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Whodunit: Podcaster offers advice for those interested in getting started

Sandi Allen, Culver Academies visit coordinator

Sandi Allen, visit coordinator at Culver Academies, has a podcast called “Twisted Travel and True Crime.” (Photo by Andrew Crowell)


Launching a podcast had better be a labor of love. Otherwise, it’s way too much work and money.

That advice comes from someone who has a podcast that is in the top 1 percent of podcasts worldwide but is by no means a podcast expert. I’m literally just stumbling along, teaching myself, learning the bare minimum.  

That being said, I think podcasting is a great medium for people to get their voices heard. It isn’t that hard. After all, I did it, and I don’t have a degree in journalism, media or criminal justice.  I’m the visit coordinator at Culver Academies, a boarding school in Indiana. My podcast is called “Twisted Travel and True Crime.”  I cover true crime and wild travel stories from all over the world.

The idea came to me when I found myself enthralled with true crime stories. At the time, my family and I had decided to do some traveling by boat, and I had some time on my hands as well as a desire to create a job that would allow me and my family to travel.

If you are considering making a podcast, my advice is to make sure you really, REALLY care about whatever it is you’re podcasting about. If it’s something you’re kind of interested in but also could live without doing, save yourself the time, headache and expense.

Once you have committed to an idea, think of a name. It has to be somewhat SEO-friendly, meaning someone using internet search engines can find it. For me, it had to have the words “true crime” in the title.  Anyone interested in the genre might run across my podcast while searching for something new to listen to or read about.

When you think of a good name, Google it. Chances are, you’ll find it’s already taken and you’ll head back to the drawing board. If by some miracle it’s not taken, do a trademark search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark website.  The name I chose was not trademarked, meaning I could use it.  Make sure similar social media handles are available. You want your social media presence to match your podcast name so people can find you on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

After you have set those up you need to look for equipment. I failed in this category and am still behind here. I lived on a boat, I had an old laptop, limited internet and a cheap microphone.  That is it.  I made do, but I am still using the same equipment three years later. Yes, people have noticed that my podcast isn’t polished. I had no idea what I was doing and am still learning every day. There is no team of sound experts helping me to produce the podcast. My podcast studio has been a cabin on a boat, an RV and a closet in my house.  I will never have a perfectly produced podcast, but I will find an audience who will accept my limitations.


Sandi Allen uses a closet in her house as a podcast studio to create “Twisted Travel and True Crime.” (Photo provided)


I recommend a good microphone, headphones, a pop filter and good podcasting software.  I use Audacity software, which is free, but I had to do a lot of research and studying to figure out how to use it.

If you want to have guests you will need to use something like Zoom, which will allow you to record and edit.

There are several types of podcasts. Interviews, conversational and narrative, just to name a few.  Mine is primarily the latter. I spend hours researching my next case, writing the story, cleaning it up and then finally recording. I like to tell a good story.  I have done interviews in the interest of making sure my facts are correct. I have even interviewed a serial killer, William Dathan Holbert, AKA Wild Bill, who was sentenced to 47 years in prison for killing five Americans in Panama. I sent him questions and he sent me voice files because he technically was not allowed to communicate with me. Prison rules and all …

The research is critical.  My listeners know true crime and if they happen to be searching for a specific case, sometimes they have researched the case themselves and are comparing stories to see what clues they may have missed.  Sometimes they know the cases better than I do and are happy to share their thoughts.  This means I need to stick to the facts and I have to know where to find them.  I use general media sources like news stories and documentaries but I have also requested files under the Freedom of Information Act so I can see police records, court transcripts and search warrants. My search history would be a huge red flag to any criminal investigator.  Even my husband worries that he might disappear without a trace one day.

