A Beginners' Manual to Starting a Podcast in 2021

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Last updated:
May 25, 2021
A Beginners' Manual to Starting a Podcast in 2021

Find Your Why

find your why venn diagram

Why are you starting a podcast?

There is no right answer to this question, but you need to have an answer. Whether you want to inform, educate, or entertain, figuring out your why will help you define your objectives and plan accordingly.

Once you’ve found your reason, it’s time to choose a topic. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of content do I want to deliver?
  • What are those issues you are passionate about?

If this is too vague to get your head on it, try browsing on iTunes or Spotify to see what podcasts are out there.

First, find some podcasts you like and identify which things they have in common:

  • What do you like about them?
  • What is the overarching theme?
  • Now, how could you create something unique out of this topic?
  • What skills, experiences or values do you have that can add value to your future listeners?

Narrow down the overarching theme and find that sweet spot that will be your topic.


Plan Your Production 

Planning your production will help you enter strong in the world of podcasting. Broadly speaking, this entails deciding on the following points:


#1 Your Niche

Finding a niche is about identifying the right group of people for your show.  Remember, you’ll never be able to be likable by everyone, so it’s better to focus on a specific type of audience rather than target everyone at once. Only by identifying what kind of people you want to target will you be able to start growing your audience.


#2 The Format of Your Show

Choosing the format of your show will help you structure and organize your episodes in later stages. It will also make your podcast look more professional and consistent throughout episodes. Some of the most common formats among popular podcasts are: 

  • Monologue/solo podcasts: one host talks about their expertise or experience.
  • Co-hosted podcasts: two or more hosts conversate about their expertise or experience.
  • Panel podcasts: a discussion around a single topic between a group of which is moderated by the host.
  • Interview-based podcasts: a host interviews guests and guides the conversation around a specific topic.
  • Storytelling podcasts: the host narrates a story, fiction or nonfiction, and often includes sound effects and audio sourced from real-life.

You may choose to stick to one of these styles or implement a combination of all in your show. No method is better than the other, it’s a matter of personal preference and desired focus. Once you have decided your preferred format, be consistent, and plan your program accordingly.


#3 The Length of Your Show 

Although there are no rules regarding the episode length, it’s worth keeping in mind that short episodes will make new listeners more likely to try out your podcast.

We recommend keeping the length under 30 minutes when starting out. Once you have decided on the ideal length, try to remain consistent throughout the rest of the episodes. 


#4 The Frequency of Your Show

Being consistent is key here. Consistency will make it easier for your audience to follow you and listen to the new content you release. This is not so much about publishing weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, but rather about being clear on how often you are publishing.


Name It

Now that you have the first points sorted out, you may want to spend some time thinking about the name for your podcast. Ideally, it should be short enough to be memorable, but long enough to capture what the show is about. In order to keep the name short, try to avoid redundant words such as “podcast” or “show”.

Your podcast name should also be easy to spell and to pronounce – especially at the beginning, you’ll be relying on word-of-mouth to increase your reach. Moreover, keep in mind that choosing a name with numbers will create some confusion: when it comes to typing out the name, “five” is not the same as “5”. Finally, don’t get too clever: if you have to explain what the name of the podcast means, go for something different. 

How to know that your name isn’t already taken? Make sure to google it (and add “podcast” in your search, to be completely sure). Check also Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube to see if any similar podcast appears on the search.

Second, if you’re serious about podcasting and are considering creating a website, later on, make sure to check whether the website domain for the name is available. Having trouble finding a name? Have some fun with a free business name generator.


Finding Great Guests

Whether for interview-based or panel podcasts, finding the right guests can make a big difference for your show.

A good conversation will bring diversity and some innovative insights to your show, as well as an extensive audience. So, how can you find great people for your podcast? Here are a few tips:

Don’t be shy.
It can be scary to reach out to others to talk in your podcast, especially in the beginning. No need! We have all been beginners at something, and that doesn’t mean your podcast is not good. Make a list of potential guests and start reaching them out.

