6 min readSelf 04 September 2020
In March 2020, I created eat.plank.live—my first podcast. At the time, I had no prior experience in media other than my blog, Pivot Points; my creative creations were relatively limited. For context on how I started on this journey, I work in tech, and pre-COVID-19, I had a long shuttle commute to and from work every day; think one and a half hours one-way on a good day. To pass the time, I would listen to podcasts and fell in love with NPR's "How I Built This" moderated by Guy Raz. If you aren't familiar with the podcast, it's an excellent view of the struggles and ultimate rise of entrepreneurs across several industries.
I know that the current pandemic has given rise to a wave of people inspired to start their own podcast. If you're one of those people, I have a few lessons learned to share with you and inform your path as a first-time podcaster.
My new exposure to podcasts planted the seed of curiosity in me about how they are made and whether I, too, could create something with such a wide reach around topics I care about such as food and wellness. In my podcast, I interview two types of guests: highly successful executives who rely on food and fitness to sustain their career trajectory and experts in nutrition, health, and wellness.
In the process of developing my podcast, I've learned so much along the way through research and trial and error. I know that the current pandemic has given rise to a wave of people inspired to start their own podcast. If you're one of those people, I have a few lessons learned to share with you and inform your path as a first-time podcaster:
1. Have a purpose but be flexible.
When I started eat.plank.live, I was razor-focused on the vision of what I wanted it to be. It started as a podcast between two friends but quickly evolved into a guest-centered podcast, which I believe is much more interesting for me and my listeners. This change in format provided my podcast with another layer of interest because I'm truly offering something new with each episode. I genuinely love hearing about people's lives, and in this, I found my niche.
2. Determine your exit point.
For my blog, I started with the notion that whether 5 people read it or 5,000 read it, it wasn't important to me. Blogging is more of an outlet with no other purpose beyond my own enjoyment. In contrast, depending on how sophisticated your podcast production is, it can become a moderately expensive investment. I had a downloads metric in mind and gave myself six months to reach that goal and determine if I should continue forward with my investment based on that metric. Mid-September will mark my 6-month assessment deadline; as of today (early September), I'm 64 downloads shy of my goal. More important than the metric, I'm feeling great about my progress and listener reception, so I do intend to continue with as much vigor as when I first started.
3. Determine how you want to record.
I originally thought I could record in my home; after all, how hard could it be? I purchased a microphone and downloaded audio editing software to record my first podcast. When I played it back, I knew that I didn't have the patience nor interest in learning how to get the audio quality to the level that I desired. I didn't want to compromise on quality and in order to have a sophisticated, crisp product, decided to outsource to a professional local recording studio. A simple Google search should provide you with viable options near you.
The studio I use requires a minimum of two hours for each recording session. I also provide the intro/outro music (see #5 below) and I receive fully mastered mp3 and wav files in return. Due to COVID-19, my guests call in from all over the world, and the studio manager simply routes them through the system. Quality is a non-negotiable for me so I'm willing to pay for what I want. But if you are on a limited budget, there's no lack of YouTube tutorials that can show you how to execute within your budget.
4. Develop your artwork.
The presence of platforms like Fiverr makes this step fairly seamless for podcasters looking for polished, professional cover art. In the early stages of my podcast, I used Canva as an inexpensive way to meet my podcast art needs. As my podcast grew, I decided to invest in an actual graphic artist via Fiverr.
If you decide to go this route, I suggest reaching out to at least three to four artists with portfolios that you like that have solid written reviews. When you reach out, it helps to have a point of view on what you want. Photos or illustrations? Bright colors or muted colors? Simple images or complex images? If there is existing artwork or other podcast cover art you like, share it with them for inspiration. Some artists may not respond or follow through but I've found most to be responsive and, ultimately, they've produced excellent work for me.
5. Select your intro/outro music.
There are many places online where you can purchase royalty-free music. Some may specify that you can only use the music in certain applications (e.g., no use on YouTube) so read the fine print.
Find music that speaks to you and listen to the samples at various times of the day. I listened to the track I ultimately landed on for at least two weeks just to make sure I truly loved it. I wanted music that was relaxing but had some rhythm; something that someone sitting in traffic or on the train could listen to without raising their blood pressure or, alternatively, putting them to sleep.
6. Decide which podcasting platform to use.
This decision is a personal choice. There are many free software options to choose from like Soundcloud and Libsyn so take the time to play around. They vary in functionality and ease of use but at the top of your list should be one that integrates well with your target platforms such as Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc. Again, YouTube has a wealth of tutorials that walk you through the ins and outs of the various software options. Take advantage of this resource early to understand the pros and cons of the platform you may be interested in.
7. Manage your podcast like a business.
Develop some method of tracking your podcasts especially if you are interviewing guests. It's critical to be meticulous because guests want to know that their name will be associated with quality so put your best foot forward.
8. Build a pipeline.
Life happens, so if possible, build a pipeline of recordings so that you can stay on schedule when/if the unexpected happens.
9. Look at metrics but don't obsess.
Whatever hosting platform you choose will have their own version of metrics management, which will show you details such as episode downloads, popularity by region, etc. Personally, I check my metrics every few weeks as a guidepost to see which topics and guests resonate most with my listeners but for the most part, I chose to focus on creating a quality product with interesting guests. I believe that if I get this right, the rest will work its way out organically.
10. Just start and forget about perfection.
After I started my podcast, an acquaintance asked me, "Is it hard?" In my opinion, most things are hard at first but you learn along the way. I know significantly more about podcasting than I knew six months ago, and in six months, I'll know more than I know now.
If you're interested in starting anything whether it be a podcast, blog, etc. just start somewhere and trust that you will figure things out along the way.
Best of luck!
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist