It’s time to break down podcasting for beginners. To strip it back to basic principles. Maybe your favourite celebrity has just launched a new podcast, and you’re not entirely sure what that means. Or perhaps your best friend runs one and keeps pestering you to listen to it.
Podcasting might even be the hot topic at work these days, and you’re feeling a bit left out.
Whatever the reason, podcasting has suddenly appeared on your radar, and you haven’t a clue, really, what it is! Well, we’re here to help. This is a crash course to help you grasp the basics.
You might even like the sound of them enough that you end up making your own – more on that later.
At the very least, though, you’ll be able to humour your friends…
Our podcasting for beginners guide was originally written in 2018. We update this post periodically to reflect changes in technology, our recommendations, and because we’re always learning new things!
Podcasting for Beginners
A podcast is essentially a talk radio series on demand. This means that listeners don’t need to turn up and tune in live, but can listen any time (and pretty much anywhere) they like.
Podcasts tend to be focused on a theme or topic. Often, the most successful podcasts are the ones that really niche down and get in-depth into a specific subject.
These shows could never exist on traditional radio because they’d ultimately be judged on listener numbers, rather than audience interest and engagement.
Podcasters also have the freedom to create long episodes without time constraints placed on them by other shows.
Podcast listeners can decide exactly what they’d like to listen to, whereas radio listeners have much less control as their options are broader and less targeted.
Podcasts have been described as “narrowcasting”, which stands apart from the “BROAD-casting” of traditional media.
A podcaster’s aim is to find the right listeners, not the most listeners.
How Does Podcast Listening Work?
Finding shows on exactly the type of content you’d like to listen to is one of the biggest appeals of podcasting. There are over four million podcasts out there to choose from – and they’re all free.
Do you like the idea of listening to Fiction Podcasts? Space Podcasts? Health Podcasts? Mediation Podcasts? Video Game Podcasts? Podcasts for Your Kids? Or even, Trucking Podcasts? You’ll find podcasts on every topic imaginable.
The audio aspect is another big strength too. This means listeners can consume their favourite shows whilst doing other tasks. For example, walking the dog, gardening, or driving to work.
So with podcasts, you don’t have to worry about the visuals, but there’s just as much variety in the types of shows you can listen to. Audio-only is in no way limiting to the medium.
Nowadays, the majority of podcast listening takes place via smartphones. There are a plethora of different apps you can use to listen on. These apps let you subscribe to your favourite shows, so new episodes are automatically delivered to your phone.
You can also listen to podcasts on your computer, or pretty much any device with an internet connection.
For all the detail on what apps to use on every device, and how to use them, check out our guide on how to listen to a podcast on any device, easily, and for free.
Podcasting for Beginners: Audio Podcasts Vs Video Podcasts
I’ve been talking about audio so far, and you might be thinking, “but what about video podcasts?”
And you’re right – video podcasting is a thing. Some podcasters record both video and audio versions of their show. You can upload video podcasts to be delivered to podcast apps in the same way audio ones are, but most folks just put their videos on YouTube.
There’s an argument that YouTube videos aren’t technically podcasts because RSS isn’t involved. Admittedly, though, most people don’t care about this. If you run a YouTube channel and want to refer to it as your podcast, then go for it.
What Are the Most Popular Podcasts?
There’s a core of numerically popular podcasts that you’ll always see “featured” on the front page of directories and listening apps. Shows such as:
- This American Life
- The Joe Rogan Experience
- Call Her Daddy
- WTF with Marc Maron
- The Daily
- 99% Invisible
- Stuff You Should Know
- How I Built This
Many of these shows are run by media companies or podcast networks like NPR, Spotify, or by people who already had an audience before they had a podcast. Here are the best podcasts in the USA right now, in terms of popularity.
But there are a few “indie” shows that buck that trend, and have become huge despite starting from zero.
The wider a show’s target audience is, the less it’s able to really niche down on a subject. So many of the most numerically popular podcasts have more in common with well-made radio shows than with the rest of the medium.
Shows from the big podcast platforms are still great products. But they arguably don’t give an overall view of how podcasting looks and sounds as a whole.
There are a lot of superbly made independent podcasts out there that don’t have big audiences when you compare them to traditionally popular shows. But this tends to be because their topic is focused on a much smaller target audience.
