In late 2017, my long commutes and repetitive playlists got me hooked on listening to podcasts. As I listened to some of my favourites like How I Built This, Hidden Brain, Tuned in With Preet Bharara, and many others (listed and linked below), I started to think that perhaps there was room for a podcast about lawyers.
While there were already excellent legal podcasts available (like The Docket, Borderlands, and Building New Law – also linked below), I envisioned a podcast that would profile lawyers, than than jurisprudential developments or highly focused discussions on practice. The goal was the make lawyers as accessible as possible to the general public, while at the same time passing on valuable insights for lawyers who could learn from the experiences of these remarkable litigators. I often joke that I wanted a podcast about lawyers that even my mother would listen to for 45 minutes.
The main issue I faced, is that I had no idea how to properly record an interview, let alone launch a podcast for wide distribution. So, I set myself to the task to learn what it takes to do what so many others have done before me. I turned to Youtube, blog posts like this one, podcasters, and audio professionals to try and figure it all out.
With this acquired knowledge, and participation from some truly amazing guests, our podcast has reached a level of popularity that far exceeded our expectations. Since our launch in January, we have now published 21 episodes and reached over 120,000 downloads / listens. The rest of the year looks equally promising with an impressive array of guests to come.
So, the point of this article is to pass on some of this knowledge and tips I have learned over the past several months in hopes that it will inspire and motivate other lawyers to launch their own podcast when you see how easy it is.
The first question you should ask before starting a podcast is “Who is my audience?”
An audience for a podcast should be defined as narrowly and clearly as possible. An article by FastCompany reports that as of April 25, 2018 there were over 525,00 active podcast shows and over 18.5 million episodes. With such an enormous amount of possible shows to listen to, it’s important to ensure that you define your market in a very concise way.
Taking on too much, trying to appeal to everyone, or having lack of clarity in your podcast’s brand will be sure to make it difficult for your listeners to find you, but also turn them off your show if they do. While it is tempting to make your podcast appealing to everyone, this is an impossible task that is bound to fail. You are better to have a show with 1000 super-fans than a show with 100,000 people who listen and then aren’t interested.
In listening to the most popular podcasts, you will find each show has one thing in common: consistency in their format.
I am not referring to making your show sound like every other show. Rather, make sure that you chose a format and stick with it, whatever that may be. There is no right way of structuring a podcast, except that it must be done relatively the same way each time. For example, if you have an interview podcast like ours, you may want to have a format like:
catchy intro quote, main intro, sponsored content,, conversation, sponsored content,, final question asked of everyone.
Or, you may wish to have a format where it is:
intro, questions and answers from last show, discussion with host and co-host, sponsored content, guest, sponsored content, overview of upcoming show.
Whatever it is doesn’t matter, but think it through because it is something that should be applied the same to each episode throughout the podcast’s season.
In addition, having a specific format makes it far easier to edit in post-production as you already have the perimeters set and now you are just replacing the content along the timeline and workflow. Put some time into thinking about structure, your listeners will come to love it, and producing and editing the show will be done with ease.
The place you record you episodes is an important element to your workflow, consistency, and quality of sound. While dedicated studio space is the best, it is often not within the budget or time permitted for most podcasters. If you are recording outside of studio, be sure to remember that background noise (particularly echoes and background noise) can be distracting to your listeners.
By choosing a quiet room with adequate acoustics, you will save yourself a lot of time in editing trying to remove distracting sounds or echo from your episode. While not possible in every instance (particularly if your episodes are recorded in different locations), be conscious of your acoustics in the area you are recording to save you frustration later on.
In terms of equipment, here is what a podcaster needs to do it properly:
- Microphone stands with pop filters
- Digital audio recorder (or computer with direct feed into audio program)
- Computer with sound editing software and internet capabilities for publishing
How you go about choosing these items is dependant on budgets, preferences, and availability. There is no perfectly right answer to this but, like many things in life, the more you budget for your equipment, the better your podcast will sound. Sound quality is very important to good podcasting.
There are many podcasts out there that have excellent content but sound like they are being recorded at a subway station on walkie talkies. Remember that your audience is likely listening to this during their down time, their commute, or while they are sitting at their desk working. If your podcast is grating to listen to, your listeners will quickly move on – no matter how great your content may be. Investing in good equipment will really help achieve that sound quality your listeners want.
