Creating a successful podcast is easy. There are three basic steps. Follow them and iTunes popularity awaits. Step one: Be a famous individual or a large media company. Step two: Pay someone to do all of the technical work. Step three: Record. That’s it. Adam Carolla, Bill Simmons, NPR and countless others have followed this recipe with great success. What’s that? You say you’re not ESPN’s Sports Guy? Your airtime is not made possible by a grant from Archer Daniels Midland? Then you do not get to do it the easy way. Unfortunately, you have to do it the hard way, just like the rest of us.
My friends and I launched our podcast in 2007. And although we are not able to draw upon the vast resources of say, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, we still produce a show that attracts listeners from all over the world. It’s not easy, and we don’t make money, but the effort is rewarding. If you are interested in launching your own podcast but are unsure where to start, start with this guide. What follows is not comprehensive, but it should put you on the right track.
Choose an identity
If you would like your show to attain some level of recognition, and you are not famous, then narrow the editorial focus of the show to a specific topic like video games, your own sketch comedy or Miranda Kerr. Specificity will help you cut through the clutter. There are plenty of podcasts that have guys talking about random stuff. And if that’s what you want to do – great. But there are precious few podcasts that give me insight into what Miranda Kerr’s neck smells like. (There is nothing wrong with going to jail for your podcast.)
Once you know what your show is about, choose a name and plan to stick with it. Changing the name of your show after 30 or 300 episodes is a huge technical chore and a PR FAIL. If the name of your show is available as a URL, buy it. If it’s not, think about a new name. You don’t want people Googling your show and being led to Mistress Kitty’s Live-Camera Sex Dungeon. (Or, do you?!?! No. You don’t.)
Befriend a nerd
Or become a nerd. Your choice. How good the show sounds will depend on your nerd’s audio ability. Our show – The Second Column – is produced and engineered by an Emmy-winning musician, so it sounds great. But we listen to plenty of shows that are produced with standard equipment and ability, and those sound just fine. A basic setup includes: 1.) At least one USB mic that you can plug in your computer. MXL makes good ones. 2.) For Mac users, Garage Band for recording and creating your mp3, which is what a podcast is. For PC users, ACID Pro 7, Vegas or Soundforge, all of which are made by Sony and are easy to use 3.) A computer. Any new or newish laptop or desktop Mac or PC will do.
Now what? You will need a Web host to store your mp3s. We recommend Lunar Pages, or any other host that allows you to upload virtually unlimited content. iTunes does not do any storage for you. iTunes, in fact, does very little. It’s a storefront. You don’t “load” anything to iTunes. You just show iTunes where your podcast lives. It lives on a Web host.
If you want the show to appear on iTunes, (and we highly recommend that) and if you want fans to be able to subscribe to it directly, (we recommend that, too) you must create an RSS feed. Creating a feed requires an XML editor. Most are free. You can tweak the feed to allow for a wider range of accessibility. We use a free program called ConTEXT to code our RSS Feed. There is an RSS feed template on the Apple Web site and there are many other Web sites that give examples. The Apple template is good enough to get you on iTunes and can be used for your own Web site. Making the feed is the hardest, most time-consuming part of creating the podcast. Whoever creates your feed – reward that person with lots of strong beer.
The three P’s: Patience, Publicity, and PBR
Unless your name is Adam Carolla, your show will not jump to iTunes No. 1 the first week it is on the air. In all likelihood you are in for a long, hard slog to the top. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so consider your years in the podcasting wilderness your 10,000 hours. As your show improves, you will want to promote it. You can do this by going on other podcasts and by inviting other podcast hosts to come on your show. Facebook and Twitter are good for promotion, too. Also, if you have guests on the show, invite those who already have large followings. Some of their fans might like your show and stick around. Finally, have a good time. You are working for free. Kick back. Have a beer. And plan for the day when that sweet, sweet Archer Daniels Midland money comes pouring in.
Authors Joe Donatelli and Michael Costantini host and produce The Second Column, a weekly podcast that features four improvisational comedians who trade stories and jokes with some of the best up-and-coming comics, actors, writers and musicians in Los Angeles. You can learn more about the show at www.thesecondcolumn.com. Subscribe on iTunes here.