So you wanna start a podcast?
(If you don’t find what you’re looking for, please leave a comment requesting whatever you’re looking for and I’ll add it! If you do find what you’re looking for, please let me know what was most useful for you. Either way, hold the applause button for me please & thank you.)
So you’re thinking about starting a podcast? Does it seem overwhelming? Don’t know what gear you need? Wondering how to build an audience? In this article, I break down the major things involved in launching and maintaining a podcast that I had to learn the hard way.
What hard way, you ask? I learned how to do all this by building over four shows in eight years. Wolf 359 is a Webby-Award nominated sci-fi audio drama series that’s been downloaded over 16 million times. We have a profitable merch store and an incredible community on Patreon that — at its height — contributed over $5,000 per month. Before we wrapped up the series, we were lucky enough to partner with SiriusXM on a feature-film-length audio special for their now dead app, Spoke (R.I.P.). In 2020, we set a category record fundraising over $40,000 for Unseen, an original fantasy audio fiction series. I also conducted an experimental daily talk show, Focused as F*ck, that received over 60,000 downloads and 160 Apple Podcast / iTunes ratings & reviews in its first 60 days.
This article is intended as a reference guide and is not written to be read linearly. Skip around. Eat what you like. Bookmark it and come back for stuff as it’s relevant to you. It’s not going anywhere. This will be most useful if you already know what you want to talk about. If you’re still feeling that out, I recommend starting here.
If you benefit from this and feel like returning the favor, please consider recommending it here (with that heart button), as well as sharing this article with someone(s) in your life you think would benefit as well! Also, I’d appreciate it if you’d follow me here (and wherever else you like), use any of the affiliate links/codes throughout that appeal to you, and choose to invest in my content creation on Patreon:
It’s important to have a good reason for getting into the game. It will feel like a Sisyphean endeavor until it doesn’t.
- Get into it for the money
- Do it for the fame & glory
- Expect a ton of listeners right away
- Focus on making something you would want to listen to — it helps to talk about something you can’t shut up about. Harness your compulsions and/or obsessions — whatever your family and friends wish you’d shut up about already is probably fertile ground.
- Set your expectations really low for engagement — like expect-to-give-this-100%-and-get-nothing-low. That way you’ll only have up to go!
- Share something that is of use to people — have your show be of service in some way, even if that person is just you. Odds are good if it’s useful to you in a real (read: non-superficial way, ie. a healthful catharsis), it will be useful to others
Alright! Now that you’re PUMPED UP by those ENCOURAGING WORDS, let’s dive in to the technical stuff:
As a podcaster, “what mic do you use” is probably the most frequent question I get asked. I’ll get to that in a moment, but the real question you should ask is “what’s the best mic for my show?”. The answer is (drum roll please) the one you already have. Of course if you have the money an ElectroVoice RE-20 with a sweet tube pre-amp would be friggin’ amazing, but here’s the thing:
Sound quality in a podcast is like height requirements on roller coaster rides: you just have to be tall enough to ride.
Sound quality in a podcast is like height requirements on roller coaster rides: you just have to be tall enough to ride. Story is king. People will listen to recordings off your iPhone Voice Memos if it’s compelling content. Figure out a reason to justify it. For non-fiction, do interviews in weird locations where you’d want to be discrete, like in a bar or bookstore, for instance. For audio drama shows, channel The Blair Witch Project by making it a docu-horror made up of found footage from your now deceased characters’ smartphones. Own your limitations.
*Steps off soapbox* Alright. If you’re not sold on the above and/or feeling spendy, here’s what I’d recommend (please note: all Amazon links are connected to my affiliate account and purchasing stuff through them will kick back a small percentage of the purchase to me. It won’t cost you anything (i.e., the price is not increased in anyway) and selling you on anything is not my priority here. That said, if you are planning on getting anything you see here, please consider buying through my link as affiliate sales go a long way towards helping me make free resources like this #transparency):
Blue Yeti USB microphone
Pros: Everything you need for recording at home. Perfect for one person, fine for two to three sitting close to each other with the right settings. Quality is superb, even good enough for getting into commercial voiceover (that’s how I found out about it originally). Works via USB, so you’ll need a computer and recording software, but that’s it (no pre-amps, power cables, etc.). Add a pop filter for best results (or just put a clean sock over the grill).
