What is a podcast?
A podcast is recorded audio distributed over the internet through an RSS feed.
Podcasts can take many forms: from scripted dramas to conversations to narrative journalism.
How to make your own podcast in 11 steps
Like any creative effort, creating a podcast really requires only one thing: an idea. Creating a successful podcast, however, requires planning, research, and a little investment. Fortunately, with the equipment and technology available you can make a good podcast without spending months or years mastering the process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting your podcasting venture up for success.
1. Identify the big idea
A good podcast needs a concept or a topic. Podcasting 101: the better defined your topic, the more likely you will find your audience (and vice versa).
“History,” for example, doesn’t tell a potential listener enough about what they’re getting into. “The History of Bread” gives them enough to decide if they want to listen (or not).
It can be tricky. To hit the sweet spot between unique and obscure, you might benefit from conducting some audience research to gauge interest in your idea. Ask people in related affinity groups if they’d listen. You can do this via survey, interview, or focus group (even informally — pose the question on social media or just ask your friends). What’s equally as important to developing your idea, is identifying and getting to know your audience.
2. Identify your audience
Your target audience helps define your content. Questions you might want to answer:
- Who are you making this podcast for?
- How much knowledge of the topic will your audience have? Another way to think about this: Is your podcast for an expert, an aspiring learning, or general audience?
- What tone is right for this audience? Humorous, serious—or somewhere in between?
- Are there existing communities within this audience you can tap into—e.g., dedicated Facebook groups?
Identifying your target audience will also help you promote your podcast when the time comes.
3. Choose your format
There are all kinds of podcast formats: from a single host unravelling a mystery to two friends discussing pop culture to a panel playing a wacky game show. Your topic should inform your format. “The History of Bread” probably won’t work as a panel discussion, but would make a great long-form narrative series made up of interviews, narration, archival tape and music
Whatever your format, it has to be comfortable for you. If you want to have a sports show where you interview athletes, you should feel confident in your ability to ask questions that elicit interesting answers. If your podcast is a comedy, you should have some skill or experience in humor writing, improv, and the like.
Also, if you can't find a format that suits you, maybe you should just start doing your show the way you think it should be done. No rules here.
4. Consider a creative partner
Podcasting can be easier with help, especially in production. Working with an experienced producer, editor or sound designer will make the early going much smoother. A co-host can be a good idea as well, both for collaboration on ideas, and for keeping the content lively.
But while adding a co-host allows you to divvy up work, it can also complicate things — scheduling, commitment level, growing to hate each other, and so on. Finding someone with the same level of determination, and who will complement your “on-air” vibe, is key to making a co-hosted podcast work.
5. Name your podcast
A good podcast name will clearly tell potential listeners what the show is about. It should also be concise and easy to remember. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What’s the tone of the show? Will it be serious, even somber, or will there be levity? Your title should reflect the tone.
- How much leeway on subject matter do you want to allow yourself? For example, “The History of Bread” would make sense for a show about bread, but it might not make sense if you want to expand to discuss cupcakes and noodles down the line.
- What names are already taken? As you zero in on a name, make sure there's not already another podcast with the same (or similar) name. And don’t forget to check URL and social media!
A pro tip here: don't obsess too much over the name. It's important, but not as important as the content and the listening experience. If you're stuck, pick something obvious and go.
6. Make cover art and theme music
Good cover art helps you brand your podcast and catch the eye of potential listeners. Your art should reflect the theme and tone of your show, but it can be simple. You’ll want some kind of graphic design with text, illustration, or photography.
Make sure the name of your podcast is shown in the art, as many podcast apps do not display the show’s name when displaying podcasts by episode title.
For theme music, free stock music is certainly an option, but if you have the budget for it, consider commissioning a composer to create or license you an original song.
7. Record your first episode
Now it’s time to start creating. Before you hit the record button, do you have the right gear? It doesn’t take a lot of processing power to record a podcast, so your existing computer will likely suffice, but you may need to invest in some additional podcast equipment.
The good news is you don’t have to impoverish yourself buying these things—you can likely get all the essentials for about $150. A modest investment can make the difference between sounding amateurish and sounding like a professional. Because there are no second chances when trying to connect with listeners, it’s usually best to make that investment up front.
- Microphone. Fairly standard podcasting microphones such as the Rode PodMic and Blue Yeti cost around $100-$125.
- Pop filter. A screen that sits between you and your mic to reduce the pop of “p” sounds. They usually sell for less than $10.
- Over-the-ear headphones. If you’re podcasting with a partner or guests, you will probably want a pair of over-the-ear headphones, so you can hear them without their audio being picked up by your microphone. $40 and up. Good headphones will also come in handy when you get into editing and producing your podcast.
8. Edit your podcast
You want to sound natural, but long silences, excessive filler words, crosstalk between hosts, and ambient noise can make for an insufferable listening experience. That’s why good editing is essential to any podcast. It makes the audio more concise and compelling, makes you sound more confident, and ensures that your audience won’t miss the point.
There are a plethora of editing tools available to creators today. It’s important to pick the right one: Choose one that’s too lightweight and you’ll end up with a poor end product; pick one that’s too complicated and you’ll face hours of technical frustration.
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that we think Descript is the best podcast editing tool you’ll find. If you’re a first-time editor, Descript will enable you to start editing immediately. If you’re an experienced pro, Descript will save you hours at every stage, from transcribing to assembling episodes.
Descript makes editing the content in your podcast as easy as editing a doc. It’s got all the editing and mixing tools you’ll find in a legacy editing suite. And it’s loaded with dark magic: AI-powered tools that instantly remove filler words (“ums,” “uhs”), convert bad recordings to studio-quality audio, even let you clone your voice so you can correct mistakes by typing, saving you hours you’d spend re-recording.
