How to Make a Weekly Podcast: A Step-by-Step Guide
“I have too much time and too much money,” said no marketing person ever.
So, it’s safe to say that I’m a relatively prolific content creator these days. I know, I know, insert your jokes here. I’ll wait.
One of my labors of love (and occasionally sponsorship) is Content Marketing Institute’s The Weekly Wrap podcast. While I am a creator and host on two podcasts (This Old Marketing being the other), The Weekly Wrap is the one I write, host, produce, and get ready for prime time on a weekly basis.
Many of you are either considering or being asked by your management teams to consider creating a podcast. And more than a few times, I’ve fielded questions about how much work it really takes to manage a podcast. I thought I’d put together not only a behind-the-scenes look at the tools and process I use to put together the weekly podcast, but an analysis of the time and effort each episode takes.
Hopefully this is helpful as you either begin or actively look to build your business case for creating a podcast of your own.
There are three main parts of each weekly episode:
- Pre-production – writing and prepping
- Production – recording, editing, and mixing the final product
- Post-production – creating and publishing the podcast package
As you read this, you should consider that I’ve been doing this podcast for 66 weekly episodes now (almost a year and a half). My muscle memory is relatively high. The time-range estimates I include are based on the beginning of my learning curve at the high end (or a particularly bad week) and the latter part of my learning curve (or a particularly inspired week) for the short end. Also, please note that NONE of the links to the equipment I choose to use are affiliate links, sponsors, or endorsements by CMI. They are simply the tools that have worked well (or not, as the case may be) for me.
Pre-production: A job well begun is half done
To be clear, we put a lot of thought into the architecture of the show before we did anything. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Really understanding your show flow and how long you want segments to be is critical before you start the content creation process.Really understand your show flow, segments, etc. BEFORE you create your #podcast content, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
The show flow for The Weekly Wrap is made up of 10 segments (maybe that surprises you):
- Cold open – a compelling snippet from that week’s guest interview
Duration: less than 1 minute (I shoot for 40 seconds.)
- Cold open introduction – my tease for this week’s episode
Duration: almost always 30 seconds
- Episode introduction – welcome the audience to the episode and provide the theme for the week (I also usually go through a few puns here, sorry.)
Duration: 1 minute
- Movie clip – a relevant pop culture (usually movie scene) clip that fits with the theme (Yes, I’m aware that it’s probably not completely kosher to do that – but “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”)
- Duration: 1 minute – sometimes it goes longer
- Podcast main thought (up to tease) – my introduction and weekly thought (about 500 to 700 words) (I structure this so a natural tease break happens at the 600 or so word mark. You’ll see why later.)
Duration: 4 to 5 minutes
- Our sponsor – copy is usually provided from the sponsor
Duration: 1 to 2 minutes
- The news – something that I have an opinion on or which naturally feeds the week’s theme (This is usually difficult. I typically read the first part of the lede, then provide my take on the story.)
Duration: 5 to 6 minutes
- The interview – interview with someone “making meaning in content” (It is recorded separately.)
Duration: 14 to 16 minutes
- The CMI article – a reference to a previous CMI article that people can revisit or find for the first time (I try to fit it into the theme of the show. I cover it briefly.)
Duration: 2 minutes
- Show wrap – my close of the episode, where I thank the audience, go through any calls to action, ask people to share (I finish with the last bit from the podcast main thought to bring together the whole thing.)
Duration: 2 minutes
I strive for a 35-minute show. That time is definitely an “ish.” I don’t often hit that mark. But I am proud that since Episode 40 (when we introduced the interview), I’ve never gone over 40 minutes and am usually within one or two minutes of the target. Honestly, if I had more time to spend on the show, length and tightening are what I would probably focus on. Spoiler alert: Interviews can be time consuming to edit.Interviews for a #podcast can be time consuming to edit, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
The podcast is published Thursday night. Its promotional email and show blog post go live on Friday morning. My production package is due to our crack editorial team Tuesday morning, meaning Monday night Pacific time for me. So, my pre-production process starts the previous Friday (if I’m lucky) or, most likely, over the weekend due to my schedule.
