This article originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of WIFi HiFi Magazine.
Confession: before starting to work on this article, I had never listened to a full podcast. Yes, that's right. I was a podcast virgin. When traveling on the GO train or by plane, or sweating it out at the gym, I would usually watch a downloaded episode of a TV series or movie or listen to music. Podcasting has never been on my radar.
So when the topic came up, I reached out to friends, family, and colleagues for recommendations to start my research. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of opinions from a diverse set of people of all ages, demographics, and cultures. It seems that everyone is listening to podcasts. And all types of them, from business topics to true crime, sports, celebrity interviews, sci-fi, and more.
Armed with a list of about two-dozen podcasts, I downloaded episodes to my smartphone and got down to listening - on the train, in the car through CarPlay, and while sweating it out at the gym. Before long, I began to understand their appeal. Informative and entertaining, they can help pass the time while you sit in traffic or wait to reach that half hour mark on the treadmill. You can learn a lot about different topics: I listened to Starbucks' Howard Schultz talk to Alec Baldwin about the coffee giant's humble beginnings and rise to coffee dominance in an episode of Here's The Thing, the story of Apple Maps vs. Waze and Monster vs. Beats by Dr. Dre in Wondery's Business Wars, and various entrepreneurs talk about how they built their successful businesses in How I Built This With Guy Raz - from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's to Warby Parker and Panera Bread.
A well-researched, intimate, entertaining podcast of a decent length hosted by a unique personality is a winning combination. Podcasts are the new radio talk shows. And anyone and everyone can have one. But should you? And can podcasting be a beneficial addition to your business?
What are Podcasts
First, let's start at the beginning. Despite the recent hype, podcasts are a well-established medium. Derived from the words "iPod" and "broadcast," a named coined by The Guardian columnist and BBC journalist Ben Hammersley, the first one was delivered in 2004 by former MTV VJ Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer. As a co-author of the RSS specification, Winer developed the iPodder program that allowed users to download Internet radio broadcasts to an iPod.
Originally involving only audio, though video podcasts exist today, referred to as videocasts, vidcasts, or vodcasts, a traditional podcast consists of a series of "episodes" delivered over the Internet as an MP3 file (or WMA or AAC) that listeners can access via their computers or mobile devices. They can listen when they want, download for offline listening, and subscribe to RSS feeds, directories, or apps so they know when a new episode is ready.
While many small podcasts are a hobby or exercise in brand and customer relationship building for businesses, there are more direct ways to monetize them, like through sponsored segments and even direct audience support.
A podcast combines the concept of blogging with digital audio, and you don't need a license to publish one - the process is similar to publishing a Website. There are no FCC regulations in the U.S. - anything goes. You do, however, have to adhere to copyright law.
Today, there are more than 700,000 active podcasts and more than 29 million podcast episodes in 100 languages available for consumption. Most podcasters are amateurs operating from their homes, though the most popular and mainstream podcasts are produced by major outlets like NPR. With podcasts catering to niche audiences, hosts can give their expertise on a topic, leverage their engaging personalities, and acquire a loyal group of listeners. And while podcasting can be a hobby or a side hustle, it can also turn into a profitable business through sponsorships.
Who Listens to Podcasts and How?
The target audience for podcasts is evenly spread. According to data from sources like Nielsen and Edison Research, gathered for an infographic created by the Website Musicoomph.com, 18% of podcast listeners are 18-24, 28% are 25-34, 21% are 35-44, 16% are 45-54, 11% are 55-64, and 6% are 65+. Listeners are 52% male and 48% female, are 45% more likely to have a college degree, 56% more likely to be undergraduates, and 68% more likely to be post-graduates. They are 32% more likely to have an annual income of $75,000+, 37% more likely to make more than $100,000 annually, and 45% more likely to bring in upwards of $250,000 per year. They are also more likely to follow brands and companies on social media.
About half (51%) of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast before, and 32% say they listen every month. Those who listen subscribe to an average of six shows and listen to an average of seven per week, with listeners spending an average of six hours and 37 minutes listening every week. Nineteen per cent of people increase the speed so they can listen quicker.
Podcasting studio in What Cheer Writers Club in Providence, Rhode Island, including microphones, recording equipment, interviewer and interviewee. Photo by JKizzieHumanities
Smartphones are the number-one medium for podcast consumption, with more than half (54%) listening from Apple iOS devices, 43% from Android, and 3% from other devices.
