So, you want to start a podcast. You’ve come to the right place.
My name is Steven, and I produce and host Legal Marketing Radio, our podcast here at LaFleur Marketing. When I started creating our podcast, I knew little about podcasting or audio recording in general, so I jumped online and dove into research. I found way too many podcasting guides containing way too much confusing terminology.
In this article, I’m going to try and give you the antidote to those way-too-in-depth “beginner” podcasting guides. I’ve written a straightforward, plain-language checklist that you can use to come up with a plan, buy the basic equipment you need, and get your podcast on the digital airwaves.
This guide assumes you’re already set on podcasting and committed to producing a show on an ongoing basis. If not, you should read our LaFleur blog article on the pros and cons of podcast marketing. I wrote it with attorneys in mind, but the key points in that article will apply to any business type.
RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: Should You Add a Podcast as Part of Your Legal Marketing Strategy?
From here on, I’ll assume that you know why you’re podcasting and focus on showing you how. First, we’ll talk about planning and execution and then we’ll get into gear. The gear section will be a bit longer since that’s the part of podcasting most people find confusing, but keep in mind that without a strong plan, the best equipment in the world won’t bring in listeners or revenue.
The Podcast Planning and Hosting Checklist
#1: Your Show’s Direction
You may think of your podcast as an advertising avenue, but listeners won’t come to learn about your company and your products. If you treat your podcast as a series of advertisements and just plug away at your products and services each episode, your podcast will be dead in the water.
At most, you can include a quick plug for your company and website during the intro or outro of your show. Anything else is too much of an ask; listeners aren’t going to go through the work of downloading your show and queueing it up on their device just to get beaten over the head with advertising messages. Instead, your show should display thought leadership and explore interesting and informative topics that tangentially relate to your company’s products and services.
On our show, Legal Marketing Radio, we do the exact opposite of pitching our legal marketing services to listeners. Instead, we give law firms tips, strategies, and solutions they can use to improve their marketing campaigns on their own.
Why do we do this? If we can help law firms grow on their own, they may reach a size where it makes sense to hire an agency for help, and they’re likely to consider us. Also, getting pieces of our expertise can make a potential client realize just how much an agency like LaFleur has to offer.
Regardless of what direction you take with your show and what topics you decide to tackle, the most important advice we can give you is to think about what matters to your potential customers or clients. Consider what questions are on their minds, what topics they’re searching for on the internet, and what issues they need solved — and put their needs first when crafting your show’s content.
RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: Take the Long Way Home: The Ever-Increasing Value of Tangential Content
#2: A Content Calendar
Most successful podcasts use a content calendar to plan out their shows several months in advance. Without a long-term plan, it’s easy to lose track of where you want your show to go and may end up repeating yourself or feeling like you’re out of ideas. Maintaining a schedule for your show that stretches a few months out can help make sure you tackle a diverse range of topics within your podcasting niche, and it will also keep you from missing episodes because you’re at a loss for a topic when it’s time to record.
#3: A Place to Record
You can’t record a podcast in a noisy environment with construction work and car alarms blaring away outside the window and expect to come away with usable audio. Try to record in a small room with minimal reverberations (or “reverb,” as it’s called in the audio world), away from street noises and office hubbub. Rooms with tile or hardwood floors and minimal furniture are the worst choices for podcast recording because all the hard, sound-reflecting surfaces create reverb.
Lots of successful home podcasters choose their bedrooms for recording, and for good reason: the small room size and soft surfaces in most bedrooms help minimize unwanted reverb. While reverb can be a beautiful thing when recording music, it’s almost always bad for podcast audio since it makes you sound distant and takes away the sense of cozy intimacy that people enjoy when listening to their favorite podcasts.
Doing endless monologues into the microphone gets lonely, and unless you’re an especially magnetic speaker, it can easily bore your listeners. You should aim to host guests on your podcast as often as possible. Reach out to peers in your field and ask them if they’d like to join you on the show to discuss their area of expertise or an issue they’re particularly focused on right now.
At first, you may want to stick to people you know personally, but once you get a few episodes published and feel more confident in your podcasting skills, try reaching out to peers and thought leaders you admire whom you haven’t met before. You’ll be surprised how often they appreciate your interest and jump at the chance to discuss a topic they’re passionate about.
