A handy guide to starting your podcast

The first in our weekly series on podcast production, by Anchor’s Head of Production

The technical parts of podcasting have never been easier. But the part that can be the trickiest is just getting started, and having an idea of what your podcast actually is. So today, let’s dig into how you can arrive at that idea, and how you can plan your new podcast.

This is an adaptation of episode 1 of our podcast “I Should Start a Podcast.” You can hear the audio version above.

Start with a plan

Take some time to think about what you want your show to be about, and form a plan, even if it’s a very loose one. Think about who your podcast is for. And consider how many voices will be on your podcast, and how they’re integrated.

“Whether it is that you’re creating a podcast, or you want to write a blog, or anything like that, it’s got to be something that you feel super enthusiastic about,” Abby Norman told me. She hosts a podcast called Let Me Google That. “This is something I’m just really enthusiastic about. I love doing it, and I think that that’s probably true of anything you’re trying to commit to. Obviously, whatever you’re doing, if you really love doing it, and it’s fun for you, it’s so much easier to do it than it would be if it felt like work.”

Make sure your show is about something you won’t mind doing lots of episodes about! You don’t necessarily need to be an expert on the subject (although it helps), but it should be something you’re genuinely interested in, and something you like talking about.

Who’s on your podcast? A lot of shows, especially ones that aren’t scripted, work really well with two or three people. Maybe that means your podcast is an interview show, but maybe it’s just co-hosted. Or maybe it’s a freewheeling round table. For someone just starting out, it might be a good idea to have a partner (or two or three) to bounce ideas off of and experiment together. Starting a show is messy and circuitous and scary, and it’s good to not be working in a vacuum.

What’s your podcast about?

When someone asks you what your podcast is about, you should be able to have an answer. Maya Prohovnik, who runs Product at Anchor, can sum up her own podcast really succinctly. “The Derry Connection is a Stephen King podcast about connections between Stephen King books. So every episode, I made a different one of my friends read a Stephen King book, talk to me about it, and then I lecture them about all the connections in the book, and they never know what I’m talking about!”

The Derry Connection

Maya has a really clear, direct way of answering “what’s your podcast about?” If you’re having trouble answering that question in a sentence or two, that could mean you should narrow your focus, or zero in on a single aspect of your topic. What’s the hook of your show? What makes it interesting and distinct and in your own voice?

Who’s your podcast for?

You should also consider who your show is for. Put another way, who is your audience?

Brendon Bigley, who co-hosts No Script At All: A Terrace House Fancast told me that as he started getting into Terrace House, he found that “there are a lot of people on the internet who are starving for Terrace House content. People just really want to be talking about Terrace House, and it’s really hard to find places to be able to do that, and we wanted to kind of be the hub for that, in a way.”

Having a clear notion of who your audience is, and whether that audience is not being served, can help you form the basis of your podcast.

Embrace the mess

No matter what your format is, or who you’re recording with, embracing messiness is part of the process. You should think about these ideas, get a format mapped out, and think about your audience. But the most important thing is to just try it out. Record a pilot on your phone, or do an interview with someone you already know, even if you have no intention of publishing it. It’ll probably be better than you think!

It’s important to try ideas out early, listen to the results, and iterate quickly. Don’t worry about the audio quality or the polish at the very beginning; get an idea together and start iterating on it.

The book club format that Maya used in her first episode turned out to be very different from her later episodes, where she just had one friend on at a time. But just getting the process started and trying things out got her closer to a format she felt great about. “Sometimes I wish that I had done a sort of test episode or something, just to figure out those kinks,” she told me. “But looking back on it now, it’s nice for me being able to see how my podcast has grown since then.”

My own first episode of I Should Start a Podcast went through a ton of revisions before we landed on a sound and a format. It’s messy and a little bit scary, but that’s something everyone goes through at the beginning. The trick is to be OK with that and start actually making your podcast. So take a breath, think for a minute, and hit record.