The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Audio Content – How (and Why) To Create a Great Podcast

As many of you know, I’m a podcast fanatic. I was listening to podcasts years before I ever started recording my own shows (you can read about my podcasts at this link).

If you are just getting started, don’t feel like you missed the dance. When I started a podcast in 2009, a lot of people were saying that “podcasting was dead.”  ಠ_ಠ

By the end of this article I want to:

  1. Help you make all the basic technology decisions in less than an hour so you can get started creating a great show as soon as possible.
  2. Share with you the most important podcasting strategies and tips I’ve learned in the past few years.

With any luck, a little bit of my irrational enthusiasm for the medium will wear off on you. I’m a firm believer that podcasting can get you money, friends, lovers, ideas, advice, quality karma, and good times. Sound good? If you are at a sticking point in getting your podcast off of the ground, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help you.

Let’s get started…

“There’s all the difference in the world between having something to say, and having to say something.” ― John Dewey

Before you hit record, make sure you have something to say.

Even if you have a crappy microphone and a mediocre blog design, you can create a meaningful podcast and change people’s lives for the better.

Most people who start a podcast will focus on their design, their sound mapping, what kinds of guests they are going to have, and the promotion. How am I gonna tweet the crap out of this podcast?! 

You shouldn’t be worrying about that stuff. You don’t need that crap. You need something to say. You can’t phone it in like a lot of the big guys. Nobody wants to hear the next interview unless you are somebody. The way to being a somebody is having something to say.

Here’s some strategies for developing a voice:

  • Don’t like something that’s popular? Fix it. Does the Lifestyle Business Podcast grind your gears? Good. Start a podcast that’s better. You’ve got the format, the basic topics, subject, and even the basic content structure. All you need to do is improve it. Focus it on bloggers? Cool. Have a live call format? Awesome. Sick of those douchey hosts? You can solve that. Rip, Pivot, and Jam!
  • Focus on solving specific problems. A great hack to having something to say is focusing your energy on specific problems. Even if you are boring at the beginning (it’s tough not to be!), we’ll still listen because we want to hear the goods. Worried you won’t be able to come up with something to talk about every week? Join the club. Sure it’s hard– just because your podcast is about “link building” doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the things that matter most to you. Really. I’m serious.
  • Talk about a scene. There aren’t enough podcasts that focus on ‘scenes’ on the internet. Everybody still thinks we should be focused on creating evergreen or cornerstone content. That’s fine and good. Let everyone else do that. By focusing on stuff that’s topical, you can hack your way to something to say.
  • Be a thoughtful filter. This is an idea that Jay and Sterling focused on in this episode of IBM. They give an interesting example of “Latest in Paleo” as a great podcast that acts as a filter for all kinds of paleo information, even though the host isn’t a world-recognized expert.

Speaking of strategy…

After 4 months of podcasting and hard work, only 30 listeners subscribed to my show.

I started the Lifestyle Business Podcast at the end of July in 2009. I just checked my Feedburner stats: by the end of December 2009 it looks like I had about 30 people listening to the show via an iTunes subscription.

After 4 months of work and 18 episodes of content… 30 subscribers. 

How did I feel about that? To be honest, I think I was pretty pumped. That’s 30 more people than had ever listened to me before.

And you know what’s what? I recently learned that two of those 30 listeners were Rob Walling (the entrepreneur) and David Hehenberger (the guy who’s helping me grow my business). Isn’t that something?

*  *  *

The benefits of podcasting over written text.

I wonder about our recent hyper-fast launch of the TMBA start-up sessions (I didn’t even get to put up a public sales offering at the blog) as an example of the power of audio as a selling tool. The product was complex. It also asked that customers put a great deal of trust in us. If I were to put out another product like that, and I could only create a sales letter or an audio podcast, there’s no question I’d chose podcast.

Here’s some more benefits of audio I’ve noticed over the years:

  • It’s easier to build trust with your audience. I feel more affinity towards podcasters than video publishers and blog writers. It might have something to do with the total amount of time I’ve spent with them. Written and video content competes with everything else on my computer. Also, I’m looking at video publishers, whereas I’m living with podcasters. They are accompanying me on my drives, my walks, eating lunch with them discussing topics that are important to me. My engagement level is much higher.
  • It’s easier to display your chops. There’s a lot popular business bloggers who’ve never laid eyes on a balance sheet. Once you fire up the mic, it’s tough to fake it. Separate yourself from the poseurs by talking through your listener’s problems live.
  • When it counts, listeners are more likely to convert. When it comes to high value conversions, like meeting up in person, attending live events, or buying high ticket products, I’d take a much smaller podcast audience over a broader written blog audience. Again, no science here, just food for thought.

How do I get rankings in iTunes? 

