Let's get the business out of the way really quick.
This week marks TWO WHOLE YEARS since I launched this blog!
I know this is something I express regularly, but I am truly grateful for the support I have received over the years, from those who have stopped in to read a post or two to those who check in more frequently, especially as I move forth with the querying process and set out to publish at last.
I figure as long as you take something away from it, I can be happy with what I have done.
That said, when I was deciding what kind of post to write in commemoration of this occasion, I kept circling back to this topic: why a blog in this day and age?
This summer, I attended a virtual writers' conference. One segment touched on using social media to your advantage as a writer and building your audience. While there was a lengthy discussion about platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, someone in chat asked about blogging, to which the presenter suggested going in a different and more "modern" direction such as starting a podcast or a YouTube channel.
I understand where this is coming from. We tend to be a visual society. It's why programs like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat have taken off and flourished. It's easier to digest a YouTube video than sit down with an article.
Reading a post also requires more focus, while you can listen to a podcast while commuting to work or cleaning the living room, articles are typically enjoyed while you are stationary like relaxing on the couch or curling up in bed (which can be great for unwinding or taking a break), though I'm sure there are a few people out there who might endeavor to if not succeed at reading while on a treadmill. More power to you if you can manage that.
While these options may be easier for their audiences to enjoy, they may not be the most suitable option for every creator out there, and if you're like me, you might find that a blog is the right option for you.
With this post, I'll be breaking down some of the reasons I decided to start a blog in 2018 rather than a podcast or YouTube channel, and why I am still at it in 2020.
Disclaimer | Nothing in this post is intended to dissuade anyone from starting a podcast or YouTube channel. I am writing from my personal experiences and what led me to choose a blog over these options. As you'll find at the end of this post, I'm not against venturing into either of these zones, but it's not in the cards for the right-now me.
A Bit Of Background
For the purpose of this article, it's important that I provide some context.
As I've mentioned in the past, I was part of my college's student newspaper as a copy editor, which had me working with WordPress. When I started my blog, I used that platform but eventually shifted to Wix.
For me, this was about familiarity. I felt comfortable with the platform and setting myself up wasn't too difficult because I had a rough idea of what I was getting myself into.
I've also talked about having a weekly radio show for the entirety of my time at the school, so I have experience with hosting such a format and operating some of the equipment used in that field.
The thing is, you'd rarely hear me on the airwaves, save for mentioning station events or promoting one of my show's monthly themed broadcasts if there were one on the horizon.
Typically, I'd pop on every few tracks per station guidelines and say something along the lines of:
"A little bit from The Cab there with 'Endlessly' as we're getting close to the three o'clock hour here at WJJW, with Del Amitri's 'Roll To Me' and 'The Middle' by Jimmy Eat World before that. And don't go anywhere because coming up on The Sunday Shuffle, we've got some favorites from David Archuleta, Hunter Hayes, and Justin Timberlake. But first, we're turning back that dial to 2004 with a classic from Jesse McCartney. This is 'Beautiful Soul on WJJW 91.1 FM North Adams where The Sunday Shuffle is live until five."
This took maybe all of a minute, and then it'd be back to the music.
While I had peers who hosted talk shows, had co-hosts to banter with on a more frequent basis than a friend dropping by to hang out for a bit, and even interviewed guests including mayoral candidates, this wasn't the right format for me.
For one thing, I hate the sound of my own voice (cue the but you were a DJ line that tends to follow this statement), and this was something I was especially confronted with when I took a podcasting class for a semester.
While this class's assignments mainly consisted of listening to various podcasts together as a class and on our own time, we did have to produce a handful of podcasts throughout the course. For this, we were introduced to the StoryCorps app, but I also used the Audacity program since I was already using it to make airwave-safe versions of tracks for my radio show.
Recording those podcasts didn't faze me as much because of the similarities to hosting my radio show or doing PSAs promoting on-campus events. Editing was a different story.
Editing was something of a hellish process for me because I had to sit at my desk and listen to my voice over and over while making the necessary changes.
I enjoyed the class itself, but the greatest takeaway for me was that I could not see myself producing a podcast after my assignment for finals was submitted—or, as I joked on the end-of-semester survey and self-assessment, recording my own audiobooks.
Starting a YouTube channel is a similar matter, though audio is not the only factor at play. With a YouTube video, you get sound and vision.
