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For hosting, Soundcloud exists as a free option, you can just upload your MP3 files, and people can either list through the Soundcloud app on PC or mobile; Soundcloud also allows you to publish an RSS feed that can be fed into podcast apps for people who want to listen through an app like Pocketcasts or whatever. More recently, anchor.fm has been gaining traction, I can't vouch for it personally but know quite a few people who have been happy with using it for free hosting. If you ever decide to make the podcast something bigger, you can always migrate off free services like Soundcloud and go for dedicated hosting with something like Libsyn where you pay a few dollars per month for hosting.
Recommend length is...however long an episode needs to be. Some of the podcasts I listen to are under 5 minutes, and some are multiple hours in length. Martini Shot is great because Rob Long knows how to condense an interesting idea into 3-4 minutes, shows like Tim Ferriss are great because he gets to talk to subject-matter experts for hours at a time. Whenever I listen to Econtalk (where the host intentionally keeps episodes under 1 hour), I usually feel disappointed when the episode ends because it's usually toward the end that it feels like we're getting to the good part. While I do like some long podcasts, I like these podcasts not because they are long, but because they involve people having an incredibly in-depth discussion about a specific topic; if a podcast is just a bunch of people hanging out and chatting, long episodes can be torture.
I've heard from some sources that the "ideal" podcast length to maximize listener retention is 40-60 minutes, and this is a pretty "safe" length when you're just starting off (some people will be put off if a podcast is too long), but you can feel free to go shorter/longer.
For organization/planning individual episodes, I'll go back through our old outlines and see if I can post some examples, but the basic process of planning podcasts for The Buzz went something like this:
1. Brainstorm a list of possible topics
2. Choose a topic that we think we have some interesting things to talk about. (Other brainstormed topics may get saved for future episodes.)
3. Create an outline. Jot down the "big ideas" or "main topics" you want to cover, then if a particular idea that you want to talk about comes to mind, jot that down.
For example, to go through the process we used when preparing the episode "Making VNs for a game jam", we started with the main prompt:
From there, we created a list of the main topics we wanted to cover.Let’s talk about visual novel game jams! What are they, and why should you participate?
- What is a game jam?
- Examples of popular VN game jams:
- Notable game jam games…
- Reasons to join a game jam
- How to get involved
- Advice for your game jam
After we'd assembled the outline, we hopped on to record.
While an outline is not an essential component of a podcast, I really think it helps to keep discussion on the rails. Importantly, the outline isn't intended to be a comprehensive and exhaustive list of everything that will be covered during the episode; it's mostly a starting point for discussion, a sort of "talking prompt" that guides the flow of the discussion. For example, if you were structuring the podcast as an interview, you'd want to go in with a list of questions, but obviously the answers to those questions wouldn't be included as part of the outline.
One of the things that will make me enjoy a podcast a lot less is when there are moments when people aren't sure what to talk about; they'll wrap up a topic and there will be a pause of, "Okay, now what?" Having an outline avoids these situations, because you can always go back to the outline and just move on to discussing whatever the next bullet point is. It can also help you get a discussion back on track if things go too far off the rails. Also, sometimes you finish talking about a subject and then go, "Aw man, I can't believe I forgot to mention this super important and relevant thing;" having an outline reduces the chance of this happening since if there's anything super important and relevant that you'd be remiss not to mention, you'll include it in the outline to serve as a reminder while you're recording the show. Even if you don't have a formal outline, going into the podcast with some brief notes reduces the chance that you'll come out of a podcast thinking, "I can't believe I forgot to talk about..."
