If you’re new to podcasting (listening or hosting), there’s a good chance you’re wondering, “What is a podcast?” or “How does a podcast work?”
In this article, we’re going to lay out some basic information about podcasting, how it works, and how to listen to podcast episodes. If you are interested in hosting your own podcast, we’ll also show you how to get started creating your own show.
What is a Podcast? A Simple Definition
What is a podcast? A podcast is an audio file that’s made available on the internet. Listeners can download the file to their devices or stream it through a listening app. Episodes are typically released as part of a series.
Generally speaking, the audio of podcast episodes consist of the spoken words of a host (or multiple hosts), though many shows include music and sound effects to various degrees. Episodes (and the overall show) revolve around specific themes, like parenting, entrepreneurship, nutrition, etc.
What do the words “podcast” and “episode” mean?
The terminology can be confusing. What is a podcast made of? An episode or a series of episodes? The term “podcast” is versatile in that it can refer to the overall program that produces episodes OR the individual episodes themselves. For instance, these are both correct:
- “This American Life is my favorite podcast.” (This refers to the brand.)
- “I just downloaded another podcast from This American Life.” (This refers to the episode.)
How do podcasts make money?
Like other content-based endeavours, podcasts typically earn money through sponsorships (advertising). They can also generate income through affiliate partnerships, paid private memberships, merchandise, digital products, and other ways.
Want to make money with your show? Check out our complete guide on podcast monetization.
What is a podcast network?
Some shows are part of networks. Podcast networks are similar to TV networks in that they distribute content through similar channels. Essentially, a podcast network is a group of podcasts that work together to promote each other. This type of structure is enticing for advertisers because it allows them to spread their ads across multiple shows.
For example, Rainmaker.FM is a podcast network with ten distinct shows, each covering different aspects of digital marketing.
What is a podcast producer?
Some shows use a podcast producer to handle production and the management side of the program. They handle the recording, editing, promotions, and other behind-the-scenes activities. This allows the host to focus on producing great content.
How did podcasts start?
Back in the 1980s, what we call a “podcast” today was referred to as an “audioblog.” When the internet took off in the 1990s, some radio stations and comedy shows offered downloadable versions of their audio content. Popularity exploded in the early 2000s when people began to distribute their audio content via RSS feed, which allows users to “subscribe” to a show and receive constant updates.
How are Podcasts Distributed?
Distributing your podcast means making it available wherever your listeners prefer to consume podcast content. That is, you want your show available on as many podcast listening platforms and apps as possible.
In order to make your show available on each podcast listing platform, you have to visit the platform’s site and submit your RSS feed. The process varies slightly on each platform, but they are all pretty straightforward.
Submitting your show to each platform may seem tedious, but you only have to do it once. The app will monitor your RSS feed for new content and updates.
In order to distribute your show as widely as possible, you should also publish new episodes as posts on your podcast website. Each post should include an audio player and some notes about the episode.
Additionally, we always recommend republishing new episodes as YouTube videos. By adding your podcast cover art as a static image to your audio file, you can quickly create a YouTube-ready video file.
If your show becomes a big hit someday, you may gain access to other distribution methods as well. For instance, your show might join a podcast network with their own distribution systems. Some podcasts are even played over the radio!
What is an RSS Feed and Why Do You Need It?
A podcast RSS feed is a critical piece of technology that powers every podcast. This is a URL that contains information about your show and its episodes.
The RSS feed passes that information to podcast directories and listening apps, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. The apps monitor your RSS feed and update their apps with the new content whenever the feed has new information.
Your RSS feed is important because it eliminates the need to manually upload content across each platform. Instead, you simply update the feed and any site, platform, or service that reads the feed has the new information instantly.
Adding new information to your RSS feed is simple if you use a podcast hosting service. Simply use the host’s platform to upload your audio file. The host will update your feed with the new episode for the podcast listening platforms to find.
To function properly, a podcast RSS feed needs information like a title, description, artwork, category, language, and explicit rating. The RSS requirements for Apple Podcasts have become the standard for podcasting.
What are the Different Types of Podcasts?
When you ask someone, “What is a podcast?” they will usually offer different types of shows. If you think an audio-only format is limiting, think again!
There are countless ways to organize a show’s content to make it compelling for your listeners. Choosing a clear format and staying consistent are key to building a reliable base of listeners. If your show features a serious solo monologue one week, a comedy panel the next, and a fictional story the week after, you’ll struggle to hold on to your listeners.
