How to Start a Podcast

People often write to me asking for advice on starting podcast and I’ve thought about it a great deal over the years.  The answer that I’ve come up with really isn’t all that specific to podcasting, I think it applies to virtually every creative endeavor, but hopefully it will be helpful.

1)  You are terrible at this, and are supposed to be terrible.

I know that’s not inspirational, and I’m sorry if I’m the first person to tell you that.   But the truth is that to start a podcast, what you need is to know in your heart that you suck.  And that you are going to suck for a long time.

You don’t need a fancy microphone, you don’t need a professional grade digital audio workstation, and if you ask for advice someone starts talking about gear they aren’t taking you seriously or are trying to sell you something.  It is much more important that you accept the sheer level of suckitude that you are about to foist upon the world.

But here’s the good news. Everyone is awful when they start something new.  Not just in podcasting, but in all creative works.  Kubrick wasn’t producing his best films while he was a teenager.  Monet didn’t produce his best works the first time he picked up a paint brush.  Even Mozart had to practice.  He was young, but he still had to learn.

So when you first start, you’re going to suck.  A lot.  And the worst part of it is that, if you want to start a podcast then you’re probably a fan of really good podcasts.  You have developed a discerning ear throughout the hours of listening to the end results of years of practice.  Years of practice that you probably aren’t aware of.  It sounds like they just magically started that way.

So with your favorite podcasts as a guide, you set up your own microphone, and record something new.  You'll be all bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Then you'll press play.

And that’s the moment when your heart breaks.  That is also where most people stop.  They listen to what they’ve made and say “Oh god, that’s awful,” and move on with their lives.

The difference between established podcasters and the people who never get their shows off the ground is this: they were too stubborn to quit.  They knew they sucked, we all know we suck (and even people who’ve been doing this for years, typically hate listening to what they’ve produced), but we keep working at it and try to get that sound we believe that we, someday, will achieve.

So that’s advice number one.  Know that you suck, you’re supposed to suck, and that it’s ok to suck.  But keep trying anyway.  The only way you’ll get good is to produce material, listen to it, beat yourself up over the things you don’t like about it, and do better on the next one.

2)  Be brave, be yourself, and put your voice out there.

This is mostly advice for everyone who isn’t a straight white dude, since most of us were taught from a young age that our voices are important.  By the way, if you’re a straight white dude, are upset by what I just said, and are thinking about writing me an angry email... that’s a good example of the intrinsic importance most of us place on our perspectives.

But people who didn’t have the benefit of our background generally don’t have that sort of confidence that comes with assumed importance.  Which is probably why most podcasters are white men, and that sucks because unique voices are important.  You are important.  You have something to add to the discourse.  For godsake, we need more perspectives out there.

Not only that, but we need YOUR voice.

We don’t need another show that sounds like Dan, or Mike, or Ira, or even me.  We need something that sounds like you.  Find your voice, and you’ll know what it is when you find it.  You’ll listen to your show or you’ll look at your script and you’ll see it.

Be you.

It’s scary, I know.  When criticism comes, it will feel really personal since people will be criticising unfiltered you.  But unfiltered you is what we need.  We get enough sanitized and produced voices on cable news.  Be you.

If you’re trying to be someone you're not, you might read a review and adjust your behavior in response to it.  That is a mistake.  Obviously, if everyone is complaining about the same thing, you should probably listen to them.  But the more likely scenario is that you’ll get a couple reviews that won’t be representative of your listener base, and if you start changing things in reaction to those reviews, you’ll likely upset your fans who liked you just the way you are.

Caligula was always trying to adjust his policies to make everyone happy, and we all know how well that worked out for him.  So be you… don’t be Caligula.

3)  Be accurate.

All you have is your reputation.  If you’re saying something, make sure you can stand behind it.  If you’re playing fast and loose with the facts, people will find out.  This is the internet.  There is always someone who knows more than you on a particular topic, so make sure you know your stuff.

The flip side of this is that you will probably make a mistake.  You’re human, after all.  And if that happens, have the integrity to admit the mistake and fix it.  Digging in on an error might satisfy your ego, but it won’t impress anyone and it’s disingenuous.  Swallow the pride, apologize, fix it, and move on.  It’s harder than it sounds, but it is absolutely worth it.

4) Know why you’re doing this.

Frankly, in my view, there is only one valid reason to make a podcast.  Make a podcast because you want to add something to the world.  Make it because you love what you are doing, love what you’re talking about, and ultimately want to make something.

If you’re going into it for the money, the power, and the women… get out right now.  Hell, if you’re hoping to break even, get out right now.  Do it for the love of it.  Do it because it’s your favorite hobby and you would rather do this than anything else.  Because let me tell you, that love will carry you through the hard work that is necessary for producing a good show.

5)  Find someone you can work with.

It could be a friend, a partner, a fellow podcaster… it could really be anyone.  This person doesn’t need the same skillset as you and they don’t need the same perspective (in fact, different perspectives are helpful), but find someone that you can bounce ideas off of because no one can see their own blind spots.  But you will have blind spots, and it can be really helpful to have someone say “hey, maybe you shouldn’t talk about food for nearly 3 hours straight without putting it into context because not everyone is a foodie like you.”

Equipment

Equipment is not as important as what I just outlined.  People will expect a base level of audio quality, but you don’t need professional gear by any means.  What I would suggest starting out with is a Blue Snowball microphone, a cheap pop filter, and a free copy of Audacity.  That will get you started for less than $100.

I currently use a Shure SM7B microphone through a Cloudlifter, using Mogami cables, and then piped into my PC with via the UAD Apollo Twin interface.  However, you absolutely do not need something that fancy.  A Snowball is an excellent starting place, and if you want to have a monitor attached to your mic, for a few more bucks you can get a Yeti instead.  Both are excellent microphones and will last you for years.

I hope this was helpful.

  2 Replies to “How to Start a Podcast”

  1. May 20, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Hi.
    I just came across your site while I was dawdling around the web, looking for stuff on Scottish history. I’ve not long retired with a mental health issue (chronic suicidal depression), and I’ve been playing with ideas to fill in the next 20 or so years oif my life. Podcasting, or maybe blogging, is one option. My website on Sandy McCall Smith and his Mma Ramotswe novels is another, but I am well on the way to finishing that off. I have a heap of interests, so I guess my problem is finding something in particular that I can podcast or blog about that anyone else might be interested in. I suspect what might be best is to launch in and see. I can always change.
    Anyway, thanks for your advice, it is great,
    Regards,
    Lex Borthwick

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