Wait! Before you press the big publish button—are you really ready to go? There are so many details to get right before you release the first episode of your podcast. Get the skinny on how to set your show up for success with pre-launch market research; stirring up buzz with social media; making your podcast accessible for all listeners; and taking care of business as you set up your team.
Whether you’re planning to launch a new show, or want to make sure your existing podcasts are ready to grow to new heights, you’ll walk away from this playback of our PodCon 2019 workshop with resources and checklists to make your life easier and your show better.
Amanda McLoughlin, founder of Multitude and co-host of Spirits (@shessomickey)
Elena Fernández-Collins, podcast critic (@shomarq)
Eric Schneider, co-host and editor of Spirits (@ImEricSchneider)
Eric Silver, DM of Join the Party + co-host and editor of HORSE (@el_silvero)
Julia Schifini, co-host of Spirits (@JuliaSchifini)
Mike Schubert, host and editor of Potterless + co-host of HORSE (@Schubes17)
This workshop was adapted from an article by Amanda McLoughlin. Read the article below, or access it here.
More Pre-Pro, Less Problems: A Comprehensive Guide to Podcast Pre-Production
You want to start a podcast? Great, welcome to the club. There have never been more podcasters, podcast listeners, or opportunities to collaborate than there are now. That also means it’s up to all of us to make the best show possible.
Before you start the hard and exciting work of pre-producing your show, ask yourself: Why? Why are you making a podcast? Why are you making THIS podcast? Having a unique voice is a good reason to start a podcast. Wanting to explore a new topic, learn a new skill, or share something you love is a good reason, too. Telling a compelling story to the best of your ability is an amazing reason.
Whatever your reasons, you need to figure out how to put your best foot forward. So, where do you start?
Doing Your Research
Loving a thing is a necessary prerequisite to making that thing. Authors always tell aspiring writers to read. Chefs advise up-and-coming cooks to taste, travel and dine out. Aspiring audio makers should listen to a lot of audio!
Thoughtful listening and good notes will help you make informed choices about your own work. So before you start a podcast, take some time to do market research. Become an expert in the podcast genres you’re joining. Listen to shows that cover similar subjects or share a similar format, as well as shows that you love but might not map directly onto your idea. Take notes as you do using this handy worksheet.
As you listen to one or two episodes of each show, ask yourself:
How does this podcast describe itself? Do you agree, or would you describe it differently?
Who do you think is this podcast’s target audience? It is never “everyone.” Be specific.
What does the show’s artwork say (and not say) about the show? What did you expect the show to be like based on the art — and how did that compare to actually listening?
How long is each episode? How much does length vary between episodes, or how has it changed over the lifespan of the show?
How frequently do episodes come out, and how has that changed over the lifespan of the show?
How does the show sound? How is it edited? How do they use music, silence, or soundscaping?
What moments grabbed your attention? When did you find yourself zoning out? (Pay attention to your attention!)
What social media platforms is the show on? What posts are the most popular, and why do you think that is? What does that say about the show’s target audience?
If you met this show’s team at a party, what would you ask?
Your market research should answer one simple question: How are you different? Don’t assume that Just Being Better is enough to make you different from other shows with similar subject matter. Find your own approach. Maybe it’s your voice, your structure, or special access to people and places. Think of what makes you unique and what lens you can bring to your subject that doesn’t already exist in your niche.
Note that you are not asking, ‘How am I going to crush my competition?’. Shows like yours are colleagues, not competition. If you don’t have the patience or desire to listen to a lot of shows in your genre, you might need to reconsider your game plan. Building relationships with fellow podcasters is the best way to grow your show, so make sure that your new community is one you really love.
The Fun/Not So Fun Part: Naming and Designing Your Show
After you get the lay of the land with your research, it’s time to figure out the shape of your show. Now is the time to choose the name, structure, aesthetic, and tone of your podcast — though not necessarily in that order. Sometimes, a great show idea comes from the title. Other times, it’s a shower thought that evolves into a one-sentence pitch. Proceed in whatever order makes sense to you!
Writing a Show Summary
I like to start by whittling an amorphous idea into a really good show summary. Eric Nuzum gave a fantastic presentation on how to create a ten-word pitch for your show at the 2016 Third Coast conference, which you can listen to here. Every single person with a new or existing podcast should listen to this session, take part in the exercise, and work on your pitch until it’s something you’re really proud of.
