My favorite podcast, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, from National Public Radio’s WHYY in Philadelphia, has featured many well-known guests, from Hillary Clinton to comedy legend Mel Brooks. But what draws me in is Gross’s warm rapport with her guests. It reminds me, as a journalist, to listen closely to those I interview and ask intelligent, relevant questions.
It’s a great time to experiment with this medium, since podcasts are drawing increasing attention from media companies. Recently, Spotify obtained exclusive rights to broadcast the very popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience—a deal The Wall Street Journal said could be “worth more than $100 million.” And Apple has been steadily adding to its podcast catalog, most recently acquiring The Zane Lowe Interview Series.
Looking to get into this expanding and potentially lucrative medium? We’ve done the work to help you get started.
What Is a Podcast?
At its most basic, a podcast is a digital audio program or recording, similar to a radio or television show, that can be downloaded from the internet or made available to and accessed from various mobile devices. As with most media in the digital age, the format, structure, and content of a podcast often resemble those of an older analog medium: the broadcast-radio program. Podcasts, like radio, are often created serially and post new episodes regularly.
There are important distinctions, though. For starters, the notion of time is different for podcasts: Each listener is in control of when (and on which device) to listen to a podcast, as opposed to radio and television, which run shows at specific times. Also, you can make your podcast episode any length you want—five minutes or five hours. As a podcaster, you’re in control.
Types of Podcasts
There are a number of formats you can choose for your podcast. Consider which type is best for presenting your content.
Interview: Like the Fresh Air podcast, this is the most common format. It most often features one host who introduces and interviews guests. One example is Fast Forward with Dan Costa, which features one-on-one discussions with leaders in technology and business (hosted by PCMag’s editor-in-chief). An offshoot of this type is a panel-discussion or roundtable format, with a host who leads the conversation.
Monologue: The commentary-style podcast is built around one personality, which gives the show one voice or a single point of view. Lore, which focuses on the frightening history behind common folklore and is told in almost a campfire-like style, is a wonderful example of a solo-style podcast.
Multiple hosts: In this format, the podcast is divided up between several different people, or two or more co-hosts share leading the show. For instance, Pardon My Take is a raucous comedic sports podcast featuring two co-hosts, Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter (Pro Football Talk Commenter).
Narrative: Unlike the first three, this storytelling style of podcast focuses on how the content is presented. In many ways, this type has fueled the popularity of podcasting recently. And while some of the previously mentioned podcasts, like Lore, could fit here as well, many narrative podcasts have a decidedly linear quality and generally don’t change to another topic or segment. This can be either non-fiction, such as This American Life and Serial, or fictional, such as Wolf 359 and Flash Forward.
Mixed: This hybrid format uses various elements of the other four content types. It also may repurpose content from other mediums, such as radio or television.
How to Tell It’s a Podcast
Several online media formats that feature audio resemble one another but aren’t all technically podcasts.
Podcast: As defined above, a digital file that focuses on audio content and can be downloaded from a website or the cloud.
Video podcast: Sometimes called a “vidcast,” it’s similar to a podcast but includes a visual component, which might be a slideshow of still images or actual video.
Webcast: The distinguishing factor for webcasts is that they generally include live segments.
Vlog: A vlog, or video blog, uses a blog-style format (the most up-to-date episode is shown first) but presents the content in a video format (on a platform such as YouTube). For more, check out PCMag’s roundup of the Best Vlogging Cameras and Tools.
For more on podcast types, podcast strategy, news, and more see these online resources:|
The Podcast Equipment You’ll Need
Improvements in hardware and software technology have dramatically changed the way podcasts are developed, created, produced, and publicized. Additionally, laptops, desktops, tablets, phones, and other devices are equipped with more powerful processors and other features that make creating podcasts easy. There are even new, inexpensive ways to make sure your environment helps you attain the best quality audio.
Your budget will be the biggest factor in determining what equipment you buy. You’ll also need to figure out how extensive your recording rig has to be: If you aren’t tied to recording in a particular location, you can build a setup that lets you record and edit in one room or even part of a room. But if you need to record in the field, you’ll likely need additional gear.
Determining what’s essential and what’s optional will be different for each podcaster. The following list gives you an idea of what you need to get started.
The microphone is the most important piece of equipment for podcasters, since it’s responsible for reproducing the voices you’ll create on the show.