Cons: Not ideal for traveling. Annoying to run more than one simultaneously on the same computer.
In case you’re interested in breaking into commercial voiceover work, too, you can check out a video I made about that referring to the Blue Yeti mic below:
The Tim Ferris™ Kit (~$350–600)
Whatever your personal views on the man, author and human-guinea-pig Tim Ferris has been extremely successful with his podcast and, in the process, has perfected a great, portable podcasting kit, if you’ve got the money for it.
Zoom H6 field recorder + Shure SM58-LCs mic
Pros: the Zoom H6 is a recording studio in a box. It comes with an onboard mic that would be sufficient to start out on and will take 4x XLR or 1/4" inputs out of the box and an accessory will let you add 2 more ports on top of that. All that means is you can use this puppy to record an up to 6-way interview if you wanted, with everyone having their own microphone. If you’re only ever going to record two people at once, you can save some dough with the Zoom H4N instead. Either way, you’ll need an SD card to record to. Shorter interview shows will do better with cards smaller than 32GBs because the recording unit will boot faster, but longer shows or ones with more mics should have more space (more than 64GB is going to be overkill for a podcast and it doesn’t have to be insanely fast. Class 10 to be safe.).
The legendary Shure SM58 mic is a perfect companion. If you’ve ever been to an open mic night or seen a live music performance or comedy show, you’ve seen this mic. They’re virtually bulletproof — you can hammer a nail in with one and it’ll keep working. Great for travel, great sound quality (not for commercial VO work like the Yeti, but by the time you’ve compressed your MP3 for your podcast’s feed, you’ll barely notice a difference). You’ll need XLR cables to connect the mic to the recorder and probably want mic stands if you’re going to be recording in a fixed location (say, your home). It’d work just fine to hold these mics in your hand while you talk if you like.
For a talk radio show, any more than the above is overkill.
Cons: Relatively expensive. Not suitable for professional voiceover, making it less ideal for fiction shows going for a high production value sound, though that’s a function of the microphones, not the recording unit. If you swap out the SM58 for an SM7B with a Cloudlifter CL-1, you’re gonna get an extraordinary sound (that will cost you $550+tax).
My Gear (~$1,500-$2,000)
This is most certainly going to be overkill for 99% of you. It’s what I have set up in my dedicated recording room at home at the time of writing.
- Audio interface: Focusrite 18i20 1st generation ($200–$350 used) — for the particular and ever-expanding needs of Wolf 359, I need to be able to record more than 4 people at once and had the opportunity to buy one of these puppies second hand. Would’ve probably gotten the more recent generation if I bought new, but savings were more important to me than marginal quality gains.
- Microphones: 2x Shure SM7Bs ($400 each) — the SM7Bs are what we use on Wolf 359. They’re great — it’s the same microphone model that Michael Jackson used on Thriller. Yeah, it’s a classic. I like that it has a strong proximity effect, which means the quality is responsive to how close or far from the mic your mouth is. It takes some getting used to and is not great for people unaccustomed to talking into microphones. The not-great part being that you’ll sound significantly quieter the further away from the mic you talk, which can ruin a great interview, in a way that the ElectroVoice RE-20 is much more forgiving.
- Mic Activator: 2x Cloudlifter CL-1 ($110 each)— this product helps with dynamic mics like the SM7B. If you have no idea what a dynamic mic is, you can read more about it here, but the biggest thing to know is that they’re significantly quieter than other types of mics (namely condenser mics) out of the box. In a fancy studio, you’d plug your dynamic mics into really expensive pre-amplifiers. Mic activators are basically the budget option for folks like me who can’t afford a great pre-amp yet, but want more gain, or volume, out of their dynamic mic.
- Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($150) — a much better bang-for-your-buck than the Sennheiser or Bose cans* you can get for the same coin. *Audio-nerd slag for headphones.
- Mic stand: 2x On-Stage Stands MS7701B Tripod Boom Mic Stand ($25 each) — nothing special here. Does exactly what you want it to and is a solid brand that balances quality and cost, in my experience.
Audio “vlogger” rig
This is probably the coolest thing I’ve put together in the last several years, off-the-shelf-tech-wise. And it’s the secret sauce for how I’m always ready to get a decent quality interview for Focused AF anytime, anywhere. I call it The Neistcaster, inspired by the camera setup popularized by Casey Neistat that’s become ubiquitous in the video-blogging world.
- Mic: Electro-Voice 635A Handheld Live Interview Mic — if you can hammer in a nail with a Shure SM58, you can build a house with this mic. I’ve dropped mine a half dozen times running around New York City and it still sounds as good as when I got it off eBay in near-mint condition for $80 ($140 new). Handling sounds are fairly noticeable, especially compared to the more expensive Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B ($200), which has a shock-mount built inside the mic unit. The smaller size of the 635A makes it a no-brainer — just hold it steady while you’re recording and you’ll be fine.
- Recorder: Tascam DR-10X Mini Portable Recorder ($110) — this gem is the only clip-on XLR recorder I can find from a name-brand audio company. It pops on the bottom of any XLR microphone and is great for a portable, high-quality recording setup. You’ll need a micro SD card and I recommend you keep it under 32GBs, otherwise, the boot time slows down a ton (no idea why, but apparently it’s a known issue of audio prosumer audio recording gadgets). I use a 16GB card. It is plenty of space and the unit boots straight into recording in 6 seconds.
- Custom clamp stand: Stage Ninja MIC-12-CB Mic Clamp Mount ($6) + On Stage MY200 Universal Microphone Clip ($35)— this combo will allow you to turn any clip-able surface (ie. a table) into a mic stand. Great for recording interviews in coffee shops or turning your hotel room into a studio. Much easier to carry around than a regular mic stand.
- Headphones: Koss PortaPro Headphones ($40) — can’t beat the quality for the price and form factor. Not equivalent to a good pair of over-ears, but will give you a sense of whether your recordings are blown out or otherwise problematic while fitting comfortably in a small bag.
Microphone: ElectroVoice RE20 ($450) is a favorite of talk radio hosts that provides a great sound without the proximity effect of the Shure SM7B. Definitely use with a pre-amp or mic activator like the Cloudlifter CL-1.
Pre-amp: Universal Audio 4–710d 4–Channel Mic Preamp ($2500) — if money were no object, I would love to own one of these. I’ve used one before and basically it just adds a bunch of richness and depth to your recordings that will get utterly lost in compressing your tracks for the web. It’s something I want as a voice-over artist doing work for commercials, film, and television — maybe some higher-production-value web videos.
*Deep breath….* Thus endeth the overkill. Thank you for indulging me.
Ways to save money on recording gear
Buy used. More than half the audio gear I’ve acquired this year has been second and & refurbished units and it’s saved me hundreds. For example, I got a mint condition Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B for $125 vs $200+ tax new (and met an awesome person in the process!). Craigslist, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace are great resources for finding deals. B&H and Adorama also have used departments, but the savings are less awesome.
Recording phone / Skype calls
Nine times out of ten, I put my phone on speaker and hold my phone up to my home studio mic. However there are smarter, better ways to do it.
Perhaps the easiest thing to use is a web-based tool like Zencastr.com, which you can think of like a podcasting-interview-specific Skype platform. They have a free version that should be sufficient for starting your show and paid options for higher quality audio files, starting at $20/month for unlimited guests and recordings, plus WAV export.
