- 1 Introduction
- 2 Start With ‘Why’
- 3 Giving Yourself The Advantage
- 4 To film or not to film?
- 5 Hosting Formats
- 6 Monetisation
- 7 Real Life Case Studies
- 8 Conclusion
Starting a podcast in this day and age makes a lot of sense. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an artist, a vagabond, or simply somebody who just wants to get his thoughts out there, the podcasting format has taken the digital world by storm. If you’re a stats kind of person, then it might interest you to check out some of these recent numbers. It is estimated that 44% of Americans have listened to podcasts at some point in their lives, and around 23% have done so in the past month.
Global podcast stats are a bit harder to come by, but you can rest assured that if your podcast gains traction, you’re going to have people from all over the world tuning in to listen to it. The great thing about podcasts is that they can be listened to while doing other things, since you don’t need to be looking at a screen to absorb all the information.
Start With ‘Why’
The reasons for wanting to start a podcast are endless. Some podcasts start as a way to talk more in detail about a particular product or service being offered, with the aim of providing extra incentive for people to buy that service. This is often done by providing loads of useful and free information that revolves around the niche or topic that the service or product falls under. Others aim to entertain, make people laugh, and act as a ‘pick-me-up’ for those who need it throughout their day or week.
Then there are podcasts that offer lots of information about a particular niche, such as history, finance, art, travel, etc. Others simply use podcasts as a way to share their personal, sociological, ethical or political views with the world, offering advice, life hacks. Often times podcasts will have guests on them to talk about their particular area of expertise. If you want to get some inspiration, check out the Real Life Examples section towards the end of this page, where I share some of my favourite podcasts, how they operate and also how they make money.
So as you can see, the motivations for starting a podcast are vast. It’s important to ask yourself why you want to start a podcast, since if you know this, then getting started and (perhaps more importantly) following through will become significantly easier. Do you want to sell? To educate and inform? To entertain? To rant? A combination of two or more of these? Be clear on your intentions and having enough momentum to start, and don’t worry too much about the end result, since that tends to take care of itself.
Giving Yourself The Advantage
Perhaps one of the most alluring things about starting a podcast is the low overhead required. Technically, all you really need is some sort of microphone to pick up your voice (and any co-hosts or guests you might have on the show), some sort of recording equipment (which can be and often is your phone, laptop or computer), and an internet connection to upload the podcast onto the web. On a bare bones level, that really is all there is to it.
But there’s a caveat to all this. The upside to having a low overhead medium like podcasts is that most about anybody with the basic equipment can start one. The downside? Well, it’s that most about anybody with the basic equipment can start one. Usually, the lower the barrier of entry for a particular activity, product or service, the more competition there tends to be, since more people will be creators in that space. Which is one of the reasons why podcasts in general have been exploding all over the internet the last few years.
Now don’t let any of this discourage you. In fact, I say this to bring you some good news. Because while it’s true that you might be competing with a significant amount of quantity, you might not have nearly as much competition when it comes to quality. You see, podcasts, just like anything else in the world, follow the rules of the normal distribution probability curve (sometimes referred to as the bell curve). This simply means that of all the samples that exist (in this case podcasts within a specific niche), there will be few that are just awful, a large majority that are on either side of average, and only a few that are truly spectacular and that stand out from the rest.
If you can stand out from the rest of the crowd, it doesn’t really matter how crowded your niche is. People will want to listen to your podcast because you offer them so much value that they can’t ignore you. Now I know as well as anybody that this is much easier said than done, but it should be something that’s consistently at the back of your mind. The two main ways in which you can maximise this value is through two main avenues : content quality and production value.
The most important element of your podcast is going to be your content quality. Now the type of content you deliver is very much going to be dependent on the niche that you’re in, the format of the podcast, etc. But regardless, the golden law here is that you want to be offering people the maximum amount of value that you can.
If you have an information based podcast, whether that’s simply to educate people or to elaborate further on a product or service that you offer, the quality of your content is going to be how interesting and/or useful people find this information. You want to be the one who digs deeper than anybody else, who finds information that nobody else is giving. Or if people are already giving this information, maybe you can deliver it in a more entertaining or insightful way.
Ask the right questions, to find the types of answers that people are looking for. Are there questions in your own life that you couldn’t find the answers to? Perhaps that’s a great topic to talk about on your podcast. Think about what people might be looking for, then structure your content around that. Again, easier said than done, but even just having this mindset will put you at an advantage over somebody who just repeats the same stuff that everybody else does.
If what you offer is more purely entertainment, then make the quality of that entertainment as good as possible! Be the best comedian, the best artist, the best speaker you can possibly be. Don’t phone it in, go for it!
This is an area that is sadly often overlooked be people. I’ve come across so many different podcasts that offer so much good content, but which haven’t been able to get anywhere near their true potential owing to a lack of production quality. This often means that, well, the sound isn’t great! As a musician and audio engineer by profession, I will admit that bad audio probably annoys me more than it does the average person.
However, it’s undeniable that even if it’s on a subconscious level, having high production value will make your podcast feel much more ‘professional’ and high-value than a similar podcast with massive audio inconsistencies. Will having bad sound necessarily ruin great content? No. Think of a modern radio song that you dislike, which has been polished to the point where it sounds pristine, but which doesn’t prevent you from disliking that song.
Similarly, having amazing sounding podcasts won’t make up for sub-par content. So content quality is and always will be the most important aspect in determining how successful your podcast can be. But backing up great content with high quality audio will ensure that you’re maximising your chances as much as possible instead of potentially sabotaging them.
What do I mean by inconsistencies? Here’s a checklist that you might find useful when recording and releasing your own podcast:
Master (overall) Volume
I’ve found podcasts where the person speaking either sounds too low or too loud when compared to other similar media on the internet. It’s always good to compare your final audio levels to successful podcasts that are out there and see if you need to make any adjustments. If it’s too loud or too low there are ways to bring that level up or down as needed. The only exception to this is if you’ve recorded ‘too hot’, meaning the levels going into your recording software were too high and is now causing clipping/distortion. I won’t be getting into the technicalities right now, but I’ve written an article about how to avoid this here.
Another even more glaring example is when there are massive volume fluctuations throughout the podcast, meaning that you’re constantly having to adjust the volume in order to hear what’s being said or worse, to avoid blowing out your eardrum. Recording with a good microphone in a good environment will be a big part of this, but you can also use compression to even out any sudden spikes in volume. You can read about how to do this in my Recording Audio For Podcasts article.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but recording with a bad microphone will cause your perceived podcast quality to drop massively. A bad microphone will cause all sorts of pops, crackles, hiss and noise to interfere with your voice. It can also make your voice sound thin, robotic, or boomy, as opposed to capturing the full texture and richness of your natural voice. The good news is that nowadays you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a good microphone. I’ve written an article about some of the best microphones on the market right now, which aren’t massively expensive and do the job wonderfully. You can read this here.
Incorrect Mic Technique
This one is very much dependent on the tone of your voice as well as the type of microphone you’re using, so it will take a bit of trial and error to find the best mic technique for you to use. In general however, you want to avoid being too close or too far to the mic. Too close will make your voice sound boomy and will pick up unwanted mouth noise, and too far will make your voice sound thin and unfocused.
In general, you want to have your mouth be more or less facing the microphone while speaking. If you turn your head sideways too much while speaking, the microphone won’t be able to pick up your voice as effectively as it can. Also, it’s always good to move your head back from the mic a bit more than usual if you’re going to be speaking more loudly for a brief period of time, before going back to your normal volume. This will prevent any sudden volume spikes that might annoy the listener, or even any input clipping that will effectively ruin your audio.
For a lot of us, this is one of the factors that’s least within our control. Not everybody can have a dedicated podcast recording space or room to use, so you might need to make do with what you have. There are things that you can do to ensure that whatever room you’re using for recording sounds as good as it can.
One such thing is putting up some acoustic treatment to absorb any excess echo in the room. Another is to find the quietest environment you can, with as little background noise as possible. If you’re recording outside, then obviously this won’t apply as much, but for many, recording will take place somewhere indoors.
Therefore recording in an appropriate environment, with a good microphone and mic technique, and doing any post-production tweaks necessary will ensure that your podcast production value
To film or not to film?
Some podcasts also offer video recordings of their podcast episodes. This can provide the advantage of having people relate more to what is being said, since they can see the protagonists of the podcast (often a dialogue or an interview) while also hearing what they’re saying, making it feel more ‘real’. Another upside is that if you share podcast content on video sharing websites such as YouTube, people will probably tend to engage more if there’s actual video accompanying the audio.
