2020 is the year of many things — lockdowns, online school and Zoom calls to name a few. But one thing that has also boomed in 2020 is podcasting!
Given this year’s obvious limitations in the realm of extracurricular pastimes, launching a podcast can be the perfect project: the costs are low, production is a breeze and they are easy to create from the comfort of your home. As a host, podcasting is a great way to dive deeper into a topic you’re interested in, it gives you a reason to connect with people you admire, and it provides a platform to share your passion with others. Let’s not forget that it can also look pretty good on your university applications!
Over the past three months, I have set up Crimson Education’s very own podcast called Top of the Class. It’s been a steep learning curve (and I’m still learning!) but for students interested in starting a podcast of their own, I’ve compiled some advice based on my experience that I hope will make it easier for you to join the podcast party.
Before you go launching into your podcast, you need to answer some fundamental questions to lay the groundwork for a long-lasting show. These include:
What will your podcast be about? This should be fairly specific. For example, don’t just say ‘Exams’ — narrow the focus to something clear-cut so listeners know what they’re in for. You might make your podcast about study skills, and dedicate each episode to exploring the pros and cons of a particular tactic. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a topic you’ll want to explore for the long-term.
What format will your podcast be? Most podcasts follow one of three formats: solo talk show, discussion with a friend(s) or an interview. From there, you need to decide if the episodes will be 10-minute snippets or 3-hour marathons. Make a decision about what you think is sustainable, but know that you can make adjustments in the future. Top of the Class is an interview format, which means I spend a fair bit of time contacting potential guests each week; but it also means there’s less time spent brainstorming ideas for the next episode. Each episode lasts around 40 minutes, which gives the interview depth without intimidating potential listeners.
Why will people listen to your podcast? This is a different way of thinking about the first question. For example, for Top of the Class, we interview some of the world’s highest achieving students so listeners can get practical and actionable advice on how to follow in their footsteps. Simple and worth listening to, right? If you can sum up the podcast format and the value it will provide in one sentence, you’re off to a great start.
The Fundamental Set-Up
Once you know your podcast’s purpose, you can address the logistics, which means making a few more key decisions.
Choose a podcast host. I don’t mean the person presenting it (yourself), or the platform it’s found on (like Spotify or Apple Podcasts). A podcast host is where you upload episodes to be listed on a public platform. Two popular options are Buzzsprout and Podbean, which offer different perks and pricing options and host on most major platforms. Do your research to find the best fit for your needs!
Let’s talk about microphones. Microphones come in two main categories: condenser or dynamic. To put it simply, if you’re recording in a studio or a place with similar dead quiet acoustics, then the condenser mic is your best bet. If you record at home where there could be the occasional distant bird or car horn, then it’s best to go with a dynamic mic. You can easily find one that’s simple to use and affordable. In a pinch, you could even use decent earphones / headphones that have an in-built mic - just make sure it’s not bouncing against your clothes or hair during recording! Aside from the microphone, you’ll need a good pair of headphones so you can hear exactly what you’re recording. Finally, many pro podcasters will recommend getting a boom arm and shock mount to reduce any interference on your side — helpful, but not 100% necessary, especially in the early stages.
Find the right software. Many podcasters use GarageBand to record and edit episodes, but in my experience, it’s best for in-person episodes. For remote interviews, you can use Zoom, which allows you to ‘Record an audio only file’ in settings. For those with more advanced needs and a bigger budget, there are also heaps of very good podcast recording software options out there including Riverside.fm and Zencaster. For editing, we use Audacity: it’s free and easy to use (particularly if you watch a YouTube video or two). Carefully editing an episode generally takes three times the duration of the recording itself, but is the primary differentiator between a good episode and a great one. You’re working to remove distortion and interference, and clean up rambling quotes or reduce pauses to keep the conversation moving.
The final touches
Come up with a name. Try to keep it short (five words should do) and give a hint to what you’ll be talking about. Remember it’s not the end of the world if the name you want is already taken — there can be more than one podcast with the same name! I suggest looking at the names of the top podcasts in your area of interest for some inspiration.
Choose the artwork. Your podcast’s visual identifier is arguably even more important than the name. Bright and bold, or minimalist and artsy? Whatever you choose, this is usually the first impression people get about the professionalism of your podcast. If you’re not much of a designer, ask a friend or play around on a platform like Canva until you get something you like.
Write your description. This is a short blurb that outlines what your podcast is all about. A few sentences is plenty; keep it broad, as each episode should have its own summary about the specific topic discussed. When listeners click on your podcast, the description should intrigue them to hit “play” — so get creative with it!
Prepare your intro. This is the first thing listeners will hear at the start of each episode, and it’ll become an icon of your podcast. You can find a professional sound mixer to create a custom intro and outro, or there are plenty of places to download free music. Try and get on with your actual episode ASAP — so keep the intro under 30 seconds!
Stockpile some episodes. Before you officially launch, it’s good to have at least 8-10 episodes recorded so you don’t get overwhelmed trying to create content on a schedule. When you launch, put the first few episodes up so listeners can get more of a sense of what your podcast is all about. Thereafter, you can publish at whatever frequency you like; once or twice a week is most common. Always keep a few more episodes in the bank just in case you have a busy week and are unable to record!
And that’s it! You’re up and away. Sidenote here: don’t judge the success of your podcast by the number of listeners you have — you might have a loyal audience of 15-20 people but if it benefits them and you’re getting a lot out of it too, then keep doing it!
If you’re considering starting a podcast of your own but aren’t sure how to align your strengths, interests and skills into a final product, Crimson can help! Our expert extracurricular and career mentors are available to get you started on the path to success and ensure your passion project aids your long-term goals for university and beyond.
To learn what Crimson can do to help you achieve your university dreams, click the link below and schedule a free one hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.
Alex Cork manages the Top of the Class podcast and has worked in the education sector for 10 years. He has interviewed more than 300 students and has a genuine curiosity in student achievement whether this be in sport, music, extracurriculars, academics, business or activism.
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