Demystifying Podcasts: All About the Audio (and More)

Previously on “Demystifying Podcasts,” I discussed some podcasting basics. Today I’ll be looking at the essence of podcasts: the audio. But rather than discussing specific technical details on how to edit your audio files, I’ll outline some factors you need to consider prior to publishing them.

Non-Technical Considerations

Core Content

As the saying goes, “Content is King!” Your content needs to follow a theme that relates to the title of your podcast, or is relevant to your listeners, even if not strictly within the limits of your title or theme.

The way you communicate (tone of voice, emotion, inflections, etc.) is also vital. If you speak in a dull monotone, everyone will turn off, even if the content is excellent. Speak directly to your audience, engage with your co-host (if you have one), have fun, and don’t worry about being perfect.

It also goes without saying, I hope, that your content needs to be worth listening to. It must have value.

Key Takeaway: Relevant, consistent, engaging, quality content is vital for a successful podcast.

Time Sensitive Content

Many podcasters record multiple episodes on the same day and gradually release them week-by-week. You may decide to spend a Saturday recording enough episodes for the next 2 months (9 episodes). If the first of these is going to be released on April 1, episodes 6-9 won’t be released until May. So, if you mention something that’s “going to happen on April 16th” in episode 8, by the time it’s released, April 16th will be in the past. This is an easy mistake to make when recording episodes en masse.

Key Takeaway: When recording several episodes on the same day, think about when your audience will be listening to them.

How Long Should Each Podcast Episode Be?

This varies depending on the episode frequency (see below) but, as a rule of thumb, 20-30 minutes is ideal. Sources vary between recommending a 15-minute maximum to 60 minutes.

One study found the average length of episodes among the top 400 podcasts was 53 minutes and 4 seconds. (Source: How Long is the Average Podcast Episode?). Whatever length you choose, be consistent, varying no more than 1-2 minutes from the average.

Also consider the amount of content you can produce. For example, if you only have time to record one 40-minute episode every 2 weeks, you should break up that episode into two 20-minute episodes, published weekly.

Key Takeaway: Be realistic about how much content you can produce and publish episodes of a consistent length.

Frequency, Day, and Time

As a beginning podcaster, you should aim for weekly episodes. And by “weekly” I mean every week. It absolutely must be every single week, not “a lot of weeks,” not “most weeks,” and definitely not “some weeks!” Did you get that? You will never develop a reliable audience if you are inconsistent.

You must also release your episodes on the same day each week in order to develop a loyal, habitual following.

But is there an ideal day of the week?

My research indicates the day of the week is not significant. But if there are competing podcasts released on a particular day, I recommend choosing a different day. A weekday is better than over the weekend. One podcaster discovered, contrary to expectations, that the number of downloads only tapered off slightly each day after his Monday “release day.” (Source: Whats the Best Day and Time to Publish My Podcast?) His findings also support the theory that podcasts are listened to less at weekends.

And what about time of day?

Because podcasts are available globally, you could argue that it doesn’t really matter. But, in our case, I suspect we’re more likely to be getting listeners from the U.S., at least initially. Each episode should be published before your listeners wake up, so it’s available before the morning commute. I recommend publishing your episodes by 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time. (There’s at least one WordPress plugin that allows you to automate this.)

I’ve also noticed a bit of a lag between the time your episode is published and when the different podcast directories and apps pick it up, so you need to allow time for it to be disseminated.

Key Takeaway: Publish episodes on the same day each week, Mon-Fri, before the morning commute.

Intros and Outros, Introductions and Taglines

Most podcasts have a short musical intro and outro, equivalent to a TV show’s theme music. This music, frequently called an “audio logo,” should be short, distinctive and consistent with the tone and theme of your podcast, and your personality.

Just as there are websites of stock photography, there are websites that provide free or for-payment stock audio logos. Here are a few examples:

It’s also important to introduce yourself (or yourselves, if there are co-hosts), the name of your podcast, and the subject matter of the episode. This establishes with your listeners who and what they are listening to and adds to the familiar feeling of the podcast, which helps build a sense of trust and habitual listeners. It’s also a good idea to have a tagline (such as The Art of Semi-Fiction‘s “Exploring every corner of the written word”) that you repeat at the beginning or end of each podcast episode—branding.

Key Takeway: Intros, outros, introductions and taglines build a sense of familiarity, which helps to establish your brand.

Technical Considerations

There are many technical considerations when recording and editing audio. Here are a couple you may not have thought about.

Volume (Loudness) Variation Within an Episode

There is a lot of technical information online about this, much of which is confusing if you’re not familiar with audio-editing jargon. The main concept is that you mustn’t have too much variation in loudness within an episode or the listener will have to keep adjusting the volume control on their device. The technical term for this is Dynamic Range Compression, which you can read more about here. (Think of those annoying movies where the dramatic scenes are too loud and the tender moments can’t even be heard.)

Volume variations before and after compression. Notice the greater variation in the Before image.

Key Takeaway: Your audio recording will need to be “compressed” so the range between the loudest and quietest parts is reduced.

Volume (Loudnes) Variation Between Episodes and Other Podcasts

Similarly, the loudness needs to be consistent between episodes and other podcasts. There is no formal standard for podcasts but there are informal ones and Apple has its own specification, which is becoming the de facto standard (-16 dB LKFS/LUFS to be precise). The technical term for this concept is “normalization.”

Key Takeaway: Your audio recordings will need to be “normalized” so they have a loudness that’s consistent between episodes and other podcasts.

There are online services to handle these loudness issues, such as the excellent Auphonic, which is free for up to 2 hours of audio each month and can even add your intro and outro automatically. There are many other technical considerations when recording and editing audio files, but I think you have plenty to ponder for the moment.

Happy podcasting and feel free to post questions in the comments below.

About Ian Feavearyear 10 Articles
Ian was born and bred in the rural county of Suffolk, England but feels very much at home in the mountains of California. He is married to the Inspire Board President, Robynne, and is currently working on his first non-fiction book. Ian is Inspire's Blog and Social Media Director, webmaster, and general tech go-to person. Ian is a law school valedictorian with a Juris Doctor from Concord Law School and a paralegal certificate from Humboldt State University.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I would love to see in-depth training with Ian about how to set up and manage a podcast (equipment, procedures, editing, and publishing – marketing) for authors who are total rookies in thinking of podcasts … but believe we have something to share. I would drive to Sacramento (from Napa) – and happily spend a couple of days to learn this and feel some confidence with it. I would also be willing to pay a reasonable amount for the training – perhaps the equivalent of the WCCW workshops (139.00)? Keep me posted if this comes up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*