Want to start a podcast? Here’s how to get started.
Podcasting is a large, growing industry, with listenership growing 30% a year. It’s also a relatively new medium. In its simplest form, podcasting is a technology that allows people to share audio files — such as interviews, lectures, or other types of audio content — over the internet. Unlike traditional radio broadcasts, which are typically one-way communication between a broadcaster and listeners, podcasting is a two-way medium that allows listeners to subscribe to specific content and receive new podcast episodes automatically. Podcasts are also portable, which means that people can listen to podcasts on their mobile phones or other portable devices any time they choose.
But what does that mean for you as a freelance creator? Well, it’s potentially a great way for you to reach your current audience or build a new one. If you’re the chatty type, like to nerd out hard on topics you love, and are ready to learn a new (and potentially very profitable) skill, it’s time to take a closer look at podcasting.
How much money do podcasters make?
The truth is, many new podcasters don’t make any money at all. Some even end up losing money because they invest in podcast equipment or marketing and it doesn’t pan out. But that doesn’t mean podcasting is a fool’s errand — it just means you’re going to have to work hard and do it right. You should be ready to do a lot of work up front without any pay.
But that doesn’t mean you have to work for free forever. Follow some well-trodden steps to create and market a successful podcast and you’ll likely make it to monetization.
How to start and market your podcast
Now that you have the background information you need, it’s time to actually get podcasting. Here’s an introductory step-by-step guide to learn how to start and market your podcast.
1. Choose a topic for your podcast
The first step to starting a podcast is deciding what you want to talk about. This can be anything from current events to true crime stories to pop culture analysis. The sky is the limit when it comes to topics, so pick something you're knowledgeable and excited about. If you're really into your topic, it's much more likely that your potential listener will be, too.
It's also important to think about whether the market is already saturated with the type of content you want to create. For example, if you want to start a podcast about true crime, there are already a lot of popular podcasts in that genre. You'll need to find a way to make your podcast stand out from the rest. It's not that you can't dive into a crowded space, but you have to ask yourself: What's my specific angle or special sauce? Will I be able to reach my intended audience?
2. Decide on the format
Just like other popular media, there are different formats that podcasts can follow. Some popular ones include interviews, solo shows, conversations with a co-host, long form journalism, radio shows, and panels.
Your podcast topic will inform which format you should use. For example, if your topic is a reality TV show that you and your best friend are obsessed with, then you’re going to want to create a conversational co-host podcast. If you’re a sex educator and you want to deliver great education to your readers, you might want to consider a solo show. If you’re a journalist, then long-form nonfiction storytelling is a great choice.
3. Come up with a name for your podcast
Naming anything is very tough.. It needs to be catchy. It needs to be descriptive. It needs to be concise. For a hypothetical podcast about a murder that took place at a theme park in your hometown, you could try something like "Murder at the Park" or "Death in the Funhouse.” Get together with a friend or colleague and brainstorm 20 to titles to help decide.
4. Outline your first podcast episode
Before you can outline your first episode, you’ll need to create an overarching outline for the entire podcast. Choose working titles for each episode and write a brief description of what will be covered in each one.
Then it's time to start outlining the specifics. What will be the title of the episode? Who will be your guests, if any? What music or sound effects will you use? What format will the episode follow? Answering these questions will help you create a framework for each episode, making it easier to flesh out the details later on.
5. Get the right equipment
The next step is to gather the equipment you'll need to record and edit your podcast. You don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy gear, but you do need to make sure you have the basics.
At a minimum, you'll need:
- A computer. Most mid-range modern laptops can handle audio processing and have enough space for audio files. Think MacBook Pro, not MacBook Air.
- A podcast microphone. This is the most important piece of equipment, so it's worth investing in a good one. If you're just starting out, a USB microphone is a good option. The Movo UM700 Desktop USB Microphone is a great, affordable option for beginning podcasters.
- Headphones. You'll need a good pair of headphones to hear yourself during recording and to listen for any background noise. If you’re on a tight budget, check out Audio-Technica ATH-M20X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones and if you’re looking to spend a little more, Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones are a great option.
- Recording software. There are a lot of great options for recording software, but Audacity is a good place to start. It's free and user-friendly.
You can think about upgrading your equipment as your podcast grows. For example, you might want to invest in a fancier mic, like the Shure MV7, or an audio interface, like the UA Volt 276. For an especially professional sound, grab a (cheap) pop filter to keep those “Ps” from popping too much. Podcast listeners hate mouth sounds, so it’s a really affordable way to avoid those complaints.
If your podcast is really successful (or you just have a high starting budget), you can even rent out studio time to get professional-grade recordings or buy the super top-of-the-line stuff for your home studio.
