If you think you’ve missed the boat when it comes to starting a podcast, think again. There are many reasons to start a podcast in 2023. In this post, I’ll explain why it’s still great idea and show you some tips and tricks for how to start a podcast. You’ll also get my tips for finding for the best podcast platforms.
In providing this advice, I draw on my own experience in launching multiple podcasts, including the Leading Learning Podcast, which I have co-hosted and produced since 2015. We’re now approaching 300 episodes with thousands of downloads per month and we’ve experimented with many different approaches over time. In other words, everything here draws on actual experience.
So, whether you’re starting for free, or working with a budget, here’s how to create a podcast and launch it successfully.
Looking for the right platform to host your podcast?
See our review of the 10 Best Podcast Hosting Platforms.
Why start a podcast in 2023
I hear this question all the time. Is it worth starting a podcast?
Bottom line: yes!
While the popularity of podcasting has continued to surge in the past couple of years, the market is far from saturated. In fact, now may be the perfect time to get involved.
Only 6% of US adults consider themselves regular podcast listeners, but the number of people who have heard of podcasting has increased in leaps and bounds. Over half of US adults have listened to a podcast at least once, and more than a third listen to podcasts on a monthly basis.
Podcast listeners also have a stronger educational background and higher disposable income than the average American – making them strong prospects for online courses and other knowledge-based offerings. And with more and more Americans choosing to remain working from home, people now have more free time than ever before to pick up new hobbies or consume new media.
So, there are still plenty of reasons to start a podcast, but how do you do it? First, we’ll take a quick look at getting going for free, and then we’ll much deeper into how to plan, produce, and promote a successful podcast.
How to start a podcast for free
I wanted to talk about this early on because I know a lot of people want to take the free route when they first start out. That’s fine – in fact, I recommend it – just be aware that if you decide to continue on after your first several episodes, you are probably going to want to upgrade you production tools and hosting pretty quickly. So, we’ll be sure to talk about that more later in the article.
Testing the podcasting waters
As far as free goes …
Starting a podcast isn’t quite as easy as recording a video on your phone, but it isn’t much more complicated. You can use your phone or existing computer mic to capture audio at no extra cost. If you’re really not sure if podcasting is for you, this is the fastest and simplest way to test the water.
You will need some audio editing software to make your podcast sound good, especially if you’re only using a basic microphone. The good news is one of the best all-rounds is Audacity, an open source software that works on Windows, macOS, GNU/Linux, and more. Using Audacity, you can record audio, cut and edit the recording, add effects, remove artifacts, and export to almost any format you can name. Even pros often stick with Audacity over other, more expensive software.
If you are a Mac user, you also have the option of using the Garage Band app for free. That was my choice when I first started podcasting nearly a decade ago, and I still use GarageBand for some tasks.
If you plan to conduct interviews, then you’ll need a way to capture remote audio. One of the best ways to do this for free is with Zoom – so long as you keep your interviews under the 40-minute limit for free meetings. I don’t the Zoom has the greatest audio quality, but it is usually good enough so long as you and your interviewee have a good Internet connection and Zoom has the big upside of familiarity – most people you are likely to interview have probably already used Zoom a lot.
The next step to making your podcast sound more professional is to add music. Music can help brand your podcast with an intro/outro, fill dead space, and make the recording feel less flat. Background music, or sound beds, help tie the podcast together and improve the flow of the recording.
The three most common types of music available to podcasters are royalty free, public domain, and creative commons. Music licensed under creative commons are often free to use and reproduce — although you should check the specific CC license, as some don’t allow the music to be edited or used for commercial purposes. CC licences also require that you credit the original creator. The Free Music Archive and Incompetech both offer libraries of creative commons audio tracks.
Creative works (books, music, art) enter the public domain approximately 70 years after the death of the creator, although this rule varies a little from country to country. However sound recordings of music or songs are classed as derivative works, and their copyright belongs to the creator.
“The House of the Rising Sun” became an international hit in 1964 when it was recorded by rock group The Animals, but the lyrics to this folk song were first documented in the 1930s, and the original is undoubtedly much older. Under copyright law, the lyrics and music for “The House of the Rising Sun” are within the public domain, but The Animals’ recording is not. That means you could use it as your podcast intro, but only if you had somebody else sing it.
Royalty free audio is one of the safest ways to source music for your podcast, because you license each clip for commercial reproduction under very generous terms. It’s also often available for free. Pixabay and YouTube both offer royalty free audio clips for creators to use.
Finally, you are going to need a platform for hosting and distributing your audio files. While you can, technically, host audio files on your web site, keep in mind that this could slow down your site significantly as people access the content. It’s really better to use a host that is optimized for streaming audio. And dedicated podcast hosting platforms will make it easy for you to get your podcast into the major directories like Apple Podcasts and Spotify – essential if you want people to actually find your podcast.