If you want a hackier solution, I set up Loopback ($99) for getting Google Hangout/Skype calls to record into Adobe Audition. The same company, Rogue Amoeba, sells Audio Hijack ($50), which is a lot easier to use and likely more than what you’ll need to get started at half the price. For maximum flexibility, you can get the set at a discount ($125).
If it’s important to you to be able to record calls off your cellphone, there are apps for that. I haven’t found The Best One™. In fact, I’ve only ever tried one. It’s called TapeACall Pro. It costs $8 per year and gives you unlimited recording features. It works by calling you once you’re on a call already and starts recording by merging into a conference call with their “listening” number. Please note: I am not a lawyer, do not go around wiretapping people, pretty sure that sh!t is illegal, etc. Tell folks when you’re taping, get consent.
Now that you’ve got your tape in the can (translation: now that you have a bunch of audio files on a hard drive), it’s time to cut it all together! And, boy, are there apps for that.
At the end of the day, everything below does the same thing: cut, arrange, layer, and fade sound files. I wouldn’t overthink it. Well, actually I would. Because I’m a nerd. But you shouldn’t.
Seriously. Don’t overthink the software. Find something that works and put it to work making great work.
Audacity: 100% free, cross-platform software. For the feature set, no one can argue the price isn’t right. However, as much as I respect this legendary open-source project, I find the user interface to be confusing and hard to navigate compared to other apps.
GarageBand: free, so long as you’re inside in the “walled garden.” As with all things, you get what you pay for. If it didn’t have a dumb default setting on vocal tracks that adds a ton of reverb, it’d be a great intro podcasting app.
Descript: $30/month. The most innovative podcast editor on earth. If you’re new to editing audio and not excited to learn new software, treat yourself to the free trial. You can do everything you need here from recording through exporting and it makes the hard part — editing your audio — pretty much as easy as editing a document. It does this by using computer-automated transcription to convert your recordings into text and then allows you to edit your audio just like you would a Word or Google Doc.
SoundTrap: free to try, $7-ish/month. It’s a 100% cloud-based editor. It is primarily designed for music recording, but it works just fine for making a podcast. And the best part is, your episodes are always where you are (provided you have a stable internet connection). I’ve put together several full episodes of my talk show on demo computers in Apple Stores around New York City.
Audition: $10–50/month from Adobe.com. It’s what I originally used and no longer recommend. It’s got a lot of powerful tool and I like how it integrates with other Adobe apps, but I found it way too unstable and have migrated to Reaper for improved stability.
Reaper: $60 for a discounted license, $225 for a commercial one, which is only necessary if you earn more than $20,000 with it. It’s got a cool origin story, having been built by the creator of WinAmp — one of the first popular media players — and is, in my experience, extremely resource-efficient and stable.
Ardour: Free to try, as low as $1/month to use premium, or pay what you want for the current version without updates. It’s a new gem I found but haven’t tested. Night and day better looking and more fully-featured than Audacity. Excellent option if you’re using Linux — pretty sure it’s completely free for that platform.
Logic: $199. Apple’s premium offering. The Final Cut Pro of audio. I don’t use it. Hear it got weird when it went to version X, much like Final Cut. Some folks will like the performance optimization on Mac hardware that only an app from Apple can achieve. That plus the one-time cost vs. subscription are the two reasons I see to choose it over Adobe Audition.
Cubase: $100–579.99. Never used it. I know it exists.
Pro Tools: $29.99/month, $299/year, or $599 to buy. The heaviest hitter in the room. I’ve trained myself on it for work, but I don’t enjoy using it. Our pro (ie. full-time) sound engineer on Wolf 359 uses it to record us in the studio.
Ways to save money on editing software
If you’re not gonna use the free ones, buy educational for paid apps. Most of the above have student pricing, so jump on that if you’re eligible. If you’re a video editor already, you could easily use an app like Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, or even Telestream’s ScreenFlow ($99) to edit a podcast, so long as you export to MP3.
