There’s a lot that goes into making a great podcast beyond pressing record and rambling for a while before hitting the upload button. This is our all-encompassing guide to producing a podcast from start to finish. If you want to know how to produce a successful podcast that stands out from the competition, I’m going to show you everything we’ve learned from all our clients’ launches and those of some of the industry’s most popular shows..
We’re going to talk about choosing a name and artwork, planning your topics, getting the most out of your guests, creating a narrative and cleaning up the sound in the editing and post-production stages, how and where to host and distribute your podcast, and a lot more.
If you’ve ever thought about creating your own podcast and weren’t sure where to start, the answer is right here. You can DIY the whole process, or hire professionals to help with every stage. How much it costs to produce a podcast will depend on how much you’re able to do yourself and how professional you want it to sound.
We cover some aspects more in-depth than others, but we’ll touch on everything that’s important so you’ll be well on your way. Make sure you grab the checklist we’ve put together to accompany this guide because we’ve compiled everything into one short document that you can use as a reference.
Here’s how to produce your own podcast from start to finish, including a lot of things that you might not have thought about at first.
The easiest way to produce a podcast
The easiest way to produce a podcast is by investing some time into planning ahead. You need to plan who you’re going to talk to, what you’re going to talk about, and where you’re going to find listeners from. Having at least a rough idea is essential to producing a conversation that provides value for your listeners and helps ensure that you’re able to edit the finished product into something cohesive.
But to create something that’s truly exceptional and that stands out from the other ‘easy’ to make podcasts, a much more detailed process of researching, planning, scripting and editing is needed. Which is not easy at all, but totally achievable if you’re willing to put in the work.
Before you record: podcast strategy and planning
Planning your podcast means a lot more than simply coming up with topics for your first 20 or 30 episodes. It goes beyond designing a nice logo, coming up with a catchy intro, or booking a few guests. All of these things are important, but they aren’t everything.
The first thing to decide is what exactly your podcast will be, and what it will be about. Some podcasts begin as a cool idea and then they try to figure out who would be interested in listening to it. Instead, we recommend finding a problem and solving it. Find an audience that’s hungry for content, and produce the best content for them.
You should already be thinking about how you’ll promote your show when you’re in the planning stages. Your plans for promotion should help inform how you’re planning the content so that you aren’t just speaking into a void.
Next, you’ll want to choose a format for your show. Will it be a traditional interview format, a monologue, a narrative show, a magazine format with different topics? A mixture? Will it be recorded in front of a live audience, or in the studio with heavier editing?
How long should a podcast be?
Asking how long a podcast should be is like asking how long should a song or a novel be. The perfect length for a podcast is for it to be exactly as long as it needs to be: but not a second longer.
Some podcasts last for hours if they’re a casual conversation between interesting people who can keep an audience engaged for that long, but most of the time, informative podcasts aren’t as lengthy. The average commute in America is about 25 minutes (which also happens to be the length of a regular TV show), so that’s a good starting point for your podcast.
If your show’s goal is to entertain, then longer form can work. If you’re looking to reach people when they’re working out, then what’s the average time they spend doing that and how can you fit into the routine? If you’re planning to make a daily news show for your industry, then a 5-10 minute briefing is probably enough to give your audience what they’re looking for. Again, it’s about knowing your listener well and creating the best possible content for them.
You can always trim down an episode in the editing process but planning ahead and knowing how much time you have to fill is beneficial to creating the skeleton of your episode. It’s very difficult to hold someone’s attention for an hour or longer, so don’t be afraid to trim things down - in fact, try to - or split topics into multiple episodes.
If your audience is hungry for longer episodes, you’ll start to learn this through feedback and analytics and can respond to that. Our clients primarily release business podcasts, so keeping it short and sweet and respecting the listener’s time is the best approach 9 times out of 10.
Writing, scripting, and pre-production is how to produce a good podcast
When it comes to writing and scripting your podcast, a little bit of preparation can go a long way.
Having a clear idea of what story you want to draw from your guest ahead of time is key to getting a good interview. But be careful not to script things too heavily or you’ll risk sounding stiff or dry. A good way to ensure the conversation flows naturally, but still in the direction you want it to, is to use bullet points to give yourself a roadmap rather than scripting out questions and reading them verbatim.
It’s a double-edged sword. People don’t want to hear you just reading a script, but they also want something that’s tight, compelling, and respects their time. It’s very possible to find the right balance, but it takes a conscious effort.