Finding a Title
A good podcast title is:
Easy to spell. People will be recommending your show by word of mouth, so having an easily spellable show name is a must. You’ll also be telling listeners where to find your show on social media using your voice. If you have to spell out your Twitter handle or Instagram username each time, you will have a harder time building your community.
Easy to understand. Your podcast title needs to tell people what your show is about. I love a good pun, don’t get me wrong — but it must be informational, not just clever, to earn a place in your podcast title. Also? Try not to use “pod” or “cast.”
Unique. Search for your name ideas on Google and Apple Podcasts. Does another show exist with the same name? Is there a well-known show with a similar enough name to cause confusion? Does this name belong to something that isn’t a podcast but will dominate your Google results?
Available. Once you have a unique, pronounceable, and spellable name, find a version to use on social media and in your domain name. This is where “Pod,” “Podcast” or “Show” might come in handy — for example, The Allusionist is @AllusionistShow on Twitter, Spirits is @SpiritsPodcast, and Potterless is @PotterlessPod. NameChk.com is a great tool for checking the availability of names across tons of different social media sites. Whatever variation you choose, stick with it. Get the same name across every social media platform, and the domain name to boot (jointhepartypodcast.com redirects to jointhepartypod.com, which is our main site and our handle on all social media).
Creating Your Artwork
If you’re going to spend money on your podcast, spend the first $85 on a microphone. Spend every other dollar you have on your show art, ideally $250-$1,000. You can buy a logo for $25 on freelance websites, but that doesn’t mean you should — eye-catching cover art that tells would-be listeners something about your show’s tone, subject matter and point of view is worth way more than you’ll pay for it. Click here for some great advice on finding and working with designers from Allyson Wakeman, the incredible designer behind many Multitude shows.
Structuring Your Show
You might be thinking, “What do you mean, structure? I’ll talk for a bit and then edit a bit, and boom, you have a podcast!” Oh, my sweet summer child. Now is the time to put a lot of thought into how your show will be structured.
Who will host the show? Will there be co-hosts, guests, or other people on the show? How often?
How long will each episode be? How frequently will you post, and on what day of the week?
How will you open each episode? (Check out some great ideas from Wil Williams!)
What will you say in your introductions and/or credits? Will you jump into the action and save housekeeping for the end, or share announcements and shout-outs before the episode proper?
Will you have recurring segments? What are their names?
Designing Your Metadata
You record, edit, re-edit, and lovingly mix your episode. You go to upload episode one… and realize you have no idea what to title it. Reader, it happened to me. Before you find yourself in that situation, open up your podcast planning document and figure out what your show’s metadata will look like. Trust me, this will make your life a lot easier when it’s time to actually post an episode!
How will you title each episode? What information will your title include to help listeners understand what they’re about to hear? Do you need episode numbers, or can you omit them in favor of more useful information?
What will you include in each episode description? How will the beginning of that description compel a listener to press play? What information will your audience want while listening that you can include? (A great guide to podcast metadata is here)
How will you post episodes on your website? Can you include more information, links, and multimedia to enrich the listening experience for web users?
Where will you host episode transcripts? (Learn how to make good ones here!)
Meeting With Your Team
Communication is everything when you’re working with a team, especially one made up of your friends. This is the time to set aside several hours and make some decisions about your podcast, your process, and each of your goals for the show. This agenda template may look a little intimidating, but trust me when I say it’s a lot easier to decide these things up front than to do so on the fly once your show is already public.
Recording Your Pilot
All right! You have a name, a summary, some idea of your show’s structure, and artwork (or design concepts). Now it’s time to get your microphone set up and record your pilot episode!
Note that I said “pilot,” not episode one. This is a test episode. It’s your chance to test your hypothesis about how your show should sound. Record it and, after a day or two, edit together a rough draft. Send it to your team members and ask everyone to take notes while they listen. Pay attention to the ideas on the Research Worksheet: How do you feel when listening? When does your attention wander? Do the length and pacing feel right?
Convene with your team to discuss your notes. Decide what you want to change, then set a date to re-record your pilot. With the knowledge you gained from the first round, your recording will likely be smoother and smarter. Even if your first recording ends up being better, the second recording will teach you what makes a great episode. You might learn that spontaneity, freshness, or improvisation is crucial to making the best version of your show that you can. Even if your podcast involves current events or other time-sensitive subjects, go on and re-record. I promise you’ll learn something.