Condenser vs. dynamic mic: Podcasters have a choice of two main types of microphones, dynamic or condenser. Historically, dynamic microphones were more rugged and didn’t pick up as much ambient noise as condenser mics; the latter are generally more sensitive and produce a higher output. Condenser mics can be great for studios but may pick up too much ambient sound for field use. Dynamic mics may hide some pops or noise from the wind, but may not be as detailed in producing audio.
USB vs. XLR mic: If you’re looking to use only one microphone via a computer and you’re on a tight budget, a USB mic is a great choice: A preamp and A/D converter are built into the mic itself. In fact, you just have to plug it into your computer and fire up your DAW (digital audio workstation). XLR mics, which carry an analog signal, offer a wider choice of models, but they need an audio interface to connect with a computer.
Recommended models: The Apogee HypeMiC includes analog compression in its signal chain to very impressive results. And the Blue Snowball Ice delivers excellent quality audio for just $50. Both are PCMag Editors’ Choices.
There’s a vast array of headphones on the market, and they can range widely in price, from $20 for a cheap pair of earbuds to more than $2,000 for certain Sennheiser and Audeze models. Here are a few things to consider before you invest in a pair for podcasting.
Quality and comfort: It’s important that you get the best-sounding headphones you can afford, since you’ll be using them to monitor your audio in real time and listen to the playback of your show. But you’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable, too. Research reviews online to find both quality and comfort.
Type and design: For podcasting, an over-the-ear closed design is most suitable, since it prevents audio from leaking out from the earcup and being picked up by your microphone.
Wireless and noise-canceling: Many new models on the market are wireless and include noise-canceling features. In some cases, such as working in the field, a pair of wireless headphones is useful, particularly if you’re using a mobile device. But for podcasting, active noise canceling may cause problems—particularly when you’re conducting an interview in the studio, since it can produce slightly distorted live audio and be distracting when you’re trying to carry on a conversation. If your headphones include this feature, turn it off.
Price: Do research to find the best price for the quality and features you need. You should be able to find an over-the-ear pair for $200 or less.
Models: There are many over-ear models to consider for your podcasting needs, but two stand out. The HiFiMan Ananda headphones deliver stunning audio performance, providing a superb sense of space and detail. And the Status Audio BT One wireless headphones deliver strong audio in a handsome design for a surprisingly affordable price. Both are PCMag Editors’ Choices.
PCs, Audio Interfaces, and Mixing Boards
Price varies a lot on the following gear. Research to get the right system or device for you.
Laptop or desktop computer: All laptops and desktops (Macs and PCs) give you the ability to record, edit, and produce your podcast. PCMag provides great reviews on computers to help you search, but the DAW software you plan to use may influence whether you go with a Mac or a PC.
Audio interface and mixing boards: If you’re not using a USB microphone, you’ll need to set up an audio interface on your computer to convert the analog audio signal from your XLR microphone into a digital signal. In the past, audio interfaces used FireWire, but almost all now connect via USB. Prices start at around $100. You can buy really elaborate ones, but for podcasting, you can expect to spend between $100 and $300. You’ll most likely need a mixing board, too, particularly when you have more than one person participating in the podcast. For more on what mixer you might want with your setup, check out the Best Audio Mixers For Podcasting & Music (w/ USB Interface) and 10 reasons you should get a mixer for podcasting.
Accessories: A pop filter can make an important difference in your audio quality. It’s a screen that fits in front of your mic and prevents air from making popping sounds on your audio. You’ll also want to invest in well-designed mic stands for your studio. When you’re in the field, be sure to bring along good-quality backpacks and cases to protect your audio equipment from the elements. There are also some great mobile accessories that let you maximize and even improve the audio quality of your phone or tablet, such as tiny mics and audio interfaces designed specifically for mobile devices. Last, when you’re recording in the field or on location, a portable audio recorder is very useful.
Soundproofing: Another important aspect to recording audio is to have a proper audio studio to create your podcast, which should be soundproofed. Professional setups can cost thousands of dollars, but you can also create a budget version. Here are some ideas and links to resources to get your room soundproofed properly. For more, check out How to Record High-Quality Audio at Home and Do I Need Soundproofing For My Podcast?
Software, Apps, and Podcast Hosting Services
Software for Audio Editing
To record your podcast properly on your computer, you’ll need DAW software, such as Propellerhead’s Reason or Avid Pro Tools, which can cost from around $100 to over $600. For Adobe Audition, you need a subscription, which can cost $20.99 a month (although Adobe often runs special offers).
For podcast newbies, it’s a good idea to download one of the most popular (free) audio apps: Audacity, a versatile two-track editor that includes lots of online tutorials. GarageBand software, which comes free on all Mac computers, is also a great option. You can record audio, edit it, adjust tonal qualities, add effects to make it fuller, and perform many other podcasting tasks. You can also import audio clips, including audio you’ve captured on an external audio recorder, your tablet, or your phone.
Cast offers all the tools aspiring or professional podcasters need to record, edit, and publish a podcast. This comprehensive and easy-to-use service wins an Editors’ Choice for podcasting software despite some sound issues in testing. And Zencastr is a superb platform for recording podcasts, but you’ll have to look elsewhere when it comes to editing, hosting, and publishing your content.
Another option is to use an app to create your podcast. Apple iPhone and iPad owners get GarageBand for free, as do Mac owners. As for Android, Pocket Casts is a fine choice for using your phone to create a podcast. (And for listening to podcasts, check out The 10 Best Podcast Player Apps for 2020.)
For more on getting started with DAWs and audio editing:
Once you’ve produced the audio file for your podcast, you’ll need to transfer it to a hosting service, so you can get your podcast listed in various directories (iTunes, Stitcher, and so on). This will also generate an RSS feed—important for getting your podcast noticed. Quite a few podcast-hosting services are available; many offer free trials or free tier options. Well-known services include Libsyn, SoundCloud, BuzzSprout, and Fireside, but others are worth a look.
For more, check Top 13 Podcast Hosting Sites In 2019 + Free Month Offers as well as How to get an Amazon Alexa Skill for your Podcast, which shows you one way of getting an Amazon Alexa skill so listeners can access your podcast via an Amazon Echo speaker, or other Amazon product that includes the Alexa voice service.
Tips for Creating Successful Podcasts
Although it’s a great time to start podcasting, you should realize that the landscape is competitive, no matter how niche your market. Podcasts take a lot of time and effort, so don’t be discouraged if you’ve created your dream podcast, but no one’s listening yet. There are many things to learn—and most of those lessons come through trial and error. Here are some tips to help you stay inspired.
Keep Your Podcast Focused. While it might be tempting to create a podcast that’s all things to all listeners, successful shows tend to have a narrow, focused topic.
Picture Your Target Audience. When writing or producing content, it’s helpful to think about the type of audience you’re trying to reach with your podcast. Many marketers set up buyer personas, which are fictionalized models of ideal customers. You can develop such models to help you craft your content.
Be Consistent. If you want to be taken seriously, post episodes of your podcast regularly and consistently.
Plan Your Workflow. Should you write a detailed script or simply ad lib? It could work best to have a little of both, but that depends on the podcast. Either way, you’ll need some sort of workflow to develop your ideas and bring them to fruition. At the very least, be sure to sketch out the major themes of each show and know your subject thoroughly. When you have multiple voices that you’re interacting with on each episode, be sure everyone is comfortable with the process and with how casual or detailed the script needs to be. For more advice, see Planning Your Podcast Script.
Use Music Segments, but Don’t Infringe on Copyrights. Add good intro and outro music to your podcast, but make sure you aren’t infringing on anyone’s copyright.
Promote Your Podcast. Once you have your podcast posted on your hosting service, you may think that your job is done, but it’s imperative that you promote your podcast. For that, check out 8 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Podcast On Social Media and 4 Ways to Measure Podcasting Success.
The following are some helpful resources you can check to help you get started, solve a problem, and keep you inspired as you try to create your podcast:
Some Great Podcasts
Audio Journalism: Searching for free podcast advice? Welcome to ‘The Masterclass’
Adobe’s Make It talk-show Vlog: From Adobe Creative Cloud, which profiled Adam Carolla and his producer Chris Laxamana, and how they created the Adam Carolla Show. It’s a great overview of what a producer does for a popular podcast, plus how Laxamana decided to start up a podcast of his own called Résumé.
Other aspects you’ll want to be aware of include the legalities of creating and running a podcast. To get up to speed, take a look at the following resources:
Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern
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