I'm what some might call camera-shy. Picture day at school was scarcely a fun event, save for getting out of my high school's uniform for a few minutes since we were allowed to bring a shirt to change into for the occasion. I'm not on Instagram and hardly share selfies on Twitter because I don't feel comfortable putting my face out there where anyone could see them. I'm fairly strict when it comes to my Facebook friends and which selfies I do post. Most of them are in my phone's gallery and will not see the light of day.
Combining insecurities is a recipe for disaster.
Speaking of recipes, let's talk about technological ingredients.
Apart from my comfort zone, another thing I took into consideration was the necessities to get up and running, mainly the tools and technology and how much they cost.
While it is possible to start a YouTube channel or podcast without much more than a smartphone, and many creators do, it was often advised against by the posts, videos, and websites I perused back in 2018 about starting one or both. While a few of these articles did include affiliate links and promotions for the various software or equipment mentioned, there were consistencies among these and articles not featuring advertisements and based on the author's personal experiences with launching their platform. There are plenty of factors apart from the setup that can influence the success of a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast, many of which are out of your control, but an intimidating importance was placed on gearing up and that can come with a sizeable price tag.
Blogging is something you can get into for a minimal cost, not accounting for things like internet access, a computer, and such.
I touch on this in my post regarding my decision to shift from WordPress to Wix, but starting a blog is not necessarily 100% free.
Let's talk about platforms first. From what I have seen, many options have several levels of membership. There's a free account, which provides the bare minimum, and then several paid tiers. More features are added or expanded on with each level. This might include how much memory space you are allotted for photos and videos, having an email address directly linked to your website, or the use of various interactive elements geared towards businesses and online stores.
Hosting is another factor. A blog host provides the space for your blog and makes it accessible to the public. As with the blog itself, there may be a free option along with several paid ones.
While I was on WordPress, I set up my hosting with Bluehost, as it was recommended by tutorials from WordPress itself, but I now go directly through Wix.
Payments might be on a monthly basis, but many will charge the whole year upfront (or years, as my WordPress investment was a two-year plan purchased during a site-wide sale).
Domains can be another few dollars depending on how you go about it. With Bluehost, my custom domain was included with my plan, but having a custom domain in WordPress (AvrilMarieAalund.com compared to AvrilMarieAalund.wordpress.com) required a paid membership.
Other popular options, like GoDaddy or Google Domains, have price tags that are usually on the lower side depending on what you need.
Security cannot be forgotten. While platforms like Wix have this built-in, others might not (though it might be included with your hosting if you go through a different party like Bluehost).
At the time of writing this post, a Premium membership for one year on WordPress costs approximately $100.
Going with the Premium level for Wix, I'm in the middle of the pack but still on the lower end of the spectrum, something influenced and made possible by there being a reduced price for premium memberships at the time of transferring my blog to its new hub. A Premium Wix membership was just under $250 for two years when I shifted a few months ago, but this plan was on sale at the time and normally runs closer to $500. Contrarily, the lowest level is about $170 annually. For the sake of disclosure, I went 50/50 with my mom as part of a delayed birthday gift.
I consider myself a hobbyist as far as my blog goes, with it acting as an adjunct to my ongoing writing projects. While I do intend to add links to purchase my books through various outlets, that day is still a long ways away. Therefore, having a business level plan wasn't essential to me.
That is about everything for setting up a blog. Depending on your particular needs, you might also invest in some advertisement and marketing to get your posts out to a broader audience or feature entries by freelance bloggers, which will have additional costs. Some people might also enlist a professional website designer to create something beyond the complimentary templates. This is optional and might be limited depending what is included in your platform's paid plans. WordPress, for example, requires a higher tier to import custom layouts.
For the ease of this segment, I'm working with the premise of having a single host for the podcast. Situations involving cohosts will be slightly different price-wise, as they can require multiples of equipment like microphones.
The first thing that comes to mind when starting a podcast is the tech.
At a minimum, this means a computer, though it's worth noting there are apps like StoryCorps that function on a smartphone.
Looking back on the podcasting class I took in college, I do wish I had access to a microphone of better quality than what was built into my laptop or the cord of my earbuds. My recordings often came back with static in the background that took a lot of finagling to mitigate and seemed impossible to be completely rid of and clipping. Additionally, what it picked up of my voice was inconsistent in volume.