The good news is that there are quite a few decent free options – mostly because the platforms hope you will upgrade once you start to get a little traction. If you are going to go the free route, the main one I recommend it Buzzsprout, but you’ll also find a number of other free options in my post on the 10 Best Podcast Hosting Platforms.
Now, regardless of whether you start a podcast for free or invest significantly in production and hosting out of the gate, you need to be strategic and take certain steps to ensure you podcast is successful.
So, let’s move on to that.
A lot of people dabble in podcasting because it is pretty easy to get started. You can record podcast episodes using tools you may already have on your computer and there are plenty of free or low-cost services you can use to upload your audio files and publish them into popular podcast sources like Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
The problem, of course, is that “easy to get started” is not at all the same thing as “easy to continue” – much less “easy to get a return on investment.” Truth is, it’s likely that well over half of podcasts are gone within a year of starting (extrapolating from comments by Todd Cocharne, CEO of Rawvoice/Blubrry).
So, if you’re interested in starting a podcast that will create lasting value as a form of content marketing and/or an additional revenue stream for your expertise-based business, you definitely need a strategy. Podcasting can be great fun and – when done right – can deliver a significant return on investment, but for that to happen, you must be clear about what you are trying to achieve and have a reasonable idea of how you are going to get there.
What is the objective of your podcast business?
Do you want to boost name recognition, drive traffic to your existing products and services through content marketing, or create an independent revenue stream directly from your podcast? Any or all of these can be legitimate objectives, but the approaches to achieving each of them are somewhat different.
Podcasts are great for generating awareness and demonstrating your expertise, but that doesn’t always deliver a direct financial return. If money is your goal, you’ll need consider your available sources of income (more on that shortly) and how the subject and style of your podcast might best appeal to sponsors and advertisers.
Of course, your objectives can evolve over time. When we started Leading Learning, we did it specifically to provide content in advance of a live event we were hosting. The idea was the podcast would help showcase the speakers and also provide content that attendees would have as a common point of reference. We didn’t actually intend to turn it into a long running show at that point.
Around that same time, though, we were beginning to increase our efforts to get sponsors for our events, both online and off, and it soon became clear that the podcast could grow into another area for sponsorship. Over time, that’s meant that we’ve needed to strike a balance between creating content that is capable of attracting sponsors while also addressing audience needs and helping us to grow our listener base.
How much are you prepared to invest in your podcast?
I’ll explain how you can start a podcast for free, or on a limited budget, but even if you can do everything on a shoestring, that doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
Refer back to your business objective. If your goal is simply to add to your body of content and connect with your existing audience in a different way, for example, you may not need to spend a lot up front. But if your plan is to pitch your podcast to big businesses in the search for sponsors, they’ll expect your podcast to be as slick and polished as anything they produce themselves.
Again, when we started Leading Learning, we weren’t really thinking about sponsorship. We did our best to provide decent audio and production quality, but our equipment was just our laptops, a Skype account, and a couple of Logitech headsets. I did all of the editing myself using GarageBand. We eventually graduated to significant better microphones and later to outsourcing the editing and production.
Keep in mind, too, that “investment” isn’t just about money. One of your most valuable resources is your time, so you will want to weigh how much of your time it is worth putting into a podcast. For example, we moved to a seven-part series format on Leading Learning over the past year, which made it possible for us to dive deep on specific topics. We produced some great content, but frankly, the amount of work involved relative to the return was just too high. We’re now going back to a standard weekly episode format.
What will your podcast format and frequency be?
What format will your podcast take? Will you deliver monologues to your listeners, invite guests, have a regular panel, or take phone calls from listeners? All of these styles have their own strengths and weaknesses, and appeal to different audiences. It’s worth listening to other podcasts in your niche or finding a style you enjoy listening to before deciding on your format.
Keep in mind that, if interviews are going to be your main source of content, finding a constant stream of guests who can offer relevant material for your specific audience can be quite challenging. You’ll need to start brainstorming potential guests and starting outreach as soon as you can. Services like Podbooker or PodMatch can be useful for this.
You should also consider the frequency of your podcast. What’s the frequency of other podcasts your audience listens to? (And, if you don’t know what they are listening to, ask!) What will the audience expect? How much are you capable of producing? How (and if) you monetize your podcast will affect frequency as well.
Spotify introduced paywalled podcasts earlier this year, but they capped out at $7.99/month, no matter how many episodes you publish. And sponsors will think twice about the cost per episode if you plan to publish too frequently. Finding the sweet spot between audience expectation and your capabilities can also help you maximize your return from sponsors and subscribers.
How long will each podcast episode be?
The frequency of your podcast often impacts length. Subscribers may expect monthly podcasts to be longer – e.g., 60-90 minutes – than weekly or daily podcasts. You want to ensure that your podcast covers your chosen topic thoroughly, without turning listeners off.
