films from the 1970’s that were not made by one of the ‘big three’ companies (Hammer, Amicus and Tigon), and you may have found unique niche*, a topic that nobody else is talking about but which could connect to a hardcore fan-base who are obsessed with that very thing, and who will become advocates for your podcast, recommending it to their friends and family as a way of sharing what they love.

* I haven’t actually checked whether or not there is already a podcast about that exact topic yet, illustrating why it is important to do a little research into your competition before you launch into your podcast project!


2. Have a consistent episode format.

You may think variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to podcasts, listeners love consistency. One thing that the most successful podcasts have in common is that they stick to a really consistent episode format so that when listeners see a new episode appear in their podcast feed, they know what they are going to get. If your podcast feature an interview one episode, an audio drama the next, and movie reviews the one after, then listeners will start to drift away as there is less for them to latch on to, whereas if your podcast episodes all have the same format then lovers of that format will stick with you.


3. Great content is more important than great audio quality

You don’t need to spend a fortune on expensive audio gear in order to produce a successful podcast. In fact, if your actual content is really good then people will forgive you if your audio quality is a bit iffy. For example Adam Buxton records the intros and outcrops to his successful podcast while out walking his dog, complete with wind noise, chirping birds and barking the background! Generally, I’d recommend holding off spending big on equipment until your podcast has taken off and you’re sure you are going to stick at it.


4. Tips for improving audio quality on a budget.

That said, if you are recording on a phone in an echoey kitchen with the washing machine in the background, your content is going to have to be pretty damn amazing to compensate for the audio quality, so it is worth experimenting a little to make sure you are getting the best possible sound with the equipment you’ve got. I’ve found that the main enemies of good audio quality are microphone placement and echos.

To deal with the former, experiment with where your microphone or  recording device is in relation to your mouth. You wanted it to be close enough to get decent volume, but not so close close that the sound distorts when you raise your voice. Another thing to watch out for is are ‘plosives’, the unpleasant sound of your breath hitting the microphone when you say ‘P’ and ‘T’ sound. These can be avoided by positioning the microphone close to your mouth, but slightly off to one side so the air leaving your mouth doesn’t directly hit your microphone. The ‘sweet spot’ positioning for best audio quality will different from one microphone to another, so play around a bit until you find yours.

Echoes happen when the sound waves coming out of your mouth bounce off the flat surfaces around you. Under normal circumstances you probably don’t notice the echo present in the room you are in, but when you listen back to an audio recording, you’ll definitely notice! A bit of experimenting will show you which rooms in your house have the least echo, bathrooms and kitchens tend to be the worst due to the tiled floors and wall. Professional recording studios use expensive acoustic tiling to minimise echo, but there are a lot of much cheaper ways to combat echo in the rooms you are recording in. This is done by minimising the amount of flat surfaces around you when you record. For example, closing the curtains will prevent sounds bouncing off the window panes, draping towels over flat surfaces such as table tops and TV screen, or hanging clothes on hooks on your walls to break up flat wall surfaces. It might sound silly, but you’ll really notice the difference in your recordings!

Also, having said that you don’t need to spend money to start podcasting, a small spend on a relatively inexpensive USB microphone will boost your audio quality hugely compared to the microphone built in to your phone or laptop. There are some excellent microphones available for under £30.


5. Put out episodes on a consistent schedule.

Following on from above, people not only like knowing what to expect, but when to expect it. The most successful podcasts put out episodes on a fixed schedule (often weekly, bi-weekly or monthly), and always release new episodes at the same time on the same day of the week. In doing this, your podcast will become a fixture of their week, something they can look forward to and maybe enjoy at the same time every week. For example, there are podcasts I like which come out on a Sunday and are thus a fixture of my commute to work on the monday.

However, if you are starting podcasting as a hobby around a full-time job or education, putting out a new episode on the same day each week can be a big commitment, so when you start out perhaps aim for monthly release schedule until you have streamlined your production cycle and started to build an audience.

A recent trend I’ve spotted is for new podcasts to start by launching a number of episodes at once (maybe 3-5). While this is a lot of work to prepare, the benefit is that there is a lot more content for listeners to sample while they decide if the podcast is for them or not. And if they decide that it is, then they’ll be champing at the bit for the next episode!


6. Social media is the best ‘free’ advertising.

Twitter and Facebook are pretty essential to getting your podcast off the ground. Starting an account for your podcast, searching Twitter or Facebook for people who are talking about your podcast topic and then following/friending them (and thus bringing your podcast to their attention) in the number one way of extending your podcasts reach and finding new listeners. Social networks are also the perfect way to communicate with your listeners, hear their feedback and make sure your content and format is hitting the spot.

However, I put ‘free’ in quotes for a reason. While there is no financial cost to starting a social media presence, it costs quite a bit in terms of time to keep your podcasts social media accounts ticking over, whether that is creating and posting new content, replying to messages or hunting for new people to follow. This can be very rewarding, but it can also really eat into the time you might otherwise be spending on planning, recording and editing the podcast episodes themselves.


7. Edit HARD.

When editing your first podcast episodes ready for launch, the whole process is new and exciting and it may be tempting to imagine that all your words are solid gold. Best to leave it all in the episode,  longer episodes means more content for listeners, right? It takes a friend to break if to you, but when you start out in podcasting you are probably not as interesting as you think you are. Sorry.

So when I say ‘edit hard’, I mean be really ruthless when editing your episodes, unless a section is 100% pure gold, then edit it out. A shorter episode of good stuff that will leave listeners wanting more is much better than a longer episode of waffle that will have them reaching for the off button before the end of the episode.

As a rule of thumb, when editing my own podcast I aim to edit out ½ of the total recording time (maybe ⅓ if I’m feeling really generous). This mean if we recorded for 1:30 hours, I aim for an episode that is 45 minutes long. Don’t agonise too much over editing out chunks of your show, remember that if your podcast really takes off then you can always go back and produce a longer ‘director’s cut’ edit of each show for the super-fans! You could even charge for access to longer episodes… even more incentive to be ruthless with your editing!


8. Do as I say, not as I do.

Finally, I’m going to end on a bit of a cliche, that rules are there to be broken. Ultimately, if you are going to stick with podcasting for the long haul then you’ll have to stay motivated. If slavishly sticking to any of the recommendations above becomes a chore and stops you enjoying the process, then ignore it.

I’m guilty of ignoring the recommendations above at one time or other. My own podcast has always struggled to put shows out on a regular schedule, due to competing commitments of work, family and life in general. We also been guilty of letting podcast episodes run a bit longer than in retrospect they probably should have. We’ve deviated from our usual episode format on occasions when an opportunity has presented itself (such the chance to interview someone interesting, or talk about an event we’ve attended). We’ve definitely neglected our social media presence at times.

While there are a few lucky podcasters who turn their hobby into a career, the vast majority of do it because it is fun. And, so paraphrase a recent anti-gambling advert, if it stops being fun it is time to stop doing it.

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