I listen to a lot of podcasts. No, seriously, a lot of podcasts. On all different subjects: Apple, space, movies, front-end web development, and even one particular radio show that has described itself as a soft-core sports show — just to highlight a few of my favorites — all funneled through Instacast onto my iPhone.
Mostly I listen to these podcasts either during my short commute to and from work and while I’m working (so long as what I’m working on isn’t super brain-intensive, requiring my complete focus and concentration; it’s off to Pandora for those times).
So while I’m not a great expert on producing podcasts, I consider myself somewhat of an expert at listening to them, and I’ve compiled a few friendly suggestions for those podcast creators to improve their product.
Get a Decent Microphone
This will go 80% of the way in making your good podcast a great one. Some podcasts I listen to are actually hard to listen to because the podcaster is using the built-in microphone on their laptop. This doesn’t cut it. Get yourself an inexpensive Blue Snowball or other USB microphone, and then have it close to your mouth when speaking into it.
When a podcaster isn’t using a quality sound capture system, there tends to be a lot of echo in the audio. For some reason, I find that exhausting to listen to. USB microphones aren’t expensive, and they make all the difference in the world.
A Little Chatter Goes a Long Way
When multiple voices are on a podcast, there is a tendency for the personalities to chat it up and sometimes stray off course from the topic at hand. This is fine, but only to a point. Some podcasts seemed to get bogged down in banter, as if that was what the show was about. Chit-chat and rat holes are part of what makes the disembodied voices seem real to the listener, but if half or more of your show is friendly jibes at one another, in-jokes, and off topic material, the listener will wonder why he tuned in in the first place.
Have a Beginning and an End
Find a little theme music to let the listener know when the podcast is starting and ending. I often listen to podcasts one right after another, and it’s jarring to hear one podcast suddenly end, as if the “stop” button on the recording was clicked and that was it, followed immediately by talking in the next podcast. I’m no expert on music royalties or how any of that works, but there are services such as the Music Alley that extoll free music for podcasters. I don’t know the quality of them, but it’s a place to start, right?
But Don’t Overproduce
On the flip side of the coin, there are some podcasts that go over-the-top on their intros and outros. Modulated voices, bizarre sound effects — it’s like the podcaster got a new toy and played with all the settings. Resist the urge to go hog-wild on such things. Keeping your podcast — along with its beginning and end — simple, clean and elegant will make it appear much more professional.
Save the “Theme” Effects
Related to the previous are some podcasts that like to play on a theme. Maybe, for example, the podcast is set outside, in the city, with traffic noises in the background. Again, like the echo from the first topic, the additional sounds in your podcast that aren’t actually people speaking to the topic just create competition for the listener’s ears. Why should I be hearing car horns in the background when you’re talking about whatever it is the podcast is about? It’s unnecessary. Drop it. The same goes for background music too. There’s no background music or sound effects when stories are being read on the nightly news, so there really shouldn’t be in your podcast either.
If all of these suggestions makes your think that your podcast will be boring when all is said and done, think again. People are downloading your podcast to listen to you, to hear your words and your ideas. Focus on creating great content, then deliver it clearly and well, and people will flock to your podcast.