Podcastin' 101: The Tips, Tools, And Topics To Make A Top Podcast

  • September 15, 2015
  • Joey Held

Last year, more than 39 million Americans listened to a podcast. Whether it was everyone’s favorite trendy mystery case or a recap of a show that ended 17 years ago, people everywhere were taking in the portable form of entertainment.

That portability is a big reason why podcasting has become so popular recently. You can’t read a book or watch a video while driving—well, you could, but I don’t like condoning stupid things—but you could certainly listen to a podcast. Maybe you fancy Marc Maron talking to celebrities in his garage, or laughing at two guys watching and dissecting the film Grown Ups 2 every week for a year (they do say you suffer for your art, after all). Either way, you can consume podcasts on the go, which make it a unique medium, and something that’s definitely worth exploring further.

If you ever find yourself listening to a podcast and thinking, “Hey, I could do that,” here’s a crash course on everything to know about getting your own podcast up and running:

Things You’ll Need

At its core, a podcast is a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading, and is typically released as a series. With that in mind, you’ll need a few essential items to ensure your podcast is good quality for your listeners.. That includes a microphone, recording software, and Skype/FaceTime/a phone/some other way to chat with someone if the podcast is remote.

There are a number of different routes you can go to obtain this equipment—I’m a big fan of Blue SnowBall microphones, and you can’t beat Audacity’s price of zero dollars for recording and editing audio files. If you’re speaking with someone remotely, there are plenty of different phone apps to record a call or a Skype session. Some are free, others cost money, and they all have slightly different pros and cons. Do a little research to find the best one for your needs.

Most importantly, you’ll also need both interesting content and someone who can speak about that content fairly eloquently. You don’t have to be Colin Firth post-training in The King’s Speech, but if you can’t enunciate why your topic matters in a clear, concise way, listeners won’t be impressed.

Tips For Top Sound

Chances are, you don’t have a recording studio lying around your home—and if you do, nice to meet you, Dr. Dre. For the rest of us, utilize these tips to try and get your sound as close to perfect as possible:

  • Don’t sit directly in front of your microphone: You may not realize this, but when we breathe, it’s LOUD. Particularly if there’s a recording device just a few inches from our face. Anytime you take a breath, that’s picked up on the microphone. Don’t hold your breath, but do angle yourself diagonally from the mic so that you can limit unnecessary noise.
  • Record in quiet surroundings: If you’re recording from home, the quietest place is probably your closet. The clothes and closed door help muffle any background noise. But if you can’t get your computer or microphone into a closet, finding a room with minimal echo works too.
  • Use headphones and mute sounds: Whether you’re on the phone or Skype, this will help get rid of any potential feedback or echo. And you obviously don’t want the Skype “log-in” noise to go off while someone’s talking.
  • Don’t fidget in your chair: I have a chair at home that will squeak regardless of how much WD-40 I dump on it. If you have a similar stubborn sitting station, try not to lean back or move around in your chair. It’s hard to edit out a creak mid-sentence.
  • Have scripted portions when possible: Having a full script will make your podcast sound incredibly stilted, but it’s not a bad idea to have your intro and outro written down, as well as any questions you’d like to ask or points you want to get across.
  • Test your sound before you record: Then do it again. And then a third time. Technology is wonderful, but it still does make mistakes. Make sure you’ve tested out your recording software beforehand, ensuring volume is at a good level and everything works.

Podcasts To Listen To For Inspiration

Once you’re done recording, you can either upload your podcast directly to a website, or use a site like Podbean or SoundCloud to upload your audio file. If you have a valid RSS feed, you can add show tags and album artwork, and your podcast will even end up on iTunes! It’s a great way to get it out in front of more people.

A great way to polish your podcasting skills is to listen to some great ones already out there. You’ll see how they’ve developed their own tone, cadence, and style for their brand. Here are a few starter ideas from fellow INKers to get the creative juices flowing:

Shelley: How Did This Get Made! Comedy Bang Bang! Anything on Earwolf, really.

Ryan: Nerdist – Chris Hardwick, incredible guests, hilarious and enlightening conversation. Seanwes – All about design, running your business, productivity – all good things. Total Soccer Show – Because soccer. 

Caitlin: TED Radio Hour – I like this podcast because it feeds my need for continual learning. I love learning about things outside of my expertise zone—and I’m a huge science and human behavior nerd—so many of these episodes get me thinking in ways I don’t get to normally. It’s a bucket list item for me to eventually go to a TED show, so once I’m able to shell out $8.5K for a ticket (and if TED thinks I’m worthy enough to attend), I’ll get right on it.

Starr: I listen to Undisclosed right now – basically I became addicted to Serial and couldn’t believe it wasn’t truly a serial, so I had to find something to feed my addiction. I also listen to Dan Patrick’s show via podcast. Why? Because I love sports talk radio, and he and the Danettes crack me up.

Joey: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my own Locally Sourced Joey a plug, but I also thoroughly enjoy The Starters to keep up on all the latest NBA news. Plus they’ll make puns on players’ names like nobody’s business, and did crucial non-basketball episodes during the summer, like dissecting “Would You Rather” questions.

Happy listening!