PodCompass: So, What The Hell Is A Podcast, Anyway?

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As someone who has been a podcaster since about 2006, I come across a lot of people who are fascinated with the idea of podcasting.  Invariably I get questions about the technical hoops one must jump through in order to create and distribute a podcast, and most people are shocked to learn how easy it really is.   With that in mind, let's start with the basic question: What is a podcast?  

Well, the answer to that is really quite simple:  A podcast is online multimedia content that is able to be consumed on demand, with an option to subscribe for easy delivery to you.  

Once you realize what a podcast really is and how simple it is to create one, I hope that you'll want to get started.   I also hope that you won't be led astray by the many courses that will teach you how to podcast for a price that -- at least to me -- seems astronomical.   There's no arcane knowledge to impart on creating a podcast, and there's no secret formula. It's literally creating audio or video content and placing it online where others can consume it and subscribe to it regardless of platform, device, or time constraints.  

Podcasting is the true democratization of media.  There are no more gate-keepers between you and your potential audience.  That's a great power, and yes, I do believe it comes with a great responsibility.  That's a separate post for another time.

If you can convert your media (audio, video, document) to digital form, you can make it available online for others to pull down for little to no cost to you.  You can create a subscription option so that a consumer of your content can subscribe to it.  When they subscribe to your content they no longer have to go to the location of the file and download it, it downloads to their devices automatically.  That is the magic of podcasting right there, and that is the one mission you have as a podcaster: Create content for your potential audience so relevant and good that subscribing is an easy decision for them to make.  

So, why do people make it sound so much more complicated than it really is?  Because there are people out there that want you to buy their course, and get this microphone from their Amazon Affiliate Link, and join their super secret mastermind or monthly education platform, and I'm here to tell you that YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO THIS.   

What you need is the following:

  • A way to record your content.  Got a smartphone?  You have a way to record your voice, or shoot video.  Yes, you can really do this.  No, it won't sound the best, but here's something you're going to hear quite often from me on these posts:  If your content kicks ass, how you made it doesn't matter. At least, not to begin with.   
  • A way to edit that content.  I have friends that are going to call BS on me right now about this point, because I almost never edit anything.  Fact is, I like the imperfections of the medium, and I embrace them.  Sometimes, of course, I'm going to have to edit something out, and chances are you will too.  I recommend Audacity, which is a free audio editor that is way better than a free editor ought to be.  I promise you, any podcaster worth their weight in salt that tells you they've never used Audacity are either lying to you, or somebody else paid for what they are using. Frankly, I think getting to know Audacity should be a rite of podcaster passage.  Thankfully, since podcasting has no rules, I don't get  to make that call.  
  • A place to put your content.  Here's how old I am: The first piece of audio I ever put online for consumption was recorded on a 486DX with the Sound Blaster 16 PCI card, using SB Studio, encoded into Real Audio, and placed on a GeoCities website that I hand coded in HTML. It took practically all of the 10MB of space I had to put that file up, but it worked.  However, there were a few downsides.  People had to go to the site to hear or download it, and you were a guest on their desktop during their online time.   We were still using Dial-Up internet back then, so... iet's just say the theory was there, but the dream wasn't quite there yet.   Today, you can get a Wordpress.com site for free.  That's a blog.  The main pillar of what makes a blog work is the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed.  Consumers no longer have to go to your site to consume your content.  If they subscribe to the RSS feed of your blog, it's delivered to them.  Podcasting is exactly the same thing, only along with a text description of the podcast, you're enclosing your sound file, or a video file.  It's then delivered to them when they fire up their RSS Feed reader or Podcatcher of their choice.

I talked about the dream of internet audio.  Podcasting is that dream realized.  On demand, delivered to their device or platform of choice, can be listened to anywhere at any time, and intimate.  You have the honor of being in someone's earholes for the duration of your podcast.  They might be jogging, driving, doing the laundry.  Most of the time, they're listening from their smartphone with earbuds, so you literally have them all to yourself.  

So, a podcast is online multimedia content that is able to be consumed on demand, with an option to subscribe for easy delivery to you.  It's also very easy and cheap to make, and if you do it right it's the most authentic and intimate form of media there is today.