If you’re keen to start your very own podcast, now’s the time—you’re bored at home, you’ve got a captive audience of people also bored at home, and everything you need to get up and running can be got at affordable prices and operated within the confines of your own four walls.
Before you start though, be under no illusions: Putting together a quality podcast is harder than it might seem at first. It typically takes a team of very skilled people some serious time and effort to put a quality episode together, and that’s after coming up with a compelling idea that’s going to be worth listening to.
All that said, if you think you’ve got something of value to share with the wider world—or maybe you just want a project to tackle to fill the hours, entirely for your own entertainment—then we’ll take you through what you need to know, with an emphasis on keeping costs as low as possible (there are of course increasingly more expensive options if you ever want to scale up your podcasting).
We won’t cover the nuts and bolts of actually coming up with a good podcast idea, writing scripts and so on here—suffice to say that the hardware and software side of the endeavor is the easy part. We’ll quote some prices in the text, but remember that online retail being what it is, they may have changed by the time you click through (though they should still be useful as a general guide).
Technically speaking, your computer (and your phone) has everything you need to start a podcast: A microphone. Hit the record button on whatever audio capture app you want to use, start talking to your device, and you’re already podcasting, in a way. Of course, you can build plenty of hardware and equipment on top of that to improve the quality of your finished podcast.
Your dialog is going to sound much, much better if you invest in a dedicated podcasting microphone, even if it’s a budget one. These mics can capture nuances in audio, and—just as importantly—cut out background noise in ways that built-in microphones just can’t compete with. They’ll also have features like a mute button that are going to come in handy during the recording process.
Blue microphones are some of the most popular and well-respected bits of kit in the business—models like the $130 Yeti and the $100 Yeti Nano plug directly into a spare USB port and will get you excellent results. At $150, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is worth a look as well, and comes with on-board audio mixing control if you need to use it alongside pre-recorded audio. There are dozens and dozens of options to pick from, but be wary of going much lower than $100, as you might not get the quality you need (as always, check the reviews extensively first).
You’ll see references to both condenser and dynamic mics, which refers to the technology they use—condenser models capture audio at a better quality, but tend to pick up a lot of background noise too, so you need a really quiet environment to get the best from them. What’s more, a cardioid mic—designed to pick up audio from one particular direction—might suit you better than an omnidirectional one if you’re podcasting at home.
Audio quality can be improved further with a pop filter like this $20 Dragonpad model: They smooth off the pop sounds you naturally make while talking. You’ll need a good pair of headphones too, to monitor the audio as you’re recording it—again there’s a vast range of options out there, but at the budget end you can rely on the $80 Cowin E7 Pro or the $70 Audio-Technica ATH-M30x pair, if you don’t want to use what you’ve already got.
Ideally, unless ambient noise is part of your podcast’s angle, you want a soundproofed space, whether it’s your office or a cupboard under the stairs. Foam tiling ($20 for 12 tiles) for walls and doors, or a dedicated isolation shield ($44) for your mic can be had relatively inexpensively, though you should probably spend your money elsewhere first, then see if you’ve got anything left to upgrade the acoustics of your chosen podcast studio. At least try and get as far away from noise as you can (maybe up in the attic).
While you can—just about—go through the whole of the podcasting process on your phone, your life will be a lot easier and your podcast will be a lot better if you’ve got access to a laptop to pull all of your captured audio together. Even if you’ve done some recording using a phone, the extra screen space and power you get with a proper computer is worth taking advantage of, if you can.
For recording audio direct to Windows or macOS, Audacity is an excellent and widely recommended option that won’t cost you anything at all. It’s not the easiest package to get to grips with for complete beginners, but once you’ve figured out how everything works (and there’s plenty of official documentation), you’ll be trimming out silences and fading in music like the professionals.
Also free but just for macOS is Garageband by Apple—it’s more polished and professional than Audacity, but covers a lot of the same ground, including multi-track management, mixing levels, equalizer effects and more. It really has everything you need to get your audio trimmed and collated and ready for a wider audience, though you’re only going to be able to use it if you’re on a Mac.
If you’ve got a bit of money available to spend, Hindenburg Journalist is one of the best affordable options, available on Windows and macOS. In return for $95 of your hard-earned cash you get a sophisticated but accessible multitrack audio editor, including features like automatic volume leveling, non-destructive editing (so the original audio remains untouched) and audio equalization and compression.
At $60, Reaper is another good value-for-money choice for the budding podcaster: You get extensive multichannel editing options, a vast array of plug-ins to play around with, and a lot of automatic filtering and quality control features that will help your finished podcast sound as professional as possible. It’s available for Windows and macOS.
Zencastr is another popular option, and it runs right inside a web browser. It also makes recording audio feeds from multiple guests very straightforward. The free tier usually limits you to eight hours of recording a month and two guests, but for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak Zencastr is removing these restrictions. Paid packages start from $18 a month if you pay annually.
To publish a podcast on the popular libraries, including those run by Apple and Spotify, you need to produce an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for it—RSS feeds have been around for years, and are a fantastic way of keeping up with new stories as they’re published to the web (rest in peace, Google Reader).
The easiest way to publish a podcast and get the RSS feed set up correctly is to enlist the help of a podcasting platform like Anchor. Anchor takes care of all the hosting and distribution for you, and it can even help you monetize your podcast if it’s popular enough. Anchor is completely free to use, as it makes its money from a cut of those advertising slots that it helps you with.
Anchor and other similar platforms take audio in all of the common formats, including WAV, MP3, and M4A. The format you make use of is up to you, though obviously the higher quality the better when it comes to impressing your listeners. Anchor does cap the size of individual files you can upload at 250MB, but that should be plenty.
Anchor isn’t your only option. Alternatives like Libsyn ($5 a month) and Transistor (from $19 a month) cost more than the free Anchor, but give you a bit more control over distribution and monetization, and pack in more features (like premium content options). Buzzsprout is a good option if you need something that can scale up from free (with ads) to bigger paid-for plans as your podcast grows.
Whatever service you pick, you’re going to need somewhere online to store your podcast audio and to generate an RSS feed you can submit to the various libraries that exist. Soundcloud is another option—and generates an RSS feed from your clips automatically—but you’ll eventually need to pay for a Pro account (from $12 a month) to get around the three-hour upload limit.
There are a few more bits and pieces to take care of to get your podcast ready for the big time: You’ll need some cover art for it, for example, and it doesn’t hurt to have a website or at least a Twitter account to go alongside it as well, all of which you can set up by yourself for free (though if you really struggle in the design department you might consider finding a freelancer to sort out some art for you).