Podcasting has long since broken out of the niche corners of the internet. If you haven't gotten into it yet, it's time to. Here's what you need to know to get started not just enjoying the vast selection of content available online, but to create your very own show as well. Internet stardom is just a few clicks away.
How to Listen to a Podcast
Here's the easy part. In order to listen to a podcast, you'll first need a player app. Since many audio podcasts are distributed as basic MP3 files, they'll play on virtually any modern mobile device natively. But while you can totally get away with manually finding, downloading, and playing a podcast, there are a number of purpose-built apps (known as podcatchers) that now do the heavy lifting for you. Here are just a few of the more popular options:
Pocket Cast: Pocket Cast 4 from ShiftyJelly is among the most popular of all podcatchers and it's easy to see why. For one, the $4 app refreshes content on the server side to minimize the amount of time you'll wait for the content to download and play. What's more, it offers cloud syncing (even between Android and iOS devices), an expansive library of available content covering thousands of subjects, homescreen control widget, RSS feed importing, and even offers Chromecast support. It's available for both iOS and Android.
BeyondPod: If you're looking for more obscure subject matters and shows, BeyondPod has you covered. The combination RSS reader and player supports both audio and video content as well as Chromecast streaming, which allows you to listen to shows on your home theater system rather than your mobile device's tinny speakers. This Android-only app is a bit pricey at $7 but does offer a one-week trial of the product (with all of its features unlocked) before you have to pay. There are different versions optimized for both your Android phone and tablet, so make sure that you download the right one for your device.
TuneIn: TuneIn radio is another wildly popular podcatcher that offers a huge mix of content—from obscure podcasts to local and national radio station feeds—with an easy and intuitive UI. The free version, available for Android and iOS, only allows you to stream content through the device; you'll have to fork over $10 for the Pro version to get local download (and offline playback) capabilities. Still, that's less expensive than paying for Wi-Fi on a cross country flight.
Podcasts: iOS users actually don't need to download a standalone app at all seeing as how the platform comes with a native podcatcher, Podcasts, preinstalled. It's everything you'd expect from an Apple product: intuitive functionality; a flat, iOS 7-inspired UI; and a hefty selection of content to choose from. It's a bit limited in many respects, but it's certainly easier than trying to manage your feeds through iTunes and sync them to your iPod.
Instacast: If you want a more robust iOS-based podcatcher than what comes pre-loaded, check out Instacast. It too leverages a minimalist iOS 7 aesthetic but offers much more granular control over your feeds and how you consume, them including a very slick "Unplayed" mode that will automatically start the next episode so you don't have to fumble with your phone. Instacast will set you back just $2.
What Podcasts to Listen to
Now that you've chosen a podcatcher, it's time to start populating your playlist. Each app described above offers its own take on content search, discovery, and recommendations based on your personal tastes. But with an overwhelming supply of shows to check out, how do you even know where to start?
Here are a few of Gizmodo's favorite podcasts:
WTF with Marc Maron: It's Wayne's World but with a neurotic 50-something conducting long-form interviews with comic luminaries in his garage. Each hour-long show is unfairly entertaining—Maron's ability to engage with his guests and draw out details is uncanny—and quite often hilarious. Check out his recent interview with Wayne Campbell himself, Mike Myers.
Star Talk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Take equal parts popular science and comedy, add one Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and mix well. What you get is an insightful, educational, and downright entertaining look at the universe around us.
The Giant Bombcast: A great (and super long, 3+ hour) weekly podcast about all things video games, garbage food, professional wrestling, and other assorted chaos. Really just a great group of personalities who GENERALLY talk about video games and do it pretty smartly
Judge John Hodgman: It's like The People's Court except funny instead of sad and with WAAAY more John Hodgman.
Oh No Ross and Carrie: For anyone who is even mildly interested in cults, bizarre religions, anti-vaxxers, and the people who love them, this is sososooso good. It's basically two rational (and very funny) people immersing themselves in the most absurd things (Kabbalah, that teen girl exorcist group, juice fasting, palmistry, etc.) and reporting back. And it is DELIGHTFUL.
