I generally hear a request multiple times and determine for the utility of all involved it is time to write a blog post. I have been approached in the past three weeks by 5 people asking me for advice on starting their own podcast. I previously published this article (Podcasting Advice From Three Wildly Successful Veterans of the industry) when I was relatively new to podcasting and interviewing people about what it took to become successful. This blog post is far outside of my normal format for posts and is written to be a comprehensive as possible.
Note: The best thing you can do for me is share this article with a friend or loved one you know who wants to start a podcast if it is not for you. Otherwise, you can check out my most recent post in my normal format here.
I think there are a multitude of reasons you should start a podcast. First of all, it can be an amazing creative outlet for you. Second, sharing your message with the world is a beautiful opportunity we all have now. Finally the podcast industry is ripe for growth. After discussing this a little further we should also discuss why you shouldn’t start a podcast at the end of this post.
While listening to a podcast interview I heard a stat that 80% of the U.S. Population desires to write a book and less than 5% of the population actually does. Think about how much potential knowledge we are being robbed of due to that stat. We are also prevented from reading a load of garbage. One could argue that ship has sailed. Imagine, if Rogan, Ferris, and Willink all passed up on starting their podcasts out of a fear that no one would be interested. We would be robbed of amazing content.
The Gatekeeper is dead was one of my first episodes. In that I discussed the concept that podcasting had limited barriers to entry. This means any random group can start a podcast in their basement, and share their message with the world. This absolutely allows a lot of garbage to get out into the world. It also reduces the ability for major industries to prevent Susan from sharing her podcast on how to grow cacti in the arctic. If there is a large enough audience for this type of content, Susan will now be able to reach them as long as she can survive the cold and the prickly plants she loves so much.
This article will tell you all of the major statistics about podcasting. I think a few of them are very important and I have listed them below.
That last stat means that younger people are increasingly turning to podcasts. I see that as a solid signal for growth. People told Rockefeller that the Oil Boom was over in 1874, and he ignored them and went on to become the richest man, ever. Anyone who tells you it is too late to start a podcast is attempting to excuse themselves from the challenge of starting their own show.
This is a very hard question to answer. I will share a maxim with you that can help. Good audio can save bad content, good content cannot save bad audio. Listen to all of my episodes and you will find a few with absolutely awful audio. That being said, you can drop close to 1000 dollars on podcasting equipment without even blinking. I believe in limiting financial waste. I recommend purchasing a fairly cheap microphone, and then investing more in your equipment as you have expanded your podcast. The first microphone I bought is no longer sold on Amazon, but it cost me roughly sixty dollars.
I then went on to invest more money in equipment until an old friend gifted me a ton of equipment similar to what Rogan has outiftted his studio with. The next question for a microphone is generally XLR or USB. I recommend a USB microphone to start. If you’re looking to outfit an entire studio, I recommend an XLR microphone that will require an external soundboard, and XLR cables. You can then run this into a USB port and record straight to your computer.
Note: The soundboard I linked to is expensive. I highly recommend a soundboard like this if you are setting up a studio because it will have a secondary source for capturing your audio. Any veteran podcaster will tell you, not having a back up recorder is a mistake you only make a single time. You can never recreate the magic that happens on a microphone the second time.
Mind you I am not a sound engineer. They are probably cringing at the recommendations I am making to you. As far as I’m concerned your equipment just needs to be, good enough. You can distract yourself as much as you want with equipment and it won’t mean anything if you don’t record the show, market it, and air consistently. Another area people get wrapped around the axel is editing software. I use Audacity.
Audacity is free, extremely intuitive, barebones, and you can youtube how to do anything for audacity. Its almost too good to be true. I absolutely love using it because I don’t need to waste money on 1000 dollar software and with a little hardwork I learned how to edit quality audio and fix shitty audio. If your mics are just good enough, Audacity can make your episode sound even better. My secondary recommendation would be Adobe audition.
