Starting a podcast can seem daunting and many of the "how to start a podcast" tutorials online don't help much because they don't make things simple enough. I've launched three successful podcasts and have been interviewed on hundreds of others. I'm not just going to show you how to start a podcast, I'm going to show you how to start a successful podcast. Let's do it.
I've been very successful with podcasting. I've had podcasts in the top-15 in iTunes for popular, competitive categories and I've had podcasts that simply did well at attracting a strong listener base and turning those listeners into leads and sales.
In short, I know what I'm doing when it comes to podcasting. I've recorded and published over 250 hours of podcast episodes and I've been interviewed by other people on hundreds of shows.
In this tutorial and ultimate guide, I'm going to let you follow along as I launch my next podcast venture, the Six-Figure Grind Podcast. You'll learn how to start a podcast, how to make a podcast episode, how to grow your podcast audience, and more.
Ready? Let's get started...
Table of Contents
- What is a Podcast
- How do Podcasts Work
- How to Start a Podcast in 7 Steps
- How do Podcasts Make Money?
- Wrap-Up (Taking Action)
What is a Podcast?
The best way I've found to answer this question quickly is: "A podcast is like a radio show that you can listen to on-demand."
I think when you analyze most of the podcasts on iTunes, that's a pretty close explanation. However, podcasts can be – and often are – much more than that.
The Gary Vaynerchuck Podcast for example (officially titled The Gary Vee Audio Experience) is a collection of various types of completely unscripted audio, from interviews to recordings of his speaking engagements and "fireside chats."
There are short podcasts with 5-minute episodes and then there are podcasts with episodes that breach the 5-hour mark.
Once you enter the world of podcasting, you quickly realize that it's one of the most powerful forms of media ever invented.
How Do Podcasts Work?
Unlike a radio show where gatekeepers control who uses the airwaves, podcasting is basically the Wild West.
Anyone and everyone can start a podcast with a few dollars, which is why there are over 250,000 podcasts in over 100 different languages in the iTunes directory.
Podcasting uses the file transfer capabilities of the internet to get shows in the hands of listeners. Here's how podcasts work:
- The podcast creator records a podcast episode (just an audio file) using a microphone and podcast recording software (or a personal recorder that can transfer the file to their computer).
- Once that file is ready, it's uploaded to a podcast host (a server that stores audio files that's designed to handle lots of download requests – kinda like Dropbox, but designed for audio transfer).
- That podcast host creates a "feed" of all the episodes (has the episode title, description, and a link to where the file is on the server).
- iTunes uses that feed to list the podcast in their directory.
- Next, a podcast listener finds the podcast (usually via the iTunes directory or through their podcast app which searches the iTunes directory). This let's the listener see all the available episodes and download them from the server.
- Whenever a new episode is released, it's added to the feed and the server "pings" iTunes to let iTunes know the feed has been updated. This updates everyone's podcast app with the latest episode so they can download it (usually it's downloaded automatically).
- The listener is delighted and tells their friends and family about all the new podcasts they're listening to.
That's the basics of how podcasting works.
If you're still a little confused, the best thing to do is to download a free podcast app (like Overcast (Apple devices) or Podcast Addict (Android Devices), subscribe to your first podcast (after you open the app, search for "Six-Figure Grind"), download an episode, and then come back to the list above and use it to help you consider how all that just happened.
How to Start a Podcast in 7 Steps...
We've covered the basics. Now it's time to get into the meat of this tutorial. Below are the 7 key steps to starting a podcast. After I cover those, I'll answer some common questions and tie up any loose ends.
Step 1: Name Your Podcast
The first thing I always do is come up with a name for the show.
Sometimes this is very easy. If you already have a website/brand, the first option you should consider is just using the brand name. That's what I've done with pretty much every podcast I've launched.
This doesn't have to be the case, though. Ebay recently worked with Gimlet to launch a podcast called "Open For Business." You'd never know by the name that it was from Ebay. It's not a problem. The benefit of podcasting is that you build a dedicated listenership. They're going to know, like, and trust you if you create good content (read: How to Become a Prolific Content Creator).
