Learn to Podcast from the Pros at NPR

NPR’s Podcast Start Up Guide: Create, Launch, and Grow a Podcast on Any Budget by Glen Weldon

I had no reason to pick this book up. I’ve been podcasting my radio show for for over ten years now. But I wanted to see what advice the experts at NPR had and whether or not I could apply any of it. Truth be told, I already do a lot of what they suggest. I just wish other podcasters did the same. There are a number of shows that I simply can’t listen to because of the low production value, the lack of clarity, too much rambling, and poor interview skills.

Use Music

Music helps enhance a spoken word podcast. It’s great to have an original theme song or stingers but where can you get these? You could try making them yourself using free or near free online tools. As Ramtin Arablouei puts it . . .

“Music isn’t a magical power. It is an acquired skill. You don’t need to play guitar like Prince or write chords like Hans Zimmer to be able to compose music for your story. Pick up a twenty-dollar keyboard from the music shop, dust off the old guitar, or grab a shaker, and start experimenting.

Mind Your Levels

“If you’ve ever had to turn the volume up or down in a podcast to hear better or more comfortably (not because of the sound in your environment), you’ve experienced a level problem. Loudness is what our ears hear. Levels are loudness expressed as an audio signal. You want the entire episode to be at a comfortable listening level, and each track level balanced with the others.”

You should also check the sound levels so they are fairly consistent and easy to hear. Make sure there is a balance between the different people who might be speaking as well.

Do Your Research

I do quite a lot of research for every guest I interview on my show. I make sure I am familiar with their music and know a little bit about their history. After all, “the only way to know what storylines might be of interest to your audience is to dig in, do some research, and get a sense of exactly that: your guest’s story.”

Guy Raz says, “The kind of supercharged secret to doing a good interview is knowing as much as possible about the person you are going to interview—spending a lot of time reading about them and studying them as best you can. Not because there aren’t going to be things to learn during the interview. To the contrary, that’s how you get moments of serendipity. When you know a lot about a person and ask detailed questions, you’re essentially saying, ‘I honor you. I respect you. I have taken a lot of time to learn about you. I’m here to learn even more.’ When it’s clear to them that you’ve spent a lot of time preparing, there’s no way they won’t respond with generosity, stories, recollections, insights. One of the mistakes I think a lot of podcasters make is in kind of showing up and saying, ‘Let’s hit the Record button and just see where this goes.’ ”

The Secret of Silence

Sometimes an interview guest doesn’t open up for you and you only seem to get short, pithy answers. Jess Thorn has some advice on how to get your interviewee telling better stories.

“I remember thinking of something I’d read in Jessica Abel’s and Ira Glass’s comic Out on the Wire, which is that if you don’t say anything, people will fill the space. So when she finished her sentences, just waited. For a long time, sometimes. Like five or ten seconds, which is forever. And every time, she added to her initial remarks. And that saved the interview.”

Edit and Polish

A lot of podcasters seem to skip this step. Editing is a way to be courteous to your listeners. Rambling answers, ums and ahhs, coughs, starts and stops, and other natural parts of conversations can be, and should be cut out from your podcast. You can make it sound better that it actually was. And we will thank you for it!

“Audio production molds the sound. It’s what makes it, well, sound good. It’s mixing (sometimes salvaging) audio. Adjusting levels. Cleaning up p-pops and rumbles. Cleverly making it look like no one talked over anyone else, flubbed a line, or sniffled. Using sound, ambi, or music to mask edits. And more.”

I do this for my interviews and although it take a lot of time, it is well worth it. The interviews flow and I can chop out about 10 minutes of every half hour show. Of course, most people have no idea this has happened. And that is the goal.

“Part of your job is to minimize or ‘disappear’ speech glitches (p-pops, flubs, audible breaths), reduce ear-jarring extremes (bursts of laughter, exclamations), and create an even pace. It’s like a face-lift for language. Like a good surgeon, you want to do just enough to make it seem like you weren’t there. And make sure your stitches don’t show—that’s called masking your edits.”

Make Your Guests (And Yourself) Sound Smarter

“At Pop Culture Happy Hour, there’s a thing we call the ‘Jess filter.’ It refers to the exceptional ability of our producer, Jessica Reedy, to transform raw tape into the finished product that makes each of us sound about 40 percent smarter and more confident than we actually are—because our hemming and hawing and speech stumbles are gone.

Ever wanted to rewind something and say it better, faster, or smarter? Then you begin to understand what editors do.”

Be Your Best

“Because the version of yourself that you need to be on your podcast is, at the end of the day, a performance of yourself. Or let’s say: a distillation of yourself. One that’s sharper, cleaner, more efficient. Funnier, probably. Maybe even smarter. Certainly pithier. (Please, for the love of all that is holy, be pithier.) How do you go about ensuring all of that? Simple.”

Make It Sound Natural

“Yes, podcasts need to feel natural—but that’s just it. They need to feel natural. Not be. Feel. That means editing. Using your aural scalpel to cut digressions, dead ends, jokes that don’t land, and—if you’re willing (and oh, be willing)—the ums, aahs, and lip smacks. When in doubt, take it out. It’s not dishonest. It isn’t slick. It’s a service to your listeners. It’s a way of focusing your discussion, a precious opportunity to identify and delineate what makes your podcast unique. Do not shirk this. Don’t fail your podcast—or your audience.”

A Great Read and a Great Listen

If you are brand new to podcasting or have several episode under your belt, reading this book will help you step up your game. The audio book version is awesome because all the familiar voices from your radio pop up from time to time. Love NPR shows? Want to create podcast? Read or listen to this book and them jump in!

My Reading Log of 2022 – updated all year long