Your guide to starting a podcast

by Rachel Smith
24 January 2020

Since starting The Content Byte, Lynne Testoni and I have had a few questions on how we put it together, so I’ve written a post here on our process – and chatted to three other regular podcasters about theirs, too.

There’s Leigh Livingstone from Popcorn Podcast, a podcast about movies which she co-hosts with film enthusiast Tim Iffland. We also talked to Jono Fleming from House of Style, a podcast he co-hosts with fellow editorial stylist Kerrie-Ann Jones that delves into the stories of interior brands, designers, artists, makers and industry personalities. Also sharing her insights is Claire Isaac from Playing Devil’s Avocado, a podcast she co-hosts with fellow journalist Lisa Sinclair that’s a hilarious look at how to live your best life as a 50-something woman.

If you’re considering starting a podcast or want to put some systems or new tech in place for your existing one, you may find some tips here.

Starting a podcast – should you?

It’s a fair question. Studies show there are currently over 800,0000 podcasts out there and over 30 million episodes (as of Dec 2019) so making there’s an audience for yours is key.

“It’s important to think clearly about why you want to start one and about what yours offers that no one else’s does,” says Leigh, “otherwise it’s easy to get lost in the noise. If you want people to listen, set yourself apart from the pack and offer something valuable and new to your intended audience.”

Adds Jono: “Understand the time that you need to invest into the project, know your audience and outsource when you can.”

For Lynne and I, the decision was simple: it had to be on something we both knew a lot about (writing, content, freelancing) and that already had an audience. We knew a lot of the RL audience would be interested and there’d be crossover with Lynne’s audience – but we agreed our USP would be bite-sized but useful episodes. So many people seem to love that; so far so good.

Lynne says a happy knock-on effect has been that she can refer newbies in the industry to the podcast. “I don’t have time to have coffee with everyone and the podcast has become a great way to share my advice!”

Tips on recording podcast episodes

Lynne and I record in her spare bedroom in Newtown – it’s whisper quiet. When we recorded a few episodes at my place, the sound wasn’t as good and we really noticed a drop in listeners, so making sure you’re in a quiet location is key. We do a few episodes at a time and use a Sennheiser microphone E835 with a mic stand. My husband Phil sets up a mini studio for us with chairs and does sound checks. Our mic is quite an old model so we may look at updating our tech eventually.

Claire says she and Lisa generally record at her house. “We use a Blue mic which cost around $300, connected to my laptop,” she explains. “We sometimes build a pillow fort around us too, as it can be a bit echoey.”

Leigh and co-host Tim record with the Blue Yeti Nano USB microphone which costs about $150 and plugs straight into your laptop. “This mic has cardioid pick-up (it picks up in a circle) so we can just plonk it down between us, but it will pick up other sounds so a better set-up is an omni-directional microphone for each person, which focuses on the voice it’s pointing at – but this is where costs start to increase and you become less mobile,” she explains. “Good sound is so important, though. After a couple of early recording mishaps that we didn’t have time to re-record, I’ve found trying to fix something in the edit is much harder than you think.”

Jono and his podcast partner Kerrie-Anne Jones record in a studio in Sydney’s Alexandria. “The studio is designed for podcasting,” he explains, “and we just walk in and hit record, which makes our lives very easy. It also ensures the sound quality is crisp and clear.”

Paul Jarvis, who we interviewed here, has several podcasts and uses a Shure SM7B which is a pricier option but worth it for a clear sound, he says. “It’s like I’m talking directly into your ears – I haven’t had that with any other mic. The caveat here is that this mic has an XLR connection, so it requires an interface to connect to my computer,” he says.

Editing your podcast episodes

All the podcasters I talked to taught themselves Garageband in order to edit their own episodes. Lynne and I are lazy in comparison; our episodes are edited by Phil (also on Garageband), who adds the intro/outro theme music (we sourced this on Pond5 for about $70). Once the episode is finished Phil uploads it to a shared Dropbox folder, Lynne and I listen to it separately, ask Phil to make any tweaks and then upload it to our host, Libsyn, and I push the episode out via that platform.

Claire says she and Lisa record a tight 35 mins or so which doesn’t require much editing. “I’ll cut a boring story or too much giggling, or something inappropriate. I’ve gotten a lot better at that, but it does take time.”

“Youtube was a lifesaver,” adds Jono, “although the initial dread of listening to your own voice was something I had to get over very quickly!”

Leigh agrees that while Garageband is quite simple to pick up, it’s time-consuming when you’re learning it. “As you get better at recording the editing becomes easier – I’ve become faster at cutting out stuff-ups and extended silences to keep pacing snappy. My process is to cut out the rubbish while re-listening and checking as I go, before adding the theme tune over the intro and outro. Then it’s just a matter of exporting the file, making the cover art for the episode and uploading it to the host site.”

