When actors Wayne Frazier and Natalie Lipka interviewed “Nebraska” screenwriter Bob Nelson for their podcast “Hollywood Close-up,” they quickly realized that his success had not been instant or easy. Despite his achievements—being nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe, no less—it had still taken Nelson years to put his film together.
Frazier says it was an important reminder: “Hey, we’re not the only ones that are struggling. Everyone’s out there struggling and waiting.” And it was a perfect takeaway for their podcast, which aims to demystify the entertainment industry for both the hosts and their listeners.
Frazier and Lipka successfully started their own podcast as performing arts professionals—and you can, too. Frazier says podcasting has upped his confidence no matter who he’s talking to, especially when it comes to film and casting directors. Plus, it’s a constant learning experience. “It’s almost like our own little class every day.”
If you’re wondering how to start a podcast, you'll want to review this comprehensive guide: we’ll cover everything from creating a basic recording studio to securing sponsorships and building an audience from scratch.
- Why start a podcast?
- What you can learn from listening to other podcasts
- How to come up with podcast topic ideas
- Do you need a co-host or weekly guests for your podcast?
- How often to release podcast episodes
- What equipment do you need to create a podcast?
- What is the best podcast editing software?
- Should you script your podcast?
- How to make a podcast engaging
- How to come up with a podcast name
- Where to find a designer for podcast cover art
- Where to upload podcasts
- How to grow your podcast audience
- How to make money from your podcast
Starting your own podcast establishes credibility and authority about your topic. “Anybody who has a name or brand they want to build can benefit,” says Ray Ortega, host of “The Podcaster’s Studio.” It puts you into a space in which you’re not available otherwise; the show is another forum in which to find you.
Podcasters are exposed to a brand-new audience of people who are actively searching for content in a chosen area. On top of that, there’s a possibility that it will get you more gigs. “No one will get a job in a creative field these days without putting out content,” Ortega says, speaking from experience. He had a day job for two years and produced his own podcast on the side. For the last 10 years, he’s gotten paid to produce his show because the right people came across the side gig.
Your podcast can be a vehicle for creating a portfolio for your art or skill; and when it comes to acting, this can mean showcasing your “type” or personality, painting pictures with words, or exhibiting your range in voice acting. The show could also aid in search engine optimization (SEO) and propel you closer to the top results when people look for an expert in the field.
“Working on a podcast gave me a new tool in my toolkit,” says writer and producer Jessica Weisberg, who worked with “Serial.” “We’re living in a moment where, if you’re a storyteller, you have to be medium agnostic”—meaning you have to be comfortable with film, TV, web shorts, and podcasts. Once you figure out what you want to say, you can decide which platform is best for bringing it out. Figuring that out starts with taking a topic and narrowing it down.
The medium is unique, so it’s important to do some research before starting your own podcast project. One key nuance when it comes to camera and stage acting is that, generally, stage is primed for acting and projecting “bigger,” while the camera picks up subtlety best. Just like those two forms of performance, podcasting has its own nuances—ones that you can pick up by starting out first as a listener. Shows like “The Audacity to Podcast,” “School of Podcasting,” and “Podcasters’ Roundtable” can help teach the ins and outs of getting started on your own project.
- To figure out your broader topic or area of interest, choose something you’re excited about, something you know. “For us, we know what it’s like to be actors,” says Lipka. “We’re doing it every day; we want to talk about it, we want to share our experiences.”
- Once you’ve got your general topic nailed down, how figure out your niche. Seek out what others like you—with similar overarching show topics—are putting out there. Take note of what you like and what you’d change about the way they do their shows, and you’ll be able to apply that to your own down the road.
- Look for gaps in coverage. What isn’t being talked about that should be? This could be your golden ticket. And if you do find a show that’s seems similar to your chosen niche, check to see if it’s still released on a consistent basis. Even if it is, your shows will be different due to host personalities.
When it comes to turning a bigger topic into a niche subject, Caleb Zane Huett and Nick Splendorr—hosts of "You’re Too Show: A Sonic the Hedgehog Fancast"—have some real experience. Both have theater backgrounds and a passion for video games, but they knew starting a podcast about the latter wouldn’t be their best bet. One Google search revealed endless amounts of video game podcasts; the most popular ones were created by people actually in the industry.
The key is to aim to do something either differently or better than everyone else. Huett and Splendorr settled on the bizarre-but-captivating Sonic the Hedgehog character and launched their show’s first episode in October 2016.
“The power of podcasting is the niche,” says podcasting expert Daniel J. Lewis, host of “The Audacity to Podcast.” In radio, the goal is to get as large an audience as possible over the airwaves, so content must have a broad appeal with categories like politics, finance, news, sports, and relationships.