The Memory Palace is a tiny history podcast that comes out maybe once very six weeks. Each episode, rarely longer than 10 minutes, is like a weird but true bedtime story told by your cool uncle who is inexplicably knowledgeable about zombies and boy geniuses and lobsters. The episodes are so short and so infrequent and so good that you will never be wracked by the anxiety of having hours of unplayed episodes.
Stuff You Should Know: They tackle a new subject each week and take about 45 mins to explain the thing. My most recent favorite is "How Amnesia Works". The info is generally backed up and I like their banter more than "Radio Lab" which a lot of people love.
The X-Files Files: As the name implies, it's all about the X-Files! Kumail Nanjiani is going through episode by episode (for the most part, he skips the universally agreed upon bad ones), talks to comedian buddies and discusses the cult following of the show. As a huge X Files fan this is right up my alley. And I like Kumail as a comedian. Start with the first episode to get a feel for the show.
If I Were You: It's hosted by Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfield from College Humor but it's in no way associated with the site. It's an advice podcast ruled by listener emails. It's an easy listen and is very silly. I enjoy them as a duo more than I enjoy any of the advice. I'm also maybe in love with them both which I think is the entire point of the show. Listen to any of them, they are all good.
How to Make Your Own Podcast
If you've ever dreamed of being a radio show host, it's never been easier. With even a modest equipment setup, you can create professionalish podcasts quickly and easily.
You're first going to need to figure out the general theme of the show and the format you want to present it in. It could be, quite literally, anything, from highlights of your local music scene to in-depth analysis of geopolitics to long-form housecat interviews. Don't ape them outright, but take production and structural cues from the podcasts you already listen to and adapt their styles to fit your situation and subject matter.
Once you figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, create a budget and go shopping for the necessary podcasting equipment. The quality of your equipment directly affects the quality of your podcast which is why, while you can totally record a show on your smartphone, it's going to sound like, well, you recorded your show on a smartphone. That doesn't mean you need to go blow thousands of dollars on a pro mixing board and studio mics but you should definitely aim for the best quality gear you can afford on your budget.
And quality doesn't necessarily demand wads of cash. You can pick up a perfectly serviceable USB mic like the Snowball for about $60 or the Samson Meteorite mic for $40. But as Dan Benjamin's Podcasting Equipment Guide explains:
...even when the content is great, if your podcast doesn't sound good, nobody will listen. Audio quality makes all the difference to your listeners, especially when your show will be up against shows from studios like WNYC, TWiT, and ESPN. We spend lots of time and money at 5by5 to make sure our shows sound the best they can, and it has had a direct influence on growing our listenership. So if you're serious about making a great podcast, you should invest in a decent microphone.
Benjamin recommends the $230 Rode Podcaster USB Dynamic Microphone which, while pricey, offers both solid performance and background noise mitigation.
You'll also need recording software. If you're using a Mac, you're probably fine sticking with Garageband at least at first: it's free, it's functional, and comes pre-installed as part of iLife. Windows users should check out Audacity or Goldwave, both of which are free as well.
Now that you've got your three podcasting cornerstones set up—your mic, headphones, and recording software—it's time to start making a podcast. Again, the quality of your audio directly affects the quality of your show, so don't go getting stingy with that bit rate. Talk shows can get away with a minimum rate of 128 kbps but if you've lined up a musical act the rate needs to be at least, at least, 192 kbps.
After you've finished the recording session, edited the episode for runtime and content concerns, it's time to publish your work to the Internet. The easiest way to do so is to generate an RSS feed for your show so that fans can easily be alerted to the availability of new content. Don't know how to make an RSS feed by hand? No worries, podcast hosting services like Libsyn ($5/mo), Castmate ($5 - 80/mo), or Podomatic can do so nearly automatically and give your content somewhere to live on the Internet.
The last step is the simplest; promote the heck out of your show. Tell your friends and family all about it on Facebook, send out Twitter or Instagram posts whenever a new show goes live. If you put in the necessary time and effort, your podcasting hobby might just pay off in real income. But most of all, it's just nice to be heard.
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