What is a Podcast: How They Work & How to Get Started (2021)
Initially, podcasts started as a small way for creators to grow a listenership.
Today, almost everybody is starting podcasts to reach millions of listeners.
“Let’s start a podcast” is becoming the “let’s start a band” of the 2020s.
In fact, podcasting has grown so much that many shows have more monthly listeners and viewers than traditional shows on outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.
The Joe Rogan Experience is bigger than any mainstream media show or late-night talk show.
We actually love consuming long form content. Mainstream media soundbites and propaganda pushed us to want to learn and consume content in a more natural way.
Podcasts have emerged as a convenient way to consume content and entertainment in a passive fashion. They also humanize conversation and are considered an emerging form of ambient entertainment.
You can always listen to them while doing something else. Whether in your car, at work, while cleaning your house, or before you go to bed, there is always time for this passive form of entertainment.
In this guide to podcasting, we’ll cover what it is, how it works, the history of podcasting, and how you can get started and create your very own show.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
A podcast is a type of audio broadcasting delivered on various online platforms via an RSS feed. In simple terms, a podcast is an audio recording on any specific topic that is consumed in an episodic format.
A typical podcast consists of one or more hosts engaged in an animated discussion about a particular niche, event, or topic. The discussion within the podcast can either be spontaneous or strictly scripted. Nowadays, podcasts come with elaborate production, background music, sponsors, and more.
You can use several digital media player applications like Spotify and iTunes to host and stream your podcast through their website and mobile app.
They also provide additional features like transcripts, guest biographies, commentary, community forums, and more. You can even host your podcasts on radio stations.
Podcasts are not only effective but an easy and intimate way to deliver and generate content. They also come in handy to build ongoing relationships with your audience.
And since podcasts are such a hit these days, they can help you reach a broad audience, build a reputation, and become an authority in your niche.
According to statistics, more than one-third of Americans are now listening to podcasts regularly, up considerably from 2019.
Other stats suggest that podcast advertising revenue is likely to surpass $1 billion by 2021.
Besides, you can also add backlinks in podcast directories to direct traffic to your social media or encourage them to visit your site at the episode’s end.
Let’s dig into the purpose of a podcast in detail:
Just like a radio show, you can listen to podcasts anywhere and at any time you want. Thus, podcasts serve as a convenient way to deliver information.
Once your audience discovers your podcast, they can easily download your podcast episodes and tune in at any convenient time.
As it happens, 64% of listeners in the US listen to podcasts in a truck or a car.
And they can even download or transfer podcasts to any portable device like an iPhone and listen to them on the go.
In fact, 65% of podcast listeners in the US use portable devices to listen to their favorite podcasts.
Since podcasts help you deliver content verbally to your audience and in a somewhat informal setting, the information becomes more intimate than reading it from a blog or an email.
It makes sense to use podcasts for content like stand-up comedy or political commentary than using other less personal means.
All things considered, podcasts are ideal for creating funny or thought-provoking content. It also comes in handy if you want to record a light conversation with another content creator, a thought leader, or a famous personality.
Podcasting is one of the quickest ways to connect with your audience and build trust and loyalty.
In fact, the Edison Research/Triton Digital survey found that more than half of podcast listeners are likely to consider a brand after hearing about it on a podcast.
This is not to say that launching a podcast and advertising brands is enough. You have to create relatable content, promote your podcast, and actually build connections with your listeners.
That’s why it’s also great to keep your podcasts unscripted and let your personality shine through.
Moreover, avoid using words like “ladies and gentlemen,” “listeners,” or any third-person preposition.
Imagine saying, “I’ve got a segment that my listeners are going to love.”
Or, “I’ve got an awesome episode that you’re all going to love.”
The latter clearly helps you address your audience directly and make them feel personally connected to your segments.
Other than this, podcasting is an excellent way to network and makes it easy to reach out to thought leaders and influencers in your industry. Podcasting guests might even end up becoming your collaborators, affiliate partners, and high paying clients. And they might even invite you back to speak at their conferences or to be a guest on their podcasts.
The great idea is to add some buffer time to when you conduct interviews to have some time to connect with your guest off the air.
When it comes to generating recurring revenue, podcasts are a lot like blog posts. You can record a podcast segment and use it to promote offers or a brand and fetch in regular income month after month.
You can either promote your own services, a subscription-based product, or an affiliate product to your audience.
Here are some of the ways you can use your podcasts to earn money:
- Affiliate Income
- Coaching via podcasting
- Promoting your own product
- Podcast advertising & sponsorships
You don’t have to have millions of followers, a small albeit loyal following is sufficient to help you earn passive income with your podcasts.
However, remember that your product or service should align with your podcast brand and resolve an issue. It will benefit everyone involved – your audience gets to know about something beneficial they can use, and you earn some passive income in the process.
Podcasting works as your own media platform to present your views to your target audience and showcase your skills. This visibility also helps you stand out if you’re promoting a brand or when you make a sales pitch.
You never know when a thought leader likes your podcasts and ends up giving you an opportunity of a lifetime.
