Over the last few months I have listened to and reviewed many podcasts, mostly by members of the r/podcasting community of Reddit.com. Many of the podcasting mistakes I’ve noticed in the podcasts I reviewed, are mistakes I myself made when I started my own journey in the podcasting world eight years ago.
Here are some of the more common mistakes I noticed in my reviews, and advice on how to avoid them.
1. Sound Levels
In podcasts with two or more hosts, it’s common to find a noticeable imbalance between sound levels of the various hosts. One speaker, usually the designated ‘main host’ of the show, will be clear and strong — while the other host’s recording will be much weaker.
Avoid this leveling failure, as it can ruin your audience’s listening experience. Listening to two different voices talking at two different volumes is frustrating and tiresome, especially if the stronger host laughs or talks loudly occasionally, and you find yourself fiddling with the volume levels every few minutes. No matter how good your content is— you will lose all but the most hardcore fans.
Leveling the recording’s volumes is easy, and most editing software products have a built in function that can do that for you. Here’s a great introduction to Compression from Omny. It’s a short read — but well worth your time. Invest the few minutes required to learn it, and your fans will thank you.
A Positive Example: The Trivial Warfare Podcast. Despite having several hosts, they all sound great and the podcast is easy to listen to.
2. Edit and Prune
It’s a sad truth: of the 15+ podcasts I’ve reviewed lately, only one or two bothered to edit their show. By editing, I mean cutting and removing weak and uninteresting parts of conversation. They upload the entire raw recording as it is, expecting the audience to accept it as it is.
Avoid this grave mistake: it’s so harmful I’ve actually dedicated a whole article to it. The gist of the matter is that by choosing not to edit away the bad parts, you’re hiding the good parts. You’re serving the audience a meal that includes both exquisite delights — and raw, uncooked meat. And I’m not talking about Sushi here, if you catch my meaning.
Editing is considered by some to be a boring and painful task. I disagree, but even if it is — so what? I’m sure Da Vinci didn’t enjoy digging cadavers out of the ground for his anatomical drawings. Just suck it up and do what needs to be done for your podcast to be good. (See Also: The Importance of Podcast Editing)
A Positive Example: From RadioLab to This American Life, all the great podcasts Edit.
3. No Self Deprecating Comments, Please!
Don’t say bad things about yourself, or about your show – or at the very least not on the air! This is a surprisingly common mistake. Comments such as ‘Nobody is listening to us’ and ‘Our show sucks’ (I’m not making these examples up) serve only to drive your audience away. Would you eat in a restaurant whose sign reads — ”Nobody likes to eat here’, or ‘Our food sucks!”? probably not. The same goes for a description in the website along the lines of “We’re two average people talking about average things.” I wish I was making this example up also, but sadly I’m not.
A Positive Example : 99% Invisible. I really like how in the ‘About’ section, Roman Mars describes his beginnings as a indie podcaster from a bedroom — but conveys a sense of pride in the progress made since then.
4. Avoid Copyright Infringement
Most of the podcasts I reviewed used bits of copyright protected movies or songs. Now, copyright is a tough topic to dive into and I’m not a lawyer — but coming from a background of software development, I believe I do have a good grasp of technology. I can safely predict that within a few years we’ll have automated bots scanning online MP3 files and checking them for copyright protected material. When such a bot will detect a violation, it will compose and send — again, fully autonomously — a mail to the webmaster demanding they pay several thousand dollars, or risk being dragged to court. This kind of trollish behavior is already prevalent with copyrighted images, and law firms have found it to be very lucrative: most people would rather pay the fine than go through the hassle of a trial.
Now, some podcasters might argue that their use of the material falls within fair use limits. That might be true — but it also might not. Are you a lawyer? If not, I strongly advise against using copyrighted material, unless it’s absolutely vital for your show. It sucks, I know — but so is paying thousands of dollars for an ancient episode that only a hundred people have ever listened to.
