Writers who are looking to build their platform are frequently encouraged to start a podcast. Most are aware you can subscribe to podcasts on iTunes (now known as Apple Podcasts) and some are aware there are several other methods of subscribing. But most writers have no idea how a podcast actually works and the prospect of starting their own can be intimidating at best, and absolutely terrifying at worst. This guide will, I hope, remove much of the fear (and misinformation) for those intending to build their platform this way.
What Exactly is a Podcast?
Just as a blog is made up of a collection of posts, a podcast is a collection of episodes – just like a TV soap opera. In fact, the simplest way to think of a podcast is to think of it as a blog that includes an audio file with each post.
Blogs also have what is known as a feed, or, more specifically, an RSS feed. Similarly, because podcasts are basically blogs, they also have a feed, which is just a collection of information about each episode of the podcast (or post in the blog). To put it simply, it’s a specially formatted list. When you subscribe to a podcast, you are actually subscribing to this feed, which gets updated whenever a new episode is published. It’s a lot like adding a new item to your shopping list every time your teenager yells, “Mom, we’re out of [fill in the blank]!”
Key Takeaways: A podcast is just a blog with audio files & a feed is a list of episodes.
Podcasts Are All Hosted On iTunes, Aren’t They?
A popular misconception is that podcasts are “uploaded to iTunes.” This is based on the belief that the actual audio files are uploaded to iTunes (“Apple Podcasts”), which stores them and makes them somehow “findable” and downloadable. This is completely inaccurate.
iTunes is actually nothing more than a directory of podcasts1. It just happens to be the best known and most significant directory. It’s also readily accessible on Apple devices such as Mac laptops, iPhones and iPods. (Did you know that they are called podcasts because they were originally “broadcast” primarily to iPods?) If you’re an Android phone user, you may already know that you can use any podcasting app to listen and subscribe to podcasts.
Key Takeaway: iTunes (“Apple Podcasts”) is just a directory of podcasts.
What’s This “Hosting” Stuff About?
When you create a podcast there are two essential components: the blog posts that “contain” the audio files and the actual audio files themselves. You could upload your audio files to your web host, as you would any other files, such as images. But there is an important difference between those audio files and images—audio files are, for the most part, significantly larger.
So, if you get a lot of subscribers, your web hosting company could get overloaded because all of those subscribers take up a lot of the hosting company’s bandwith, and you may even exceed their download limits. To resolve this problem, there are specialist audio file (podcast) hosts. So, to put it simply, you end up with two separate hosts: one hosts the web site/blog and the other hosts the audio files.
For example, Jane Daly and Robynne Miller’s The Art of Semi-Fiction website is primarily hosted using 1and1 Ionos as the WordPress/website host but the audio files themselves are uploaded to a specialist podcast hosting service, Blubrry.com. So, if you visit theartofsemifiction.com and play one of the audio files directly on the website, or via any podcasting app, you are actually downloading the audio file from Blubrry.
Libsyn and Blubrry are probably the two largest and best-known podcast hosts. They also offer additional services, such as Blubrry’s PowerPress WordPress plugin, which provides easy integration between your Blubrry account and your WordPress website. They also offer statistics and even give you the option of creating a simple website on their own website hosting platform. This is a good option for beginners but if you want a more sophisticated website, it is advisable to host a WordPress site elsewhere that just accesses the audio files hosted on Blubrry, LibSyn, or other audio hosting service.
Key Takeaway: Audio files need to be hosted using a service like Blubrry.com or LibSyn.com and your website should (ideally) be hosted using a 3rd party WordPress host.
What Other Techie Stuff Do I Need to Know?
There are two other important requirements that will take some technical know-how: your podcast’s cover art/logo and the actual audio recordings themselves.
- In JPG or PNG format
- Between 1,400 x 1,400 and 3,000 x 3,000 pixels in size
- 72 dpi (dots per inch, or strictly speaking, ppi: pixels per inch)
- In RGB color space
I know, I probably lost you after the word “Square” in that list above, didn’t I? However, unless you’re planning on getting very hands-on with your cover art, the main thing to know is simply that you need a square cover/logo – you can just copy and paste these details and give them to a graphic designer of your choice. I recommend services such as Fiverr.com for finding a good, cheap designer (just search for “podcast cover”) and many of them are experienced in designing podcast art and already know these requirements.
Last, but by no means least, we get to the heart and soul of a podcast, the audio files. But that’s all we have time for this week, so join me next time on Demystifying Podcasts.
1 iTunes is also the name of Apple’s audio & video playing software available on Windows and Mac PCs, which can also be used for playing and subscribing to podcasts.