Essays & Opinion Professor Wu's Rulebook

The podcaster’s guide to the galaxy

Eric Henson, one half of the Extra Secret Podcast, introduces us to the world of podcasting, and gives his top tips for starting your own podcast.

The fine folks here at Nothing In The Rule Book asked if we were interested in contributing some tips on how one would go about starting their own podcast. Since we’re not ones to shy away from reaching potential new listeners, we (over) enthusiastically agreed. Hello. How are you? You look well.

We’ve been doing the Extra Secret Podcast for just over two years now and I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard of us. So, if you’re reading this expecting some top tips on how to become the next Nerdist, 99% Invisible, or even Serial you’ve come to the wrong place. There are scores of articles out there that deal with the technical side of setting up a podcast. This isn’t one of them. We’re here to give you some pointers on the “whys” of podcasting.

About three years ago, Dan came to me and said, “I want to do a podcast and I want you to co-host it with me.”  To which I responded, “FINALLY.” Then I found out that I wasn’t his first choice, which I was strangely okay with. I then began to ask some of the big questions, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Before we get started I have a confession: The Extra Secret Podcast isn’t my fist podcast. Ten years ago I did one with another friend and it was, to be quite honest, terrible. We recorded off of a tiny stick microphone, there were long awkward pauses during conversation, and it lasted for about 15 minutes. I think we had a grand total of five listeners. After that crushing failure I resolved never to podcast again unless I could do it “right.”

On to the tips!

  • Have a format: I hate to break it to you, but “two or more people droning on and on about something” isn’t a format. For our show we’ve settled on two segments separated by a musical break. Generally we talk about things that have been in the news for the first segment, take a short break, and return to talk about a predetermined topic.
  • Have a schedule: Having a consistent publishing schedule helps keep listeners around. When we started we were on a weekly schedule. I still have no idea how we were able to come up with new things to speak about each week for an entire year and not end up completely burned out. Eventually, we switched to a twice a month format and that seems to keep it fresh. I’ve listened to some podcasts that publish whenever the mood strikes and that’s all well and good. But when months go by with no new podcasts, your listeners may start to wonder if you’ve quit and not bothered to tell them.
  • You do you: There’s no point if doing a show if you’re just going to copy someone else’s style. If you’ve made the decision to inflict yourself on the internet, you had better be doing it in your own voice. Bring something unique to the table.
  • Get some decent equipment: When we started, Dan had purchased a nice mixing board and some XLR microphones. Super professional; but not required to have a halfway decent sounding podcast. There have been a few other podcasts I’ve listened to where it sounds like they use a tin can telephone to capture all their audio. Dreadful. The mixer and microphones were nice but they were tough to transport and time consuming to set up. Eventually we settled on two Blue Snowball USB microphones which are plug-and-play and relatively inexpensive.
  • Keep it brief: We try to keep our recordings limited to about an hour. Most listeners will be digesting your podcast while commuting, endlessly processing data at their desk job, or peddling away on a stationary bike at the gym. Anything longer than an hour and you’re starting to crossover into audiobook territory. If you have a topic that warrants more than an hour’s worth of conversation don’t be afraid to split the episode into two parts. It will give your listeners something to look forward to.
  • It’s not what you say, but how you say it: I know, I know… Swearing is fun. On our podcast we do tend to , but not at the expense of the overall message of what we’re trying to say. If you listen back to a recording and find that you’re using expletives as filler words, you may want to make a concerted effort to avoid that.
  • Be ready to suck: Before we even published our first episode, Dan and I sat down and hashed out what we wanted to talk about. We recorded a pilot episode that we never published (and will NEVER publish) to get comfortable in front of the microphones and get a rhythm down. And even when we did publish our first episode it was still a bit clunky. It’s a work in progress. Still.
  • Is this thing on?: Once you’ve published some episodes, the hosting site (we use Blubrry for ours and it’s great) you use can most likely provide you with some kind of data regarding how many downloads you’ve amassed to date. You may want to sit down when you look at them the first time. And after you subtract yourself and your cohost you may want to lay down. Depending on the level of promotion you’ve put into your podcast you most likely won’t be doing crazy download numbers.
  • Shameless self-promotion: Tell friends, tell family, tell anyone you think may be interested in your podcast. Some of them may actually Start a Twitter account for the podcast. Twitter is good for connecting with listeners and getting new ones. If there’s a particular topic you’re discussing on your new episode, hashtag it. You’d be surprised what people notice. In fact, my skillful use of #CloneHigh got us noticed by this very site! Early on in the show, our musical interludes were often local bands that we’re fans of and retweets from them would never fail to give our numbers a bump.
  • Why bother?: The reason We’ve been doing this for so long is because it’s something we enjoy doing. It’s also cheaper than going to therapy. At the very core of the show it’s really about two friends sitting down and having a conversation and working through some things. It’s not about having tons of listeners and it never was. The best we can hope for is that someone listens to what we’re saying and that it connects with them on some level.

Now, there’s nothing is this rulebook that says you have to abide by anything I just wrote. Go forth and podcast!

About the author of this post

IMG_4166E.A. Henson is one half of the Extra Secret Podcast. When not podcasting he is a mild-mannered worker at a major multinational corporation. He lives in Michigan.

Thanks to You’re the meaning in our lives, you’re the inspiration.


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