How to start a podcast? The podcast seems to be “the next big thing,” an innovative way to make content that is capable of easily arousing enthusiasm in the audience. In a recent post, we talked about what a podcast is and why podcasts have been so successful, even as a strategic element in corporate communication plans.
With a certain delay, podcasts are also becoming popular in Italy, and precisely because they are going through a period of gestation, which has been longer in our country than elsewhere, the skills and processes needed to produce them are still largely to be defined and standardized. Therefore, there is no list of precise rules on how to start a podcast, to which we can easily refer.
We can, however, try to formulate some general guidelines: here are our 10 tips, based on the practical rules and actions usually carried out by professional podcasters:
- Remember the difference between podcasts and other content
- Define the type of podcast based on your communication objectives
- Decide what story to tell: some requirements
- Don’t neglect the coordinated communication aspects
- The script: The questions you need to ask, from the subject to the script
- Writing a sound story: 4 tips + 1
- The right people in the right place
- Audio design and production, strictly ad hoc
- Create the most narrative podcast you can
- Listen to the audience and see the results
1. Remember the difference between podcasts and other content
One of the issues that should be clarified right away concerns the confusion between tools that are mistakenly considered to be similar that are actually quite profoundly different.
Making a podcast:
- Does not coincide with a radio broadcast
- Does not mean making an audiobook
- In the case of branded content, it is not the same thing as creating a commercial
Podcasts and radio: A clear distinction
Podcast author and producer Jonathan Zenti says that knowing the technology behind a podcast can help define its character and thus better understand it.
As he pointed out, in podcasting we can’t broadcast a live sound, but we have to upload an existing audio product that is ready to be listened to.
In the case of the podcast, the audio file is not streaming or live, where the listener only has to turn the knob in order to hear it. Instead, the audio is parked on a server where it must be identified by the listener, downloaded, and initiated with the play button.
Podcasts are more like “radio on demand,” where the listener is “the absolute protagonist of what he decides to download and listen to.” (Source: iltascabile.com)
In Podcasting Marketing, Gaia Passamonti summarized the differences between radio podcasts and podcasts, differences that are good to remember when wondering how to start a podcast.
- While radio is characterized by a loss of spatial-temporal references that are linked to the here and now, listeners can access a podcast at any time.
- In the first instance, the radio podcast needs the amount of attention necessary to establish contact and only at that point does it require interest; the podcast, on the other hand, immediately focuses on generating and nurturing interest, since its listener is already qualified and spontaneously mobilized.
- If the radio podcast is divided into daily episodes, the podcast is organized in episodes, which may be of a certain frequency, each of a different duration, and can even be organized in a series.
- The radio podcast wants to reach the general public and therefore must be inserted into very broad or mainstream narrative niches, whereas the podcast fits into very specific and vertical narrative niches dedicated to narrow but loyal audiences (Podcasting Marketing, Gaia Passamonti, HOEPLI, 2020, pp. 2-3).
Audiobooks: the continuation of the book medium
Also in the case of audiobooks, the experience of use is different. Audiobooks can be conceived as a sort of continuation of the book medium: they are always born as written content and, therefore, only later are they read aloud and recorded. In other words, they necessarily pass through an inaugural phase as a paper book or e-reader and in a pre-existing text that is conceived with a precise reading objective that goes beyond a possible audio translation. The podcast, on the other hand, is designed to be enjoyed through audio alone.
Commercial audio: communicating to sell
A podcast does not respond to the same communicative logic, to the same seductive objectives, and to the same modalities of fruition as an audio commercial. First of all, unlike a commercial which usually has a short or very short duration, the podcast can be a much longer form of content. Moreover, it is eminently a type of pull content whose commercial purpose – also in the case of branded podcasts – is absolutely lateral compared to the recreational one. If foreseen in a marketing strategy, in the planning phase it can incorporate inbound moments, but it is always born as a space of pure entertainment.
2. How to start a podcast: define the type of podcast based on your communication objectives
Another indispensable reflection on how to start a podcast, which must precede its actual production, is the type of podcast that is best suited to achieving your communication objectives. Below are the main categories (note, however, that podcasts could be attributed to more than one category, and there may be other subcategories of types).
- Journalistic podcasts: Podcasts produced by newspapers to explore a particular topic. In this case, the skills and specialist experience of journalists are brought to bear in order to recount a particular phenomenon or event in more detail and in a more narrative and less news-oriented way, sometimes using archival material or inserting contributions from several speakers.
