How to Start a Podcast – The Ultimate Guide [Updated for 2021]

As a team, we’ve been living and breathing podcasts since 2013. We know what it takes to launch and run one successfully (including all the things we wish we’d known when we first started.)

It’s one of the reasons we created Captivate in the first place – to give people like you who might be  just starting out the tools, knowledge and conviction to build your own podcasting empire!

A quick Google search will turn up loads of things you COULD do when you start a podcast, but what we can give you are all the things we’ve learnt, applied and had success with after years of running our own podcasts, companies and working with thousands of podcasters.

That’s why we’ve made this ultimate guide to starting a podcast, which covers the most important things you need to know about how to start a podcast in the following practical, easy-to-follow steps. 

How To Start A Podcast in 8 Steps: The Short and Sweet Version

  1. Write down a few ideas and a simple structure for your show.
  2. Get a microphone – our recommendations are the ATR-2100X or the Samson Q2U.
  3. Connect the microphone up to your computer, phone or tablet.
  4. Start recording! Audacity is free and you can edit there, too.
  5. Export your recording. You’ll need an MP3, at 64 or 96kbps for discussion and 128kbps for more complex audio (including music, for example).
  6. Upload your MP3 to your podcast host and hit publish.
  7. Submit your podcast to the directories through your podcast host, using your RSS feed URL.
  8. Once you’ve done that, you can keep recording and publishing: listeners will be able to access your episodes in their chosen app, via the web or through voice assistants.

That’s it in a nutshell, really!

But, like anything, there’s a lot more to learn. If you need more detail, guidance and advice, we’ve got your back – carry on reading for more information on designing, building, recording and launching your podcast.

How To Start A Podcast: The Ultimate Comprehensive Guide

Phase 1 – Designing Your Podcast

This first section covers everything you need to know about designing your podcast, including how to decide on your podcast topic, choosing a podcast name, planning the structure of your episodes and more.

Choose Your Podcast Name and Topic

The very first step in starting a podcast is knowing what you are going to talk about and what topic you are going to choose.

Yes, you need to be knowledgeable about the topic you choose, but just as important is picking something you will love talking about. Are you excited by it? Even more importantly, are you happy to build your audio brand around your chosen subject? 

I can guarantee that whatever topic you choose, there will be an audience and an appetite for it somewhere, no matter how niche. 

Choosing A Podcast Name

So, you’ve come up with a cracking podcast topic! What’s next? Picking a corker of a podcast name, of course.

An image displaying three podcast covers
Picking a name for your podcast is tricky! Try getting creative, being descriptive, or name it after yourself.

Picking a name is no easy feat, and I completely get that. In fact, I recorded a whole episode about how to go about it. Here’s some tactics that have worked for me, and some things to avoid:

  1. Check for duplicates – make sure there isn’t already a podcast using your name, or a close variant.
  2. Be creative – get those creative juices flowing and come up with a creative or clever name. For example, a couple of my favourites are ‘99% Invisible’ and ‘Brought to you by…’.
  3. Be descriptive – don’t be too cute, go for the ‘exactly what is says on the tin’ approach. Descriptive names are immediately identifiable to target audiences and easier to find when people are searching for podcasts on a particular subject in search engines like Google. For example, ‘Football Weekly’ or ‘The Property Podcast’.
  4. Use your name IF people already know you – take a leaf out of ‘The Adam Buxton Podcast’ or ‘The Dave Ramsey Show’ and name your show after yourself if you already have a decent-sized following. This isn’t the best idea if you’re just starting out online, though, as people will come for a name they know but hardly for one they don’t.
  5. Don’t use the word ‘podcast’– there’s no real harm in using the word podcast in your name but it can be a little redundant. Nine times out of 10, when someone is searching for a podcast, they will be searching in a podcast directory, so the results are all going to be podcasts anyway. So, if you are struggling with the length of your title and if you’re using ‘podcast’, this word should be the first to go.
  6. Keyword stuffing – avoid overly long titles or ‘keyword stuffing’ (listing keyword variations) as iTunes/Apple Podcasts have started to really clamp down on this.
  7. SEO – it’s a huge bonus if your show is a natural Google magnet so consider a show name that feels natural to someone researching your niche and what they might type in to Google to find a podcast like yours.

