How the Best Podcasters Do Their Work Faster
My aim, right here, is to help you to create a podcast in the shortest time possible.
And I’m not just talking about any old podcast. I mean a great podcast. Your best possible podcast!
Because this is where so many people get caught out. It’s where shows go to die. The podcaster spends too much time making every episode. So much that it just doesn’t fit into their week or even their life. By that point, it just drains all the fun and value out of the entire show!
Of course, it’s worth noting that different types of shows take different amounts of time to produce (go ask an audio drama producer how much time they spend on dialogue editing alone!). And sometimes, spending more time on your show can improve the quality, or what you get out of it. But, that’s only if you spend that time on the right stuff. And I believe it’s possible to do those right things in far less time than you think.
So that’s what I’ll do in this article: show you the best of those “right things” and help you create the best possible product in the least possible time.
Who I Am and What You’ll Learn
By way of a quick “who the heck’s this guy?”: my name is Colin Gray, and I’m a podcaster, writer, teacher, and general dogsbody at The Podcast Host. We create a network of our own shows and help thousands of others produce their own through our content.
Plus, we run a podcast maker tool called Alitu. The whole purpose behind Alitu is to offer recording, editing, and publishing tools that automate and simplify, making it far quicker and easier to create your show. And a lot of that is based on the “right ways” that I’ll talk about here.
Over the past ten years, I’ve gone from fitting a podcast around a completely different normal job (teaching teachers how to teach — meta, huh?), to trying to fit as many podcasts as possible into my current job and designing tools to help others do it quicker!
It was all about cutting out the cruft and figuring out what’s really worthwhile in creating a high-quality, successful show. I’ll talk about all those insights here, including:
- How to plan content in the minimum time, and in a way that makes it easy to deliver
- How to get the most from everything you do create
- Recording & editing tricks to save time
- How to find and learn the tools that cut down on processing time
So, let’s get into it. Time to apply a little lightning to your podcast!
Why Seasons are Rocketfuel for You and your Audience
Seasons-based podcasting is the most underrated workflow hack in the industry. And, even better, it’s a massive driver of listener success, loyalty, and audience growth, too.
How? Well, there are three reasons.
You know when you turn up at your desk for recording time and think: “Alrighty … podcast time. I’ve got an hour to get this baby recorded! Soooo … what shall I talk about … ”
An hour later, you’re still only halfway through planning the episode. Or even worse, you’re still staring at a blank screen, trying to think of an idea.
Well, here’s a new tack: take an hour of your life and think about your next season instead.
Take a question you often get from your listeners, or a topic you know you want to cover, and then break it down. One of the biggest mistakes we make as podcasters is trying to fit too much into an episode. We do it because we care. We want to give a lot of value, but actually, it’s shortchanging your listeners, often missing details, or giving them too much to think about all at once. Instead, break that topic down into its component parts.
I did a season on podcast equipment a while back. I could have easily covered it in one episode but it’s better to break it down. One episode on microphones, one on mixers, one on recording software, and one on editing software.
Normally I can work this out in less than ten minutes for a topic I know well. Maybe 20 to 30 if I need to do a bit of research. I’ll end up with a list of maybe six or seven episodes, sometimes up to 15 or 20.
Then, I’ll take another 20 minutes to put some meat on them bones, and do a set of five to ten bullet points within each main topic, outlining what I’ll cover.
By the end of the hour (or less!) I’ve got a plan for an entire season’s worth of content, often two or three months long, maybe more.
So now, instead of the usual, “Oh no! What do I talk about this week!”, next time you open up that season plan, check out the next episode’s script and hit record. Easy!
And yes, this can still work for interview shows. Do all of the above, and only THEN start to think about guests. This makes for far better content. Instead of just picking out random pseudo-famous people in your niche, just for their name, choose based on expertise and knowledge.
Search around for blog posts covering the topics you have in your plan. Find people with interesting angles on those topics, and then invite them on the show. You’ll create far better, much more focused content as a result.
With a season plan, you can really easily take advantage of another huge timesaver: batch recording.
Matthew is my co-host on our “how to podcast” show, Podcraft. It’s a seasons-based show, and we’ve long recorded it in batches. We co-host the podcast, so we can plan a season together, and then we’ll record two to three episodes at a time.
I know people who can do four episodes in one sitting, but we always find we hit a wall around three. Still, that means we only have to arrange recording time every two or three weeks, rather than every single week.
Editing can be batched, too. As anyone who has to do a lot of task switching knows, doing a few of them all together takes far less time than three separate editing sessions.
Every podcaster knows they should be getting their listeners more involved with their show. It drives engagement, loyalty, and huge listener growth. But, it’s a big time suck … monitoring emails, social media, and voicemails every single week can be draining.
Seasons put something brand new in your toolbox: a break!
At the end of the season, you say: “Okay, thanks for listening! We’ll be back in 6 weeks, on August 1st. During that time, though, here’s what I want you to do. We’re going to cover podcast equipment on the next season. Tell me, what gear are you using right now? What gear have you tried that was rubbish? What are your biggest struggles or questions with equipment that I can answer? Send me a tweet,or an email, or (best of all) leave a voicemail at ..”
