Some people create podcasts for fun, others for money or clout. In general, most podcasters share their stories, conversations, and debates because of the intrinsic reward that they get from talking to other people. Podcasting enables virtually anyone to meet new friends and learn from others. Listeners also get a similar opportunity; you may not directly meet someone by listening to a podcast, but you will likely feel an intimate connection to a creator or guest after hearing their ideas through the authenticity of their own voice. So both ends of the spectrum —creators & consumers— can benefit from podcasts.
But starting a podcast isn't as straightforward as one would think. Podcasting is a labor of love. You typically have to invest some amount of time and money into creating a podcast. There is certainly a cheap and easy way of podcasting which often results with a lower-quality, but nonetheless good, podcast. You can also go with the expensive and time-consuming route which often results with a more professional podcast. Regardless of your path, here is the gist of what you need to start a podcast.
Your podcast creation toolkit can set you back hundreds or even thousands of dollars per setup. If you want guests in your podcast you should multiply your equipment costs per person by the number of people that you plan to host. At the minimum you should expect to buy or utilize the following tools:
- Computer or smartphone
- Remote conferencing software
- Audio editing software
Professional podcasters tend to have all or most of what is listed above. At the bare minimum, you need a device to capture audio (computer or phone). You can step it up a notch with some headphones, which are great for tuning out external distractions, listening to your podcast while recording, and capturing your audio if the headphones have an embedded mic. You can also use a microphone to record high quality audio that will sound better than your computer, phone, and headphones. Some microphones require a mixer to process audio which also enables you to tune your podcast in real-time. If you are really into crisp audio, you should buy after-market cables to connect your mic to your mixer. Your physical equipment will likely include cables, but their material quality will be less than the expensive cables that audiophiles obsess over. Finally, you will need some sort of software to record remote audio and/or edit your tracks once recorded (more details in the next section).
Having the right equipment is the first step no matter how professional you want to be. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get started (although many people do), all you really need is a computer or phone to record and distribute your podcast. Just don't forget to buy extra equipment if you want guests.
Recording and editing audio can be hard to learn, but knowing how to can pay off in the long run if you continue making podcasts. There are many products to help you with this process:
- Descript is by far the easiest software to use for editing audio. Descript transcribes your audio as you record and then enables you to edit your transcription similar to a Word document. The software is free to use for your first project and $12/month for unlimited projects.
- Riverside FM is another great contender for recording your podcast but unlike Descript, you can't edit your audio directly on their tool. Think of this as Zoom for podcasts with a nice scheduling feature, a digital mixer, and audio/video recording functionality. Pricing ranges from $7.50 to $24 per month with an additional enterprise offering.
- Audacity has been the go-to software for audio editing professionals for nearly two decades. The free and open-sourced program has one of the most built-out feature sets in the market, so if you want to fine tune every detail, this is your software. Just a warning, it's not the easiest to use if you've never edited audio.
- GarageBand is similar to Audacity but exclusive to the Apple ecosystem. The feature-rich software enables you to record and edit audio straight from your phone or computer. The user experience is easier to understand than Audacity but that comes at the sacrifice of certain capabilities.
Not everyone has the time or desire to edit audio, so many podcasters hire professionals to cut, mix, and combine their tracks once recorded. Point being, this is a job in and of itself. You can find professionals to edit your audio on freelancing sites such as Fivvr or Upwork or you can hire someone like Young Jamie from the Joe Rogan Experience to be your exclusive producer (though I don't think that he is available for work at this moment in time).
Content hosting is required to distribute your podcast on the internet. In layman's terms, hosting stores your podcast online and makes your audio available to podcast catchers typically through a really simple syndication (RSS) feed. This step is rather straightforward:
- Upload your finished podcast to the hosting site
- Generate an RSS feed link
- Paste that link into the upload input on the various podcasting platforms
- Validate your ownership via email
- Check back in to ensure that your content was uploaded & to analyze your listener data
- Upload more podcasts to automatically distribute your new content the platforms
Hosting isn't terribly difficult to do with tools like Libsyn, Bluberry, or Podbean, but it costs money. You should expect to pay $15 to $30 per month to host your content on any of the dozens of platforms that are available for this specific step.
Awareness is the key to building an audience. Most podcasting apps don't help you with promotion very much since they are designed for intent-based search and consumption. On a high-level, promoting a podcast is similar to promoting any other product or content; do it often and everywhere. A.B.C. — Always be closing.
