What Is a Podcast? An In-Depth Look at Podcasting & How It Works

What a podcast is, how it works, where to listen to podcasts, and other answers to common questions are in this guide.

What Is a Podcast? An In-Depth Look at Podcasting & How It Works

People listen to podcasts for education and entertainment; others even create their own podcasts as a hobby, full-time business, or marketing activity to grow their brand. Whatever the reason, they’re all engaged in podcasting, either as listeners or creators. If you want to join the podcast community on one of those sides, simply want to know what a podcast is or why everyone’s crazy about audio storytelling, you’re at the right place.

What is a podcast?

A podcast is audio content made in a digital format that you can create, share, listen to, upload, and save. The term 'podcasting' was coined by journalist Ben Hammersley in an article for The Guardian in February 2004. He used the term to describe a new form of media distribution, specifically audio content that could be downloaded and played on portable media players, such as Apple's iPod. The term 'podcasting' is a combination of 'iPod' and 'broadcasting'.

Today, podcasting is an entire content creation and distribution industry, so podcasts have become a common way of obtaining information.

According to Edison Research, more than 50% of Americans regularly listen to podcasts: the general audience of podcast listeners in the USA alone is more than 100 million people a month. Some podcasters have become proper celebrities, listened to by millions of people and making serious money on their shows. One such example is Joe Rogan (The Joe Rogan Experience creator), who once got paid 200 million dollars by Spotify for his podcast placement on the platform.

The Joe Rogan Experience podcast on Spotify

How do podcasts work?

Podcasts are distributed on the internet via podcast hosts — services that store all podcast episodes in one place and automate RSS feeds (feeds with new content added to the podcasting services and apps you’re subscribed to).

Podcasts are uploaded to special streaming sites, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify, where users can listen to them on various devices — smartphones, desktop computers, players, and other tools. Apart from RSS feeds, podcasts can be embedded into websites or blogs and played there.

Podcasts are typically a series of talk episodes bound with the same topic and sometimes released in chronological order. All podcasts and podcasts’ episodes have a name, a description, a host, and a script that the host adheres to. Such elements of a podcast episode as guests, a podcast jingle, music, sound effects, and a video image aren’t necessary for podcast creation. However, many podcasters use them to drive more engagement.

And though there’s a plethora of different podcast formats, it’s up to the creator to determine the style of the show, its length, the format, the number of episodes as well as guests or the lack of the latter.

How are podcasts different from radio?

Unlike a radio program, you can listen to a podcast any time you want since they aren’t streaming live but are uploaded to be discovered by listeners at any hour. Basically, podcasts are different from radio in a way Netflix is different from TV: you can find a show of any genre you like and watch it without having to wait and turn it on at a specific hour when it’s on air.

Which podcast formats & topics are there?

The amount of subjects podcasters talk about is countless. Podcast formats are limited, though numerous. You can find podcasts on nearly every subject in the format of an interview, fiction and nonfiction, news, documentary, lecture, discussion among multiple guests, true crime series, and a multitude of others.

Who can create podcasts?

Anyone if they have at least a couple of pieces of podcast equipment, that typically includes a mic, podcast recording software such as Waveroom, headphones, and some post-production software.

💡 If you’re interested in the gear that podcasters need to create episodes, you can take a look at our recent guide on the best podcast equipment for any budget.

Why are podcasts made?

Podcasts are created by brands, influencers, professionals in a particular industry who want to share their knowledge, and hobbyists who want to have their ideas heard.

Brands create podcasts to grow their businesses as podcasting increases brand awareness. For companies, podcasting is a great medium to attract more customers as it’s an engaging and relatively cheap way of promotion and reach gain. Besides, podcasting is a noninvasive and nonaggressive marketing channel, since many people listen to podcasts in the background when they do something else, making it much less irritating than banner ads or in-stream ads on YouTube.

What else makes podcasting attractive for businesses is that you can link back to your site or ask your show guests to do the same. As for the potential reach, according to Statista, the worldwide podcast audience exceeds 420 million people and is expected to grow to half a billion by 2024.

Podcasts are made to educate or entertain people. Regular people create their own shows to have an additional or full-time income, as podcasting can be monetised with affiliate marketing, subscriptions, donations, ads and paid integrations.

Podcasts are easy to create, distribute and access. The latter leads to comfortable accessibility and discoverability of new episodes, which enables creators to make money from streaming.

The freedom of the format and length choice allows creators to share opinions, ideas, and knowledge that weren’t largely broadcasted in conventional media.

Are podcasts audio or video?