Investing in a microphone is something I would say is essential for a podcast, along with accessories like a pop filter, which improves the sound quality by reducing popping sounds caused by aspirated plosives, or certain sounds like the letter P. Additionally, personal preference may determine bits and pieces of your setup like stands and mounts.
Besides the microphone itself, this guide from Podcast Insights suggests getting yourself an audio interface, described as, "basically the bridge between your microphone and your computer. It converts the analog signal from the mic into a digital signal that the computer can use" or a mixer, which allows for more control over your sound and is considered "crucial if you plan to regularly have call-in guests." We had something similar to this in the radio station to control the various equipment used for playing music like the aux cord if we were using our personal devices like an iPod or laptop, the station's computer, and the turntables if we felt the urge to dive into the vinyl record stash.
Though not required, designating a space for recording may be beneficial. Some rooms are better for this than others in terms of acoustics. Think about the way your footsteps echo when entering larger rooms or ones with high ceilings. This is why altering the atmosphere is recommended for podcasters.
Acoustic panels seem to be the go-to option, referenced not only in the aforementioned Podcast Insight post, but this Rolling Stone article, and this one found on Digital Marketer. These are made of foam and create a better sound environment by absorbing the sound and softening background noise.
YouTubers might have some of these in the background of their videos for this reason.
We had similar in my high school music room, which I think may have been a converted garage originally given its size, the electric garage-esque door leading outside, and the fact I went to a technical school that supposedly used to have a welding department before my freshman year if memory serves.
While sticking up some of these panels is the preferred method based on my research, Digital Marketer also notes, "You can also use things like heavy curtains over the windows, drapes, and bookcases full of books. Soft things that can absorb the sound and prevent it from bouncing around the room."
With the equipment covered, it's time to shift gears and look at software.
Depending on whether you're a Mac user or a Windows user, your options might differ.
With my podcasting class, I used Audacity, as it was free and something I had prior experience with. Audacity has plenty of features but took some experimenting to get acquainted with. I wouldn't call myself a pro, as the majority of my familiarity was in making radio-safe edits for my show, censoring out FFC-forbidden language and such.
Mac users also have access to Garageband, which comes free and pre-installed. My experience with this is more limited, as I only used it in middle school since we had one of those Macbook carts, but I remember it being relatively easy to navigate considering I would have been about twelve and new to Apple products save for my iPod Shuffle.
Alternatives are out there, but they can get a bit expensive.
Adobe Audition, which I vaguely remember being an in-station option for recording PSAs for the radio, runs close to $240. According to Tim Chan of Rolling Stone, Adobe Audition is like, "Photoshop for your podcast, with the ability to speed up or stretch out files to fit a time limit, correct pitch problems, and align tracks recorded in multiple environments to sound like they were recorded at the same place, at the same time. A subscription to Adobe Audition also includes 20GB of cloud storage to keep your files organized across multiple computers and to easily share your work with colleagues and clients."
This subscription comes at a monthly fee of $20. As Darren Clarke says on Digital Marketer, "you probably don’t want to invest in this software until you’re sure that you need the extra features Audition provides."
For a little less, at $199, is Logic Pro, which provides a number of features useful for editing.
However, as “Disgraceland" host Jake Brennan notes in that Rolling Stone article, "I recently met one of the most successful podcasters in the world and he records on Garageband,”
so these expenses are more on the optional side.
My personal suggestion is to play around with Audacity or Garageband (if you're a Mac user), and see how those feel before spending several hundred dollars on recording software, but do explore those options as well and use the free trials to your advantage if offered.
Some podcasters may also consider hiring a professional editor to handle this step, but this may not be an option right off the bat so it's better to go in prepared to do both the recording and editing initially.
With sound addressed, let's move on and take a look at vision.
YouTube takes podcasting a step further and adds in an additional element: video.
For the purposes of this article, I'll be looking at this from a surface level. Just the basics to get started. Specific channel types like gaming or makeup tutorials might require more specific things depending on their content, like a better ring light for the latter, whereas some gamers may opt to not show their face on camera or do in a limited amount so they do not need pro video gear immediately.
On top of audio equipment like that referenced above, YouTube also requires tools for recording video footage.
When starting out, a content creator might film via their smartphone. However, it might be worth investing in a better camera—and a better lens.