- Educational podcasts: Podcasts that have a precise and marked educational objective, such as those on language courses or in-depth analysis of technical, scientific, or business-related topics.
- Editorial podcasts (originals): Entertainment content produced by specialized production companies. Such podcasts are similar to TV series or films because they involve the participation of qualified figures who operate according to structured production flows. They have a clear narrative dimension, offer glimpses of reality, or open up to imaginary worlds, or create involvement by staging an emotionally connoted story.
- Branded podcasts. For an in-depth discussion of branded podcasts we refer to this post. Suffice it to say that branded podcasts are created by companies for a series of commercial reasons, such as for opening a new channel to attract prospects, increase customer loyalty by differentiating the content offer, articulate the brand narrative, and launch products or product lines with innovative formulas.
3. Decide what story to tell: some requirements
So, how to start a podcast? It may seem obvious, but if we have doubts about how to start a podcast, this is an absolutely important piece of advice: deciding what story to tell is not a choice that can be made superficially or purely based on personal taste and authorial aspirations.
The topic – the historical episode, the biographical event, the global argument to be explored in its main points – must have some requirements in order to be attractive and make sense from a commercial point of view:
- It must respond to the wishes of the customer (be it a network or a company)
- It must be current, useful, and significant for a target audience. For this reason, it is fundamental to define, also through quantitative and qualitative analysis, the personal and socio-cultural characteristics of the ideal listener
- It must be integrated into a broader editorial plan, whether the client is a publisher (we can talk about a program schedule) or a brand (a marketing strategy)
- It must take into account the level of quality required by the customer and allowed by the resources available: a story that, in order to be satisfactorily told, requires extensive and prolonged research, the purchase of copyrighted material, and the participation of several speakers will not cost the same as initiatives conducted on other mediums
4. Don’t neglect the coordinated communication aspects
The graphic design and any other expressive element that can reinforce the visual identity of the podcast must be included from the beginning, in the planning stages. The podcast is at the center of a narrative and communicative ecosystem: it does not exist exclusively in its digital audio form, that is, when it is listened to in streaming or downloaded onto a device. It also exists as a visual and always brings with it a set of interactive possibilities; for this reason it is essential to think of a concept that identifies it, makes it recognizable and, above all, shareable.
Never underestimate the attractive power of the image, therefore: the cover of the podcast, for example, used for distributing it on the platforms (the thumbnail that we see in our playlists), plays a considerable role. It works with the same logic that informs the creation of editorial series: to attract the attention of the model listener and entice its consumption. Even the micro-texts accompanying the podcast are relevant to its success: the text card that provides a description of the content, just like a back cover of a book, must not simply inform about the topic or the story told, but must do so in a convincing way, and it must be optimized in terms of SEO.
How to start a podcast has therefore a lot to do with the construction of imaginary where the podcast itself can gain strength from the relationships with the elements around it and can in turn enrich the other media in play: an example of particularly effective synergy is that between podcasts and videos, which we talked about here.
5. The script: The questions you need to ask, from the subject to the script
Before developing the subject and script of the story we have decided to tell, (the script is the output that arrives in the recording studio) we must also define its formal structure. Are we thinking of a single episode? Multiple episodes with vertical development? Or a format that includes a series of horizontally developed episodes?
All of these questions are related to the considerations in point 3. Is our story capable of sustaining multiple episodes? And if so, is the available budget enough to ensure the quality we have in mind? Does the story contain so many “dense” narrative nodes as to guarantee an effective and fluid distribution of the content vertically? Or does the chosen topic allow for a single, powerful storyline that unfolds horizontally along a narrative arc?
Once these questions have been answered, we need to establish the mood, i.e. the “emotion” of the podcast, the kind of empathic reaction we expect from the listener and that can be activated thanks to a precise tone of voice and a studied sound.
6. Writing a sound story: 4 tips + 1
The time has finally come to write. Apart from the talent for storytelling that each of us possesses, a well-made and easy-to-follow podcast must have:
- A structure that repeats key narrative passages. Don’t take the importance of the narrative thread for granted, as it must hold the attention of the audience (all the more so given the type of listening that is expected, which is mobile and repeated)
- Realistic language that proceeds through images and reconstructs actions in a vivid and animated way (also thanks to audio effects to enhance the listening experience)
- Anecdotes, which serve to stimulate interest give substance to the fictional world
- Rhythm: “sound pauses,” silences, accelerations, slowdowns, suspensions, digressions.
And finally, one last suggestion: Read. Always read everything, several times, aloud and record and listen to what is written.