Jaclyn Mellone, the host of Go-To Gal, a famous podcast for female entrepreneurs, mentioned how her podcast helped her grab amazing deals.
Here’s an excerpt from her conversation with Stephanie Burns of Forbes:
Every business with a website wants to rank higher on search engines. And adding a podcast will enable search engines to discover your business.
In 2019, even Google started indexing and ranking individual podcast episodes. This means, when someone searches for a topic, podcast episodes are likely to appear in the search results.
For example, if you perform a search for ‘Tim Ferris,’ you’ll see all the new episodes for ‘The Tim Ferris Show.’
Also, podcasts linked to your business name will serve as an authority signal for Google, and the search engine will rank you higher.
If you are trying to sell products via your website, a podcast can be of great help. Once you become a voice of authority in your domain, your listeners would naturally get intrigued enough to check out your website and make a quick Google search.
The other way is by linking your website to your podcast directory or on the site you’re hosting your podcast.
However, the main goal of your podcast should not be about sales. It’s more about building genuine relationships and helping your audience by raising awareness.
There are various types of podcasting formats. Some podcasters are repurposing their blog posts, while some are creating original, unscripted podcasts. And while most podcasts are audio files only, you can still find plenty of video podcasts as well.
Before you start your own podcast, you should know precisely just how many different types of podcasting formats you can choose from.
Here are all the different types of podcasts:
Panel discussions or interview podcasts are not only one of the most popular forms of podcasts, they’re easier too.
Having a co-host or an interviewee is easier and more effective than recording a monologue on your own. It’s also more natural and conversational, making it engaging for the audience.
Such podcasts can have one guest or several guests throughout the show.
The Joe Rogan Experience is probably the most popular interview-based podcasts, receiving millions of views and downloads per episode.
Interview podcasts are especially ideal when you’re trying to offer different view-points to the listeners. These podcasts are most popular with political commentators and celebrity interviewers.
As the name suggests, these types of podcasts include two or more podcast hosts. Either the hosts discuss a topic with each other or invite a guest or a mix of both.
Even though both the hosts act as one dynamic entity, they still bring different viewpoints and insights to the table. Besides, it helps you avoid pressure and shoulder the responsibility of engaging the listeners with your co-host.
Each host plays a specific role in the conversation. For example, one might start the podcast and initiate the conversation, while the other can pick up from there and start the commentary.
The Sisterhood Podcast by Allyson Reynolds and Tiffany Sowby is an excellent example of a co-hosted podcast.
Monologues or solo podcasts are started by an individual – without any co-host or a guest.
The content for a solo podcast can include stand-up comedy, Q&A sessions, opinion-based, or anything delivered by a single commentator. You can also tell stories and make them informative or entertaining, or a mix of both.
Also, the onus of making your podcast episodes engaging lies solely on you. Make sure to make up for the lack of guests by persuasive content and sound engineering.
Some of the famous examples of solo podcast formats include:
A simple Google search shows just how many comedians like Bill Burr and Marc Maron use solo podcasts to reach a huge audience online.
Nonfiction narrative storytelling is another popular podcasting format, although it’s not easy to master. These podcasts entail retelling stories using audio clips from the interviewee and editing them to make them more intriguing. Or you can build an engaging narrative around your subject and present it in a storytelling format.
Take Red Hat’s Command Line Heroes, for instance.
Command Line Heroes is a narrative-style podcast that talks about open source technology and manages to make a serious and seemingly boring topic entertaining.
They’re on their 6th season currently and have a 90% average episode completion rate.
Nonfiction narrative storytelling usually has an aim to entertain and captivate the audience. And since they allow room for creativity, they can be extremely engaging.
This podcast format is suitable for journalists since they have better connections to get detailed and insightful information.
The hybrid podcast format is basically a mix of all types of podcasts. For example, you can have a single host in your podcast and later decide to invite a co-host or a guest.
Initially, this show starts with a monologue by a solo host, and then they gradually make the transition to an interview format or panel discussion.
Repurposing content is a great way to assemble your podcast. You can repurpose your blog posts, seminars, workshops, or interviews into podcasts to summarize everything briefly and personally for your audience. They can really enhance the experience of the listeners.
Some of the examples for the repurposed content podcast include:
Identify your goal before choosing the right podcast format. Do you want to inform something to your audience merely, or do you plan to entertain them as well? The format will depend on your target audience, podcast topic, and final goal.
The number of podcast listeners continues to rise exponentially, with a 54% increase in just 3 Years.
This proves just how lucrative podcasting can be for your business and as a platform to build your authority.
However, recording podcast episodes isn’t nearly enough. You have to promote them, find a hosting platform for your podcast, and track your metrics.
Luckily, there are plenty of podcast tools to help you with the entire process.
Here are three leading podcast hosting platforms to help you create, host, distribute, and market your podcasts.
Best overall podcast tool for beginners ($12 per month).
BuzzSprout is a podcast platform that helps you host, track, and promote podcasts. It’s compatible with all leading podcast directories like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Alexa, Overcast, and more.
You can start your podcast with free hosting for up to 90 days. Plus, the podcasting tool lets you publish your new podcasts immediately or schedule them for a later date and time.