What you definitely need to do before you settle on a name is a quick Google search and then an iTunes search. Make sure that name isn't already being used. Also, make sure it's easy to remember and easy to spell.
Step 2: Pick a Podcast Topic, Format, Length & Schedule
Your podcast topic is the most critical piece of this puzzle. While celebrities like Joe Rogan (The Joe Rogan Experience) can get away with covering a variety of topics, most podcasters are better served by picking a niche.
If you're creating a podcast as a digital marketing channel for a business, then you're probably already focused on a specific niche. Even so, you need to get really clear on exactly what niche you're going to target and how you're going to target that niche or your podcast is going to struggle to attract a dedicated audience.
For Six-Figure Grind, my niche isn't just "digital marketing" or "online business." That's too broad. My site and podcast are both focused on helping people become successful at building an online "lifestyle" business – a business that doesn't focus on size and scale, but rather on serving the owner with time freedom, location freedom, and financial freedom.
After you've chosen your niche and found clarity with your topic, you should put some thought into your podcast format. Your format isn't set in stone, but it helps to decide on what format you want to start with.
Here are some of the traditional formats that you should consider:
- Interview format – You bring guests on your show and interview them.
- Cohost format – You and a cohost will go back and forth on topics.
- Storytelling format – You will produce a documentary-style show.
- Solo format – You talk about your topic by yourself.
- Roundtable format – A small group discusses topics.
- Variety – You combine multiple formats into one episode or you switch the format depending on the goal of the episode.
Honestly, it doesn't really matter what you do. The content is what matters. For most of my shows, I switch up the format. I've done every single format on that list with the same podcast.
As a podcast listener and fan, I tend to like variety. Joe Rogan has one of the most popular podcasts in existence and he switches it up as well. He's primarily an interview format, but he also has a cohost. He switches to the roundtable style often. He's even recorded some solo shows.
Podcasts are living, breathing things. Nothing is set in stone with them, so don't sweat this part too much. There are some other things to consider, though:
- The interview format is the easiest for most people (as long as your decent at interviewing people).
- If you're not awesome at interviewing people, get a cohost. You can bounce back and forth during the interview.
- Getting a co-host adds scheduling and editing complexity.
- The solo format is a lot harder than it looks.
- The storytelling format requires extensive editing for solid production.
While we're on the topic of format, it's also important to think about how long you want your shows to be. Some people stick with the same time frame. You'll see that their shows are always 30 minutes. Or 45 minutes. Or 15 minutes. Others vary their show length (as I do).
Let's get one thing straight: the length of the show has no bearing on the success of the show. There are very popular podcasts that are 10 minutes long, just as there are very popular podcasts that are three hours long (like Hardcore History or Joe Rogan). In fact, most of the biggest shows are long format.
Everyone asks, "How long should my show be?" The only correct answer is, "as long as it needs to be."
The same is true of your release schedule. You can do a daily podcast, a weekly podcast, a monthly podcast, or anywhere in between. Personally, I recommend the weekly format. If you're doing shorter shows, you can consider doing multiple shows a week.
Speaking from experience, if you're new to podcasting I would start with weekly. It's a great schedule to keep you consistently learning and growing, but it's not an overwhelming schedule. And you can always change the schedule later. Some people go gung-ho and try to do a daily show or a multiple-episode-per-week show. This is risky as it can create overwhelm and drain your passion.
Step 3: Get some podcast equipment.
You don't need high-end podcast gear to produce a decent show. I'll show you what I use and then I'll tell you what I recommend.
Here's the basic list of what you'll need:
- A computer with a USB input (pretty much a given).
- A microphone with a USB cable.
- Something to hold the mic.
Here's a list of what you'll need if you want to use a higher-end mic:
- A computer with a USB input.
- A microphone with an XLR cable.
- Something to hold the mic.
- A signal booster.
- A USB audio interface.
Here's a list of what you'll need if you want to produce a professional show with a more people or effects:
- A computer with a USB input.
- Microphones with XLR cables.
- Something to hold the mics.
- A signal booster for each mic.
