Notes about starting a podcast – branding, quality, hosting, and other things

Notes about starting a podcast – branding, quality, hosting, and other things -- Mervi Emilia Eskelinen

I'm starting a podcast. Yes, you read correctly. The writer girl is going to start talking. And yes, it's a work in progress.

First of all, I'd like to have a good start. Make a solid first episode, with quality sound (not too quality, I'll come back to this in a moment), and have impactful cover art. This all doesn't happen in a day, at least not for me.

And then I have stumbled upon the big question about podcast hosting. Not that there weren't options. Maybe there are too many. Besides, it gets a bit confusing.

I have been doing lots of research about podcasting, and I wanted to share some of my findings with you.

Podcast name and cover art

While the podcast name and cover art sound like secondary things to worry, I'd like to make a good first impression. First impressions, they are usually awfully off, but sticky as bubblegum in your hair. I don't want people to see my podcast in various directories and whatnot and be all "blah, not for me".

So, per usual, there are lots of things to think about branding your podcast. Or mine, in this case.

Podcasts are often, if not mostly, listened with smartphones and other such devices. I've noticed that long podcast names appear awkward on small screens, and they tend to be cut off in directories such as iTunes. Which is why a podcast name works best if it's short and has the most relevant words towards the beginning of it. Obviously, many of the podcast names I've thought have already been taken. There are so many podcasts out there.

The case of the name is complicated. On the other hand it should describe what the podcast is about, but also it should stand out from the crowd of podcasts. Too describing podcast name is also kind of boring. I'm terrible at coming up with names to my own stuff, so I'm still working on this. I can come up with names for your podcast, but my own... Struggle, struggle. Maybe I should treat my podcast as someone else's podcast, and work out the name from that point of view.

Cover art is visible in the directories and usually in apps used to play the podcasts. While the cover art must be available in pretty sizeable dimensions, it also needs to work in thumbnail size. iTunes requires the artwork to be 1400 x 1400 pixels at minimum, and maximum 3000 x 3000 pixels (72 dpi, JPEG/PNG, RGB colorspace, compressing recommended). However, the iOS Podcasts app shows the cover art in pretty tiny size, which means it must be quite simple. Not much text, no many small elements.

It's been said a stand out cover art also helps to get your podcast in the iTunes New and Noteworthy section. If that's your cup of tea.

Either way, the cover art and name are often the first things the potential listeners will see. Which is why I don't want to throw in some half baked branding, and think about it later.

Podcast topics

Niche, my old enemy.

While it's tempting to create a podcast without narrowing the topics down, I know that many people are picky about these things. Which is why I've been working on narrowing down a general topic for my podcast. Obviously, branding things like cover art and name ought to reflect the topic in a way or another, which is also making the whole naming thing so darned difficult.

I don't like to narrow myself into a corner. I've done that with my blog, many times. Which has led to sparse blogging and taking unplanned breaks. Guess what's been going on lately!

This is why I'd like my general topic to be flexible enough to cover my multitudes of interests, but to have some sort of a common red line. The topic should be something I know about, can find information, and have actual interest in. I don't want to bore myself after a couple of episodes.

The topic should be something that was interesting and fun enough, not just for me, but also for other people. I don't see much point in podcasting just for myself. I talk to myself constantly without having to record it.

Obviously one idea would be to learn podcasting and share the learnings with everyone else. Fun, for a while. Boring, very soon.

I was thinking about a topic of online, the behaviour and phenomenons around it. Unfortunately the topic became boring to me very soon, and I decided I wouldn't have interest in creating regular talks about it. I know, sounds like a topic for me. But maybe that's exactly why it didn't really stick.

Coming up with some sort of a basic idea for the podcast is quite important. Not only to service the listeners, but also help you to keep on podcasting. However, if you are like me, narrowing the topic too tight could be harmful for your podcasting endeavours. The topic must be something that keeps the podcaster herself interested. Otherwise there's no podcast for very long.

Episode schedule

There's a common advice running amok around the web: You should have at least 3 episodes before you publish your podcast, or at least before you submit it to iTunes. I don't know about that. Some say that's the way to get noticed, and the way to that pesky New and Noteworthy section in iTunes. And others say that's pure bullshit.

I don't think New and Noteworthy is some sort of a goal to go after. It's just one little thing, would be nice, but not a requirement for successful podcasting. Depends, of course, on how you define successful. For me success would be a handful of regulars listening to my voice.

Another thing is the case of the episode zero. Many do this sort of an introduction episode, which mainly just discusses about what's going to be in the podcast. They are often called episode zeroes because they don't necessarily cover the general topic(s) of the podcast, but just tell what's going to be. I was going to start like this, but then I decided it's not really very interesting. I wouldn't want to listen an episode like that.

Instead I'm planning to go in with a first episode, that sort of introduces me and the podcast, but also is like any other episode. Just like the television show pilots, at least the good ones. Introducing the main characters, setting the tone, and starting to tell the actual story.

And no, I'm not going to do three episodes before I get it out there. First of all, I'm not planning to publish my podcast daily basis. Which is why it wouldn't make sense to publish 3 episodes at once, or to wait before really launching the podcast after the three episodes where out there. It wouldn't serve anyone.

As mentioned, there are many schools of thought about this subject, so I'm sure that someone will be ready to tell me that I'm so wrong wrong wrong with this. That there should always be an episode zero. Or that you should launch with 3 episodes or go home. Hey, dude. Whatever suits you.

