field notes

How to create an unlisted (semi-private) podcast

So you’d like to share some audio with some people, preferably in podcast form so that those people can listen to it with the convenience of their favorite podcast apps. But you DON’T want it to be publicly listed in all the podcast directories (Apple/Spotify/etc) where it would be easily searchable and discoverable (and which comes with some annoying requirements that you might prefer to skip, for example Apple’s requirements about the style of the podcast’s cover image). You don’t mind if the audio is technically accessible to the public (meaning, without any password or authentication), as long as it’s not listed and thus not likely to be discovered by random people. This is the post for you.

I’m writing this post purely as a public service. I had this use case I just described, because I was looking to make my newsletter available in audio form. It’s not super private, but I’d prefer if only my subscribers actually saw it. I googled all around for how to do this, and couldn’t find anything helpful, and eventually only found out the answer through a friend who personally told me how. This is the post I wish I had found. So I’ll put this up and let the SEO gods determine whether anyone finds this.

This is the easiest thing ever, there are only 2 steps.

Step 1: Pick a service to host your podcast.

You need to put your audio on the internet somewhere. You can always put it up on Dropbox or Google Drive, but then it can’t be played in podcast apps. I’ll save you some more googling and say that, at least at the time of writing this, the two most commonly recommended podcast hosting services seem to be Podbean and Libsyn. They are practically the same (I actually ended up trying both, and ended up staying with Libsyn, mostly out of inertia). Libsyn started earlier, so it’s a bit older. Podbean has a free plan, while Libsyn’s most basic plan is $5/month (at the time of writing, etc). They have slightly different pricing structures, so check it out.

Sign up for the service and publish your first episode. But don’t submit your podcast to any directories, though your hosting service may be bugging you to do so. (See the end of this post for more on that.)

Step 2: Share your feed URL with your audience.

From your podcast hosting account, you should be able to find the URL of your feed somewhere in your settings or your podcast profile/info. (The URL usually has the word “rss” or “feed” somewhere in it.) That URL leads to a pile of metadata about your podcast and its episodes, which is what podcast apps use to display your podcast properly and to fetch the episodes. You can visit the URL if you want to see what it looks like.

Share that URL with your audience. Each listener will need to paste that URL into somewhere in their podcast-listening app. It varies by app, but most podcast apps do support manually adding a feed (though not all support it), and it’s usually not hard to find. Once the listener pastes in the URL, they will be subscribed to your podcast, just the same as if they subscribed to any other podcast, listed or unlisted.

You can try it for yourself in your own podcast-listening app. The reason I said to publish at least one episode first, is that some podcast apps won’t let you subscribe to a podcast that has no episodes.

Your podcast host should also have made the raw m4a file of each episode available online for download, and in your account you can get the URL for the m4a file of any episode. I share that as well, in case any of my listeners prefer to download it.

That’s it! You’re done.

Your listeners only have to add your feed URL once. From here, you can publish more episodes, and they will automatically show up for your listeners.

If you’re curious about what would make your podcast show up in public directories, it’s just that you have to go through an extra step of submitting your podcast info to the big directories: Apple, Google, Spotify, maybe a few more. Most other podcast apps pull from one of these directories, so just submitting to the biggest ones should be sufficient to make your podcast available in almost any app. If you want to do that, your podcast hosting service will walk you through the process, as it’s one of the main steps in starting a real podcast. And there is tons of info online about that part. No biggie. Skipping that step is what keeps your podcast semi-private.

Happy podcasting!