Anaheim, CA—Many point to Serial, an investigative podcast series launched in late 2014, as the moment that the downloadable file format, which had originated a decade before, came into its own. Today, 50 percent of U.S. households listen to podcasts, according to researchers, but the content has broadened far beyond dramas and documentaries. At the 2019 NAMM Show, one NAMM U session walked attending music business professionals through the process of setting up a podcast and touted the medium’s potential for engaging with current and prospective customers.
Chris Bates and Tyler Marolf—of TeacherZone.com, a software platform for performing arts schools, and Los Rios Rock School—started podcasting two years ago. They now have more than 20 episodes of The Teacher Zone with Chris and Tyler under their belts, plus another six for their school podcast. On stage at the NAMM Idea Center in the main lobby of the Anaheim Convention Center, which was outfitted with official headphone provider Mackie's MC-250 studio headphones, the pair offered recommendations and best practices based on their experiences.
“One of the most important things [about podcasting] is that it gives us all a voice,” said Bates. “Years ago, with our businesses, we got to know everybody who walked in.” Today, however, “We have listeners all over the world. We can create friends and a global community.”
As a business, “You’re bringing people into your house. They know more about you and it creates trust,” he said.
“The big thing about a podcast is that you’re trying to build a following or a fan base. It’s a good idea to create a brand. Call it whatever you want, or align it with your brand,” Bates suggested.
For audio novices, recording a podcast need not be that complicated. “If you’re a single host, you can get a simple $99 USB mic, go straight into your computer or laptop, and that’s all you need,” said Bates. For their studio recordings, the presenters use Shure’s SM7B microphone.
“If you have guests in the studio, this is $200,” Marolf added, holding up their Yamaha MG10XU, a 10-input mixer with four mic preamps and USB connectivity. “It’s not going to do anything special, but it allows you to have really good sound for four people live in the studio.”
As for audio processing, such as EQ or compression, there’s always Apple’s GarageBand, Marolf suggested, which is already installed on many people’s computers or devices. In reference to processing, he stressed that “you don’t need much.” Reaper is a no-cost alternative, he said.
What if the host and the guest are not in the same room? Marolf asked, “How would you like them to sound as if they are in the exact same room as you?”
Tools are available that enable two or more sides of a conversation to be recorded simultaneously from the conferencing platform, but Marolf offered another method. The trick, he explained, is to synchronize via a videoconferencing platform—FaceTime, Skype, Zoom—while each participant individually records his or her contribution.
Communicating face to face, albeit through a video screen, enables conversation to flow naturally, as if the participants are in the same room. Everyone wears headphones to monitor the conversation and records their own contributions, with the host counting down to synchronize everyone pressing record on their respective devices. At the end, the guest transfers his or her recording via Dropbox, Google Drive or the like to the host, who drops them onto the audio editing program timeline. “At that point, both voices sound like they are in the room,” said Marolf.
“When you hear guests on podcasts, that’s how we do it,” said Bates. “Basically it’s a phone call or videoconferencing recording into our own devices, then editing it together. It’s pretty simple.”
Podcast distribution can be achieved through a variety of platforms. Episodes can be hosted on the podcaster’s business or brand website, of course, but platforms such as Spreaker, Libsyn and others offer a variety of tools that can help the podcast reach a wider audience.
Podcasters can also post directly to Google Play, Apple iTunes, Spotify and others. Bates elaborated that for distribution directly to Apple, “You use your Apple ID and submit, and they approve you in about 48 hours. For Spotify and iHeartMedia, I believe you must have five public episodes first.”
But an online platform such as Spreaker—which Bates and Marolf use but were not advocating for—can push podcasts out automatically, including to the big social media outlets. “You can Google the top 10 podcasting software,” said Bates. “There’s a small monthly fee, $30 or $40 a month, and you can do all the editing inside it or broadcast live.”
Because both presenters are musicians—indeed, they are in a band together—they have a supply of music available for their podcasts with no rights issues. But there are alternatives, Marolf noted, such as free music libraries. Online platforms such as Spreaker may also offer some sound tools, enabling sound effects such as clapping or a school bell, which the pair use as a branded bumper along with their music theme on every episode of The Teacher Zone.
Marolf urged the audience not to miss the SEO (search engine optimization) opportunities afforded by podcasts, which, he admitted, they initially did. For instance, there are online transcription services that can turn the conversation into text that can then be posted to a website.
Bates suggested embracing Facebook private groups, too. “We all used to be on forums; Facebook private groups have taken their place. If you don’t have one for your brand already, create one. It becomes the portal for people who have listened to your podcast, and other things with regard to your brand.”
Bates also advised spending time to fine-tune scripts and avoiding cramming too much into an episode; themes can always be expanded into subsequent episodes. “Humans have been sitting around campfires listening to stories, learning from one another. The podcast medium is very much like that, and it’s why it’s such a powerful trust builder. It gives us a voice. So organize your voice a little bit.”
The Teacher Zone • www.teacherzone.com
The Teacher Zone with Chris and Tyler • www.tzpodcast.com