- A USB mixer.
- 1/4" audio cables.
Let's talk about this stuff in more detail.
Computer with a USB input.
Whatever you prefer. I'm an Apple guy, but you can podcast with any computer that has a USB input a free hard drive space. In fact, you don't even need a computer – it's possible to create a podcast on your phone.
Best Mics (Microphones) for Podcasting
I use a Shure SM7b. If you're on a budget, take my word for it and get the Audio Technica ATR2100. It's hands down the best entry-level microphone for podcasting. With the Audio Technica and a decent recording sapace, nobody is going to know you aren't using high-end equipment.
Best Mic Stand and Mic Accessories for Podcasting
How the mic is held is important for two reasons. First, the position of the mic determines the sound quality in a big way. Second, mics are notorious for picking up vibrations from hands (if you're holding it) or tables (if it's on a stand improperly).
If your stand doesn't come with a shock mount, you'll want to pick up one of those as well. The shock mount is what suspends the mic away from the stand or arm so that any vibrations aren't transferred to the mic (and into the audio file).
Lastly, a pop filter is a good idea for killing what are called, "plosives" (the popping sound created when you say words that start with t, k, and p – and sometimes b, g, and d). This will make your recording much cleaner and more professional. Some people can't stand plosives and will turn off a recording if they're too prominent.
Best Headphones for Podcasting
I personally use the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, but I recorded the first 100 episodes of my career with iPhone headphones plugged into the ATR2100.
They're not a necessity, but they're great to have if you have the money.
Best Audio Interface or Mixer for Podcasting
If you don't want the complexity of a mixer, just get an audio interface. Since you can't plug XLR cables into a computer (more on that in a moment), you need to run them through an audio interface. Then the audio interface hooks up to the computer through the USB port.
I had a lot of success with the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4. It will support up to two mics.
I currently use Mackie 8-Channel Compact Mixer.
If you use the Audio Technica mic I recommended, you will not need an audio interface or a mixer. You can plug that mic directly into your computer's USB port.
For Higher-End Mics, You'll Need a Signal Booster
Higher end microphones usually need "phantom power" (provided by the audio interface or the mixer). But they also tend to need a mid-line signal boost (especially true of the Shure SM7B). A signal booster goes between the mic and the mixer or between the mic and the audio interface, providing "clean" gain (more volume without distortion effects).
I really like the Cloudlifter for this.
XLR cables take the audio from the microphone (higher-end mics) to the audio interface (or to the mixer and through the signal booster if you're using one). This one will do you just fine.
If you're using the Audio Technica I recommended, or a basic USB microphone, you won't need any XLR cables.
Once you have the equipment (start minimal if you'd like), you're ready for the next step.
Step 4: Record Your First Podcast Episode (And Then...)
If you're new to podcasting, your first episode is going to suck. So, here's a great approach for getting off to a strong start.
Everyone sucks in the beginning. Even if you manage to record a decent show, I can guarantee that it still sucks relative to what you'll eventually be capable of.
For this reason, it's important to get the first run out of the way.
How to Record a Podcast Episode: Basic Podcast Outline
Your podcast can be as creative or basic as you want. There are many successful podcasts that don't use an outline whatsoever, but when you're first starting out it can be helpful to follow an outline.
Here's the most basic outline for a 30-minute show:
- Intro (5 min)
- Core content (25 minutes)
- Outro (5 min)
Intro's are important as they set the tone for the episode and communicate to listeners what to expect (tell them what they're going to learn or hear about in the episode they're listening to).
Outros are important as those are often used for calls to action. For example, you can remind new listeners to subscribe to your podcast so they start getting notified of all your new episodes. That's one example of an important call to action to grow your audience.
How to Record a Podcast Episode: Podcast Recording Software & Room Setup
I use Adobe Audition as part of Adobe Creative Cloud. I'm a huge fan of Creative Cloud and highly recommend it.
If you're looking for a free solution, you can use Garage Band on a Mac or Audacity on PC.