Plan And Structure Your Podcast

Now you’ve nailed the podcast topic and name, you need to think about the planning and structure of your podcast.

When listening to podcasts, you can definitely hear a difference between structured episodes and on-the-fly discussion episodes. Of course you will: they’re different formats. 

What’s important to consider is your listener and their experience when listening to your podcast. Is it easy to follow? Is the content engaging and accurate? Are your episodes fun to listen to? Are there musical segues to break up long periods of talking?

I recommend that you listen to established podcasts and see how others do it, what common themes there are, and how they get their show to flow.

Then, pick a structure that you like and importantly, a structure that means you’ll be able to keep producing even when you’re busy and start with that.

Got 10 minutes? Listen to my episode of The Podcast Accelerator on how to engage listeners and give them the best experience with your podcast from day one. 

Create Your Artwork, Logo And Music

Now you’ve got a topic, name and a format for your podcast, the next step is working on your artwork and music. 

Having the right artwork for your podcast is important, not just because it ups your production values, but also because, as assets, they’re a wider representation of your audio brand and how you want to be perceived by your audience and peers.

There’s also the need to stand out from the crowd. When people are searching for podcasts around your topic, use your logo and artwork to draw them into your podcast. Stop them scrolling past your show and picking a competitor.

Descriptive, eye-catching, on-theme: just a handful of Apple’s Top 50 US Podcasts and their cover art.
Descriptive, eye-catching, on-theme: just a handful of Apple’s Top 50 US Podcasts and their cover art.
How To Create Podcast Cover Art

If graphics aren’t your strong point, I highly recommend looking into paying someone to create this for you. It will be worth the money, trust me. Here are my recommendations:

  • 99Designs – A fantastic way to commission bespoke design and artwork. Set a brief, choose your pricing tier and get quotes and concepts back from up to 30 different designers.
  • Canva – An extremely handy design tool with free templates and customisable assets for every day marketing materials such as social media posts, podcast cover art and tons more. 
  • Fiverr – Search out and commission bespoke design, music, tech and marketing services for your podcast.
Where To Find Royalty Free Music For Your Podcast

Every podcast also needs its own recognisable sound. You want people to recognise your podcast just from listening to your intro

You can record your own music, find royalty-free music or pay for music to be created for you. Purchasing a music license is definitely worth the money – here at Captivate, we recommend Music Radio Creative or SongsForPodcasters, who specialise in podcast music, intros and royalty free podcast music.

Pro-tip: don’t make your intro too long before getting to something juicy – you need to grab the listener’s attention quickly!

Choose Your Release Schedule

Last, but by no means least, is choosing your release schedule.

This is largely going to rely on the format and quantity of content you produce, as well as who you’re producing it for

My podcast, The Podcast Accelerator, runs three times a week for around 10 minutes an episode. They’re designed to fit into the schedule of a busy podcaster, so I know keeping them short and succinct is the best way to engage my audience.

If your podcast is a narrative format relying on longer, detailed research, it’s probably best to stick to a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly schedule. That way you can guarantee quality and consistency, which is how you’ll draw in subscribers and keep them listening. 

An illustration of a calendar, indicating a podcast publishing schedule.
It’s best to release your episodes during the week, but don’t get hung up on the details: the most important thing is to publish consistently.

So, when you’re choosing your release schedule, think first about who your podcast is for. How are you going to fit into their schedule? Are you going to publish your episodes weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? 

Once you have decided on your release schedule, make sure you stick to it. Consistency is key for a successful podcast. Your listeners need to know when they can expect a new episode to be published. If they know when they can expect a new episode, they are more likely going to become regular listeners.

Phase 2 – Get Your Podcast Equipment And Technology

Next up in our ultimate guide are my recommendations for the best equipment and technology needed for starting a podcast.

This is a bit like Christmas dinner – everyone’s way is the best way. For your easy reference, I’ve put together a list of the products we use day in, day out at Rebel Base Media to produce our podcasts and YouTube content. They’re tried, tested and thoroughly recommended by myself.

Screenshot of Amazon webfront.
Head to my Amazon store to see my full podcast equipment recommendations, including best podcast equipment for your own studio or setup.

Get A Podcasting Microphone

If you want your podcast to sound legit and professional, you should be using a microphone when recording episodes and interviewing guests. You can easily tell the difference between podcasts that have used an in-built microphone on a computer, laptop or phone and those that have invested in a decent microphone. 