Each episode has two anchor pieces – the podcast main thought and the interview. We work together as a team to source and schedule guests, and I like to have a few in the can to provide some flexibility on scheduling.
The interviews take about a half-hour all in all. I use GoToMeeting (paid versions) to record (only because I’m used to it) and I may move to Zoom (free and paid versions). I wish I could vouch for specific podcast-recording software services, but I’ve been burned too many times by catastrophic fails. The quality on the online meeting services is not amazing, but it’s dependable.
Then, the interview complete, I decide on the theme and write the podcast main thought. Since it also serves as the basis for my letter sent in a Friday email from CMI, I strive for less than 600 words (about 4 minutes).
If I’m perfectly candid, writing the post can take 30 minutes if I’m inspired – or it’s my entire Sunday. Yup. Some days the muse just doesn’t come.
Once I have the interview and the podcast main thought finished, I write the script for the episode using the Evernote app. Yes, I script the entire episode word for word. I do not ad lib for the most part..@Robert_Rose scripts every word for The #WeeklyWrap podcast before he hits record, via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
Assembling the final show-flow script is the biggest time commitment. The process can take a few hours. Why? Well, here are the things that have to be scripted:
- Cold open introduction: This goes quickly. It’s just summarizing the three main segments for the show.
- Episode introduction: The puns, good lord the puns. It can take me 10 to 45 minutes to find and work them into the format.
- Movie clip: Finding one can be a 30-second YouTube search or a one-hour trip down the rabbit hole of movie scenes. It’s usually the latter.
- Podcast main thought: Usually, I just cut and paste from what I did earlier, but sometimes I tweak it for time.
- Sponsor: I usually cut and paste from the approved copy, then I tweak slightly to fit into the theme of the show.
- The news: Finding the news item usually happens quickly, but it’s almost like writing a blog post to provide a two-minute take on the item. I do not ad lib.
- The interview: I quickly write the introduction/bio of the guest.
- The CMI article: This also goes quickly because it’s often just a take on what is always an interesting article. Sometimes I do ad lib.
- Show wrap: This step goes quickly because most of it is standard week to week. But like the podcast main thought, I sometimes tweak it.
In summary, pre-production work is the biggest and most difficult part of each episode’s creation. All in all, it is usually the better part of my Sunday and/or Monday afternoon.Pre-production work is the biggest and most difficult part of each #podcast episode’s creation, says @robert_rose. Click To Tweet
Pre-production total time: 6 to 8 hours
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Production: My favorite part
Producing the show is my favorite part of the process. Recording the vocal, working with the theme music, finding the right quote from the interview for the cold open, and editing in the movie clip and episode music are fun.
Let’s look at the recording and editing process, and how I work that.
This is, perhaps, the most important place to spend time learning and getting great equipment. Having a great microphone and place to record is of prime importance. You want that NPR sound and – wow – is it hard to get right.
I use a Shure SM58 microphone. It plugs in to a Duet by Apogee interface that goes directly into my iMac. This gives me good control over my input and a really nice pre-amp that helps the quality of my voice.
Again, for recording guests, I’ve been using GoToMeeting and its record function. It’s fine, but not great. I’m thinking of switching to something else to see if I can get better sound quality. Many of the podcasts where I’ve been a guest use Zoom. Really, any of the online meeting apps will record a meeting.
If you can manage it, recording locally is the best. That is how Joe Pulizzi and I do PNR’s This Old Marketing. We talk on a Skype (free and paid versions) or cell call, but we record our voices individually. (I record my voice using Apple’s GarageBand (free) and Joe uses Audacity (free). Then I send him the file of my side of the conversation and he lays it in as another track in his recording. You have to fiddle a little bit, but it really works. It’s really bulletproof – no internet needed to record. And you can’t beat the quality.
