Beginner Podcasting Mistakes / by Joseph Palumbo

I've been podcasting now for almost a year. It's been a long, arduous journey fraught with many mistakes, poorly worded questions on Reddit's r/audioengineering and a lot of money spent trying to get a consistently good quality podcast with a sustainable pre/post-production workflow. 

Have I been successful? Meh. Successful to the point where I recently cobbled together a number of lessons learned into a Keynote presentation called Podcasting 101: Turning Your Voice Into A Brand and spent two hours teaching people the basics of how to start their own podcast. 

Yeah, that wasn't a typo or a hyperbolic affectation. I spoke for over two hours. I had planned on presenting for barely an hour and then do a hands-on demo, but the group of about 20 people was truly engaged in the content, proven by all the great questions about the process and technology required to produce a podcast. Clearly there are people out there who are interested in this exciting, new medium. 

My class was very much a 101, curated down to only the most salient topics needed to get started. I wanted the class to focus on actionable steps, so I kept the scope tight in hopes of not overwhelming or confusing the audience with the astonishing amount of information available for would-be podcasters. Although, for those looking for some truly great, and substantial, tutorials on podcasting, check out Dan Benjamin's The Podcast Method, Podcast Alley and Pat Flynn's podcasting tutorial. There are all well worth your time, effort and attention. 

While it would be too much work for me to try to recreate my class in in a single (or series of) blog post, I did want to share my list of beginner mistakes. These are things that if I can go back and tell myself when I started podcasting I would have saved myself more than a few headaches. 

So in no particular order, here are my list of the most common (and preventable) beginner podcasting mistakes: 

Don't let your podcast run too long...have a show plan

There are two reasons for this rule. First, the longer show runs, the larger the audio file you have to edit. The larger the audio file, the less GarageBand or Logic Pro X wants to play nice with it. This can cause a severe constricting of several important blood vessels when you try to "bounce" your field into an uploadable MP3 and are met with a cryptic error about your file size being too large. 

Second, unless you can deliver an hour or longer of entertaining content, don't waste people's time. Just because you're having fun telling inside jokes with your friends, doesn't mean people are going to listen to it. If you post too many of these marathon episodes, you run the risk of losing your audience. 

If you're interviewing...SHUT UP

"So where are you from?...Because I'm from San Antonio and I think the culture that I grew up in left an impression on me. What do you think about that?...Because I think that it was great and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong." 

The art of being a good interviewer is not just to find somebody interesting, but find something interesting with everybody. This is done by skillfully asking questions, listening, and then asking the next best question that will get you closer to the interesting thing about that person. 

Amateur interviewers, especially first time podcasters, will get the itch to talk too much and run syllables all over their the space in which their guest's voice should be filling. If you plan to interview people as part of your podcast, make sure you understand the show is not about you and all about them. 

Record one minute of test audio

I am baffled at how many things can go wrong with a podcasting rig. I've setup and torn down my rig upwards of twenty times and each time I start recording a new episode I run into a new bug that is killing audio or creating a buzz or something. Early on in my podcasting career, in hopes of trying to capture a spontaneous beginning to an interview, I would quickly start recording and leap into an hour (or more) long conversation, only to find out that something wasn't quite perfect. This has netted me a few episodes that shall live in perpetuity on my backup hard drive because it is not fit for publication. 

On a side note, my audio check typically sounds like "This is Palumbo on the mic...This [guest 1] on the mic...This is [guest 2] on the mic." Which has been a neat way to open my podcasts. 

Have a backup recorder

Even though I've recorded a few episodes that aren't fit for publication, I've been lucky enough to not lose one out right. But I know that day is coming. This is especially pertinent if you (like me) record your podcast to a laptop. Computers, and the applications that run on them, are capable of crashing like toddler coming down from a sugar binge - taking your ephemeral, in-the-moment episode with it. You can purchase some insurance against the loss of irreplaceable work by purchasing a backup recording device. I use the Zoom H4n. It's as easy as pressing record and placing it on the table between myself and my guest. Even though the final recording from a table-scuttled digital recorder will be on par with Nixon's oval office recordings, it's something, which is almost universally better than nothing. 

Prep your guests

This is both a tactical and diplomatic issue. 

Tactical - I used to think that surprising guests with esoteric queries would net me a more candid, more philosophically organic answer. What it typically got me was a blank stare and a fading "uhhhhhhhh" in response to a question about favorite toys growing up or what three songs would they want on their funeral playlist. Invariably, I would receive a call a few days later with, "I thought of the answer to that question you asked me." Insert facepalm here. Save yourself the trouble of missed opportunities or trying to splice two interviews together when you get it all in one take with a little preparation. 

Diplomatic - Interviews are not cross examinations. Not all interviews have to be Frost/Nixon. If your show format is based around interviews, your job is to structure the conversation in a way that gives your interviewee an opportunity to reveal something about themselves - good or bad - not pry it out of them through with a ruse. By giving them the questions ahead of time you plan to ask or, at minimum, the topics you'd like to discuss will allow them to get their thoughts in order, which will provide you with more articulate answers and a smoother conversation. 

Listen to the entire recorded episode

This one seems self explanatory, but I've gotten lazy and published an hour long episode after only listening to the first 10 minutes of it, and I know I'm not the only one. There are two reasons why you should listen to the entire episode. 

First, and the most obvious, is to catch any and all audio imperfections which can lead to distraction. This might be a bumped microphone, a cough, something which can be taken out with simple ducking

Second, and less obvious, is to be hyper-critical of your progression as a podcaster and communicator. I listen to every piece of audio I record and take note of things like:

  • How many times I say "uh"?
  • Did I use a word receptively? 
  • Did I repeat myself too many times? 
  • Is my inflection off? 
  • Am I talking too close to the mic? 
  • Did I miss something in a guest's answer that should have lead to a follow-up question? (This is a big one) 
  • Am I annunciating properly? 
  • Am I talking too fast? 

Etc. For anything and everything you do, there is an opportunity to improve. Podcasting should be no exception. Of course you'll get feedback from family, friends and other listeners, but you will be your most discerning critic and you'll never know what you should focus on improving if you're not listening to your own work with an "audiences' ear". 

As mentioned previously, this content was presented in a single slide of a 121 slide deck. The rest of it, the planning, the technical aspect, the editing and the publication can be found in the resources I provided at the beginning of the article. This post is about the little bits of minutia that are easy to forget in the larger scope of a complex process. But hopefully by presenting them here, I can save you some time, money and stress. 

If you're interested in checking out all 121 slides of my Podcasting 101 deck, here is it: 

Also, check out my podcasts at OpenMicGuild.com and, coming soon, BearLovesChicken.com. 

And finally, special thanks to Yusuf Chowdhury and the San Antonio Online Marketing Group for giving me the opportunity to talk about all the mistakes I made and dumb things I did on my journey to becoming a (semi) accomplished podcaster.