A podcast is an audio program produced regularly and distributed online for people to download and listen to on their phones or computers. A podcast can be virtually on any topic which the host thinks his or her audience might find useful or interesting. In this way, podcasts are similar in form to radio programs with the exception that they can be downloaded and played by users at their convenience much like digital music files.

Podcasts are downloaded and played (or sometimes streamed) using software or apps called podcatchers. Many common media players such as VLC can also be used to play podcasts. Dedicated podcatchers allow users to subscribe to one or more podcasts. These applications then automatically download new episodes as soon as they become available and/or delete the ones the user has already listened to.

Technical basics

Podcasts are distributed via websites. For a website to distribute podcasts, it must have an RSS feed which points to the podcast’s audio files which can be hosted on the same website or elsewhere. An RSS feed is a file used on websites which produce content regularly such as blogs and news sites (it is less commonly used on websites with written content nowadays).

The purpose of an RSS file is to tell any interesting apps or software about newly-released content; it describes the new content and tells the software where to find it. In the case of a podcast, the RSS file points to audio files of the episodes. The “interested” software or app in this case is a podcatcher or a media player with similar capabilities. All that listeners need to start listening to a podcast is a link to its RSS feed. Podcasts can usually be discovered via Google but you can make discovering yours easier for potential listeners by manually submitting it to Google, iTunes and Spotify among other podcast directories.

Getting started

Hosting

The first thing that you need is a website to put your RSS feed on. This website can be your usual blog (if you happen to have one) or you can build an entirely new site which is dedicated to your podcast. Websites need to be hosted somewhere and this costs money (but usually not much). Before you decide to put your podcast’s audio files on the same host as your website, remember that these audio files can end up taking more space than your website as more episodes are released. If you don’t account for this when choosing a web hosting plan, any of the following can happen: your website will take longer to load, downloading podcast episodes will become difficult for your listeners or your web hosting provider will suspend your account for overusing resources.  Some people prefer to host the audio files on services such as SoundCloud.

Equipment

To produce a podcast, you can start as big or as small as you want, although I would advise the latter. Podcasts can be produced in professional and fully equipped sound studios or even using your own smartphone’s voice recorder. However, the recommended equipment for someone just starting is a computer, a microphone and a pair of headphones.

Software

Just recording is not enough; sometimes you may need to make some editions to the recorded audio. This is where sound editing software comes in. Windows users can try out Audacity while those on Macs can look at Screenflow. You can use these programs to trim your sound files, convert them between formats, add background music, remove background noise etc.

Room

While you can technically record sound anywhere, the location usually affects the final quality of the recording. There is a reason why specialized studios are used in professional settings. Studios not only eliminate the risk of background noises and conversations being heard over your recordings, but they are also designed to ensure the “richness” of the recorded sound. When choosing a recording location, try to make sure that there will be minimal background noise during your sessions and avoid rooms with excessive echoing or those which produce “flat” sound (the quality of sound normally heard in a heavily furnished room).

Monetisation

Like most types of online content, you can find a way to earn from your podcasts if you can build a sizeable enough audience.

Ask for donations

You can keep things simple by asking your fans to donate to your podcast. Online donations can be facilitated by embedding a Paynow or Paypal donation button to your website.

Sell sponsorship or ads

Advertising is the most common way of generating revenue online. Once you have a large enough audience of listeners you can approach businesses and offer them advertising space on your podcast. If you have ever heard a radio advertisement or sponsored show then you have a rough idea what form this kind of third party promotion usually takes.

Sell content

You can also sell digital products related to your podcasts such as old episodes, e-books and online courses to your listeners to generate revenue.

Sell physical products

Your podcast can also be used as a marketing platform for your physical products. A podcast about gadgets can, for instance, be used to promote the smartphones and laptops which are being sold by the presenter.

Generate business leads

If you are running a business, a podcast can also help you acquire clients. For instance, a lawyer who produces a podcast on legal issues which affect businesses will most likely be the first practitioner to be called if any of his/her listeners ever need legal counsel.