Sound Effects & Music
As my friend and collaborator, Gabriel Urbina, once told me, there are only four tools at the podcaster’s disposal: spoken words, sound effects, music, and silence. By that (accurate) logic, we’re talking about 50% of the entire audio medium right now! I wish I had more smart things to say here, but please don’t take the brevity of this section as a sign that it’s any less important than your recording or editing tools. The difference appropriate sound effects and good music can make in a show is insane. If you have the patience to explore incorporating these in your show, I strongly urge you to give it a go.
$$: Pond5 (prices vary, but all start higher than AudioJungle, in my experience — greater selection and arguably higher quality files)
$$$: Hire a pro foley artist for sound effects or commission a professional musician for your music
Choosing a host
Contrary to what I’ve found is a popular belief, Apple Podcasts / iTunes does not host your podcast. Apple Podcasts, like Google Play, Stitcher, and many other websites where podcasts can be found and played are podcast directories, often with built-in players. These directories make it easy for listeners to find and listen to your show. A podcast hosting service is where the audio file data actually lives. Before you can list yourself in the iTunes of the world, you’re gonna have to pick one a host to call home.
Now, if I successfully impressed upon you the importance of not overthinking editing software, please multiply that impression several hundred times for this section.
I already have overthought this so you don’t have to. More than anything else in podcasting, it soooo doesn’t matter and ultimately comes down to what you can afford. Also, it’s relatively easy to switch at any time.
For Wolf 359, we use Libsyn’s mid-tier $15-20/month plan. For Focused AF (FaF), I use Omny Studio’s entry-level $9/month plan. I briefly used SoundCloud Pro, and then Unlimited for FaF, and while it has some cool features, like in-line commenting on the audio player, it feels like it’s not designed for podcasting without a content scheduling feature.
I use Omny Studio for Focused AF over everything else for a million reasons — mostly because of its clean interface, superior analytics, and no-brainer features that no one else seems to have, like an Apple Podcast review tracker. Keep in mind that while they offer unlimited uploads, which only a few others offer, Omny has an unadvertised limit of 1TB download bandwidth (compare to SoundCloud’s no-fine-print Unlimited service for $15/month). All this means is that if your show gets a ton of downloads, you’ll start getting charged $0.10 per GB of traffic after the first 1,000GBs. The idea is that, at that point, you’ll be flush with ad money to cover the costs. And they partner with one of the more badass advertising platforms I’ve found yet (more on that later).
** Unfortunately, since I published this article, Omny Studio has ceased its $9/month plan. It now only offers a $99/month enterprise plan. I believe you can run a virtually unlimited number of shows on one account, so this is a good solution for any of the emerging podcast studios and collectives I’ve seen popping up (lookin’ at you, Procyon).
In the spirit of me-over-thinking-so-you-don’t-have-to, Cast gets an honorable mention for being notably different. They built in an interview recording app and basic audio editor into a hosting service, starting at $10/month. Great if you’re on the road a lot, don’t want to overthink editing, and don’t mind severe limitations in what you can do editing-wise.
If you’re broke, consider hosting for free on SoundCloud’s free tier, BlogTalk Radio, or this Y-Combinator startup, Awesound (best for aspiring entrepreneurs and brands looking to market their own products or manage their own ad sales directly).
The only other one worthy of note, in my opinion, is Blubrry, which offers a more robust API than any other service I’ve seen for building out custom workflow optimizations. If you don’t know what an API is, this is an irrelevant detail in your life (and you should skip to the next paragraph). If you are the kind of person that gets stoked for a good API, then this actually may be worth the premium for you ($12+/month). You’ll save yourself the headache you’ll get trying to estimate the monthly cost and set up analytics to host your show on Amazon S3 without sacrificing the customizability you may want for being able to automate your workflow until the cows come home.
