Here’s what I learned about podcasting

Just in case anyone else out there is an absolute tech novice, like me, but who is also considering starting a podcast, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. I found that the current results when you google “how to start a podcast” are not nearly detailed enough to be useful, and that’s because podcasting is extremely technical compared to straight blogging. I was so intimidated by the technical aspects of podcasting that I spent nearly a year procrastinating. It wasn’t until I actually flung myself into the fire that I started to learn the things I actually needed to know, and I discovered that all the podcasting education out here seems to be written by men for men, particularly by tech-geeks FOR other tech geeks. I know all this tech stuff isn’t very psychic, but I understand there are a lot of almost-psychics reading this blog, and I’m sure a lot of you could produce some kick-ass podcasts of your own. Us weirdos have to stick together and create our own networks. For us, blogging and podcasting is a means to an awesome end, and I’m here to support your awesomeness!

So here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Plan a beta run. You will make mistakes, you need time and practice to work out the bugs. You may even want to re-launch with a different feed after you’ve worked out the bugs.

2. Buy a domain name. This is super-important to do BEFORE you start your first podcast. If you launch your podcast using a domain that your host provides, then you will not be able to leave that host in the future without losing all of your subscribers and asking them to subscribe to a new, different feed. This will also screw up your statistics, which you may not care about now, but you will care about it if you’re still doing that podcast in a year. When you own your own domain from the beginning, you will also own your RSS feed. When you own your RSS feed, you can take it with you if you decide to switch hosts a year from now, AND your subscribers will never notice. I use hover.com and have found THEIR tech support to be fabulous. I am considering moving all of my domains over to hover, and I will purchase domains only through hover in the future, just based on the simplicity of their interface and the prompt and extremely helpful tech support.

3. Consider setting up a website just for your podcast. It is faster and a lot easier to just use a template your host provides, BUT if you choose to leave that host, you’ll have to start your website from scratch. You will be able to import episodes to a new host for a fee, but possibly not show descriptions or show notes.

4. Show notes! If you set up a blog / website to companion your podcast, show notes are awesome for a variety of reasons: You can fit more information into a blog post than the podcast description, you can format and present it better, you can tag the heck out of your show notes so that people using google to search for things will stumble upon your podcast, which they wouldn’t otherwise do if they didn’t think to search in itunes. Show notes will require more time to maintain on a long-term basis, but if you have the time the pay-off is worth it, particularly if you’re presenting yourself or your services professionally.

5. Listen to podcasts about podcasting. There are a ton of experts just dying to whisper their free knowledge into your ears. Without podcasts about podcasting, my own podcast would not have made it past episode 3.

6. Consider hosting options based upon your needs: Do you plan on setting up a separate website and hosting it yourself? Many podcasters (70% according to the podcaster awards) use a self-hosted wordpress site with plugins to present their podcasts to the world. Do you have the time and interest to learn all about that? If not, do you have the money to pay someone else to set it up? How cool / professional does your site need to look? If you do not have the time or interest to learn the wordpress self-hosted solutions (like me) a quick and dirty way is to use a podcast-specific host that bundles all those solutions for you! I use podbean, and I have found the tech support to be 7/10 in terms of timely helpful responses. After setting up with podbean, I started to hear many good things about libsyn – and I found my inquiries to their tech team were handled much faster, and they talked to me in a respectful yet “using layman’s terms” style. I felt like I got better service from libsyn’s team than podbean – and podbean’s guys are the ones I’m paying. Libsyn seems to market their hosting services by leveraging superior customer service, their unofficial motto being “you stay with us because you want to, not because you have to.” At this stage of the game, I’d recommend both, and I will stay with podbean unless I have a very good reason to move.

What if you want to leave your host and go to a different one – will your host let you do that easily? Will they forward from your old rss feed to your new one? (If not, be doubly-sure you’re using a feed that you own!)

7. Consider your format and equipment needs / workarounds.

Blog talk Radio: I’m convinced that so many people in the psychic / intuitive development genre use blog talk radio because it offers a complete package of solutions for an interview / more than one host show format, AND it offers additional distribution avenues beyond your traditional podcasting format (a “broadcast” format.) I almost went with blog talk radio myself. However, the sound quality on blog talk radio is notoriously poor, because it’s “telephone” quality. Many people find this intolerable and do not listen to blog talk podcasts / radio shows. I do not intend to ever broadcast live, nor do I intend to run a chat room or have a live call-in feature. However, if I did want these things, blog talk package benefits would have outweighed the disadvantage of the sound quality.

Consider equipment needs: down-and-dirty solutions like a skype headset microphone is the bare-minimum and costs $10. You can’t use your computer’s internal microphone without picking up the noise of the computer fan and harddrive. If you have a stand-alone mic rather than a skype headset, even better: you can rig up your own pop filter with pantyhose and a hanger.

Be aware that if you find you enjoy podcasting, you’ll want to invest in better equipment pretty quickly, especially if you’re podcasting once a week or more. You’ll want to be comfortable, not hunched over a stick mic. You’ll want to spend less time processing the noise and hiss from a cheap mic. You’ll probably want to acquire a basic professional mic for about $100 within the first 10 episodes you record.

Software: No need to spend money there – top two podcasting programs are free! I use audacity with a LAME plugin to create my mp3 files. Apple’s Garageband is also popular.

Hosting: if you plan on doing a weekly show that’s 30 – 60 minutes in length, be prepared to pay for hosting. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so look at a host’s reputation in terms of tech support and customer service. The worst case scenario is your podcast gets to be very popular and your host can’t handle the traffic, so your whole podcast goes offline. If you go with a cheap host, the tech support to get you back online will be slow. Remember hosting is a *service* based industry, so interact with that tech support as much as you can in the early stages of your podcast – you’re beta-testing the host’s tech support team too.

8. Launch your beta version and learn!

9. Submit your feed to itunes! I suggest you record and post at least three episodes to your site before you submit your feed to itunes. I submitted my feed too soon, and this caused a huge delay in getting into itunes as I was initially rejected because I didn’t meet some technical requirements. Here’s what you need for itunes: Your shows need to be mp3s. You need to have a complete show description. You need to have a photo that is large enough to be used in the itunes store, but not too large – at least 1400 x 1400 pixels but no larger than 500 kb in size. I found the itunes podcast spec page to be completely baffling and I relied entirely upon my podcasting host’s assistance to get my podcast accepted into the itunes store.

10. Tell the world. Submit your feed to other podcast networks. I recently learned about things like Stitcher, and there are many others. The vast majority of podcasts are consumed through itunes, however a minority of people manage their podcasts through other means, so make sure they can find you too.

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