By Douglas Bell
My friend Daniel Brusilovsky has posted a couple of articles here at Lorelle on WordPress about some of the technical details of creating a podcast, such as What is Podcasting? and Starting Your Podcast, and Lorelle has asked me to post an article or two to go a little more “in depth” with podcasting.
I’ve been a regular podcast producer for over a year now and currently produce two very different podcasts which you can see listed in my bio at the end of the article. In fact, I’m actually the one who introduced Daniel to podcasting a few months ago.
One of the great things about podcasting is that it is really easy: all you need is a computer, a microphone, an internet connection, and a place to host your podcast for distribution. However, there’s much more to podcasting than the equipment.
Your blog isn’t an instant success just because you use WordPress to run it, and similarly, if you want your podcast to be popular and well-listened to, there’s a number of things that you should do to help build and retain an audience for your podcast. You’ll probably find that a number of the tips that I’m about to share with you are very similar to the tips that you may have seen on Lorelle’s blog for attracting an audience to your blog.
Having Something to Talk About
Before you start your podcast, try to come up with an idea of what you’re going to talk about. In fact, before you start any episode, you should have some idea of what you’re going to talk about during that episode.
When my friend and I started our first-ever podcast about two years ago, we thought that we’d just do a random podcast where we’d just talk about random stuff–that got dry kind of quick, because we ended up having nothing to talk about and wounded up with a bunch of empty airtime. We may still jokingly use the tagline “The podcast that has absolutely nothing to do with absolutely nothing!”, but even then, we prepare a list of topics to talk about.
On my other podcast, which is a very topical podcast, I always prepare a complete outline of the show so that I have an exact plan of what to talk about and when. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I read it word for word like a prompter, it’s more of a guideline to remind me everything that we’re supposed to talk about in what order.
That doesn’t mean you can’t write stuff out like a prompter, but determine whether that’s appropriate to your podcast–your listeners will know if your speaking from your mind or just reading something. When you’re prepared for your podcast, you’ll go far.
When you’re just starting the first few episodes of your podcast, analyze what parts of your show are working for you and what parts of your show aren’t. Start to make some slight adjustments–for example, we adjusted to actually having topics to talk about instead of just randomly saying what popped in our head. After a few episodes, you’ll start to find the “groove” that works for your podcast.
Pick a Suitable Length
Again, as a podcaster, you’re free to do what you want, but it’s a fairly good idea if you try your best to maintain some consistent standards for your show.
As an example, not many people are going to be willing to download and listen to a 3 hour podcast. When setting the show length: you need to think about:
- How big of a file are you listeners going to be willing to download.
- How long are they going to listen to your show until they go do something else?
If you’re a weekly show, you should generally aim for between 30-90 minutes, and if you’re a daily show (there are some daily podcasts out there), 30 minutes or less. However, you don’t have to try to make your episodes exactly 30 minutes or exactly 60 minutes–you’re not trying to fit your show on the radio after all.
Variation in the show length is certainly okay, just don’t linger on forever. If you distribute a video podcast, you should try to keep your podcast shorter so that it minimizes the file size, because video files are fairly hefty.
Amenities for Your Podcast
When you produce a podcast, you should include an intro/outro jingle for your podcast, because it helps your podcast to “fade in” and “fade out”, and also really helps to provide a “feel” for your podcast. There are a number of various royalty-free jingles that you can Google online, or if you use Apple’s GarageBand to edit, it comes with a number of stellar royalty-free jingles that you can use.
Additionally, come up with some podcast “album artwork” which also helps to identify your podcast, and which is used by many podcast directories. The “standard” for podcast album artwork is a 300 x 300 JPEG or PNG image, which usually includes a mention of at least the name of your podcast, and maybe also names of the hosts, etc. Your album artwork represents your podcast, which means it’s a good idea to design something that looks good.
One great tool that many podcasting websites have utilized is a Flash audio player. The benefit of one of these is that if someone stumbles across your podcast and wants to listen to it without necessarily subscribing or downloading it, they can just press play in the Flash player and your podcast will immediately start playing.
