What we listen to is as often tied to our identities as what we do. For creative people, this manifests itself in myriad ways: Curating the perfect afternoon playlist. Taking voracious notes at a conference keynote. Or, perhaps, diving into one of the fastest-growing ways to reach audiences — starting a podcast.
By every measure, podcasts are exploding in popularity. Pew Research Center data show the number of Americans listening to a podcast within the past month has doubled since 2008. Edison Research puts this number at 46 million people. Hosting company Libsyn reports the number of actively-hosted podcasts on their network grew from 12,000 to 22,000 between 2012 and 2014.
There’s no better time to join the movement. The barriers to entry are low, making podcasting an affordable way to amplify your voice and build a community. I spoke with a host, producer and frequent guest, and what follows are seven ways to create, sustain and grow your very own podcast.
Know your niche.
Meighan O’Toole is a digital strategist who helps businesses shape content and community into social media strategies. At heart, however, she’s a mixer, and her podcast What’s Your Story? offers the perfect outlet. “It’s an extension of my gift of gab and ability to get people to open up,” she says. “I love to inspire people to go beyond what’s expected of them. By sharing others’ stories, I get to showcase how alike we are.”
Before starting your podcast, O’Toole suggests looking in the mirror. “Think of how hard it is for you to dedicate time to a new show, movie or podcast,” she says. “People will feel the same way about your show. Give them a real reason to listen.” Once you’ve got it, play to your strengths. “Focusing on my guests and what they do feels the best for my show,” says O’Toole. “What do you do well that no one else does? Think about how this can translate into a show and make it happen.”
Consider your audience.
Journalist and producer Gina Delvac has experience on both sides of the microphone. She’s booked guests for Marketplace, reported for Los Angeles public radio and produces the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend. She knows the best podcasters look out for listeners. “A good host is passionate, curious and wants to listen as much or more than she wants to talk,” Delvac says. “She’s comfortable not knowing and can advocate for the audience: Anticipating a term that needs to be spelled out, speeding the conversation up or slowing it down.”
Delvac recommends hosts have an outline for each episode and provide audiences multiple points of entry. “Introduce who you are and what we’re going to hear early on,” she says. “Once you ask someone to tune in, don’t leave them hanging! You can opt for a regular installment or a season of episodes. Whatever you choose, meet that commitment to yourself and your audience.”
Do your homework.
Before you record, take a page from your client work and do the research. “I dive so deep,” O’Toole says. “I comb the web and pull up everything I can, taking notes. I form questions and group them so the conversation flows. Usually, I have a few run-of-the-mill questions I want to ask from the get-go, and then, as I research deeper, more meaningful questions arise.”
This prep work pays off, says artist and author Lisa Congdon, who has appeared on more than a dozen podcasts, including O’Toole’s. “I’m always impressed by thoughtful questions that show the interviewer has done his or her research and has a genuine interest in me or my work,” she says. “I can talk about anything, but love when an interviewer asks me a really good question — one that makes me reveal something interesting that I’ve never shared, or one that uncovers something about my creative process or my humanity that listeners can connect to.”
As a host, consider taking heed of how Congdon sets her mind at ease when she’s interviewed. “When I started recording podcasts,” she says, “I was always nervous I would get some crazy curveball question that would make me feel embarrassed and sound unintelligible. I started asking to see questions ahead of recorded interviews so I could relax and feel prepared. It really helped. Now, I’m less nervous and more laid back about being interviewed.”
There are as many podcasting tools as there are podcasts, meaning you can start quickly without going broke. “The only piece of equipment that I recommend newcomers spend money on is a good microphone,” says O’Toole. “I use a Blue Yeti because it’s easy, powerful, and won’t destroy your bank.” Delvac suggested the hosts of Call Your Girlfriend, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, also use Blue Yetis, as well as a pop filter. They use Audio Hijack to record, while O’Toole — who conducts interviews over Skype — swears by Call Recorder. No matter the software, wear headphones when rolling tape. “You need to know how your recording sounds, not merely what your guest sounds like on the phone or across the room from you,” Delvac says.
Your editing options are similarly plentiful and affordable. “Many podcast producers like Hindenburg as an audio editor,” says Delvac. “It’s straightforward and has good tools and support. Audacity doesn’t have the most sophisticated interface, but it’s a free and great open source community. If you have access to Adobe Creative Cloud, Audition is a pro-quality, extremely robust editor. All three allow you to record right into the editing workspace.” Once you’ve recorded and edited your podcast, Libsyn and SoundCloud offer easy-to-use hosting platforms. Regardless of the technology you choose, never lose sight of the goal: A process that is simple, works for you and results in a product that keeps listeners returning.
Sweat the details — to a point.
Editing, like research, ensures a more professional product. “After you record,” says Delvac, “clean up the audio if you can. That could mean adding a music transition between segments, removing that section where you rambled for two minutes or the final element where your guest trailed off, and then you lost the phone connection and had to call her back. You don’t have to cut every ‘um’ or ‘like,’ but until sitting in front of the mic is smooth and comfortable, you may want to remove a few.”
O’Toole, similarly detail-oriented, notes that it takes time to strike the perfect balance. “Don’t be so hard on yourself that you literally paralyze your show,” she says. “Be just hard enough that you’re proud of the time and energy you’ve put into your show and that you have room to keep growing. If you have great content, listeners will keep coming back.”
Don’t wait to create.
If you put off recording until you’ve got state-of-the-art gear and a year’s worth of topics, you’ll wind up in podcast purgatory. “The biggest mistake you can make is not starting,” Delvac says. “If you’re not a music composer or post-production audio whiz, your show will probably not sound like Radiolab or 99% Invisible on Day 1. And that’s okay. Evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and make it better bit by bit.”
What makes you successful in your daily work will help you as a podcaster. “The only way you will get better is if you allow yourself to be messy and experiment,” says O’Toole. “You have to start somewhere and the beginning is very painful. It’s taken me years to not edit out every single ‘like’ and ‘um,’ but the reality is, if you focus on this, you will never publish that podcast because it will take you years to edit.”
Plan on building buzz around your podcast? The quickest way, O’Toole says, is to land in the iTunes Store’s New and Noteworthy section, which could potentially expose your podcast to millions of listeners. Have your launch campaign locked in from the start. Consider starting separate social media accounts for your podcast with copy primed and scheduled to post. If you’ve got an email newsletter, make a special announcement, asking readers — and everyone else, for that matter — to listen and leave reviews. Timing is everything: If you launch when everyone’s on summer vacation or during the holidays, you could miss out on your window, which lasts between six and eight weeks.
If the prospect of reaching millions of people doesn’t inspire you, try visiting Max Temkin and Veronica Corzo-Duchardt‘s Podcast Thing, where creative professionals discuss their regular listens. And don’t forget HOW’s Design Live Podcast Series, which features Ilise Benun in conversation with design entrepreneurs about the business of creativity.
Above all else, says O’Toole, podcasts make our world a smaller, more energetic place. “Having a podcast breaks down barriers,” she says. “It opens us up to opportunity. It connects us to others. And it inspires us to create community. All of these things defeat fear. Fear is a great oppressor of creativity. Community is electricity.”
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