How to create a top podcast

Since bursting onto the scene in 2014, podcasts have cemented their place as one of the world’s most prolific forms of entertainment, news-seeding and information-sharing platforms – with their ever-rising popularity showing no signs of stopping.

Indeed, Apple now hosts more than 29 million podcast episodes on its platform and it is estimated that over six million adults listen to a podcast each week – with millenials making up two thirds of this audience.

What’s more, over a quarter of regular podcast listeners say they tune in because they want to learn something new, and as such, you can now find a podcast for just about anything – from brain training and scientific phenomenon, to true crime, Brexit and the wackiest conspiracy theories out there…

So if you have a burning talent or passion for something, are opinionated and need an outlet for your thoughts (or simply want an excuse to talk endlessly about something you love) – starting a podcast may well be the platform for you. Plus, as you prepare to embark on the next stage of your life and kickstart a career, they can be a brilliant tool for growing your own personal profile, gaining experience in building a brand and demonstrating a unique commitment to prospective employers.

So where do you start? And once your podcast is up and running, how can you turn it into a chart-topping success?

To help get you started, we met two serial entrepreneurs who have launched their own hugely successful podcast, Secret Leaders. Hosted by Dan Murray-Serter and produced by Rich Martell, the podcast launched in 2017 and has seen the pair interview some of the world’s biggest business minds, including the likes of Jo Malone CBE, Justine Roberts (founder of Mumsnet), Rankin and Michael Acton Smith, (founder of Calm.)

Here, Dan and Rich share their best pieces of advice for smashing the podcast game.

 

BEFORE YOU GET STARTED…

As with anything, preparation is key – you wouldn’t go into an exam without putting in the revision first, right….(at least we hope you wouldn’t?!) It’s important to think hard about what your podcast’s theme and focus are going to be. What format will it take, what is your tone of voice and who are you trying to target?

According to Dan and Rich, it can also help to split the load and consider partnering with someone else so you can divide and conquer. Dan says: “My belief is it’s always better to have a partner, so I got my friend Rich to do it with me 50 – 50. I do all guests, recording, research, interviews and marketing, if he sorts production and editing. It was a good deal for both of us as it played to both our strengths.”

You can also use your peer network to help you start stockpiling a bank of content when you’re still in the initial launch phases. Your fellow students, business connections and friends all make great interviewees so why not capitalise on your bank of contacts to get some great interviews in the bag. Rich says, “Speaking with people who you know already will make for more organic and candid conversations – so call in that favour and get them in front of a microphone – they’re bound to have some amazing soundbites. Plus, it means you can build up your interview skills with people you feel comfortable around, rather than jumping straight in and aiming for someone massive, and then choking at the last minute!”

 

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!

Of course, good and in depth research into your guests, subject matter and audience is paramount. “Being prepared is not only very good practice when creating a podcast in general, but it also allows you to have more control of the tone and direction of the content and conversation.” says Dan.

“Wikipedia, Quora, and previous interviews your guest has done are the obvious routes here. If it’s a business, look at what their company has done, and why. I remember Tim Brown, co-founder of Allbirds, who we interviewed for season three said to us afterwards, ‘This was the best interview and most prepared anyone has been yet.’ – which is absurd! All I did was put about an hour of research time in on Wikipedia and stuff that was easy to find. It goes to show, put the work in, it impresses the guests, and it’s worth it!”

It’s also important to look ahead and think about how you can improve your interviewing process in the future and take your podcast to the next level. Dan learned about how to be a better host all through getting feedback from people and listening to it: “In the first series, I interrupted guests and ruined the flow a lot. I heard that myself, but also got that feedback from people regularly – it was clearly unprofessional and just ruined what could have been better content. For series two (and onwards) I learned to ask a question and shut up and listen.”

 

FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR AUDIENCE

The key to making your podcast a success is figuring out who you want to reach and being clever about how you target those people. A big part of that is thinking about the importance of distribution – how important is it to your audience to have a regular weekly episode? Could you put in the time needed to churn out good quality content that quickly?

Dan explains, “We decided we wouldn’t do a totally regular broadcast, instead we would do fifteen (now sixteen) episodes a series, recorded over around nine months (so as not to stress ourselves out), and to release about one series a year, over four months with regularity, taking time to reflect on how to improve between seasons and having some acknowledgment for life-stage commitments.”