Record straight into the software once you have all your equipment hooked up. But before you start recording, take a moment to check your recording space. If you're in a room that produces significant echo (do a test recording if you need to and listen back using headphones), you'll want to move to a different room or find a way to optimize the room you're in a little.
If you can't record in a different area, consider hanging a couple heavy blankets (moving blankets work well). Putting one behind you (seems counterintuitive) is very important. If you have two, put one in front and one behind.
Once your podcast is successful and you're getting more serious, you can treat the room professionally.
How to Record a Podcast Episode: Recording a Podcast on Skype
If you're going to be using the interview format, I'd highly recommend Skype as it's the industry standard. Skype is free and most people who have been a guest on a podcast before will have a Skype account. If they don't, you can always use Skype to call their phone and record the show that way.
Skype doesn't have a built in call recorder, so you'll need to use a third party add-on. The best add-on for Mac is Ecamm's "Call Recorder" for Skype. If you're on a Windows PC, Pamela is a popular call recorder.
Simply download and install the add-on, call your guest on Skype, and hit the record button. Your recording will be saved to your computer as a file that you can edit later into a final episode.
How to Record a Podcast Episode: Editing Tips & Tricks
I'm not going to go into a full editing tutorial here. That's something you're going to have to learn over time. I will, however, show you some quick tips and tricks.
To be honest, I don't do much editing on most of my shows. I keep it very simple. There are just a few things that are very important...
How to Record a Podcast Episode: Exporting
If you're using Audition, here's how you'll want to export your podcast...
That process is going to be different in every program. What won't be different, however, are your export settings.
Here are the export settings I use...
I highlighted the important areas.
- Export to an MP3 file format.
- Sample type should be 44100 Hz at 16-bit.
- The bitrate (Kbps) will greatly determine the final audio quality as well as the file size. I like higher definition audio, so I export at 128Kbps. You can go as low as 64Kbps. I wouldn't recommend going any lower than that, though.
Okay, now that you've exported it, take the file and put it in the trash.
I'm serious. Just trust me. Put that file in the trash and then go record that same episode again. It'll be better the second time around.
Once you've done that, proceed to the next step.
Getting Feedback On Your First Episode
Once you've exported the second version of your first episode, send it to a few people. Make sure that at least one of those people is a podcast listener or a podcast producer.
Don't just ask, "What do you think?" Ask them to criticize it. Ask them to tell you what they thought about the audio quality. Ask them to scrutinize the content. Ask them if it sounded awkward.
It's okay if they destroy it. Take whatever they offer as feedback and use that to make your next show better.
Here's the kicker: You must publish that first episode regardless of what they say. Why? Because it's too easy to get discouraged and trash it and never record another episode again.
Put that first episode out into the wild and move on...
Step 5: Publish Your First Podcast Episode
Step five is where a lot is going to happen all at once. Hang on your seat.
Podcast Hosting (Mp3 Hosting – Aka "Where You Upload and Store Your Podcast Audio Files")
Now that you have your first podcast recorded and ready to go, you need somewhere to put the file.
When people download a podcast episode, they're basically making a transfer request for a file on a server. As your show gets more and more popular, the server is constantly being bombarded with download requests.
This is why hosting your podcast is not free. And if you try to use some janky hosting method, like putting your shows in Dropbox, you'll quickly rack up a huge bill. It's better to host your files with a dedicated podcast host. They have fast servers and can handle the traffic.
I have two that I recommend:
I switched from Libsyn to Fireside recently. I can't stand the fact that Libsyn's interface looks like it's from the early 2000s.
Petty? Sure. But I prefer to use beautiful things. Fireside.fm has a much more modern interface and the pricing was a little better (because I have multiple shows).
Create an account at either place and then upload your first episode.
Why You Should Avoid Free Podcast Hosting
Free podcasting hosting is alluring, especially for newbies, but it's a terrible idea.
In the land of the internet, you get what you pay for. If you're using a free host, you're almost always going to have limited control and features and limited access to important things like stats.
You also stand the chance of the host deciding one day that they're going to start charging an amount you don't agree with (forcing you to move, which is a pain in the ass) or they could just up and go out of business (like Soundcloud is on the brink of doing).
