Tips & Trends

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start a Podcast

Last updated on: 
June 16, 2022
Sheba Zaidi
Co-Founder at Mahara Mindfulness

Launching a podcast can feel overwhelming. You hear other podcasters telling you all about the different equipment, podcast tools, and growth tactics… it’s a lot. This step-by-step guide will be your A-to-Z on how to get started so that your podcast has a solid foundation, and you’re thinking of everything your show needs for future success and growth.  

1. What’s your podcast goal? 

Why do you want to start a podcast? 

Your reasons might include: 

  • Build thought leadership
  • Create awareness around your personal brand
  • Sell products and services 
  • Promote a mission 
  • Cultivate a community around a certain topic 

It’s important to be clear on your WHY because it will define all your marketing and business decisions as you develop your podcast. 

2. What’s the topic you want to talk about?

Your podcast needs to focus on a particular topic or niche. The key is to narrow it down to something you can speak about for many episodes, but also isn’t so broad that you won’t appeal to your potential audience. 

For example, instead of having a “business” podcast – be more specific and focus on start-ups in the tech space. And remember, you can always expand your topic as you gain traction. 

We know it can be nerve-racking to go niche since it downsizes your potential listener base but we promise you that building a hyper-targeted, engaged audience is much better than trying to appeal to the masses where you get lost in the sea of podcasts. 

3. How will you format your podcast?

Figuring out what your podcast format will be is essential when it comes to success. You need to ask yourself some upfront questions that will determine what type of equipment and software you would need to invest in. 

  • Are you going to be the host? 
  • Will there be a co-host?
  • How do you want the podcast to be structured?
  • Will you have guests? And if so, will you record remotely or in person?

Some ideas include:

  • Scripted non-fiction. Typically, these podcasts have a single theme for the entire season. Think “Serial.”
  • Interviews: These podcasts feature a single host who interviews individuals who fit a particular theme. Think Tim Ferriss on “The Tim Ferriss Podcast.” 
  • Journalistic. These podcasts give you the news in a super digestible format. Think “The Daily” by The New York Times. 
  • Discussion. This format is a little less formal than an interview format. Rather than it being a Q&A style interview, it’s a casual discussion between the hosts or guests. Think “Smartless” with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett. 
  • Solo Discussion. This is when it’s just the host and the mic, talking to your audience. This is arguably the most intimate form of podcasting. Think early episodes of Andrew Huberman’s “Huberman Lab.”
  • Scripted fiction. These podcasts are similar to radio dramas and are often scripted and highly produced. Think “Wolf 359.”

Lastly, you will want to think about how long the podcast episodes will be and how often you want to publish. The key is to ensure you are adding value and being consistent with your publishing schedule, so your subscribers know when to expect the next episode drop.   

4. Choose your name

Your podcast name is a core part of your brand. It’s important to make a strong impression since it sets the tone for your podcast. When thinking about your podcast name, consider the following things:

  • Specific and succinct
  • Available
  • Memorable
  • Relevant to the topic

Once you have an idea, make sure the domain and social accounts are available which will be key when it comes to marketing and promoting your podcast. 

5. Creating artwork and selecting music 

As your first impression, your cover art needs to be beautiful, stand out and visually communicate your topic. It might also be the image someone sees when you share your show on social media, so you want it to be memorable and bold.  

Here are some of the best practices:

  • Your cover art should be a minimum of 1,400 x 1,400 pixels; maximum of 3,000 x 3,000 pixels
  • Compress files to optimize for mobile use
  • Don’t use too many words in your artwork

 

You can easily create cover art for free using Canva. If you have a bit of budget, you can also work with 99 Designs or Fiverr to get yours created. You’ll get hundreds of different designers to produce a draft and then you choose the ones you like to have them further refined.

You can even send out a survey that tests a few different designs for your cover art. Maybe you test different fonts, colors, whether or not you have an image, etc. 

When it comes to your music, we’re a fan of PremiumBeat for podcast music. It’s easy to search, you get a full license, and they have a bunch of different styles. Here’s a list of some other music resources: 

6. Build your equipment setup

Audio quality is important but good quality doesn’t have to break the bank. With a small investment, you can get the equipment you need to make a great podcast.

USB microphones

USB microphones are considered a great piece of podcast equipment for beginners because they’re the easiest way to record high-quality audio recordings on your computer and aren’t very expensive. USB mics are also highly portable – just plug it straight into the USB jack on your computer and it’s all set. Often USB mics also have a headphone output, so that you can hear the audio as you record. 