As described on Simple, "Chances are your first few videos will be shot inside, in low light, so you’re going to need a fast lens with a large aperture; look for a low f-number, or speak to a specialist at your local camera store. Fast lenses are great for vloggers who don’t have a full professional light setup, and might have to deal with regular-old home lighting."
Giving your space a literal glow-up has its expenses, but not necessarily as high of a price tag if you've got yourself a good camera and lens.
One thing you may hear a photographer mention or fixate on is the lighting.
On a smaller scale, think about taking a selfie. If you're in a dimly lit space, you might move to a brighter space, maybe closer to a window because it will make the image look better.
The same principle can be applied to filming.
Daylight is certainly an option but as Tosh Lubeck's post on DIY Video Studio explains, "The main drawback of using natural lighting is that it's not as reliable or as consistent as artificial lighting."
You're also at the mercy of the weather. If you rely on sunshine for filming and you wake up to an unexpected shower, that's going to put a damper on the day.
Artificial lighting, on the other hand, is more in your hands. You get to control the brightness and contrast, and what time of day you film your content.
Softboxes are often recommended for YouTubers because while a bare bulb is a hard light source that gives shadows a sharper, more aggressive edge, softboxes do as the name implies and smoothes out that effect. Photographers favor these for reducing wrinkles and facial lines, flattering their subject. This makes a person seem more "photogenic" like a natural airbrushing.
Other things to keep in mind are the kind of lightbulbs you're using. In the virtual conference I mentioned at the top of this post, it was suggested that it can take some experimentation to get this right and is left to the content creator's personal tastes and preferences.
Camera-wise, this post on Adorama suggests DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are popular among the YouTuber community.
With this camera, Adorama also suggests a tripod or gimbal stabilizer to prevent unsteady footage, but this is not a deal-breaker, as someone might succeed in creating good content with a camera propped up on a stack of books provided that camera is of decent quality. The main thing is avoiding holding the camera as you're filming to avoid shaky images (though the rules might be different for something like an on-the-go vlog).
As is the case with podcasting, there is plenty of editing to be done in YouTubing.
Along with sound quality, film requires edits to make sure the shot looks good and cut the footage down to a watchable timeframe.
Depending on what you want to add in terms of special effects and such, this might be free or on the more expensive side. YouTube itself has a video editor, but using an outside party might be more suitable depending on your needs. Both Mac and Windows have their pre-installed programs, iMovie or Video Editor, respectively. Smartphones often editors as well, and apps can easily be downloaded.
Adobe Premiere Pro is a popular choice for videographers but, like Audition, requires a monthly subscription.
As is the case with audio-editing software, I recommend trying the free options first to get a feel for them but exploring the more expensive ones and making the most of the free trial period if there is one.
Like with a podcast, some creators hire editors for their YouTube channels, but this may not be feasible on Day One.
Some content creators merge the two, recording the podcast in a video format. The video gets posted to their YouTube channel, while the audio is also uploaded as a podcast to audio-focused outlets. This makes perfect sense since so much of the equipment is used in both forms of media.
While obtaining some of the equipment is a deterrent for me starting a YouTube channel or a podcast and wanting to keep blogging, there is also the factor of being able to set everything up. At the time of writing this post, this is not something I have. I don't have a surface large enough to accommodate the gear, nor a computer capable of running the various editing software I would need to feel successful entering into such an endeavor.
Aside from this, one of the main reasons I didn't start out with a YouTube channel is feeling like I don't have a camera worthy-space.
Secondary to equipment is the YouTuber's aesthetic. What's going on in the background? Some might employ a green screen, while others might have setting curated to align with their interests or content. Gamers might have a hoard of Funko Pop! figures and various merch from favorite games. BookTubers may have a bookshelf featuring their favorite reads or copies of their own works if they are writers.
Even though I refer to it as The Hollow, my writing space is a corner in the laundry room off the garage. While I've managed to make it into a cozy nook, it's not the prettiest of rooms and usable for only three quarters of the year.
There have been occasions where I have been preparing for a video call and unplugged the dryer and placed my laptop up on the washer so I could "look" writerly with my desk in the background rather than the other way around. My framed Mr. Darcy print on the wall looks far more appealing to the eye than the pile of laundry I've been neglecting while I write this post.
Even though having a "pretty" backdrop is not a necessity when launching a YouTube channel, it is something viewers might take notice of, and something I would be self-conscious about in the way I would worry about my appearance before filming. Though not a factor in establishing a podcast, it's just another aspect I don't have right now.
