During this ‘Preparing to Podcast' series, I've been covering the big questions I'm always asked by prospective clients.
Those questions that have come up time and time again, asked by the 100s of people I've helped to start a podcast through The Podcast Host.
In this installment, it's all about Time – the most precious commodity we have. The only one we really can't earn any more of! So, let's get down to it: How much time does it take to produce a podcast episode? Here's what I've got for you:
- The Time You Have
- You can invest as much time as you like into podcasting – find out the options here
- The Variables
- Here's what determines how long podcasting takes, and methods for keeping the time down.
- The Approaches
- Three different ways to go about podcasting, and the time required for each.
Previously we've talked about cost, so if you're looking for the low-down on how much you should spend on podcasting, you can start there instead.
Just to begin, Podcasting can take as much time as you allow it. The range of podcasting styles, formats and production quality is as wide as the number of podcasts there are out there in the world. There are people out there who spend weeks producing just one 20 minute episode. Then there are others that knock out something the same length in 20 minutes plus the time it takes to hit Record, Stop and Upload.
Over the years, I've found the majority of people fall into particular categories though. This depends on aims, aptitude and your context. It always comes down to the balance you're happy with between the time spent and the resulting quality. I'll talk you through the options below, but, be aware, you'll find your own path.
First, I want to go through all of the variables in podcasting: what elements of the process determine how long it's going to take?
Organisation is the simple act of arranging everything that's needed to complete your podcast. The most obvious example here is someone who runs an interview show. When you're interviewing, a fair bit of time has to go into finding, researching, contacting, negotiating and scheduling interviews. Then you've got communications around the mic to use, the content to cover, and much more. Don't underestimate the organisation that goes into doing an interview show, it's not small.
Other elements of organisation might be coordinating with co-hosts, arranging meetup times or booking rooms to record in. You begin to see that these things depend a lot on your show format, and how you set up your episodes.
Of course, the great thing is, that means you can choose your format based on how much time you have. If you're really strapped for time, then don't do interviews. They tend to go for longer, they take a lot of organising, and still require a decent bit of planning. For the shortest recording time possible, do solo, and talk about something you know well. Then you can knock out a 15 minute episode at a moment's notice, with little organisation and only a bit of planning.
Talking of planning…
The planning process is completely individual, and there are as many approaches as there are podcasters. You'll find your own way, but it does tend to fall on a pretty well established spectrum.
On one end, you have people who think up a topic, and just start chatting. That works well for co-hosted shows which are much more conversational, and the hosts know the topic inside-out.
On the other end, you'll find hosts who create a full script for their show, including narrations, interview segments, co-hosted elements, so every element of the episode is meticulously planned.
In between you'll find people who spend 20 to 30 minutes doing a little research, before writing up a reasonably detailed bullet point plan for what they want to cover. You'll also find those who just spend 5 minutes jotting down top level talking points; perhaps 5 to 10 bullets which prompt a few minutes of chat each.
Of those latter approaches, I do both. Some topics require a bit more planning, (eg. my really detailed look into Podcast Sponsorship) and some require less (eg. my discussion on setting up a podcasting website, something I know like the back of my hand!)
This is totally personal, and changes over time. You can control it, though, by defining your process, and sticking to it each time.
By setup, I mean equipment and IT. This includes all of the time you spend before a session getting your microphone out, plugging it in, firing up Skype and then working out your audio settings. If you're on a more complicated setup, it also involves testing your mixer, setting the levels and preparing the digital recorder, among a million other things.
After the recording, includes doing the opposite, packing everything away again. Then, getting out your PC, firing up your editing package, and getting started.
Setup time depends on your context. Can you find a space where your equipment is permanently set up? Do you have a desk at home where you could have your microphone mounted on a boom arm, always ready to go? That could save a whole lot of time. But, it isn't practical for many.
Editing and Production
Editing is where a lot, and I mean A LOT, of hours are wasted by amateur podcasters. There are two factors to this: confidence, and perfectionism.
Have the confidence to make a mistake when you're recording, and instead of repeating the section, just laugh, correct yourself, and move on. No-one cares if you stumble over a few words, or say the wrong thing. Just make light of it and continue. If you take a perfectionist mindset, and decide to edit each and every one of these, you accomplish 2 things:
First, you make yourself nervous, leading to even more fluffs!
Second, you set yourself the onerous task of detail editing, which means listening through lots and lots of the show, increasing production time exponentially.
For big mistakes that you just can't get rid of, there are techniques to make editing easier, such as the 3-click approach.
Suffice to say, the aim is to cut down post-recording edits to almost nothing. Mistakes are fine, they make you sound human. Apologise, correct it, move on and leave them in!
