Since lots of people are home these days, some of you may finally decide to start that podcast book club (could that really work?) you've been putting off for months. That's great news for you, because Pat's here to help! Also semi-related: my self-isolation gave me the time to finally write this after asking my panel of experts about a year and a half ago.
If you have any questions about any of this or want some help with your show, leave a comment or send me an email and I'll do my best to help!
NOTE: I realize I could have spread this out over a few separate pieces, but who wants to click on me more than once?
Now I know what you're thinking: "Pat, are you sure you're the guy to do this? Shouldn't we read this in a Bill Simmons column?" And you know, you're probably right. But I've been doing this recorded rambling business for nearly a decade now, so I can at the very least help you not make my mistakes.
Before we really dive in, let's get one thing out of the way here: There are a ton of podcasts in the universe. But you shouldn't let that deter you from plowing ahead. If you're excited to talk about a topic and/or share your knowledge on it, you should absolutely go for it. As a fellow podcast host put it:
Jon Layola, One Track Gamers:
My advice is, if you’re thinking about it. Start now!
If you want to jump into this universe, you really don't need to break the bank. There are plenty of hosting sites - and of course I highly recommend joining the Next Level Network - that are cheap or free. And most newer computers have on-board microphones. It won't sound spectacular, but your show can get over on content for free (many of Bill Burr's early podcasts were recorded on his cell phone, for example) before you upgrade.
Aside from where to post it, there are some important things to consider when starting a show. I certainly don't have all of the answers, so I've asked some more fellow podcast people to chime in so you can learn from people smarter than me.
Brendan McCullough, Almost Better Than Silence, Are Weeb There Yet?:
Don't do it! The market is flooded as it is, there's already too many podcasts. No, if you are going to start a podcast do it about something you are passionate about. Your energy and enthusiasm about your topic will be very apparent, so if you aren't interested in a subject your audience won't be either. Podcasts can easily target a very small niche community so don't do it in hopes of appealing to everyone. Pick a topic you can see yourself talking about for 400 episodes.
Also some podcasts have done extremely well and evolved into bigger things. Yours will not, there is a 99.99999993% chance it won't. Don't start a podcast in hopes of becoming famous or to make money. Even the biggest podcasts don't make much money and are mainly used as advertisement for the host's other projects or shows. If you want a creative outlet for earn money there are much more profitable outlets, for example drawing pornography. Seriously, you can make good money drawing smut for pervs.
Podcasts run on passion, do it cause you want to, not to get something out of it. Also don't let the audio snobs confuse you, your set up can be fairly simple and cheap while still sounding good. Get your audio and set up to somewhere you are happy with. Oh and NEVER USE Beats by Dre, they are fundamentally over priced garbage. And if you are looking for a hosting site might I recommend Pinecast. ☜(ﾟヮﾟ☜)
Brendan hit on a bunch of great points here. Knowing what you want your podcast to be is [obviously] a great starting point. But unless you're already well-known, you likely won't become a millionaire from your garage. But if you're excited about your topic(s), the people will recognize that and stick around. And if you're concerned about sound, I'm here to help however I can.
After you've picked your premise, even though that can evolve as we'll see later, an important part of getting off the ground is being consistent. This sounds very simple, but your audience needs to know when they can hear you.
Doug Coleman, Almost Better Than Silence
Make sure you are committed to the idea of whatever schedule you plan on releasing (weekly for us).
You don't have to do a weekly show - The Caffeine Crew does monthly episodes, for example - but you should have a dedicated day to post your episodes. People knowing where and when they can hear new episodes is important, so don't overlook it.
Like I said above, you don't need to spend a bunch of money to get going. My studio looks like this, but I saved up for a while to get to this point. Should I have started with this? Maybe, but longtime fans know I don't always put stuff in order.
When I started my live show, all I had was the Blue Snowball (Best Buy: $70). It wasn't great, but it got the job done. I upgraded to a headset and a small mixer (Amazon: $79, very noisy - also I paid $40 for it in 2015) when I started the podcast. It was mildly better than the Snowball, but all I had once my Blue Icicle (Amazon: $40.45 - a good deal) stopped working. But once I upgraded to my current mixer and microphone setup, I found the sound I wanted. It was even better when I was finally able to use the new microphone my mother-in-law got me for Christmas a few years ago. Here's what I currently use:
Mixer: Samson Mixpad 124 - it is currently $180 on Amazon. Four years ago I paid $60. I suspect that both COVID-19 and the fact that this mixer has been discontinued play a role in the price hike. (Okay, I can't say for sure about the first reason, but I'm confident in the second.) Don't spend that much on your first mixer. (My mixer is on a separate table on the other side of my desk, by the way.)
