How Do I Get into iTunes? (You Need a Podcast Media Host)
[UPDATE: Since this article was first written, Apple announced it’s officially fading out iTunes for everyone expect non-Mac desktop users.]
When I first started listening to podcasts in 2004, they hadn’t even been added to iTunes yet. Streaming wasn’t a huge thing — Netflix was still a DVD service — but I loved the idea of on-demand-programming. Especially as a student, I liked the idea of listening to something on my own time and not having to miss out because I was in class or with friends (On the Media was the first podcast I listened to in case you are curious).
Somehow I figured out how to download podcasts to my computer. I used a ‘podcast receiving’ program that had a lemon on it. I think the program was called Juice? Anyway, it all seemed so complex and magical. How were these podcasts getting to me?
In 2005, iTunes added podcasts to their directory, making life much easier for podcast listeners. In 2007, we got the iPhone, and then in 2012, Apple released a stand-alone podcast listening app for its iOS devices. This has helped make podcast listening a snap, but for podcasters, it’s still not obvious how do you get your podcast into iTunes and Apple Podcasts. Here’s how: you need a podcast media host.
On episode 11 of Podcasting Step by Step, I explain what a podcast media host is, why you need one, and how your media host gets you into iTunes and other podcast directories.
My favorite podcast media host is Libsyn. They’re my host and I like them so much I signed up to be an affiliate partner. This means I can offer you up to two months of free podcast media hosting with Libsyn if you sign up using my code POSTCARD. Top tips on how to get the most out of your discount can be found at the end of this article.
A podcast media host stores your audio files and sends them out into the world when people request them, either by subscribing to your show and/or downloading individual episodes. When you upload and publish a new episode to your podcast media host, your new content will get picked up by the podcast directories you submitted to, like iTunes. That’s right, iTunes is only a directory, you don’t upload your shows there. Once the directories refresh with your new content, podcast listening apps -- my favorite is Overcast -- will pull that new content and deliver it to subscribers. This all happens via RSS feed.
What’s an RSS feed?
Have you ever subscribed to someone’s blog? It works the same way. You’re creating a syndicated show that people subscribe to. When you sign up with a podcast media host, like Libsyn, which is the host I use for both my podcasts, they will create an RSS feed for you. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, I believe it originally stood for Rich Site Summary. It doesn’t really matter to me. All I know is that my media host takes care of this for me and I don’t have to worry about it.
Why you need a media host dedicated to podcasts
If you have a website for your podcast, and you should, you may have the option to use your website to host your podcast. I would not do that. You could run into bandwidth problems that will slow down your site and cause download issues for listeners, and with 700,000 podcasts out there, you don’t want to give people any reason to walk away from your show. Plus, website hosts are not podcast experts.
Benefits of a good podcast media host
support from people who understand podcasting and can help you with questions and tech challenges;
stats about your show;
premium content options, like an app for your show;
a podcast player for your website;
a basic website; and
they’ll make it easy to leave if you want to take your show elsewhere.
Not all podcast media hosts offer those benefits. Libsyn does, and I’ve been very happy with them. Plans start at $5 per month. I’m on the $20-a-month-plan, which gives you more stats, like download numbers and where people are listening.
There are some free hosts out there, like Anchor, but I think paying for hosting with an experienced host company is absolutely worth it because of the support they offer.
Also, we should pay for the things we value so these companies can stick around and keep serving us in the future. I’ve heard several stories of free media hosts going out of business because they weren’t making any money. Now, Spotify has acquired Anchor for millions, so who knows what will happen there. There are several good hosts out there. For me, Libsyn is the way to go.
Getting your podcast in all the places
Once you pick your podcast media host and sign up for a plan, you’ll register your show. This means you’re going to have to add some information before you start uploading any audio files. This includes info crucial to your show that you have already decided, like:
Your podcast title
Your show description
Your website link
Serial or episodic?
Episodic: generally ordered so your newest content is on top. Serial shows telling a linear story start from the beginning.
The author — you
This can be your name and year.
your square logo needs to be between 1400x1400 and 3000x3000 pixels (see full art specs here).
If you want to make sure your artwork is the right size, use a tool like Canva. I use this service to create almost all of my podcast images. They have a very generous free tier, and I like them so much I’m on their pro tier.
