Over the years, podcasts have begun to grow in popularity. They’re entertaining and easy to listen to wherever you go, contributing to the overall appeal of the listening platform. But while chatting into a mic might seem simple and straightforward, starting a podcast is anything but that. From figuring out how to record, planning topics to speak about, editing the audio, and deciding where to upload it for others to listen, podcasts aren’t simply a walk in the park. Even though it’s possible to learn the skills and techniques on your own, it doesn’t hurt to get some advice from professionals in this industry.
Google’s Podcasting 101 video series and HowToMakeAPodcast.org, an online guide created by producer and host Misha Euceph, are some of the best online resources. Another great place to start is a good old-fashioned book; longtime audio producer and podcast host Kristen Meinzer published “So You Want to Start a Podcast” last year, a guide for anyone interested in starting a podcast. After hearing countless friends and colleagues say they had ideas for podcasts but no idea how to start one, she decided to write a practical guide as an alternative to the misconceptions in online advice touting how “easy” it is to get started with only a smartphone and headphones.
“Their advice wasn’t about setting people up for success,” she said in an email interview. “It was about getting them to buy products, or buy into a fake promise. I knew I could do better, and at the same time, I knew I could be more inclusive of women and people of color.”
In her book, Meinzer breaks down concepts like story structure, interview how-to, building a listener community, and other basics. She doesn’t delve into technical terminology, like mics and editing software, but instead offers what feels like a friendly consultation with a professional. She worked in public radio for years and was unimpressed by the lack of shows featuring non-male hosts. When she began writing her book, she said that nearly two-thirds of the shows out there had at least one male host – a completely inaccurate reflection of reality. Luckily, that imbalance can be easily adjusted with the accessibility of digital media. While it’s true there’s currently an overwhelming variety of podcasts being made, Meinzer says not to see it as limiting. Instead, with the mentality of “they can do it, why can’t I?”, underrepresented voices can see and hear themselves in the media they consume. Beginning a podcast can be an important first part of that mindset change.
“The two most important questions I believe any podcaster needs to focus on are: ‘Why am I making this show?’ and ‘Who is it for?’” she says. “These questions will always exist, regardless of the landscape, and need to be answered.”
Once it feels like it’s time to start recording, set aside time to plan out the goals and expectations for the project. The first step is to visualize the audience, which can define whether a podcast is a passion project or something taken more seriously. Sustainability is the hardest part of beginning any new project and taking the time to lay out the expectations as the host, for both collaborators and the audience, will help a show get past episode three. Also take a moment to map out goals for monetization, decide whether it’s a short-term or long-term project, and evaluate similar podcasts. Passion projects are susceptible to early burn out, but staying flexible with open goals can mean shifting things around to make sure it has space to grow.
“I don’t see it as a passion project. I see the arts as my calling, a part of me,” says Tran Vu, the director of AIR Media’s New Voices fellowship and audio producer. “So right now, it so happens that I’m not able to make [the art] my main thing, but I definitely know it’s something that I’m going to stick with and commit to because I know it’s a part of my mission.”
Whether it’s a passion project or a show to build a brand around, creating a new podcast is exciting. Starting and sustaining a project that best reflects one’s goals is the best way to work out any kinks in a process, and eventually get noticed. A proof of concept lies in the strength of the idea, and the execution of the story. Producer and teacher Alex Laughlin states that pitching an idea instead of a story is the most common mistake she sees in her students: “A story is something that has a beginning, middle, and end; it is something that has stakes, it has characters, there is change that happens, there is action.” She also compares deciding when a project is for personal creation versus public consumption to her writing, as she often reflects on how her work adds to what’s already been created.
“In the process of revising, I’m not only trying to make it a better piece, I’m also trying to think about how this fits into the larger conversation that’s happening around this topic – and how am I adding something new?” she said.
After figuring out the purpose a podcast will serve and how the story reflects that purpose, it’s time to get into the technical weeds. Becoming a self-taught podcast creator is definitely possible, especially using guides like the resources listed earlier, but for more serious creators, formal training options exist as well. Organizations like AIR Media, PRX, and Transom host workshops and fellowships for audio creatives at all levels, though most have registration fees and other costs. Vu recommends formal credibility options if it aligns with and improves professional goals, but doesn’t think serious training is required for people who want to start personal creative projects.
“I think for a lot of underrepresented creatives who may not have the resources and even the time, it’s always great if that’s possible for you to plug into a more structured program,” she said. “It depends on the level you want to get to and if you want to keep improving your skills; it really depends on your goals and your vision, what you’re trying to do.”
Finding and joining supportive communities can make all the difference for beginner creatives. Being around others doing the same creative work helps people stay motivated, troubleshoot problems, network common interests, and encourage one another. For underrepresented voices, seeing other podcast creators as a community and acknowledging the ways each person tells an individual story fights the “there can only be one” mentality. Having a safe group of people to validate and bounce ideas off of will help beginners stay grounded and avoid getting caught up with imposter syndrome. Ignoring that little insecure voice takes time, and even with experience it won’t always go away. Mel Cheng, one of the creators and hosts of the Asian Boss Girl Podcast, said she still struggles with making a podcast that represents Asian American women.
“One thing I try to remind myself at all times is with ABG we keep telling ourselves we’re sharing our stories,” she said. “In the end, our stories – no one can ever take (them) away from us.”
Creating a podcast takes a lot of work, technical skills, and time, but it’s also a highly accessible field from a creative perspective. Recognizing other Asian women working in the audio space also means figuring out the ways each individual voice is different. Getting stuck on the ideas of what influencer culture should look or sound like ultimately hurts any voice or story. Despite the news stories about overcrowded fields and “peak podcast,” there’s still a lot to be gained from new shows, especially when the range of Asian stories is so broad in ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and intersectional lived experiences. Beginning an exciting project or podcast is really about changing the narrative of whose stories get told.
“It requires so much more work to be safe than real,” Cheng said. “Why put that much work on yourself to be someone that you’re not? I’d rather be remembered and liked for being me than trying to be someone I’m not.”
Photo credit: Soundtrap//Unsplash
Last modified: October 30, 2020