6. Record the podcast episode
Recording a podcast is a fairly simple process, but there are a few things to keep in mind in order to produce a high-quality audio recording.
First, choose a quiet location with minimal background noise. Then, set up your microphone and recording software. Be sure to speak clearly and at a moderate volume; if you need to, you can use a pop filter to reduce the amount of "plosives" (hard consonants) in your voice. Once you're satisfied with the audio quality, you can begin recording your podcast.
7. Edit your podcast
If you just want to remove dead air or fix any accidental mispronunciations, basic editing software like Audacity will suffice. But if you want to do more sophisticated editing, like adding music or sound effects, you'll need a more powerful program like Adobe Audition.
If you're just doing basic edits, the process is pretty straightforward: just open up your audio file and start cutting out any sections you don't want. You can also use the software to splice together different sections of audio, or even add in new bits of audio from other sources.
If you're adding music or sound effects, things can get a bit more complicated. But don't worry — there are plenty of tutorials online that can walk you through the process step by step. Just make sure to take your time and experiment until you find a sound that you're happy with.
8. Create cover art
There are a few things to keep in mind when creating your podcast cover art, which will be the visual representation of your podcast that will show up on podcast platforms, your website, your newsletter, and anywhere else that’s directing listeners back to your work. Make sure that the image is clear and easy to see and choose an image that reflects the theme or mood of your podcast. If your podcast is lighthearted and fun, for example, you might want to use an image that conveys that feeling. Also be sure to include the name of your podcast and the name of the host or hosts. This will help listeners identify your show and remember who they're listening to.
9. Submit to directories
To submit your podcast, you need two things: an audio file and an RSS feed. The RSS feed tells podcast software where to find the audio file, how often to check for new episodes, and lets people subscribe to your podcast. Once you have created your RSS feed, you can upload your podcast to popular podcast directories, such as iTunes, and people can start subscribing to your content.
Another way to submit a podcast is to use a direct link. This method requires you to host your podcast on a website or streaming service such as SoundCloud or Libsyn. Once your podcast is uploaded, you can copy the link and submit it directly to directories.
Finally, some directories also accept podcast submissions via email. In these cases, you will need to provide the directory with your contact information and a link to your podcast. Whichever submission method you choose, make sure to follow the directory's guidelines carefully in order to increase your chances of being accepted.
10. Market your podcast
To make sure your podcast is successful, think early on about how you will market it. There are a few key things to keep in mind when marketing your podcast:
- Find your audience: Who are you trying to reach with your podcast? When you know who your target listener is, you can start to figure out where they hang out online and what type of content they respond to.
- Create social media accounts: Once you know who your audience is and where they spend their time, start creating social media accounts for your podcast. This is a great way to interact with listeners and promote new podcast episodes.
- Make it easy to share: Include share buttons on your website or blog so that people can easily share your podcast with their friends.
- Ask for reviews: Reviews can help boost your visibility on Apple Podcasts and other podcast directories. You can ask listeners to leave a review at the end of your episodes or in your show notes.
- Cross-promote. Doing guest spots on other podcasts in your topic area is a great way for both shows to gain new listeners.
- Use paid advertising: If you have a budget for marketing, you can use paid advertising to reach new listeners. This can be done through search engines within Apple Podcasts and Google AdWords.
11. Monetize your podcast
Podcasters generally make money based on the number of downloads per episode they get on average. Each of the following revenue streams can generate from a couple hundred to potentially tens of thousands of dollars per month. Your best bet is to create a few different revenue streams that can grow as you grow.
The most popular revenue stream for podcasts is advertising, which has a projected $2 billion marketing spend in 2023. That’s a lot of pie being offered up by a huge range of advertisers, so it’s not crazy to think you could get a slice of it pretty quickly. Usually you can start courting advertisers once you have a minimum of one thousand downloads per episode.
Another revenue stream is direct support from listeners on sites like Patreon or Supercast. These sites allow podcasters to set a subscription, giving listeners special perks like extra episodes or no ads while giving podcasters a more reliable income.
You can also generate some extra cash through affiliate links. For example, some podcast networks offer affiliate links to their podcast hosts. When a new user signs up for a premium subscription via that link, the host gets a portion of the sign up fee. You can also get affiliate links for products related to your podcast topic on marketplaces like Amazon.
Podcasting used to be a strictly nerd hobby, requiring a ton of equipment and know-how. But with increasingly affordable and accessible technology, podcasting has exploded into one of the most popular media formats out there. These days you can find hit podcasts on everything from true crime to news to stories about pets. People are launching podcasts from home, while simultaneously entire podcasting empires are popping up.
So if you like to chat, know what you’re talking about, and are ready to share it with the world, a podcast could be a great option for expanding your reach and monetizing your skills. All you need to get started is a little bit of equipment and a lot of dedication.