Don’t just rant to your friends – grab a mic, share your thoughts and get your voice heard. From first recording to final edit, insiders tell Stylist how it’s done
Words: Emma Firth
Artwork: Barry Downard
It’s 7.45am and you’ve got an hour-long commute stretching ahead of you. As if on cue, you hear the announcement: “We regret to inform you that your train has been delayed”. So how exactly do you fill the time? By tuning into a podcast, of course.
Whether it’s being inspired by a cultural chat or piecing together the clues in the case of a missing person, podcasts are now essential listening. Last year, Apple customers globally consumed over 10 billion downloads, and the number of female presenters in the top 30 shows on podcast host Acast tripled. “Podcasts are a medium where women can excel,” says Sophie Herdman, UK content manager for Acast. “It’s a young form of media and we have the opportunity to shape it as it grows.”
In the past, we were all passive listeners to radio broadcasts run largely by men but the accessibility of podcasts has provided a platform for voices that wouldn’t normally be heard. Rhian Roberts, head of digital at BBC Radio 4, 4 Extra and Radio 3, says, “There isn’t an expected authoritarian way of speaking [in podcasts], which you might associate with a more traditionally male broadcasting world. As a result, women can make a name for themselves very quickly.”
Internet sociologist Dr Christine Hine adds, “There’s been a shift towards peer-to-peer information, where people seek expertise from their contemporaries. This has created a landscape comprising new voices that may have been marginalised by traditional media.”
Dawn O’Porter, creator of fashion podcast Get It On, believes women should seize the opportunity to broadcast their thoughts. “Podcasting is the audio version of Twitter,” she says. “It’s your feed and you can say exactly what you want.”
So, if you have something to say (and who doesn’t?), now’s the time to make your voice heard. Here’s how it’s done...
The USP of your podcast is paramount so spend time finding a new, memorable idea. “You should be able to sell your podcast in a sentence,” explains Alice Levine, co-host of comedy podcast My Dad Wrote A Porno, which has been downloaded 45 million times. “There are so many podcasts out there. To stand out, you want a product that someone wants to recommend by word of mouth.” O’Porter agrees: “You’re just going to talk about films? That’s not interesting and there are already loads of similar podcasts out there. Instead, think about what your take on films can be.”
Karina Longworth, creator of You Must Remember This, which focuses on Hollywood’s forgotten history, advises: “Don’t try to replicate what works for other podcasts. Find something that only you can do, or something that you can do better than anyone else.” Whatever your topic, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about, as you should aim to sustain output for six months of weekly episodes.
Keep it concise
When it comes to length, Rebecca Pearce, senior lecturer at The London College of Communication, believes shorter is sweeter: “My students start out making group podcasts of about 15 minutes,” she says. “Most of us have short attention spans and will only stick with something if it’s really engaging.”
According to Acast, their most popular podcasts are between 20-45 minutes long so it makes sense to plan your content and keep things concise. Although the My Dad Wrote A Porno team prepare nothing before recording, Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton – the brains behind pop culture show The PanDolly Podcast – argue that some structure is necessary. “While our conversation is not scripted, it’s good to plan the ideas you’re going to cover,” explains Alderton. Both make notes on a Google doc before recording and ping ideas to each other via WhatsApp. “If you go in thinking you can do the entire thing off-the-cuff, it might be fun for you as hosts, but it will be messy for the listener.”
Buy a basic kit
Unlike radio, where high production values are expected, podcasts are much more forgiving. Longworth confesses to recording in her bathroom, while O’Porter is equally low-tech. “It’s just me and a dictaphone,” she says. “I’ve chatted to people on the street, in a bar, in my living room. Sometimes there’s background noise but I don’t mind.” MDWAP’s Levine admits, “Because we are a lo-fi enterprise, we do it wherever’s convenient. Sometimes you can hear my boiler in the background – it adds to the authenticity.”
For your basic DIY kit, Emma Gannon, who interviews high-profile women on Ctrl Alt Delete, recommends a Blue Yeti Professional USB Microphone (£99.99, currys.com) – it lets you record the sound coming from one side if you’re broadcasting solo or both sides if you’re sharing the mic. Improve your sound quality by investing in a basic pop shield (from £9.99, inta-audio.com), which filters unwanted noises, and buy a USB cord (from £33.99, maplin.co.uk) to plug your mic into your laptop to record and edit.
Edit with software
So you’ve bought the gadgets. Recorded your material. Next step? Polishing off your podcast. “You’ll want to lose any waffle or repetition in your recording and make sure your final version is engaging,” says Pearce. “You might also want to add music in the edit.” Mac users can use GarageBand for this, but there are other editing options out there. “I use Adobe Audition, which has a monthly subscription fee of £17.15 but is so worth it,” says audio producer Philippa Tilbury. Marverine Cole of Quintessential Voices, a podcast celebrating women of colour, opts for the free audio software Audacity (audacityteam.org) and says, “You can teach yourself how to edit a podcast on YouTube – it’s the best encyclopaedia in the world.” As a basic rule, Emma Gunavardhana of the beauty show Emma G Podcast reckons you should allow twice as long for editing as the length of your recording, so 45 minutes takes an hour and a half to edit.
Once you’ve edited your podcast, Cole recommends opening a free SoundCloud account for an easy way to upload your content. All you need is an active email address. Use the title of your podcast as your profile name so you’re easy to find, then follow the step by step guide for uploading. From here, you can distribute your podcast via an RSS feed to podcasting apps such as iTunes and Stitcher. If you want to add intro/outro music, check out the rights-free music that’s available on YouTube’s Audio Library or websites such as freesoundtrackmusic.com.
Grow an audience
Now you need someone to listen to you. Gunavardhana advises generating interest through social media. “Having an online presence plays a huge part in getting your name out there,” she says. “Five to seven tweets a day once you’ve published an episode is important to encourage dialogue online.” And how do you get those stellar iTunes reviews? “The iTunes charts aren’t just based on downloads but people starring and commenting – it’s like a trending hashtag,” explains Gannon. So, encouraging people – whether it’s friends, family or your audience – to comment is vital for building a following. “I always say at the end of every episode, please leave a review,” says Gannon. “Be blatant and consistent. That’s the key.”
Looking for the next Serial or Women Of The Hour? Here are five of the best new podcasts for your aural pleasure
For anyone who loves: The real life crime investigations of hit podcast Serial.
Tell me more: The Serial team are behind this new non-fiction series based on a murder mystery set in a small, rural Alabama town.
Slated for a March release on iTunes
Made of Human
For anyone who loves: Lena Dunham’s Women Of The Hour.
Tell me more: Sofie Hagen asks some very funny people – including comics Katherine Ryan and Sara Pascoe – what it takes to be a fully functioning human.
Available on mohpod.libsyn.com and iTunes
For anyone who loves: BBC World Service’s The Inquiry.
Tell me more: Want to keep informed on what’s happening at the White House? The New York Times journalist Michael Barbaro brings you the latest US political news.
Available on iTunes and nytimes.com
Swipe, Match, Marry
For anyone who loves: The anti- slut-shaming podcast Guys We F**ked.
Tell me more: Mates Marny, James and Ste – one girl, two guys – discuss coming out, break-ups and sex for the Tinder generation.
Available on swipematchmarry.com
Fashion, no filter
For anyone who loves: Oh Boy’s conversations with women in art and tech.
Tell me more: Stylish duo Camille Charrière and Monica Ainley offer an insider look at the fashion industry. First up: how the street style set use Instagram.
Available on iTunes