And in the spirit of long-windedness, this post would be incomplete without mentioning Anchor. It’s kind of a secret hosting service in a way and definitely deserves some explanation in other sections of this post. Long story short, Anchor is an app that makes it easy to make a podcast from your smartphone. When it comes time to ship an episode that your listeners can download wherever they listen to podcasts, Anchor will handle all your hosting needs. If you already have a show, they’ll actually migrate it over to their servers for you. I’m even under the impression they’ll serve up audio files made on a computer, as well (if you know where to look ;)).
All that said, please remember: don’t overthink it. Again, they all fundamentally do the same thing.
Don’t want to think about it? Sign up for awesound.com for the best price v. feature tradeoff.
Get your show listed
Now you’ve got a host, you’ll need to submit your RSS feed to the various podcast directories, like Google Play, Stitcher, and iTunes*cough*… excuse me! Did I say iTunes? I meant Apple Podcasts (it’s been recently rebranded).
Here’s the resource from Apple for submitting your show to Apple, assuming you’ll at least want to list it with them.
There are a million tutorials for getting it from your host onto the Apple Podcasts of the world that’ll explain it better than I can and I’m sure your hosting service will provide instructions in their respective FAQ section. It’s a little copy/pasting that I won’t cover here because it’s somewhat specific to what host you choose.
We’re not talking about roses here. In the podcasting game, branding matters. In an ocean of free content, a little bit of effort in how you present your show goes a long way towards standing out. Because despite the old adage, you know everyone has judged a book by its cover at least once. And you can bet prospective podcast listeners will be judging yours.
Make it simple and clear what the value is if it’s a talk show. Provocative is good, but clear is better. Make sure you can own the social handles and domain name, too. Use this for checking what social media handles are available. You mostly want the .com (I’m a big fan of .fm), Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but you might also want YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Reddit, depending on your audience. I’m a believer that consistency is key, to the point that I got “focusedafshow” on every platform, including Instagram, where I could’ve gotten “focused.af”. My thinking is you’ll get more out of being able to say “Follow the show on social at WhateverName everywhere,” than needing to go through a convoluted list of variations.
Rule of thumb: keep it clean and clear and you’ll stand out. It helps if it’s legible and eye-catching when viewed super tiny, which it will be on most smartphones in various podcasting apps.
Free: get a friend to do it, use this mediocre-but-quick tool from Squarespace, this much better tool called Canva, or get GIMP and use your own pictures, something as flashy as it is free from Unsplash, or an iconic icon from The Noun Project to slap something together.
If you’re gonna make it yourself, I recommend using an 800 x 800 pixel canvas — you can always export a smaller resolution version for different sites.
The domain name is much less important than the show’s actual name, but still worthy of some thought. www.showname.com is great. www.shownamepodcast.com is fine. www.shownamepod.com is also acceptable. I’m a nerd, so I’d spring for the .fm domain name and point the .com to that one for maximum trendiness, but that’s just me.
Hover.com is great for registering domains — good, clear pricing, no BS. I hate GoDaddy with a fiery passion. iwantmyname.com is perhaps prettier and easier than hover.com and supports more wacky TLDs (the part after the “dot”), but they’ll rip you off by $1–100 per site in my experience. Gandi.net is the mecca for all obscure TLDs — I’d compare the price between that and Hover.
We host our site for Wolf 359 at Squarespace. It’s easy.af and their support is great. Plus, if you sign up for a year you get a free domain name (though probably not a .fm name). Others prefer Wix.com, which is fine too. I really like Strikingly and will probably be building out my site for my new show there because — unlike Squarespace — the $8/month buys three sites instead of one and doesn’t cost any extra for a simple e-commerce store (and you also get a free domain with a 1-year subscription).
For a more advanced option, you may prefer the greater control afforded with WordPress site, or even a custom-coded app. Dealer’s choice.