If you’re having a guest on your show, you need to research them. Ideally, listen to their other interviews, too. At least some of their audience will follow them over to your podcast, so if you’re doing a better job than other interviewers, their audience will notice and be more likely to stick around when you’re talking to other people, too. In fact, just this simple step of spending a couple of hours learning about your subject and the value they can offer your audience, and planning your questions carefully, can elevate your show above a large portion of the competition.
Researching your guest gives you an opportunity to find stuff to ask them about that isn’t on their Wikipedia page, or in their own bio. This serves a number of purposes. It helps engage your guest and shows them that you’ve put in the work, it creates a more interesting and engaging product for your listeners, and it will help you land more guests down the road.
Planning and writing a rough script or outline of how you want the conversation to flow helps ensure you’re able to carve out the most compelling path of conversation. You should already know what 90% of their answers are going to be, especially if it’s stuff they’ve talked about before, so this gives you a chance to find new and interesting angles around their standard answers.
There will be times where the conversation veers off from what you’ve planned, especially since your guests won’t see your outline. That’s okay, that’s what the editing stage is for. Some stories and tangents are worth keeping in, others should be cut out because they aren’t beneficial, they don’t add anything, and they interrupt the flow of the narrative you’re crafting with your guest.
How does your podcast fit into your other marketing?
Something to keep in mind with your business podcast is how it will fit in with your brand identity and your other marketing plans. What opportunities are there for you to promote your products or services in your podcast, especially in organic ways? If the goal of your podcast is to grow your business, this needs to be a front and center consideration during the planning process.
In addition to that, your podcast is a great source of content to promote across your other platforms, for example your social media pages. It’s best if you can come up with ways to repurpose the content or parts of it specific to each platform instead of just doing a lazy cross-post. Native content will always perform better and people on different platforms are looking for different things (a LinkedIn user is not looking for the same thing as someone on Instagram, for example). So using the same marketing across all of them isn’t ideal.
If you’re producing your podcast as more of a stand-alone thing and not as a vehicle to promote and grow another business, you don’t really need to consider how it will synergize and intertwine with the rest of your brand. That said, if you’re looking to grow your audience, it’s good to think about how you can take advantage of the fact that the types of posts that perform well on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Instagram vary quite a bit from one another.
The brand, aesthetic, and feel of your podcast plays into every choice you make. Keep the big picture in mind, even when you’re dealing with countless little details.
Naming your podcast
Choosing a name for your podcast can feel daunting. You might seem like you need to come up with the perfect pun, or something so brilliantly clever that people won’t be able to resist giving it a listen, but that’s not necessarily true. A short, descriptive, relevant and interesting name is going to be your best bet. A way for a potential listener to scan it in a list of results and say ‘this is the podcast I am looking for.’
Creating a word bank is a good place to start. What’s your podcast about, what are some elements from your personal and business philosophy that guide you, what are you buzzwords in your industry? Some of the big podcasts have very irreverent names, but they’re in a different world than a small-to-medium sized business podcast with a very targeted audience.
With your word bank, try putting together different combinations of words and see if anything has a nice ring to it. We recommend making a shortlist, then checking if any of the names are already being used by an active podcast by searching through some podcast directories and Google. Scratch off anything that’s already being used, and don’t be afraid to take a few days to let the other names simmer a bit. When you revisit the list after a bit of time, do any of them pop out?
You could always ask friends and family which name they prefer, but keep in mind that they aren’t your target audience, they don’t understand your niche or business as well as you do, and they don’t necessarily know what’s best. They may notice problems with a name that didn’t cross your mind, but don’t let other people’s opinions be the determining factor - you’re the one that’s going to live with this name for years to come so you’ve got to like it, and it’s got to be appealing to your target audience.
A name that can inspire curiosity is great. How’s it going to look to potential listeners that are scrolling through podcast directories? Speaking of appearances, here’s another very important part of capturing people’s attention…
Thoughts about creating podcast artwork
The artwork for any given podcast can run the gamut between iconic and forgettable. Ideally, you want something that’s going to catch people's attention and stand out a bit. It should look good at larger sizes on desktops, but also on smaller screens like cell phones or even an Apple Watch. It helps if it is instantly recognizable and stands out among other podcasts.
You don’t need a huge budget or to hire a world-class artist to create your podcast art. If you’re even semi-handy with Photoshop or Illustrator, or other graphic design software, you can put together something simple but effective.
A solid background color with text overtop is surprisingly common style of artwork. Going with a more standard design like that means your artwork might not pop as well, but when so many of the top podcasts in each category are doing something similar, you don’t need to be the one who reinvents the wheel.
Beyond aesthetic considerations, there are some guidelines to keep in mind for Apple Podcasts. Your artwork should be a minimum of 1400x1400 pixels (and 3000 x 3000 with 72 dpi to be eligible for being featured, so we recommend that.)