#5: A Show Outline
Whether you’re recording by yourself or with a guest, hitting the record button and letting your consciousness stream away is a recipe for a shambling, boring show. (In fact, there’s a popular podcast where the host does exactly this, and it’s designed to put people to sleep.) Even if you think you’re good at speaking off-the-cuff, pressing “record” has a surprising tendency to wipe the mind clear and leave you at a loss for words.
While you don’t need to write out every word of your show in advance, try to at least come up with a general outline that lists the broad topics you want to tackle and details a few key points within each topic. Having some sort of structure sketched up in advance will keep you on track and harness your thoughts.
Especially with guests, I only use my show outlines as loose guidelines, and I tend to let the conversation go wherever it seems to want to flow. However, I always keep the outline up on my computer screen during the recording. Sometimes I stick to the outline fairly closely, and other times I barely glance at it. Either way, it gives me confidence knowing that I have it and can fall back on it if I can’t think of where I want to go next.
Adding a bit of music to the beginning, ending, and transitional moments of your show can add a gleam of professionalism to your podcast. If you choose the right theme song and use it consistently, it can even set a mood and help loyal listeners get in their “headspace” for your show each time they queue it up. Lots of websites offer royalty-free music you can use for your podcast; on Legal Marketing Radio, we use music purchased from Audio Jungle. You can use your audio recording and editing software (see the gear checklist below) to mix this audio in seamlessly with the recordings of your monologues or interviews.
#7: A Place to Upload Your Podcast
Once you’ve got audio recorded, you’ll need somewhere online to put it. Lots of sites exist that will let you upload your podcast, host your files online, and send your show out to popular podcast directories like the iTunes store so potential listeners can find it. Some of these sites offer a small amount of storage for free, but if you publish shows consistently over time, you’ll run out of free storage space and end up having to pay for hosting.
So why do you need to rely on a paid hosting service rather than just uploading your MP3s on, say, Google Drive? Well, the paid hosting services will provide an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) link for your show that will allow podcast directories like iTunes to access your show and display episodes. There’s no way to upload your episodes to iTunes directly; providing an RSS link is the only way to get iTunes to notice your show, and the same is true for many other directories.
For a long time, we published Legal Marketing Radio only on SoundCloud and then used the RSS feed from SoundCloud to offer the show on the iTunes store as well. Now, we have a subscription to Libsyn, and we use Libsyn to send the show out to multiple podcast directories including iTunes, SoundCloud, and Google Play all at once.
The Podcasting Gear Checklist
#1 (Essential): A Microphone
Why it’s important: You can’t record sound without it.
How to choose one: Your microphone is the most important element of your setup, so this is the area where cutting corners can hamstring you the most. As you shop for vocal microphones, you’ll find that they come in two main varieties: condenser and dynamic.
Condenser microphones are what professionals use to record voices, but these mics are extremely sensitive and pick up all sorts of background noise, which makes them unsuitable for use outside of a recording studio. (Our first few episodes were recorded using a condenser microphone we had laying around, and trying to capture clear audio in our noisy office with it was an absolute nightmare.) Stick with a dynamic microphone unless you have a soundproof, acoustically-treated room where you can record.
You’ll also see microphones labeled “USB” microphones. These microphones can plug directly into your computer and record audio using the computer’s USB ports.
If you buy a non-USB microphone, the microphone will only transfer sound through an XLR cable, which won’t plug into your computer. Instead, you’ll need a separate device to amplify the microphone’s signal and then send it out to the computer via USB output.
Note that almost all USB microphones also have XLR outputs, which means you can use them as you would a traditional microphone too. The USB output just gives you the additional option to bypass the amplification device and plug directly into your computer.
What we use: When we first started Legal Marketing Radio, I picked out four Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Dynamic Microphones. (I wanted our show to feature roundtable-style discussions with our staff and guests, so I needed multiple microphones.) These microphones have served us well, and I still use them for recording guests. However, their output is on the quiet side, which means you have to turn the volume levels way up when you use them. Turning the volume up high while recording generally creates more white noise in the background of your sound, so it’s not ideal.
You can use a device called a preamplifier (or “preamp”) to boost the signal from a quiet microphone without creating additional noise; many preamps are surprisingly expensive, but for Legal Marketing Radio we use the relatively budget-friendly Simply Sound SS-1.