What’s your podcast about?
Prepare a description of your podcast, and if you can, redirect potential guests to some of your work. Clarify your audience size, the number of downloads per episode, and your social presence.

Highlight the advantages.
Make sure to highlight in your description the benefits guests have access to by talking in your podcast. Emphasize the promotion opportunities that are in your guest’s interest: increased visibility, backlinks to their site or merchandise, and reaching their target audience.

Start with your network.
Is there anyone you know that could add something to your show? Start with those and build up your network from there. The connections you make along the way could be very valuable.

Search for similar podcasts.
A comprehensive search around directories such as iTunes or Spotify, as well as on social media, will help you spot fellow podcasters that may as well be your next guests.

Don’t stop at podcasters.
Industry experts, influencers, authors, media people – the list can go on and on. Broaden your search to find the people that can add most to your show, regardless of their background.

Ask your audience.
Asking on your social media “Who would you like to have next on the show?” may help you in finding some great people out there. At the same time, you’re giving the audience an opportunity to interact with you.

Use a Guest Booking Service.
For example, PodcastGuests, Podchaser Connect, or Matchmaker.fm.


Necessary Equipment

necessary podcast equipment

The great thing about podcasting is that it has low entry barriers – pretty much anyone can start a podcast by finding a quiet room and recording their voice on a phone. However, if you want to level up, you’ll need to invest in some basic equipment.


Microphone

Whether you are recording only audio or video podcasts, a proper sound quality will make a big difference to your audience. There are two types of mics you can choose: 

USB mic – the easiest (and cheapest) option, it plugs directly into the computer. It will do the job if you are recording from home.

Related article: Best USB Microphones to Buy in 2021 [Podcasting & Recording]


XLR mic – for more professional setups, it delivers better audio quality. It comes with a connector that needs to be plugged into an audio interface.

Related article: XLR Microphones: The Best Ones for Podcasters of All Levels


Some of our recommendations are:

Related article: Choosing a Podcast Microphone – Your Podcast Equipment Setup


Headphones

Wearing headphones during the recording will give you greater control over the sound, and will enable you to notice any changes in the volume of your voice throughout the recording.

Furthermore, if recording with several people, headphones will isolate voices and minimize overlapping sounds. 

Some recommendations are:

Webcam (for video podcasts and live streaming)

Placing a webcam on your monitor will improve the upward-leaning angle that built-in cameras create when recording from a laptop. A good webcam also increases the resolution of your video and offers a broader view of the room.

Although they don’t have to be expensive, do note that cheaper webcams are very dependent on the room’s lighting to deliver a high-resolution image. 

Some recommendations are:

Related article: Podcast Camera: Choosing The Best One For Video Podcasting


Additional Gadgets

Looking to improve the sound quality with some additional gadgets? Try adding a pop filter or a foam ball to get rid of hard plosive sounds (“p’s” and “b’s”) and harsh “s’s”. A reflection filter will help you minimize echoes.

Are you recording from home and can’t find a room with proper lighting? Then, consider adding some extra ones to improve the quality of the video.

Any extra LED will do the job, but we like this kit from Neewer and that from Viltrox. You may also want to add a webcam ring light to your equipment. 

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Recording Software for Every Type of Podcast

Long-distance recording software will help you create a podcast with input from guests in different locations. Proper software will create the illusion that your guests and you are in the same room, even if the recordings take place in different places.

When choosing a recording software, you’ll need to decide whether you want to record audio-only or video podcasts. Some software will also let you live stream. Additionally, you’ll want to pay attention to the following:

Local recordings – some software record each person’s voice locally, meaning that the recording takes place on the laptop instead of over the internet.

Local recordings will avoid disruptions caused by a bad internet connection and will ensure good-quality audio, regardless of the internet connection. 

Separate tracks
– some software record each person’s voice in separate tracks, instead of providing one track with all voices included.

This is a great advantage because it enables you to silence any unwanted noises from a specific guest’s side without having to delete content from the other tracks. 