When your research, or interview, is complete and you have a basic outline of how your episode should go, or in my case once I have written my script, it's time to record. This process can take a long time.  You want to speak clearly and if you are recording an interview or recording with a friend, you want to practice not talking over each other.  If you are just starting out, it’s a good idea to do 10 or 12 episodes as practice before you release ANYTHING.  This will give you some practice recording, editing your recording, playing with sound, speeding up or slowing down your pace and myriad other things that need to be fine-tuned when recording. Editing can be time consuming, as you have to listen to the whole episode to add the promos, edit out awkward pauses or unexpected noises or, for me, stumbling over my own words as well as trying to get names pronounced correctly.

When you have a finished product, let your closest friends listen.  Specifically ask friends who are straightforward, outspoken and honest. You know the type, they want the best for you and can be honest with you. If your podcast isn’t good, they will tell you what you can do to make it better without dashing your hopes and dreams.

After you have your recording you can add music, if you like.  A catchy tune is often recommended. But some listeners find music irritating. I do not have music in my podcast after a listener told me she found the music distracting.  I also choose not to spend money on licensing music and because I have a full-time job and children, I have to prioritize my time. 

That means I do fall short in some places. First, I do not have a website. I would love to but am not at a point where I can pay someone to make one and maintain it for me. But I can dream!

Do you need a podcast website? I guess not, if you really don’t want to do one. It helps with your marketing though, so if you can swing it do it!

One of the fun extra expenses I learned about: just I was ready to launch my podcast, I discovered the audio files were big and I needed to pay someone to host them on the web AND push the episodes out to Stitcher, Spotify, and iTunes.  These costs on the low end are $20/month although now and then you may find a free hosting platform.  The free ones tend to fall short on services and other things they can do for you.

Before launching your podcast, I recommend having three to four episodes ready to launch all at once, so if listeners like it they can listen to a few. Then, you can start releasing the others weekly or biweekly.

The next step is applying to have your podcast released on all the big podcast platforms including Apple, Spotify, Castbox etc.

Basically, once you apply and are approved, you upload each audio file and thumbnail to your hosting software, fill in all the description details, and they push the episodes out to all your approved platforms. At that point, you should congratulate yourself.  Your podcast can be listened to by the masses!





Your job now is to entice people to listen. This is done by marketing. Yet another place I struggle. You see, podcasting is so much more than just talking about something you love!  If you want to be profitable you can’t fall short here. Begin with your friends, ask them to subscribe, rate and review your podcast then be sure to launch episodes consistently and market continuously. I use Facebook primarily and when I don’t promote the podcast, it is noticeable. Sadly, I struggle finding time to promote and honestly need help there if I want the podcast to continue to grow.

I personally have minimal cost to produce my podcast other than the initial equipment. I use free editing software and signed on with a free hosting site which is now offered on Spotify.  I do not incur music fees and since I don’t have a website, I don’t incur those fees.  This is a good thing because after podcasting for four years, being in the top 1 percent and having over 500,000 downloads, I don’t make much at all.  I am a minnow in the sea of fish who swim in the top 1 percent. While the occasional whale shark podcasts make millions, the minnows swim on hoping to find listeners to feed them so they can grow!  

All this takes a lot of time.

For a typical episode now, it takes me 10+ hours of research, eight to 10 hours of writing/editing, two to three hours of recording and an hour or two uploading and promoting.  Admittedly, I don’t spend enough time on the promoting part.

The big question is, is it worth it?  To be honest, I’m not sure. My original goal was to create a portable job that I enjoyed.  My life goals have changed and now I want a side hustle that will add to my family's bottom line.   

If it’s a hobby for you - it depends on how invested in the hobby you are. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to spend your hard-earned time and money on it.

I have made money. Not much but the more episodes I release the more listeners I get. I have been able to find sponsors and Spotify pays me to place commercials in my podcast. I get about $8 per 1,000 listeners.  This doesn’t even pay me minimum wage for the time I put in. But I have big dreams!

If you found this article helpful, eye-opening or entertaining I humbly ask you to listen to my podcast “Twisted Travel and True Crime” on your favorite podcast platform.  Give it a good rating and review.

Sandi Allen is the visit coordinator at Culver Academies, an Indiana prep school.


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