5. Avoid Using YouTube as a Hosting Service
There are two main reasons why you shouldn’t use YouTube to host your show: one’s obvious, and the other not so much. But first, a brief explanation for novice podcasters: a ‘podcast host’ is the internet service you upload your mp3 file to. Some podcasters convert their mp3 files to a video format and upload it to YouTube.
Why is this a bad idea? The first reason is that YouTube is not a suitable platform for podcast consumption, for many reasons. For example, it doesn’t allow users to download episodes for offline viewing (a basic feature in even the simplest podcast app), and it forces the mobile user to play the video only in the foreground and with the device’s screen active. Using the screen drains the smart phone’s battery very quickly, so very few people enjoy using YouTube to listen to podcasts.
What’s a better option, you ask? Open an account in one of the many podcasting hosts available — Lybsin, Podbean, etc. — and store your mp3 files there. Create a website, buy a domain name (e.g. cmpod.net) and get your users to subscribe to YOUR mailing list and YOUR feed. Moving between hosts is much easier and painless when you’re in control of your distribution channel.
A Positive Example: The Superhero Speak Podcast have their own domain, plus their RSS feed points at that domain. They are in control of their distribution channel.
6. Avoid Obscure and Over Sophisticated Names
Naming your podcast can be frustrating, especially if all the good names are already taken. Still, always prefer a descriptive name- one which communicates to the audience what the show is about- over an obscure and over sophisticated one. If a potential listener is skimming a podcast directory — iTunes, for example — for something interesting to listen to, a meaningful name increases the chance that they’ll click on your show’s link.
And even if your podcast’s name is rather descriptive, it’s always a good idea to place a short description paragraph somewhere visible in the website. Make sure the word ‘Podcast’ is noticeable, so the visitor knows to look for an mp3 player or download link.
A Positive Example: The History of Byzantium Podcast. A descriptive name, with a short and descriptive description just below it.
7. Avoid Amateurish Graphics in the Home Page
For podcasts, a website has two major roles. One is to be the focal point for content and communication between host and audience. (See Also: Growing Your Podcast As a Business)
The other is to serve as a sort of ‘Business Card’, projecting an image of the brand. It is a First Impression Before The First Impression: the first interaction with the listeners, before they actually listen to the podcast itself. And as first impressions go, the website’s quality and design have a strong influence on how potential listeners perceive your show. A website with an amateurish feel to it will prime the first-time listener to expect an amateurish podcast, and any small flaw in the show will serve to confirm this preexisting bias.
I’ve dedicated a whole article on how to design a good website for a podcast so I won’t repeat myself here. But one mistake that I’ve noticed several times and is very easy to correct, is having an amateurish-looking image as the website’s header. For example, a graphic that was clearly hastily put together with MS Painter, or made by someone with little understanding and experience with design. A header is often the first thing the user notices in a website, since images attract the eye more than text, and you wish for a good first impression — having a good looking header is essential. (See Also: What 8 Years of Podcasting Taught Me About Creating A Podcast Website)
It’s also quite easy to get such an image. Services such as Fiverr give you access to talented freelance graphic designers for only a few dollars, and there are also plenty of copyright free images freely available on the web. There’s no excuse for having a bad looking image on your site.
A Positive Example: The Product Startup Podcast. The banner image in the Homepage is great and projects a sense of professionalism — as do the images for each individual episode.
Producing a professional quality podcast is difficult — but some novice mistakes are easy to avoid.
- Balance the audio levels of different hosts, and make them equally loud.
- Edit your show, and discard the boring/irrelevant parts.
- Don’t say or write bad things about your show.
- Don’t use copyright-protected materials in your podcast.
- Don’t use YouTube as a hosting service
- Give your show a descriptive name and a good description paragraph.
- Don’t use amateur grade graphics and images in your website.
And most importantly: have fun podcasting! 🙂
Special Thanks to Ofer Zelig for his help with editing this article.
Hey Podcasters! Join the Podcast Cross Promotion Database. Find other podcasters who wish to swap promos and host-read testimonials with you: It’s a free community service, and already have more than 100 podcasts using it. Add your show now!