Later, we picked up a Shure SM7B Dynamic Microphone to upgrade our audio recording setup. We didn’t really need this microphone for podcasting, but we also use our podcasting setup to record voiceovers for client videos, which require a higher level of audio quality than podcasting. Of course, since we have the Shure, I’m going to use it for podcasting, so I started using it as my microphone while still using the Audio-Technica mics to record guests. (That’s right — I’m the host, so I get the fancy mic.)
#2 (Essential): A Microphone Boom Stand
Why it’s important: You could argue this doesn’t deserve “essential” status, since many USB microphones (including the Audio-Technica ATR2100s that we use) come with some sort of small tripod that stands the microphone up. However, these tripods are usually small, flimsy, and awkward, and they require you to hunch over the microphone to record. You could also hold the mic while you talk, but while this works well for spitting a few hip-hop verses, you’ll get tired of it quickly when recording a podcast episode.
A boom stand will suspend your microphone in front of your face and let you and your guests maintain a natural, relaxed posture while you record. You can buy boom stands that stand on their own or that clamp to the edge of a table; I prefer the clamp-down variety since you can’t knock them over, but either type should work.
What we use: Our podcast setup includes four Neewer Boom Stands, each clamped to one side of a square table. These budget-priced stands are fairly humble and probably wouldn’t stand up to much of a beating, but they’re made of metal, so unless you travel with them regularly or otherwise put them through abnormal rigors, I can’t see them letting you down. These stands’ metal springs do make a cacophony whenever you touch the stand, so make sure to keep your hands off while you’re recording.
#3 (Essential): Headphones
Why they’re important: At some point, you’ll want to listen to the audio you’re recording, and you’ll need headphones to do it.
What we use: I use a pair of Sony MDR7506 over-ear headphones for Legal Marketing Radio. However, while a pair of high-quality over-ear headphones will certainly help you pick up extra detail in your audio recordings, don’t let an inability to afford expensive headphones stop you from getting your podcast going. I’ve more than once forgotten my fancy headphones at home and mixed an episode of Legal Marketing Radio using garden-variety earbuds, and we’re all still here.
#4 (Essential): An Audio Recording and Editing Program
Why it’s important: Audio software records your audio signal and lets you save it on your computer as a digital file, and it also lets you edit the audio (delete and rearrange sections, adjust volume, and so on). Once you’re finished editing, the software can export your episode as an MP3 that you can upload to a podcast hosting website.
What we use: I record Legal Marketing Radio using Audacity, which is a completely free piece of software. We actually have access to a more professional-grade program, Adobe Audition, but I’m comfortable with Audacity and haven’t gotten around to learning Audition yet.
Learning to use any audio recording program — even the relatively simple Audacity — will take time, but there’s a wealth of resources and answers available online. YouTube will be your best friend here.
#5 (Strongly Encouraged): A USB Mixer
Why it’s important: Traditionally, to record audio using a microphone, you had to plug an XLR cable into the microphone and plug the other end into a device that would amplify the microphone’s signal to a useable level, then send another cable out from the amplifier to a recording device. A powered mixer was (and remains) a popular choice for an amplifier since these devices not only provide amplification but also lets you adjust aspects of the audio signal. However, as we discussed above, USB microphones let you plug the mic directly into your laptop and eliminate the need for a mixer (or any other amplification device).
But plugging a USB microphone directly into your computer comes with limitations and drawbacks. First, you can’t plug multiple USB microphones into your computer’s USB ports and record them all at the same time — at least, not using any method that I know of. So, if you want to bring a guest onto the podcast, plugging directly into your computer will limit you to sharing one microphone. Sharing a single mic between you and your guest can get awkward and tiresome, although it’s certainly possible.
Second, when you plug a USB microphone directly into your computer, your computer’s sound card is taking the place of the amplification device in a traditional microphone setup. I don’t have the technical knowledge to tell you why, but I’ve experienced occasional headaches in terms of weird noises and “sound artifacts” when recording with a USB microphone plugged directly into my computer that I couldn’t diagnose or fix. I suspect these issues have to do with using a consumer-grade sound card that wasn’t designed for audio recording.
Regardless of why it happens, it’s annoying, and I’ve never experienced these problems when recording through a USB mixer. I’ve vowed never to record directly from a USB microphone to my computer again.
