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How To Start A Podcast, According To The Pros At NPR

Photo: Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR
Photo: Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you have a podcast idea. Maybe you've been mulling over a couple for a while. You've come to the right place: NPR staff spend their days making audio. And lots of them are eager to share their advice. Most will tell you that podcasting takes a lot of work that listeners never hear, but it's worth it.
Here's what to remember, and what to read before you get started. More podcasting resources:

  • NPR Training is full of helpful tips for storytelling and podcasting, made by NPR's Training Team.
  • Transom.orgis a go-to site for podcasters and audio pros.
  • StoryCorps has a series of lessons on storytelling and interviewing.

If you're working with students:

Something to podcast about

As you get going, remember that your podcast should be something you  care about. NPR's training team, which trains public radio journalists,  created this guide for thinking through a podcast idea. Two essential questions they recommend thinking about:  Who is this podcast for, and why are we the right people to make it? Another important step: picking the format. If you listen to podcasts, you probably know they all sound a bit different. Some are long conversations between two people, some feature lots of guests. Others weave pieces of tape in and out of the narration. Before you get started, you've got to decide what format works best for you (and your resources.) If you're not totally sure, spend some time listening to a bunch of podcasts, and figure out what works best for you. If you decide to make a roundtable podcast, NPR's Glen Weldon has some advice for that.

Mic check

The mic should be to one side and a little below the chin.

You don't need a fancy microphone to record decent sound, but if you are buying a mic for this project, here's a guide for  how to decide which mic to use. Before you touch that record button, let's go over a couple things. First, you want to make sure you've got a good set of headphones and that you've gotten familiar with all your equipment. This  audio production FAQ is a good place to start. Second, you'll want to think about where you're going to record. If you're recording narration or doing an interview, you want to find a quiet space. Here's how to  set up a home studio (hint: it involves pillow forts!). And here's how to get the  best recording possible. If your story involves going out into the world to record interviews and sounds,  you'll want to think about  all the sounds  you're going to record. Here's how to  capture active sound. Finally, make sure you've put the mic in the right place! The fanciest microphone in the world won't save you if you don't get up-close and personal with it. The goal is to aim it at the corner of your mouth (or your guest's), positioning it the length of a fist away.

Interview prep

The people you interview will make or break your podcast. So you want to make sure you interview the right folks (and ask them good questions!). This  interview checklist will keep you on the right track.

NPR  hosts and reportersalso have helpful tips: ask open-ended questions, leave space for reflection and don't be afraid to ask simple questions like "what do you mean?" And, very often, your interview will be with someone who experienced something emotional or traumatic. Here's  how to conduct an interview about a hard topic. And here's a guide to  trauma-informed reporting to ensure you're not causing more harm to the person you're speaking with.

Picking good tape

You're going to record hours of tape that need to boiled down into one (relatively) short podcast. And it's easy to feel like you're drowning in recordings. Here's how to pick the bestcuts of audio for your podcast. You also want to make sure that you're telling someone's story truthfully and fairly. These are the do's and don'ts of cutting audio.

Write like you talk and act natural.

The very best podcast hosts sound like actual humans — not robots or newscasters or someone reading aloud from a biology textbook. They sound like they could be a friend having a one-on-one conversation with you. The key here is to write a script using words and phrases that you would use in real life.  Good podcast writing often includes short sentences, familiar words and lots of verbs. You also want to make sure you're  using your ears to edit the story. And finally, when you're ready to lay down that sweet, sweet narration, here's how to sound natural.

Putting it all together

Once you've recorded all your interviews, your sounds and your narration, it's time to mix them all together. You'll want to start by downloading audio editing software. There are a lot of options out there, but Glen Weldon of Pop Culture Happy Hour suggests starting with something simple so you don't feel totally overwhelmed. There are a lot of free or affordable options online and you can always upgrade later. Then what? Here's a guide to mixing audio and here's one that explains a lot of the  vocabulary for audio editing. And, for editing on-the-go, here's a guide to some  audio editing phone apps. Before you do a final mixdown, you want to get some "fresh ears" on your work. Play it for friends and family. Ask them for some gentle feedback. Then, send this puppy into the world!

The audio portion of this episode was produced by  Andee Tagle.  Special thanks to Sequoia Carrillo and Elissa Nadworny. Alex Drewenskus provided engineering support. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at  LifeKit@npr.org . For more Life Kit,  subscribe to our newsletter .