I don’t know. But here’s some things that I think I’ve learned.

  1. If you can get a great podcast badge to associate with your mp3 files and audio feed, do so. When you launch your podcast, design a great 300 x 300 graphic (it’s possible Apple employees review them) and try to get people to mail for it. Total downloads, velocity of subscriber increases, and quality of graphic seem to be factors. If you have any information on this, I’d love to know.
  2. Diversify your ID3 tags on your mp3 file. Don’t just call every episode “The Me Show 01.” People will go onto iTunes and search for terms they are interested in, and if your show has those keyterms in it’s title, it’s likely to pop up. If a particular episode is addressing something useful, be sure to mention it in the title.
  3. Ask your listeners to review your podcast. Again, I just think this has something to do with it. Ian and I read our 5 star reviews on our show and I believe this has inspired a lot of our listeners to take the time to head over to iTunes and support our program.

There’s more– iTunes isn’t a great traffic diver.

I just took this screenshot 5 minutes ago. Not bad placement at all. This is the screen users see when they go to iTunes and click the “business podcasts” menu. Hello, Dave Ramsey.

We aren’t on the top page every day, but I’d say we’ve been showing up consistently for the last 6 months or so. I suppose a lot of our listeners find us through iTunes, but we aren’t getting hundreds of new subscribers every week or anything close. From my experience the best ways to get new listeners is to create a great show and get your listeners talking about it to their friends. The next best way is to go onto other shows.

A featured placement on iTunes is nice, but it likely won’t make or break your brand.

5 elements of a great podcast performance.

  1. Switch topics fast. Don’t close every thread. Leave stuff and “call it back” like a comedian. Consider the way Howard Stern never lets a conversation linger. Howard’s greatest skill isn’t being interesting (that’s Adam Carolla’s talent), it’s guiding each conversation to where it’s most interesting. If your point loses steam, drop the thread and leave it open. It’s tough at the beginning– just dropping uninteresting stuff and moving on– it gets fun once you get used to it.
  2. Give your listeners hooks to hang their hats on. This is a concept pulled from Adam Carolla, one of my favorite podcasters. Your show can easily become an indistinguishable chunk of sound to the listeners. Your job is to segment that wall of sound. We do this through creating sections: intro, news, shouts, meat and potatoes, and quick tips. We also make sure to segment our meat and potatoes segment by providing lists, or by hinging on a few key points or definitions.
  3. Balance personal updates with useful with useful and inspiring content. As you progress, people will likely want to hear more about your life and projects. When you are trying to get momentum at the beginning of your show, don’t bother asking what your co-host is up to unless they are doing a bong rip.
  4. Consider the role of narrative in your show.  Narrative is an undervalued part of great podcasts. Having narrative keeps listeners engaged over the long haul, and keeps your content from feeling random or non sequitur. An example of how you could do this on an interview show (where it is often thought to be difficult to inject narrative), is to ask every guest a set of similar questions, a la Inside the Actor’s Studio. You could play guests off each other by creating a debate, or you could invite people to pre-arranged discussions that fit into a series you are producing. Most great radio shows don’t hand over their show to their guests, they have their guests on their show. There’s an important distinction that many podcasters miss. The great interview podcasts, Fresh Air for example, spend hours of collective research before each guest comes on the show. Also notice that at the beginning of Fresh Air, Terry rarely gives the guests a chance to say “Thanks for having me” after she says “Welcome to Fresh Air.” Nice touch.
  5. If you fee like an idiot, join the club. I remember feeling lame after recording the “Tao of the Hustle“– to date one of our most popular shows ever. That said, Ian and I have thrown away at least 10 episodes that we didn’t feel were up to par. I have no idea how to tell the difference between throwaways and sleeper hits. I still feel like an idiot. Again, join the club.

The 80/20 approach to great sounding audio.

I’m the first to admit my sound quality isn’t always the best. I travel way to much to keep conditions consistent. That said, I’ve learned a lot about audio production over the past few years.

  • Never record audio from your sound card. The circular hole on the side of your computer goes directly to your sound card. You don’t want to record on microphones that go there. You want a mic that plugs in with USB. If you are alone, or recording conversations on Skype (use Pamela for PC, Call Recorder for Mac) use this Logitech USB mic. You can sound like a pro on this thing, just make sure you put the mic just above your nose. That’ll remove the “pops.” If you want to record people in a room, I recommend the Blue Yetti. If you are going to be traveling, the Yetti won’t work. I use a little Sony recorder like this one, which works really well. Cliff Ravenscraft has some suggestions on this front. Don’t get caught up with the gear. As long as you aren’t going through your sound card, and are using a ‘real’ mic (not you computer mic) you’ll sound good. If you have to record directly from your Macbook, the quality of the mics is getting pretty good, so it’s not a dealbreaker. Don’t let the issue of mics stop you from creating a show.