Besides solving those issues, a mixer gives you more control over your audio recording process. For example, you can tweak volume levels for each microphone input to adjust for guests with softer and louder speaking voices and even adjust the bass, treble, and midrange frequencies of your recording to get the clearest sound. Besides the additional degree of control, a mixer will also let you listen to your sound signal live through headphones. This way, you can identify audio issues and fix them on the spot rather than discovering them later during playback.
One downside of mixers is that they can easily intimidate and overwhelm a podcasting beginner with their massive array of knobs and switches. Don’t worry — they’re easier to get the hang of than you think, and most of the more complicated features and applications aren’t important for podcasting. The instruction manual is your friend here, and heck, you can even email me if you have any questions.
Whatever you choose, make sure the description lists it as a “USB mixer.” Not all mixers have the capability to send an audio signal out to a computer via USB.
What we use: I record Legal Marketing Radio on a Behringer Xenyx 1204USB four-channel mixer. Its four microphone inputs mean I can record four separate channels at once, which is perfect when I want to host a roundtable-style discussion with a few of our staff members.
If you’re reasonably sure you’ll only be recording yourself and an occasional guest, then a smaller two-channel mixer like this Behringer Xenyx Q802USB will work just fine, and it’s a bit simpler to get the hang of as well.
#6 (Optional): A Digital Audio Recorder
Why it’s important: Anyone who’s ever used a computer (especially a Windows computer) knows that computers tend to crash at the worst possible time. If your computer crashes while you’re recording an episode and before you save, there’s likely no recovering that audio. Similarly, if your computer’s hard drive fails and you haven’t uploaded your audio files to the cloud, they’re probably gone for good.
Digital audio recorders are much simpler devices than personal computers, and they’re very unlikely to crash. By sending one of the auxiliary outputs from your mixer to a digital audio recorder like this Tascam DR-05, you can create a backup MP3 file that you can use if something happens to your computer.
What we use: Nothing. So far, I’ve recorded directly from our USB mixer onto my laptop. However, I already lost one entire episode because I forgot to select the correct recording input in my audio recording software, and I also suffered several minutes of panic and embarrassment when my computer’s sound card suddenly stopped working at the exact moment a guest called in. (A computer restart thankfully fixed the issue.) A backup digital audio recorder would have prevented both issues.
#7 (Optional): A Pop Filter
Why it’s important: If you speak directly into a microphone from a few inches away and play back the results, you’ll notice a little “pop” noise wherever you made a hard “b” or “p” sound. This happens because we blow a little gust of air out of our mouths to make these sounds, and the microphone registers this blast of air as a popping noise. In the audio recording world, people call this noise a “plosive.”
Many podcasters fix this by buying a pop filter, which looks like a small black circle that hangs in front of the microphone. (Note that a pop filter is different than a wind screen, which is a small foam jacket that goes around the grill area of your microphone. A wind screen can cut down on plosives, but not nearly as much as a pop filter.)
What we use: Nothing at all. While a pop filter does its job well, it’s also one more thing to deal with, and I don’t like the idea of a black circle of fabric hanging in front of my face while I talk. To solve plosives without a pop filter, I just use my boom arm to hang the mic off to the side of my face at about a 45-degree angle, and I do the same for my guests. If you don’t talk into the mic head-on, you’ll find plosives aren’t nearly such a problem.
Plosives also aren’t as much of a dealbreaker in the podcasting world as they are when, say, recording audio for television commercials. Some of the podcasts I listen to regularly feature occasional plosives in the audio that you can easily detect if you listen for them. Don’t lose sleep over small plosives as long as they aren’t distracting.
RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: No Quick Fix: Digital Marketing Success Requires Commitment
Contact LaFleur for Help With Podcasting and All Your Other Digital Marketing Needs
That’s it for our quick-start podcasting guide, but you’re interested in launching a podcast but still feel a little overwhelmed, don’t worry. We’re happy to speak with you about building a podcast for your business, as well as any other digital marketing needs you may have — including content marketing, video production, and website design.
To find out how LaFleur can help you grow your business and promote your brand with efficient, affordable digital marketing solutions, give us a call at (888) 222-1512 or fill out our convenient contact form. We look forward to hearing from you!