Surprisingly, while the common belief is that podcasts are most often consumed while in transit, the stats would suggest otherwise. A significant percentage (49%) of podcasts are listened to at home, while only 22% of people listen while driving, 11% while at work, 4% on public transportation, 4% while working out, and 3% while walking around.
How Do You Start a Podcast?
The idea sounds daunting but starting a podcast can be relatively simple with the right equipment, set-up, guests, and confidence in your abilities.
What Are You Going to Talk About?
Pick a topic that interests you, and that you feel like you can talk about for hours. It might be something you have a unique perspective on, a particular passion for, or that you're an expert in. Decide if it will just be you, if you will have a co-host, and if you will interview people, or if you plan to do a combination. You don't have to have hard and fast rules set in stone. Remember, your first one might just be an experiment.
"I've changed the show a few times until we landed on what I'm doing now," says Tyler Stalman, host of The Stalman Podcast aimed at those who like to create, including filmmakers, photographers, and audio professionals. Content is a mix of news and evergreen topics, "so if someone downloads a podcast six months from now, it won't be irrelevant. I like to have some educational components," he explains, "that will last for a while as well as talking about what's going on lately."
In addition to uploading their podcasts to podcast directories, many podcasters also host them on their own websites where you can download, watch, or listen to them there as well.
Select Your Guests
If you plan to create an interview-style podcast, you'll need a roster of guests booked to get started. Stalman usually reaches out to people he knows personally and respects their work and wants to know more about how they create the things they do. But sometimes it's a cold call to someone he thinks is interesting, like another podcaster, a photographer, filmmaker, or YouTube personality.
Barry Wosk, President of Richmond, BC-based AV distributor and manufacturer Sound Developments, is planning to start his own podcast as a value-add to dealers and partners. He feels the first natural step is to reach out to people you know. "I've done that and created a dozen opportunities to launch season one."
But it's also important to be cognizant of finding guests who can talk in an engaging manner for 30 minutes to an hour (or longer) about a topic. It's one thing to be really talented. But "it's another skill," says Stalman, "to be able to talk about it without a script for an hour or more at a time."
To address this concern, Wosk has devised a script to share with guests ahead of time that he hopes will help avoid throwing anyone a curveball during the interviews or have them struggling. Salman Aziz, host of ZoneCast, a podcast interview series featuring Canadian entrepreneurs, professionals, and academics discussing entrepreneurship, innovation, and business strategy, prepares a customized interview questionnaire for each of his guests.
Shure's MV88+ Video Kit is a one-stop-shop for those starting out with audio and/or video podcasting; it includes a portable mic, Manfrotto PIXI tripod, phone clamp and mount, and Lightning and USB-C cables, and works with the free Shure Motiv Video and Audio Recording apps.
Decide on a Length
There's no set rule for how long a podcast should be. It depends on the subject matter. Some are 5-7-minutes, others go as long as two hours. "Just like with videos," says Stalman, "there are different sweet spots. There's room for five-minute podcasts just like there's room for 10-second Vine videos." In his case, Stalman believes that usually after about an hour, he has covered everything he's wanted to cover. "I think some of the biggest podcasts," he adds, "are between half an hour and an hour. But it's really all about what the podcast is about and what the audience is like."
Karim Kanji, Director of Social and Emerging Media at Active International, has a podcast called Welcome with Karim Kanji that features interviews with "interesting people doing interesting things," from politicians to athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, actors, movie producers, TV personalities, and more. In about three years, he has published 188 episodes to date. He agrees that an hour or so is a great length. "A 10-15-minute chat wouldn't satisfy my appetite and curiousity. I have to sit down with them long enough to create that bond and trust to talk about things that might be serious or deep."
But it all depends on the type of podcast, scope, audience, and purpose. Wosk says he's going to keep his podcast episodes to about 15-30 minutes each. "People commuting, and integrators going from one job to the next have a lot of downtime in the car. You can only listen to your playlist so many times. So I'm trying to keep the duration down so they can consume an episode in a single trip."
Karim Kanji, host of Welcome with Karim Kanji, chats with singer/songwriter Bree Taylor during a recent podcast recording session.