We need to obtain a precise but not rigid script for the voice, which will provide the necessary organization of the content, but it will also include moments of controlled improvisation such as those that inevitably happen in an interview.
7. The right people in the right place
As we said at the beginning of this post, there are still no established rules for how to start a podcast. However, there is one operation, dictated by common sense above all else, that is relevant for even professionally produced podcasts: There must be defined roles and tasks and workloads must be distributed to the people involved in the project. Here is a list:
- The author/writer of the podcast texts, which often coincides with the host (or talent), is the mind and voice behind the podcast
- The sound designer, who has operational responsibility and artistic direction over everything related to the sound, i.e. the theme song (both the opening and closing tracks), the soundtrack, the sounds, the archival inserts. Soundtracking is obviously essential to the success of a podcast, to determine its emotional atmosphere and its overall rhythm
- The editorial staff, coordinated by an editor (if the size of the project requires it) who is in charge of archival research, fact-checking, proofreading, and editing
- The editorial director, who is responsible for defining and overseeing the creative and artistic aspects of the project
- The production director, who is in charge of managing all workflows, setting and enforcing deadlines, and maintaining fluid communication between the various professionals involved; he/she is also in charge of logistical, organizational, legal, and distribution aspects (the destination of the podcast is defined on the basis of the communication strategy: listening platforms, website and other channels of the customer); he/she is in charge of defining, together with the editorial staff, the communication (preparing in advance the press kit and any media plan).
8. Audio design and production, strictly ad hoc
The audio of a successful podcast is much more than a simple narration. Emma Rodero, professor of communication at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, demonstrated in a recent study that a dramatized audio structure, perhaps with multiple speakers telling the story through dialog, the inclusion of archival sequences, and effective sound design, stimulates listeners’ imaginations more than a voice-over narration typical of, say, an audio book. Participants who listened to the dramatized structure reported that they were able to visualize vivid images more easily and more quickly, with greater intellectual and emotional investment. Again, Rodero pointed out that the sound effects also allowed for the amplification of a sense of place.
Listening to podcasts would therefore seem to offer the possibility of expanding the imagination and living a somewhat “augmented” experience. This “magic,” which is actually the fruit of skills matured through work, takes place in the recording studio where the work is done:
- the recording of the voice (or voices),
- editing, where the wrong parts are cut and the correct parts are edited, introducing pauses and cuts,
- the editing of the voice track, which is perfected in the mixing phase,
- the creation and editing of the theme songs,
- the creation of the raw mix, that is, the rough version of the podcast, not yet final, which is submitted to the judgment of the client,
- the release of the master, optimized for the various digital platforms. The final master for broadcasting, once the necessary approvals have been received, is uploaded to Spreaker and distributed on the main listening platforms.
The recording phase is crucial: in post-production we can do a lot but not everything, and if the voice recordings have defects that cannot be dealt with by editing and mixing, it may be necessary to proceed with a new session, which will increase costs and the risk of overruns.
9. Create the most narrative podcast you can
We have already said that podcasts do not convey commercial proposals but are rather narrative content, this means that the narrative and its development must be safeguarded and enhanced with events that provide the impetus, the obstacles to overcome, the characters who are engaged in their particular path of imagined life: protagonists, antagonists, helpers.
While this may sound simplistic (perhaps the most exciting podcasts are those that complicate the narrative with subplots and different points of view) we can say that the question of “how to make a podcast” has a lot to do with Propp’s famous scheme, with the equally famous hero’s journey theorized by Campbell and with the oral tradition of storytellers from all over the world and across time.
A successful podcast cannot disregard this narrative dimension; indeed, by its very constitution, due to the connecting power of the human voice, the podcast is undoubtedly a privileged format – a formidable interface for social interactions, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it. This is how to start a podcast.
10. Listen to the audience and see the results
How to start a podcast? Once the podcast has been published, its real adventure begins: if it has been well indexed, it will be visible and easily accessible to all those who have an interest in the subject matter. At this point, it will be a matter of collecting all the possible feedback from the network, and from social networks in particular: suggestions, criticism, and praise.
This is the beginning of a strategic phase, and you must record results and recalibrate based on the actual responses from the public.
In a digital age where time is the new currency of exchange, there is a growing pressure to exploit every second, especially in virtual contexts that are always incredibly crowded with messages and content. Podcasts, which are more and more an object of desire, promise to offer what is most valuable today for authors, networks, companies: attentive, aware, interested users, willing to get involved in their narratives.
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