2019 was the year podcasting turned into a major industry. A few high-profile acquisitions put Spotify into the running against Apple, while buzzy new startups like Luminary jumped into the pool as well.
Today, major media prognosticators including market research company Forrester and the Interactive Advertising Bureau foresee podcasting as the next billion-dollar media market, with a report from the latter saying that one-billion-dollar mark could be surpassed as soon as 2021. 90 million Americans are listening to podcasts, with more every day.
In other words, there's no better time to launch a podcast. But where can a total newbie get started? Here, we'll offer a quick overview of how you can start your own podcast for free (or at least, as cheaply as possible).
This is just a look at the technical side of podcasting: The software, hardware, and infrastructure knowledge you'll need to get a podcast up and running. If you want to create the next Serial, we can help you upload it, but you'll need to contribute the ethical journalism practices yourself.
How to record a podcast
A reasonably high-quality microphone is likely the biggest investment you'll need to make. While a low quality option (or even a laptop's built-in mic) can often work surprisingly well, a mid-range microphone splits the difference between audio quality and price.
Popular options include the Blue Yeti microphone ($125 on Amazon) and the Blue Snowball ($68 on Amazon). They're cheap, record good if not great audio, and plug directly into a computer's USB port, avoiding the need for a beginner-unfriendly control panel.
Quality standards can change based on the type of podcast. Most regularly-produced podcasts that center on interviews or discussions won't need to offer as high a quality audio as would a limited-run documentary or fiction podcast.
If you need to interview people who aren't in the room with you, it can be tough to ensure the audio quality on their end is up to snuff. Luckily, Zencastr is the perfect solution — the app gives you a link to send to your remote guest. The guest can then record their audio locally, before sending you the audio file, which Zencastr can splice into your own half of the audio conversation. Even if your guest is just using a built-in mic, the result is an impressively clear sound. Depending on your needs, the free tier may work fine, though the paid tier will run you $20 per month.
How to edit a podcast
Once you have the raw material, you'll need to learn how to cut and splice it into a final product, complete with a little music.
If you're looking for a free editing software, the choice is clear: Audacity, a volunteer-developed audio editing program that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and doesn't cost a penny. Even some pros use it. Podcast celebrity Griffin McElroy admitted in a 2019 workshop that he still uses it to edit three podcasts a week.
You should come up with a short selection of music to use as an intro (and possibly an outro) for each episode. There's plenty of royalty-free options available. Incompetech is a well-known source for this, though possibly too well-known for those hoping to stay unique. If possible, try digging up a lesser-known artist that you love and reach out to them directly to ask if they'd lend you permission to use their song in your podcast.
Give yourself a lot more time to edit than you think you'll need. You'll need to listen to every change before you'll know if you've got it right, and that takes forever, unless you're willing to bump the audio up to chipmunk-level speeds. I created my own podcast in college, and editing a twenty-minute episode took me a minimum of three hours.
One often-overlooked aspect of podcast editing is that you'll need to do it while wearing a high-quality pair of headphones, to ensure you're accurately hearing what the final product will sound like.
Personally, I'd recommend Sennheiser's Momentum Wireless headphones, which are currently $195 on Amazon. They're durable, carry a 17-hour battery charge, and offer rich audio over a Bluetooth connection, so you'll be able to listen easily, even from a modern, headphone-jack-lacking smartphone.
How to host a podcast
Once you can successfully produce entire episodes of your podcast, just one step is left. You'll need to produce a functioning RSS feed, since RSS is the media pipeline that every major podcast provider uses to display each podcast.
There are two main ways to get your own RSS feed. First, you can buy your own website domain, set up a website from a template, and host an RSS feed through your website. This is the more complex method, and will cost a monthly fee, but lets you fully own your RSS feed. It's an attractive choice for anyone interested in making a living off of podcasting, since it gives you a website that can serve as a professional hub.
The second, easier method is just to host the RSS feed through a free third-party service — Soundcloud is the best. You'll never need to worry about the hassle of upkeep, and you can always upgrade to an owned website if your podcast catches on.
Once you have an RSS feed, you'll need to submit its URL to the major podcast distributors. Here's a direct link to each distributor's podcast submission form:
- Google Play — This is separate from the Google Podcast app, which at the time of writing doesn't offer a submission form.
Finally, there's the question of how to monetize. Your best shot is likely through a crowdfunding service, like Patreon. While the big podcasters all earn their revenue through selling ad space, the rule of thumb is that you'll need to regularly reach 10,000 downloads per month before advertisers are interested in you — that's likely years down the road, even for a successful podcast.
Above all, don't start a podcast hoping to get rich quick. The path towards a podcast is as simple and straightforward as it has ever been, but that just makes it tougher than ever to break through into the big leagues. In 2020, only the passion projects will have what it takes to succeed.