Trying to figure out how to start a podcast?

Well, you’re definitely not alone.

The podcasting market is currently booming with a staggering 55% of consumers tuning in as of 2020.

The good news? Whether for the sake of marketing or simply as a side-project, podcasting has a lower barrier to entry than ever.

Meanwhile, podcasts provide an awesome avenue for content creators to reach new audiences and cement themselves as experts in their niches.

In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of how to start a podcast from scratch.

6 questions you need to answer prior to starting a podcast

Let’s kick things off with the elephant in the room: the podcasting space is saturated.

And so getting started can be daunting for beginners who have a show concept in mind but don’t know where to go from there.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to podcast, here are six questions you need to answer first.

What is your podcast going to be about?

Seems like a no-brainer, right?

But with so much competition, it’s almost impossible for generic podcast concepts to gain traction. Ideally, your podcast topics and show at-large should serve a niche audience with the potential to expand.

For example, what sounds more compelling: a horror movie podcast or a podcast that explores the cheesiest B-movie monsters of the 1980s and 90s?

Go beyond “business” or “politics” or “film.” Get specific. Below are some examples of popular podcasts with angles that help them stand out from the crowd:

  • “You’re Wrong About:” a weekly retrospective of events and figures that may have been “miscast” by the public
  • “The ReWork Podcast:” stories and “unconventional wisdom” on how to run a business (presented by the founders of Basecamp)
  • “99% Invisible:” a weekly exploration of design and architecture in places that we typically overlook
  • “Filmspotting:” a review of current films and retrospectives of major directors’ past work
  • “Coffee Break Spanish:” bite-sized Spanish language lessons to help new learners become more conversational

What’s your podcast going to be called?

If you’re working as part of an established brand, you have the benefit of name recognition when it comes to your podcast.

And if you don’t, you’ll need to come up with something that both rolls off the tongue and is distinct versus other pods in your niche. In addition to the examples above, here are some non-marketing podcasts with unique names that pique the interest of potential listeners:

  • “Hurry Slowly”
  • “Brown Riot”
  • “What It Means”
  • “Hidden Brain”

What’s your branding going to look like?

So much of figuring out how to start a podcast boils down to your branding strategy.

For example, are you going for something subversive and edgy? Laid-back? Off-the-cuff? Playful and lighthearted?

There are no wrong answers here. What matters is that your brand matches your respective tone and target audience.

That said, these factors influence where you market your podcast, what you name it and other creatives such as covert art and intro music (peek the podcast cover art examples below for reference):

podcast cover art examples

Are you committed to podcasting for the long-term?

Podcasting requires a long-term commitment. Even if you decide to put together a one-off or seasonal podcast that consists of a dozen episodes, that’s still a significant investment of your time and energy that could be spent elsewhere.

Just like any other marketing channel, growing your following and gaining an audience takes time. Like, months or years.

If you’re focused on how to start a podcast for your business’ existing audience, you benefit from having a sort of built-in listenership. However, your community doesn’t necessarily equal guaranteed listeners. You still need to come up with compelling content and promote your episodes consistently.

Businesses starting a podcast should consider a sort of “trial run” of episodes to see if their ROI makes sense. Companies focused on building authority and double-dipping their content (think: interviews, research, blog posts) may not see much in terms of dollars and cents, but benefit from the influence of simply having a published podcast.

Who’s responsible for hosting duties?

Again, podcasting doesn’t follow a specific formula.

Sure, there are solo podcasts out there. The upside of starting a podcast by yourself is that you don’t have to worry about others missing deadlines when it comes to doing research or flaking out on your recording sessions.

The obvious downside is that you lose the human element of back-and-forth conversation. Likewise, solo podcasts need to be heavily scripted versus conversations where you can bounce ideas and improv.

If you decide to have co-hosts, make sure that they’re committed to the project, though.

Companies that run podcasts rely on a rotating cast of co-hosts and guests with a designated host that’s responsible for organizing the show. This keeps your show fresh and allows some breathing room in terms of your co-hosts’ schedules and availability. Here’s an example from the UX Podcast:

consistent scheduling is important for podcasts

What is your schedule going to look like?

Speaking of availability, think about how often you’re really going to be able to podcast.

Spoiler alert: putting together a show isn’t as easy as it looks. If you’re converting breaking news and current events, you’re likely going to run on a timelier schedule of once-a-week. For shows covering less time-sensitive topics (think: old-school films or art), you have more wiggle room.

Bear in mind that podcasts are often biweekly, weekly, monthly or purely seasonal. Don’t feel pressured to do more than you can handle: what matters here is consistency. Your goal of starting a podcast should sit with the rest of your content calendar and overall availability.

Tips for writing, recording and editing your podcast

Again, there is no specific playbook when it comes to how to start a podcast.

Conventional wisdom says that your first few episodes are going to be rough.

And hey, that’s okay! To help guide you through the process of brainstorming and writing your podcast episodes, consider the tips below.

Formatting your episodes: script or not?

Podcasting seems simple until you sit down to actually do it.

Some people have natural charisma and quick-thinking to fill up airtime by freestyling. The reality, though? Most of us don’t.

And while you think that your small talk and observations might make for great podcasting, a little bit of organization goes a long way to keep you from straying too far off-topic. For the sake of reducing dead air and awkwardness, putting together a rough outline is a good movie. You should likewise have bullet points and specific scripts written out for more formal points such as introductions and pre-recorded as reads.

Sharing basic notes and having an outline of segments is way better than going into a show totally cold.

Deciding on your episode length

Episode lengths vary from show to show. The half-hour mark seems to be a happy medium for most pods, although some run slightly shorter (and some significantly longer).

Our recommendation would be to start with episodes that err on the shorter side and build from there. Honestly, there’s no reason to needlessly pad your shows for the sake of length.

Note that your listeners probably listen to a ton of other podcasts: having a shorter show means it’s easier for them to squeeze you into their schedules.

Coming up with compelling episode titles

Creativity counts when you’re trying to figure out how to start a podcast that doesn’t look identical to everything else out there.

And so your episode titles should likewise grab your listeners’ attention. Rather than simply title your pods “Episode 3” and so on, consider using humor or unconventional titles (but not clickbait!) to encourage folks to tune in.

Here are some solid episode titles, for reference:

  • “Mixer is Dead!” [Warp World Podcast]
  • “The Trouble with Florida Man” [Citations Needed]
  • “Stop Counting Pages (and Touching Your Face)” [Scriptnotes Podcast]
  • “How to Learn from a Plague” [Still Processing]
  • “The World Does Not Have to Suck (feat. Naomi Klein)” [Rumble with Michael Moore]

And hey, many of the titles above fall in line with our own headline writing tips.

Putting together episode descriptions, notes and transcripts

Presentation is a huge part of podcasting. That means doing more than just slapping your shows on hosting sites and calling it a day.

Putting together episode descriptions can help your potential listener know if a show is relevant to them or not. Similarly, having notes and timestamps is useful for readers who want to skim your episode and don’t have time to listen to the whole broadcast.

Bullet points, timestamps and transcripts (using tools like Otter.ai ) are straightforward to put together and can be particularly helpful for first-time listeners.

Podcast episode description and notes example

Picking your podcast gear

Despite popular belief, starting a podcast doesn’t have to be a huge money-sink in terms of gear.

In theory, you could put together a quality show with little more than a smartphone. That said, the bare minimum for a professionally produced show would include:

  • Microphones (a USB mic like the Blue Yeti or XLR microphones like the Shure SM-series)
  • A USB audio interface (such as the Focusrite Scarlett or Zoom LiveTrak)
  • A pair of stereo headphones

These pieces of gear and other peripherals (cables, mic stands) represent a cost-effective starting point for a small podcasting team. Remember you can always invest in more gear down the line.

So much of figuring out how to start a podcast is having the right gear such as microphones, noise-cancelling headphones and a USB interface

Now, let’s briefly talk about software. Before are some fairly standard options for podcasting that have a relatively low learning curve, making it easy to edit together episodes and record from multiple sources:

  • Audacity (free)
  • Reaper (free, pay to upgrade to full features)
  • Ableton
  • GarageBand (for Apple users)
  • Logic Pro
Despite popular belief, you can figure out how to start a podcast using free software such as audacity

Additionally, there are platforms like Anchor or Alitu which allow you to record and edit your episodes directly from a phone.

If you’re taking a DIY approach to edit your episodes, consider the following three must-dos before worrying about added effects and intro music:

  • Removing mistakes, dropped audio and periods of dead air
  • Reducing mic bleed, echo or audio peaks
  • Normalizing the audio so that each mic is balanced in the mix (check out how to normalize audio in Audacity)

How to market, promote and distribute your podcast

To wrap things up, let’s talk about some general tips for getting your podcast “out there” and what you can do to grow your audience faster.

Getting your podcast onto streaming platforms

The aforementioned tools Anchor and Alitu represent pay-to-play podcasting platforms that distribute your podcast to major streaming services such as Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts. There are also services such as Buzzsprout and Libsyn which help you do the same.

Alternatively, you can upload your podcasts manually to platforms such as SoundCloud and YouTube. The latter definitely makes sense if you’re already recording video for your podcast in addition to the audio.

Promoting your podcast episodes after they go live

Let’s say you put a new episode online. Now what?

For starters, make sure that your audience knows about it. If you have a dedicated email list, start there.

podcast announcement email

Additionally, encourage your brand accounts and colleagues to share your episodes as well. Whether it’s episodes or audio snippets, social is the perfect place to give listeners a taste of what your latest episode is about.

The concept here is simple: integrate your podcast with the rest of your social content strategy by promoting it consistently.

You can likewise post about new episodes on your blog (see how Marijana Kay does so below):

podcast as a blog post

Now you know how to start a podcast!

There’s obviously a lot that goes into getting your podcast after the ground.

But after skimming these tips and ideas, hopefully you have a solid idea of what starting a podcast looks like.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that social media is the cornerstone of your promotional strategy. Speaking of which, make sure to check out our best times to post on social media to ensure that your latest content gets the reach it deserves!