I need to make a podcast…
A podcast is a recorded digitally recorded audio file that can be downloaded or streamed for listening. Podcast content is as varied as the hosts who produce them. They can be long or short, serious interviews or comedic parodies, groundbreaking research or fictional stories that last for 5 minutes or span several episodes.
As class assignments, podcasts are usually created by students or pairs of students on a general topic selected by the professor. Podcasting helps hone research and interview skills and integrates layered and nuanced storytelling.
You might use podcasts in a class to:
- Conduct scholarly research
- Learn and hone interview skills
- Synthesize research for a general audience
This process isn’t necessarily linear. Research is done while doing interviews. You may revisit and rewrite your scripts throughout the process. The editing process will change the language you use.
Below is a walkthrough of the process, along with tips, tricks, and references for creating podcasts.
Researching a podcast is a lot like researching a traditional research paper, but there are a couple things that give your podcast life.
Depending on the goal of your podcast there are many different people you might interview.
- Expert in the field: a voice of authority to explain the topic and add references.
- People effected: Create a personal narrative of the human toll or benefit.
- Person on the street:Show a variety of opinions.
- Cohost: Fine a friend or partner to create a relaxed conversational back and forth.
The interviewer in this excerpt of This American Life, “Hit the Road,” is the subject of the story. However, the speaker painted such a colorful introduction, it became the first lines of this podcast.
- Write out a list of questions to ask, but leave room for the questions that pop up during the conversation.
- Make sure you get the quotes you need. Ask the question again, in another way if you have to.
- Ask for answers without jargon listeners might not understand.
- Ask open ended questions rather than yes/no questions.
- If you’re going to ask a political questions or offer critiques, be aware of wording and save for the end.
The yes/no question from this excerpt of This American Life, “Fiasco!” is followed up with more questions. Make sure you’re ready if you do the same.
Be Clear About Your Intentions for the Podcast. When contacting a potential interviewee, be clear about the goals of the podcast. “I would like to interview you because….” Also, let them know the types of questions you will be asking. Make sure you are talking to the right person.
Send a Pre-Interview Email. Let them know how you will record your interview, who is the audience, how much of their time you need, and how they would like to be referred to (pronouns, title, level of formality).
Get Permission. Send them a Podcast Release Form, which gives you permission to share their interview with the public. Have it signed and returned before the interview.
Know, but ask questions like you don’t. Research your topic and your interviewee, but drill down for the basics in your questions. Your listeners probably don’t know. That’s why they are listening.
Expert or Storyteller? Are you looking for a soundbite from an expert in the field, or someone to bring humanity to your story? You might want no background noise for a statistical fact, but the sounds of the a person’s surroundings for a richer narrative in a story.
Minimize Distractions. Turn off alerts, close the door, put away the food, and have a pen and paper in place for notes.
Think about how music sets the tone. What kind of music will you want?
- Try a few different styles of music and see how that effects your story.
- What other kinds of sound might you want to capture if you interview someone where they work or live?
- Where else could you go to collect sounds that tell your story?
- Even a conversation style podcast should have a roadmap or outline.
- Transcribe your interviews with a tool like otter.ai. Not only will you have a written transcript, but it will also have time codes to help you easily find your best quotes.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or re-enforce a point.
- Be aware of the tone you are setting.
Everyone stumbles over their words. And when that happens here at NPR, we often go back to the script and write shorter sentences that are easier to read and won’t leave you feeling out of breathe.Starting your Podcast: A guide for students, NPR
Audacity is an open-source, free audio recording and editing software, for both Mac and PC. Create and edit multiple tracks.
If you work on different computers, or want to move your project, sure you copy/take all your files — both your .aup file and that project folder.
Work great for an initial master recording and for exporting a final product, but won’t keep separate tracks.
GarageBand is a free, Mac-only program. GarageBand comes with built-in sound effects libraries and audio loops. The interface is a bit more finished than Audacity, but the tools are essentially the same.
Everything you need to get the highest quality recording possible is available for checkout in the Digital Resource Center. There are even, quiet Editing Suites set up for audio and video editing.
One of the great things about podcasting, is that you don’t need to have special equipment to make one. You can use the record feature on your phone or use the mp3 file from a Zoom recording.
Find a quiet place.
Even during the shutdown you can find recording space. It might be a good excuse to build a pillow fort studio. Be aware of ambient noise like cars and fans or activities in other rooms. Getting a good recording makes the rest easier.
Test your levels
Before you begin recording, do a test recording. Are you close enough to the microphone? Is the recording loud enough? Are there any weird noises you are picking up?
Collect ambient noise
- Record the ambient noise in the room for about a minute.
- Copy and paste this ambient clip to prevent cliips from dramatically dropping off.
- Fade music in and out of transitions to mask changes.
Take your time. Take a breath before you begin and in-between paragraphs. This gives you room to edit and makes sure you are not speaking too fast.
Make a copy of your master file.
You don’t want to delete something you will need later.
- Check in with your faculty member about how to turn in the podcast
- Share with friends and family be sending them the final .mp3 file.
- Share it with the world
Free Music & Sound Effects
- Creative Commons.
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a globally-accessible public commons of knowledge and culture. Learn about use, resources, and citations.
- Blue Dot Sessions
Professionally recorded music, free to download with soundtracks in mind.
- BBC SoundEffects
The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license. No need to make an account for these free downloads.
Freesound aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, etc. released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse.
- Free Music Archive
The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads directed by WFMU.
- Internet Archive
Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.
- Library of Congress
Resources have detailed copyright information associated with their records. Many historic speeches, songs, and other recordings are available for use.
Making a Great Podcast
- NPR Podcast Guide
An excellent guide that will lead you through creating a podcast, from getting your ideas together to production.
Transom provides tips and techniques on recording and podcasting. It also showcases stories, with “making of” commentary.
Interviews with podcasters talking about their process. Medium also works with Anchor, a free hosting service to help you publish your podcasts.
- The Bello Collective
The Bello Collective is a newsletter & publication about audio storytelling and the podcast industry.