For stellar sound, investing in a producer could be something to consider – which is what Jono and Kerrie-Ann do. “Our producer fixes up issues with the levels and audio, as well as adding in the intros, outros and music for each episode and uploads it to the launch site for us. It ensures good sound and takes that last bit of stress out of it.”

Creating a podcast content plan

Podcasting requires a helluva lot of planning. Lynne and I have a shared Google doc for our upcoming episodes that has columns for episode names, any Toolkit discount codes we may be offering, notes on the episode itself and download numbers. We’d actually finished the entire first season before we put this together but it’s been a lifesaver having everything there at a glance.

As Leigh and her podcasting partner Tim talk about movies, they can’t do a lot of forward planning, she says. “We have a calendar-type spreadsheet of every movie that’s being released over the next year and it gets regularly updated as studios move dates around,” she explains. “We go to screenings together and try to avoid talking about the movie til we record which keeps our reactions fresh. To keep track of the news we want to discuss, we’ll update a shared Trello board throughout the week and I put together an agenda of points to talk about when we get together to record.”

Jono and Kerrie-Ann pick a ‘series’ theme for their podcast and plan ahead largely based around their guests. “Many coffee meetings later, we go through a long list of who we think will be interesting to interview. We also look at guests that will compliment each other in the series order. We research guests beforehand and create a list of topics which we send to them, mainly as a guideline, but when recording, we try to keep the conversation as loose and natural as possible.”

For Claire and Lisa, it’s also about having a shared Google doc, which they both use to add in topics and links for their various sections, which include ‘Culture Club’ and ‘What Hurts Now?’. “We do two episodes at a time so it’s kinda timely,” says Claire, “and we go through everything in the Google doc before we start recording, working out a running order, deciding how to make it flow on and making sure there’s a good balance of light and shade. And a lot of laughs! During the actual recording, there is wine involved. We make ourselves laugh quite a lot…”

Podcast co-hosts and guests

For Lynne and I, guests aren’t in the equation – yet. It’s a bit hard to have guests and make it worthwhile when your episodes are short, but it is something we’ve considered for the future.

Leigh, who admits she finds one-person podcasts a bit boring, always knew she wanted Popcorn Podcast to be a duo. “Having someone to bounce off adds a more interesting element and makes listeners feel like they’re part of a conversation – I was incredibly lucky to find a great co-host who’s as big of a movie geek as I am. We both love movies and know our stuff but come at it from different perspectives. And we usually disagree, which makes for a fun dynamic! At the moment we don’t have guests but we have discussed how it might work in the future.”

Claire says she and Lisa would love to have guests. “We’ve managed to work out how to use Zoom to record someone in another place, so it’s just a matter of working out whether a guest is good for us. As for having guests record with us, that can’t happen til we get more mics as there’s nothing worse than listening to a guest sounding like they’re in another room.”

However, if that’s unavoidable, another option for recording guests in other location is Zencaster.

Marketing your podcast

Coming up with the idea for your podcast is only the first step. You’ll also need to have a logo designed, create a website for your podcast (if you want to do that) and market each episode. If you have a large, growing listener base, you might also want to consider options for monetising your podcast and increasing its reach.

For Lynne and I, the aim with The Content Byte is currently to share knowledge, provide content in another way and continue to build our audiences – how that evolves remains to be seen, but there is a fair bit of work in promoting the podcast and bringing new listeners to the fore. We split up the social commitments and try to promote it daily.

A popular podcast can lead to new opportunities you weren’t expecting, says Claire, but she admits that getting the numbers and keeping people interested requires some work. “It’s not really a huge amount of work, but I would say that making a successful podcast isn’t just about making the podcast itself – something we’re learning more and more about.”

Coming from a magazine and media background has definitely helped Jono and Kerrie-Ann get the word out about House of Style. “We also know our audience very clearly so we know ways to reach them,” he adds. “You do need to be aware that there’s a lot of extra work involved – editing can take time but you also need to build a profile on social media and post daily – it’s key to have all the pieces in play, otherwise you could be missing out on a key audience. But it’s been incredibly rewarding. We always said from the start that if no one listens at least we get to have 8 inspiring conversations. Luckily, people have tuned in and are connecting with the stories we’re sharing. We can’t wait to share more in our second season, Women in Design – that starts in February.”

For Leigh, Popcorn Podcast has just been a great way for her and co-host Tim to regularly talk about their shared passion – movies! “There are loose plans to monetise it,” she says, “but it originally began as a way to position myself as an authority on the subject and upskill in my career to help with freelancing prospects.”

Are you considering starting a podcast? Or do you have one that you’d like people to know about? Feel free to share it below.

Rachel Smith

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