When I want to learn something new or unwind, I search for a podcast. There seems to be a podcast for just about any niche, and whether you are interested in an audio drama or gaining an in-depth knowledge of the Roman empire—there is a podcast for you. Podcasting has exploded as a medium in the last several years and part of the reason for this is that the barriers to entry are so low. In April, with a lot of extra free time due to COVID, my sister and I decided that we were going to give podcasting a shot. We started without any experience and quickly learned a lot of lessons before we were able to come up with a final product, but after a lot of hard work, we were really happy with the result! In this article, I’ll be walking you through the steps we took and the things we learned along the way.
Picking a topic
This seems like a step that’s not even worth listing, but I included it because it’s often lost when people pick up a new podcast. Very few people are going to want to listen to you ramble, so you need to focus yourself and set some parameters for what your audience can expect you to talk about. My sister, Sam, and I decided we were going to combine our knowledge of history and medicine to create a podcast about historical pandemics, and the lessons we can learn from them during the time of COVID. This definitely isn’t a new topic, but the specific way we went about it was different enough from all other podcasts that we decided to give it the green light. At this stage, if we found a published podcast exactly like the one we envisioned, we would have had to go back to the drawing board.
Choosing recording equipment
Here you need to decide how much you are willing to spend on your passion project. Using the recording software on your phone or computer will actually get you pretty decent sound quality for free, but to your more discerning listeners, it may sound a bit amateurish compared to a recording on a dedicated microphone. The pros and cons of each model are discussed extensively elsewhere on the internet, but suffice it to say that if you want to purchase a microphone with a good bang for your buck expect to spend around $100. Sam and I opted to go for the cheap option and recorded it exclusively on our iPhones, but to be honest, the sound quality did not suffer appreciably and it still sounded professional enough for our purposes.
In this stage, preparation is key. Before recording, decide on topics in advance and write out notes for each presenter. Additionally, try to fit them on a single page as the fluttering of pages can be distracting when picked up by the microphone. Have a glass of water nearby for when your throat will inevitably get parched, and try to minimize your movement. In setting up the environment, ensure that you are in a low traffic area and ideally surround yourself with as much sound absorbing material as possible (the high-end version are acoustic tiles, the low-end version is recording in a closet stuffed with clothes as we did). Additionally, try to match the environment as closely as possible between recording sessions. Finally, have a low threshold for multiple takes, as it is much easier to splice together two good segments of audio than salvage one bad one.
We used a free, open-source software called Audacity to do all of our editing and it was perfect for our show. There is a bit of a learning curve, and it doesn’t have the functionality of some other mixing software but I would highly recommend trying this first, and then only moving up to a higher tier if you find it is not meeting your needs.
Here again, you must decide how much you are willing to spend on this project. The low-cost option, SoundCloud, is free up to 180 minutes of content and will allow you to generate an RSS feed (kind of like a constantly updating web-address for your podcast) that is compatible with iTunes, but that’s just about it. If you want to expand your listener base you will have to choose another platform, most of which require a monthly payment but will allow you to generate a website for your podcast and automatically upload it to a variety of sites like Spotify, iTunes, and Google Podcasts. These have the added advantage of being a bit easier to share to a wider audience.
I hope you can take our experience as an example and have the confidence to start your own project. Good luck and happy podcasting!