An absolute beginner’s guide to starting a podcast

Anyone can do it — but here’s how to do it well.

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So, you have a great podcast idea and want to get it out into the world — grabbing the mic and starting a podcast seems easy enough, right? Yes and no.

Tim Ruggeri, content manager for Acast and co-creator and co-host of The Complete Guide to Everything says the biggest misconception about starting a podcast is that anyone can do it. “While the tools have been democratized, and it’s easier than ever to start a podcast, creating and producing [one] that resonates with an audience of any size takes time, commitment and a creative drive that not everybody has,” he says.

But it’s not impossible — if you have an idea you’re excited about, you can certainly get it off the ground. Here’s how.

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Finesse your idea.

Before you start, you need “a clear idea of what makes [your] potential show distinct from anything else that’s already out there,” says Jeremy Enns, founder of Counterweight Creative. “Too many podcasters skip this all-important step in favor of figuring it out on the fly, [and] 10 episodes in, they’ve put out a hodgepodge of episodes, failed to gain any traction, and end up quitting.” He recommends starting with a “10-word phrase that completely describes [your] show while also distinguishing it from anything else in existence.” If you can’t do that, you’re not quite there.

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Think long-term:

Before you settle on something, make sure you really like it. “It has to be something you will remain passionate about week after week, year after year,” says Ben Mandelker, co-host of the podcast Watch What Crappens. “Also think about scalability. Do you see this as a podcast that will remain about one subject? Or will it grow to expand many topics? Be careful not to pigeonhole yourself.”

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Solidify your goals.

“Really think about why you want a podcast and what you want out of it,” says Kelly Glover, a podcast producer and booking agent. “Figure out who you want to reach, what action you want them to take after listening and how you measure success. Is your podcast a vehicle for personal branding? A way to reach potential customers? Content for your existing audience? A way for you to connect with professionals in your niche so you can build relationships?” Having that goal in mind will help you stay on track as you go through the process.

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Allow for evolution.

That said, while it’s important to have a strong sense of direction, it’s equally important to give yourself space to grow. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who lost their momentum as they [tried] to line up all their podcast ducks perfectly,” Mandelker says. “Don’t bog yourself down overthinking your voice or your slogan or your musical stingers [brief audio clips used to transition between segments], because the dirty truth is that your first several shows will be far different than the ones you’ll be doing a year from now.”

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For all the effort you put in to making the first episode absolutely perfect, just know you’ll probably look back and cringe at it. So, don’t waste time trying to explode out of the gate with perfection — just start recording!

Ben Mandelker, a co-host of 'Watch What Crappens'

Get the right equipment.

You don’t need to make a huge financial investment from the start, but it may be worth it to buy a few key things in the way of gear and software. “It’s easy to produce a podcast that sounds pretty good for cheap,” Ruggeri said. “It’s very easy to produce a crappy sounding podcast. Invest in a decent mic and interface for your computer.”

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Audio-Technica
ATR2100x-USB

Ruggeri suggested searching for “basic podcasting equipment” online to find quality options, while Enns suggested the popular microphone, the Audio-Technica ATR-2100. “It...plugs into your computer’s USB port and is the first choice of many beginner podcasters, many of whom stick with it through hundreds of episodes and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of downloads,” he says.

$99
Sweetwater
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface

Enns suggests using an interface like this one to record podcast interviews in person.

$180
Sweetwater
Behringer Xenyx 1204USB Mixer

Another of Enns's suggestions, you can also use this mixer for in-person interview recording.

$179

As for software, Enns suggests using Squadcast to record interviews (or your co-host) remotely, and an audio-editing software like the free Garageband and Audacity or the “more fully featured favorite of podcasters,” Hindenburg Journalist.

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Plan the non-recording aspects, too.

Creating a podcast isn’t just about recording and editing audio. You’ll also need to get a hosting service (the platform where your podcast will actually live and be distributed from); Anchor is a popular free option, but if you want to step it up a notch, Enns recommends Libsyn, Simplecast and Podbean.