Get Your Gear
Once a concept is in place, you'll need tech gear to get going: a computer and/or smartphone or tablet, a recording device, and a mic, along with, of course, access to the Internet. You might also want editing software or apps and headphones.
Stalman uses a Heil Pr40 radio microphone running into a pre-amp for radio to cancel out some of the background noise and reduce the echo in the room. It runs into his digital recorder, where he records two copies: one externally to the recorder as a backup and the second to his computer, which is running Skype or, more commonly nowadays, FaceTime, when interviewing guests remotely. There's free recording software from companies like Audacity, Record For All, and Easy Recorder VS.
If the guest is present, Stalman plugs in a second mic. He records separate tracks for each person then syncs them up after, making sure voices are balanced and volume is leveled.
But he says most people just starting out would be fine with a simple USB mic that plugs directly into the computer. When traveling, he uses an Audio-Technica ATR2100, which he recommends. The Blue Yeti is also a very popular option, he notes. Aziz uses this very microphone along with Audacity software for editing.
Heil Pr40 radio microphone
Kanji uses a Zoom H4 Pro recorder on its own or connected to a mixer if he's in a studio. It fits in your hand and has two internal mics plus ports for connecting two external mics. The mics he uses cost about $50 at Long & McQuade.
Christopher Bernard and Neil Quinto from Hamilton, ON host a podcast called Podcast & Chill With Neil and Chris where they talk about fatherhood, contemporary concerns of parents today, and "geek-speak" covering topics like sci-fi movie rumours. Quinto, who has recorded more than 200 podcasts to date, uses a 2017 Mac Mini, Shure SM58 mics, and Audio-Technica ATH-M10 headphones. He records using GarageBand 10 3.2 and uses a Mackie ProFX 8 to mix the audio. He also feeds in music, audio clips, and other sound bytes from YouTube while watching on a 32" Samsung smart TV.
Some people prefer to get more professional-level gear like a Rodecaster Pro that costs about $800 and has a port for plugging in a mic, plus mixing capabilities, along with expensive microphones to use with it.
Wosk bought the Shure MV88+ Video Kit ($329) after reading about it in these pages, which includes a portable mic, Manfrotto PIXI tripod, phone clamp and mount, and Lightning and USB-C cables. It's designed for podcasters as well as videographers, musicians, and other content creators. It works with the free Shure Motiv Video and Audio Recording apps, which Wosk loves because he can tweak the directionality of the mic and record directly to his phone.
Audio-Technica ATH-M10 headphones
There are plenty of affordable options to get you started on a budget, and there's room to upgrade later. But what's of utmost importance is that you have gear, particularly a mic (two if you plan to have a second person), that will produce good audio quality. "A lot of people feel that the fact audio is recorded is enough and they release it," says Stalman. "And [it's] a million times worse than other podcasts out there [which] turns people off and they don't want to listen."
Upload the Podcast
Once recorded, upload the podcast to your website, a new website you have created to host it, and/or to a podcasting directory website that will allow you to be searchable by others. Some require a nominal fee to be included. "Podcasting is like publishing a Website," says Stalman.
In addition to publishing his podcast as an MP3 to his Website, Stalman uses Fireside.FM, where he pays to have his MP3 files hosted. A plan that includes unlimited episodes for a podcast, unlimited downloads and storage, analytics and data, is $19/mo. He has also registered to have his podcast picked up by apps like Apple Podcasts. Kanji also hosts his podcasts on his own website, creating an XML file that resides there.
The Anchor.fm app can be used to record, upload, and save recordings, then broadcast them to multiple podcast directories for free.
You must register to send your podcast URL to popular podcast directories, such as Apple Podcasts, Android Podcasts, and Spotify. Typically, any podcast will be accepted, as long as it does not go against guidelines. "Apple is the biggest podcast directory," says Stalman. "They don't host it so they aren't in control of it. They just let people find it. And I really like the hands-off approach."
Kanji subscribes to multiple podcast directories, including Apple, Stitcher, Google, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Girth Radio, MixCloud, TalkShoe, and Spotify. Each requires that you fill out a short application that includes details like your name, title of the podcast, and links to the Website and XML file. Once approved, he uploads the MP3 file to his website whenever he records a new episode and edits and uploads a new XML to reflect the new podcast. All directories continuously crawl the Internet for new podcasts to add then automatically pulls them in and uploads them into their searchable databases.