Podcasters, on the other hand, can drill down and focus on one specific aspect of an area—and it’s better that way. “The wider or broader the topic, the harder it will be to build an audience,” says Lewis. That’s because there are so many other general-topic podcasts, many of them hosted by celebrities.
For example, “acting” might not be the best subject choice. Instead, you could focus the show around acting in a certain genre, for women in a certain age range, or about, say, longform improv. By choosing a niche, you’ll end up with a smaller but more loyal and passionate audience—and there’s a good chance you’ll become known as an expert on the subject.
Listen Now: “In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast”
“Your podcast is a gift, so start by figuring out: What the heck does your audience want?” poses Dave Jackson, podcast coach and founder of “School of Podcasting.” He says that when people get on the internet, they’re looking for one of two things: help or entertainment (or both). Create your podcast accordingly and with your desired audience in mind.
For example, if you drew “Howard from accounting” for a Secret Santa gift exchange at your day job, you’d first ask people who know him what he’s into, right? Jackson says it’s vital to do the same for your audience. Get to know them through Facebook groups, subreddits, LinkedIn groups, meetups, and other avenues.
When it comes to figuring out whether you’ll have a co-host, weekly guests, or fly solo, look to your strengths. Have you been told you’re a good storyteller? Are you high-energy, focused, and good at speaking directly to someone even if you can’t see them? Or are you more comfortable in conversation mode with someone else to bounce things off of? No one format is better than another; it’s all about the best way for you to share your message.
Doing a show alone means having complete creative control and autonomy over the schedule, but it also means that the brunt of the work (and self-discipline) is on you. Bringing in a partner means working with someone else’s schedule and ideas, but you’ll also be able to split the work and keep each other motivated. If your goal is adding one or more co-hosts it’s most important to select people you trust completely and can have a genuine conversation with (without being self-conscious).
The rules of improv apply here, too; it should be a safe space where you won’t feel judged by your partner(s) for taking a risk, no matter how it turns out.
Establishing a consistent podcast release schedule is key. “As long as you’re making something pretty good on a schedule that people can expect, you don’t have to worry about making a perfect product,” says Huett. Your audience has to trust you, and the easiest pattern for people to get used to (and keep track of) is probably a weekly one. For example, knowing they can listen to the latest episode of your podcast every Monday walking home from work will likely reel in a repeat listener.
To give yourself a head start, record a few episodes in advance. It’s also a good idea to make some “disciplinary” decisions ahead of time to free up your brainpower for creativity instead of logistics. Keep the same show format per episode (like intro, interview, monologue/story, guest, fan comments, outro).
Speaking of show format, you can go beyond speaking to bring the podcast alive. If your show focuses on your audition experiences, consider bringing a recorder and interviewing other auditioners about their funniest experiences and preparation strategies.
People love content with a lot of change or variety, so you could add a little music here and there or bring in another voice to break things up. “The soliloquy works well for Shakespeare but has its limitations in podcasting,” says Jonathan Halls, a media-production trainer.
This can be accomplished without breaking the bank. Halls remembers the day he heard the newspaper he was working for in Europe spent $40,000 on sound equipment. He was shocked. “Fifty dollars is all you need to sound fantastic, and it’s the skill in how you do it that will make the podcast come alive,” he says. No one listens to a podcast only because of the microphone and gear. If you’ve got quality sound but the content isn’t up to snuff, you’ll still have a hard time growing listenership. “Bad quality can drive away an audience, but the main point of gear is to help you get your voice out there,” says Lewis.
Here’s what you need to know about each piece of podcasting equipment we’ve recommended:
“Your mic is that one investment that’s going to make the biggest determination if your podcast sounds good or not,” says Ortega. To make sure your content is heard and understood, invest in good microphone that gets the job done. You can always upgrade later.
Before you spend the extra cash, know that the average listener wouldn’t notice much of a difference between a budget mic and a more expensive option, especially if he or she didn’t hear them back to back. Most important is the way you use the microphone—doing a mic check, being close but not too close, recording in a quiet environment, talking a little “off-axis” to avoid popping sounds, etc.
And the minute you buy a microphone, go ahead and order a “pop filter” to protect the air going into the microphone. They cost about $10 and make all the difference when it comes to avoiding strange rumbling sounds. Not convinced? Put a hand in front of your mouth, say “peanut butter,” and feel the bursts of air coming out. That’s what pop filters protect against.
Mixers + digital recorders
You don’t really need to buy a mixer until you have multiple sources of input on your show (think co-hosts, guests, music, etc.). Its role is to combine different audio signals and adjust volume levels, timbres, and dynamics.
