In September of 2014 I launched the Wordslinger Podcast with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I'd produced a radio show called Tom King's CompuTalk, back in the late 90s—the highest-rated computer-themed talk radio show on the planet, even beating out the still-popular Kim Komando Show. And I really did learn a lot from that experience, much of which transferred over. But I was still winging it for those first few episodes, feeling out exactly what the show was going to be, who the audience would be, and how I would balance production with everything else I was doing.
I've since produced almost two years worth of episodes for that show, and gone on to co-host two more podcasts—Self Publishing Answers, with my brothers-in-arms Nick Thacker and Justin Sloan, and Creative Writing Career with Justin Sloan (again!) and Stephan Bugaj.
Each of these three shows is different in its tone and voice, but also in the way in which it is produced and distributed. So each provides some pretty unique and very cool insights into the podcasting world. I thought I'd share a few of those insights here, for those of you who might be considering a podcast of your own. I can't promise a comprehensive list, but I think this is a good look at the basics and the starting point.
If you have questions about any of this, or anything you'd like to know more about, call me at 281-809-WORD (9673) and leave me a voicemail that I can play on the Wordslinger Podcast. You can also email me right from this site.
Now, here are some tips for the budding podcaster! (And if you like these, be on the lookout for my upcoming book, the 30-Day Podcaster! Details coming soon!)
A STARTING PLACE
When I started, I had a few advantages. I used to own a video production company, so I still have tons of audio gear just laying around. I built my sound booth with about $100K worth of gear that I was ecstatic to have an opportunity to use again.
Fortunately, these days you can produce a podcast with equipment that is a lot less expensive, and you probably own everything you need. Here are some basics:
- OPTION 1: Laptop—I use a MacBook Air to produce my show. I also have a MacBook Pro and an old HP laptop, all of which could do the same job. You can actually use almost any computer, as long as it can get on the internet and can handle running some pretty basic software. If you're on a tight budget, you can pick up a fairly powerful Dell laptop for around $200 right on Amazon.
- Microphone—The microphone in my sound booth was a very expensive Samson studio mic, but these days you can pick up a USB microphone that works as well, if not better, and plugs directly into your laptop. I recommend the Blue Yeti for people starting out. It's a USB powered condenser microphone that offers excellent sound quality, and it comes with its own built-in desktop stand. It has a built-in headphone jack for monitoring yourself as you talk (very important), and (even more important) a built-in mute button so you can cough without blowing out someone's eardrus. It also looks kind of cool, which always helps.
- OR OPTION 2: You could use your phone—The options above are pretty similar to what I use for podcasting, but they're far from the only option. When I'm traveling or I'm having some sort of technical issue, I've been known to pop into a podcast using my iPhone and the Apple earbuds. The sound quality on most smart phones is actually pretty good these days. And the microphone and headphones on the iPhone, in particular, make for a decent stand-in if you don't have the money to pop for a more expensive rig. Many episodes of the Wordslinger Podcast and the Creative Writing Career podcast were recorded from my iPhone, and you can barely tell the difference. The important thing is to record in an environment that is clear of background noise, and to get to a place where you have a strong signal that won't drop your call or your internet connection. The rest is pretty flexible.
- Software for recording interviews—Most of my interviews are recorded on Skype using Ecamm's Call Recorder plugin. Ecamm also makes this plugin for FaceTime, though in both cases it can only be used on a Mac. If you want to record Skype calls on a Windows PC, there is software such as Pamela for Skype, as well as many other free or inexpensive recording tools. However, many podcasters prefer to use Google Hangouts to record their interviews, which gives you the option of a video podcast as well as the ability to export audio for an audio-only show. I find Hangouts to be kind of buggy, but it's workable, and it adds the additional ability to have the show stream live on YouTube. One downside: with Skype I can record interviews with people who can only connect by telephone, using Skypes built-in VoIP capabilities. So far I haven't seen an easy way to do this on Google Hangouts, though I'm sure there's a way.