Quinto uploads the GarageBand recording to iTunes and from there, saves the file as an MP3. He has a subscription with the podcast hosting Website Blubrry and also uploads the podcast to his own Wordpress Website, which has a Blubrry plug-in so it becomes available there as well. Additionally, he uploads to Stitcher and soon also iHeartRadio. He recommends an app called Anchor that can be used to record, upload, and save a recording, then broadcast it to several podcast directories for free. (This is what Aziz uses).
Some podcasters leverage Apple's GarageBand software for their recording sessions.
Promote Your Podcast
The biggest, most popular podcasts only represent a sliver of what's available. Like Websites, it's tough to get your podcast known, so you'll have to promote it. The easiest ways to promote your podcast include adding them to various podcast directories and to your own website. Aziz recommends leveraging social media as well to get the word out.
In many cases, podcasts become popular through word-of-mouth, or from being mentioned in other podcasts. "It's much more word-of-mouth than anything else on the Internet," opines Stalman. "People tell each other what they like."
You can also consider joining a podcast network, a collection of podcasts that group together for cross-promotional purposes. They might even share production and overhead costs if you decide to use a studio, for example.
If you want to keep tabs on your podcast's performance, install a feedburner link, which reports how many times a podcast has been linked to and commented on. Feed Burner is the most well-known. But many podcast directories, like Fireside.FM, provide analytics, too.
The Blue Yeti microphone
Can You Make Money?
For most, podcasting is an extension of other properties, whether it's a large media outlet like NPR or The Washington Post, or a small company like Stalman's, who also runs a photography, video, print, and interactive design business. Some can become revenue streams, while others are simply hobbies or part of an overall strategy to promote brand awareness.
Stalman monetizes his podcasts through sponsored segments. "Typically podcast audiences are really receptive to it because you've built a level of trust with them and they know you won't recommend a product that you don't actually like."
Kanjji says podcasting is a "labour of love" for him that costs him money and time, but that he loves doing. He likens it to someone who might join a hockey league because they love playing. "They will buy all of the equipment, just like I bought my equipment. I love the whole process."
Bernard and Quinto are focusing, at this time, on building an audience as they both have outside careers, Bernard as a screenwriter and Quinto in real estate.
"The idea of making money on the podcast is a romantic one," says Quinto. "The reality is we're building a following to create a brand to bring back to our own respective careers...with content that is informative and entertaining. If we do that well, and to the best of our ability, the money will follow."
Eric Dales, Founder of sustainable fashion brand Tamga Designs, sits down for a ZoneCast podcast interview with Salman Aziz.
Another popular way of monetizing podcasts is via crowdfunding through sites like Patreon, which provides support directly from your audience. Fans contribute small amounts, from $5, up to $100 every month, to help cover the costs in exchange for you continuing to produce content. Sometimes they get something back, from a simple thank you to exclusive content or a book in the mail.
Whatever the method of sponsorship (or none) it's important that podcasts don't come across as ads, with brands pushing their products and services. Listeners see right through that. "I'm trying not to make it super product-centric," agrees Wosk. "I'm more interested in the future of the industry and how integrators will need to adapt or change as that goes along. I'm not trying to wave anyone's flag."
One of Wosk's first interview subjects, for example, will be Kevin Main of Torus Power. "It isn't so much about helping Kevin grow his business," he says, "but power is an overlooked category for dealers. So it's saying to dealers, ‘hey, here's an opportunity you're probably missing' and giving the exposure to someone in a casual environment."
Tips and Tricks for Podcasting
Know Where to Post
Aziz says his first big challenge was knowing how and where to distribute his content. "Initially, I was sharing my content through the YouTube platform. Later, I learned of an application that posts your episodes on different podcast platforms." This application, as noted above, is Anchor.
Many applications and podcast directories are noted throughout this article. Do your research and find the ones(s) that work for you. The more, the merrier.
Apple has a large and robust podcast directory on its platform, accessible through the Podcasts app on its mobile devices; but there are many others like Stitcher, TuneIn, and even Spotify.
Pay Attention to Audio Quality
Across the board, every podcaster we spoke to emphasized the importance of having a good microphone and audio quality.
"It's a really common issue I hear with new podcasts," says Stalman. "You hear everything around them a lot." Stalman suggests looking for a mic that does not pick up everything in the room, and to invest in a second (or more) mics if you will be interviewing others. Don't place a single mic in the middle.