- Social media is free but time consuming. Everyone has their go-to social media platform. Learning how to navigate each and every social network (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc.) is stressful. So the best tactic is to hammer down on the ones that you know best while maintaining a presence on the rest. If you record a video with your audio, share your content on Youtube and TikTok. If you transcribe your podcast, upload a snippet to Facebook and Twitter. If you have a branded podcast with unique designs, post the visuals on Instagram and Pinterest. No single path is necessarily better than another. But what you don't want to do is get burned out by social promotion or stay hidden in the shadows without any promotion.
- Paid advertising is quick but expensive. You can spend all the money in the world on search and social ads without any real promise of growth. Most podcasters avoid this or they wait until they have monetary incentives to grow.
- Cross-promotion can be free but time consuming or quick but expensive, yet has proven to be a winning strategy for many podcasting professionals. The notion can go one of two ways: you host another podcaster as a guest on your podcast in exchange for them hosting you as a guest on their podcast (free but time consuming) or you advertise on their podcast in exchange for a shout out on yours (quick but expensive). You don't have to "trade" necessarily.. the transaction can be one-sided. But an exchange is a nice and often free way to cross-promote.
Growing your podcast is fun! For real. Seeing your audience develop feels good. It means that your ideas or conversations or stories are being heard — and likely by people from all around the world. Promoting can seem like a redundant loop of work, because that's what marketing is. But once you get enough traction with your podcast, your audience will start to organically grow. So you won't always have to annoy your network to smash that download button or listen on Apple Podcasts.
Earning money as a content creator is not necessarily as straightforward as it seems from a consumer perspective. The three primary ways that people make money from podcasting are through advertising, subscriptions, and donations.
- Most podcasters who monetize their content use advertising as their main revenue stream. Advertisers love big crowds, so sponsorships can be hard to gain without a large audience. You can still get sponsors with a small audience (typically at a minimum of 1,000 downloads per episode) but you will likely need to scout them yourself or join an ad network. But let's assume that you get sponsored. The key metric to understand is your cost per mille (CPM); this refers to the cost of one advertisement per 1,000 downloads. Rates range from tens to hundreds of dollars per mille, but the average CPM hovers around $20 for a 30-second ad and $30 for a 60-second ad. Rates also change based on the ad placement within your podcast. The three placement tiers are pre-roll (ads at the very beginning of your podcast), mid-roll (ads in the middle), and post-roll (ads at the end). The rates and placements are negotiated prior to the release of your podcast with the baked-in ads, so you should study comparable rates for your genre and audience size prior to working with a sponsor.
- Some podcasters offer premium content that is accessible only by subscribing to their exclusive feed. Premium content could simply be the ad-free version of your podcast or it could be additional episodes and content that free listeners can't access. This monetization strategy is sometimes referred to as the "1,000 true fans" tactic since it attracts the most loyal members of your audience who are willing to shell out your subscription fee each month. Glow is a platform that makes this fairly easy with their audience management and payment processing tools.
- A third way to make money is through donations. This is obviously the most unstable route to venture down since you never really know how much money you will make each episode or each pay period. But monetizing via tips is the least invasive way to generate some cash from your podcast. Patreon is a platform that is similar to Glow which makes tipping relatively easy to set up (Patreon also offers subscriptions). Just don't forget to ask your audience for some friendly donations!
- There is a fourth and indirect way to make money through podcasting: personal placements. This is made for those long-term business strategists who see the bigger picture for their podcast. Instead of monetizing your audience by advertising products and services from other companies, promote your own products and services directly on your podcast. Many businesses have taken this route as a form of organic marketing. The same tactic can be directly applied to your own business, but first, you gotta create a product or service.
One thing to note is that most podcasters don't monetize their podcast. They are either too small to attract sponsors or they're not in it for the money. Monetization is entirely optional and should only be pursued if you want to make money, otherwise, you'll just dilute the quality of your podcast with ads.
Podcasting can take a lot of time, effort, and money. This guide touches just the surface of what is needed to start a podcast but don't get discouraged by the overwhelming amount of work! Luckily we built a new tool that enables you to dip your toes into podcasting without going through all of those steps listed above: Lava.
Lava empowers you to create, share, and discover recorded social audio seamlessly on your smartphone. Simply download the Lava mobile app to connect with friends, share your ideas, and discover conversations from people all around the world. Everything that you create on Lava is posted directly on your profile for others to follow and also on the feed for people to discover.
And I know, you've just read this super long post only to find out that I wanted you to discover Lava. But hey, always be closing. On a more serious note, give Lava a shot. Riley Robertson and I (John Allen) built Lava throughout 2020 because we wanted to make a podcast but found that creation and promotion are disconnected which makes discovery rather difficult. So we reimagined audio for the modern internet & built a new social network for your voice: Lava.