Launching a Podcast: How to Start a Podcast for Free

Nearly a third of people in the US listen to podcasts. That’s up from less than 10 percent in 2008. And even if they don’t listen to them regularly, 70 percent of US adults know what podcasts are.

Launching a podcast is a great way to reach your audience and with the tools and technology available today, you don’t have to be an audio engineer or technical wizard to get started.

Plus, you don’t need to spend a dime to get your podcast out into the world. Let’s look at what you need to get started in podcasting for free.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

Planning Your Podcast

When you’re thinking of starting a podcast, it’s tempting to jump right in and start recording your first episode. But if you’re in it for the long haul, you need to do some planning first.

The very first thing you need to decide is what you want your podcast to do:

  • Bring new customers into your business?
  • Expand your circle of influence?
  • Entertain and educate your listeners?
  • All of the above?

Having a goal in mind when you start makes it easier to choose between different options as you move forward with your podcasting career.

Picking a Topic and Name

You should choose a topic for your podcast. There are some successful general-interest podcasts but it’s a lot easier to get noticed when you target a specific niche.

The best way to get started is to focus on a narrow topic but choose a name that will let you grow into a wider range of topics within the same general niche. That way, you can start growing your audience with people who are interested in the specific topic but you can get more creative as your show gets more popular.

Another important thing to consider when choosing the name of your podcast is the domain name of your website. Try to find a name that you can register as an exact match address for the website. For example, if your show is called My New Podcast, look for MyNewPodcast.com.

A .com domain is always the best choice but if you can get the name you want with another extension like .co or .fm it’s worth considering.

Alternatively, you can use the show page URL that is provided to you by your podcast hosting provider.

Test the Name Before You Launch

Once you’ve picked a name for your podcast, it’s a good idea to test it on some people before you go full-steam ahead.

Share the name with friends and family, on social media, in forums, and anywhere else you can get some feedback. Ask people what they think the podcast is about based on the name and whether it would catch their attention if they saw it mentioned.

Choosing Your Show Format

If you listen to many podcasts, you’ve probably noticed that there are lots of different formats to choose from. Some podcasts are interview style with a different guest on every episode. Others have two co-hosts who discuss the topic of the episode.

Some are even a single host delivering news or other information about the topic of the podcast. And over the last few years, story-based podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale have become popular.

One format isn’t better than another but you need to choose one that you won’t get sick of anytime soon. There’s nothing that says you can’t change formats but your listeners will get used to a certain type of show so changes can sometimes affect your listenership.

Scripted or Unscripted?

Some formats, like story-based fiction, need a script to work from while others, like interviews, will be mostly off-the-cuff.

Whether you work from a script or not, it’s always a good idea to have an outline for your show and some show notes to work from. That way, if you find yourself drawing a blank for the next thing to say or the next question to ask, you’ve got somewhere to turn.

Deciding on a Show Schedule

Another important thing to decide upfront is what kind of schedule you want to follow. It can be tempting to set an ambitious schedule like weekly or every few days when you first get started but make sure you can keep up with whatever schedule you choose.

Your listeners will get into a routine when they start listening to your show regularly. If you tell them new episodes are released every week and you miss a week or two, you might get a lot of emails or social media messages asking about the “missing” show.

And if you miss your schedule too often, you can lose listeners.

Designing Cover Art

The cover art for your podcast is what most people will notice first. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but in reality, most people do.

Your cover art should convey the general topic of your show as well as catch people’s eye when they’re scanning through a podcast directory like Apple or Google Podcasts. It should also be at least 1,400 x 1,400 pixels in size so it gets picked up on various podcast listening sites.

If you don’t have the artistic skills to create something yourself, consider getting help with this stage. If you know an artist that can put your cover art together, go ahead and ask. If you don’t know someone, check with a local high school or art school to see if they have any students who are looking for ways to add to their portfolio.

A nice free way to create cover art would be to use some of the various free templates located on canva.com which makes it very easy for anyone to start designing. 

Once your show starts generating some revenue, you can reinvest some of it into professional artwork through a website like 99 Designs but until that time, try to find an artist that can help rather than going the do-it-yourself route.

Intro and Outro Music

The intro and outro music helps to brand your podcast so it’s a good idea to have this in place for your first episode. It doesn’t have to be a long song (and shouldn’t be), but it should be catchy and an appropriate tone for the topic.

The most important thing to remember about using music in your podcast is don’t use copyrighted songs. That song by your favorite band might be the perfect fit for what you’re trying to get across but distributing a podcast with unlicensed music is asking for trouble.