Beyond that, your artwork shouldn’t reference anything explicit, make references to drugs or anything illegal, not contain anything that could be construed as racist, misogynist, or homophobic, contain any trademarks that you don’t have permission to use, nor should it contain any mentions of “Apple Inc.”, “iTunes”, or “iTunes Store”. You can’t use the Apple logo, nor mention the word “exclusive” (unless you have prior permission from Apple.)
In other words, keep it family-friendly and in good taste, and don’t make it look like Apple is endorsing your podcast or your content, and you should be all good.
Hiring an artist
You can find talented graphic designers on Twitter, Behance, DeviantArt, and micro job sites like Fiverr and Upwork. Even if you don’t have a big budget, there are still a lot of designers who are willing to deliver incredible work for a totally fair price. Alternatively, if your budget is very constrained, you can also find plenty of “good enough” design work for a lower budget. The end result will depend a lot on how much time you take to find the right designer, what your budget is, and how much you want them to re-create your vision vs. giving them the freedom to do their thing.
You can end up paying a low price for something you love, or a high price for something you hate, there isn’t really a set-in-stone way to go about getting the best designers and there’s definitely some patience and trial and error involved.
Don’t leave this until the last minute, because it’s one of those things that can end up dragging on longer than you’d hope to and you don’t want to be stuck waiting for the artwork when you’re ready to upload your first episode.
Choose your music & audio branding
The music or sound effects that play at the start of your podcast and any additional sound design are part of your audio branding, and can really set the tone so it’s important to think about what you’re trying to portray to listeners.
Simple little sounds and jingles can easily imprint themselves in our minds. Advertisers have understood this for a long time, but it goes beyond a little ditty in a commercial. Think about sounds like the Windows startup sound, or the MGM roar, etc. Here’s more information about audio branding.
Recording a podcast
After planning out the look and feel of your podcast, it’s time to get to the actual content. You can have the flashiest graphics and the most clever name and you can have world-class marketing, but if the content itself is bad - your podcast won’t take off.
There is a ton you can do in post-production to fix problems in your audio (like loud background noise, echo or reverb, buzzes or clicks), but by far the biggest impact you can have on the end product is by getting a quality recording in the first place.
You don’t need a super expensive and fancy microphone to get a great recording. There are some small things you can do, even with a modest mic, that will have a huge influence on the end result.
5 tips to improve your recording quality
- Find a quiet room with lots of soft furnishings to absorb the sound - bedrooms are great places to record, but reverberative boardrooms can be a nightmare
- Always use headphones when you’re recording
- Keep your mouth about six inches (or a fist’s length) away from the mic
- Use a pop-filter between the mic and your mouth
- Eliminate background noises like fans and air conditioners, close your windows - physical ones, and those in your browser - and turn your phone to silent
Location, location, location
The one thing that will have the largest influence on your final recording is the recording environment. Assuming your mic is decent and you follow all of the above tips, you’re in pretty good shape, but if you’re recording in a poor environment, the best mic and editing in the world won’t be able to save your work.
A quiet environment is essential, but it goes beyond that. A silent, empty room like a basement isn’t necessarily ideal, because the soundwaves have a lot of space to bounce off the walls and echo around the room. A studio that’s been sound- treated is better than an empty room, but a hotel room or a bedroom with furniture to absorb the bouncing sound waves is also better than an empty conference room.
As for podcast recording software, we’ll be covering some popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) in the editing section of this guide. You can record with the same software you’re using to edit to streamline the process, or you can import your audio file into a DAW if you’ve recorded it on a stand-alone device like a Zoom or a phone. Or if you plan to record podcasts remotely, we recommend using Squad
Recording a trailer episode
There are a few reasons to record a trailer episode, even if you don’t have everything else perfectly fleshed out yet. For starters, it gives you a bit of a trial run before the stakes are higher. It gives you an opportunity to let your listeners know what your show is all about. Your trailer episode also allows you to start the promotion process so that you’ll have a few ears waiting when you’re ready to release more episodes.
Your trailer gives people an anchor to subscribe to in the meantime by giving you some audio for your feed, which allows you to submit your show to various podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and elsewhere.
Your trailer episode should be short and sweet - 1-2 minutes is plenty - and be an introduction to what your new podcast is going to deliver. It’s your opportunity to set the tone for your show, set expectations, and get listeners excited to tune in.
None of these decisions is written in stone, you’re free to make adjustments to anything that isn’t working. There’s a balance between stick to it and making it work, and realizing when something could be done in a better way. The purpose of planning is to establish a vision and to find the best path towards achieving it.
