How the Sausage is Made – The Guts of a Podcast

How the Sausage is Made – The Guts of a Podcast

How the Sausage is Made

You’ve listened to Serial and Startup. You’ve had a great idea for a podcast, bouncing around in your head for some time now, that has remained – as yet – unrealized.

Perhaps it’s a lack of free time, or the lack of access to good equipment holding you back; or possibly, it’s just a lack of talent (no! not that!).

Putting together a decent podcast isn’t exactly a moonshot. But it does require some planning, patience, and execution to do well.

Where to Start

The obvious place to start is to have something interesting to say. This should be intuitively obvious – until you suffer through some abysmally bad podcasts, and realize that many podcasters seem to have skipped this step altogether. Before investing loads of time, and effort, into a podcast no one will listen to, be sure that what you have to say will have a receptive audience.

But maybe before even deciding this – ask yourself: why am I doing this? Is it for love of the subject matter? Putting myself out there for more exposure, as an expert? Creating buzz? Understanding your motivation, explicitly, will help you bring focus and clarity to the project.

Decide on Format, and Periodicity

Once you convince yourself that you do have a compelling concept, the next step is to decide upon the format of your ‘cast.

Will your podcast have guests? Will it be moderated? How will you produce it? Do you have time to create it daily, weekly, monthly, or just whenever you can get to it?

You’ll find that creating consistently compelling content is a never-ending challenge. It’s a bit easier if you have someone help you produce and put the ‘cast together, but the fact remains: podcasting takes a lot of time. Even – and especially – when you do everything yourself; but only if you want something enjoyable, engaging, and consumable at the end of the process.

Tools of the Trade

Alright. You now have a concept, and a production schedule. Now what?

Well, at its most basic, all you really need to create a podcast is a microphone, a recorder, and a relatively noise-free environment.

But in order to do well, you will need the best microphone that you can afford, a reliable computer and recording / editing software, and a room with acoustic properties that are conducive to echo- and noise-free recording.

Personally, I’ve had good experience with microphones from Blue (I particularly like the Blue Yeti). But there are many quality mics available, so shop around for a mic that suits you and your setup. Expect to pay $100 and up for a good, professional mic.

I use Apple’s GarageBand or Audacity (available on Mac and PC) to record my ‘casts, and to do post-production editing. I’ve sometimes used Google Hangouts on Air, but the quality of service is highly dependent upon your connection to YouTube and the internet, so this is not a primary recording source for me, if I can help it.

The best recording environments are, naturally, professional recording booths. If you don’t have access to a professional booth, I’ve found that music rehearsal rooms work well, as do library study rooms. In your home, you can turn a walk-in closet, with lots of hanging clothes, into a very workable ad hoc studio. The key is to find either a large room, or a room with soft surfaces on the walls to absorb echoes.

Extemporaneous or Scripted – What Method’s Best?

I’ve produced moderated podcasts, where there was no script, recorded live and in the moment. I’ve recorded short extemporaneous dialogs, off the cuff, for daily thought-of-the-day ‘casts. I’m currently creating a daily, scripted podcast.

I’ve found all of these approaches to be workable – provided, you’re in command of your subject matter, and are a decent presenter.

But, for anything longer than a minute or two, especially when you’re the only person on the ‘cast, I’ve found it best to script the show, before hand. This does a number of things:

  • Your content will be focused
  • You’ll avoid rambling asides, and
  • You’ll be able to accurately time the length of your ‘cast by the word count of your script (roughly, 125 words per minute of spoken text, 150 if you talk fast).

You should experiment with a style that fits your format, and your presentation style. I know some podcasters who create their cast, unscripted, first – and then transcribe later. I’m more comfortable scripting everything ahead of time, doing a run through, and then recording a “keeper” take. Do whatever works best for you.

Fix it in Post

Even if you completely “nail” your recording, there will be something you’ll want to correct or edit, post-production. In fact, you’ll most likely than not spend much more time in post-production with your ‘cast, than it actually took to record in the first place.

Good podcasts are much more than just your core content. Bumper music, introductions, transitions, commercials – all of these are to be found in almost every podcast you find on iTunes and Stitcher.

You should also invest the time into creating a recognizable format for your cast, that is unique and individual to your ‘cast brand. Listener feedback, spoiler-free segments, question and answer – providing a consistent, readily recognizable format promotes listener affinity to your brand.

This includes not only a set of identifiable audible program segments, but also supporting image content, that provides an additional, visually unique tie into your podcasting brand.

Putting it All Together

Now, in isolation, a podcast is just an audio recording. But in reality, a podcast should be considered a thematic series of recordings, a recognizable audio brand, with a method to distribute its content on the web. You’ll to have a mechanism to share what you’ve created.

At a minimum, you’ll need storage to save your recordings, that is web accessible, along with a properly formatted RSS XML feed that can be submitted to iTunes, Stitcher, or other podcast aggregator. A Dropbox account will work just fine for storing your podcast files, but really, any web storage will do. I host my audio files on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) host.

I won’t try to duplicate the steps needed to create a valid RSS XML feed for your podcast. iTunes has a very good guide that will work with most podcast aggregators – you should check it out.

I highly recommend that you create a branded web site, that is devoted to your podcast – to improve discovery for your program, to have a place to host upcoming content, and to house the transcripts of your podcasts. Take a look at my 300 Words, 2 Minutes site as an example.

That’s About It

I’ve really only skimmed the surface. And, even though I create a podcast episode every day, I’m still learning, and still experimenting.

To sum up the guts of what goes into a podcast:

  • Decide upon your concept, and why you’re creating your ‘Cast
  • Create a programming schedule
  • Devise a show format
  • Decide upon your tools, and where to record your ‘Cast
  • Record your ‘Cast
  • Edit your ‘Cast
  • Stage and Submit to one or more podcast aggregators
  • Profit!

I’d love to know your podcast success / war stories, and what podcasts you listen to regularly. Let me know in the comments.