 

USB microphone options:

 

XLR microphones

The main difference between XLR mics and USB mics is the way they connect. XLR mics have 3 prongs and therefore won’t connect directly to a computer. Instead, you'll need to plug your XLR mic into an interface like a mixer, and then plug the interface into your computer. A key distinction between XLR microphones is whether they are condenser or dynamic microphones. The main difference is that the condenser exhibits more sensitivity to sound. 

 

XLR microphone options:

Microphone Stands

A mic stand keeps your microphone stable and the shock mount will minimize background noise that you may not even notice. For example, typing on the computer is a minor sound, but the microphone will still pick it up. Using a shock mount helps to keep the impact of noises like that to a minimum.

 

Pop Filter 

A pop filter is a little filter made out of metal mesh or perforated metal that you put over a microphone. They help to prevent that popping sound that comes from air blasts when you pronounce certain words – plosives such as “p” and “b” sounds. This piece of equipment helps to make your show sound more professional. 

 

Headphones 

This may seem like a simple piece of podcast equipment, but don’t underestimate how important a good pair of headphones can be to your podcast recording. If you want to make sure your mic is picking up voices properly while minimizing background noise, you’ll want to have your headphones on. Wearing headphones is a simple way to monitor sound quality. 

 

We recommend using over the ear headphones that are also noise canceling

 

7. Podcast softwares and tools

Now once you have all the hardware, you’ll need to use a software for recording and sound editing. There are lots of options out there, but below is a condensed list when it comes to audio recording softwares. 

The good news? Many podcast editing softwares are free to use!

Audio recording software

The software recommended in this section will allow you to record the audio from your microphone and save it as an MP3 file. The following software will also let you edit your recordings.

 

  • Adobe Audition (PC/Mac; $20.99 per month). If you want really powerful audio editing software, Adobe has it with Audition. It might be more than what you’ll need to edit your podcast, but if you’re using a mixer and high-end equipment, it could be a good idea to look at Adobe Audition as well.
  • Audacity (PC/Mac; free). Audacity is a great alternative to paid premium audio-editing software. It’s easy to use and there are a lot of tutorials available online to help you.
  • GarageBand (Mac; free). GarageBand comes with all MacBooks and is good enough for most of your audio editing needs. GarageBand allows you to record the audio from your podcast microphone and save it as an MP3.

 

Podcast recording software

If you plan on conducting interviews for your podcast or have a co-host, you might want to use an online software that records your episodes. If you’re using a mixer that records all sound from your computer, this software won’t be required.

However, if you’re using a basic setup and a tool like Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct interviews, here are some recommended call recording tools to amp up your sound quality:

 

 

Launching your first episode: Bringing it all together

In this section, we’re going to outline how to create your first episode from the outline to the actual recording. 

 

8. Outline your first episode

No matter how good your recording is, there is no substitute for great content and a confident host. Your podcast can’t just sound great, it needs to be worth tuning into. 

A key to making this happen is creating an outline. Unless your podcast is meant to be scripted, you don’t need to script the entire show. You just need to create an outline based on the journey you want to take your listeners on.  

Start with the end in mind. What's the purpose of this episode? What's the takeaway that you want your listeners to have? What’s the CTA? What do you want them to feel?

A good outline includes a hook to grab the audience’s attention, introductions for guests, interview questions, talking points, transitions, and closings. These not only help make the podcast go smoother but also show your guests that you came prepared with a goal in mind.

Here is a generic episode structure that you can use to fill out your outline:

 

  • Hook (teaser)
  • Intro
  • Welcome / episode overview
  • Ad spot
  • Interview
  • Call-to-Action
  • Outro

 

9. Record your podcast

Recording a podcast seems a lot more complicated than it really is. It takes the following series of steps to prep and manage an effective podcast recording.

 

  • Find the right recording room 

Try and choose a space with minimal noise. Think about things in your environment that might make noise such as a fan, the fridge, or your pet. A cleaner recording will be easier to handle later on in the editing process. Quick tip: If you put a blanket over yourself and the microphone it helps to cancel out some of the noise around you (yes, it seems odd and you may look even odder but it works).

 

  • Adjust your systems

Adjust system preferences to make sure that sound from your microphone is going into the computer. If you’re using a condenser microphone, ensure that phantom power is running. You’d be shocked how many people don’t set up their microphone input/output correctly before recording. 

