A Workflow for Making 5-Minute Podcasts
How much work goes into making a short podcast?
Apparently, a lot.
I’d like to believe that future-me will have built up a team of experts to whom I can delegate all my podcast-related tasks, as I conquer countless creative and business projects in stride — even with vacation days. Until then, however, a checklist helps me manage producing the Engineering Word Of The Day, by myself for now. I use the checklist to help me remember all the production tasks that I usually have to repeat, episode to episode, once I’ve already gotten it up and running.
Whether a checklist, flowchart, or spreadsheet, some documented representation of your podcast episode creation process will help you make a better product. Consulting the document can help streamline your actions, so that you’re a little less likely to forget important steps. You can show it to others when you’re ready to create your podcast team, or when you need a critical eye from other creators. The challenge of creating the document itself gives you a better sense of all the resources needed to produce one episode. You may learn your process better and not need to consult your document much anyway. You might discover bottlenecks in your process that you can try to improve.
So at a broad level, below is my own checklist for every episode of Engineering Word Of The Day:
- Preparation: Deciding episode topics, conducting research, documenting notes, scheduling, organizing any special guests, obtaining any special equipment.
- Pre-recording: Preparing the recording environment, preparing recording equipment and configuring software, testing the recording setup.
- Recording: Recording white noise, recording on-air sounds and voices.
- Processing: Filtering recordings, editing recordings, exporting sound files.
- Pre-release: Writing episode descriptions, creating episode art, uploading files to podcast host(s).
- Release: Scheduling release, updating website, updating SEO and internet searchability, preparing social media posts.
- Maintenance: Deleting extra files, documenting post-show notes, updating software and equipment, analyzing episode analytics.
No matter what podcast I make, my episode creation workflow will consist of those seven large steps. Funny how “Recording” is so small compared to all the other steps combined. Engineering Word Of The Day aims to be a simple, regular podcast with just one voice (mine), with minimal music and sound effects, with a manually updated static website, and distributed across many podcast platforms through one central source. Changing any one of these characteristics could alter my workflow, and with my checklist I can specify where and how it would change. This list can also come in handy when getting anyone else involved, since I can specify which duties they will handle.
Each of these seven steps has several substeps particular to the podcast. For Engineering Word Of The Day, I break down my steps roughly as follows:
- Document possible words to cover in episodes.
- Research engineering vocabulary used in news and other current media sources.
- Choose and schedule word to cover.
- Research word meaning.
- Research word pronunciation.
- Research word etymology.
- Develop a way to relate word to real world.
- Turn off sources of noise in and around the studio from objects.
- Quiet the sources of noise in and around the studio from people and animals.
- Apply sound damping to the studio where possible.
- Position computer, microphone, and mic screen.
- Connect headphones.
- Prepare recording software.
- Test recording setup input channels and volume.
- Mute computer.
- Save files for recording.
- Record introduction.
- Record spelling.
- Record explanation.
- Record conclusion.
- Listen to recording samples and re-record as needed.
- Trim recordings.
- Apply compressor, noise filter, and high-pass filter as needed.
- Confirm target timing.
- Export sound files.
- Listen to output files and re-export as needed.
- Write episode description.
- Update episode boilerplate.
- Prepare mp3 metadata.
- Prepare episode graphic.
- Prepare episode marketing/social graphic.
- Upload sound files to podcast host(s).
- Schedule release of episode on central podcast host.
- Test podcast stream(s). Re-upload or re-schedule as needed.
- Update website text content and sitemap.
- Update website image/visual content.
- Update version control of website (git).
- Confirm proper site appearance. Update as needed.
- Update SEO analytics on Google and Bing.
- Schedule release of episode or episode clips on secondary hosts.
- Release social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites.
- Delete large graphics and sound files.
- Document completion of episode.
- Update website structure.
- Research analytics on episode to inform future episodes.
The above steps don’t even include everything, in order to simplify my explanations here. Yep, there’s more. Ridiculous, right? It’s like a recipe for the most complicated chocolate chip cookie in the world. Why struggle to remember every little step when you can look at a cheat sheet?
My checklist explains why I can only get a 5-minute episode of Engineering Word Of The Day out every once in a while, especially since I also produce a more complicated 20–40 minute episode every time I do The K12 Engineering Education Podcast, which, in contrast, has collaborators, occasional multiple guests, music, a more complicated website, and much more scheduling and recording logistical issues. I’ll take any tip and tool to save time and improve quality of my podcasts, including a free document that I can make myself.