When you’re shopping for a mixer, Behringer, Mackie, and Allen & Heath all make good-quality products, says Lewis. As far as digital recorders go, you’ll need one if you’re ever in a situation where you need to record without relying on a computer, like if you go “on location” or if your computer is slow or noisy. The Zoom H5, H6, and H4n Pro are all good choices.
- The first option—comparable to a used car—is Audacity’s free audio-editing software. It does the job, but Ortega says it’s not as user-friendly as other choices.
- Two experts recommended Hindenburg Journalist editing software, the middle-of-the-road option, which is designed specifically for editing spoken-word content.
- The Cadillac of editing software? Adobe Audition, says Ortega—although it’s only presently available via pricey Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
Sound editing can seem overwhelming, but it’s the same idea as editing text: You’re still copying, pasting, selecting, and deleting, just with waveforms instead of Word docs. When it comes to choosing software, keep in mind that what you learn on is often what you’ll stay with. It’s important to pick an interface you feel comfortable with so you keep producing episodes.
It’s probably a good idea to start with a script. Don’t worry about sounding stilted. “Scripts are only bad when they’re poorly written,” says Halls.
For example, if a podcaster started out their show with a rundown of what they had for breakfast that morning, you’d probably lose interest pretty quickly. But what if that person said, “I’ve been experimenting with diets, but haven’t lost the weight I wanted to until recently. I have more energy, I’m losing weight—and it’s all because of this one new breakfast habit.” Now you’re probably curious, right? It’s all in the way the information is presented.
Think: Are you telling a story because it’ll make people laugh, engage, or be entertained? Or are you telling it just because it happened to you or it’s a funny inside joke? The latter isn’t a good reason, says Lewis.
How to write a podcast script
- While writing, remember it’ll be heard, not read. Audio content lends itself better to narrative content rather than technical facts, so keep the stories rich and the voices conversational. Know that short words and sentences reign supreme. If your sentence is over 10 words, shorten it.
- Powerful—but not complicated—words are great for podcasts (for example, they “slashed” the budget instead of “reduced or “cut”).
- Try to avoid dependent clauses; they make the brain pause in the middle of a thought, which isn’t ideal for audio.
- The script needs to be simple for the brain to take in auditorily. Keep in mind that when you look at the script, it’ll look extremely bland, especially if you’re someone who likes literature and writing. That's fine—effective delivery will bring the script to life.
- Read the script out loud a few times to make sure it sounds natural, and feel free to mark it up with underlines for emphasis and slashes for pauses. “We can read so much better than we can hear,” says Halls.
- When you talk into the microphone, visualize someone you’re close to, and imagine you’re speaking straight to him or her, says Halls. It’ll frame your conversation and make people feel as if the conversation is specifically with them. The show persona you create for yourself is powerful. When done well, it’ll be warm and genuine, and when done poorly, it could be bothersome or cheesy.
- If you’re still having a hard time visualizing your “other,” literally create one. Draw a cartoon or cut out a magazine clipping of the kind of person you imagine could be a key member of your audience, and assign meaning to them, like hobbies and interests. It’ll shape the way you speak.
- Try to be okay with the worrisome “what if no one listens?” scenario, and do the project primarily for you. Your first priority can be to have a good time, and your second priority can be to learn things along the way, hone your craft, and build a portfolio of sorts. The last priority should be recognition, because that should come naturally with a consistent and quality show.
- Don’t look at listener numbers too early—you don’t want to get discouraged, and they’ll come with time.
Remember to “be nice to yourself,” says Huett. If it’s your first project, it might not be that great in the beginning, but if you commit to your product, you’ll keep gaining fans who come along with you for the ride.
One of the most surprising—and great—parts of podcasting is becoming part of the weekly routine of people you’ve never even met. “I had one guy say, ‘You’re with me every Monday on the drive to the feed store,’ ” says Jackson. “I share a little about myself because the more you let them in, the more you build that relationship.”
Lewis has a test every show name should have to pass, and it starts with running the name by someone who knows nothing about what you’re trying to create. Ask that person, “What do you think a podcast with this name would be about?” If he or she gets anywhere close, it passed the test.
For example, one of Jackson’s clients considered naming his show “After the Darkness,” but after hearing people’s first thoughts, he went with “Life After Blindness” instead—much more straightforward.
So what’s in a name? A lot, as far as podcasts are concerned.
Before settling on a name for your show, do some basic searches on the iTunes podcast directory and look at domain names to make sure no one else is already using the title. (The more unique a name you’re using, the more likely you can claim trademark ownership over it.)
