Have an idea for the next big podcast? Our inclusive guide will show you how to find your voice, the software and hardware you need to create your podcast, and how to get it heard.
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.
The whole genre of podcasts received a big jolt in 2021 when Only Murders in the Building, an American mystery-comedy streaming television series created by comedians Steve Martin and John Hoffman, became a smash hit on Hulu. Clearly, it’s a great time to experiment with this expanding and potentially lucrative medium, as podcasts continue to draw outsized attention from media companies.
Looking to get into it? We’ve done the work to help you get started.
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.
Several online media formats that feature audio resemble one another but aren’t all technically podcasts. A video podcast, sometimes called a “vidcast,” is similar to a podcast but includes a visual component, which might be a slideshow of still images or actual video. A webcast generally includes live segments. 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.
There are a number of formats you can choose for your podcast. Consider which type is best for presenting your content. Like the Fresh Air podcast, an interview is the most common format. It most often features one host who introduces and interviews guests. An offshoot of this type is a panel discussion or roundtable format, with a host who leads the conversation. A monologue is a commentary-style podcast built around one personality, which gives the show one voice or a single point of view. Lore(Opens in a new window), 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.
In a multiple-hosts 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(Opens in a new window) is a raucous comedic sports podcast featuring two co-hosts, Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter (Pro Football Talk Commenter). Unlike the first three kinds, a narrative, or 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(Opens in a new window) and Serial(Opens in a new window), or fictional, such as Wolf 359(Opens in a new window) and Flash Forward(Opens in a new window). Finally, mixed or hybrid format podcasts use various elements of the other four content types. A mixed podcast may also repurpose content from other mediums, such as radio or television.
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 plan to record in the field, you’ll likely want additional gear. For a detailed rundown of what hardware you’ll need, read our full guide to the best podcast equipment available today.
To record your podcast properly on your computer, you’ll need audio editing (or DAW, for digital audio workstation) 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. Additional software for editing or improving the audio quality of your podcast includes Auphonic(Opens in a new window), a service with a number of tools to help level and balance your interviews, lectures, and other types of audio used in podcasts; and Temi(Opens in a new window), a service that helps you generate transcripts of the audio segments (at $0.25 per minute), whether they’re interviews, conversations, or monologues.
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(Opens in a new window) is a fine choice for using your phone to create a podcast. (And for listening to podcasts, check out The Best Podcast Player Apps.)
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.
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.
In 2021, Apple created a new website, Apple Podcasts for Creators(Opens in a new window), which can help creators learn more about podcasting, stay informed about the latest news and features, and explore in-depth guides with best practices. Those who use Apple’s podcast app can also log in on this site and access their Apple Podcasts Connect dashboard, which was also redesigned with new features that make it easier to manage shows on Apple Podcasts. This includes the ability to edit metadata, schedule and manage show availability, organize shows into channels, manage multiple users and roles, and learn how listeners are engaging with their shows through new performance metrics and visualization tools.
Here are some specific 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(Opens in a new window).
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(Opens in a new window).
Need more inspiration? Check out our list of the best podcasts available today.
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Terry Sullivan has tested and reported on many different types of consumer electronics and technology services, including cameras, action cams, smart phones, wireless speakers, streaming music services, digital-imaging apps, and video-editing software. He has also written extensively on various trends in the worlds of technology, photography, multimedia, and the visual arts, covering everything from traditional oil painting to the latest trends in virtual reality. For more than 10 years, his articles and blogs have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Consumer Reports, PCMag, Photo District News, Lifehacker, and Professional Artist magazine. He is also a teacher, photographer, artist, and musician, and lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. He holds a B.A. in English and Fine Arts from Fairfield University and an M.A. in Studio Art from New York University.
Read Terry’s full bio
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