Yes folks, it’s the microphone that has the biggest effect on the quality of your podcast audio. There’s only so much that even the most advanced editing software can do. 

Luckily, you don’t need to raid a bank to get your hands on a reliable microphone these days!

Best Podcast Microphones for Beginners – Our Recommendations

Best for budget and flexibility:

Audio-Technica ATR-2100x – $99.99

Samson Q2u – $59.99

Best for budget quality:

RODE PodMic$99.99

Get Some Podcasting Headphones

I recommend that every podcaster who is serious about podcasting also invests in a decent pair of headphones. Headphones are just as important as a microphone.

There are many benefits to wearing headphones while recording a podcast, such as improving your presenting skills and microphone technique, whilst also making the editing process easier for yourself.

Wearing headphones can save you from a podcast disaster such as levels being too high or low, or the dreaded popping situation, which is a term used to describe when harsh sounds are created with hard plosives such as ‘people’ or ‘kitten’.

You can start with an iPhone headset or whatever headphones you already have, but as time goes on, you might want to invest in headphones that are optimized for audio production.

Best Podcast Headphones for Beginners – Our Recommendations

Sony MDR-7506$79.99

Recording Your Podcast

To record your podcast, you will need to install some kind of recording software. Some are free and some you will have to pay for. There are so many different options out there to choose from, but here are the ones I have tried, tested and continue to use every day.

Top tools for recording your podcast solo:

  1. Audacity, Software, FREE 
  1. Alitu, Software, $28/month 
  1. Zoom Podtrak P4, Hardware, $199.99

Top tools for recording your podcast remotely:

  1. Squadcast, Software, $9/month 
Related:  Learn How to Market a Podcast from 6 Successful Podcasters

Editing and Processing Your Podcast

After recording your podcast, it’s time to edit and process your episode before publishing for all to hear. Editing isn’t just about adding in your music and sponsor message. It’s also about tidying up the audio so it sounds professional. Here’s some pointers:

  • Cut out of any weird background noises, long pauses, or unnecessary uses of ums and other words and phrases such as ‘like’ or ‘so’. 
  • Set up presets for your episodes (like templates for your audio), which will be automatically applied each time you produce a new episode.

Again, similar to recording, there are many different editing and processing software options to choose from, suiting both beginner and advanced levels. Some offer free tools, whilst some are paid-for (and much easier because of it!) 

What bitrate and file type should you use for a podcast?

File type: Export your episodes as an MP3 for maximum compatibility and optimized file size. 

Bit rate: As a general rule, use 64 kbps (mono) for speech/narrative podcast. Use 128 or 192 kbps for podcasts (stereo) using music or sound effects. 

Top tip: Unlike other podcast hosts, Captivate doesn’t tinker with your audio quality at all! There’s no limit to what you can upload – so feel free to experiment with what sounds best for your podcast.

The best software for editing and producing your podcast:

Alitu 
Starts at $28/month
This is my top recommendation for editing. A top tool for speeding up your workflow, with handy automations, teaser templates and a custom drag-and-drop builder for easy, intuitive production.

Audacity 
FREE 
An open source recording and editing suite, available on Windows, Mac, Linux and perfect for beginners.

Auphonic 
Process up to 2 hours of audio a month for FREE
We use Auphonic to process the audio for the podcasts we produce but it’s worth noting that it’s not really an editing tool, it’s more of a tool to process your audio before you publish it. 

Secure Podcast Hosting

So, your podcast is now ready to be published. This is where a podcast host comes into play. A podcast host is a place where you can store and distribute your episodes to podcast directories, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher, to name a few.

There are many hosting platforms to choose from, but rather than going for the cheapest option, look at the benefits and features the platform offers.

Not sure what podcast hosting is, why it’s important or how to choose the best one for you? Check out Podcast Hosting Explained: The Podcasting Beginner’s Guide for everything you need to know.

Captivate Podcast Hosting plans start at $17 per month (paid annually).

Captivate is the world’s only growth-oriented podcast host, and for only $17 per month you can enjoy a wealth of growth-focused features such as:

Did we also mention that everyone can try Captivate for free for 7 days? Sign up to get access to all of our growth and marketing features from day one – no obligation.