Compressed audio
– some recording software will compress the audio files into a smaller file size when exporting it. The compression of your audio will result in quality loss, making the podcasts sound overall less professional. 

Progressive uploading
– some recording software work with progressive uploading, meaning that everyone’s track in the session will upload at the same time the recording is taking place.

Since the files are being uploaded during the recording, nothing will get lost if a member disconnects from the session before the end. Moreover, the final uploading time will be much shorter.


Ideally, to achieve the best audio quality, you’ll want to choose a method that records locally, separates tracks for every guest, and delivers uncompressed audio files. Progressive uploading will also make the recording it safer and faster.

That said, there are several options you can choose from:

Riverside.fm (audio, video, live stream). This platform offers important advantages over competitors. Riverside.fm records locally and works with separate audio and video tracks for every guest. This allows all recordings to be synchronized, making the final editing process much easier. The platform counts with progressive uploading; the local recording files are uncompressed, therefore, ensuring higher quality.

What’s more, Riverside.fm will make a backup internet recording of your podcast to ensure nothing gets lost. The software also offers the option to live stream the remote recording on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch, with a call-in option to let the audience interact live.

Although live streaming will require you to have a stable internet connection, Riverside.fm will make a simultaneous local recording of the session to facilitate later distribution of the live stream recording. 


Cleanfeed (audio). This free browser application will allow you to record audio from multiple people simultaneously. For remote recordings, you need to create an account and send invitations to your guests. The entire recording happens over the internet, and two separate tracks are recorded: one for the host and another one for all the guests.

Skype
(audio, video). In Skype, the recording is free and has no time limit. Unfortunately, Skype comes with several downsides. It doesn’t record locally, and it doesn’t separate tracks, making the recording very vulnerable to an unstable internet connection.

The recording files will be given compressed, therefore downgrading the quality of the podcast. Unless you or your guest have a strong preference for Skype, we would recommend avoiding this software whenever possible.

Related article: Riverside.fm: A Skype Alternative for Podcasting


Zoom
(audio, video, live stream). This user-friendly platform will allow you to record audio and video with other people without being required to have an account or download any software. Zoom records locally, but it doesn’t separate tracks for each participant and the files will be compressed, which will downgrade the quality of the recordings.

Its basic plan allows you to record for free with a time limit of 40 minutes. Furthermore, although Zoom supports live streaming, this feature it's not optimized for the platform.

Related article: How to Make a Zoom Podcast (And Other Alternatives to Consider)


During the Recording 

Your equipment and recording software is all set! It’s time to start recording your software. Podcasts often feel natural and conversational. This, however, doesn’t mean that a script won’t help.

Writing down a content framework will prove useful for both beginners and experienced podcasters. Not only will this ensure that you don’t forget any key point during the recording, but it will also allow you to remain focused on the technical aspect of the recording.

What exactly are the technical things you should keep in mind?

  1. The position of your mic, with the axis, pointed at your mouth, at approximately 10cm of distance.
  2. The levels and signal flow of your mic and audio equipment. Test them before the call and 5 minutes after the call start. If they are at a good level, don’t adjust them further.
  3. The Wi-fi connection, which should be as stable as possible during the whole recording. Remember to test your internet speed in advance and consider moving the recording set-up closer to the recording spot.
  4. The camera, in case you are recording a video podcast. You want to make the impression that you are looking at your audience.
  5. The lights, also when you record video podcasts. Avoid placing lights directly above you or behind you. Play with the lighting sources until you find the most flattering angles for your face – the three-point lighting technique can help you with that.


With all these things in mind, press record and start your podcast. You might be nervous at first but remember why you are doing this and what do you want to convey to your audience. 

Once you reach the end, let the recording run for some seconds of complete silence (i.e. “room tone”) at the very end to use them in transitions, patching edits, or noise reductions during the editing process of the podcast.


Editing the Podcast

Now that you’ve recorded your tracks, it’s time to edit the recording and turn it into a podcast. Not all podcasters edit their work in the same way. Some may spend hours putting it all together on an editing software, while others will leave it almost untouched.

