Tips for starting a podcast

2 hours of drinking Scotch, caught in MP3

You wouldn’t know it from my low amount (though awesome) activity in the podcast area at the moment, but I used to do a lot of podcasting, soup-to-nuts. Someone asked me recently for tips on starting a podcast. Here they are:

I used to have great podcasting tips, now I just have a few:

(1.) Get a feedburner URL for it. Obviously, submit this to iTunes. This will track subscribers.

(2.) Use libsyn.com or something that tracks downloads. Then along with #1, you’re done with tracking.

(3.) Use Google Hangouts to record – you can download the MP4 and extract the MP3 and put in your feed. It works well. You get the side benefit of a live broadcast and a video recording.

(4.) If you want to be super fancy, have people record on their local machine and then sync the tracks up. I don’t like this as it’s prone to error (“oops, I forgot to click record”) and there’s audio syncing issues that are annoying.

(5.) Setup an entirely new website for the podcast, don’t intermix it with an existing property.

(6.) SoundCloud actually looks pretty useful but I’ve never used it. My co-host, Chris Dancy, on CCOS says it’s great and he usually knows what he’s talking about

(7.) Don’t go crazy with mics at first, a good headset will be just fine. I use a Plantronics 478 headset and it’s just fine. I have a Yeti mic, but getting it all setup is more hassle than it’s usually worth. All the awesome equipment in the world will be meaningless if your content is shit, or worse, boring.

(8.) Do a little bit of prep (at the very list, have 3-5 things you want to talk about to start with), and then post some show notes after the show on the podcast blog – embed them in the MP3 too!

(9.) Come up with a format to follow (go over the week’s news, pick one issue to interview someone on, your memories of childhood, etc.), but also allow for lots of loose, ad hoc talk.

This last point is key: the main thing you want is interesting content that’s entertaining and useful. How do you do that? Sticking to a format gives you the discipline to have something to say (you don’t want to open up each show with, “So, what do you want to talk bout this week?”), but you don’t want to just “read the news.”

The thing you can do in a podcast that you can’t do in text (things like 451 reports, blogs, etc.) is really express, at length, what you think and explain how you came to that conclusion; you can also discuss/argue with your co-hosts and guests. That is, you can really go deep and wide on a topic in a way that (for example, our 451 reports) don’t allow for (people want our report to be quick, not so deep they take an hour to consume). Through this, you hope to give your listeners new insights and new things to think about, at best: new perspectives and methods of thinking about the world/topic/tech. That’s what I like podcasts for, at least.

And, the final tip:

(10.) As always: break any, and all “rules” above if you know what the fuck you’re doing and don’t let me kill your vibe or harsh your style. Once you figure out what your podcasting style is, ignore all advice about what you should do different. Podcast are about personalities, not “facts.” You can subscribe to people reading the newspaper to you if you want to your ear-candy to be devoid of humanity, and just get facts. As another example, sometimes you just want to record over 2 hours of you and a friend drinking Scotch; that episode in DrunkAndRetired.com gets the most verbal comments when I come across listeners (along with other infamous episodes).

At the moment, here’s a good sampling of podcasts that I think are well executed and embody the above:

  • The Accidental Tech Podcast – a strict format but with a very open-ended second half, good host interplay, and an overall clean approach
  • The Critical Path (or any show on 5by5.tv, actually) – well crafted and great content. Notice how Horace not only tells you his conclusions, but uses the format to fully contextualize how he came to those conclusions and often will speak to general principles of analytical and strategic thinking. If you listen the whole series as if it were a bunch of lectures training you on how to think strategically, you’ll learn almost everything you need to know to do analyst work, strategy, and about half of what you need for M&A.
  • [The Political Gabfest] – (http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/gabfest.html) I just started listening to this one, it has that good balance for strict format and open ended talk.
  • Rodrick on the Line – this a is a good example of rule #10, but mixed with the end goal. There’s really no format, very little prep, but in each show (if you like this kind of, well, culture and world outlook/philosophy) you’re both entertained and get a fresh way of looking at life, from the trivial to the grandiose. And it’s funny…if you like that kind of humor.

Good luck!

(And you should subscribe to the most awesome podcast in the universe, Connected Culture and Oblique Strategies. Or, if you want one that’s just better than half the stuff out there, try DrunkAndRetired.com.)

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