Recently I had someone ask me about what it takes to start a podcast. In other words, they wanted to know how to podcast successfully. It’s a great question that leaves me with some questions of my own. In this individual’s case, he was talking about starting up an audio podcast. But in the era of so many video podcasts out there, it’s a tough place to break into and build an audience. How the heck would a lowly computer geek such as myself know anything about running a podcast? Perhaps because I was one of three co-founders of the audio podcast known as Weezy and the Swish. TechTV’s Laura Swisher, Premiere Radio Networks co-founder Louise Palanker, Matt Sigman (sound engineer), and yours truly (co-producer), were out to make a show about absolutely nothing of immediate importance. That last bit I say in jest. We had a blast and when I bowed out in the last year of the show, I felt really good about the podcast being featured in the iTunes podcast section. Yeah, Apple contacted us! We laughed, had good times, and interviewed lots of cool people… like Henry Winkler!
Enough posturing, let’s get to the advice already
During my stint with the show, I was in charge of coming up with all of the distribution solutions, an intro (the first year), and of course, a way of building up some interest amongst potential listeners. The latter thankfully took care of itself thanks in part to Laura and Louise (Weezy) which allowed me to focus on the technical side. Now remember, back in 2005, services for podcasting were just coming into fruition. This meant that hosting was a real challenge as not to crash the server or end up going broke with bandwidth overruns.
Back then, I started out doing things the hard way because I didn’t align my audio hosting right away. Sure, there was always archive.org as an option. But back in 2005, it was incredibly undependable and asking listeners to tolerate that wasn’t really an option. This led me to some new(ish) audio hosting services that actually worked out pretty well. The one I ended up sticking with is today known as Hipcast. Back in those days however, they were known as Audioblog.com.
The service not only gave me access to a place to host my audio MP3s, but it also offered the added bonus of a neat little Web player. From here, we inserted the episode description into a blog post, then attached the audio into the post as you can see here. Once that was completed, I relied on a brand new RSS tool at the time called FeedBurner. Remember, this was before Google bought it out, so there were still bugs to be had. But what made FeedBurner so awesome was the fact that it supported podcast enclosures out of the box. When people subscribed to the RSS feed, they could use the podcast aggregator of their choice.
Last, I had to set up something that would work with iTunes. Thanks again to FeedBurner, this was a snap. The biggest challenge was waiting on my hands for Apple to give us the green light back then.
Pitfalls to avoid
If I could offer one piece of advice, above all else, it’s this. Back up everything. After I left the show, there was a server mishap that took place and irreplaceable audio content was lost forever. It happens, but if backups had been in place, it would have been a minor issue. The second piece of advice is using Hipcast for audio hosting. From 2005 on to the end of my stay at the show, it never let me down with uptime. Not once did I have a problem there. I say this as conventional wisdom says to host audio files on a standard Web server. Wrong! Stick with services designed to serve massive traffic at the same time with that kind of media.
Last but certainly not least, do not go with a crappy Web host. I will not mention names here and instead simply point out that reviews/referrals mean everything. Cheaper is never better and if it doesn’t offer 24/7 support, walk away and find a better Web host.
Tools and gear
I had run other podcasts besides the one listed above and will share this with you. Only buy proper gear if you’re planning on making the show a big part of your life. Seriously, this nonsense about needing specialized mics, breakout boxes, and other crap is utter insanity. Yes, we had an audio engineer with thousands of dollars’ worth of goodies with the podcast mentioned above. Yet I also ran another podcast with a USB headset and the software Audacity. Properly mixed, you’d be hard pressed to know one was done with less equipment.
My advice, start off cheap; build up slowly as you become successful. This way if podcasting becomes a passing thing in your life, you’re not out tons of expensive stuff. Sure, if you’re doing a “real show” it’s important. But for some guy talking to himself or just doing interviews over Skype, it’s overkill in my honest opinion. And last, Weezy and the Swish had the advantage of using music from The Cowsills for their intro (with their blessing); you can take the easy approach by hitting places like Music Alley for great Creative Commons pieces. Edit, mix, and enjoy.