Music and FX
Beyond the mistakes removal, you might also want to edit in music, sound FX, intros, outros, interviews, segments, and on, and on! These add variety and can increase the quality of your show, so are often worth adding. But music adds editing time, as do FX and bumpers. Even adding an interview means that you've got to piece together a few elements, thus adding editing time.
Plenty of great shows have shunned any type of musical fanciness and it's never hurt them (look at Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, with one of the biggest audiences in the world!). Keep things as simple as you can to cut down editing time and make everything more sustainable.
Publishing is everything that happens after you've produced the final audio files. That includes creating your episode page, adding shownotes, uploading your media file and any promotion you want to do of the episode.
Again, there's a balance here – you could spend hours on writing up highly detailed shownotes, publishing a full transcription and then promoting the show to every network known to man. But, it'll just mean you're still working on that next week when you should be recording your next episode!
Promotion is an art in itself, which I wont cover here, but shownotes are worth a quick discussion. Some prefer to keep it simple, just listing a few links which were mentioned during the show. Others put a lot of material up there, really creating a companion blog post for the audio episode. The former serves it's purpose for the listener, but little else. The latter means that you're adding value to your website and making it more likely that people will find your content via the search, and thus be directed towards the episode. That can, of course, gain you listeners.
Pick the balance that suits you, and that allows you to get an episode out every week. I've alternated back and forth over the years. I'll aim to do a full blog post, but sometimes time just doesn't allow. In that case, brief bullet points will suffice.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many, many ways to go about this, and you'll find your own path. But, having spoken to 100s of podcasters over the years, I've found 3 common approaches. A big chunk of podcasters out there fall into one of the following three categories.
The Min-Time, Max-Value
This is for those that have very limited time, and want to make podcasting as easy as humanly possible. Nothing wrong with that in the slightest. You can argue that sustainable, regular average quality output beats seldom-released high quality audio every time. Your audience needs something regular to latch on to, after all. Here's the approach:
- Format: Fly solo.
- Display your expertise, on your own, with confidence and panache, talking mostly on the fly. The means very little organisation and cuts down planning and editing.
- Equipment: Simple as, bro!
- Get yourself a decent headset mic, plug it in, and record. Nothing more needed, and your setup time is slashed.
- Editing: Let it all hang out.
- Keep it raw and transparent. No editing, mistakes laid bare, and people will trust and love you all the more.
- Publishing: Just enough.
- Basic show notes, only enough to summarise the topic and direct listeners to any resources which were mentioned.
Time Committment: 1 hour for a 30 minute episode.
The Balanced Method
This method is for those that want to produce a good quality show that reflects their brand, but still need to find a time committment which allows it to be sustainable.
- Format: Co-Hosted, or Interview.
- Bring in a co-host, or do interviews. Both increase variety, and the latter shares the work of interviewing and editing.
- Equipment: The simple pro setup.
- Buy a good digital recorder, pro mics and record, in-person. Or, two good headset mics for remote recording.
- Editing: The click approach
- Add title music and outro, and edit only the big mistakes using the Click approach.
- Publishing: Blog post
- Produce a 400 word blog post covering the main points of the show and linking to relevant resources.
Time Committment: 1.5 to 3 hours per 30 minutes of episode.
The Polished Producer
The polished producer approach is used by those for which only the best will do. This can take anything from a day to numerous weeks to produce a show, so it's only for those with a lot of time and money to invest.
- Format: Documentary style
- Work with 1 or 2 presenters, and interviews with numerous people, weaving all content into a narrative
- Equipment: The full shebang
- Working with pro mics and mixers in the studio, plus the pro interview setup out in the field.
- Editing: Audio production master
- To create a show like this, you're editing sentence by sentence. This takes time. A lot of time…
- Publishing: Pillar Article
- To accompany a show of this calibre, you want to create an article of similar quality. Spend time on a 800+ word pillar article on the topic.
Time Committment: 8 to 50+ hours per 30 minutes of episode.
Another Way of Time Saving
Of course, one final way of saving time in podcasting is to find someone to help! Most people who take podcasting seriously know that it's a good idea to concentrate on the content and the presenting, while leaving the systematic stuff to someone else.
You can find someone to produce your podcast relatively easily. That takes care of the editing and the publishing, cutting down the time required considerably.
I've said it over and over again in this article, you'll find a routine that suits you, and your time commitment will evolve based on that. But, that doesn't change the fact that it's useful to know some standard approaches and the time it can take for each.
And if you'd like some help in launching or running a sustainable podcast that fits in with your schedule and lifestyle, then we'd love to work with you inside The Podcast Host Academy.
That's our membership site, where we offer access to all of our video courses, ebooks, checklists, regular live Q&A sessions, and run a community forum too. We'd love to see you there!