Here is the hard part about all of this that you need to hear. You will have a hard time the first time you use any of this stuff. Like anything else in life, it will get easier with practice. Find a friend who is not going to hate you for being awful your first time, and will be fun to talk to. Practice with them, so your hiccups do not happen in front of someone who may or may not recommend you as an interviewer in the future (if that applies to your format.. read more below) Approach all of this with a growth mindset and you will go far. Whether you think you can or think you can’t you are correct.
The pandemic did a great thing for podcasting. It forced people to have more time, and to accept the culture of virtual interviews. Previously high profile people would not consider interviews with me that were not in-person. I didn’t have the excess cash to fly to California for an Interview. Scheduling interviews during family vacations doesn’t go over well with the family. I now have a much easier time landing really high profile guests and getting them to agree to a virtual interview.
The Squadcast app is an application I use for all of my interviews now. As long as my guest and I have microphones it sounds like we are in a studio together. Squadcast makes podcasting practically idiot-proof. All you need is your guest’s e-mail and Squadcast will send them a unique link and walk them through setting up their microphone and camera. They keep your guest in a green-room until you open the show. They allow you to record audio and video or just audio. Additionally, they automatically curate your audio and cut out echo so you cannot screw things up. They automatically save your audio and your guest’s audio to an MP3 or WAV file so you can drop it right into your editing software at the end of recording. I’m a huge fan and I wish someone told me this existed when I got started.
In 2019 when determining where to launch my own podcast I identified that Apple Podcasts had 80% of the podcast market, with Spotify holding 10%, and the remaining 10% being split between all of the other podcast applications. I would assume with Rogan’s move to Spotify, this has shifted somewhat. Regardless, we can reasonably argue that you just need to get your podcast uploaded to Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Doing so will make you available to 90% of listeners. Any other applications are an added bonus. Here is how you can reach 90% of the podcasting fan base.
I would argue this is a more important topic than your microphone or editing software. The difference between good hosts and great hosts is they approach their episodes like a professional. You need to do the same if you want to be taken seriously. I highly recommend you consider what you want your show to be about using the following tools
I believe that the easiest type of show to do would be a current events show. Just sit back, let the world do what it always does and be a commentator. The issue with current events shows is that you are only as good as your most recent episode. Or in other word’s your content is not timeless. Therefore a person experiencing your show for the first time will quickly move past your older episodes. In a content-binging-culture people want to be able to flow through your episodes. I opted out of current events for this reason and the fact that I believe it is overdone.
I’d say interviewing may be the hardest type of episodes to do repeatedly. Landing a big guest can sometimes take months of coordination. Prepping for that person so you can ask all of the right questions is a lot of man-hours. Interviewing that person you are star-struck to even meet can be a difficult undertaking. I do not say this to scare you off. We need more great interviewers out there. I just recommend you approach this format accordingly.
The middle of the road. Find a group of friends you can record with regularly and build out your own show format that is repeatable. I find this to be one of the best types of shows and it is regularly successful. Tough Talks a spinoff of my podcast follows this format. I love doing it and it is much easier than what I do in interviews. Interviews do give you an opportunity to meet some pretty high profile people and ask them the questions you’ve always desired to ask. So don’t write them out entirely.
Identify your format and refine it frequently and you will be set up for success with your podcast when compared to the person who likes hear their own voice. I also believe this leg work up front contributes to your podcast making it past the 6 episode mark. In my opinion the reason podcasts don’t make it that far is because people who don’t do legwork actually run out of things to talk about after one or two episodes.
I am not saying to niche down because I think that’s played out. I am saying to take a page from Tucker Max. He writes his books as though he is sending an e-mail to his best friends. This makes his content highly digestible. It also helps him to know who exactly he is writing to. You should know who exactly you are talking to. Identify that person in the most descriptive way possible. This article is a great breakdown for identifying your target market. Start with these characteristics:
I can tell you that my listeners are Male, between the ages of 24-40, living in urban areas, making above 75k a year with a college degree. Marital status is unknown, and many of them are working professionals, active duty/veterans, or both. This information makes it extremely easy to create content that gets you found, and shared.