    You can rock your podcast from these bad boys.

  • Ambient noise is a lesser sin than wind and echo. Especially with good quality mics, having a little bit of noise in the background can be fine. Almost all of our Tropical Talk Radio podcasts have ambient noise and they are fine. What kills your audio tracks is echo and wind. Avoid them at all costs. Quick tip: NPR reporters often do interviews in their cars in order to get a great sound environment.
  • Keep your files in WAV format until the last export. This one is tough for us to follow since we travel a lot and .wav files are tough to transfer to our editor. Podcast files are .mp3 format, which reduces the quality quite a bit. Using mp3s in the editing stages often creates funky sounds when you process the sound, so if you are having your interviewee send you their side of the audio, make sure they send you .wav not .mp3.
  • If you have more than one person on your podcast, apply the levelator. This is a problem we’ve often had in our show, one of our voices is much louder than the other’s. More than being annoying, this can actually hurt your listeners ears. Send your audio file through the levelator algo and all should be right in the world.
  • ***MOST IMPORTANT TIP FOR PRO SOUND: Apply “lead vocal EQ” and “multi-band compression” to your podcast audio. If you are using Adobe Audition, apply “multiband compression” and “lead vocal EQ” to your podcast. That’s the magic bullet– the difference between mousey podcasters and professional radio jocks. Compression. Most drive time DJs absolutely compress the crap out of their audio (as well as increase the bass for a deep tone). Do the same to your WAV recordings and you’ll instantly start to sound like a radio DJ yourself. More importantly, your listeners will be able to listen to your show and a high volume without hurting their ears. Compression takes away audio “spikes” that hurt listener’s ears. Our first 50 episodes didn’t have compression. They suck to listen to in cars and on airplanes (where the ambient noise is high and listeners need to jack up the sound). Adobe Audition is great at this, but the FREE Audacity works as well, you’ll just need to spin the knobs a bit on the EQ and compression effects in order to get something that sounds pro. The basic effects of “bass boost” and “compression” will work fine if you are trying to get something listenable out the door.

The nuts and bolts stuff we use.

Use iTunes to attach your podcast badge and description tags

  • Ideally, you’d use Adobe Audition ($300+ USD) which has some awesome features. If you aren’t balling though, there is no reason to not just use…
  • Audacity with LAME plugin so you can export your show as an .mp3.
  • Logitech headsets (most of the time), the Blue Yetti (for when a 2 or more people are in the room), and the Sony ICD recorder for travel interviews. Note the Blue Yetti mic is cool, but is huge and weights a million pounds. Not for travelers.
  • Podcasting plugin. For publishing audio content to your WordPress blog and making sure the show gets to iTunes.
  • Feedburner to syndicate the show to iTunes.
  • Use iTunes to add ID3 description tags (like Title, Genre, Artist) to your .mp3 files. Be sure to add a picture!!!
  • Kall8 for a cheap and simple way for listeners to leave you voicemails.

Two final thoughts on podcast production.

  • Mp3 Badges (the image associated with your show) are often undervalued: Your 300 x 300 podcast badge. It looks badass on an iPhone (make sure you associate the image with the mp3 file during final export!) and I’ve heard rumors that Apple employes personally review them for quality and inclusion on notable lists.
  • Sound mapping is often overvalued: Intro music, sound mapping, and transition clips aren’t important. They are nice and all, but I’ve actually seen a handful of new podcasters get hung up on this issue for weeks. Please don’t do that. All the intro music in the world isn’t going to change how good your content is. I’m going to be able to tell right away whether or not I trust you. Whether or not you know what you are talking about. Focus there. Put great content up with limited production and get the ball rolling. Work in music when you have the time, resources, and assurance that you are going to keep going forward. If you want some music bedding for your first show, I recommend you can export some really nice pre-made stuff directly from Garagband and use it until you want to go pro. Some of the biggest shows in the world are just the jock introducing the show over a basic music bed.

Not interested in creating your own podcast but want to listen to some great ones? 

Here are some shows that I love listening to (NOTE: all links will launch iTunes). I’ll focus on business shows today. The full list is pretty overwhelming. If you already listen to any of these shows, consider clicking through to give the publisher a 5-star review. I’m sure it would mean a lot to them.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

Not done yet? Here’s some further reading:

That’s it! If you’ve got any questions or hangups, let me know in the comments.





Want to use this cool iTunes subscription panel on your website? Here’s a free PDF download.. Just make sure to take off the Lifestyle Business Podcast graphics! :)

PPS, you can get on my private mailing list by putting your email address into the form below. If you do, you’ll instantly get a download link to our first 50 podcast episodes: