None of us hopped on a bicycle in our infancy and started riding around with no hands straight away. Even the great Sir Chris Hoy will have had falls on the path to his well-documented glory. The same should be considered of any podcaster starting their journey. We can’t be expected to perfect the art of podcasting right off the bat, but there are a few common errors that we can learn from in order to create the best content we can.
Good sound starts at the source
It might be a crude comparison, but the old adage says that you can’t polish a turd. In a similar sense, it’s far easier to tweak, edit and mix audio if the recording is clean.
Capturing your dulcet tones correctly starts at the source - perfecting your distance from the mic. Too close and your plosive sounds (your P’s and B’s) will be explosively loud, due to what’s known as proximity effect. Simply put - the closer you are, the more low-end of your voice will be in the recording, which becomes a problem with sudden expulsions of breath.
If you’re sitting too far away from the mic, however, it’s easy to imagine how it sounds. After all, you don’t tune into a podcast to eavesdrop someone’s conversation from across the room.
Mic placement and gain (the amount that your recording device boosts the signal it records) becomes vital when there’s two or more microphones in the room. If the mics are too close together, or if they’re not close enough to the guest and you have to boost the gain, one guest’s voice will bleed into both microphones which, if you’re not careful, can sound a little bit like you’re recording in an industrial warehouse.
All of this will depend on the type of microphone that you own - whether it’s a dynamic mic, condenser mic, or just a voice note on your phone - but get these things right, and you’ll have a much easier job of tidying the audio in post-production.
Value your listeners’ time in the edit
Have you ever said something you wish you could take back? Podcasting provides the rare opportunity to do exactly that.
The logical next step after recording is a tight and tidy edit, where you have the opportunity to remove flubbed sentences, censor any unwanted profanity, or cut out tangents that you feel veer so far off the path that they have their own postcode. But how do you decide what makes the cut, and how long should your episode really be?
American radio producer Roman Mars says ”If you have 100,000 listeners and you edit out one useless minute, you are saving 100,000 wasted minutes in the world. You’re practically a hero!”
There's no right or wrong length for a podcast, it could be 20 minutes or it could be 2 hours. But every minute matters, which is why we choose to edit each episode so that it lasts only as long as it needs to be, without losing your audience’s attention.
Proper preparation prevents poor podcasts
Chess champions are mandated to think dozens of moves in advance. A good job interviewer should have a series of follow up questions, and follow up questions for their follow up questions. And a podcast host should research their guest ahead of time, and prepare the right questions to take the show where they want it to go.
Once you’ve found all you can about your guest, remember that you must assume your audience knows nothing about them, and the mission that your questions must achieve is to bring the listener up to speed with you. Plan out the key points you want to hit in the episode, and consider how you’ll word the question that tees up each section.
With all the planning in the world, however, it’s more than likely that you’ll digress, perhaps discussing current events or a story that even the most astute private detective couldn’t have uncovered. Don’t be afraid to go off-piste, but remember to bring the conversation back on track.
There is a time and place for long, elaborate intros, and that place is in a Pink Floyd song (see: Shine On You Crazy Diamond), not a podcast. While introducing your guest and providing context for the discussion that follows is vital - and can actually be a valuable tool to pique the interest of your listener - you don’t want to give too much away before you actually get chatting.
Remember that people listen to the podcast for the guest or the main content, much like cinema goers who are there for the film, not the 25 minutes of trailers that precede it.
Another potential pitfall that’s common between both podcasts and the big screen is spoilers. If you say too much and ruin the contents of the episode in the first 3 and a half minutes, what reason does anyone have to listen to the other 45 minutes any more?
You may want to treat your intro like a teaser, using a quick sound bite that begs for a backstory that can only be found by listening on, or posing questions that are answered later in the podcast. Either way, it pays to keep the best bits out of the intro…
Promotion Promotion Promotion (expecting people to find you)
It’s all well and good to create the best podcast in the world, with professional audio, an impressive guest and a charismatic host, but if you want to entice and retain listeners then you need to shout about it! Create posts to share on all of your social media platforms, and give your followers a reason to click through and listen.
You could pick out a key quote, an interesting storyline, or intriguing soundbite to use as a teaser, but unless you use the full arsenal of promotional tools available to you, the potential for your podcast to fly into the charts relies solely on someone taking a chance on you. Don’t just hope for haphazard clicks on a recommendation page of Apple Podcasts. Take control and show people the content you’ve worked so hard to create!
Consistency is key
So you’ve found your audience, an eager group of people ready to lap up your content. They subscribe to your podcast, mailing list and YouTube channel, follow all your socials; a coiled spring ready to jump on anything you release, and spread the word to all their friends. If you amass a following that’s ready for the next release, they will place a value on the consistency of your release schedule.
Not only do listeners appreciate knowing when to expect your next release, but social media platforms also favour regular posting. When it’s time to promote your next episode, if you’ve dropped the ball and it’s been 2 months since the last batch of episodes, your post is bound to be buried in people’s feeds, below all the algorithmically-favoured regular posters.
It’s natural to feel nervous when a microphone is suddenly thrust in front of you, but remember that the most important thing is to enjoy learning about the guest, or spending time with your co-host(s). If the prospect of having great conversations and sharing your discoveries with the world excites you enough to make a podcast about it, then give yourself the chance to have some fun with it!
Whether the lessons you learn are life-altering perspectives on mental and physical health, or something as mundane as finding out that rats sweat through their tails, having a natural conversation makes for a far more interesting and lively podcast.
Written by Dan Johnston