Phase 3 – Putting It All Together

So you’ve planned out your podcast, and you understand what equipment and technology is needed. Now, my friend, it’s time to put everything together and get ready for launch. Exciting times!

Generate Your RSS Feed to Get Listed In Apple, Google, Spotify etc

Every podcast needs an RSS feed, as this is how you submit your episodes to Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts and other podcast directories, so people can discover your show.

Another perk with using a podcast host like Captivate, that it will generate an RSS feed for you. You can then use our Distribution page to easily submit your feed to:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • Google Podcasts
  • Amazon Music/Audible
  • Gaana
  • Jiosaavn
  • Pandora
  • TuneIn
  • Stitcher
  • RadioPublic
  • Podchaser
  • All the main aggregators including Overcast, Pocket Cast and Castro
  • And so many more.

Top tip: You only need to submit your podcast to each directory once. It can take a while for your podcast to appear in certain directories – up to 2 weeks for Apple Podcasts – so if you have a specific launch date in mind, make sure to leave plenty of time for approval. 

Use Captivate’s central Distribution hub to connect your podcast to all the major directories and aggregators quickly and easily.
Use Captivate’s central Distribution hub to connect your podcast to all the major directories and aggregators quickly and easily.
How To Get Your Podcast Into The Major Directories: Helpful Links

Phase 4 – Get Ready to Launch

Writing And Recording The Trailer

First things first, you need to come up with a trailer for your podcast. The idea here is to give your potential listeners a low-effort, non-committal way to try your podcast before they commit to downloading an episode.  

A screenshot of a podcast trailer in a podcast player.
Record a short, concise and effective podcast trailer to introduce new listeners to your show.

Think of it like an elevator pitch. You want to be including highlights of what’s to come and a reason to get excited for your first episode, within a minute or two. 

Trailers are important even after you have published your first episodes. No one jumps from seeing your podcast in their feed to a full subscriber – it’s much easier to win over listeners with an engaging, targeted one-minute trailer than with a full episode. 

Uploading Your Podcast And Publishing Episodes

Armed with your artwork, podcast trailer and first episode, it’s time to submit your podcast to the directories and start publishing your episodes, aka the most exciting moment for any new podcaster!

You will need to upload your general podcast information, such as your show description, artwork/logo and RSS feed. Then it’s a case of publishing your individual episodes, including individual episode show notes for the directories to display.

The shownotes, title and subtitle of a podcast episode.
Getting your first episodes ready for release is super exciting, and Captivate makes it fun and straightforward!

Captivate makes this process as quick and easy:

  1. Upload your audio.
  2. Fill in your episode title and subtitle, episode show notes, season number and episode number, plus optional SEO tags.
  3. Hit publish!

Boom, you’ve released your first podcast episode!

Need more help? Check out our step-by-step tutorial on publishing an episode on Captivate.

Setting Up Your Podcast Website

If you want to start a podcast nowadays, you’ve GOT to have a podcast website. A website acts as a central hub for promoting your podcast, yes. But it also:

  1. Increases the chances of your podcast being discovered
  2. Allows better content ownership and brand control
  3. Offers more value and you can repurpose your podcast into blogs, videos or infographics 
  4. Creates an accessible and searchable archive of past episodes for listeners to find old and new episodes
  5. Gives you the ability to create a community and loyal fanbase
Captivates podcast websites as displayed on laptop, phone and tablet.
Captivate’s podcast websites are free from day one, fully customizable and responsive to give you an immediate online hub for your podcast.

When it comes to Captivate and podcast websites, you have two really powerful (and easy) options:

  1. Captivate Sites™Captivate’s podcast websites are the most powerful podcast websites from any hosting platform.

    Create a simple website for your podcast that automatically includes your episodes, show subscription links and everything you need to launch and grow your podcast.

    Choose from 3 fully responsive templates, customize your colours, header, team bios, add donation links and even an opt-in form or lead magnet to encourage sign-ups to your podcast mailing list.

    Even better, this option is free to all podcasters from day one, and can be set up in minutes.
  1. Captivate Sync™ – Captivate Sync™ is a free, simple WordPress plugin that offers complete integration with your WordPress website. You can upload, edit, publish and delete  episodes directly from your WordPress dashboard – a slick feature that’s sure to speed up your workflow.

Top Tips For A Successful Podcast Launch Day

The day has finally arrived, and everything is in place to launch your podcast!

