You've probably heard all about podcasts, and maybe everyone you know is listening to them. A friend has told you that you should totally listen to This American Life with Ira Glass. Or a colleague says you absolutely have to listen the true crime podcast phenomenon Serial.
Or your writer friend tells you to download So You Want to be a Writer, of course!
And you just nod and think – “I don't even know how to listen to a podcast.”
Fear not, you are not alone! The stats are in and they show that the people who do listen to podcasts do so voraciously. But for most of us, we have no idea where to start.
The good news is that listening to podcasts is not hard and is FREE entertainment. You can do it on your phone, on your computer, or even on your smart speaker.
What is a podcast?
A podcast is just a fancy name for a radio show. Instead of listening to it on your radio, it has been packaged up so that you can download and listen to it at any time. So a podcast is simply a file of a radio program.
Podcasts come in all sorts of flavours.
There are daily news bites, weekly movie updates, or in-depth interviews or investigative long-form programs. Some podcasts publish every day, many are weekly, and some are fortnightly, monthly or completely random.
The reason why this format revolutionised audio is because it's attached to a feed. Think about a blog or a news site – the newest articles are always at the top. A podcast feed does the same thing so that each time a new podcast is published – just like a news item – it's available for you to download.
On your phone
For many people, the easiest way to listen to podcasts is on your phone. You will need an app and an internet connection… And that's it. You should probably also have at least one podcast that you know that you want to download to start you off.
(And may we humbly suggest the So You Want to be a Writer podcast?)
On iPhone, there is an app that comes already installed. It's called – Podcasts! Yep, that's it. It’s the image below:
Then use the Search button to look for a specific podcast or use Browse to see what's popular.
You have a few options when it comes to listening and downloading podcasts. You can play them directly – just use the Play button. Or, if you really love the show and never want to miss an episode, you can Subscribe. Subscribing means that each time a new episode is released, it will download automatically, ready for you to listen whenever you're ready.
Once you really get into podcasts – and we're sorry, but once you start, you probably will – there are other apps that you might find better than Apple's inbuilt one. Popular apps are TuneIn, Overcast, Downcast, and PodCruncher.
On Android, there are a few more app options, but the premise is basically the same. You can play directly or subscribe to never miss an episode. There is a native Google Podcasts app but it's fairly new and most people don't recommend it. Some of the best rated Android podcast apps are TuneIn, PocketCasts, Podcast Addict, and Castbox. Some of these are ad-supported, have monthly fees or a one-off purchase price (PocketCasts).
Subscribe versus play
There are a few different options to play a podcast. You can download individual episodes and listen to them when you're ready. You can directly play an episode at any time, using either your Wi-Fi or mobile data. Or, if you really love a show, you can subscribe to it.
Subscribing to a show means that each time a new episode is released, it will download directly to your phone. Don't worry – you can usually set it up so it will only use your Wi-Fi and not your mobile data. This is great for shows that have a narrative arc or that come out regularly that you want to make sure you stay on top of. That way when you're faced with a boring commute, you already have something lined up to listen to.
On your desktop
If you're not the sort of person who is constantly plugged into your phone, you might prefer to listen to podcasts through your computer. While you can technically subscribe to podcasts through your computer, mostly you'll be playing individual episodes.
You can play episodes directly from the show's website. But a better option is to use something like Omny or Stitcher to find a whole range of shows and episodes all in one place. PocketCasts (which is an app for Android and Apple) also has a web version for a one-off fee.
Here are examples of where you can find the So You Want to be a Writer podcast on these different sites:
On your smart speaker
If you have a Google Home speaker or Amazon Echo (Alexa), you can access some podcasts just by asking politely.
Amazon's Echo uses an app called TuneIn, so you'll need to have that enabled before you can start using it for playing podcasts. Once it's all enabled, however, it really is as easy as saying “Alexa, play the latest episode of So You Want to be a Writer.” You can also issue other commands, like “play the previous episode” or “pause” or “increase volume”.
It's a similar situation with a Google smart speaker. Simply say, “Hey Google, listen to This American Life” and the latest episode should play.
Why listen to podcasts?
Podcasts aren't a passing fad. The So You Want to be a Writer podcast has been going forever now and shows no signs of slowing down! The advice offered by hosts Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo is always valuable and the Facebook community is full of people who love the show and share loads of information for writers.
For people who are time poor, podcasts are a great way to catch up on your favourite topics. You can listen to the news while vacuuming, learn about the latest books while taking a shower, or hear from your favourite author on your commute home from work. Listening to podcasts is as easy as listening to the radio, except that you get to choose what programs you listen to and when. Podcasts are the simple way to curate your audio experience, learn something new, or turn housework and other tasks into enjoyable experiences.
Some reviews from listeners include:
Balm to my literary soul
“I’ve been listening to the podcast for about a year now, and it’s been such a balm to my literary soul. Whilst on submission, I looked forward to your show each week, to keep me distracted while the rejections rolled in lol. I particularly love the authors in residence, as it’s so encouraging to hear the unique journey that each individual travels on the path to publication. Great works folks.”
Giggle all the way to work
“I have people constantly staring at me on my walk to work, I’m either grinning wildly or laughing out loud! I think I need a t-shirt with ‘I’m listening to ‘So You Want to be a Writer’ and that’s why I look so happy!’ written on it. I always take away many words of wisdom and little gems that pop up every now and then when I need them, which keep me motivated. Thank you for your fantastic podcast and interviews with amazing authors.”
Go forth and listen to podcasts!
By Nat Newman
Nat Newman is a freelance writer.