Editing your podcast
Once you’ve got your podcast planned out and you’ve got your first episode recorded, it’s time to edit it.
There are two kinds of editing that you’ll be undertaking. The first is content editing, which is choosing what to keep and what to cut. It means taking the audio you have available, and deciding how to craft a narrative from it. The second kind of editing is the physical process of editing the audio, cleaning up any background noise, and so forth. Here’s a little more information about both…
Content editing: If you planned out your interview or conversation with a guest, you will have already had a narrative in mind so it’s just a matter of trimming out excess content and putting a pretty bow on everything. If there are any tangents that don’t add to the mission of your episode, chop them away. Be ruthless about it, and remember what we covered regarding the proper length for a podcast.
Physical editing: Use the first kind of editing, content editing, to inform the physical editing process. It helps to listen through the entire episode, that’s the only way to truly know how well it’s flowing. Take note of things like an airplane in the background, or a phone ringing, or an ambulance, a cough, or anything else that should be edited out as you listen through. Write down the timestamps, so you can quickly hop in and edit them without interrupting your first listen-through.
You’ll need a digital audio workstation, or a DAW, to edit your podcast. This is a type of software whose name perfectly describes what it is. You can record directly into your DAW, or import the files if they were recorded elsewhere.
Comparing popular DAWs
There are a few tiers of digital audio workstations to choose from…
Audacity: This one gets recommended all the time, but it’s a destructive editor (meaning edits you make to your recordings are committed to the audio files, making going back and making amendments tricky) and it’s not ideal in our opinion.
GarageBand: If you’ve got a Mac, then GarageBand will serve you much, much better than Audacity in the free tier, but does have its limitations.
Hindenberg is a great choice for those who want something that’s fully capable, better than the free options, but still affordable. It’s simple enough to learn, and powerful enough to be a part of your workflow for years to come.
Pro Tools: We use Pro Tools, it’s the industry standard but it doesn’t come cheap. Pro Tools is a favorite among audio engineers and professionals. It’s overkill for hobbyists or people who are going the DIY route as it can take some time to learn and there are a bunch of features that would be unnecessary.
Reaper is another popular option for professional podcast producers and is a much cheaper option than Pro Tools with a similar learning curve.
Others: Adobe Audition, Logic Pro X, Ableton are just a few of the other very capable options out there.
Hiring a podcast editor
If you would rather hit record, do your thing, and then send it off to have a professional take care of your podcast editing, we’re here to help you. Reach out to us to discuss what you have in mind for your podcast, and we can tell you what’s involved in working with us to edit, promote, and grow your podcast.
There are a ton of freelancers out there who can help, too, if you’re happy to spend the time finding, vetting, and interviewing quality candidates.
Mixing and mastering
After your initial editing process, it’s time to mix and master your audio. You’ve got the story that you wanted to tell in place, you’ve created a compelling narrative and done all the preparation to ensure your interview brought out the best in your guest, now it’s time to make it sound great.
Mixing means taking the individual tracks and ensuring that the volume levels are consistent throughout, that there isn’t too much bass in anyone’s voice, harsh sibilance, and that the narrative flows naturally, sitting well over your music and sound design. It’s putting together the puzzle pieces of the various tracks.
The mixing process ensures that the tonal characteristics are the same throughout. When you have multiple people talking with multiple microphones, it can end up sounding like they aren’t even in the same room if you aren’t careful. Beyond that, sometimes they aren’t in the same room when recording, which makes it even more important to mix and balance everything.
If you’re using music or any other sounds throughout your episode, you’ll want to ensure they’re sitting comfortably in the mix and not too quiet while also not overpowering the voices. If you have a sponsor read that you’re inserting, it should also be mixed to the same levels as the rest of the recording.
Mixing involves a series of adjustments that include EQ, compression, limiting, gating, noise reduction and more, with a focus on EQ and compression.
EQ means adjusting the various audio frequencies in your recording, and ensuring none of them are too overbearing. For example, if your microphone has picked up too much of the higher or lower frequencies, this is where you can fix that to make everything sound more natural.
Compression is the range between the quietest parts of the recording and the loudest parts. It ensures that your listener doesn’t have to ride the volume dial. If you’ve ever watched a movie at night on a lower volume where you can barely hear it when the characters are whispering, but you have to turn it down when there’s an explosion, that’s because movies aren’t mixed to be watched at low volumes, so there’s a wider range of compression. With a podcast, you don’t want such a wide range of volume levels.
Mastering means fixing things on a macro level, as a whole. Once all of the individual tracks are mixed to sound good together, mastering is the final touch that brings it all together and ensures that the sounds are the same all the way through, rather than jumping all over the place which can happen when you’re mixing together numerous tracks, especially with multiple voices.