The majority of all podcasts are audio-only, which makes this content form so unique. However, video podcasting is currently gaining momentum, which allows creators to reach fans not only on podcast streaming services but on platforms like YouTube as well.

Podcasting is basically background content, which means that people consume it when doing something else. So even if video podcasting requires more setup that, in addition to the podcast equipment essentials, includes camera and lighting, people still enjoy video podcasts as background media. Exactly for this reason, most podcasts remain audio-exclusive.

Where can I listen to podcasts?

The most convenient way to enjoy podcasting is to download a podcast streaming service on your smartphone. iPhones have a built-in app called Podcasts that allows you to listen to your favourite shows and discover new ones. Android users can listen to podcasts via the built-in solution Google Podcasts. Some other apps are Overcast, Pocketcasts, PodcastAddict, and Spotify.

All streaming apps allow you to listen to podcasts on other devices, such as desktop computers and tablets, as they have playback capabilities right on the page where the podcast episode is published.

Right in those apps, you can get notifications that a new episode has been published, discover new shows, and follow them to never miss a new episode. You can also share a show on social media and messengers, rate a podcast, and comment on it. These actions can help the apps’ algorithms and editors make podcast ratings and recommend you similar shows.

Where can I find new podcasts?

The apps we talked about above (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, etc.) allow you to discover new shows as well by ratings, keywords, topics, and editors’ picks.

If you struggle to find a podcast to your liking right in such an app, you can ask for help on Reddit in subreddits such as r/podcasting, r/podcast, r/podcasts or r/PodcastSharing. These communities have threads with recommendations, or you can simply start a thread with a request to help you find the right show. Some of them have filters by the podcast formats and genre and even assistance with finding the show you can’t remember the name of.

And guess what? The Redditors helped them find this podcast! 

How do I make a podcast?

This one deserves a separate piece to give an elaborate answer. To put it briefly, there are several general steps that any aspiring podcaster takes when planning to start a podcast, either as a hobby or a full-time business:

  1. Niche and topic identification: You need to know what you want and can talk about on a regular basis, from several minutes to hours long.
  2. Finding the right format: A single-host talk, an interview, multiple hosts and guests discussion, or a mix of many? You need to know how you want to deliver your show to stand out from the crowd of other creators.
  3. Think through the episode’s outline or come up with a script: Greeting, a brief intro for those who joined you just now, the main speaking point/subject, answers to your listeners’ questions, quotes or interesting stuff you wanted to comment on in your podcast.
  4. Pick a podcast name: Keep the name short and easy to remember; no more than three words would be sufficient. If your podcast name is longer, there’s a risk it’ll be cut on some podcast platforms.
  5. Create a podcast thumbnail: A thumbnail gives your audience the first impression of your show. It has to be unique, draw attention, and convey the vibe of your show.
  6. Make a podcast jingle: A jingle is a short sound at the beginning and the end of your podcast. The jingle is important because your listeners will recognise your show when they hear it, especially if they have a line of shows and listen to them without looking at their phones screen.
  7. Find the right equipment for your podcast.

💡 If you’re looking for the best podcast equipment for any budget, you can take a look at this guide in our blog.

What is a podcast vs. a podcast episode?

Podcast, a podcast episode… What’s the difference, exactly? Let’s break it down! A podcast is a series of episodes that build this podcast. A podcast episode is merely one audio recording from the entire series.

It’s just like with a series on TV: There’s a show that consists of several episodes which are either bound to each other timeframe-wise and plot-wise or not.

What’s the difference between a podcast & an audio file?

What is a podcast? A simple audio file, right? Not exactly. However, technically, these might seem like the same thing. The difference between a podcast and a regular audio file is that an audio file becomes a podcast once uploaded to a podcast hosting service and can be listened to and shared by many people. If there’s a series of audio files uploaded to a podcast hosting and then distributed among podcast streaming services, these audio files become a sequence of podcast episodes.

What is a podcast RSS feed?

An RSS feed links people to a podcast’s content. If you subscribe to the RSS feed, you’ll automatically get new episodes once they’re uploaded to podcast hosting.

What is a live podcast?

Typically, podcasts are recorded, edited, and only then distributed to podcast hosts to get discovered by listeners. A live podcast, in turn, is streamed real-time to YouTube, Twitch, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

What is a video podcast or vidcast?

A video podcast is, as the name suggests, a podcast that, in addition to an audio track, has a video image as well. Consuming a vidcast, you can not only listen to the host and their guests but see them as well. Video podcasts can be made with online recording studios like Waveroom.

Do you have any other questions regarding podcasting? Follow Waveroom on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit to always be in the loop with all our updates and new posts.

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