In any case, editing your recordings will give you a chance to polish the work and make it look and sound like a professional podcast. 


Podcast Editing Software

There are many tools that will help you edit your audio podcast. Pro Tools, REAPER, Audition, Hindenburg, Audacity, and GarageBand are some of the most popular ones.

They all have similar features, where they let you edit, mix, and export your audio into a file that you can turn into a podcast. If you count with some podcasting experience, consider using one of these. 

Related article: Podcast Editing Software: Which One To Choose In 2021

If you don’t feel comfortable with this process, consider hiring an expert to edit the podcast for you. Alternatively, long-distance software Riverside.fm has some functions that ease the post-production process for its users, such as the Magic Editor that automates the post-productin process.

We made a selection of podcast editors that we endorse.


Polishing the Audio

Having unpolished audio will likely discourage your audience from reaching the end of the episode, even if the content is interesting.

Taking some time to edit these things will help you start strong with your podcast and deliver quality content right from the first moment.

What are some things you may want to eliminate/correct?

  • Wording/content mistakes
  • Background noises and pops
  • Overly long silences or moments of doubt (“hmm…”, “ahh…”)
  • Long episodes: if the recording turned out longer than expected try shortening some parts of it.


Intros and Outros

If you are considering making many episodes, you may want to create standard intros and outros for each episode. Intros and outros should be only a couple of seconds long, but they are an opportunity to remind your audience of your name, the name of the podcast, and the theme of your show.

Besides, you can briefly explain what topics will be covered in the episode and whether there are any special guests present.


Music

Adding some background music for the intro can improve the listening experience and will make the podcast sound more professional. Just remember that you can’t use any song (due to copyright rules), so make sure to search for royalty-free music or Creative Commons content.

Related article: Where To Find The Best Royalty-Free Music for Podcasts [2021]

Uploading and Distributing Your Podcast 

uploading and distributing your podcast

Once you’ve finished editing your podcast, it is ready to be released! This process can look quite confusing for those starting in the world of podcasting, but if done the right way, it’s a simple procedure. The following steps will guide you through the process of getting the podcast to your audience: 

(1) First, you’ll need to choose a podcast hosting platform. A hosting site is a website where you will store your podcast episodes as MP3 files. You’ll have to upload the files you recorded as well as episode-specific information (title, description, and artwork).

Some of the most popular hosting sites are Buzzsprout, Podbean, or Sounder.fm, but there are plenty out there to choose from.

(2) Once you upload your files to a hosting site, a so-called RSS feed will be generated.

An RSS (i.e. Really Simple Syndication) is essentially a URL (i.e. Uniform Resource locator, or what we commonly call a “link” or web address) that will allow you to share your podcast in other platforms and directories.

(3) Now that you have your RSS feed, you’ll need to distribute your work across some of the major directories. Podcast directories are the apps where we listen and discover podcasts. Some of the most popular ones are Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or Pocketcasts.

Podcast directories don’t physically hold your MP3 files and therefore don’t allow you to directly upload episodes to their platforms. Instead, they receive your podcast information through the RSS feed created by your podcast host. Thus, directories really act as an intermediary between you and your audience. 

(4) By submitting your RSS feed link you’ll be able to create the necessary connection between the podcast host and the directory. When this connection is set, you won’t need to upload an episode anymore: by working with RSS feed, you only need to upload your content to the podcast host, instead of uploading it several times to each of your directories of choice.

This means that you will only have to upload your episode once, but your audience will be able to listen to your podcast from a range of different directories.

Related article: How To Publish A Podcast (Beginner’s Guide 2021)


Final Thoughts and Further Steps

Starting a podcast doesn’t have to be complicated, but if you want to achieve a certain quality standard, there are many factors to look at. It may take some time, but the end result is very rewarding.

We hope this first part of our Beginner’s Manual can help you to get your first episodes out there. Curious to know how can you increase your audience reach and make money out of your podcast? Read our guide about podcast promotion, growth, and monetization!

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