While you’re at it, go ahead and set up the domain name and social media accounts and start engaging with your audience.
For cover art, the aptly named graphic design marketplace 99 Designs offers logo design services starting at $299, while Podcast Designs will use your guidance to make album art for $85 or a logo for $120.
You can also give your show a three- or four-word “tagline” on the artwork to give more information and hook people into pressing play
When it comes time to make your podcast public, submitting it to Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes) is key. You should also upload your podcast to:
For simplicity’s sake, when you direct people to your podcast, direct them to your own site, which will link to all of those places.
“Podcasts grow steadily but slowly,” says Ortega.
Build relationships within your niche
The ideal place to reach your audience is within your niche via Facebook groups, subreddits, forums, Twitter hashtags, etc. It’s vital not to spam these areas with self-promotion, like, “Hey, check out me and my awesome thing!” says Lewis. Instead, go there to grow relationships, build a reputation and participate in conversations. When it’s relevant, you can say, “Hey, I have an episode on this,” or “You might be interested in this episode, it’s relevant because of [XYZ].”
You might even be able to use these forums to discover new ideas. Let’s say you have a dog-walking podcast; join a relevant Facebook group and see what people are saying about retractable versus non-retractable leashes, then do an episode on that exact topic.
Afterward, you can comment and say, “I loved this question so much that I made an episode about it; here’s the link.” That way, you’re responding with completely relevant content and engaging with the community. You’ll become known as an authority on the subject and sow trust. When that audience realizes you have a podcast, all you’ll need to do is show them where to find it.
Invite guests to your show
It’s also a good idea to reach out and talk to people you think would be interested in your show and ask them to come on as guests. If you do a good job with them, word will spread. Go to events where you know key players will be and genuinely engage with them about their projects and your show. And don’t forget to leverage any platform you already have to promote your podcast, whether it’s a newsletter, website, Twitter account, or any sort of live event, plus your email signature and business cards.
“Beyond that, just show up,” says Ortega. “Podcasting is a long game—it’s quality content over time.” The best thing you can ask your audience to do is tell other people about the podcast; shows usually grow primarily through word of mouth.
“Anytime you’re making anything, as long as you’re making something good, and you do it consistently, and you tell a few people a week about it, it’ll grow,” says Huett. Know that your fanbase will likely grow as your backlog does, since many people want to follow a show they can trust will come out every week and won’t stop cold turkey.
Before you worry about cashing in, worry about quality. “Your first question should be, ‘How do I get good?’ ” says Jackson. “[It’s about] monetizing your audience, but right now you don’t have one. Focus on getting one.” With that in mind, there are a few different routes you can go once you’ve built up a significant fanbase.
The first route is sponsorship, but Lewis says to make it worth your time to get one, you should have 5,000 or more downloads per episode. Sponsors usually pay a certain amount (like $25) per thousand downloads per episode, so even if you have an audience of 5,000 people, that’d only be about $125 per episode. If you do decide to follow this path, you can either reach out to sponsors directly (if you’re great at selling yourself) or have someone else do it on your behalf. Libsyn and Blubrry are companies that host your podcast media directly and also help arrange sponsors.
Another route to monetization is asking your audience directly: “If you feel you got some value from this podcast, would you consider giving some value back?” It’s great because if you lose one audience member who gives $5 a month, only one Abraham Lincoln was on the line, not stacks of Benjamins.
Patreon is probably the best platform for crowdfunding because it makes setting up recurring donations easy, and it’s a good idea to create some sort of incentive for those who give (like a weekly emailed blooper reel or shout-outs on the show).
You can also sell your audience your own product or service. For example, if you do a podcast about crowdfunding, offer your services as a freelance consultant.
Another money-making option for your podcast is affiliate links. An affiliate relationship is different from a sponsorship in that, if people buy what you recommend through your promo code or link, then you make a percentage of what they spend.
The easiest place to start for any sort of podcast topic is Amazon’s affiliate program, since it sells everything from television memorabilia to music equipment. (Lewis makes enough on affiliate links from Amazon alone to pay his mortgage.) Many sites have these programs, and if you’re interested in one that doesn’t, reach out and ask if they’d be open.
“Today’s companies are discovering billboard advertising isn’t working,” says Lewis. Thousands of people from all different walks of life drive past billboards, and for many of them, the advertisement likely won’t apply. Even though podcasts have smaller audiences, they’re 100-percent-relevant ones for certain products and services. The key here is making your affiliate link references relevant and within the context of the conversation—not during a commercial break.
Want to act on screen while pursuing your podcast dreams? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!