The PodPress podcasting plugin includes a very nice Flash player, and said Flash player is also available in a standalone WordPress plugin. However, as a note, if you plan to use a Flash player, you need to be sure your MP3 is encoded in either a 11.025 kHz, 22.050 kHz, or 44.100 kHz bitrate, otherwise you’ll suffer with the chipmunk effect! I made this mistake early on, and actually had a number of listeners say that we sounded better as chipmunks than in our normal voices. :P
When Apple entered the podcasting foray in 2005 and really helped to instill the idea of podcasting into many individuals, they came up with a new concept called Enhanced Podcasts. As an example, when you watch a DVD, it comes with a number of pre-defined chapters that let you quickly skip to certain sections of the movie.
Enhanced podcasting is the same idea: it allows you to mark certain sections of your podcast with chapters so that listeners can quickly see the various things you talked about in an episode and quickly jump to the spot. An enhanced podcast also lets you have the album artwork change over time and even display a little URL on the album artwork display.
For example, on my technology podcast, whenever we’re on a particular topic, that topic will have a chapter marked at the beginning of the topic, and the album artwork will display a relevant screenshot. There’s also a link in the album artwork which, if clicked, will open the article or site we’re talking about right in the web browser.
This is a really nice extension of traditional audio content, however, it’s only compatible within iTunes. iPods and iPhones can also show the dynamic album artwork, although not the links. Enhanced Podcasts are in AAC format and can be produced in Apple’s GarageBand and a few other podcasting tools. However, most enhanced podcasts also come with an MP3 version, as MP3 is the unofficial standard for podcasts, and are compatible with all of the major media players.
Connect With Your Audience
One of the things that really makes podcasting unique is that it really provides a new way to connect with your audience that isn’t present with traditional radio and television broadcasting. For radio and television, your show is successful if the station executives like it and it sells advertisements–listeners might happen to find the show just by flipping around on various stations, and you probably have no idea how many people are listening in at a various time.
However, podcasting actually requires your audience to put out a little effort to listen to your show, and that’s where the wonderful world of download stats come in. I know that there’s some people who don’t really care about statistics, but they really can help you to track how many people listen to your show, which episodes turned out to be more popular, how people download your show, etc., which can help to give you an idea of what you do that’s successful and what you do that doesn’t go around very well with your audience.
Many podcasts are distributed on a blog, so encourage your listeners to leave constructive comments about your episodes, and listen to their comments.
You’re Not the Only Fish in the Pond
This is the Internet, right? There are billions of websites out there on all kinds of topics, which means that if you’re producing a podcast about a topic, chances are, other people have websites about the same topic.
Obviously, it’s up to you, but consider inviting guests to come on your show. Inviting guests provide a number of advantages to your podcast.
First of all, when you have a guest, you earn an opportunity to chat with someone else who is passionate about the same subject that you are, and can build a lasting contact that way. Having other people on the show also can help “freshen up” your show a bit, because your guest may be able to comment on your topic from a slightly different perspective or opinion. And, believe it or not, when you have a special guest on your show, you usually get more people interested in that episode as well. If that guest has a blog or a website that many people visit, chances are he/she will tell them about your podcast and you’ll get more people exposed to your show.
For example, when I was at WordCamp 2007 interviewing a couple of attendees for my podcast, one of them was Lorelle (okay, let’s face it, she was the star of the show). Since that episode was released, Lorelle has linked to it from her blog at least 2 or 3 times, and that means that all of you readers of Lorelle’s blog have just found out about my show, all because I had a special guest who promoted my podcast!
We’re all a big community of internet users, and when we promote each other, everybody wins.
The Last Word…
Podcasting is a really exciting new medium, one that takes its inspiration from the freedom of the internet in allowing anyone to harness the power and potential of being able to produce their own radio-style broadcast with some very basic equipment. You can feel free to do whatever you want with your show, even if that means you ignore some of what I’ve said, because every show has its own style. But, above all, remember the one most important guideline to ensuring a successful podcast: have fun.
I’ll be back on Lorelle’s blog with more articles about the “in-depth” of podcasting, coming soon…
Besides being the inventor of the fictional phenomenon of deep-fried pickle hearts, Douglas Bell is a junior in high school who designs websites as a hobby for fun and for profit. He is the producer and co-host of the podcasts PreviewCast and phpBB Weekly. He is also the mastermind behind his personal blog, Webmacster87.info.