You can quickly find yourself in a legal mess with no way out but a costly settlement.

Tip: YouTube has a variety of sounds and music you can download for free.

Recording Equipment

A discussion of how to choose the best recording equipment for your podcast could fill an entire book. If you spend any time researching this topic online, you’ll quickly find recommendations that will cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

None of that is necessary to get started. If you have a reasonably up-to-date PC or a smartphone that was released anytime in the last few years, you’ve got everything you need to get started.

Modern PCs usually have a built-in microphone, especially if you’re working on a laptop. And smartphones obviously all have a microphone built-in. These mics aren’t going to record with the same quality as something that costs a couple of hundred dollars or more but your listeners are more interested in what you have to say than how you sound saying it.

The same goes for fancy recording equipment like compressors, digital interfaces, and the like. None of that stuff is necessary to get your podcast started. Once you’re making some money from it, you can revisit your equipment and start reinvesting in things that will improve the sound quality.

Recording and Editing Software

Software is similar to the recording equipment — you can spend hundreds of dollars on high-end applications but there’s no need to when you’re getting started.

If you use a Mac computer, they all come with an app called GarageBand. A lot of big-name podcasts used GarageBand when they first started (and some still use it).

If you use a Windows PC, you’ve got free options as well. Audacity is a free audio editor that’s available for both Windows and macOS. And despite the cost, it’s one of the more powerful options so you can continue using it as your needs grow.

If you have podcast guests that aren’t sitting directly across the table from you, you’ll also need software to communicate back and forth with them. Most podcasts — new or established — use Skype for this purpose. Skype is free to use for Skype-to-Skype calling so you can chat with a guest from anywhere in the world. If you want to record the video for distribution to YouTube and others, you can use the free version of Zoom.

Your recording software can record the Skype conversations but once you have a bit of money to spend on expansion, you can get apps that are dedicated Skype recorders. Ecamm Recorder for macOS and Pamela for Windows both record the Skype conversation into an audio file that you can import into your editor for the final edits.

Distribution and Promotion

Distribution and promotion of your podcast are where the rubber hits the road. The best podcast episode ever recorded means nothing if nobody ever gets to hear it.

There are two steps to distributing your podcast. You need to host the audio somewhere and then you need to add your show to podcast directories so your audience can find and download it.

We’ll get into the hosting side of the equation shortly but as far as getting listed in podcast directories, there are a few that you need to be in for maximum exposure:

  • Apple Podcasts (the 800-pound gorilla)
  • Google Podcasts
  • Spotify
  • Stitcher
  • Spotify

Once you add your RSS feed to these directories your work is done. They will update your listing when you release a new episode using the RSS feed on your website or through the podcast hosting service you use.

Promoting Your Show

Once your show is listed on the major directories, you need to start promoting it so people know to go looking for it. Get the word out everywhere you can.

If you have a following on Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media platform, start talking about your show there. Post links to new episodes when they’re released and direct people to the listings on the podcast directories.

You should also highlight the show on your website. If you write a blog, make sure you add posts for every new episode. Add links to subscribe to the show on the major directories to every page on your site.

You can also convert your podcast episodes into videos by using images along with the audio then upload those to YouTube. People can listen to them on YouTube, which becomes another unofficial podcast directory for you.

And lots of people search YouTube for things they’re interested in so it can be a great way to reach a wider audience.

Choosing Hosting for Launching a Podcast

With the growth in podcasting, lots of hosting services have popped up over the last few years. Most of them have a monthly fee to use the service, some quite high.

A few of them offer free plans, but they have significant limits on how many hours of audio you can store and how much bandwidth you can use every month. If your show gets even remotely popular, you’ll burn through the free tier pretty fast.

Sounder.fm takes a different approach. We offer unlimited free hosting so you can use our podcast hosting for any length and number of shows without spending a dime.

As your show grows and starts generating revenue, you can upgrade to a paid plan to get extra features but the free tier gives you everything you need to get started.

It’s Not Too Late to Get Started

It might seem like the podcast market is too crowded for a new show to break out and get popular. Don’t kid yourself, there’s no better time than right now for launching a podcast.

More people listen to podcasts than ever before and there are huge untapped topics just waiting for a good show to jump in. With the level of technology available and the free tools and services you have at your disposal, you can get started today for no cost other than some of your time.

If you want to learn more about starting a podcast, check out Episode 6 of the Sounder podcast where we share 50 podcasting tips. That’s right, a podcast about podcasting…

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