The good news: decent podcasting equipment isn’t wildly expensive and well worth the cost once it is up and running.
Like any good examination of a witness, it take some preparation to prepare for your episodes. There is no right answer on how to do this because every podcast is different. However, if there was a common thread among good podcasts is that they follow a structure with pre-defined topics and perimeters on how far each topic will go.
For example, you may wish to map out what topics you intend to cover, how much time on each, and some research points on each topic relevant to the guest to stoke conversation. Here is a sample structure from one of our guests (President of the Criminal Lawyers’ Associate, Michael Lacy): Questions (M.Lacy)
Not only is structure essential for staying on track, but it also makes it easier to maintain consistency across episodes as you can use the same template over and over. As mentioned above, consistency of content, structure, and flow is very important to building a fan base.
As a bonus, here are a few interview tips I have come to learn if you intend to interview guests on your podcast:
Let silence work for you: While it is tempting to try to interject and have quick back and forth with a guest, it is counter productive and distracting to your listeners. Silence can always be removed after the fact; content cannot be added. Humans have a need to fill in uncomfortable silence and your guests will do this if you let them. Get over the awkwardness of silence: ask your question and wait for the answer(s) to come.
Stop saying “uh huh” “sure” “ok” and other annoying punctuations: Until you listen to it back in a recording, you will likely not notice how many times these phrases are used. While they act as normal indicators of active listening in casual conversation, in a podcast they are very distracting. Try to avoid them at all costs.
Keep timestamped notes: Be sure to have a notepad close by. You can make notes on the times of pauses, rephrasing of answers or questions, stutters, background noise, and other corrections you wish to make in editing. Having all these notes will save a lot of time in editing. Even better, if you have someone present during the interview (perhaps checking audio levels) have them take notes for you so you can focus on the conversation. (Tip: when editing, work backwards on your notes so that you do not disrupt the timeline as you are editing.)
Make your guest comfortable: Being interviewed is stressful at the start. The more you can do to relax your guest, the better the conversation will be. Start easy with the questions (even if you don’t use them in the podcast) like “Tell me about where you grew up” or “What is something you love to do outside your profession.” Once the conversation starts to flow and a rapport is established, then you can delve into the more cerebral questions. Also, there is a lot to be said about comfortable chairs, water, coffee, and showing them where the washroom is before you start.
Tell you guest about your structure: People do not like uncertainty and with interviews, this can cause anxiety. The more you can share in advance, the more comfortable your guest will feel and the more they will open up. If they feel like a “gotcha” question is just around the corner, they may be anxious and reserved in their answers. For our podcast, not only do we share the questions in advance to our guests, but we promise not to release the podcast once we have their approval. These two things establish trust, and as a result, excellent and candid answers.
Post-production is just as important as the content
Here is a simple tip: if you don’t like spending several hours playing around with audio, editing, and learning about what compression, normalizing, and .mp3 means conversion – hire someone.
There are many excellent people graduating and in school for sound engineering who love podcasts and would love to be part of yours. Recently we hired someone from Ryerson and it is a lifesaver for time (even though I quite enjoyed editing our podcasts up until episode 20). This is the best money you will spend if you want to have a great sounding podcast and not spend all your time trying to figure out sound engineering. You should expect to pay between $100.00 to $150.00 per episode.
With any of these, you can edit, render, and export your sound files to a sound file you can upload to your podcast host. These programs work well from audio files saved from a recorder, or directly into your computer. Either way, be sure to record in high quality .wav format so that you have maximum flexibility and quality when editing.
Get listed and publish your podcast
It sounds strange, but one of the most perplexing questions in podcasting is “How do I get my podcast on iTunes, Google, and other platforms?”
There are a few ways to do this but each way requires one to sign up for an account for iTunes, Google, and any other platform you wish it published upon.
Once you have signed up for each of your platforms you want your podcast file published upon, you must point the platform to your URL or RSS feed. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest by far is to use intuitive podcasting hosts like LybSyn, Castos (our choice), or many others.
