Podcasts are a brilliant communication channel. We love them for their convenience, their ability to tap into our niche interests, and the fact that we can enjoy them without screen time. They’re a great way for charities and non-profit groups to share stories and make connections too – so how do you start?
In the summer of 2018, I got together with 3 others to start the Seismic Wales podcast. Although I worked in communications, and loved listening to podcasts, it was the first time I (or the others) had actually made one. So here are some tips, based on what I’ve learnt along the way…
1. Choose a concept – and stick to it
Listeners like consistency, and it’ll help build your podcast brand too. It’s fine to go off topic a little within a conversation, but if your podcast is about amateur cooks then focus on that rather than farming or roller skating.
2. Format: keep it simple
For Seismic Wales most episodes were either ‘full episodes’ featuring one or more interviews along with a ‘group chat’, or ‘bonus’ episodes consisting of just interviewing one guest. If you’re just starting out, try and keep it simple and something you can manage consistently with the time, skill and technology you have.
3. Plan your episodes
This can be pretty time-consuming, but putting effort in at the start will pay dividends. If you have guests, try to talk to them in advance of the recording to build rapport and help you think of questions and topics. People will sometimes be nervous, so this is your chance to put them at ease so you can have a fun and relaxed conversation when you hit record.
4. Find a user-friendly hosting service
There are loads of options here, some free and some paid, and requiring different levels of expertise. We went for Soundcloud for Seismic Wales – as it felt easy to use and the paid version pushes your podcast to the main listening platforms such as Apple Podcasts. Other user-friendly options include Anchor and Podbean.
5. Get a simple recording device
While it’s possible to create a podcast using only a smartphone, a decent microphone will give you a more polished sound. But before you splash out, why not start out with what you have, or see if you can borrow kit from a friend? That way you can gradually build up your skills and get a better idea of whether this is something you want to do in the long term. I started out with the cheap and cheerful Zoom H1 along with a Gorillapod to hold it in place or act as a handle. It’s not the best device available, but it’s good enough I soon found that technique is far more important than technology. And when things went wrong, I discovered that my mobile phone was a reasonable backup! If you do want to invest in kit, check out podcasting microphones from Rode to plug into your PC or Zoom recorders for recording on location.
Example of a podcast recorded on the Zoom H1
Example of a podcast recorded on a mobile phone (main interview section only)
6. Recording in person: choose your location carefully
With Seismic, we started off recording everything on location (this was pre-Covid). I soon discovered a few key things made the difference between good and bad audio.
Wherever you are, monitoring sound on headphones is a must. Even cheap earbuds will do.
If you are recording indoors, do whatever you can to avoid distractions like fans/aircon, phones ringing and doors opening. While a bit of background ‘atmosphere’ can be great, make sure it doesn’t drown out your recording. Try and use a location with plenty of soft furnishings – a kid’s playroom was one of the best locations we used in Seismic, or if you’re at home, try lying on a bed or in a blanket fort!
Recording outdoors, if the weather is suitable, is a great option. However, watch out for wind and traffic noise, and be prepared to move if it’s a problem.
7. Recording remotely: not as hard as you think
The pandemic then forced us to record remotely – but this can also be a great option post-Covid if you’re unable to travel for any reason. A simple way to do this is to use Zoom and simply record the call within the application on a PC or Mac – the recording will download at the end. Another easy option is to use Cleanfeed (free version available). Encourage participants to use headphones and a quiet, echo-free location. Audio from a smartphone may well be better than the built-in mic on a PC. To take your quality up a notch, make ‘local’ recordings of participants (including yourself) on a smartphone or other recording device at the same time (make sure they use headphones if they do this). You can then stitch these files together in the edit, using your master recording from Zoom/Cleanfeed as a guide.
8. Edit your audio with free tools
The best form of editing is in the choices you make before and during recording. If you plan your interview and keep your conversation concise and to the point, you’ll avoid a lot of time in front of a screen later on!
After that, try and cut out any long sections of repetition and waffle. We started off using the popular and free Audacity software, which does the job. However, I soon fell in love with Garageband (free, Mac only) for its speed and simplicity.
You’ll probably want to add some theme music. Don’t just use your favourite pop song though – check carefully that you have the necessary rights to use it! We used original music by Christian and his friend for Seismic Wales. You may also need to add voiceovers to welcome listeners and give context to any interviews or discussions.
9. Check and publish
You’ve edited your audio and it’s time to release it into the wild. This can be a nerve-wracking moment! It’s good to ask at least one other person to listen to the final edit before it goes live. They may they spot mistakes you’ve missed and be able to check the audio quality on another device. Allow a bit of time to get feedback and make tweaks.
10. Promote your podcast and build your audience
When you’re starting out, you’ll probably find only a small number of people are listening. Relax – building your fan base will take time. Tell everyone featured in the episode where to find it – it’s a chance to thank them and ask them to share with their own contacts. Use any existing audience you have, sending them the link via social media, messaging apps or email. Encourage people to subscribe. Apple Podcasts is a really important platform for this so check your pod is available there and encourage listeners to leave (positive) reviews. Finally, try and stick to a regular schedule of posting new episodes – that way you’ll start to build a loyal audience who’ll keep coming back for more.