Why take these risks when podcast hosting is extremely cheap? You're talking $10-$20/mo to make sure your files are safe, secure, and served well to your audience.
Publishing your first podcast: Artwork
You need some sexy podcast artwork for iTunes and other directories so you stand out from the crowd. The required artwork is a 3000 x 3000-pixel image.
It's important that your artwork is clear and well designed. Keep in mind that when people are browsing iTunes, they're going to be looking at thumbnails of the artwork. You should be able to read the show title when it's thumbnail size.
I designed this artwork for Six Figure Grind...
It's okay. It feels temporary to me. I will eventually have one done by a professional. The good news is that it doesn't matter. Shipping your shit matters. Everything can be changed later.
Publishing your first podcast: Publishing on your website
Here's where I think a lot of people make a big mistake. Should you publish to your website or just to your podcast host?
In order to explain why I think many people are making a mistake, we have to talk [quickly] about RSS feeds.
You can think of an RSS feed as a dynamic list of content. When you publish something online (like a blog post, podcast, or video), the meat of it can be published to an RSS feed. This is a web address where a list of your content lives.
This web address can be accessed by people, programs, etc. This is how iTunes knows you published something new. You're submitting your RSS Feed to iTunes and they "crawl" your feed every so often to look for new content. Or, your site can "ping" iTunes when something new is published so they know to pull the new data.
Most podcast hosts will create an RSS feed for you. However, if you're using WordPress as your website framework (as I recommend), you'll also have the ability to generate one there.
Because most people who start podcasts don't really understand RSS feeds, they tend to use the one supplied by their podcast host. This can be a problem because you don't own your feed address.
Let's say you decide to switch hosts (like I did). Guess what? That feed you submitted to iTunes way back when will no longer get updated. You have to resubmit your feed to iTunes and iTunes is a bitch when it comes to updating and changing things. And if any errors occur along the way, good luck getting support from iTunes.
If you use a feed generated by WordPress, it lives on your own domain. For example, the Six Figure Grind feed is https://digitalambition.co/feed/podcast/
If I were to use the one from Fireside, it would have Fireside's URL in it.
So, how do you get a feed for your own domain? You install a plugin called Powerpress. This will allow you to configure all of the proper settings for your podcast, publish to your site, and create a separate podcast feed for you to submit to iTunes. If you want our tech team to do all this for you, get in touch.
Publishing your first podcast: Submit Your Podcast to iTunes & Other Directories (How to Get a Podcast on iTunes)
This part is boring and you have to wait for approval, but it's a necessary step.
iTunes recently released Podcast Connect. This is where you'll need to submit your podcast for approval to the directory. You must have your first episode published to your RSS feed before you can submit.
Contrary to what many beginners think, you don't actually upload your podcast to iTunes. iTunes is just a directory that you submit a podcast "feed" to.
iTunes is critical because many of the other podcasting services and apps pull directly from the iTunes API. So if your podcast is in iTunes, it'll automatically be found most other places as well.
Publishing your first podcast: Installing an audio player on your website
Most people listen to podcasts on their mobile devices. However, it's still important to create a great user experience on your website for those that will choose to listen there (often first-time listeners).
If you're using Powerpress, they supply an audio player automatically. The player will show up on every episode you publish through Powerpress.
The problem with the Powerpress player is that it's ugly and lacks features. For that reason, I turned off the default player and use a plugin from Patt Flynn called Smart Podcast Player.
You have to insert Smart Podcast Player manually for each episode, but it's very simple. It will allow you to drop in a player for individual episodes as well as for your entire show.
Step 6: Publish Two More Episodes As Soon As Possible
Think about being a first-time listener. Don't you want to binge a little?
Publishing your first episode is a great step, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels. Even if you've decided on a weekly or semi-monthly schedule, you need to set your schedule aside until you have at least 3-5 episodes.
That's right, it's time to record and publish again for at least two more episodes. When you have 3-5 episodes in the bank, you can default over to your preferred schedule.
This little bank of early episodes is enough to entice your viewer to subscribe and stick around. If you only have one episode for them to listen to, it's not enough for some people.