Microphone: Blue Encore 100 - it is currently $100 on Sweetwater. I got this as a gift, but if you can spend the money I recommend this microphone for sure. Make sure you get a pop filter ($10 on Amazon) and that you have a mic stand on the floor - my desktop boom arm picked up way too much noise.
Microphone: Samson R31S - it is currently either unavailable or marked up too damn high (I got three of them for $30 in 2016 from Sam Ash). I will recommend instead the LyxPro HHMU-10 USB microphone. It is $40 on reverb and it sounds great. I bought it for Josh to be on the podcast and I am always surprised at how good it sounds for the price (he used it on episode 237 most recently).
Microphone stand: Groove Pak SAMS45 - it is currently $18 on Amazon. I love these. I didn't have space for them in the apartment (I used these $12 desktop boom arms first) but I'm glad I have room now. Go with the desktop boom arms if you're in a tight spot.
Headphones: Behringer HPM1000 - I got these for $10 on Amazon. They are now $12, but well worth it in my opinion. You can of course go fancier if you'd like, but these get the job done.
You may also need cables and an adapter, depending on your mixer/microphone choice. Since I don't know which route you're going, I won't bog you down with that. These Hosa cables and this USB adapter are working for me, though.
If any of the above equipment works for you, that is wonderful. If it doesn't? That's okay too. But as Judge Greg points out, knowing what works for you will save you a lot of hassle:
Judge Greg, Real Hero Talk:
Do the research to get the right tools (microphone, recording software, etc.) and learn to use them. It'll make life much much easier in post.
When I started the podcast, I had no idea how much work it would be. I was used to live radio: getting on the mic, saying a bunch of words, ending the recording, and sharing it with the world. If you're not meticulous like I am, that exact process will work for you. And you'll be glad that your brain won't want to go in and fix little mistakes that maybe only you noticed.
But if you are like me and need to fine tune yourself? Make sure you're comfortable with the equipment you have. I use Audacity because it's free and super easy to navigate. I have tried Pro Tools, but that interface was not for me. And as far as leveling goes - you should do this after removing noise - there are programs available to do it for you. I have not mastered the tool in Audacity, but have found success with both Levelator (free, but only works with WAV and AIFF files) and Auphonic (free version is limited to 2 hours of audio per month).
Unfortunately that part of production may take some trial and error, but the important part is being comfortable with your finished product.
Finally, let's touch on your actual show. As Brendan mentioned, you should have at least a general idea of what your podcast will be and it should be focused on a topic you enjoy. For example: he hosts one about video games and another about anime, I host one on short-lived TV shows. My main show is basically a port of my live show, which is a mixed bag of topics and tunes. I love doing it that way, but you may want a more narrow scope.
That said, your show could change over time. As my network's head honcho put it:
Ben Beck, The Spotlight, DC Prime Time, Still Afraid of the Dark:
Don't be afraid of natural change. You may have an idea what you want your podcast to be when you first start, but it may adapt into something else as you go. Don't force it back into what it was, embrace the change. It's becoming what it was meant to be.
Ben and his cohorts used to host a show called The Showcast. They did celebrity interviews, talked about what did well at the box office, and what movies were coming to DVD/Netflix - among other things. It was a lot of fun. When they made the switch to just celebrity interviews though, it not only gave their show a new direction, it opened up my show for a bit as well.
I used to do music news, weird news, and preview movies and video games every week. I also used to spend a very long time rambling about NFL games during the season. I made the choice to cut a lot of that because I was tired of editing so much. Did I enjoy sharing some news with you? Of course I did. But making the show longer just for the sake of it seemed counterproductive, so I decided to alter the show. Plus adding video games to the site instead gave me more reason to write, which I had been looking to do anyway.
Also: my show started to become a bit of a music showcase once I realized I could play tunes as long as I got permission. Being able to do that and have a thing to tell people when they ask what the show is really helped shape the podcast. I even started doing interviews!
The point is: you may decide to change what you're doing with your show. And that is totally fine. Whether you find that you love the new direction or realize that you want to take it someplace else, the important thing is not to get in your own way.
And there you have it...I think. Did we miss something important? Possibly, but that just leaves room for a sequel. The bottom lines (cause Stone Cold said so) though: Those people up there are a lot smarter than me, and have been able to rid their shows of that background/mixer hiss that I can't eliminate.
So take their advice and learn from my gaffes: have a plan, find what works best for you, and most of all enjoy what you're doing. As my former station manager once said: "When the butterflies go away, it's time to quit."
I'm here to help if you need it, so please don't hesitate to ask me stuff. Until then, have fun and don't do anything I wouldn't do!
Crap open a cold one!