If you have no preference and want something simple to setup and cost-effective, try Strikingly with my referral code and we’ll both get a free month.
“Get into podcasting for the money” said no one ever.
That’s not to say there ain’t gold in them thar hills. I recommend you get into this game because you’re excited to make the show first and foremost. I also think building or strengthening an audience / your personal or business platform is a great goal. There are definitely ways to make money, but I recommend taking the long view.
Patreon is how we make most of our money at Wolf 359 from monthly contributions from fans. For insanely insightful thoughts on how to design a series that people will shell out for even though you’re giving it away for free, do yourself a favor and read “Better Than Free” by Kevin Kelly.
Seriously, go read it. And then read his “1000 True Fans” article.
After those two articles, I don’t have much else to tell you. What I can say about Patreon specifically is:
- Don’t launch too early. It’s hard to make asking people for money exciting and you only get to launch anything once. Relaunches are super useful, but they’re different beasts entirely. We waited until we were seeing about 10,000 downloads a month for Wolf 359 before we got our shit together and started making our page, mostly because people were straight-up asking us how they could pay us. We also knew that we were about halfway through the show at that time, so there was a “now or never” aspect to our decision as well.
- Don’t think of Patreon backer rewards like Kickstarter backer rewards. We ran into the issue that our rewards created another part-time job that we needed funding to justify doing. Keep it simple. Think of Patreon as a membership platform and your show as a miniature NPR. Look for repeatable, non-time intensive things. One of our best rewards for Wolf 359 is by far our monthly live stream AMA. It gives us a way to provide something of value — answers to questions — in a way that doesn’t take us off task from making the show we’re getting supported for, unlike our Behind the Scenes podcast, which we’re often late with because of how much time it takes to make. Use this amazing article by Kevin Kelly to generate new ideas (and share ’em with me!). If you get one thing out of this whole post, make it that article.
If you want to give fans a way to tip you in a more one-off manner, you can add a simple donation button easily to any Squarespace site, you’ll just need a Stripe.com payment processor account, which is easy to set up. If you have a WordPress site it’s almost as easy to set up a PayPal donation button.
Merch is cool, but hard to do (legal red tape, time-consuming, expensive). Make sure you work with your local government agencies to ensure you’re complying with sales tax laws and other stuff that you’ve gotta be responsible for as a business that sells goods (you’re on your own for this one, at least for now. I’m not a lawyer or accountant and should not be listened to about all that stuff beyond “It’s hard, go do it right.”
It’s because of that stuff it took us a long time (years) to get around to setting up our shop for Wolf 359. We opted to create a Shopify store with Printful as a fulfiller for our merch, so we don’t have to deal with inventory or shipping after we design the products. The downside is that the profit margins are much less than if we were doing stuff in a more hands-on way. That’s why our shirts are $30 instead of $20 — because otherwise, we wouldn’t make money on them to help us pay for more time in the studio and, hopefully, ourselves and the amazing artists that make it happen.
Ads are a way to make money, but not until you’re getting at least 2,000 downloads per new episode within 2–4 weeks of release. When you’re at 10k-50k downloads per episode you can expect to get about $300 per spot. CPM or Cost Per Mille (aka thousand impressions or downloads) will range from $5–$60 early on, depending on your audience’s demographics and size. You see more insane deals for the break-out hits. Midroll.com will help you figure out your rates and place you with advertisers. Hosting services like Libsyn and BlogTalk Radio will help broker deals with advertisers for you for a cut (typically 40%).
If you’re just starting out and know you want to monetize with ads eventually, Blogtalk Radio will help you grow and be able to get your ads earlier on because of how they’re working with advertisers. And if you’re focused on marketing your own products, like ebooks, bonus content, or online learning resources, the hosting platform Awesound is uniquely suited for you.
Like anything in this day and age, everything online has the life of a fruit fly. As far as I can tell, the most important thing is consistency and specificity.
The most important thing is consistency and specificity.
