These days, it’s blue skies for podcasters, with more interest in audio storytelling than ever before. Over at Audiocraft HQ we get a lot of questions about making a podcast so we’ve spoken to our favourite producers and adapted insights shared at sessions from the Audiocraft Conference to create this guide.
From coming up with the initial idea to recording, editing, publishing, and everything in between, we’re going to take you through the essential steps in launching a podcast of your own.
Everything you need to know about taking your idea and launching it into the world.
Pictured: Eric Nuzum at Audiocraft Conference 2017. Photo by Bryce Thomas.
What makes a good podcast?
Although there isn’t a formula that exists for a sure-fire podcast hit, there are a few key things some of the most successful podcasts have in common. Audible’s Eric Nuzum has a podcasting trifecta. He says that a great podcast should have 1) a compelling story or idea, 2) engaging characters and 3) a unique voice. He also suggests you nut out ten words that describe your podcast, and revisit those words regularly. This gives clarity and focus on what your podcast is about and who it is trying to speak to.
Caitlin Thompson, Acast’s US Content Director, has a similar philosophy. She says you need 1) an interesting topic, 2) a compelling host, and 3) a compelling format. Satisfy two of the three, and you can be forgiven for what’s lacking.
How long should my podcast be?
The duration of your podcast should really be determined by the content, meaning it should be as long as is needed to get your idea or message across. You could also consider adopting a day-parting approach, says Caitlin Thompson. This means tailoring the length to what you imagine your ideal audience will be doing while they’re listening to your podcast, whether that’s chores, exercise or the commute.
What are some things to consider in a podcast release schedule?
Consistency is key when it comes to building your audience so whether you settle on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly release, the important thing is you’re publishing on time. It helps to create a production plan you’re able to commit to and set deadlines for yourself, suggests Kaitlin Prest of The Heart fame.
Pictured: Stephen Tilley at Audiocraft Conference 2017. Photo by Bryce Thomas.
What equipment do I need to make a podcast?
As an award-winning sound engineer and producer, ABC’s Steven Tilley gets a lot of tech questions thrown his way. When it comes to what gear to invest in, there is no real definitive answer and it depends on a bunch of factors: where you’re recording, what you’re trying to record, and how much you’ve got to spend.
At the very least though, you’ll need a recording device, which can be as lo-fi as your phone or something more professional, like a Zoom or Tascam. Recorders come with built in microphones, but the recording quality is basic, so if you’re after a cleaner sound you’ll want to buy an external microphone, like one from Rode or Audio-Technica. Steven suggests reading online reviews or borrowing a mate’s device for the day to find out what is right for you.
We had a sneaky peek into some of our favourite producers kits and here’s what we found: Selena Shannon, EP of FBi’s All The Best, uses a Zoom H6 and uses a Rode Procaster for recording her scripts (great for when you don’t have a studio to use). Miles Martignoni of Heaps Good Media typically uses a SoundDevice Mix-Pre6 and a Rode NTG3 shotgun for his field work. He also carries a Rode smartLAV to plug into his phone in case of emergencies.
As for which is the ultimate best, it mostly comes down to personal preference. These programs offer free trials and there are good tutorials online, so give them a go and figure out which you prefer most.
Make your podcast sound good
Make your podcast sound good
How to make your podcast sound real good
From coming up with story ideas and structuring your episode, to pulling off a killer interview and capturing sound in the field—here’s how to make your podcast stand out from the rest.
Pictured: Miyuki Jokiranta & Timothy Nicastri at Audiocraft 2016. Photo by Ash Berdebes.
Where do I find great story ideas?
Mike Williams (The Real Thing) says, ‘If you want to tell an original story, don’t look for a platypus, look for its tracks. I look in places that offer loose ends—second-hand book shops, wiki deep dives, an odd fact mentioned at a party. I’m most inspired when I’m on the highway visiting towns. It’s meant to be hard. Most of the time I find stories by refusing to give up.’
Flip it around and ask your audience. 2ser 107.3's Jessica Cox works on Seeking Sydney, a crowdsourcing project. They started with a simple question (in their case, it’s “What do you want to know about Sydney?”) and after following up with the person who submits the question, they often work collaboratively with them to make the story. That’s how their first episode ended up being about why there’s a Bruce Lee statue in the middle of Kogarah!