"Sometimes people will get a high-quality mic but they'll put it in the middle of a room with five people and all of a sudden it sounds like I do right now on speakerphone," he says. He adds that a lot of podcasters also miss checking that volume levels are balanced.
When selecting a mic, Stalman advises to look for the pick-up pattern - does the mic pick up the whole room instead of just what's in front of it? If the former, it will get more of the echo and the firetruck outside and the neighbours down the hall. "I recommend people look for a dynamic mic that only picks up the thing right in front of it."
Sit close enough to the mic and talk directly into it, says Stalman, and set up in a room that isn't too echo-y.
"Audio isn't that expensive to make it sound good compared to video," says Stalman. "Be pretty critical of your audio quality. The expectations are pretty high, but fortunately, it's not that difficult to reach those high expectations these days."
It's important that once you start, release new episodes with some level of predictive frequency. "Don't do it when you have time to do it," advises Kanji, "or whenever you feel like it. Commit to it."
Stalman says weekly is common; he releases a new podcast every 10 days. Having it weekly isn't critical, as people may become overwhelmed. But what's important is that it's consistent. "If you do it once a month, that's completely fine. But longer than that and people will probably forget about you."
Don't Try To Sell
As noted, listeners can see through heavy sales tactics, and will tune out if they feel the podcast is self-serving. Focus on offering educational content that applies to your audience in a general way, not just to you and the products and/or services you offer.
For Wosk, it's about creating non-partisan content. "I want to keep it as product-agnostic as possible. I'm trying to deliver content at a higher level."
Make sure the audience knows they are always the priority, adds Stalman. "That's how you build that long-term trust and then people will be coming back to you forever because they know you and they like you and they want to be involved with your company."
Why Should You Have a Podcast?
So is there value in having a podcast, especially if you aren't making money from it? The majority of those we spoke with don't actually make money from their podcasts but find the activity tremendously fulfilling and worthwhile from a branding perspective.
"It's my favourite medium," says Stalman. "It's a direct connection to people listening, and I wanted to get involved in that community and be a part of it.
With the Zoom H4 Pro recorder, you can get professional-sounding recordings, and connect it to a mixer if you have one. It has a pair of internal mics and ports for connecting two external mics as well.
"If you run a business and you like podcasts," he adds, "getting involved in the community can build this really profound trust with people that are listening."
For Wosk, he wants to create content for his dealer base that he feels will help them gain a better understanding of the industry and create a deeper connection. "[We want to give] people more reasons to come to our website and follow us on social media."
Bernard says that as a content creator, he needed a way to reach a wider audience and build a platform to share ideas and build a network of people with similar interests.
"The podcast takes me to new people and places," says Aziz. "I get a chance to meet new people and learn new things, and it expands my professional network."
As you get better, and add more elements to your podcast, you might want to invest in gear for mixing audio, like the Mackie Pro FX 8.
The toughest part about starting a podcast is actually starting it, getting familiar with how to do it, selecting the right gear to use, and determining how and where to upload. But once you've figured out all of those elements, created and published your first one, it should be smooth sailing.
"Don't be afraid of having all of your Ts crossed and Is dotted," reassures Kanji. "Go out and start recording. You'll get better over time, [learning how to] ask follow-up questions, speak better, and increase your vocabulary."
Just don't expect podcasting to become massive revenue generator. "It's not some big hype machine that is going to take your brand from zero to 100 in 60 seconds," says Stalman. The real value from podcasts, adds Aziz, is public relations. "Businesses can launch a podcast to promote their brand, connect with potential customers, and show thought leadership."
Wosk has realistic expectations for his upcoming podcast. "I'm looking for listenership in the tens and hundreds, not thousands and millions."
Having a podcast can be a valuable way to communicate with customers and solidify your company as a leader and expert in your field. Asking for feedback from listeners can also help you get better at it, says Kanji.
"[Podcasting] is a pretty mature platform and mature medium that has been around for a decade now," says Stalman. "It has become like the next generation of radio. It probably won't be reinvented any time soon."
If you decide to get on board, you're getting involved in a "pretty stable platform where audiences will keep coming back week after week," he adds. "And that's what's great about it."
You can use a recorder for podcasting, or free recording software from makers like Audacity.
Flip to the next page for 25 great podcasts worth checking out...