5 tips for creating a successful podcast

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I love podcasts. Submerging myself in a good podcast whether I’m at home, commuting or just procrastinating at work is one of the greater pleasures in my chaotic life.

It’s a love affair that has led me to create my own. Most people reading this will know that I’ve spent the past 6 months running The Deep Lying Podcast, which is all about Football Manager and had gotten a lovely loyal following.

But that’s not the only time I’ve dabbled in the recording arts. For a year, I presented The App Show (which was a radio show and podcast on Cambridge local radio station Star 107) and for three months I ran the Mobile Mavericks podcast. I’ve also guested on the Pocket Gamer podcast, Toku podcast and The Sixth Axis’ podcast, because once you get the bug you just can’t stop.

And best of all, podcasts are bloody amazing mobile content. Literally, people listen to podcasts on the go. They listen on the train into work; they’ll put it on when they’re going for a run; a podcast will come with them when they’re on holidays. With podcasts and mobile handsets tied together, they’re a great way of reaching people in a subtle, personal and interesting way.

So having listened to and created the damn things for a while now, I thought I’d chuck together a quick tips post for someone who might be creating a podcast but doesn’t know where to start.

1) Define what your podcast is all about

Knowing what you want from your podcast is a pretty important thing to get in your head. There are so many different types of podcast out there on such a wide variety of subject matters, so you want to make sure that your show can stand out AND that everyone involved with it is happy with where you’re going with it.

Defining what it is all about involves you doing a couple of things:

  • Choosing your subject matter – What will be the focus of the show and what will you be talking about? Will you be offering a generalist take on that topic or are you going to be hyper focused?
  • Deciding your tone – Are you and your contributors a bunch of serious professional types who can offer a polished take on things? Or are you a bunch of like minded idiots who can just about hold a funny conversation together?

Once you’ve worked those things out, you’ll have a solid basis on which to build your podcasting efforts.

2) Create a strong format

When I mentioned above that there were a couple of things to think about when defining your podcast, I lied. There are actually a few things you should be considering, and the third point is so important I’ve isolated it here.

Getting a strong format for your podcast is essential for succeeding. With so many podcasts out there, it’s really sad to hear one that I might be interested in descend into hours of directionless (and unedited) talking without getting somewhere. Podcasts encourage long form conversation, not endless unfocused debate, so a bad format can sink the best intentions.

Building up a clear structure is a sensible way of keeping the content disciplined, recording time limited and leaving your audience happy. While every podcast is different, meaning that the heavily scripted Serial works just as well as The Spanish Football podcast’s half hour chat format or Videogamer’s longer conversational stylings, the best all have a clear structure to hang their hats on.

So before you do your first show, set yourself a recording length and build a structure that’ll allow your content (whether edited documentary, one to one interview or chat show) room to breathe. Like the best jazz music, the best podcasts have a surprisingly large amount of structure to call upon – so don’t skimp on the planning.

3) Invest in decent gear

It’s also worth investing in the right type of gear to help your podcast sound and feel like a fully professional offering. At the start it might seem like a pain, but if you can even spend £50 on a decent mic it can make a world of difference to how your podcast sounds.

If you’re looking to invest, there are a few things you should prioritise spending on including:

  • A microphone – A decent microphone is your best friend when recording a podcast. While advice varies on how much to spend, the Yeti Blue microphone, which costs £85, is an incredibly versatile piece of kit and represents a handy upper limit for spend if you’re starting out. You should also consider pop filters, to remove “popping noises” and housing your mic in a covering (like a box lined with material) to reduce echo.
  • Editing and recording software – You’ll obviously need software to be able to record and release podcasts. For both, my massive personal recommendation is free software Audacity. Yes, you have to install plug ins to get everything that you need, but once you get the hang of it then it’ll work near enough perfectly across platforms for podcasts recorded in a room. If you’re doing your podcast by Skype though, I recommend a paid plugin called Call Recorder. Popping up whenever a call starts and recording all the audio in stereo stylee, it’s an easy way to record everyone on a call and end up with a file format that’s simple to chop up in your editing software.
  • Promotional Assets – Getting a strong logo, website and even a theme tune is important for giving your podcast a strong identity. You can score a high quality logo design for a reasonable amount from a professional designer like Leese Johnstone, while you can use the likes of iStock audio to find and licence a theme tune for under £30.
  • Hosting – You’ll also need somewhere to host your podcasts and to allow you to create the RSS link you’ll need to list on iTunes. Soundcloud is increasingly becoming that destination, with annual unlimited hosting for £70 a year, but. Technorms has a full list of alternatives which you can see here.

So when starting up, you may have to spend somewhere in the region of £150-£300 to get everything sorted. But if you invest carefully at the start, then you’ll be well placed to return that investment with the quality of your output and potential sponsorship opportunities that only arise for the best shows.

4) Keep it going 

You’ve gotten your first episode recorded, it’s gone online and you’ve had some great feedback: fantastic! But the key to a successful podcast isn’t just a couple of flash in the pan awesome podcasts; it’s about creating a sustained presence. After all, BBC Radio Five Live’s film podcast has established itself over the course of a decade (as has The Guardian’s Football Weekly).

And that’s difficult to do. Speaking as someone who has kept podcasts going and who has failed to keep podcasts going, finding the time and willingness to turn it into a regular fixture can definitely be challenging.

The easiest way to overcome this problem is by making sure you and your team have is a regular planned schedule to keep yourself. If you know that every week, at least two of you have to be available, say, every Monday and that you’ll need to write a post/schedule tweets about to promote it, then you’ll give yourself the platform to continue.

And remember that when you’re starting out, it’s ok to be unambitious to begin with. You might want to have an all singing, all dancing guest laden extravaganza of a podcast. But many of the best started small and then got bigger – so relax, build up your podcasting stamina over time and use longer term planning to help nab those top guests.

5) Have fun

Finally and most importantly of all, make sure you have fun while doing it. Enjoying podcasting and talking about something that is close to your heart is crucial in making sure you want to carry on doing it.

So make sure you enjoy it when you record. You might not be up for it every week of course, but if you can perk up when the record button is hit then your fan base really will appreciate it.

And ultimately, that’s what matters. Once you’ve got those fans in place, you’ll find out how satisfying releasing a pod is every week.

Need help setting up a podcast? Get in touch via george@mobilemavericks.eu and I’ll be here to help

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