A few notes on loudness
LUFS stands for loudness units relative to full scale. These are guidelines that help determine the proper default volume levels for various types of media. Have you ever noticed that you’ll be watching TV, and then all of a sudden a commercial will come on and the sound is blaring?
The industry standard is -16 LUFS for podcasting, in part because that is what Apple Podcasts demands. This means that podcasts are louder than typical television and radio shows, which are -24 LUFS. A higher number means the audio will be louder, so podcasts are typically louder than TV and radio.
If someone is listening to another podcast, and then flips over to yours, you don’t want it to be overly quiet or overly loud, so sticking to a standard reference point helps to ensure you’re in line with the volume that people will expect to hear, and not have to adjust their volume settings.
After everything is on point, you can export your podcast to a high-quality mp3 file which you’ll upload to your podcast hosting service for distribution far and wide across the internet.
Hosting and distributing your podcast
Transistor.fm is one of our favorite places to host a podcast. It’s easy to set up a new show on their platform or to import an existing one. It’s just a matter of filling in some information about your show (Title, description, copyright information, keywords, your website, language, etc.)
During the set-up process, you can also enable podcast analytics, which is essential for understanding your audience and their behavior.
You’ll upload your podcast artwork, too.
After creating your show, you need to upload your first episode, and then you can explore the rest of their tools. Transistor has their own embeddable podcast player that you can use on your blog or website, they allow you to manage multiple team members, and they also help you distribute your podcast across the biggest platforms (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, Castro, Overcast, and more.)
Using a distribution service like this makes life a lot easier than trying to manually add your podcast to each platform. If you’re already hosting your podcast somewhere else, you can import it into Transistor.
Promoting your podcast
After all of the hard work you’ve put in up to this point, it would be a real shame if your podcast didn’t reach as many people as possible. Remember at the very start when you thought about your target audience and filling in the void of whatever they’re looking for? Now’s the time to get your podcast in front of them.
It’s not a matter of promoting it to as many people as possible, it’s a matter of promoting to the correct people. You want to get your episodes in front of the listeners who are already in search of the content that you’re creating. For example, if your podcast is about running a restaurant, then promoting it to foodies probably isn’t specific enough.
We’ve covered this much more in-depth, so check out our guide to promoting a podcast. Below, you’ll find a very brief overview of some of the main topics, but we strongly suggest taking a deeper dive when you get to this stage of the process.
- Leveraging your guests: By encouraging your guests to promote their appearance on your podcast to their audience, you’ll tap into a bunch of potential new listeners. Many guests will do this on their own, and booking guests with larger followings will gain you greater exposure.
- Guesting on other podcasts: Another great way to get yourself in front of a new audience. A portion of the other podcast’s listeners will be interested in hearing more from you.
- Partnerships: Find other podcasts in your niche to do cross-promotions with and shout out each other’s shows to your listeners.
There are 1001 other ways to promote your podcast, with some trial and error you’ll find out which ones give you the biggest bump for your particular audience.
What’s next? keep working at it!
There’s always room for improvement. As you’ve seen by now, the whole process of producing a podcast can be very involved. With so many different skills to learn, it’s going to be quite a while before you master most of them.
Look at any of the top podcasts today. Most of them have been at it for years and years. It’s a fun exercise to go back and listen to some of their very first episodes and compare that to their current episodes.
Joe Rogan started off podcasting from a webcam in his home, and now he has a massive compound with an archery range, a gym, and a professional studio. Not every podcast has that same trajectory, but you would be hard-pressed to find one that hasn’t improved drastically from their earlier episodes.
It’s an on-going process. There’s always more to learn, there’s always stuff to improve. This can be a double-edged sword because it can stop some people from launching their podcast until everything is perfect, but the truth is that it’ll never be perfect and that’s okay. Get something out there, see what you could do better, and constantly improve.
What if you aren’t sure what to work on?
When you’ve been working on the same project for a while, you can start to develop a blindspot towards it. You’re so used to seeing and hearing it that you can’t always tell what needs work. Asking for feedback (not just asking for reviews!) can be super beneficial.
You could set up a temporary email address and solicit feedback. Letting your audience know that you’ll do your best to respond to as many of them as possible can be good encouragement. The people who listen to your podcast are probably going to notice a lot of little things that you hadn’t even considered. Now, it’s time to take the step from asking “How do I produce a podcast?” to putting your work out there for the world to hear.
Here are some helpful resources to continue improving your podcast:
- How to record a podcast remotely
- How to grow your podcast audience