6 Steps to Podcasting for $100 or Less

Call it a sleeper. After all, it’s hardly as sexy as YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. But it may surprise you to know that podcasting – a medium born of the worldwide iPod explosion just ten years ago – has entered its golden age and it’s more popular than ever.

Consider this: National Public Radio’s Serial was the first podcast to reach 5 million downloads on iTunes. One third of Americans 12 and older listened to a podcast last year. Listenership has doubled since 2008 and advances in mobile technology make podcasts the cure for long trips or commutes and 45 minutes on the elliptical.

With just a basic understanding of the recording software on your computer, you have almost everything you need to join the podcast revolution. And there’s more good news: with the addition of a decent microphone, you can set up a perfectly good rig for a hundred bucks or even less.

A Six-Step Process

1. Planning

This is the most important step in the process. Consider the value of your concept to potential listeners. How unique or original is it? What format (monologue, interview, multi-host or video) will you use to execute it? How many episodes will you create? How extendable is it? And keep in mind that much like a blog, this is a commitment.

Cost: Your time

2. Recording

Chances are, you already know how to make recordings using your computer. Set-ups vary widely, but the two basic pieces of equipment you will need in all scenarios are a computer and a microphone. For the beginner – or even the experienced podcaster – external audio interfaces and mixers aren’t always required. However, if you plan on having guests or even the occasional live music act to pepper up your show, you’ll want to invest in a multiple-input audio interface from the likes of PreSonus, Focusrite and countless other manufacturers.

What you will need is a good microphone. The built-in mics on computers and smartphones are typically omnidirectional, meaning they capture sound from all directions, and are not built with sound quality in mind. That means the sound quality of your podcast will be severely compromised when your listeners hear paper shuffling, your neighbor calling for their kid to get out of the street or your foot tapping nervously on the floor. A unidirectional / cardioid microphone can be aimed right at the speaker’s mouth and reject unwanted sounds and room noise.

The two types most commonly associated with podcasts are dynamic mics and condenser mics. Dynamic mics don’t require the external power source that condensers do, but these days, the popularity of DIY content creation has pushed major manufacturers like Audio-Technica, Blue, Shure and others to develop low-cost, high-quality, multi-mode condenser mics with an onboard preamp that can plug right into your computer. If you have a good quality vocal microphone available, all you’ll need is an XLR-to-USB device to connect it to your computer.

Cost: USB Podcasting mic = Under $75

Multichannel Audio Interface (if you already own or can beg/borrow more traditional microphones) = Under $100

3. Editing

Along with getting the best possible recording in the first place, editing is where the artistry happens and this takes practice. There are dozens of programs designed for recording and editing audio, including the user-friendly GarageBand for OS X users. Open-source, cross-platform Audacity is one of the most common and it’s free.

When it comes time to save and publish, you will need to add tags and labels with a title for your podcast along with an episode number (if applicable) and a short, intriguing summary. You also may want to include music and an introduction.

If your edited audio file is a WAV file, you’ll need to encode it as an M4A or MP3. You can either do this in the audio creation software you’re using or by importing it into iTunes. Important, too, is a graphic image for your podcast – it’s the first thing that potential listeners will see in directories like iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, Zune and others.

Cost: FREE (Audacity)

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4. Create an RSS Feed and Host your Podcast

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. An RSS feed text file includes information about your podcast so that directories and aggregators, such as iTunes and other directories, can find and download your podcasts for subscribers. It’s basically a web browser for RSS content. Some podcast hosting companies will handle this for you, but it also gives me access to your subscribers, something you may to want if you eventually move to a different hosting solution.

You’ll need a media host for your podcast files. The oldest and most popular solution for podcasters is Libsyn at $5/month. Prices vary based on the amount of storage you require, but there are free plans, with limitations, from other podcast hosting companies as well.

Check out offers and rates from companies like Soundcloud, Podbean, Blubrry and others. The best plans will include statistics that measure the performance of your podcast. If you podcast takes off, data storage becomes an issue and you will need to move to a robust paid plan.

Cost: Several have free options for less than two hours of podcasting per month.

5. Submit your Podcast to Directories

Now you’re ready to submit your podcast to iTunes and other directories. Without a doubt, iTunes is the big dog in this game, but it makes sense to consider some others. Most of the time, your podcast will be listed within two or three days. Once approved, podcasts subscribers will automatically receive your weekly podcasts.

Cost: FREE

6. You’re Not Done Yet

To build a subscription base, make sure that you spread the word. iTunes isn’t going to do all the work for you. Beyond friends and family, social media and your own website, if you have one, is a great place to market your podcast. You’ll also gain valuable suggestions, sometimes whether you want them or not.

One last thing: Standup comic Mark Maron launched his podcast when his Air America gig ended in 2009. To this day, WTF is recorded in his garage. His guests have included everyone from Elvis Costello to President Obama. Back in 2013, the podcast had reached 100 million episode downloads.

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