Unlike traditional media, though, podcasting isn’t all about hard numbers. One of the most important concepts when looking at podcasting for beginners is to realise that some of the most successful shows around have pretty average-sized audiences. But those audiences are hyper-engaged. They absolutely LOVE the host, and the content they create.
That’s the difference – 10,000 rabid fans are worth more than 100,000 casual listeners any day of the week.
Can ANYONE Create a Podcast?
Pretty much! There are a few things you need to create your own show. But for the majority of people, they are easily obtainable. If you have an internet connection – which you clearly do, given that you’re reading this – then you’re halfway there.
We’ll talk more about how to start in a moment, but the bottom line is that podcasting has no gatekeepers. Nobody can prevent you from making your own show.
Podcasting for Beginners: Is It Expensive?
This is one of the biggest intimidating factors in podcasting for beginners. Is it going to cost a lot? But the happy answer is that you can spend as little or as much as you like on podcasting.
It’s possible to run a podcast for free, though the tools you’ll have at your disposal will place some limitations on your show.
You definitely don’t need to spend a lot to make a great podcast, though. The most important thing is your content, and that isn’t something you buy with money.
But you can spend a little cash on some podcast tools to make that content sound more professional and to make sure it’s delivered to your audience in a reliable manner.
Does Podcasting Take a Lot of Time?
Again, there are many variables here. It depends on what kind of podcast you’re running, the amount of work involved in creating each episode, and how frequently you release them.
There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll need to dedicate some time to your podcast. Especially if you want it to be successful. But there are ways to make your podcasting process as efficient as possible.
For example, if you have little time but a bit of money to spend on your show, you can outsource the more laborious tasks, such as editing. Check out our guide to hiring podcast producers for more on this.
You can also batch produce your episodes to cut down on set-up and tidy-up times, as well as use a Podcast Host Planner notebook to increase your efficiency. Check out our main guide on how much time it takes to run a podcast for the full lowdown here.
Podcasting for Beginners: What’s the Simplest Way to Start?
If you have an idea for your own podcast series, then you can dive right in and start making it. Here are the top-level steps for beginner podcasters.
1. Choose Your Podcast Topic
Your podcast needs to be built around a topic. That topic could be literally anything, from something major and global, like climate change, to the most obscure subject ever. You can do one on the tiny scarves you knit for your pet gerbil.
If you’re podcasting as a hobby or creative outlet, your topic will be an interest or passion. On the other hand, you might want your show to help market your business, in which case, the topic will overlap with that. Hopefully, you’re passionate about that, too, though!
Here’s more on choosing your podcast topic.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
A topic is a great start, but who’s it for?
You might say, “well, obviously, for people interested in that topic”, – but that isn’t enough.
Launching a podcast for “people who want to be healthy” or “people who like exercise” just won’t cut it these days. You need to dig a bit deeper than that.
For example, who are those people who want to be healthy? What age are they? Where are they from? Do they have certain dietary beliefs or practices? A podcast for gluten-free grandparents training to run marathons might seem like it’ll have a tiny audience, but it would also be one of the most engaged audiences.
Here’s more on finding your USP.
3. Choose Your Format (Solo, Co-Host, or Podcast Interviews)
There are no rules for podcast formats, but you’ll find one that suits you best.
Going solo can be great because you’re not relying on anyone else. A regular co-host can make things more dynamic and add chemistry. Or, a different guest each episode can bring fresh expertise and knowledge.
You can mix and match your formats, too – you don’t need to stick to one. Here’s our full guide on podcast formats.
4. Get Your Podcast Recording Gear
Obviously, you need the means to record your podcast. For beginners, a common way to do this is to buy a quality but affordable USB podcast microphone. That’s really all you need to get a good level of sound quality.
Once you’re a more experienced podcaster, you might choose to upgrade beyond USB microphones with gear like XLR mics and digital recorders. Check out our full podcast equipment guide for more on this.
5. Choose Your Remote Recording or Podcast Editing Software
The software requirements for running a podcast are actually minimal. Most recording software doubles up as audio editing software.
You can record and edit your podcast using a software program called Audacity. Audacity is free, though the trade-off is that it can appear complex to the beginner, and could take a bit of time to learn.
An alternative is to use Alitu, which is designed to make podcast recording and editing as simple as humanly possible. With Alitu, you have the added bonus of easily recording remote calls with guests anywhere in the world. It also has hosting and auto-transcription built in, too.
