5 Tips for Aspiring Podcasters

You might never reach Marc Maron levels of awesomeness, as when he interviewed President Obama. But you can try. Source: White House photo.

By Colin Woodward

Like so many fools out there, a few years ago I started a podcast. It’s called American Rambler and you can find it at www.americanrambler.libsyn.com. It’s also available at Spotify, Stitcher, Anchor, and other places. I am by no means a podcasting success story. Maybe more of a survivor.

We are fast approaching podcast saturation, if we are not there already. It seems everyone is doing a podcast these days, and it’s hard to be unique.

My audience is small. I don’t make any money. I have no sponsors. So why do I do it?

It’s fun. It keeps me engaged with what’s going on in the world and the history/writing/scholarly profession in which I work. And I’ve talked to some great and interesting people.

Since 2015, I have made many mistakes and learned some valuable things from podcasting. Here are five tips.

1. Get good microphones. This is the most important advice of all, and I heard it from the master himself, Marc Maron. He uses SM7 mics (Shure brand) in his home studio. These run about $300-$400 each, so if you are really serious, by all means purchase this brand.

If you are on a budget, as I am, you could use SM58s. This is another Shure mic. 58s run about $100 each. They are great, a classic “stand-up” mic that works well anywhere. While they are not as good at the SM7s, they are solid and are a good portable microphone. If you have to take your podcast on the road a lot, as I do, you can set them up easily. They also work well as hand-held mics.

A cheap microphone will cause you infuriating audio problems. Believe me. Cheap mics are not worth having. Start out with some 58s and go from there.

2. Know your recording technology. Make sure you know how to use your equipment thoroughly. Save and back up your files throughout the process. There is no worse podcasting feeling than losing a recording. I’ve done it twice. Luckily, one guest was willing to redo our talk later. The other could not, and I felt horrible about it.

For face-to-face and “monologue” recording, I use a TASCAM 8-track digital recorder. I suppose I could do everything through a laptop computer, but I like how the recordings on this machine sound. I record intros and outros on the TASCAM, download the file, then edit on my PC.

My eight-track recorder and mic setup.

For editing, I use Audacity, a free program you can download online. Marc Maron says he’s used Garage Band in the past, but he doesn’t edit his recordings (his producer, Brendan McDonald does that for him).

Audacity is fairly intuitive. I keep learning, from YouTube or accidents. Writing, hosting, editing, and producing your own podcast is a constant learning process. You will screw up, and sometimes it’s in embarrassing ways.

For internet interviews, I use Zencastr. The sound quality is good, but for a while, Zencastr had issues with call drops. The company has since fixed that problem. I haven’t had a drop, thankfully, in a long time.

But just the other day, I had a problem downloading a file on Zencastr. I had to call my guest and ask him to download his portion of the interview on his computer and then email it to me. This proved successful, but I spent a stressful 24 hours thinking I had lost most of the file and that my guest thought I was an idiot.

For me, the most frustrating aspect of podcasting has been technical. I’ve been happy with my guests. I’ve been happy with the content. I have often been very unhappy with how the podcast has sounded.

No one wants to listen to a shitty sounding podcast. It doesn’t matter if your guests this month are Jesus, Hitler, and John Lennon. If it sounds terrible, listeners will tune out. And you might have lost that listener forever.

3. Make social media your friend. We all have a love-hate relationship with social media. It’s not always a great idea to get into a shouting match online with someone about Trump, immigration, or which Star Wars movie is the best one. But social media was meant for self-promotion. Until you become Marc Maron, Joe Rogan, or Ira Glass, you will likely only have social media to promote your podcast. Use all the platforms you can, especially Twitter and Facebook.

Unfortunately, Instagram isn’t as good for promoting a podcast. It’s not link-and-share-friendly the way Twitter and Facebook are. But Instagram is good because people use it now as a refuge from other, anger-filled platforms.

Almost all the podcasts I listen to arrived to me via social media or word of mouth. Many of my American Rambler guests are people I’ve never met, but who are internet savvy or accessible online.

Want lots of downloads? Go after people who have a good social media presence.

4. Thinking about a “big time” guest? Go for it! If you are relatively unknown, it’s going to be difficult to get guests “above your pay grade.” That said, don’t be shy about going after anyone you think might be a good fit for your show.

When it comes to saying “yes,” I haven’t seen any correlation between the “famous” and not-so-famous guests I’ve hosted. In fact, better known guests might be more receptive. They like to talk and promote themselves. They know how interviews work. They aren’t shy. And while it may seem difficult to accept that some people are altruistic, they also might want to do you a favor. Just to be nice.

However, when trying to get a “celebrity” guest, know how best to approach him/her. For some people, an email or Twitter message is fine. An established writer, musician, or entertainer might have a publicist. If so, go through the publicist. Eventually, you might get personal contact info. But don’t assume a guy with 1 million twitter followers will respond. An agent or publicist will, however.

Be patient. People are busy. They might have no idea who you are and aren’t going to be in a hurry to get back to you. If you are in effect “cold calling,” introduce yourself in a professional way. Give them info, but not too much.

It’s a balancing act. Don’t assume most people know who you are or care about what you do. And yet, too much detail about yourself might be off-putting. Try to hook your guest and provide more details later.

5. Be consistent. Most important of all, have consistently good sound and content. Choose a catchy name for your podcast and stay with your brand.

If you are serious about your podcast, have a schedule. Determine early on how often you can do your show. Twice a month? Then broadcast on the 1st or the 15th. Make it like payday. Are you a prolific podcaster who can post once or even twice a week? Pick a day and time and stick to it. Your listeners will appreciate it.

Most people are normal humans with day jobs. They can’t post twice a week as Marc Maron or Gilbert Gottfried do. But try to maintain a schedule. Long lapses in posting a new episode might give the impression you have stopped. Most people stop early on. Most podcasts don’t get beyond 6 or 7 episodes.

In conclusion: have fun. As a podcaster, be prepared to be an army of one. Even successful podcasts make little or no money. And even those that make far more money than you do aren’t successful enough to be a full-time job for the host/s.

Learn from your podcast. Treat it like stand-up comedy or some other kind of performance. Don’t be afraid to be a clown. Do schtick. Be dumb sometimes. Be brave. Improve.

It’s your podcast. You have total freedom over it. Remember, creative people have been putting out free content since forever. If you are in it for the money, you might be seriously disappointed in your results and get discouraged.

Have fun and your listeners will, too. Even if there are only 40 of them.

Good luck, and enjoy the work.


Colin Woodward is a historian and podcaster based in Richmond, Virginia. He is author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He is working on a book on Johnny Cash.


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