Making a Podcast
When the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns were a few months old, I decided I needed a new project. I’ve often thought about making a podcast and what it takes to do it, so I jumped right in. With the help of my old friend Mike, we started the Gutenberg Deep Dive on a shoestring budget and have now made several episodes. I learned a lot in a short time on how this process works and wanted to capture it here.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I tend to think the format has a ton of potential to convey information and entertain while not being the time suck that Youtube or Netflix can be. You can listen to a podcast while going about your day doing the mindless activities you need to get done (cooking, cleaning, driving, etc.). Giving my brain something to listen to actually helps me stay focused on getting the mundane tasks done. NPR seems to be the king of podcasts, but there are podcasts for everything, and the barrier for entry is lower than you think. I wanted to find out how low and what the process really involves.
Let’s break things down into three sections: Recording, Editing, and Hosting. For each one, I’ll tell you what I’m using and how much I spent (or didn’t) to produce a product.
The first step to a podcast is, of course, recording. Everything starts with quality audio captured through a microphone. You can do a lot in post-editing, but if you don’t have decent audio to start, you’re dead in the water.
I spent a few bucks and bought a condenser microphone. Specifically, I bought a TONOR TC-777, but there are several options on the market, with wide-ranging quality. Any dedicated microphone is better than what you have built into your webcam or laptop, so you need to drop a few bucks on this. I tried my headset I use for work calls, and while it was noticeably better than the built-in mic, it lacked the depth of sound from the condenser mic.
For recording itself, you have a lot of options. If you are recording by yourself, I strongly recommend Audacity. It’s free, open-source, and also what I use for editing. You can also use the included audio recorder on your computer, but your quality may suffer.
Because I was recording with someone else, I needed a different solution. I looked around the internet and settled on using Zencastr, a podcast recording platform for geographically separated hosts. I liked Zencastr for three reasons: 1) It was free, 2) it was simple, 3) it recorded locally, and then uploaded separate audio files for each person. While you can use Skype or Zoom to record audio, you get a single file, so you can’t adjust the speakers individually. With separate files, you can remove coughs or background noise without affecting the speaker. After recording, files can be downloaded and/or automatically uploaded to a cloud storage site (I use Google Drive).
I edit in two stages.
First, I pull all of the files into Audacity but keep them as separate tracks. The software looks complicated, but it’s actually straightforward to use all the basic functions. You will be amazed at how much just removing silence, umms, background creeks, and breathing can do to make a podcast sound more professional. I’d estimate I spend 3-4 minutes of editing per minute of recording cleaning up the tracks. It’s worth it, trust me.
Second I export all the tracks as separate MP3s and upload them to Auphonic for processing into a single file. Auphonic can combine tracks, level the audio volume, and incorporate background, intro, and exit music. You can process up to 2 hours of audio free each month, but it’s a bit trickier than that. To process a file longer than 15 minutes, you need to have production credits. I spent $12 to buy 5 hours of credits. It will use your free 2 hours first, though, so I’ve never dipped into my credits and view my $12 purchase as a one-time investment.
There are many podcast hosting options, and I made a spreadsheet when I began. I may post the research I did here in the future, but I decided on RedCircle as my host platform. Many podcast hosts offer a free tier, but you really need to watch the fine print. While RedCircle has limited analytics, it lets me host for free for an unlimited number of episodes. They make their money by being an advertising broker, which I do not take advantage of right now.
Beware searches for “best podcast host” as Buzzsprout is an affiliate marketing machine and will dominate the results (note my lack of link). Looking at the fine print, though, and Buzzsprout will only host your podcast episodes for 90 days. After that, they drop off. In my mind, this is a bait and switch to get you to subscribe.
Anchor.fm was my backup plan as they are owned by Spotify and offer free hosting as well. If RedCircle goes under, that will be my next destination.
Finally, I went to my usual Domain registrar NameCheap, and bought a domain for $9 just to have a cleaner URL to point to my RedCircle landing page. I plan on making a full website later, but for this project the URL pointer was good enough.
So summing it all up, I spent $40 on a microphone, $12 on production credits, $9 on a URL.
Total cost: $61
With that, I’ve run a podcast, with a co-host, for half a year and posted over 6 hours of edited and processed podcasts that are still up and available today. My only reoccurring cost is the domain, which isn’t even necessary.