It may also be worth noting that while I have more time I could devote to launching one or both of these platforms because of my retail job limiting hours to remain socially distanced and safe during this pandemic, I'm not only the one in the household, as I have a family member working from home full-time, which would potentially make recording more difficult than a normal situation.
Regardless of the world around me, one thing remains constant: I'm a perfectionist, especially when it comes to writing. Producing content for YouTube or a podcast would be no different than this blog.
One of my favorite things is clicking on a YouTuber's new video and seeing a different background make its debut after a long time of filming in their bedroom or their excitement at getting a better camera after saving up for a while or as a birthday present, or watching a past video and seeing how far they have come since beginning their channel. I know it can take a while to reach a point where you feel more comfortable with these platforms or upgrade from novice equipment to what the pros are using, but I know myself well enough to know I'd want to jump in with more than just my phone or laptop's built-in microphone and the washing machine behind me.
Benefits Of Blogging
Over the past two years, I have learned a LOT about blogging. While there are some downsides, there are plenty of things that make it the optimal choice for me and where I am currently in life.
Blogging can have its expenses, but they typically aren't too hefty when you're fresh out of the gate and doesn't require much equipment beyond an internet connection and a reliable device like a computer or tablet.
Going this route also offers a bit more flexibility than filming videos or recording podcasts. Much of the aforementioned equipment is not portable, save for your phone or a camera, and creating content away from your space can result in unwelcome sounds in the background and other disruptions; I ran into this quite often during podcasting class assignments.
While having a blog can be time-consuming, that time is more adaptable to everything I have going on and doesn't depend on me being in a specific location. It's not unusual to see me hunkered down in the backroom at my retail job with my tablet and mini Bluetooth keyboard making a dent in articles while I'm on my break. I'm also able to come home and jump right back in after a shift without having to worry about how I'm going to look or sound before hopping on camera.
Blogging has also helped me find my voice as a writer, guiding me away from the academic tones rendered by years of writing essays and tailoring my words for a grade. Here, I'm able to write what I want as I want, and it's often as though I'm addressing another person in a conversation, something that doesn't always happen when you are presenting facts and trying to answer a question assigned to you. For me, this has been one of the most important and most surprising things to come out of this blog.
Accounting For The Cons
While blogging does have its pros, there are issues with it just as there are with podcasting or YouTube. It's a commitment. When I started out, I was posting twice a week but ended up scaling back to one at a time because I felt myself getting overwhelmed and burnt out after a couple of months.
There have been blog posts that have felt arduous to write, especially if it's a topic I'm not 100% confident in, whether that's because I'm not sure it's something readers will be interested in or something I'm having trouble putting into words. However, this is not as apparent with the absence of my voice or body language. You can hear and see a person's mood or interest in a particular subject—or lack thereof—which can influence the content as a whole.
The research I do for my posts can feel tedious at times, depending on the subject. It's not so odious if I'm discussing something I know like the back of my hand, but it's essential.
As with anything, there's no guarantee of readership. The most views I've ever had on one of my posts in its first week was around twenty, and I average around five as a max. This can be especially discouraging.
Regardless of the avenue you choose, one thing you're bound to face is the dreaded comment section. I haven't encountered too many trolls, just a spambot with twenty links to buy amoxicillin online posting on about a dozen articles, but this is something that might increase once my voice becomes more prevalent. I don't mention often because I am super self-conscious and hyper-aware of it if I think about it, but I do have a lisp. It's not a big deal but something I deal with and has had me get picked on pretty much all the way through high school.
Keeping my platform audio-free spares me of at least that much.
Not A No Forever
The main point I want to emphasize in this post is that I'm not against starting up a podcast or YouTube channel in the future. But it's not for the right-now me.
I admittedly vacillated between starting with one of the two and and later adding them to my routine but decided against it after researching and taking some time to consider my personal tendencies. I'm still learning to put myself out there, and adding my voice or face to the mix is not a leap I'm fully ready to take.
The truth is, I genuinely miss DJing with the radio station and it's by far the thing I miss most about my college years, and I think hosting a podcast would be pretty similar.
It's a matter of confidence I don't possess but hope to one day. Maybe in the coming years, my blog's anniversary post will be an announcement of a new YouTube channel or podcast.
I'm not ruling it out, but it is time for me to sign off.