Then you take a well-earned break!
Towards the end of the break, you can batch-process all of this. Take an afternoon to collect it all together, collate the tweets and the emails, and process the audio recordings so it’s all ready for the new season. This is so much easier and more efficient than doing little drips and drabs every few days.
Even better, this can power the planning we mentioned above. The questions will direct your episodes, and you can plan ahead, including all the relevant questions in the right episode. In that way, you include and involve your listeners in the show and drive a huge amount of value and loyalty. Plus, you create better content because it’s based on the thoughts of real people.
Fly Solo (At Least a Little)
This one makes people a little nervous, at least for those that normally fly with a guest! Recording alone is one of the biggest time-saving moves you can make, particularly if you’re a regular interviewee on other shows.
If you’ve never tried it, imagine a world where you don’t have to coordinate calendars to find a time that suits everyone. Imagine planning the episode yourself, knowing that you don’t have to prompt your co-host or think of a few backup questions in case that interview goes awry. Imagine having 100 percent control over what’s said (because you’re doing the saying!), so there are no tangents, no fluff and no … editing? Imagine just deciding to record, off the cuff, and 20 minutes later, you have an episode in the bag.
All of that’s possible with solo recording, plus the added benefit of showcasing your own knowledge and talent for a change, rather than your guest (I’m talking about interview shows in particular).
If you haven’t tried it, take one episode a month and fly solo. See how much time it saves you and how your listeners might like to hear what you think, for a change.
The Minimum Effective Editing Process
Okay, we’ve planned it out and we’ve recorded an episode. Now comes the most dangerous of potential time-eaters: editing.
I still come across so many people who spend 2x or 3x the length of their show in editing. For example, taking two or three hours to edit a one-hour recording. I even meet people who spend 5x to 10x the length of their show in production! It’s just unsustainable.
Part of that is dialogue editing, listening through the whole thing to find and eradicate their mistakes. Painful! We’ll tackle that in the next tactic.
The other part is audio engineering; namely audio cleanup, adding music or ads, layering tracks, and exporting the whole thing.
So, how do we make it easy? By adding constraints. You can do so much less by applying the right mindset to your editing. I’ve got two processes here for you to try.
MEE (Minimum Effective Editing)
This is perfect for early-stage podcasters. I often recommend following this for your first 10 to 20 episodes, at a minimum. There’s so much you’re learning during those first months, and editing really is low on the impact list. There’s so much more value in working on your presentation and content design skills. (Really, you could extend this mindset to any podcaster at any stage.)
Simply cut editing down to two things, and two things only:
Trim means trimming the start and the end only. Usually that means cutting out the silence and the paper rustling after you hit record and before you start speaking. Then, do the same for the end.
Normalize means leveling out the volume of your show. This is the one and only “audio engineering” task that’s essential. It means your show won’t be too quiet, and the volume of the different speakers should be relatively even so you don’t have your listeners reaching for their volume control every time the speaker changes.
Most editing tools have normalization features included, such as Audacity.
Notice that this doesn’t include dialogue editing at all. So, you can’t cut out mistakes! That’s a constraint that has a few benefits:
- You can’t use editing as a crutch, so you learn to improve the way you speak, fast! Learn to drop the ums and ahs while you speak, not afterward.
- You avoid this time-warp rabbit hole altogether because even a little “Oh I’ll just remove that one thing” can turn into an hour of editing.
- You sound more human. “Oh, sorry, that’s not what I meant!
Let me say that again.” This is honest. Open. Relatable. People identify with you more closely.
Instead, record with a “live broadcast” mindset. Pretend you’re live on air, the show has to go on. There’s a chance you’ve done that very thing — Facebook, YouTube, Instagram — and survived! So take it into your podcasting, and reap the time-saving benefits. even if just for your first few episodes.
Later in your podcasting career, you might decide you do want to add a bit more polish. Whether that’s episode 20 or 200, here’s the 2nd level: MEE-V2.
- Click Edit
- Noise Reduction
- Limit and Normalize
- Add Music
- Overlap and Fades
That polish comes mainly in the form of music: adding your own audio branding, and putting in some pro-sounding overlaps and fades.
MEE-V2 also includes an extra couple of audio engineering steps. A hard limit helps to improve your audio leveling, and noise reduction is a big help for most of us who are recording in bog-standard rooms rather than recording studios.
We’re not delving into a lot of the audio engineering that you’ll find around the podcasting web, such as EQ, compression, de-essing, or plosive removal. Those are useful in their place, sure, polish for your audio — but they’re non-essential.
Finally, you’ll notice the mention of a click edit. Yes, I hear you breathe a sigh of relief: now you can remove a few mistakes from your audio. But only the big ones that really can’t stay in! We still want to maintain that live-recording mindset to stay human, and we’ll use a click-edit process that slashes the time required to complete. You’ll see that in the next tactic.
Before we move on, I’ll mention another possibility here. You can automate a whole lot of MEE-2 and add even more polish using the right tools.