If you don’t meet the art requirements for iTunes, they will reject your show and you’ll have to resubmit. Most podcasts, at least in the U.S., are still being consumed via Apple Podcasts and iTunes, so you want to make sure you’re in that directory. Plus, other podcast players are going to pull your content from iTunes, so you want to make sure you’re there.
Also, sidenote: as of 2019, iTunes and Apple Podcasts both still exist and there’s confusion about what the difference is. Apple Podcasts refers to the podcast app that’s automatically included with your iPhone. iTunes refers to the desktop app, which includes podcasts and other content, like films. This could change at any time, but for now, podcasts are still in iTunes on the desktop.
Configuring your RSS feed
After you set up your show with the basic information, you’ll need to configure your RSS feed. If you go with Libsyn, you’ll choose the Classic Feed and fill out iTunes information, like iTunes Categories and iTunes Summary (fun fact: Religion, Music, and Comedy are the most popular categories), the language of your podcast, whether its explicit, and your author tag.
Once you input and save all your information, Libsyn will generate an RSS feed URL. Copy and paste your RSS feed URL and keep it in a safe place -- a spreadsheet or document or in a project management tool like Airtable or Asana -- with other information about your podcast.
Uploading your trailer
Once you have your RSS feed, you can add your first episode. This should be your trailer, also known as episode zero. You’ll be asked to upload your audio, then to add details, like the episode title/subtitle/description (this is what will show up in the podcast players).
If using Libsyn, to optimize for iTunes, fill out the iTunes section separately.
The iTunes title is searchable, so make sure your title is something people will be searching for.
The iTunes summary is just a line or two summary for iTunes. It’s not your full description and you cannot put links here.
Episode type: full episode, trailer, or bonus.
Season number (you don’t have to add a season number if you’re not doing seasons)
Rating: Not set, explicit, or clean.
If you have the time/inclination, you can create episode-specific art to show up in podcast players. For me, it’s not worth the time, so I don’t create art for every show. Instead, Libsyn just pulls my show’s logo.
Save and hit publish!
Getting into iTunes
It’s only after you hit publish on an episode that you can submit your show to iTunes. This is because you need to have a show to submit -- you can’t submit an empty feed. Apple wants to make sure you have a legit show.
Submit your RSS feed to Podcasts Connect
Set up an Apple ID if you don’t have one.
When you’re ready to submit your RSS feed to get onto iTunes/Apple Podcasts, you do this via a platform called Podcasts Connect. Podcastsconnect.apple.com
Log on then add your RSS feed.
Validate -- check that everything looks OK. If it doesn’t, it’s likely the size of your artwork tripping you up. Go back and fix then validate until your status looks good to go. You should see a green dot and the words ‘Prepared for Submission.’
You’ll get an email saying whether your show is approved or not. It can take a week for approval and another week for the show to be indexed and show up in directories.
After you’re approved, you don’t need to resubmit anything to Podcasts Connect -- iTunes and Apple Podcasts will pull all your new content from your podcast media host.
You’ll have to manually submit to get added to some other directories, like Stitcher and TuneIn. A host like Libsyn will make it easy for you to get added to others, like Spotify. Right now, Google Podcasts adds new shows by scraping RSS feeds. If you can’t find yours, contact your podcast media host for help.
Summing all this up
Aside from your mic, your podcast media host is your most important podcasting essential. When you publish a new episode to your podcast media host, the directories will refresh with your new content and make sure it gets to your subscribers. Apple Podcasts/iTunes is still responsible for most podcast consumption — make sure you’re in there!
Get up to two months of media hosting for free
To get up to two months of podcast media hosting for free, sign up for a Libsyn plan using my promo code POSTCARD.
Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck:
When you sign up with the code POSTCARD, you’ll get the rest of the current month free plus the next month. Libysn bills on the first of the month, so to get the most out of the discount, sign up on the 1st. If you sign up on the 15th, you’ll only get a month-and-a-half free, and if you sign up at the end of the month, you’ll only be getting the next month free.
Suggestion: sign up for the highest tier to explore Libsyn’s stats. You can always downgrade right before your free trial ends. But don’t switch in the middle of your trial. For some reason, that switch triggers an end to your freebie and the beginning of your subscription plan.