Whether you’re doing a cat toy review show or the cat toy-themed Toy Story fanfic audio drama, publish regularly. Read: at least once a month. I’d recommend once a week if you can do it. Twice a month has worked great for Wolf 359. Personally, I think there’s an untapped opportunity in daily uploads. Pick whatever you can do sustainably and stick to it.
There’s a snowball effect that happens with podcasting. When we launched Wolf 359, not even our moms were listening for a while. The biggest “growth hack” we did was make a show we would want to listen to and I cannot recommend strongly enough you try and do the same. About a year and a half into it, we started seeing real traction, and a little over a year after that we got to celebrate our three millionth download.
Because of the success of Wolf 359, my new show, Focused AF, launched with an existing audience — at least compared to the launch of Wolf. Most folks don’t have that luxury starting out, which is why I started with Mindset. You can create some of this snowball effect by having guests on your show that will bring people with them, which is one reason I believe interview-based shows are so successful. But that’s also why interviews with influencers are so common on talk podcasts and cameos/shared universes are gaining popularity in audio dramas. Both practices help cross-pollinate audiences and expose new people to shows they’ll probably like and just hadn’t heard of yet.
Subscriptions, ratings, and reviews in places like Apple Podcasts help elevate your show’s ranking there, which helps get your show discovered by listeners outside your existing network, which can also trigger or intensify that snowball effect. Finding an authentic, original way to request those actions of your audience isn’t easy and it matters that you do because every freaking show asking for the same thing, which makes it easy to tune out those requests.
My daily series Focused AF was only supposed to be a 30-day experiment. But as I saw listenership on the feed and engagement on my social accounts growing and becoming increasingly positive in specific ways (for example, thank you notes for the guided meditations I started putting out as a weekly segment), I decided to take a gamble and trade another 30 days of hard ass work for the public acknowledgment that the first 30 were worth it. I both genuinely wanted to continue and also had other projects I could do instead.
The biggest thing you can control in terms of growing your audience is to be listening to whoever is listening to you and engaging with them in a conversation. The more meaningful the better. What’s a meaningful conversation? Go ask your listeners. And listen to yourself, too. If you’re unfulfilled, you can imagine they will be too. Conversely, if you’re inspired by what you’re hearing from folks, you’re probably on to something.
The #1 thing I see people get wrong about social media is treating it like a one-way megaphone.
And that brings me to the number one thing I see people get wrong about social media: treating it like a one-way megaphone. I’m speaking from experience after being widely muted by my personal network on Facebook after several months of frequent sharing in my first year out of college. While it can feel like you’re in a monologue while you record your show, think about it as a turn-based conversational game. After you upload, get ready to listen, because once folks finish, it’s your turn.
Running a weekly live stream on my YouTube channel with a dedicated core audience helped me a lot while I was podcasting every day for Focused AF. It gave me a weekly check-in to directly ask people listening to the podcast what was working or not. It also gave me a wealth of content ready to be edited into the podcast later in the week. From interviews to coaching calls, using content from my live stream series in my podcast enables me to “use the whole animal” when it comes to my time. It’s not easy, but I highly recommend it as a strategic workflow for simultaneously building an audience and creating content.
If you’re trying to break through the ever-growing noise of podcasters, be afraid not to be vulnerable.
At the end of the day, I think the secret to massive audience growth is a function of how vulnerable you’re willing to be, which is what I believe it takes to reach out through the cold, dark web and touch someone (if you disagree, watch this). More important than growth, I believe a willingness and expanding capacity for vulnerability is key to self-discovery, being of meaningful service, and, ultimately, fulfillment in life. After all, growth for it’s own sake is essentially cancerous.
You now know everything I ever did about podcasts.
Still excited to make one? Go for it, and let me know when it’s live on Twitter!
In a future revision, I’m going to add a bunch of links here with other resources to go deeper. Please recommend your favorite in the comments!
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