With the outpour of podcast obsessions (thanks, Serial), we’ve probably all thought to ourselves, “How hard can it be?” It seems like everyone with a social media following has tried his hand at the storytelling medium. But not everyone succeeds.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at creating a podcast, we reached out to the hosts of seven popular shows. They shared their starting points and favorite podcasting tips, via phone and email interviews, with Mashable.
The shows we spoke to:
- Welcome to Night Vale: A twice-monthly series about the spooky, fictional town of Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink.
- The Read: A weekly sound-off that touches on pop culture gossip, social justice issues and whatever else hosts Kid Fury and Crissle feel like talking about.
- Here Be Monsters: Host Jeff Emtman explores frightful true stories about the unknown.
- Filmspotting: A weekly critical look at all things film by cofounder Adam Kempenaar and co-host Josh Larsen.
- Pitch: A deep dive on how music affects people, produced by Whitney Jones and Alex Kapelman.
- Who Charted?: Comedians Kulap Vilaysack and Howard Kremar chart their favorite things in pop culture, from music to movies and beyond.
- The Heart: Formerly known as AudioSmut, the revamped podcast about intimacy is coming out in January 2015, and is produced by Mitra Kaboli and Kaitlin Prest.
1. How did you start your podcast?
Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink: “I came up with an idea, wrote a test script and gave my $60 USB microphone to my friend Cecil to record it. I asked another friend of mine, Jon, if I could use the music he had written as a music bed for it. Then I put it together in free audio editing software that I had a very rudimentary idea of how to use.”
The Heart, Mitra Kaboli: “When we broke off [from college radio], we were making the show out of our bedrooms. We each had microphone and a recorder along with Reaper, which is a very affordable editing software.
The truth is that we are still making the show out of our bedrooms
The truth is that we are still making the show out of our bedrooms — Kaitlin has outfitted a large closet as a recording booth. As long as you can find a space that isn’t to echo-y [or] doesn’t have a lot of outside noise, you can record.”
Here Be Monsters, Jeff Emtman: “A couple years ago, the audio hosting site Soundcloud had a fellowship program for aspiring artists. I pitched them this podcast, based on fear and the unknown, and much to my surprise, they accepted it…I produced the show out of my basement with the lights turned off. Nothing fancy, just a computer, recorder, keyboard and a pair of headphones. And, even though I now live in a different basement, this one in Seattle, that’s still where I make the show.”
Filmspotting, Adam Kempenaar: “[In 2005] I spent about two weeks doing some technical research, bought a couple solid Shure mics, a $50 mixer from Amazon, some cables from Radio Shack and away we [he and cofounder Sam Van Hallgren] went.”
Who Charted?, Kulap Vilaysack: “Howard came up with the idea and did a couple of pilot episodes with guest Steve Agee. My husband, Scott Aukerman, who at the time was the creative force of the Earwolf Media Podcasting Network, suggested that I come on as a co-host. It’s my job to keep the show moving forward.”
2. What was the hardest thing about starting a podcast?
Pitch, Alex Kapelman: “The hardest thing about starting a podcast was starting a podcast. It’s just so hard when you’re by yourself, even if you do have a great idea. I was able to find a super talented partner [Whitney Jones]…When we combined our forces, everything clicked. It also helped that he had a couple years on me making radio, so he had more of an idea of what to do.”
Who Charted?, Vilaysack: “Figuring out the format, finding out what works and what doesn’t. I’d also add figuring out each other. Howard [Kremar] and I were friends for years before, but with our podcast we see each other at least two hours a week and have done so for four years now and counting.”
The Read, Kid Fury: “Probably understanding podcasts, because neither one of us [co-host Crissle] were really familiar with podcasts when we started. And dealing with audience reaction, which, luckily, was mostly positive, but finding out ways to make them feel included and really just adjust to a whole different medium as it’s expanding.”
Filmspotting, Kempenaar: “Getting a handle on the technical side — understanding the basics of RSS and setting up a blog or website that could publish the feed. And of course making the time to actually record and produce. That part doesn’t change.”
Pitch, Jones: “Not overthinking it. Not everything has to be perfect when you launch it.”
3. What’s the one thing newbies should know about starting a podcast?
Have someone who will be willing to challenge you when your brilliant ideas don’t actually work
Have someone who will be willing to challenge you when your brilliant ideas don’t actually work that well, and who will suggest other ways they might work…because that’s what friends do.”
The Read, Kid Fury: “We say this on the show a lot and it’s no shade, but Google is literally your best friend. [And] you don’t really need a $5,000 studio. If you have an iPhone, you can use the Voice Memos app and just go to a nice quiet place. You can probably get some really good audio from that and then upload it to Soundcloud or something like that once a week.”
The Read, Crissle: “Pick a topic that you actually give a sh*t about, or know something about. Something that you would be excited to talk about on a regular basis and then go from there, but don’t try to force it.”
Here Be Monsters, Emtman: “It’s going to take inconceivable amounts of work — doing tasks and redoing them and losing data, and getting frustrated with collaborators and feeling emotionally and physically drained.
That being said, when I started Here Be Monsters from scratch, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to give this five years to make money. And if it’s floundering in August of 2017, I’m going to pull the plug and get a nice station-based job in public radio.’ And, right now, after just two years, the offers are beginning to roll in.”
Welcome to Night Vale, Fink: “Always think about the listener’s experience. Don’t just put out a couple of unedited hours of you and your friends talking with bad sound quality.”
Pitch, Kapelman: “Done is better than perfect….There will always be things about your pieces that you wish you could change.”
4. What are the absolute, unavoidable things people will need?
Welcome to Night Vale, Fink: “A decent mic. A workable one will cost you $20-30. A better one will cost $60. The best you could possibly need will cost a little over $100. Don’t spend more than that. Learn how to use the mic you have.”
The Heart, Kaboli: “A recorder, a microphone and software. Even Garage Band will do. Also, a good idea.
Ask yourself if the podcast that you want to make is filling some void.
Ask yourself if the podcast that you want to make is filling some void. How will it coexist with all the other podcasts that are similar to it? How will it set it self apart from those podcasts?”
The Read, Crissle: “Sound quality is probably the biggest issue. You could have the most amazing, dynamic guest or host, but if people can’t really hear you or if it sounds grainy, then people aren’t going to listen.”
Pitch, Kapelman: “I can’t tell you how many podcasts I want to listen to, but just physically can’t, because they sound so bad. I use a Tascam DR-60d Tascam DR-60d ($187) and a Rode NT-G2 ($234), and they sound beautiful together.”
Here Be Monsters, Emtman: “Everything I need to make the show can fit in a small backpack. It’s my bare-bones setup:
- Laptop with Reaper. Better than Pro Tools, cheap, customizable, incredibly powerful, doesn’t need special hardware.
- Pair of headphones. I use Sennheiser HD280 Pros. Cheap, good, noise-isolating, parts are user-replaceable.
- A mouse. For the sake of everything holy, don’t edit with a touchpad, it sucks and is slow. I use a Logitech MX 518 gaming mouse because it has extra buttons that I assign to common tasks (delete, undo, redo…). Cheap.
- Portable recorder that can double as an audio interface. I use a Zoom H2N for everything. Great mics, cheap.”
Filmspotting, Kempenaar: “You have to approach it like a job, even if you aren’t making a dime. Podcast like you’re talking to an audience of a million even if it’s really an audience of 100.”