Edit the second version of your pilot (or re-edit the first recording if it was better!), then send your draft to some trusted friends. Ask for their honest feedback, perhaps following these guidelines, and prepare yourself to hear it. You may be antsy to get the episode done, or feel hurt that your first attempt wasn’t flawless. That’s all right. Lean on your team and support system to motivate and reassure you. Take breaks when you need it. And keep your eyes on the prize: making the best podcast you can.
Time is the secret ingredient of the pilot process. The allure of just publishing the dang thing is strong, but it’s worth taking a little extra time to make the very best episode you can. First episodes are incredibly important — not just for getting your first batch of listeners, but for everyone who will find your show later in its lifetime. Podcast listeners love to start from the beginning of a show and catch up, so your first episode is going to remain relevant and listened to for years to come.
Podcasts Just Gotta Have Websites
First off: it’s worth having a good website. I promise. It helps reviewers, improves your SEO, and makes you look professional. Just look at these stellar examples: Side Hustle Pro, Historical Hotties, and Nancy.
If you can afford to hire a web designer, do it. After a real mic and a stellar logo, your website is your most important resource. If you’re working on a very lean budget, reach out to your network. Are there any designers willing to work at a discounted or free rate while they build their portfolio? Do you know anyone with moderately good web skills who could help out in the meantime?
If you don’t know any web wizards, don’t fear. There are a ton of drag-and-drop website hosting companies these days, most of which are highly visual. Let your (hopefully gorgeous!) podcast artwork do the heavy lifting and err on the side of simplicity.
Be sure to include the following on your site:
About page. One glance at your site should answer the question, “What is this show?” Help people understand the subject matter, frequency, and tone of your podcast. Give some information on how the show came to be, who your team members are, and where visitors can find more of your creations.
Episodes. Allow people to listen to your episodes on your website! For every new episode, create a blog post or page with an embedded player, a nicely formatted episode description, and your episode transcript. Well-formatted and multimedia-rich blog posts are perfect for sharing on social media and marketing your show to new listeners! (Not all podcast hosts have great web players, so consider using RadioPublic’s embed player, which work for any podcast on any hosting platform.)
Press kit. People will go to your website looking for ways to get into or share your show — so make it easy for them! Find everything you need to know about creating a press kit in this guide.
It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Launch Day
Your pre-production journey is almost to a close! Here are your final steps before launching your show.
Create a Trailer
As you’re finalizing your first few episodes, build in some time to cut together a trailer to include in your podcast feed, on your website, and on social media. This is your show’s first impression! Give potential listeners a good idea of what to expect if they subscribe, from subject matter to tone, voice, approach, and style. Your show description is a good jumping-off point for your trailer script, as well as moments of particularly strong energy and personality from your first few recordings. More information on making a great trailer available here.
Decide When to Publish
You don’t have to launch your show at 11 PM the night you finish editing the first episode. Instead, choose a date several weeks in advance and start to build hype. That might include:
Submitting your show’s RSS feed to all the players you can find—not just Apple Podcasts. Some are approved instantly, while others take up to two weeks to go live. Plan ahead!
Teasing content on social media. (Episode three of Tuned In Dialed Upincludes a discussion of great podcast social media campaigns!)
Submitting your show to RadioPublic’s New Podcast newsletter.
Emailing podcast reviewers — in a smart way. Try to be as convenient, polite and unique as possible in front of someone whose inbox is flooded with new podcasts. (For more context, check out this thoughtful set of review policies)
Reaching out to your peers. Email the podcasters whose work you listened to during your research phase and let them know how their work helped inspire or guide you. Include a link to your podcast website in your signature, but remember that this is a “thank you” and not a “please.” If your fellow creator wants to check out your show, they will. Don’t assume that they owe you any time, attention, or promotion. This is a perfect time to start building a community around your show — so begin with honest appreciation of someone else’s work.
Scheduling a launch party with your friends, family and fellow podcasters! This is a heck of a lot of work, and you deserve to end release day surrounded by people who care about you and want you to succeed. And if your whole team is together, snap a photo! The one we took at our release day party remains the only photo of the entire Join the Party team.
You Did It!
You made it to the bottom of this massive article, and you have a podcast! If you did your homework before launching, you’ll be prepared to tackle any problem your show will throw at you.
Got more questions or tips to share? Tweet to me!
Special thanks to Allyson Wakeman for designing the worksheets, Eric Silver for editing, and Julia Schifini, Galen Beebe, Wil Williams, Ma’ayan Plaut & Elena Fernández-Collins for their excellent suggestions and feedback!