What it Takes to Make a Podcast

There's been plenty of talk lately about podcasting: what constitutes "quality", what kinds of equipment to use, how heavily to edit. Podcast network chief Dan Benjamin recently started a podcast about podcasting. Thanks to the AMAZING Serial, there's even talk of a "podcast Renaissance ". While the main focus here on the Uprising is to focus on high-quality work and the awesome people that produce it, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at what creating a podcast, from scratch without help from NPR or Planet Money, looks like from conception to pressing publish.

Step 1: It's Gotta Start Somewhere

Before I started writing here, my thoughts were limited to a few scattered tweets and my ill-fated career in journalism. When it finally got to the point that I felt like I had something worthwhile to say, I realized I hadn't written anything of considerable length on the internet since Xanga was still a thing. I investigated a few different options and decided Tumblr was the best fit for my haphazard writing (and thinking) style.

Along with being a great place to easily post whatever's on my mind, Tumblr has also made it easy to upload and share audio. I've been wanting to do a podcast for years, and I've always thought about a career in broadcast radio. I knew when I started this blog that I also wanted to do a podcast. I wanted to speak at length to someone about something; I just didn't have the focus or direction to make it happen. I mentioned the blog and the podcast to Rob, he asked it he could be a part of it, and we were set.

On a recent episode of Upgrade, Myke Hurley (the host and co-creator of podcast network Relay.fm) gave some advice to beginning podcasters. His first point was to find a friend. I'm glad I've got that part figured out.

Step 2: Prep Work

I started with a list of topics we wanted to discuss and some (in my mind) very ambitious goals for guests. We're working our way down that list now. I'll typically pick two or three topics that sound interesting to me on any given week, and Rob and I will talk about who we should ask to be our guest.

As of now, we haven't booked our first guest. Let us know if you're interested in talking to us about something awesome!

After that, I'll research both our topic and our guest so that I'm familiar with the essential information. I'll make an outline or a list of questions I want to make sure we ask, and I'll share that document with Rob via Google Drive so that he can add questions or talking points (and so that he's not walking in blind. Don't surprise the engineer).

Step 3: Just Press Record

Recording is actually the easy part. Rob and I record what's commonly (and comically) referred to as a "double ender". Once we're connected via Skype, we each record our own side of the conversation in order to sync them up later. As far as equipment goes, Rob uses a Blue Yeti Pro fed in a Behringer Q1202USB 12-Channel Mixer. I've used a USB headset to record up until recently when I purchased what I lovingly refer to as "the Vader edition" of the Blue Yeti on an Amazon Lightning Deal. I record my audio via Audacity, and Rob records and edits in Adobe Audition. I prefer Audacity because it's free, easy, and does everything I need it to do. Rob uses Audition namely because it's included in his Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

Step 4: Clean Up on Aisle 4

After we finish recording, I export my side of the audio as an mp3 and upload it to a shared Dropbox folder. I share a link to the via with Rob via Slack.

Slack is an ENTIRELY different post. Suffice to say, if you work on any type of collaborative effort and you're not using Slack for communication and file sharing, you're probably doing it wrong.

Rob downloads the file and adds my portion (along with his original recording) into Audition. Using some kind of magic that involves time markers, a trackpad, and tons of patience (mind you, he has to listen to me say everything again), he puts us together, cuts out the garbage (both sound and content), mixes it down to one file, puts it back in Dropbox, and pings me in Slack to let me know it's there. I listen back to the "final copy" and let him know if I notice anything off. I usually don't.

During his whole "fun and games with Audition" session (which can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week, depending on our J-O-B schedules), I'm working on the show notes. I'm so easily distracted that I have to listen back to the show at least twice with a notebook and pencil to make sure I don't miss anything. As narcissistic as this may sound, it's typically only my side of the audio because he's still working on making us sound better and more coherent than we typically are. After listening to myself ramble off-topic for large chunks of time, hoping I don't miss a reference to a link, I respect the hard and often annoying work he has to do. On my end, I'm both lackadaisical and very particular about show notes. As a listener, I know how much I enjoy having a visual resource I can refer back to later. As a show host, I frankly find all of the work-- looking for, locating, cutting, pasting, and formatting links into a format that's easy to publish and also easy to read-- to be a pain in the ass. Fortunately for our reader/listeners, I tend to write show notes more akin to ATP than Nerds on Draft (both awesome podcasts in their own rights).

I'm still working on the best way to post the podcast and the show notes in a way that makes sense. We're planning the switchover to Squarespace, and it looks like that'll make things a bit more seamless when we're trying to work with things like feeds and syndication in iTunes.

I think it's an interesting aside that iTunes and Skype are both regarded as "lacking" in their respective spaces, but they both continue to be tools on which podcasters must rely. Allen Pike has a great article on why, at least as far as Skype is concerned, we haven't been able to do any better.

Step 5: You Got a Promotion!

I don't want to say we promote the podcast so much as we let people know it's available and it exists. Neither Rob nor myself started down this road because we thought it would lead to fame and riches. We do it because we love podcasts and because we feel like we have something of value to add to the community. I love to learn; it's one of the reasons I continue to go to school every day (it's certainly not for the paycheck). It sounds corny, but I hope I can teach our listeners something whenever they decide to spend their commute or free time listening to us prattle on about something for an hour at a time.

So that's pretty much it: alpha to omega with plenty in between. We're not by any means experts (or even very good at it yet). The important thing to us and to our audience is that we love it. We're committed to making a high-quality product that we would want to download and hear. It's not fancy. We don't have separate recording machines or an IRC channel for live chat, or even our first real guest. But, as Marco Arment puts it, we care, and it's only the beginning.