If you use hosting companies like LybSyn and Castos, they each have a website plugins which allows easy integration into your website so that you main source of reference for your fans can be your website. Reputable hosting sites do charge a subscription fee but it is very reasonable ($15.00 to $20.00 a month).
It is important to remember that iTunes and Google do not host uploads of your podcast so this is why you must host it somewhere so they can direct the episodes to your listeners. To put it simply: you upload your final product to your hosting site and iTunes, etc. Google asks you to input the feed (or location) or your podcast. iTunes, Google, etc. then directs your listeners to it through their respective apps and websites.
Microphones: Microphones will make or break a podcast. Trying to record your podcast off your iPhone or using poor quality microphones will be obvious to the listener and frustrating to you. While you can spend thousands of of dollars on studio level quality microphones, you certainly don’t need to go that far to make your podcast sound great. Spend a little bit more to get microphones that you will be happy with for an entire season or longer. The last thing you want to do (a lesson I painfully learned) is to spend money on “these will be good enough” microphones only to then hate the sound quality and buy the ones you should have bought in the beginning.
Recommendation: Sennheiser e835 Dynamic Cardoid Microphones. Cost: $109.00
Microphone stands: Remember that you will need to set up your microphones in a way that it easy for your guest (if you have any) or your host to talk in a natural way. Mic stands allow for ideal placement of microphone which is an important element of sounds quality. You always want to ensure that your speaker can talk into the microphone without being more than a few inches away. What mic stand is best is a matter of personal preference. You may want one that clips on to a desk, you may want overhead mic stands, swing arm stands, and so on. Once you have chosen your studio space and know how your speakers will be seated, it will be far easier to figure out what is best.
Recommendation: Inexpensive desktop microphone stands: Cost: $15.00 to $40.00;
Pop filters: While not absolutely necessary to recording, a pop filter can reduce the “plosives” which is the popping sound a “P” can make when a person is talking. This distortion creates an audio defect that makes it challenging to fix in post-production. Pop-filters are an inexpensive way to reduce or eliminate this.
Recommendations: Inexpensive pop filter: Cost: $10.00 to $20.00
Digital Recorder (or computer with direct feed into Audio software): There are many ways to record your audio. You can even use your phone if you wished. However, a dedicated recorder is going to offer you far more features, quality, and ease of workflow. Regardless of what device you use, be sure to record your audio in .wav format to preserve maximum quality and flexibility in editing. You can buy apps for your phone, such as Voice Record which allow for a wider range of quality and versatility than your phone app provides. Our choice is a dedicated digital recorder and we love, love, love it!
Recommendation: Zoom H6 Handy Recorder (Cost: $499)
Audio editing software: Once you have your raw files recorded into your recorded (preferably separate tracks for each guest), you will need to edit this for quality and integration into themes, sound effects, intros, etc. As mentioned above, the three most popular audio editing software is Adobe’s Audtion ($25.00 a month), Audacity (free), and ProTools ($25.00 a month). While Audacity lacks a lot of the quality and features the other two provide we use this for the time being as our podcast is simple without the need all the power the others provide – plus, it’s free! (Note you will need to install the .mp3 conversion tool in audacity if you wish to export your file into a format for hosting).
I hope you found this article informative and inspires you to start your own podcast. The rewards of doing so are rich: social and business relationship development, education, and the satisfaction of creating something unique.
Don’t be surprised once it is up and running people you have never met before and never dreamed would listen to obscure topics say “Hey, I love your podcast, I tell all my friends about it.”
If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe and listen to our podcast Of Counsel here.
If you want some inspiration to get you started, here are some of my favourites:
More Perfect by WYNC Studios
Building NewLaw by Peter Aprile and Natalie Worsfold
Borderlines by Steven Meurrens and Peter Edelmann
The Docket by Micheal Spratt & Emile Taman
Reasonable Doubt by PodcastOne / Carolla Digital
Lawyered by Husein Panju
Opening Arguments by Thomas Smith and Andrew Torrez
The Lawfare Podcast by The Lawfare Institute
Welcome to the Food Court by G.S. Jameson & Co.
Administrative Law and National Security Law by Craig Forcese
Crimetown by Gimlet