What are some recording tips and techniques to help my podcast sound great?
Have a plan before you head out to record. Jaye Kranz suggests thinking about the story in sound. ‘Dream it, hear the perfect version without limitations, feel for the themes, write it down.’ A list will remind you what audio to gather when you’re out in the field. There’s also this handy audio checklist by Hindenburg.
Getting a good recording will save you a tonne of time in the edit and while fancy gear helps, it’s most important to apply best practice while in the field. ABC producers Miyuki Jokiranta (Earshot, Soundproof) and Timothy Nicastri (The Real Thing) shared some important tips at 2016 Audiocraft Conference:
Turn up early to set up, explore the environment, and listen out for distractions (refrigerator, air conditioner, pets and local wildlife) to minimise them as best as you can.
Hold your mic up close. Good measure is there should be a fist’s distance between the mic and mouth. Angle the mic, aim it at farther chin to avoid “popping”. Check levels are at 6-12. Remember to mic your own questions too!
Wear headphones over both ears and have the volume at a level where you can also hear what's happening in the background.
Miyuki tends to keep the tape rolling and doesn’t turn her recorder off until well after the interview is over. That way, she never misses anything and is ready to grab the unexpected and go with it.
Frame your approach visually. Capture sounds in foreground (voice), middleground (close up on specific sounds, otherwise known as “spot effects”) and background (general noise and chatter of the environment).
Pictured: Andrew Levins, Kamna Muddagouni & Lee Tran Lam at Audiocraft Conference 2017. Photo by Bryce Thomas.
How do I draw out the best story when interviewing?
When interviewing, your job is to capture a good story and to make your interviewee sound good. The best way to prepare is to know what you want out of the interview, and that means different things for different podcasts.
Lee Tran Lam (The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry) is super nerdy about research—she’ll read and listen to as many existing interviews of her guest as possible. Your interviewee will respond better when you can show you’ve done your homework and you’ll get a more authentic response if you ask them a question they haven’t been asked before.
Andrew Levins (Hey Fam, Serious Issues and The Mitchen) takes a more relaxed approach to preparing for interviews. He familiarises himself with the topic enough that he can comfortably talk about it, but doesn’t overdo it so he can create a sense of spontaneous discovery in the conversation.
Michelle Ransom Hughes, a producer on Conversations with Richard Fidler suggests that you try imagining yourself into the person’s world. ‘You'll quickly find out which parts of their world are strange to you, and what you already have enough knowledge of. You’ll write less boring questions, and waste less of your subject’s time. During the interview, dig deep into the strange, remembering it’s their familiar.’
How do I write for the ear and script my podcast?
Sarah McVeigh (ABC’s How Do You Sleep at Night?, triple j’s Hack) says, ‘It might sound obvious, but say your script aloud as you write. Does it sound like something you would actually say? If you're working with someone else, it can also be useful to record yourself telling them the story and then transcribe what you said.’
Areej Nur’s top tip for writing a really good script is writing out loud. Especially for a live music or talks show. ‘The excitement of live radio comes from the immediacy and unpredictability, but mostly the live energy. I like to read my intro scripts out loud as I write—and practice with different paces—to find the kind of energy I want to convey for the whole show.’
For a conversational style podcast, Kaitlyn Plyley (Just A Spoonful) writes out bullet points instead of full sentences when developing a script. ‘Bullet point the key information you’ll need to hit, but don’t script every single word. That way, when you’re recording you will speak in your natural voice and not sound like you’re reading it out.’
Pictured: Jaye Kranz & Sophie Townsend at Audiocraft 2016. Photo by Ash Berdebes.
How should I edit and structure podcast episodes?
Often the hardest part is figuring out where to start. Jaye Kranz has this advice: find the point where your audience can connect. Let them in, give them a reason to care, and establish a connection before you get into the bigger story. Jaye starts off editing by panning for gold. ‘When it comes to stories. The job is to sift through and find those little elements of gold.’
As you log your tape and start editing, observe your own reactions. Where does it make you laugh or cry? Where do you lose interest? Writer and producer Sophie Townsend says marking down those points early on, before you hear the story too many times, will help you edit for pulse.