Beyond that, there’s cover art, audio editing and musical stingers, show notes (the description accompanying an episode), and more. “The commitment of time is far more than the financial,” Glover says. If you have it in your budget, “a lot of people outsource the cover artwork for iTunes, audio editing, show notes writing and podcast guest booking.”

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Nail down a schedule.

Think about what you (and your collaborators, if you have any) can realistically commit to. “Once you release your episodes, you’ll be making an unspoken pact with the audience that they can expect content on a certain schedule,” Mandelker says. “If that means once a week, bi-weekly, once a month or as a batch of several episodes couched as a ‘season,’ you are establishing a pattern; and if you can’t be consistent, your audience will never establish a pattern that involves your show in their lives.”

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Plan beyond episode 1.

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of your idea and your debut episode, but you can hit a wall pretty quickly if you don’t think beyond that. “Outline and record your first five episodes before you release any,” Ruggeri says. “Once you get to your fifth show, you might throw the first couple out.”

Enns recommends writing down at least 25 episode topics and making a list of two-to-three potential guests for each topic before you start recording. “If you’re struggling to find episode topics, talk to people who are your target listeners and get to know them. Ask them about what they’d want to hear about on a show related to your topic and take notes. This is another scary step...that all too many podcasters skip, thinking they know best.”

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Get your pod to the people.

Being part of a podcast network (kind of like a TV network) has benefits, particularly financial resources and the ability to promote your show and get advertisers on board. But it’s not necessary, and there are benefits to going without one. In that case, “you’re free to develop any way you want, fail and try new things with nobody to answer to but yourself,” Ruggeri says. “You can always take your show to a network after you’ve established it on your own — and that will give you more leverage.”

Plus, “any decent podcast hosting company, [like] Libsyn, Simplecast [and] Podbean will make it easy for you to submit your podcast to iTunes and many other podcast platforms,” Enns says. After you’ve signed up with a hosting platform, he adds, you’ll get a link that you can submit to Apple and “following an approval process, your podcast will be up on iTunes and dozens of other podcast platforms.”

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Connect with your audience.

Getting your podcast on iTunes can only do so much if you don’t attract and connect with an audience to listen to it; and a “multi-pronged approach” is your best bet for doing so, according to Mandelker. “Be sure to build your social media with your show, especially Instagram and Twitter,” he says. “A private Facebook group helps develop a community around your content, too. Having guests on your show and also guesting on other people’s podcasts is a great way to expose yourself and your content to new audiences. It’s probably the single best way to boost your podcast outside of having a major media moment.”

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Creating a podcast is more work than you think. It’s a bummer to devote time and energy to create something you’re proud of, send it out into the world and then not see immediate success. You’ll want to quit. Most people do quit.

Tim Ruggeri, content manager for Acast and co-creator and co-host of 'The Complete Guide to Everything'

Give it time.

Even if you’re doing all the right things to reach an audience, you’re probably not going to see overnight success. “Podcasting is generally a slow growth medium, and it often takes six-to-12 months at a minimum to start seeing meaningful results in the way of audience growth,” Enns says. He suggests listening to other podcasts, joining online and in-person communities, reading about podcast marketing, and perhaps signing up for courses to learn how to market yourself and your show.

As for money, while you can start reaching out to brands about sponsorships at any time (and potentially get ad revenue through your hosting company, according to Income School), don’t expect to rake it in from the start. “Don’t quit your job,” Mandelker says. “Some people are out-of-the-box hits. But most of us have to work our way up. In the meantime, definitely sign up for Patreon, a crowdfunding subscription site that...allowed us to podcast full time years before the real advertising came through.”

Javier Zayas Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Remember: It takes time to develop your voice; so rather than give in to the urge to quit when you’re frustrated, Ruggeri suggests you commit to sticking it out for a certain length of time or number of episodes.

He adds, “Immediate podcast success is rare, so give yourself a chance to evolve.”

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