- Audio editing software—There are hundreds of options for this, ranging from free to pro-level expensive. If you're a Mac user, I typically recommend using GarageBand. It's free, and comes with your Mac. It's a little different than traditional non-linear editing (NLE) software (a fancy industry term that basically means you can edit your audio without destroying it). But it offers some pretty versatile features, and is very easy to learn. Another free option is Audacity, which is a very popular and very powerful audio editing suite, more like what traditional studios use. And if you want to go pro, I recommend either Avid ProTools or Adobe's SoundBooth. Both are professional audio editing suites with lots of features. But a friendly word of advice: You won't use most of those features for podcasting, so unless you have ambitions to dig a bit deeper into the world of audio production, the free software is probably more than enough.
- Metadata software (ID3 tags)—When you find a podcast on iTunes or Stitcher or anywhere else, you'll note that there's a lot of information attached to it. Generally we refer to this information as "meta data," or "ID3 tags." There's the visible stuff, like show notes, but also some information you don't see that helps iTunes and other platforms identify the genre of your show, the length of an episode, the cover image for the episode, and more. Understanding all the nuances of metadata goes beyond the scope of this post, but the important bit is to have a means of adding that data to the audio file you create. I usually recommend a piece of freeware called Kid3 - Audio Tagger, but you can also use MP3Tag or EasyTag.
- Hosting—Like a website or blog, a podcast has to be hosted online in order for it to be available for listeners to find and enjoy. In some cases you can host your podcast on your own website. I use Squarespace for hosting my sites, and it has some built-in features that allow me to upload each podcast episode, providing an RSS feed (more on this in a second) and even a built-in audio player. Not all web hosts have options like this, however, so you may need to use a service such as Simplecast.fm, which is an inexpensive and very stable hosting site for audio (both podcasts and music). You might also consider SoundCloud—a very popular audio hosting site that is a bit more expensive, but has advantages such as wider reach online and on mobile devices, giving you one more venue in which you can be discovered by listeners.
- Distribution—The world has changed a lot since my radio days, and now it's easier (and less expensive) than ever to get your show into a national or even international market. iTunes allows you to create a podcast for free, making it available to their millions of potential listeners. You do this through the iTunes store, where you'll go to the Podcast section and click on "Submit a Podcast." Apple has some strict requirements when it comes to your show graphics, RSS feed, ID3 tags, etc., so be sure to read up on these before submitting. It generally takes a week or two for a show to be accepted and go live, so do this as soon as you have a handful of episodes to launch. And outside of iTunes, you can also submit your show to Stitcher and Google Play, following their online instructions. Before you can submit anywhere, though, you'll need an ...
- RSS Feed—An RSS feed is the source that iTunes and other services use to find and publish your podcast. Most of the time, you'll get an RSS feed by default, depending on the service you use for hosting. All of the hosting sources I listed above give you one right out of the box. But I recommend that you go one extra step. Instead of submitting that RSS feed, I suggest that you use a service such as Google's Feedburner.com to create a separate RSS feed that points to your show. The reason for this is simple: Sometimes we change our minds. If you decide you don't like SoundCloud, for example, or you feel you can save money by hosting elsewhere, all you have to do is make your switch, and then change where your RSS feed points from Feedburner. Since iTunes and other distributors will use your Feedburner RSS feed as their source, your listeners will never even notice that you've switched hosts. Just a tip, but you'll thank me when you find yourself switching to take advantage of a better deal!
Those are the basics of a podcast, just to get started. There's a lot more to it, obviously. I'll eventually write something up to explain show notes, interview techniques, scheduling methods, and more. But with the information above you should be able to hop right into the podcasting world. And you can always ask me questions. Call me at 281-809-WORD (9673) and ask me anything, and I'll answer it on the Wordslinger Podcast. Or email me any time.
And again, keep an eye out for my upcoming book, "30-Day Podcaster," to get even more great info about creating and running your own podcast, in as few steps as possible!