11 smart, time-efficient podcast tips and tricks
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I suspect the reason Anya Grundmann, NPR’s vice president for programming and audience development, tapped me to write an NPR guide to podcasting was to get me off her back for a while.
Every time I’d see her in the halls I’d talk her ear off about my latest podcast obsession, whatever it happened to be that week. Maybe it was that time I stopped her by the fourth floor’s kitchenette to rave about Good One: A Podcast About Jokes. (“It’s about the craft of stand-up, Anya! How jokes get honed and shaped and sculpted over time! It’s about process!”) That did it. Enough, she perhaps thought, let’s channel this nerdy schlub’s energy into something we can use.
My marching orders were clear from the jump: Don’t write a textbook. Don’t write a resource guide. Write a book that reads like an engaging conversation with the reader—a book that distills the hard-won podcasting experience that NPR’s been accruing for more than a decade into practical, actionable, useful advice for someone who’s just starting out. If you can make it funny, or funny-adjacent, so much the better.
So I talked to a lot of NPR podcasters. And not just the hosts, though I talked to as many of those as I could. But I went out of my way to talk to people all along a podcast’s pipeline. Editors who shape the narrative. Producers who keep all the plates spinning while making sure each episode maintains a clear and consistent focus. Engineers whose soundscapes place audiences where they need to be. I talked to folks on the NPR Training team about best practices for everything from correct mic placement to soliciting audience feedback. I talked to our marketing folks about the cheapest and most effective ways to get the word out about your podcast. And I talked to a lot of NPR interns, many of whom were already making podcasts of their own as a side-hustle.
In NPR’s Podcast Start Up Guide, you won’t find advice on how to sound like NPR. Instead, you’ll find advice on how to use your experience, your passion, your story, and your voice to make the podcast only you can make. It’ll arm you with the many, many (many!) questions we at NPR ask ourselves before we commit to making a podcast. You don’t have to answer them all, but making informed decisions about what, for example, your ideal target audience looks like will give you the kind of focus and purposefulness that’ll keep you going when the going gets tough. (We ask and answer questions like that over the course of months and months of meetings, but you, bunky? You get it all in a book.)
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter on budgeting and time management in NPR’s Podcast Start Up Guide: Create, Launch, and Grow a Podcast on Any Budget (Ten Speed Press).
11 Time-Smart Podcasting Tips and Tricks
Check out these ways to save time, make time, and understand the time you need for your podcast.
1. Fools rush in, but you are no fool. So don’t rush. Start out by giving yourself ample time, knowing you face a steep learning curve. You can always accelerate once you’re more familiar with the production process.
2. Baby steps. That is, start with a smaller plan so you can learn from any mistakes and glitches before going all in with big plans. For example, if you’re a de-cluttering expert, create a three-part series on office organizing; this will give you a sense of how long things take and how many shows can realistically be in your “season.” That way, too, if a listener stumbles across Part 3, “Filing for the Flummoxed,” and enjoys it, they might seek out Parts 1 and 2: “Dominate Your Desk” and “Abolish Your Inbox.” Now you’re building an audience—an incentive to keep podcasting if there ever was one. Just make sure your audience knows that they’re listening to a limited series, so they know that there are other episodes to explore, and give them a way to let you know if they want more. Also, know this: Your first effort at podcasting might be a steaming pile of unpublishability [sic]. Hey, it happens. But take heart. The teachable moments will not be forgotten. You’ll do better the next time, and the next.
3. Expose your dream schedule to the harsh light of cold, merciless reality. Track when you plan for a task to be done and also when a task is actually done. That way, during your production postmortems (see No. 4), you can pinpoint problems when something goes off course.
Here are some possible remedies:
- “Steal” time from other processes.
- Lengthen your publication schedule.
- Take tutorials or seek out other instruction to improve your skills.
- Pay or swap services with a fellow podcaster or engage an audio pro to perform that component for you.
- Rethink your podcast format.
4. No laurel resting! Do postmortems. Review your podcast schedule after an episode publishes. Where did things go off-track? What could you do more efficiently? Evaluate your podcast’s quality, and, of course, be sure to note what went right and pat yourself on the back!
5. Include your squad. (Do the kids still say that? Squad? Yikes.) If you’re working with a cohost or a panel, include them in the planning, scheduling, and postmortem processes to get and keep everyone on the same page. It helps when everyone participates to hammer out schedules, assign tasks, and address stumbling blocks.
6. Move forward by planning drawkcab. In its “Project Blueprint” guide, our NPR Training team suggests working backward from a designated launch date to develop your schedule, with weekly goals broken down.
7. Stockpile episodes so you can swim in them later like a trademarked cartoon Scottish billionaire waterfowl. Once you get rolling with podcasting, you’ll be working on multiple episodes at once, in different stages of completion, to maintain your publication schedule. (Side benefit: You can promote future episodes because you’ll know what they are!) That’s why you should have several finished episodes banked and ready to publish before you launch your podcast. While those episodes are publishing, you’ll be working on the next several, which you’ll then bank and launch, and so on, in staggered fashion (“stagger”—such an apt word for this).
8. Do long-range planning. No, longer. Looonger. At [Pop Culture Happy Hour], for example, we look ahead and add major movie releases/series premieres to our calendar (not too far ahead, though, as these dates often change—maybe a month or two ahead). We have at least two weeks of shows planned at any given time.
9. Start an Idea Bank and rob it regularly. Your podcast pipeline starts with ideas. You must incubate them. Keep a file where you stash any and all podcast ideas as you think of them. Don’t judge. Just deposit. Encourage your team to do the same. Have regular idea meetings when you look at what’s in your Idea Bank, kick those concepts around, add new ones, and pull some out to develop. It might be a weekly check-in with just you, your coffee, and your notebook. Or a half-hour call with your team.
10. Throw some softballs. Keep a stash of some easier-to-do episodes in development. So if an episode—or life—throws you a curveball (a guest cancels, you have a tech-tastrophe, or your kid gets his 84th ear infection of the school year), you can accelerate one of the easier ones in the queue to keep to your publishing schedule. If you generally do interviews in the field, do some shows with in-studio guests. If your discussion subjects are topical or time-sensitive (such as current events), reach into history with roundups by decade or theme. If your show comments on current events or fast-changing pop culture, bank some “evergreen” episodes—those that can stand alone, without a specific news peg—so you can run them, or even rerun them, should the need arise.
11. Make time for mixing thoroughly. All production takes time. But mixing—editing and sequencing audio tracks so they sound like they magically happened all smooth and natural—takes hours to finish a few minutes’ worth. So, especially at first, pad your schedule with extra time to get mixing right.
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