The main downside to this is obviously more overhead. You need at least one (and often more) cameras to capture the video as the episode is being recorded, which you will then need to later edit and sync up with the audio. Also, some people are naturally prone to feeling a bit more self-aware if there’s a camera recording, which could negatively affect the flow of the conversation and the ease with which this happens. In fact, a lot of people start podcasts because they don’t really want to be in front of a camera making videos, but they’ve got content and ideas which they still want to share with the world.
Ultimately it will be up to you to decide whether having video with your podcast makes sense or not. A quick note on video quality. People nowadays have come to expect a certain level of high definition quality when it comes to the video content they consume. So while you could get away with average or even sub-par video quality if your content AND audio quality are both excellent, you might find that it could turn some people off. Therefore I’d advise you to have a good quality camera/s, good lighting and good shot angles, if you’re going to go down this particular route.
When it comes to the format of your podcast, there are many different ways of going about it. The first is how long or short you want your episodes to be. Now this is obviously not set in stone, but you should have a rough idea going in. If the topic you’re talking about is particularly dense and heavy with a lot of information, then maybe sticking to a shorter format would work better. If on the other hand, you have more of a free flowing subject matter, either as a monologue, a dialogue between hosts or an interview, you can afford to have longer episodes in general.
Some people like to just grab a microphone and talk by themselves for (sometimes) hours.. This takes incredible skill, one which I’m incredibly envious of, and if you can pull it off, the results can be amazing! This is more of a solo approach. Other podcasts have co-hosts, whereby two or more people take turns speaking and offering information and ideas. One of the more obvious benefits to this is that it takes the pressure off just having one person come up with all the content. It can also make for a more free-flowing, ‘natural’ sounding content, since it allows real-time conversations to be captured and shared.
Another very popular podcast format is the interview format. This is where the host (or hosts) of the show invite guests onto a particular episode to talk about their area of expertise. This has a lot of advantages, the first being that it keeps the episodes interesting, due to different people being able to offer different ideas and ‘vibes’ across different episodes. It can also serve as a great cross-pollination marketing strategy, since it allows for two potentially separate fan bases to intersect. I have personally become aware of a lot of amazing people after they were featured as guests on one or more of my favourite podcasts.
The downside to this approach is namely that unless you’re already a relatively well-established podcast, it might be more difficult to get certain people to agree to come and be interviewed. It’s definitely not impossible, but there would probably be more hoops to jump through. This is often why you’ll see the same people do a ‘podcast tour’, whereby they appear as guests on multiple highly influential podcasts, especially if promoting a new book, movie, etc. In this case, maybe you can just start building your own podcast empire, and make it so good that eventually you can ask your dream guests to be on your show, and they won’t even hesitate to say yes!
Ultimately, I think every successful podcast creator out there would discourage people from starting a podcast simply to make money off of it. They probably know more than anybody else just how much hard work goes into creating a podcast and taking it to the level which they’ve taken it to. If involves a lot of energy, time, patience, dedication and focus. However, it’s absolutely understandable that at some point, especially once you’ve gained some traction, you’re going to want to start seeing some financial rewards for all your efforts.
There are two main ways via which people monetise podcasts nowadays. Both can be incredibly effective, and if your podcast gets a lot of regular listeners, then either option can prove to be quite lucrative. The first option, and the one that’s used by a lot of the most popular shows nowadays, is to sell advertising on the podcast.
This means that at some point during the recording, be that in the show intro, middle, or end, the podcast host (or hosts) will read our ‘copies’ (advertising blurbs) from companies who have paid money to the person running the podcast to have these ads read out loud. It’s easy to see how this works.. the podcast has the audience, the company has the product which it wants to sell to said audience, and the money to spend on advertising… this makes for a mutually beneficial relationship. Another advantage of following this model is that it allows the podcast itself to remain freely listenable to the audience, since the podcast creator gets his money from the advertisers, and therefore does not shift this financial requirement onto the audience.