But enough about us. You should probably shop around — we’re confident you’ll end up choosing Descript; as you do, here are a few features to look for.
- Multitrack editing. Editing your podcast will entail cutting and rearranging audio, sometimes moving segments together, sometimes pushing them apart to insert other material. It’s not that hard when there’s just one track, but the complexity can grow as you add tracks from other hosts, interviews, archival audio, musical overlays, etc. Your editing tool should have a timeline that clearly shows separate tracks and allows you to edit them independently. Your tool should also allow you to easily add additional audio files such as your theme music.
- Noise reduction. Unless you own a recording studio, your audio isn’t going to be perfect. You’ll likely battle room reverb, fan noise, dogs barking, your neighbor’s leaf blower (so many leaf blowers), etc. Fortunately, you can enhance your sound quality by applying noise reduction during post-production. It’s a common feature in editing software — but be careful, a lot of noise reduction features can leave your voice sounding robotic, tinny or muted.
- Flexible export options. The ability to export your podcast in different file types and different cuts can help you expand your reach. For example, your podcast may have a regular version and a version for paid subscribers with additional content. You should also look for the ability to export directly to your hosting service — rather than exporting the file to your desktop, then uploading to your host manually.
- Transcription. Podcasting is an audio medium, but you’ll also want to transcribe your episodes—for several reasons. One, it makes your job easier as a creator—you can easily track down quotes or segments without re-listening. Two, transcripts make your podcast accessible to all. Three, posting transcripts on your website makes your podcast visible to search engines.
9. Choose a hosting platform
Once you have recorded, edited and produced your podcast, you need to find a place to host it. Podcast directories like Apple Podcasts and Spotify don’t host the podcast audio files themselves, they simply stream from where the files are hosted.
Once your podcast is hosted, you will want to add it to the major podcast directories so people can find it. Your hosting provider will create an RSS feed to use when you submit your show to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and whatever other directories you want to appear in. Some hosting platforms have built-in integrations to automatically show up on a number of platforms.
10. Promote your podcast
Mark Asquith, CEO and co-founder of Captivate.fm, says one of the best ways to promote your show is simply to make it easy to find and share. “The quickest win you can generate is making it easy for listeners to share your show with friends,” he explains. He advises providing a single, measurable link to share, (like this: https://www.markasquith.com/listen) and then “telling people at the start, throughout the content and right at the end of every single episode to share your show with friends who they think would like it.”
Kevin Chemidlin, the host of Grow the Show and a podcast coach, advises starting with a grassroots approach. "By far the best way to promote a podcast online is actually not to promote—it's to participate,” he explains. “Participate in the forums and groups, actually comment thoughtfully on photos and videos, and provide something meaningful to the people you're interacting with. Once you've built a relationship with the person or community, then you can share your podcast link."
However you decide to promote it, here are a few tips:
- Create a podcast website. It doesn’t have to be complex—a simple landing page will do. Be sure to include links to your show on all those listening platforms.
- Generate buzz by teasing the podcast launch in the days leading up to it, and then promote each episode as it airs. Each episode is a chance to draw in a new listener, so try to tease the subject matter without giving it away.
- Use social media to repost positive reviews and praise from listeners.
- Use guests for cross-promotion. If you can land a guest with a significant following, you want their fans to tune in to your podcast. Ask them to repost a link to the episode they’re on.
- Don’t overlook your family, friends and community as your first listeners. Feedback is a gift–use it to make your show better and more engaging for your audience.
11. Look for paths to monetization
Even if you’re not looking to get rich podcasting, it’s smart to try to recoup your costs. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to monetize your podcast.
- Ads. If you’re already established in the subject matter you’re podcasting about, leverage existing relationships or reach out to vendors about advertising. You might also be able to pitch yourself to one of the independent podcast networks that pool shows, selling ads for all of them and taking a cut of the sales.
- Subscription services. Apple and Spotify both have subscription systems for podcasts distributed via their directories. Memberful lets you create your own subscription-based feed that can be distributed on any directory. Patreon lets you create community and perks with your most dedicated listeners. Each of these companies takes a percentage of what you charge.
- Other methods. A tip jar is relatively easy to set up using an online payment service such as PayPal. If you develop a loyal following, you can also sell shirts or other merchandise.
Of course, you don’t have to monetize your podcast. Your podcast may help promote your existing business, or maybe it’s just for fun. Getting paid doesn’t have to be your metric for success.
Podcasting FAQ for Beginners
How long should a podcast episode be?
The length of your podcast is up to you, but should be appropriate to the content. A daily review of what’s happening in local government shouldn’t be two hours long. Episodes of a podcast devoted to the lives of Nobel Prize winners should run more than five minutes. It’s up to you to figure out what’s an appropriate length for your topic. The basic rule is use only as much time as you need to get your key message or ideas across.
How often should I release an episode?
In general, it might be better for short podcasts to come more frequently than long ones. If you put out two-hour episodes every day, you’re going to overwhelm listeners. If your quarterly podcast is only 15 minutes long, you’re not likely to hook many of them. Your ability to engage and maintain an audience will depend on their familiarity with you and your ability to meet their expected level of commitment. What matters here is to establish a release cadence and stick to it.
I’m overwhelmed—where can I get help?
If things don’t seem to be going right, make sure you’re recording with a clear idea of what you want to get out of the episode. Having an outline can keep you on task and prevent unstructured conversation. If you’re having trouble with the production, editing, or publishing process, there are professional podcasting production companies that can help you or local audio groups to help connect you with a professional. Expect to pay them fairly for their time and effort, though.