Of course, there is no magic formula for this. One of my rules of thumb is that, given that many people will listen to podcasts while commuting or exercising, 30 minutes is a good length to aim for initially. Overtime, through communication with your listeners and watching which episodes are most popular you’ll develop a sense of what length works best.
Your time and capabilities are also important. If you are going to rely on do-it-yourself (DIY) editing for your podcast, adding music, and adjusting the sound, it will take a lot longer than just the recording time for you to put an episode together.
If, on the other hand, you intend to outsource the technical side of production, ensure your audio technician has enough turnaround time for you to meet your deadlines. (After many years of doing our own technical production, we now outsource to Pro Podcast Solutions.)
Once you’ve created a business strategy, planning your podcast should be easier. I recommended starting with the idea that you will produce a single “season.” Podcast seasons work just like TV shows, with a block of episodes followed by a break. This will give you a fixed number of episodes – usually in the 5-10 range – to work with to test your podcast and decide if continuing is right for you.
Caveat: The average podcast takes 5-6 months to start gaining attention. Keep in mind during the early months that podcasting is a long-term endeavor, and you probably won’t see results overnight, or even after the first few episodes. The initial season is more to see if podcasting is something that fits well into your ongoing operations.
Start by blocking out your topics. Your podcast can be episodic or follow a linear progression like a series of lectures. But your episodes should all fit with your overall topic and appeal to your audience and potential sponsors. Decide if you’re going to follow a script (we mostly do on the Leading Learning Podcast), or if you’re going to ad-lib with the help of notes or a co-host. Sites such as Script Timer can help you figure out how long your podcast episodes will be.
Podcast intros & outros
Even if you intend to work without a script, it’s a good idea to write strong opens (intros) and closes (outros). Your opening needs to grab a listener’s attention and immediately engage them with the podcast. When closing, you need to set the expectation for what your listening should do next using a call to action and possibly even guiding listeners into a sales funnel. Some examples include telling listeners to like, subscribe, and visit your website, or letting them know how and when to tune in to the next episode.
At the end of your planning session, you should have each episode of your podcast series laid out. Try recording a practice episode to see how long it takes. You might find following a script makes you sound wooden, or that ad-libbing results in you repeating yourself and losing your train of thought. Or, you may discover you vastly under- or overestimated how long the finished episode would be. Deal with these teething troubles early into your podcasting process before you launch.
Podcast show notes & transcripts
Also, be sure to plan to offer show notes and/or a transcript for your podcast. These serve multiple purposes. First, they provide text that can be indexed by search engines, helping to increase the likelihood that your podcast will be found by prospective listeners. They also provide access to your content for people who don’t want to or can’t listen to your show. Finally, with show notes, you can provide additional resources and other types of value that go beyond what is offered by the podcast itself.
We’ve done extensive show notes for the Leading Learning Podcast since day one, but we’ve continued to improve them and optimize them over time. They drive quite a lot of traffic to the Leading Learning Website and rank among our top posts. We’ve started including full transcripts (which we get done through Rev.com) more recently. I was surprised to see how many people actually download the transcripts.
You should create a launch strategy before you even finish recording your first episode. Podcasting is still in its relative infancy, but the competition is already steep, with over 2 million podcasts already published. Getting noticed takes more than hitting “Publish.”
Announcing your podcast
Announce your upcoming podcast using your established platforms. If you have a large social media following, a blog, newsletter, or website, make sure to announce your podcast ahead of time. Encourage learners to sign up for notifications about your podcast, and create a separate mailing list or list segment to keep track of podcast subscribers.
Create a plan to continue promoting your podcast through social media and email ahead of your launch. Make sure as many people as possible know when the podcast will air, how to tune in, and what the episodes will be about.
Prior to publishing your podcast
Before publishing, you should have at least three episodes ready to go. This way listeners who want to binge your podcast will be able to. It’s a great way to get people hooked and incentivize them to remember when your next episode airs. Otherwise even a great podcast can become a one-and-done.
Most podcasts are available in multiple podcast directories. Whatever platform you choose to publish, ensure it posts your podcast to at least the top three — Apple, Spotify, and Google. I also recommend making sure it is available on Amazon and Facebook. You may have to cross-post your RSS feed to set up the podcast with the directory. Check the guidance for publishing on each platform.
Once your podcast is live, you should continue to promote new episodes. It’s easy to update your website, newsletter, and social media to inform learners when the next episode goes live. You should also create teasers and promo segments that you can post between episodes to generate curiosity and keep attracting new listeners.
We use Canva to create multiple banners for each episode of the podcast and we use these during initial promotion on social media when the podcast as well as weeks and months later as part of continuing to drive new listeners to each episode.
Encourage listeners to leave ratings and reviews, and to share your podcast with their friends. This type of marketing harnesses social proof — we trust the opinions of others — and is exceptionally powerful.