BuzzSprout also lets you track metrics like total downloads over time and apps & directories used to listen to your podcasts.
Some of its key features include:
- Filters to enhance the audio content quality of your podcasts.
- Optimize the podcasts automatically for different file types, ID3 tags, and bit rates.
- Transcribe your episodes to enhance SEO and make them more accessible.
- Customize the podcast player to meet your branding needs.
- The podcast player lets you skip backward, forward, and binge podcasts at 2X playback speed.
Besides, you can create chapters for easy navigation, which comes in handy if you have multiple podcasts for a subject. It also allows you to add multiple team members to the dashboard and let them manage your podcast simultaneously.
BuzzSprout also partners with various leading brands to help you earn extra money through affiliate marketing.
BuzzSprout offers three pricing plans:
- Upload 3 hrs Each Month: $12 per month
- Upload 6 hrs Each Month: $18 per month
- Upload 12 hrs Each Month: $24 per month
You can read my full BuzzSprout review for more detailed information.
You also get free podcast hosting for up to 90 days and a free Amazon gift card when you sign up.
Best for podcast monetization and advertising ($6/mo billed yearly).
Spreaker is an all-in-one platform for podcast hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization. It comes bundled with a podcast recording app and helps you record, publish, and analyze your podcasts.
Its audio studio feature helps you record every word clearly through auto-ducking and multiple mic controls. You can also execute live podcast recording and chat with listeners in real-time during the podcast. Not that just, Spreaker Studio provides integration with Skype so you can interview someone and record their audio via Skype.
You can leverage its podcast editing software to crop and trim the audio or migrate old content into the audio. The platform also offers real-time access to audience statistics, even on its mobile app.
Spreaker is big on podcast advertising and offers two advertising options, including:
- Dynamic Advertising Insertion – This advertising solution helps you deliver relevant ads and garner more engagement.
- Programmatic Advertising – it automatically buys and sells adverts on your behalf to help you earn passive income.
You can also distribute podcasts on multiple platforms, including Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, iHeartRadio, etc., through a single tap.
Spreaker offers four pricing plans, including:
- Free Speech: $0 always
- On-Air Talent: $6/mo billed yearly
- Broadcaster: $18/mo billed yearly
- Anchorman: $45/mo billed yearly
Best for measuring podcast analytics ($19 per month).
Transistor is another popular podcast tool that helps you record and distribute podcasts to Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, etc. It lets you create an unlimited number of podcasts through its single pricing plan. This would help you create podcasts in multiple formats without any extra cost.
You can also embed its podcast player on your website, including a multi-episode player, through a simple embed code.
Plus, it lets you identify podcast apps used to view your episodes, average download per episode, number of new listeners subscribing to your podcast, etc.
Transistor offers three pricing plans:
- Starter: $19 per month
- Professional: $49 per month
- Business: $99 per month
You also get a 14-day free trial.
Back in the 1980s, podcasts were also called audio-blogging. However, it got popular only in the early 2000s after the evolution of broadband internet and the launch of portable audio devices like MP3 players and iPods.
In September 2000, I2Go launched the first podcast system that facilitated automatic downloading, selection, and storage of podcast episodes on mobile devices and computers. It launched a digital entertainment and audio news service by the name of MyAudio2Go.com. It allowed its users to download episodic entertainment, sports, news, music, and weather in the audio format. But the service lasted for a year only.
With the boom in access to high-speed internet and smartphones, now there are more than 115,000 English-language podcasts available on the internet.
With iTunes 4.9 update in 2005, Apple offered native support for podcasts on its audio streaming platform. It was also the same year when George W. Bush became the first president to deliver his weekly address through a podcast.
In a 2006 keynote speech, Steve Jobs demonstrated the making of podcasts through GarageBand software. Fast forward to 2020, there are over 30 million podcast episodes all over the globe.
Here’s a quick podcasting timeline along with historical milestones:
2004: Adam Curry and Dave Winer are officially credited as the founders of podcasting.
2005: Apple iTunes 4.9 got released to support the podcast feature.
2005: George Bush became the first President of the USA to deliver his weekly speech as a podcast.
2005: The same year, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “Podcast” as the “Word of The Year.”
2006: Steve Jobs explained how to record a podcast through GarageBand in his keynote speech.
2007: Ricky Gervais created the world record for the largest number of podcast downloads.
2009 – 2011: Andrew Carolla’s podcast got the highest number of downloads, 59,574,843 to be exact.
2013: Apple announced 1 billion global podcast subscribers.
2019: 165 million users have access to podcasts, which includes 90 million American users.
Podcasting has quickly become immensely sought-after and a lucrative way to promote your brand and broadcast your content. The good thing is that your audience can consume your content anywhere they want.
With podcasting, you can also reach a new audience and try your hand at a new form of content publishing. You just need to be engaging, pull in your audience, and select a podcast format to start with.
All things considered, recording yourself or interviewing someone is also pretty cheap and straightforward. And now that even Google indexes podcasts, you can use them to boost SEO.
To get started with your very own show, check out my detailed guide on How to Start a Podcast.