While nailing the structure of a story can sometimes feel like an unwieldy task, storytelling master Ira Glass reminds us that the most basic form of a story simply a sequence of events. And once you know your sequence, you have a roadmap to work with and can jump around. When crafting a This is About story, Belinda Lopez and Jesse Cox often start somewhere in the middle—they look for the reveal moment and work back from there, setting up what led to that moment?
A good structure will also work in the conflict of the story—what’s at stake and how will the resolution unfold? Megan Tan takes a page from South Park when creating tension. She uses ‘Therefore/But’—otherwise known as as the XY Story Formula—as a prompting tool to set up the story.
And what should you do when you start to get lost in making your story and aren’t sure about how best to proceed? Kaitlin Prest (Radiotopia’s The Heart) says, ‘Think about what made you curious about the story in the very beginning. After hours and hours of time spent on a story sometimes you lose sight of the story – find your bliss again.’
Pictured: Bec Fary & Jon Tjhia at Audiocraft 2016. Photo by Ash Berdebes
What do I need to know about using music in podcasts?
Consider getting a license. Individually licensing songs from artists can be (very) expensive. In Australia, the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) offers an online mini-licence that is affordable for independent producers.
Find royalty-free library music. Previously sold as CDs or LPs, library music can be used royalty-free after initial purchase.
Do it yourself. There are countless free ways to make music, from using apps, like Blocs Wave, and you’ll have the benefit of perfecting your audio and mixing skills in the process.
Consider working with a musician or composer to create a theme or score. Having something that’s unique, composed to create a particular mood or feeling, elevates the quality of what you’re producing.
At the same time, silence can be sexy too. Used strategically, this is an effective storytelling device. You could even use static like what Here Be Monsters did in this episode.
Getting your podcast out in the world
Getting your podcast out in the world
Getting your podcast out in the world
Everything you need to know about distributing your podcast and helping people discover it.
Pictured: Megan Tan at Audiocraft Conference 2017. Photo by Bryce Thomas.
Where do I host my podcast?
Podcatchers (services that distribute your podcast, such as Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Stitcher) require you to submit an RSS feed. It’s basically a link that lets podcatchers know when your podcast is updated with a new episode. If you want to dig deep into understanding all the techy details, here’s Transom.org’s Jeff Towne again.
A hosting service can create an RSS feed for you; they’ll also provide you with analytics and embeddable players which is nifty. Beyond storage, some hosts offer services like monetisation and finding ad placements for your podcast.
Cross-promote with other podcasts. What is your audience also consuming? Tap into that. Audiocraft’s Program Manager Jess O’Callaghan has one of the best explanations for this. 'Being competitive is good and healthy, but the proven best way for someone to discover a podcast is through another podcast: so support each other, share your favourite episodes, shout about podcasts from the rooftops. More listeners for them means more listeners for you.'
Have a social media and online presence. While managing this on top of producing your podcast might be a stretch, the best approach is to pick your channel(s), understand what its purpose is for you, and create content accordingly.
Pictured: Miles Martignoni, Hannah Reich, Honor Eastly & Megan Tan at Audiocraft Conference 2017. Photo by Bryce Thomas.
How can I make money from podcasting?
Get advertising and sponsorship. Before you pitch to advertisers though, dig into your analytics and find out who your audience is. When Megan Tan was working on Millennial, she created a sponsorship deck that included a breakdown of age, gender and behaviour of her listeners. At the moment, the industry standard is to charge ads per podcast listens, though, if like Megan, you have a niche audience, you could promise a flat fee per episode instead of downloads.
One independent Australian podcaster tells us the number of listens needs to be about 50,000 per episode before ad buying companies (like Midroll) will be interested in working with you. However, this same podcaster was signed by a podcast network despite not hitting these numbers because they speak to a niche audience, and advertisers are asking to work with them because their audience have proven to be so loyal.
Apply for grants and residencies. This is a good option if you want to keep your podcast independent from commercial conflicts. Check out your local council (e.g. City of Sydney, City of Melbourne, Creative Victoria) and if your podcast is in any way niche, have a look at whether there are grants that support that particular industry of field.
Call on your listeners for support. Aside from Starving Artist, Honor Eastly also makes Being Honest With My Ex. She says it’s a weird podcast with a small but very dedicated audience, so she set up a Patreon which generates about $1,000 a month. While it’s not her main source of income, it has allowed her to keep making the show.