I came up with MEE years ago in an attempt to help our readers defeat the monster that is editing. But, even then, it was still a task that dragged shows under.
So, we built our own tool, Alitu, to automate MEE-2, and then to add a whole lot more polish and assistance on top.
For example, inside Alitu you can record a solo episode, or use our call recorder to bring in a guest. That recording is then automatically cleaned up — noise reduction, limiting, normalization, EQ, de-essing, plosive removal, the whole nine yards. Then it’s popped into the episode builder, which adds your music, overlaps and fades automatically. You can add in any intros or outros required there, too, or any ads or inserts for the episode.
All that’s left is to use Alitu’s audio editor to search out your clicks with 2x speed control (more on this below), highlight the edits, and then hit publish. You can even publish to Alitu’s in-built hosting if you don’t have hosting set up yet, so it’s all in one place.
Alitu offers a week-long free trial to test out the platform before purchasing.
Now, to click editing!
It’s a classic, but always worth including since it’s a revelation to anyone who hasn’t heard it. It tackles the dreaded task of combing through a podcast episode, minute by minute, to track down those mistakes that you know have to be removed.
Instead, with click editing, I would normally edit our 30-minute average Podcraft episode in less than 5 minutes. Here’s how it works:
When I make a mistake in my show, I create a visual marker in the waveform by clicking my tongue three times. You can also clap, or snap your fingers. They all work. The goal is to create something that’s really easy to see on the waveform when you get into your editing package.
You’re speaking. You make a mistake or trip over your tongue, or need to cough. So, you stop. You pause for a few seconds. Click. Click. Click. You pause for another few seconds. Then you start speaking again.
This is very visible on the waveform, as shown highlighted in red.
That means, when you get to editing, you just get down to a reasonable zoom level and scan the waveform, looking for these signals.
Then you highlight the end of the sentence before the mistake, right through to the point before you restart, and delete. Mistake eradicated!
Pro Tip: You can quite easily get in the habit of remembering the start of the sentence before you made your mistake, and then restarting with the same first few words. This means that when I find a mistake in editing, I listen to the re-start first, and then go back a bit and find the same few words before the mistake. I know that’s where I have to start the edit. That saves another few seconds, every time!
Take Control of Errant Interviewees
Let’s finish up with a tactic that not only comes under the category of “time saver,” both in recording and editing, but also bleeds into “improved content.” It’s the simple concept of taking ownership of your show, and your content.
The thing is, interview shows are great when done well. But, they’re often not done well. That can lead to sub-par content, sure, but even worse, it leads to a whole lot of extra time in your process.
It takes more time to record because the guest goes off on tangents. Or they don’t stay on point and fail to answer questions. That all means more time editing, trying to cut the fluff, and elevating the quality.
Instead, take control, and give some guidelines before you start. Here are a few of the things I might say:
- I’d love to share a few bits of guidance. I know my audience really well, and I’ve learned that these can help you come across in the best possible way with them.
- We like to keep this show really conversational. So, try to keep answers short and sharp, less than a minute, two at most.
- Don’t worry, we’ll get into detail, but I’ll ask about the parts I know my audience loves.
- Always feel free to ask me questions back, so we’re both involved, and it flows well.
- I will interrupt you from time to time. Not because your content’s bad, but because I know what my audience wants and I’ll keep us tracking with that.
Keep emphasizing that this is in their best interests. This makes them look good! You know your audience, and if the guest wants to make a great impression, then you can help them do that. But, only if they work with you, and let you guide the conversation (#3).
That primarily means shorter answers (#2), and being prepared to be interrupted (#5 — and this is so much easier when you mention it before you start).
I’ve also found that #4 is a really interesting hack, for two reasons. First, conversations are much better when it’s two ways. And second, asking questions just puts people into conversation-mode rather than monologue-mode. (It also helps avoid the 5-minute solo tangents that are the bane of any interviewer’s life!)
How Will You Cut Your Production Time?
To me, there are two big ideas to this.
First, simple routines and purposeful tools. That means:
- Keep your weekly routine as simple and as regular as possible.
- Use seasons to simplify your planning.
- Go solo to simplify the logistics.
- Record as if you’re live and commit to really simple editing.
Make it your goal to find those routines that repeat so that you can fit the entire workflow easily into your week.
Secondly, it means using tools with real purpose. As podcasters, we can be guilty of adding in on-trend tools or tactics that take up more time, rather than save it. Instead, pick fewer, better tools, and go deep with them.
The click trick is a tool, use it to save hours in editing. Alitu is a tool that works great alongside it, and adds more features to annihilate the time spent editing and engineering. If they don’t work for you, though, there are dozens of choices. Find just a few that fit you, personally, and go deep.
Above all, use these tactics to hone your personal routine, find the methods that work for you, and offer up all that extra time to the content itself. Use it to talk to your listeners. What do they like? What do they not like? Find out what they really want from you. That’s what makes the big difference. Not an extra pass of compression, or a jot of noise reduction. Instead, get simple, get tooled up, and then you can really start thriving as a podcaster.