You’re ready to hit submit and send your podcast and episodes to the directories for all to hear. 

Here are 4 of my top tips for a successful podcast launch:
  1. Don’t delay your launch! Ignore that voice in your head telling you to make those final tweaks – set a date, stick to it and enjoy your hard work!
  2. Have a clear goal in mind for your podcast. Know what you want to achieve and set goals and targets that you want to hit along the way.
  3. Try not to overthink the editing process. We’re indie podcasters, not NPR – don’t let slip ups or editing mistakes get in your way of publishing an episode. We’re all human and the odd ‘um’ and ‘ah’ here and there is fine.
  4. Speaking of NPR, no one turns their mic on and turns into Ira Glass! Hosting a podcast takes practice – if you need a pep talk, I’m here with the goods (the goods being a dedicated Podcast Accelerator on why you should Stop Over Analysing and Hit Record!). 

Bonus – What’s Next?

You have now reached the final chapter of the starting a podcast ultimate guide, aptly named ‘What The Heck Do I Do Now!?’

After launching your podcast, what’s next? How do you keep momentum up? How do you keep track of how your podcast is performing?

Understanding Podcast Analytics

You need a way to measure the success of your podcast, right? 

The truth is, ‘success’ is massively subjective and your success won’t look like anyone else’s. When you’ve first launched, success will look like:

  • A handful of listeners that you can engage with closely 
  • Listens that are trending upwards, no matter how ‘small’ your numbers are.
Inside the Captivate analytics dashboard. When your podcast is new, it’ll take time to build up a strong picture of how your show is performing. Whilst that’s happening, keep publishing, promoting and engaging your audience!

Accuracy and consistency in your podcast analytics is crucial to gauging how well your podcast is doing, and what you’ll need to change up. Captivate offers all podcasters IAB certified podcast analytics, giving you a highly reliable picture of who’s downloading your podcast and how many times, as well as LOADS more intelligent metrics:

  • Unique listeners
  • Download averages (per day, per week, per month, per 90 days)
  • Listener behaviour
  • Downloads per episode
  • Geographical/demographic data

Growing Your Podcast Listeners

You can see that people are downloading and listening to your episodes. Happy days!

Like I said earlier, a successful podcast is one that is growing. So, after you’ve launched, you’ll get to a point where you’re ready to invest time, money and resources into really growing the number of listeners you have.

Rather than getting hundreds of people tuning in a month, you now want to be in the thousands. How do you do this? How do you go about attracting more listeners to your podcast?

The answer, my friend, is through marketing. You need to market your podcast and promote the hell out of your episodes and guests.

There are many different ways to do this, and it just so happens that we have an in-depth article on the subject, where we share quick wins, advice from podcasters themselves and 14 of our marketing tips.

Making Money From Your Podcast

So, you have put together an effective marketing strategy that is working and each month you see the number of listens and downloads increasing at an impressive rate.

Podcasts that have a decent amount of downloads each month are in a fortunate position to start making money, and even a monthly income, from their episodes.

When you’re ready to start, we have published a huge list of the 15 ways in which you can monetize your podcast, including:

  • How to pitch and win your first podcast sponsors
  • How to create a Patreon or paid subscription for your podcast
  • Creating a marketable brand from your podcast through event speaking and coaching

Let’s Start Your Podcast Together!

There you have it! 

Now you should be raring to go and ready to embark on your podcasting journey, full of ideas that you are ready to put into practice. But if you need a little more help and encouragement…

Need Help? Here’s Exactly What To Do Next

Join our dedicated Podcast Launch Facebook group, a safe space where over 3000 podcasters help each other to start, launch and produce quality shows!

Browse our blog for regular, comprehensive tutorials and podcast tips on everything from launching your podcast to navigating marketing, monetization and more.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for dedicated weekly coaching videos, tutorials and guides hosted by the Rebel Base Media team.

Reach out to us directly through our support channels – we’ll be happy to help you with whatever podcasting question you have! We cover all major time zones, so no matter your question, you’re never alone.

Get an hour’s worth of FREE coaching with the How To Start A Podcast collection, a bundle of highlights from The Podcast Accelerator.

Rachel

Rachel is Captivate's Marketing Coordinator and works closely with podcasters to ensure that the content that Captivate creates is genuinely helpful and easy to understand.