I'm thinking about weekly episodes. Or once in two weeks. Probably weekly. Once a month seems like a schedule which requires really, extremely impactful episodes. Which obviously isn't a bad thing. Just maybe too much pressure. Weekly seems like a good time to recover and get to the next one.

Oh, and the length? Really. Short. I'm really bad at listening podcasts, mainly because they are usually quite long. Long and rambly and boring. My short patience isn't made for your one hour of talk. Half an hour seems like a stretch. So shorter than that. Publishing weekly basis, something like 10 to 20 minutes seems like a good idea. Nobody wants to listen to me longer than that, I assume. Shorter the better. Keeps me from rambling too much.

Quality questions

I purchased a microphone. One of those Blue Yetis, which seem to be all the rage amongst podcasters and video makers. They are also very popular amongst ASMR folks. I got it for video creation and possible ASMR projects, and to record my voice for courses and such. I've tested the mic and it seems to be really good for my needs. Of course, there are those who are more than willing to tell me that I should get a "better" microphone. Some really expensive setup, professional and impossible to fit in our small apartment. Boy, bye.

I've done extensive research on the quality. Bit rates and stuffs. Anyone you ask will say it should be 44.1 kHz, constant bit rate. But then things get varied. Some require podcasts to be pretty high quality, 128kbps or more. That sounds like an overkill. Okay, maybe if you are doing a music podcast and want the music to sound crisp. Yeah, fine.

For talk podcasting recommendation is 64kbps or 96kbps, mono (joint stereo in Audacity, I believe). It doesn't seem like a good idea to do stereo podcasting, because I've been told lots of people listen podcasts with only one earplug in their ear. That would leave part of the podcast out, if something was said "in the other ear". Again, there are many schools about these things too.

Lover bit rate has it's perks. As I mentioned before, lots of people listen podcasts with their smartphones. And they have limited space on them. Not to forget that often podcasts are listened and downloaded over mobile connections, which can have their own limitations such as small bandwidth. Higher bit rate means generally bigger file sizes, and having to download very "big" episodes isn't all fun. I've heard some people actually refuse to listen podcasts that feature bigger file sizes, due to the bandwidth and storage limitations.

For recording and editing I have tested both, GarageBand that comes with my Mac and free open source program Audacity. The latter seems simpler to use for me, but I might mix and match.

Hosting, that old pain in the ass

Podcast hosting turned out to be the biggest headache for me. I was looking into hosting my podcast with my website, but then I realised it would be likely to get me in a bad rap with my website hosting. Obviously there's no problem if nobody ever downloads and listens my podcast episodes. However, if there was some crazy event where my podcast would become even moderately popular, there should be more bandwidth to use.

I already sort of decided on using SoundCloud as my podcast host, perhaps creating my own feed for it. The perks were that there's a free option, and my budget is less than limited. Right as I had made this decision, there were news that SoundCloud is in trouble. Which I thought I could not care about for now.

Then I made the mistake of researching more, and I realised something. First of all, the SoundCloud space would become a problem, not immediately, but after a while. I would have to upgrade, if the service still existed at that point. I was thinking that when that would happen I could choose another hosting.

Not so fast! Podcast hosting services aren't too fond about getting a bulk of files moved into them, which means you most likely have to pay for moving your episodes from a service to another. Or leave the old files where they are. Since there's the possibility that SoundCloud won't exist after a little while, or that it will be a very different service, I'm not counting on leaving the files lay around there. Plus it wouldn't be very practical, considering the way the podcast directories etc. work. I don't really want to delete older episodes either.

The other options are troublesome too. Some are way too expensive for my nonexistent budget, and others, while offering free options, have too many limitations. For example, there are free options, which either have very limited file space or even more limited bandwidth. The former would mean upgrading soon, or deleting old episodes. The latter would mean that there could be only very little downloads per episode. Hey, I'm counting on moderate success here. Buzzsprout offers free hosting for 2 hours each month, but it's limited to 90 days. It's probably best of the free options, however doesn't quite work for my needs. Spreaker offers 5 hours of free space, but has very strict and high requirements for the audio quality.

I'm thinking about going with Libsyn, which has been around since 2004 and is used by many very famous podcasters. It's a paid option, without a free trial or anything. Due to my budget restrictions, I'll possibly go with the cheapest plan ($5/month, I'd guess they'll add the Finnish VAT on top of that). It doesn't have much monthly space, but there are no download limits and the old episodes may lay around without being deleted. If my podcast would become (moderately) popular and my budget would improve, I could upgrade to one of the other plans. No need to move files around. While there's no guarantee of Libsyn being around forever and ever, at least I'm guessing it won't die anytime soon.

I recommend doing pretty thorough research before settling into any podcast hosting solution. The different solutions have different limitations, and as said, moving old files to a new service doesn't seem to be very simple. Besides, moving your podcast feed from a place to another without redirects could mean losing listeners. Some of the services, by the way, may not offer feed redirecting at all or make you pay for it. Check on that too, if your plan is to host your podcast somewhere for a while before moving to another hosting.

What do you think?

I believe, as with most things in life, podcasting works different ways to different people. Some may like to listen long podcasts. Others want it short and sweet. Lower quality may sound terrible to you, or you don't notice any difference between 64kbps and 128kbps. You may be completely against using USB microphones, or you just love love love your Blue Yeti.

Have you been podcasting before or are you podcasting currently? Are you thinking about starting a podcast? What are your experiences and beliefs of the subjects I mentioned here? What are your biggest issues with podcasting or the reason why you haven't started that podcast yet?

Are you an avid podcast listener? What makes a great podcast for you? Do you prefer long form or go for short? Which topics do you like to listen?

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