If I were messaging myself two years ago when I got started this would be the first section I would share. This is the hardest part of podcasting. It will not happen overnight, and you will not get rich off of it immediately or even remotely fast. You should not be doing this to make money. If that is a secondary consequence of this passion well God bless.
Good content market’s itself. That cuts out a lot of the work. However no one warns you that the majority of podcasting is getting people to actually check out your show. Oddly enough, the people who first listen to your show are also probably going to hate it. As Steven Pressfield says, his mother will not read his books because it is a sign of his changing in front of her eyes. Your friends and loved ones will support you but they will most likely not be your biggest fans.
That is ok. You do need to work hard to market your show to your target audience and make it something people can understand. Sharing your purpose with people gives them something to rally behind. You can use it as a marketing tool. Identifying your purpose is a whole other blog post but “The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer” by Steven Kotler provides a useful exercise for doing so.Telling people who your show is for helps them to decide whether it is something they want to check out.
Additionally people are so bombarded with content these days you have to sell your content. This means social media marketing, asking people to share your show, and everything else to drive listeners to your podcast. It’s more work than most of the other things mentioned here aside from creating content.There are entire graduate level courses dedicated to marketing and people are now selling online/social media marketing course that cost a lot of money. Getting shared, gets you seen. Getting seen is how you build your fan base. Something that does not happen overnight.
I recommend setting a goal to get 100 fans first. Then 1000. After that 10,000 and you now have a small army of supporters. This opens a lot of doors. You can measure this with instagram followers, email list subscribers, or what ever you may prefer. I recommend the following articles/book when it comes to considering how to grow your fan base.
This is probably the hardest, most fun, and most rewarding part of your show. Coming up with what you will air each week. It can really break you down and there will be weeks when you have zero idea what to talk about. I highly recommend building out systems and processes for coming up with content. Eventually your listeners will tell you what they want to hear or read. Case in point, this post. Until then, you need to probe people with questions in a cordial way.
I frequently ask listeners how they heard of the show. I then ask them what their favorite episode is, and why they liked it. Finally I ask them what they want to hear more about. Everyone is an expert on how to make your podcast awesome. Some of these people will have great ideas. Most of them don’t know what you want your show to be. If you’ve already taken care of creating the format for you show, you will easily be able to identify what advice you should take and what advice you should not.
I frequently have people ask me to talk about righ-wing politics because they place patriotism in the same world as the republican party. I smile and thank those people for listening. My politics are not discussed on the podcast because it is not a current events or politics podcast. However, I frequently pull out gems for episodes from those questions to listeners. Pro-tip, follow all of these questions up by asking for a review or share on social media. It won’t happen if you don’t ask going back to marketing.
I have personally seen the perils of being inconsistent with a podcast in my own show and others. Building a fan base of loyal listeners means a group that is going to be habitually coming back for more content. There are a million things that you have zero control over can break that habit. Do not allow your own inconsistency to contribute to this. If you miss a week you lose listeners. I highly recommend being as consistent as possible. I put a lot of weight in being a professional in everything you do. If you want people to give you their hard earned time, you have to show up consistently.
I think the only reason you should not start a podcast is if you cannot commit to the goal whole heartedly. I say this mostly for your own mental health. It is better to never set a goal than to set one and fail to follow through on what is required to achieve said goal. As Yoda Says, do or do not, there is not try. More importantly, as Tim Ferris says, podcasting is a proverbial elephant graveyard of one to two episode shows. I read a long time ago that the average show does not make it to their sixth episode (I’m sure this number has dropped). To combat that I recorded my first 6 episodes before launching the podcast. In doing so I made sure I would not become a contribution to that statistic.
Additionally, monetization of a podcast does not become possible until you manage to reach millions of downloads. This is usually something that takes close to 80-100 episodes to achieve is you’re doing things the Grassroots way.