Step 7: Promote & Capture An Audience
Now that your podcast is alive, you need to get people to find out about it. I mentioned earlier that there are over 250,000 podcasts. That's a lot of noise and competition.
Ultimately, if you have good content your listeners are going to stick around and tell others about your show. This is how podcasts grow organically. Unless you're really knocking it out of the park, waiting for this to happen could take a while, though.
Here are some other ways to promote your podcast and grow your audience:
- Be a guest on related podcasts in your niche (by far, the best way to grow your audience for free).
- Promote your podcast to your social network.
- Run paid ads for your podcast on Facebook or Google.
- Pay other podcasts in your niche to mention your show and tell people to subscribe (or work out a swap deal with them).
- Promote your podcast to your email list (you're doing email marketing, right?)
- Mention your podcasts on relevant forums or promote it on Reddit.
- Use basic digital marketing strategies to build an audience outside of podcasting and then convert those people to podcast listeners.
That's a basic rundown. Be forewarned, growing a podcast isn't easy. Some people do really well and gain traction quickly, but most podcasts fail or "podfade."
In my opinion, the best way to be successful is to use a wide array of digital marketing strategies and convert the audience you're able to attract with those strategies into podcast listeners (and seed the organic growth that way). Of course, if you have an existing audience that matches your podcast topic, your life will be a lot easier.
Also, keep in mind that getting downloads is only the first step to growing and capturing your audience. You have to get those listeners to stick around!
Getting people to become recurring listeners requires a proactive strategy. You can't just assume people that listen will subscribe. You must tell them to subscribe! In fact, you need to give them clear instructions on how to subscribe, repeatedly, over the course of many episodes.
Ask them to subscribe in their favorite podcast app (so they'll keep listening), but it's also important to ask them to subscribe on iTunes.
Even if people don't listen on iTunes, they need to subscribe to your show there. iTunes is the most popular podcast search engine. Their algorithm ranks podcasts by how many people are subscribing in a given timeframe. If you want your podcast to climb in rank on iTunes, you need subscribers there (not ratings & reviews as most people think).
While they're there, ask people to rate and review the show as well. While this won't do much for your ranking, it does provide important social proof that helps people confirm that they should subscribe.
Lastly, make repeated calls to action on your show for people to subscribe to your email list. You can even allow them to text (SMS) opt-in to your show using a service like Textiful. Textiful has a really powerful integration with ConvertKit to make this very easy.
When a podcast listener joins my email list, I consider them to be somewhat of a "super listener." They're much more valuable than casual listeners.
Bottom line: Promote, promote, promote. Be proactive. Don't sit around hoping for success to come to you.
So Wait, How do Podcasts Make Money?
There are a lot of ways that podcasts can make money (called "monetizing" your podcast). All of them depend on you having an audience, though, so keep that in mind before you get too excited.
Once you start to grow an audience, then you can start thinking about ways to monetize:
- Running paid advertising spots.
- Asking for donations.
- Creating listener-supported content (via a platform like Patreon).
- Creating a premium podcast (locked feed that you can sell membership access to).
- Creating a freemium podcast (latest 10 or so episodes are free and the rest are available to purchase access to).
- Using your podcast to sell your own products (if you run a business).
- Using your podcast to promote other people's products in exchange for a commission on sales (affiliate marketing).
- Selling your podcast to a willing buyer.
- Charging guests for exposure to your audience.
- And more...
The only thing that's really valuable about a podcast is the attention you get from people (your audience). Whatever ways you can successfully sell access to attention will apply to monetizing a podcast. At the end of the day, though, you need an audience. That's the hardest part.
Now you know how to start a podcast. But none of this means anything if you don't take action!
I understand that starting a podcast can be a daunting task. If you're feeling stuck, whether it's content & idea issues or technical issues, reach out for help. I've done podcast consulting for a bunch of people and I have a tech team that can jump in and take care of whatever dirty work you don't feel comfortable with.
If you have any quick questions that others might find value in hearing the answer to, drop them in the comments below.