Even for "improvised" podcasts that don't have any real formal outline or planning, the best shows tend to follow a format. For example, the Giant Bombcast is mostly improvisational, a bunch of people sitting and chatting about video games, but each show is split into segments:
1. Intro (introducing guests, a "how was your week," and so on)
2. Video games! (The main segment of the show: what games the podcasters have been playing recently and what they think about them)
3. News (recent events, announcements, and other happenings in the video game industry)
4. Mailbag (responding to questions that listeners have emailed in)
Also, even though most of the show is free-flowing discussion, people go into the main "let's talk about video games" segment knowing which games they're going to talk about. One of the hosts gathers the "news stories" that will be covered during the news segment (usually they'll just give a quick summary, along with a "for the full story, check out the great reporting done by the fine folks at [insert source]," and for the mailbag segment, one of the hosts will have pre-picked several reader emails that they think will generate interesting discussion. Even though there is no "practice" that goes into recording a Giant Bombcast episode, and everything feels off-the-cuff, there's still a modest amount of preparation that happens.
Several miscellaneous tips:
If you're in the flow of a good discussion that you think will be relevant to your listeners, it's okay to go a little bit off the rails. For example, with The Buzz, when we recorded the episode about romance, we realized that we actually had a lot more to say than we originally planned on, so we ended up splitting the episode into two parts, one of which focused on classifying different kinds of romance VNs (episode 27), and the other which focused more on how to create emotional intimacy and physical intimacy in visual novels (episode 28). Obviously, you don't want to ramble on too much, but if there's a good discussion, don't feel like you have to cut it short.
I like keeping paper and pen on hand when recording. There will be sometimes when I have an idea for a thing I want to mention, but I don't want to interrupt one of my co-hosts, and being able to write it down lets me "remember" that idea without having to constantly focus on it (so that way, I can focus more on listening to what is being said, rather than trying to focus on the thing I'm going to say next). I think this has made me a better listener.
On that note, it's really recommended to edit your podcast. You can cut out all of the awkward pauses and "false starts" when two people start talking at the same time (which can happen more often when you're podcasting with someone a long distance away; the high ping/longer delay makes the "accidentally talking over each other" more likely). Also, depending on how confident you are, maybe you want the freedom to be able to stop mid-sentence and say, "You know what, I didn't articulate that very well, let me start over." That way, it's okay to stumble over your words, because you can always take it out in editing. Also, if you're really self-conscious about every "ah" and "um" you can go through and surgically remove them and no one will be the wiser. (And if you find yourself spending hours editing an episode to snip out your verbal tics, it gives you an incentive to avoid them in the future so you don't have to spend so much time editing.)
A lot of podcasts start with a personal intro/chit chat between the hosts, "How was your week," "What have you been watching lately," etc. (The Giant Bombcast, which I listened as an example, is one such example.) I personally advise against doing this, unless you are creating a personality-driven show (as the Giant Bombcast is). These kinds of discussions often feel like they are more for the benefit of the co-hosts than the audience, and unless your podcast is meant more to entertain listeners (rather than inform), I'd advise against having too much chit-chat at the top of the episode. Even when podcasts are meant to entertain, like the comedy podcast Dumb People Town, they usually get to the meat of the episode within the first 2 minutes after briefly introducing their guest. If you want to have these conversations with your co-hosts, by all means, do so! Many of the times I sat down to record an episode with Sasquachii and mikey, we started by catching up with a "How's your day going/how have you been" and so on, but these conversations nearly always happened before we started recording and were not part of the episode.
There's a certain chemistry that you tend to work out with your co-hosts over time, but I'm the kind of person who can talk endlessly about a single topic without really stopping, so one of the things I tried to do more consciously when recording The Buzz was pause between separate ideas and leave gaps for my cohosts to interject. Often, it can help just to ask, "Before we move on, does anyone have anything to add?" (If you want, you can edit out the question and response after the podcast is recorded, but in my experience these periodic "check ins" tend to sound natural enough that you can just leave them in; it makes it sound more like a group of people having a conversation, rather than a bunch of people taking turns delivering monologues.)
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Interview people in your podcasts as frequently as possible. They don’t need to be famous, they can be regular developers or enthusiasts. I’d love to hear interviews with frequent posters from this forum, too. What are their stories?
Consider using musical transitions, especially if you are editing your podcast together from several recordings.
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