Podcasts are the new radio.
With studio-quality audio equipment becoming smaller and more affordable by the day, anyone with a good idea can start the next big podcast.
Apparently, this idea has caught on in Lancaster — especially around Lancaster City.
Lancaster Online, Lancaster Farming, People of Lancaster, Lancaster Story Slam, and a whole slew of churches have made the leap to podcasting for one reason or another.
And why not? Podcasting is a fun, engaging medium, and if you mess something up, you don’t have to worry about losing a lot of money.
At most, you’ll be out $600 if you have to buy a laptop.
Don’t get me wrong — that still sucks.
But it’s better than buying a $1,500 video camera only to discover that you’re not into cinematography.
So with that in mind, how do you actually start a podcast?
It’s surprisingly easy, when it comes to equipment.
What Do You Need to Start a Podcast?
A laptop with editing software and a microphone.
It doesn’t even have to be a good laptop either — you can use a fairly cheap $500 PC that’ll have enough RAM to export audio and enough memory to support your first 3-6 episodes.
Same with the mic. As long as you have something that’ll help block ambient noise (like wind or a refrigerator humming or trucks going by your house), you’ll be okay.
Still, podcasts are becoming much better in terms of sound quality than they were in 2010.
Everyone has a podcast now, so people compete with one another by having better sound quality.
If you go with some affordable gear, just keep in mind that someone out there is using the professional stuff.
That means you’ll have to make up for any compromises in equipment with some really good episodes.
You can do that with some surprisingly cheap and effective equipment.
#1. Laptop: $500-$600
While you can find Chromebooks and other ultra-cheap laptops at a super-small price point, these laptops don’t often have the hardware to work with audio recording or editing.
As a result, it’s best to go for something middle-of-the-round — like a $500 or $600 PC.
(You can also use Apple products and Garage Band for this. I just like PCs.)
The Acer Aspire is a decent line of mid-power laptops that can work with any USB microphone.
With eight gigs of RAM and a 256 gig hard drive, this isn’t the kind of computer that’s going to be able to do everything under the sun.
But it will be able to work with audio editing software, which is really all we care about for the sake of this blog post.
It’s also worth noting that the Aspire comes with a solid-state drive. In a nutshell, that kind of hard drive is much faster at opening, running, and exporting files.
That’s helpful when you want to do something quickly. Who wants a slow computer, anyway?
Now that you’ve got your laptop, let’s talk software.
#2. Audacity – $0
Audacity is one of the most powerful freeware programs out there. It lets you do everything you need in order to turn out a good podcast, and it doesn’t cost a dime.
To reiterate, it’s 100% free!
I really can’t say enough about this program overall. I’ve personally used it for almost 10 years now.
It’s worked for school projects. It’s worked for interviews when I was a journalism student. It worked for recording bands I used to be in.
It’s just an awesome program.
Do yourself a favor and get Audacity unless you have another preferred program!
#3. Microphone: $100-$150
Thankfully, microphones are more affordable than laptops. So if you already have a computer you want to use for editing, you only have to worry about the mic!
I used to try recording with hand-held mics in stands, but the sound quality was never that good.
That’s because those mics just don’t work that well in enclosed rooms.
After all, they’re designed for use on stage.
My most recent mic purchase was a Blue Yeti.
And it’s awesome.
The Blue Yeti includes a whole bunch of small directional microphones. You can use it to collect noise from all four sides, two sides, one side, or all-but-one side.
And every setting sounds good!
I’ve had this thing for a few weeks now, but I honestly wish I had it years ago. The recording quality is so good straight from the source that I only have to clear out some ambient noise whenever I record.
Other than that, there’s no pops, clicks, or other weirdness to silence.
In other words, it’s perfect. It even comes with a USB jack instead of a 1/8″ or 1/4″ audio jack so you can plug right into your PC.
Best of all, it’s only $100.
You can always choose another mic. But Blue Yeti is just stellar in every aspect.
Now we get to the hard part — what’s your podcast about?
What Is Your Show About?
Seriously, this is the hard part, especially for Lancaster, PA.
The county only has about half a million people, and it already has dozens of podcasts about current events, professions, games, and more.
In general, the best place to start for a podcast is to talk about what you know.
What’s a lifelong passion of yours?
What did you discover that you still love every single day?
That’s the kind of thing that you’re going to be an expert to talk about.
It’s also the kind of thing that won’t bore you to tears when you’re 25 episodes into your new show.
That’s a real danger. Getting bored of your own podcast can happen quickly, especially if you like to do a batch of episodes at a time.
Fortunately, if you’re talking about something that you’ve always loved, it’s easier to keep podcasting.
Next, you have to research who else is doing a podcast like yours.
These could be people in the Lancaster area. They could also be people across the country.
Podcasts have a nationwide appeal, even the ones that are based on a specific locality.
When you find podcasts like yours (there’s probably at least one), you can listen to it and figure out if they’ll be a direct competitor of yours.
In other words, are they talking about exactly what you want to discuss? Or is it something slightly different?
If it’s the same thing, you know you’ll be going into your first podcast episode with competition.
If it’s slightly different, you might be able to tweak your podcast concept to talk about something more niche.
Finally, you have to figure out what you offer that’s different from anyone else.
This is a hard question to answer.
You really have to take a hard look at what you know to determine if you’re going to add to the existing cultural conversation about a topic.
If you’re not, spend some more time thinking about how you can give your two cents on a subject.
If you’re still not finding a clear answer, consider rethinking your whole concept!
But if you know what you’re adding — and it’s more than just your voice — then you have a strong start to a good podcast.
Start it, stick with it, and make your voice heard!
What’s Your Podcast?
Are you starting a podcast? Have you already started one?
Let us know what it is and how we can find it in the comments!