Rich adds, “Sit down and plan out a roadmap for your content and really question whether it’s feasible for you (especially if you’re planning this around studies, part time work etc.). Also consider whether you’re able to get the right guests and content lined up in your time frames. Remember – securing quality interviewees can take time, so don’t over-promise and end up under-delivering.”

GET TO KNOW YOUR TECH

Good podcasts don’t have to have the production value of an MTV music video, especially not for your first few episodes! Having an intimate chat in a quiet room with a decent microphone can often make magic happen, as was the case with Secret Leaders.

“In series one, we bought a microphone off Amazon, plugged that into my laptop, and used Quicktime to record. I booked any old meeting room I could find in my shared office, and invited guests, who were basically my friends, investors, or anyone it was easy to get in front of or call a favour in for”, explains Dan.

“After you get into a good place and your content is gaining some traction, you can think about expanding and investing more into your production, especially the more laborious tasks like transcribing”, says Rich “To start with, I was doing the majority of that myself, transcribing the audio and editing the episode. Now the editing time is outsourced to Lower Street and the transcribing is done by a tool called Sonix. I provide the sound editors on Google Drive with the audio file and the Sonix file to be stitched together. The sound editor works on a few at the same time.”

Getting someone who knows even a little bit more than you about production as a podcast partner would be an endless asset, and could make that difference between a good episode and an excellent one. Rich adds that it’s all about knowing how to utilise the copious amount of tools available out there and putting in the time to editing: “For every one hour of recorded time, factor in for five to six hours of editing. About 25% of recording is cut out. Then you need to put in the music, intro, outros, ads – all of which is done through Garageband.”

 

Dan & Rich’s top recording picks:

  1. The Yeti – £120 from Amazon
  2. Zoom H6 Handy Recorder (this is already £100+ cheaper than when I bought it) £259
  3. 2 x Shure FM58 Microphone with case (£108, already £40 cheaper than when I bought)
  4. 2x Microphone Stand (£9.99 each)
  5. 2x Microphone Pop Filter (£6.99 each)
  6. 2x XLR Cables (recommended 3m for £6.99)
  7. SD Card – (128 MB is a good investment at £21.59)
  8. Phone Mount Kit (for photos etc) £15
  9. Rode Phone Microphone (£38)
  10. Sennheiser Headphones (You need to hear if levels are good whilst recording) £45
  11. AA Batteries – Always keep spares! (£6.25)

 

Dan & Rich’s top editing software picks:

  1. Garageband software and learning how to set up levels for recording, we learned from watching youtube videos
  2. Simplecast for distributing the content via an RSS feed
  3. Sonix tool for transcribing. Rev.com is also good.
  4. Squarespace for website (2nd season)
  5. Audio Jungle to find music aka a jingle. We used Fiverr in Series 1. You can tell.
  6. LibSyn for distributing to Spotify (a different type of RSS feed and a bit more tricky to get set up)

 

PUT IT IN FRONT OF THE RIGHT PEOPLE

No one podcast is the same, so how you market it out to listeners will vary depending on the content and guests you have on. Dan and Rich say it’s all about having a concrete end goal and working towards it in clever, thought out steps: “You have to do what’s right for you. We want to make Secret Leaders the UK’s number one business podcast. However, we work backwards in small increments, figuring out how to improve each series little by little instead of going nuts instantly. We don’t make promises we can’t keep to sponsors and we offer very good value, in line with keeping things easy for us.”

Really think about what would attract you to your own podcast if you were a potential listener or guest, and what channels you’d find it on –  the most popular being Spotify (see Dan and Rich’s top editing software picks for tips on how to distribute on Spotify.) Don’t forget to show each new episode some love and promote it on your social channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the works!

Getting sponsors may not be an easy feat when you’re just starting out and don’t have those strong connections, but don’t be afraid to approach any businesses you trust or often find yourself using. As Dan says, “The best way to get sponsors is to provide great value to people you respect and have an existing relationship with. As we are both entrepreneurs, this was considerably easier for us as we went to people we’ve done business with in the past.”

 

Good luck!

 

Series three of Secret Leaders is now live. Listeners can subscribe, as well as listen to series one and two on iTunes and Spotify. For more information, visit www.secretleaders.com.

*Data from Ofcom (2018)