However, that process doesn’t work well with the weekly guest interviews. Most of them aren’t tech savvy enough to make it work. As I mentioned, I use GarageBand, but am planning to migrate to Adobe Audition (paid) soon (you’ll see why in a moment).
Then, it’s just a question of placing your audio files into your podcast editing mix.
I use music in each episode and have a theme song for the news Item. I use PremiumBeat (paid versions), a Shutterstock company, for all the music except the show’s theme song, which is actually my original music.I use @PremiumBeat for all my #podcast music except the show’s theme song, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
For editing and producing, I’m finding some real annoyances with GarageBand (see below when I get to the need for Auphonic) – and Audition gets a lot of high praise. But GarageBand has been my workhorse for years. If you’re comfortable with Audacity and have a relatively simple show, it could be just what you need.
I set up a template in GarageBand (it’s literally just last week’s episode and “save as”). The recording and editing process is usually pretty quick. It can take anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours or so depending on how much editing I need to do on the interview.
Production total time: 2 to 3 hours
And that brings us to the final step.
Post-production: Time to make the donuts
The post-production process involves cutting things up and getting the production package ready to ship off to the various team members for publishing and promoting.
Once I have the episode completed in GarageBand and saved as an MP3, I upload it to an online service called Auphonic (free and paid versions). It takes the file and levels all the audio (which helps on the interview portion where the loudness levels may be quite different). The service also removes extraneous noise and outputs a much “louder” file for podcasting.To help with audio post-production, I use @auphonic to level all the audio and remove extraneous noise, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
As I mentioned, GarageBand has some limitations – boosting audio levels beyond a certain point without introducing a bunch of noise is definitely one of them. The Auphonic service is a nice, easy way to take out noise, level all the different segments, and output a file optimized for iTunes. This is what I’m hoping Adobe Audition will help with down the road.
At this point, I put together the entire podcast package for the post-production team:
- Episode in MP3 format
- Isolated edit of the cold open (as a short MP3 file) for social promotion purposes
- Word version of the script, including all links and clips mentioned for the show notes post that the team produces
I send that package (by Monday night my time) to our editorial team.
Publishing the podcast
CMI uses Libsyn as our podcast syndication platform. In Libsyn, we upload the MP3 file and enter the cover art, episode number, title, and description. (Title and description guidelines for Apple are slightly different than for other platforms, so we end up doing these twice.)
Libsyn lets listeners find the podcast on all the major podcast platforms (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, etc.). We also publish the episode directly to the player on the Weekly Wrap web page. We include a podcast player in each show notes blog post.
Post-production doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time.
Post-production total time: 1 to 2 hours
It’s a commitment
After almost 235 episodes of PNR’s This Old Marketing and 66 episodes of The Weekly Wrap, I can tell you that the hardest part of podcasting is being consistent. Producing a weekly show is, well, weekly. Once you get into a flow, it becomes a muscle memory, but it’s still a workout. And when you’re trying to balance the rest of your life, it can be a challenge some weeks.The hardest part of #podcasting is being consistent, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
I know that some shows that aren’t focused on timely events can record a few episodes in one day – and this is a luxury that I sometimes wish I had. Even being a week ahead of the news can sometimes be a little stress-inducing. A few times, much bigger news has broken during the week that I wasn’t able to cover because of the process’s timing. But all in all, this process has worked well for me.
When it’s all said and done, the total time to create the podcast is between nine and 14 hours. So, yeah, each episode of The Weekly Wrap takes a little more than a full workday to produce. I take pride in producing the content. Adding bits of customization into each segment takes more time, but in the end, I think (I hope) they are worth it.
Hopefully this behind-the-scenes look can help you construct your podcast and can help you or your boss have a realistic expectation of the time a podcast actually takes to create.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute