A rookie’s guide to creating a podcast

An article in 2018 showed that there were over 525,000 active shows and 18.5 million+ episodes which jumped to 1,750,000 shows and 43 million+ episodes as of January 2021. It seems podcasting may be the new ‘thing’. And it’s easy to understand why: they’re portable, educational but entertaining, free and easy to access on demand.

So one evening, after spending 2 hours discussing the lack of transparency in the start-up ecosystem, Tom and I had the idea of starting When Unicorns Fly — a podcast aimed at bringing founders free content from ‘experts’ in their respective industries.

I quickly learnt there was more to podcasting than meets the eye but it’s also one of the most rewarding hobbies. In this article, I’ve summarised all the key steps we took to get our podcast off the ground so that you can shortcut your way there.

The concept

Tom and I were good friends and we both worked in the startup space. It was an area we understood well and we had a strong network of potential guests. Nonetheless, we spent a lot of time considering our ‘niche’ i.e. the core concept of our podcast that would help us stand out from the crowd.

We then created a list of six podcasts in the space that we were inspired by — such as The 20 Minute VC, This Week in Startups and Equity by TechCrunch—and listened to them non-stop for weeks. We assessed them all based on their structure, content, host/guest chemistry, editing, style, etc. Based on our ‘analysis’, we took all the best bits of our favourite podcasts.

Next, we considered the ‘target listener’. We wanted the podcast to speak to early-stage founders. We considered what they want to know, their listening habits, the time they may have to dedicate to a podcast episode. We used this to brainstorm topic ideas for episodes, before reaching out to relevant guests for each episode.

When approaching potential guests, we aimed to do 15 minute briefing calls and blocked 1 hour for recording. Setting a structure for the episode and sending example questions in advance can help your guests prepare to maximise the high-quality content during recording.

Recording

There are several options for recording. Recording in a studio can cost as little as £50/hour. If you choose to record at home, you’ll need a high-quality microphone; our first choice was the Rode NT-USB, followed by the Blue Yeti. Prevention is better than cure with background noise; editing it out can be painful so aim for silence. I would also recommend recording in a separate room to a co-host so that you have two separate audio files which are easier to edit to one.

To record the episodes, you’ll need recording software. Zencastr gave us the opportunity to invite guests using their email address, created multiple audio files instead of one MP3 file (which makes editing easier) and made live backups to Dropbox. However, Zencastr is audio-only so if you’d prefer face-to-face virtual recording, Zoom and SquadCast are great alternatives.

Editing

To achieve a high-quality podcast with clean audio and vocals, no background noise, and perfect content, you’ll need to edit your episodes. If you have a bit of cash, Adobe Audio is the way to go but we found that Audacity was a great free open-source alternative.

Editing audio files can be daunting but really the key aspects are a) cutting unnecessary content and unwanted sounds (‘ums’ and ‘uhs’), and b) adjusting the volume so hosts and guests sound in-sync. Once you’ve mastered it, playing with the equaliser, normaliser, fade in/out, voice-overs, tempo and compressor functions can be fun. As a benchmark, this process can take 2–4 hours for a 30 minute episode.

Alternatively, you could outsource editing to a podcast engineer on a site like Fiverr. This is progressively becoming cheaper as more and more people are perfecting the technical skills of editing podcasts but expect to pay around £40–50/episode for a high-quality edit.

Assets

Podcast discovery is fragmented; at the beginning, you rely on listeners seeing your cover art and making the snap judgement to give it a quick listen. We wanted our cover art to clearly depict what the podcast was whilst being eye-catching and unique.

When Unicorns Fly — cover art (created by Alex Blondek)

Music

We wanted to get the right vibe for our intro and outro; something that was modern, almost futuristic, and unique and distinct so that there would be an automatic association with our podcast when listeners heard it.

However, often an afterthought until it’s too late: music copyright. You can only use music where you own the licence regardless of whether you only use it for a few minutes or if your podcast is not being monetised.

There are two ways around this:

  1. Create the jingle from scratch— that way you own the copyright or,
  2. Purchase the licence of the track you want to use.

We opted for professional production label West One and paid a one-off fee for licensing one of their tracks. There are loads of free or cheap alternatives online but just remember to check out the copyright before using it!

Legals

The boring legal stuff starts with trademarks. In the UK, you can do a trademark check for free on the Gov website; this quick search could prevent hassle from angry trademark-holders months or years down the line.

Consider copyright laws around music, cover art, songs and lyrics. Typically you would need permission from the creator to use someone’s work. As for the guests, they are implying consent by being on the podcast in the first place. To be extra cautious, you could ask them to sign a release form in advance which would give you the right to use the content in any scenario.

Hosting

How do you actually post your podcast to streaming sites? Unfortunately, there’s no option on Spotify to upload your music directly; instead, you post episodes to a podcast hosting site such as Sounder (the site we use), Buzzsprout (the biggest name), Podbean, Castos, etc. These use a RSS feed to push your episodes to all major streaming sites. Word of warning: those sites have to ‘accept’ your podcast before it can be hosted — Spotify took 24 hours, Apple took about a week and Google took a month — so I would recommend starting this process as early as possible.

Sounder (as do others) have excellent analytics features that allow you to track number of listeners; audience demographics via country, time of day distribution, applications, devices; and lots more. This helps understand which content your listeners engage with the most, the time of day to post, etc. To date, our most listened to episode is with Henry Whorwood (Head of Research at Beauhurst): What happened to UK fundraising in 2020‪?

Marketing

We used our personal social media accounts to market the episodes and asked our guests to publish them to widen the reach of the podcast. We also created company sites on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and encouraged listeners to follow us to stay up to date.

Over 60% of podcasts are consumed on Apple so ensuring you have a great rating and reviews on Apple is key. We encouraged this by directing users predominantly to Apple and encouraging them to leave reviews.

Apple reviews

We also created our own website to improve SEO when potential users googled startup podcasts. This started on website-builder Squarespace until we felt it didn’t quite have the functionalities we needed and turned to expert website builder Chris.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything out or if you’d suggest anything different; happy podcasting!

You can follow the Playfair team on LinkedIn, Twitter, Forbes and Vimeo and here on Medium.

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