Podcasts have taken off in a big way. No one could have foreseen the tsunami soundwave about to hit our eardrums after the launch of the iPod in 2001, but hit it well and truly has. There's now a podcast for the nichest of sub-genres in a head-spinning range of categories and in an ever more baffling array of formats.
While pretty much every publication has a host of their own podcasts, some of the most compelling remain those where it's just a couple of friends sitting around shooting the breeze. Many podcasts are personality led, and don't necessarily have to sound polished or professional to resonate. In most people's pod preferences, there is room for more homegrown, organic sounds too.
The biggest media companies have funds to pour into their podcasts, but it's also possible to launch a podcast as a cash-light amateur. How do you go about getting started? We've rounded up some pointers below.
Decide the basics
Before doing anything you need to decide several important things about your podcast. You need to know what kind of podcast it's going to be - journalism or storytelling? Comedy? Or more of a chat show featuring guests?
You need to decide on what the format is going to be. Some of the best podcasts have various short sections that recur each week (segments) and follow a similar format and release cadence that becomes familiar and comforting to listeners. For example, a show might feature some conversation between two hosts before introducing an interviewee before a wrap-up with the hosts.
Deciding the format as well as the content beforehand is essential so your listeners will be able to easily understand what your podcast is - your 'brand' if you will. You also need to decide on length. Perhaps counterintuitively in a world where we're told attention spans are ever-shrinking, longer can actually be better. People want something they can turn on and forget about for a while. However, don't go overboard. The sweet spot is generally considered to be from 20 minutes up to an hour. But don't worry, many podcast lengths vary from week to week depending on content - some weeks it may be 40 minutes, others it may be an hour plus, and that's ok.
Plan content for your podcast ahead of time so you aren't casting around to find subject matter a few days in advance or, in the worst case scenario, forced to postpone or cancel a podcast. If your podcast focuses on discussing topical issues or current affairs with friends then you can take a more relaxed approach. However, if it centres on interviews, then make sure you have a long list of guests for the coming weeks and that you're always on top of updating it and reaching out to people.
Get the gear
If you're going to be recording at home, you'll need to invest in a decent, if inexpensive, mic. Shop around for the best offering. You're also going to need editing software to prep the final audio file. There are free options available to download such as Audacity, which is consistently rated highly and even offers a selection of royalty-free music to sample as jingles. Other popular options include Adobe Audition and Apple's GarageBand.
If interviewing, don't feel pressured to get your guest into the studio (or whatever room is standing in for a studio). It's commonplace for podcast interviews to be conducted over the phone. Just try to make sure the sound is as clear as possible, crackly audio is no one's friend.
Learn to use the gear
Get to grips with the technology before you plan to release your first podcast. Practice on a selection of audio files and make sure you're confident before attempting on the real thing.
Launch the pod
Of course you want your podcast splashed all over the front page of iTunes straightaway, but there are a few technical steps along the way. You need to find a hosting platform to host your podcast on. A good option is Buzzsprout, which has very positive reviews and is free for the first 90 days. Through this platform you can then click 'submit to iTunes', as well as different platforms like Spotify, Google Play Music or Stitcher.
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