How Podcasts Became So Popular (and How to Start One)

Jul 11, 2019


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Everyone’s talking about podcasts. If you’re like most people, you’re subscribed to a dozen or more of these audio content serials, and they’ve become an important part of your daily life. There’s a lot of opportunity to be had here, especially if you can capitalize on the advertising revenue associated with successful podcasts

But how did podcasts go from being relatively obscure types of content to such a powerful medium? And how can you start a successful podcast of your own? 

The Rise of Podcasts

Let’s take a look at some of the factors responsible for the rise of podcasts in the modern era: 

  • Mobile devices. The availability and prevalence of mobile devices is a major factor for the success of podcasts. People everywhere now have a device with them at all times that can help them discover, download, and (most importantly) listen to new audio content. They can listen while working, driving, or doing chores. 
  • Distribution networks. Distribution networks like iTunes also made it easier for podcast creators to make their work available to a broader range of people. Uploading is easy for creators and discovery is easy for listeners, so it works well for everyone. 
  • Production costs. Creators soon discovered just how cheap and easy it was to produce a podcast. Expert production equipment can cost several thousand dollars, but you can get started with a basic microphone and free editing software. 
  • Breakout hits. Podcasts also got a boost in popularity thanks to a handful of early breakout hits that got people talking about what the medium could do. For example, the podcast Serial, which premiered in 2014, now has more than 340 million downloaded episodes, and remains a central talking point, helping to popularize podcasts overall. 

How to Start a Podcast

If you’re already a content producer, you likely already know the hallmarks of content production, such as researching and understanding your target demographics, learning from your competition, and always refining your work. 

Beyond those fundamentals, if you want your podcast to be successful, you’ll need to follow these steps: 

  • Find an original idea. There are thousands, if not millions of creators all competing for listenership, so if you want a chance of being successful, you’ll need to present something that people haven’t already heard. Finding a new topic or subject matter may be difficult, so try to find a new angle or perspective that hasn’t been tried. Be sure to research your idea before beginning so you can see if anyone else has tried that angle before. 
  • Create a cover image. Your podcast’s success depends on its ability to be discovered by new people, and that means finding some way to stand out in discovery engines. For most new podcasters, that means getting a professionally designed cover image—one that captures the vibe you’re trying to establish, and still sets you apart from your competitors. This is going to form the first impression for your potential listeners, so don’t neglect it. 
  • Discover and refine your voice. Your first few episodes, you’ll probably struggle to find your “voice,” a collection of personality traits, tonal elements, vocabulary, and other qualities that make you “you.” You’ll want to be yourself, of course, but a version of yourself that’s appealing to your target demographic—and again, different than your competitors. 
  • Anchoring your podcast. It’s usually not enough to simply create and distribute a podcast. You need to support it with an anchor on the web, such as a website, a collection of social media profiles, or both. That way, people can discover you in multiple outlets, and find out more about you and your work. 
  • Improving your production value. You can start recording a podcast with entry-level equipment, but eventually, you’ll want to upgrade and increase your production value. Invest in the best microphone, headphones, and studio equipment you can afford, and make sure you spend time learning how to use it properly. 
  • Achieving consistency. Attracting new listeners is important, but it’s even more important to retain them consistently. Make sure your podcast episodes follow a similar formula and are made with a similar approach; that way people can really get to know your brand. 
  • Marketing and distribution. Once you feel like you’re in a groove, everything comes down to how you market, advertise, and distribute your podcast. Learning how to optimize for search, advertise, and collaborate with others can be a major step forward toward your success. 

There isn’t a “secret” to making a successful podcast, nor is a good idea going to guarantee your success, especially with the level of competition you’ll be facing. Be patient and keep refining your ideas until you create a formula that works for you and your audience. 


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