Which brings us to the other way in which certain podcasts make money, which is by offering only some of their episodes for free, whilst charging listeners for other episodes that they might want to download. Often, the free episodes will still be very interesting and high quality, but will serve as a ‘taster’ of the information contained within the paid episodes. This model is perhaps not as popular nowadays as the advertising route, however it is one that has proven quite successful for some podcasts across different niches. The monetisation model you choose will ultimately depend on a variety of factors, and there is no one right way to do it.
Real Life Case Studies
To conclude, I want to talk about four real life podcasts that are hugely successful. These are podcasts that I personally listen to on a very regular basis, and will be looking at how they approach all of the factors we’ve discussed.
- The Joe Rogan Experience
One of the most popular podcasts in the world, the JRE is hosted by stand-up comedian, martial arts expert and all round interesting dude Joe Rogan. The podcast is offered both in audio and video formats, and features Joe as the interviewer, sitting across the table from his guest, having a conversation. His guests are incredibly varied, ranging from scientists, musicians, martial artists, adventurers and explorers, and anything and anyone in between.
This is one of the reasons why so many people (myself included) listen to his podcast. Joe asks interesting, and sometimes provoking (albeit respectful) questions, in order to extract as much valuable information from his guests as possible. Since the guests do not all share a specific niche, the subject matter varies greatly from episode to episode. When a neurobiologist, astrophysicist or engineer is on, the episode will tend to be thought provoking and informative. On the other hand, when a comedian friend of Joe’s is the guest, there will tend to be a lot more entertaining anecdotes and storytelling going on.
However, what makes the content so valuable, and therefore the common denominator across this podcast series, is the sheer amount of information or entertainment that can be had in just one episode. The quality, curiosity and penchant for learning IS the niche! Another aspect that makes the JRE stand out is the long-form content. It’s quite common for episodes to hit the three-hour mark, most are over two, and almost never shorter than one hour. Many might think that this is too long and will make people lose interest, however it does quite the opposite.
This is because it allows Joe and his guest/s to have an unrushed, person to person conversation much like you would have with a friend, colleague or acquaintance, and has none of the rushed, soundbite based feel of so many content formats of old (ex : TV shows which had to fit all their content into a pre-allocated time slot). People therefore relate to this format a lot and keep tuning in for more.
Both audio and video quality are excellent (joe has an in-studio engineer that takes care of the production side and makes sure it all runs smoothly). It’s interesting to note that in the beginning, Joe’s podcast used to have significantly lower video production value (you can check this out for yourself on YouTube), but the audio quality was always good! Something to keep in mind for your own podcast when it comes to the importance of good audio quality.
The JRE is monetised through ads, which Joe reads in the beginning and end of the podcast (although only on the audio and not the video versions). With the amount of listeners downloads per episode that he has, Joe can command huge sums of money from companies wishing to advertise on his podcast, making each episode a very lucrative one. A clear case of offering massive value and getting that value back tenfold!
2) Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the funniest podcast out there belongs to one of the funniest men to have ever lived (according to myself and many thousands/millions of others around the world). Bill Burr is an American stand-up comedian, actor and writer who records two podcast episodes on Mondays and Thursdays every single week without missing a day… talk about work ethic!
Bill’s podcast has allowed him (by his own admission) to greatly increase and expand both his national and global audience, giving him the opportunity to play bigger venues, sell more tickets, and have fanbases all around the world who come out to see him every time he passes through their particular country. I actually discovered Bill and his material through snippets of his podcasts that were uploaded onto YouTube, which sparked my curiosity and led me to discover his comedic brilliance in all its glory!
What makes Bill Burr’s podcast so valuable is quite simply the sheer amount of high quality comedy-based entertainment that he offers in every episode. What’s quite remarkable about the whole thing is that he rarely has any guests on his show, and most episodes are basically him sitting by himself at home or in a hotel room, ranting and raving about whatever it is that tickles his fancy that particular day. Now anybody can rant and rave, but Bill does it in such a brilliant way that you have to keep listening! He often talks about subject matter that is of little or no interest to me (ex : sports), but I keep listening simply because of the way he presents his ideas.
Anybody who’s tried recording themselves know how hard it is to keep talking non-stop, without flailing or stalling, even for 10 minutes. He does if for over an hour on Mondays and at least half an hour on Thursdays, and makes it seem effortless in the process. He brings his mastery of stand-up comedy to the podcast format, whereby each episode is almost like its own mini show. This gets people hooked!
The podcast is monetised via ads, which Bill often reads in the middle of his podcast. But what he does, that most other podcasts don’t (again, providing value by being unique), is that he manages to make the ad-reading a part of the comedy. The ad copies that companies send are often bland and dry, but Bill often pokes fun at himself and his inability to read, or the content that he’s been sent by the advertisers (he even comes up with his own jingles for some of them, some of them more safe for work than others!). This is brilliant on a couple of levels. First of all, it keeps listeners engaged during a time in the podcast when they’d usually be prone to switch off or fast-forward, but it also ensures that listeners actually really come to know the company being advertised, making them more likely to but this product or engage this service. Talk about a win-win!
Interestingly enough, the first few years of Bill’s podcast were him speaking and muttering into his phone. The audio quality is often quite bad but listenable, but because what he says is often so entertaining, even a picky audio geek like myself keeps listening! He’s since greatly improved his production quality (thankfully!), but it does go to show you that if you provide enough value to people when it comes to your actual content, they will keep coming back for more no matter what!
3) The Tim Ferris Show
Much like the JRE, Tim Ferris’ podcast is more ‘meta’, whereby the quality is often to be found in the variety and depth of the content itself. Tim brings guests onto his show from all walks of life, to interview them about their past, their daily routines, their successes and failures, and their life philosophies. He often says that he likes to study the habits and lifestyles of successful people, which he extracts from this guests by asking fantastic questions and sharing them with his audience.
While Tim’s show often has a ‘life improvement’ and ‘lifestyle design’ angle, it is also interesting on a purely informative level, since the guests that Tim has on the show are often very interesting people themselves, and who have excelled in their particular field. It is also quite easy to digest, since Tim has a very easygoing conversational style that allows the guests to really open up and share a lot of valuable information. The value is in the level of guest that’s on the show, Tim’s own insightful world view, and also his ability to ask some of the best questions that you could think of.
The podcast is monetised through paid advertising that Tim reads towards the beginning and end of the podcast. Such is the influence that he has that there’s what’s known as the ‘Tim Ferris effect’, whereby many products that Tim advertises on his show will often start selling out days (or even hours) after that particular episode has been published. Needless to say, he can command large sums of money from companies to sell their advertising, especially when based on a track record like that.
The TFS is often available only in audio format, although he has recently experimented with having some podcasts also recorded in video form. The audio quality is always excellent on Tim’s side. He has sometimes interviewed guests over the phone, whereby their voice doesn’t sound as loud or as clear as his, but again, the quality being offered is so immense that people still keep listening.
4) Hardcore History With Dan Carlin
A very interesting and unique podcast, Dan Carlin offers solo and lengthy narrations of many different eras and events that have in one way or another shaped human history. He has episodes about the Khan Dynasty, the World Wars, the great leaders and rulers of all time, etc.
The two things that make this podcast so enticing (and also incredibly popular) are the sheer depth and quality of information being offered, and Dan’s engaging and masterful delivery. The man clearly knows his history, and rather than offer a shallow overview of the main timeline events, he dives deep into the characters, the sequence, and the details of how a particular event in history came about. He does it all with a commanding yet soothing voice, using his past experience as a TV news reporter and radio talk show host to deliver his content in a dynamic and exciting way. Even if you’re not that interested in history, you can’t help but be mesmerised by the way Dan presents the stories, and builds everything up much like a screenwriter does with a movie.
Hardcore History is monetised differently than the other three. It does not have paid advertising on it. Rather, some podcast episodes are offered to everybody for free, while others are only downloadable if you pay for them. Given the sheer quality that these episodes offer, and the very reasonable price for which they are sold, many are those who do not even hesitate to part ways with their money in order to access these episodes and gain more knowledge. The audio quality on these podcasts is superb, with everything recorded professionally and to a studio level. This, coupled with the fantastic content, helps explain why this podcast has the reach and impact that it has.
I hope that this article has been information and inspirational to you. If you were on the fence about starting a podcast, my hope is that after reading this page, you’re feeling fired up and will take the first steps necessary to get started. If you’re still a bit confused about what gear you’re going to need, and the more technical aspects of starting your own podcast, then fear not. I have written other articles dedicated to just that, based on my own experience as a sound engineer, which will help you to get the best results possible.