If you’re adding a visual component, then you’d need some video editing software. Many Apple fans use iMovie for free, whilst Adobe Premier Pro is considered the Gold Standard by many. Video editing software can have increased hardware requirements. Check out our best computer for podcasting and best laptop for podcasting articles if you need more guidance.
Of course, there’s a lot of additional software you could use around your podcast too. You’ll find software for transcription, visual graphics, and monetisation. Podcast show notes mean that blogging software has its place, too. Check out our guide to podcast websites for more on this.
6. Optimise Your Audio Quality
There’s no getting away from it: good quality audio is important. Even with a finely honed topic and content, your podcast will struggle if it sounds bad.
We’ve covered equipment and software already, and these things definitely contribute to your audio quality. However, it’s actually your recording environment and mic technique that are the two most important factors when it comes to running a professional-sounding audio podcast. So whether you’re trying to tackle background noise, excessive reverb, or unbalanced volume levels, check out our guide on how to make your podcast sound better for a full range of tips.
7. Choose Your Podcast Hosting Service
There are loads of great podcast hosting platforms out there, as you’ll see in our dedicated roundup. But if you want to have all of your solo and remote recording, editing, and hosting in one single place, then you might want to check out Alitu.
8. Record & Edit Your First Podcast Episode
Sitting down (or standing up!) to record your first episode is a big milestone. Be sure to go in with at least a rough plan of what you want to cover. If you make any mistakes that you’ll later want to chop out, use the 3-click method. Here’s our full guide to recording a podcast, too.
Do I Need Podcast Music?
You’ll hear music in almost every podcast intro, as well as at the end of each episode. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to add music to your own, but there are benefits to doing so. A distinctive theme tune can make your show immediately identifiable, and it can add an extra layer of professionalism, too. Just be aware that you can’t use copyrighted music in your podcast, but there are loads of great options out there to find music that’s “Podsafe”.
9. Post & Publish Online
Once your episode is ready, you’ll upload it to your hosting provider. This is the account you use to create and manage your show.
You also need to submit your show podcast directories for all your episodes to be listed on them. This is a one-time-only task, and any new episodes going forward will appear on these platforms automatically. The two major directories are iTunes/Apple Podcasts and Spotify, but there are many others.
Podcast episodes are typically published with accompanying show notes, akin to blog posts. They can be as lite as a few bullet points, but the more comprehensive and well-written they are, the more discoverable your content will be.
You can include your episode transcript in the post, though it may be better to link to this elsewhere. Transcripts aren’t well-written content, and Google doesn’t tend to rank them favourably if they’re all part of one single blog post.
What About Podcast Artwork? Podcasting for Beginners
Podcast cover art is essential, you literally can’t publish any podcast episodes without it. Fortunately, it isn’t hard to find or make. If you’d like to have a bash yourself, you can do it free on Canva. Or, you can hire a pro to do it for you. You’ll find outsourcing options, as well as guidelines and specs for doing it yourself, in our full podcast artwork guide.
Audio Files: What’s the Best File Format for Podcasts?
Almost all podcasts will upload episodes in the MP3 file format, which is optimal for hosting providers and listening platforms. Creating an MP3 is the final task in the editing and production phase. You need to choose which bitrate to encode your MP3 at, and this is a sliding scale of file size and audio quality. Then, you’d download your MP3 and upload it to your hosting account. Alternatively, if you record or edit in Alitu, it creates your finished file for you automatically and publishes it directly within its own hosting feature. This keeps things ultra-simple.
10. Promote & Grow Your Show
Podcast marketing is a vital part of growing your audience. Much of it comes through the content itself, for example, a good podcast name, podcast description, episode titles, and show notes. But there are other aspects to podcast growth, too.
In our full guide to podcast promotion, we cover the many ways you can get your show out there to new people – from advertising your podcast and building an email list to repurposing your podcast reviews. Podcast reviews are essentially like customer reviews; if you get a few good ones, they can be used to help convince others to give your show a shot. Here are some tips on how to get more podcast reviews.
Podcasting For Beginners: Next Steps
These steps only scratch the surface, so check out our step-by-step guide on starting a podcast for a thorough walkthrough. That’ll lead you through everything, from planning your content to publishing your first episode.
You’ll find everything you need over there to create your very own series. Then, our free Podcast Planner tool will get you set up with your own personalised program, too.
I hope this guide to podcasting for beginners cleared up some confusion and perhaps even encouraged you to listen to a few. If you do, you’re about to start a journey into some of the best, more engaging content on the planet. Have fun!