Here are the most popular podcast types:
- The interview podcast – This is one of the most common types of shows. A host (or hosts) interviews a new guest one each episode.
- Solo/monologue podcast – A simple narration from one person. It’s ideal for anyone who is an expert on a specific subject.
- Conversational/co-hosted – This is when two people (who have great chemistry together) have a conversation together.
- Panel podcast – This is similar to an interview podcast, but with a larger group of people having an organic discussion.
- Nonfiction storytelling – These are episodes about real life events, such as a series of murders, a chronicle of an expedition up Mount Everest, or a historical event.
- Fictional storytelling – These are fictional stories told across multiple episodes, similar to dramatic television. Some are narrated by a single person. Others use teams of voice actors.
- Repurposed content – This is when you take existing content and translate it into audio form. For instance, a church podcast might record its weekly sermons and release them as podcast episodes.
- Something totally unique – Feel free to come up with something special that no one else is doing.
What Podcasting Equipment Do You Need?
In order to start a podcast, you’ll need a few pieces of equipment. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but it helps to have some basic gear. These pieces will give your show a professional sound.
- A computer
- An XLR or USB microphone
- A mixer
- Pop filter or windscreen
- Microphone stand
- Acoustic treatments
- Recording and editing software
- Podcast hosting provider
Learn our recommendations for podcast gear (on any budget).
How Do You Listen to Podcasts?
Listening to podcasts is simple as long as you have access to the internet. Most of them are free to listen to. You just need to find a website, platform, or app that suits you. Most podcasts are free.
Listening on a website
Most podcasts have a website for their show. These websites usually have pages for each episode. Each page includes an audio player along with other assets, like show notes and a transcription. Simply click play on the audio player to enjoy the episode.
Listening on your phone or tablet
If you want to listen to podcasts on your mobile device, your first step is to download a listening app. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify are the most popular options, but there are lots of alternatives. See our full list of podcasting apps. (iPhone and iPad users should already have the Apple Podcasts app installed.)
Once you have installed a podcast listening app to your mobile device, simply search the app for interesting podcasts. You can listen to any episode you like. If you enjoy the podcast and want to be notified about future episodes, use the subscribe button.
How Do You Start Podcasting?
Starting a podcast has a slightly higher barrier-to-entry then other forms of content creation. But once you have everything in place, it’s our experience that creating a new episode takes less time then writing a blog post or producing a video. This is especially true if you outsource some of the tedious parts of the process, like editing and promotion.
So how do you start a podcast? It boils down to these 10 steps.
- Choose a topic
- Determine the right format
- Give your show a name
- Create cover artwork
- Pick up some basic equipment
- Select a podcast hosting service
- Plan your first episode
- Record your first episode
- Edit your episode
- Upload your episode
As you can see, the process is fairly straightforward. After publishing your first episode, all you have to do is repeat step seven through 10 for subsequent episodes. We recommend distributing your show to all of the podcast listening apps once you have three episodes published. This gives new listeners something to binge when they discover your show.
For a much deeper look into the setup process, read our extremely deep guide on starting a podcast.
How Do You Get Podcast Hosting?
What is a podcast without a great podcast hosting provider? Nothing!
Once you’ve recorded your first episode, you’ll need to publish it on the web so people can enjoy it. But you can’t upload it just anywhere. You need a special podcast hosting platform that’s specifically configured for audio downloading and streaming.
Essentially, a podcast hosting platform is where you store your files. Your host also generates and updates your RSS feed. Like we mentioned earlier, this feed is critical. It contains all of the information the listening apps need to offer your show. If your feed is configured incorrectly – or worse, missing entirely – listeners won’t be able to access your show.
Apple, Google, Spotify and the other podcasting apps are just directories. They don’t store your content or generate an RSS feed for you.
Can you host your podcast on your own site? Not really. Your website host isn’t configured properly for it. You could purchase the right web hosting plan to store your own audio files, but that would be more expensive than using one of the podcast hosting services.
Once you are set up with a podcast host, you’ll need to visit each directory and submit your RSS link so they know where to look for your show. This is a one-time task. Once they have your feed, they will monitor it indefinitely for new content.
Furthermore, a podcast hosting service isn’t just space for your audio files. It offers other benefits, like analytics, WordPress integrations, support, and tools to promote your show.
If you were one of those people who were wondering “What is a podcast?” we hope we answered your question as thoroughly as possible. If you’re still unclear, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help you out.