Some Thoughts About Podcasting

A friend from Texas recently solicited some advice about getting started in podcasting. As co-host of The Vice Lounge Online—a weekly lifestyle show celebrating casino gaming, premium cigars and fine adult beverages—my colleague Tony and I have pushed more than 340 weekly episodes stretching back six years. In light of my friend’s question, I’d like to share some high-level points, organized by high-level categories.
Technical Requirements

  • Good equipment. If it’s just you, then a decent USB microphone (Blue, Yeti) is fine. If you’re going to have several people, get a mixer and solid unidirectional cardioid mics. Our setup (an eight-input mixer with XLR mics) pushes to a single USB plug that inserts into a laptop.
  • Editing software. Audacity is free and open-source; we use it for VLO. Adobe Audition is probably the gold standard, but it’s not free. Some folks have had good luck on their Macs with GarageBand.

Content Requirements

  • Good environment. Rule of thumb: It’s always easier to control the recording than to fix a bad recording during the editing process. Have a spot to record where there’s no extra sound (fans, furnaces, running water) that will detract from listeners’ enjoyment.
  • Solid script. Plan what you’re going to say, at least at a high level. Stream-of-consciousness rambling works for some kinds of podcasts (lifestyle stuff, gaming reviews) but generally, a listener wants some value that comes from the host having prepared in advance.
  • Listener predictability. Podcasts that push randomly will struggle to gain traction. Publicizing a reliable release schedule and aiming for similar lengths for each show, help listeners to know whether to subscribe to your show.
  • Brand identity. Give your show a catchy name and a logo that appears in audio programs. Having a website to support the show helps, too. A tagline, social-media accounts and clarity in advertising promotes discoverability.
  • Bumpers. Use Creative Commons or a similar source to find bumper music to introduce or sign off each episode or to separate content within a show. Remember, don’t infringe copyrights!

Hosting & Pushing Content

  • Pushing. The industry supports several podcast aggregators (Podbean, etc.). As a matter of personal preference, at VLO, we self-host our content on our own website. We upload the finished MP3 file by FTP to our own Web server and rely on RSS to syndicate. When you sign up for different syndication services (Google Play Music, iTunes, Stiticher, etc.) your source file will be your syndication (RSS) link from your website. That way, you push a new episode by publishing a blog post with the MP3 file linked to the post, and the aggregators will automatically ingest the MP3 file for serving up to listeners.
  • Metadata. Podcasts have metadata as part of the tags in the MP3 file. Study these. Different syndicators (notably, Apple) require metadata to be embedded within the MP3 file that serve important roles within their distribution channel.

Metrics & Monitization

  • Reach. Bad news: Podcast metrics are awful. There’s no good way for any producer to get comprehensive statistics about a show’s reach, because different aggregators share (or not) different bits of information, and sometimes a cached copy of an MP3 is pushed instead of re-downloading each “play.” So you shouldn’t put a lot of stock into your estimated reach.
  • Cash. Monetization is tricky, but you should focus on building an audience of engaged listeners before you try to monetize your show. Just my advice.

Building Community

  • Social media. Talk to your listeners! Start social-media accounts for the show. Engage with listeners, because engaged listeners promote the discoverability for your show.

Advice for Aspiring Podcasters

  • Be patient. The market is saturated with podcasts. You are unlikely to see appreciable listener uptake for years unless lightning strikes (e.g., you randomly get featured by Apple) or you have some sort of major content-distribution partner.
  • Quality matters. Shows with weak scripting, poor audio quality and unpredictable release schedules will struggle to find and retain listeners.
  • Engagement matters. Depending on your show’s content, you’ll likely find that maintaining relationships with your key listeners helps maintain energy, inspire content and promote discoverability. Seek ratings. As for reviews. Reference listeners on the show.

Good luck!

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