 

  • Set a conservative recording level

Never record audio that is too loud. You can always make things louder later on, but if you record too loud, your recording will sound distorted. But also make sure it’s not a fuzzy whisper. Basically, test your audio levels before recording! 

 

  • Record a high-quality audio file

Compression artifacts, which are noticeable sound distortions, compound over time. So, make sure your initial recording is a high-quality WAV or AIFF file. Resolutions of 24-bit and 48 kHz are great. Even though you’ll probably be uploading your podcast as an MP3 or AAC for distribution, you want to start off with a high-resolution format. It also makes your life easier for editing! 

 

  • Be consistent with your mouth placement and tone

Pay attention to where your mouth is in relation to the microphone. You don't want to have wide-ranging volume levels. Try setting your microphone up slightly to the side so those bursts of air don’t go directly into the diaphragm. Also, make sure your microphone is positioned correctly… we don’t want you speaking to the back of the mic by accident 

 

  • Make a test recording

As we mentioned, when setting up your podcast recording environment for the first time, it can be helpful to listen to a test recording in comparison to other podcasts’ quality. Try listening to your test recording through headphones, car speakers, cellphone speakers, a laptop so you have tested it in different settings and platforms.  

 

  • Always record 30 seconds of silence

This helps you capture the noise print of the room and will be helpful in post-production.

 

10. Creating your canned intro and outro 

Having an intro and outro for each episode of your podcast adds some personality and the chance to really capture your audience. Usually, they are short voiceovers with intro music that covers the podcast, the episode number, the host(s), and the tagline of the podcast. 

A great podcast intro will hook your listeners and give them a glimpse into the value your podcast is going to deliver. It should tell listeners:

 

  • Who are you? Introduce yourself, highlighting your experience and why your POV matters.
  • What is your podcast about? State clearly and concisely what your podcast’s purpose is.
  • What’s the benefit? You need to tell the listener how your podcast is going to improve their lives and why they should tune in.

 

But make sure to keep your intro short, sweet, and catchy. If it’s too long and rambly you might see listeners dropping off. 

A great podcast outro will thank listeners for tuning in, include a tagline, and give them something to do next (we call this a call-to-action or CTA). A CTA could include leaving a review, joining a newsletter, or following you on social. These things help deepen your relationship with your audience.

 

11. Let’s get to editing   

Editing your podcast allows you to add your intro and outro, stabilize the volume, ensure smooth transitions, and remove dead air and mistakes you might have made. As we mentioned above, software platforms such as Adobe Audition, Audacity, or GarageBand should do the trick. Depending on your budget and level of experience, you can select the best platform for you.

12. Podcast hosting platforms

One common thing people misunderstand about podcasts is that you don’t upload them directly to platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher (you can… but it takes a lot more time, effort, and frustration). Instead, you can sign up for a podcast hosting platform that will distribute your podcast to all listening apps for you.

Some of our favorite hosting platforms include:

 

13. Podcast Directories

It is key to get listed in the most popular podcast directories. Podcast directories are essentially a centralized place for podcast listeners to discover new shows. Getting listed in the top podcast directories is a critical part of your podcast marketing strategy since this is how you will be discovered by new listeners. Once you are listed in the Apple Google and Spotify Podcast lists, you are in front of 95% of all podcast listeners. 

As we mentioned, your podcast hosting platform will distribute your show to all major podcast directories. But here’s a list of some popular ones to ensure your hosting platform distributes to:

 

  • Podcast Index
  • Amazon Music
  • Audible
  • iHeartRadio
  • TuneIn Radio
  • Listen Notes
  • Stitcher
  • Pandora
  • TuneIn

 

14. Growing your podcast 

Once you have your podcast up and running, the next step is to start growing it. Marketing your podcast is key to ensuring it reaches the audience you want. There are plenty of tactics you can test out to grow your show. Some tactics that we recommend exploring include: 

  • Strategic guest sourcing 
  • Cross-promotion with other podcasts 
  • Guesting on other podcasts 
  • Social media marketing 
  • Blogging 
  • Newsletters 
  • PR
  • Paid podcast advertising
Sheba Zaidi
Co-Founder at Mahara Mindfulness

Founder of Mahara Mindfulness and The County Wine Tours, Sheba is also a marketing and PR expert. She enjoys sharing compelling stories and is fascinated by how humans consume content and develop brand affinity – which led her to create her first e-commerce product, The Human Being Journal. In her spare time she is passionate about travelling, movies, wellness trends and of course, podcasts!

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