If you think podcasting is just plugging in a microphone and talking, you’re mistaken. There’s more to it than you may realize. It’s as much an art as it is a science. In this article, I’ll give you some do’s and don’ts that will help you improve as a podcaster and produce superior content.
DO: Hit the record button
This seems like a “duh,” but this is a podcaster’s nightmare. I’ve heard stories of podcasters who talked for over an hour before realizing they never hit the record button. I've even done it once. Re-recording your audio ends up not being the same because it lacks spontaneity. A lesser version of this issue is you may have some great pre-show conversations that you either want preserved for yourself or to share as bonus content. That’s what I do on the Patreon page for The Monster Island Film Vault. Moral of the story: hit the record button early!
DO: Record in more than one source
Oftentimes, you’ll be recording with a co-host or guest remotely, so you run the risk of someone’s internet bugging out and potentially losing your recording. That’s why I always record in more than one place so I have a backup. Some podcasters have each participant record solo tracks on their ends. What I do is record on an in-browser podcast recording service (Zencastr, Streamyard, etc.) and on my soundboard. It’s saved my audio on multiple occasions. You can’t ever be too careful when recording.
DO: Come prepared
I’ll never forget the night one of my co-hosts appeared on a livestream discussing the Showa Gamera movies, and one participant not only showed up late but hadn’t watched a single one of those movies. Whether it’s your show or someone else’s, you owe it to yourself, your listeners, and your cohorts to do your homework. This is especially true if you’re guest hosting on another podcast. The host is trusting that you’re not only an expert but are coming prepared to discuss the topic at hand. It’s always awkward to work around an unprepared guest, especially if the podcast is recorded live.
DO: Eliminate background noise
Nothing distracts listeners more than background noise. This could be interruptions by noisy neighbors or the nonstop hum of an air conditioner. You can address this issue several ways: 1) Pause the discussion or recording until the racket passes (such as traffic noise). 2) Shut off the noise before or during the recording (example: a heat vent). 3) Eliminate it using your editing software. This will give your show a cleaner, more professional sound. Speaking of editing….
DO: Edit, edit, edit
Editing covers up a multitude of podcast sins. It’s the least fun part for me personally, but it’s also where much of the magic happens. This is where you can add music, clean up background noise, and/or eliminate unneeded content. It’s the easiest way to pep up your discussions and make it sound professional. It might also be necessary to protect yourself and your guests. One time, my co-host on The Power Trip left in an “off cast” conversation where we were interrupted by his cats. It was harmless, but I personally would’ve re-edited and re-uploaded the episode. To that end, you’ll need to develop a style and philosophy of editing. Do you want to delete all time-buying words (“uh,” “um,” etc.) or interruptions for a more professional sound, or do you prefer something more naturalistic to save time? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
DO: Keep a schedule
Even if you’re an “amateur” podcaster, keeping a schedule will be beneficial for you and your audience. Listeners will get used to hearing your show every day, every week, every month, or however often you publish new episodes. That rhythm and routine will keep them engaged. Deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed, will keep you consistent with producing content. It’s important for you to create and maintain a recording habit, especially if you podcast about timely topics such as current events.
DON’T: Interrupt too much
A frequent complaint I’ve seen from some podcast listeners is when hosts interrupt co-hosts or guests. It’s rude in real life, and it’s arguably ruder in a podcast. Now, sometimes it’s necessary, such as when two people get into a tangential argument and the host has to step in, or if you want to create some humorous banter. Personally, I’ve been guilty of this at times when I have something I want to add to what a guest is saying or because I’m trying to avoid dead air. Whatever the reason, you can address this issue by either training yourself not to do it during a recording or by editing it out in postproduction. Your listeners will thank you.
DON’T: Overuse long pauses
Speaking of long pauses, silence is death in a podcast. While I’d argue it’s better than time-buying words, podcasts don’t have the advantage of visuals, so listeners won’t be able to see you pondering as you select your words carefully. Try to keep pauses to a minimum, and even then, try to use them for humorous or dramatic effect. Otherwise, much like with interrupting, train yourself not to do it or edit them out in postproduction.
DON’T: Worry about length
There’s a lot of advice out there about how long a podcast episode should be. Some say to keep it short (30-60 minutes, at the longest). Yes, attention spans are sadly getting shorter, but as someone who has produced podcast episodes from as short as 15 minutes (MIFV episode 1) to long as five hours (The Power Trip episode 30), what matters is the quality of the podcast. Listeners would rather hear three hours of compelling content than 30 minutes of boring blathering. I’ve had MIFV listeners with ADHD tell me they never get bored listening to episodes that average 2-2.5 hours. So, focus on being interesting, not necessarily short.
DON’T: Cough, belch, sneeze, etc.
No matter how many precautions you take, bodily functions will interrupt your recordings. While an occasional cough is forgivable, other body noises are generally seen as rude and distracting. No one wants somebody belching right into their ears. If and when you know they’re coming, be quick to mute your mic or cover your mouth. If they slip through—such as when it’s from a guest—once again, postproduction works wonders. I once had a guest pass gas so loud it was picked up by the mic. That was quickly edited out.
DON’T: Be boring
This is a broad statement, and I’d think it should go without saying, but I’ll still say it. If you’re not compelling to listen to, you won’t get or keep listeners. Boringness can manifest for multiple reasons (some of which are addressed in this blog), but in my experience, the most frequent causes are: 1) Off-topic tangents, 2) flat vocal delivery, 3) uninteresting topics, 4) too much information (i.e. info dump), and/or 5) too much silence. Ask listeners for feedback so you can identify how and when you are boring, which will help you determine how to correct the problem, whether that’s through speech, editing, or other methods.
DON’T: Give up
You most likely won’t be an overnight success when you launch your podcast. It can be discouraging to put in all the hard work researching, recording, editing, and publishing your show only to get a handful of downloads. Even now, after nearly four years of consistent podcasting, I get disappointed if my analytics don’t meet my expectations for a particular episode or timeframe. You might also lose your co-host or have guests drop out. But no matter what happens, don’t give up! Be patient as you build your audience and flexible as you meet behind-the-scenes challenges. Hold true to your goals, dreams, and aspirations with your show. Eventually, that determination will pay off.
Podcasting isn’t always easy or fun, but it’s worth it. These tips should help take your content to the next level. They’ll make things better for you and your listeners. Now that’s what I call sound advice (ba-dum-tsh!).