Attracting new podcast listeners
You should also try to attract new listeners from outside your established network. Think about your target listener, and how you can reach them. One particularly powerful way is to get booked as a guest on other podcasts that have audiences likely to be interested in your content. This is a surefire way to get in front of people who you know listen to podcasts.
Additionally, targeted ads on social media, based on demographics, likes, and interests, can deliver powerful results (although for a cost). Approach other influential figures in your field to promote or cross-promote your podcast. A $20 sponsored ad on the website of another online educator might be a wiser investment than $20 spent on social media ads.
Whatever promotional methods you use, collect and review data about how they performed. Use tracking URLs whenever possible so you can separate the results from each campaign. Many URL shortening services make this incredibly easy, but with a little know-how you can also use URL redirects from your website to the same effect.
Although you can start a podcast for nothing, I don’t necessarily believe that you should. A small investment in the right areas can make a big difference in the quality of your finished podcast episodes. It’s easy to start a podcast on a budget, which will help limit your initial outlay while vastly improving the final results — and thus your chances of success.
Microphone and accessories
The primary place I’d advise investing money is in a good quality mic. Yes, you can use your ear buds – particularly if your aim is to start a podcast for free – but you will sound much more professional with a higher quality microphone.
Fortunately, a high-quality mic doesn’t have to break the bank. For Leading Learning, we have been using ATR 2100 mics from Audio-Technica for years, and these cost less than $100 each. Very well worth the investment.
If you want to go with a condenser mic, which can produce a richer sound, but also will pick up much more background noise, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Blue Yeti as a reasonably priced option. I’d recommend getting a Blue Yeti kit that includes a boom arm and windscreen.
In general, it’s worth spending the extra to get a boom arm, which allows you to adjust the mic position as you record. Pop filters soften harsh sounds, while windscreens and soundproofing mic shields help improve the overall audio quality.
Music and sound effects
Yes, you can get creative commons, public domain, and royalty free music and sound effects without paying a dime, but so can everyone else. If you really want to make your podcast unique, consider investing in unique music. This is especially true for intros, outros, and other musical elements that will be integral to your podcast branding.
AudioJungle and PremiumBeat are two popular choices for reasonably priced podcast music. You can purchase tracks on a subscription basis or through royalty free licenses that offer generous terms for a fixed price. Prices typically range from $1 to $50 per track, and rarely have to be renewed. However, pay attention to the license terms, because many lower priced licences don’t apply to commercial usage. If you intend to monetize your podcast directly, expect to pay $150-$250 per licence.
Yes, you can probably figure out how to edit your recording and put your podcast episodes together, but should you? How long will it take to learn the necessary skills, and how good will your end result be? Doing your own post-production might reduce your upfront costs, but it will cost you valuable time if you’re not already versed in audio editing. And doing a poor job could ultimately cost you listeners if your podcast is difficult to follow.
The alternative is to use a service or employ a freelancer to edit your podcast for you. Individuals can be found on sites like Fiverr, or choose from one of many podcast editing companies on the market. As noted, we use Pro Podcast Solutions, but just search on “podcast editing” and you’ll find plenty of options.
The best podcast platforms
The final consideration for any new podcaster is the right platform to use for hosting and distributing your podcast. There are five key considerations you should bear in mind when choosing a podcasting platform:
Storage and duration limits
Some platforms offer free or very cheap membership, but the trade-off is limited storage. Make sure you’re getting the podcast storage you need and you won’t have to pay an inflated rate or move your podcast to a different platform after the first few episodes.
Bandwidth and server reliability
As well as providing the space to store your podcast, distribution platforms also need the bandwidth for audiences to stream episodes. Make sure you select a podcasting platform with reliable uptime, and that won’t throttle your podcast if it starts to take off.
Supported content types
Most platforms support all major audio and video file extensions, but make sure the platform you choose will work with the files you create. Some types are OS-specific, such as the Windows WMA file, so pay attention to the extensions you use.
Depending on your business model, you may want a podcast hosting service that supports integrated ads, or even provides native monetization features. Look into all the possible monetization options and terms closely before making a decision.
Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best. Don’t forget to take into account renew and overage costs as well as the introductory or base rate. Moving a podcast to a new platform is possible, but it takes time and can result in your podcast being taken temporarily off air as connections are lost between different distributors.
For more information about all the major podcasting hosts, check out my top 10 best podcast hosting platforms.
Frequently Asked Questions about Podcasting
There has never been a better time to start a podcast. The industry is taking off, and a number of hosting and editing services are now available to help novice podcasters produce exceptional episodes with minimal technical know-how. Make this the year you start a podcast, and get ahead of the curve with a new and exciting way to showcase your expertise, gain followers, and – potentially – monetize your knowledge.
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