This is a subject I love to gab away about because it's my profession. I am a graphic designer and I do all my own graphics (most anyways). If you are not sure which graphics I have done on the AM Podcast Network, it's all the album covers, banners, and I am sure there will be lots more to come in the future. You can also see my blog to see a lot more artwork I have done. Some people just go with a very simple 1400 x 1400 px cover, while others either invest in having a pro do their cover or take on the project themselves.
If you don't have the software, the skills, or the time to create an album cover (I use this terminology because it's essentially what it is without the album), then you can use a freelancer. Finding a freelancer can be challenging by not impossible. My advice is to review portfolios, ask questions, and without a doubt, be very reasonable in your expectations. If you think you are getting a $1,000 cover for cheap it's not going to happen. The cover is also not going to make or break your podcast. The cover is to give your podcast an identity and hopefully catch some eyes. Expect to pay $25-$200 for a good cover, and a lot of it depends on the detail and scope of work.
Some places to hire from:
Goals of Cover Art
Now that I gave you a place to start looking for people to help you (if you needed it), let's talk about what kind of art you should be using. I try to use artwork that pops out a bit, which in some cases means using 1-2 bright colors that are easy on the eyes. I also try to match the tone of my podcast and use graphics that would compliment what my show is about. I try to stay away from dark colors if possible. I used a dark palette for the B-Holes Like Us show mostly because it's a very "dark" type of humor. It actually matches the show, but it doesn't catch the eye. I missed the balance on that one.
You should also be using a 1400 x 1400 high definition file so it can be submitted to iTunes through an RSS feed. It's a basic requirement for being listed in iTunes. It's also great to have so you can scale it down to smaller sizes without losing quality. I prefer to use a .png file where possible, but a .jpg or .jpeg is best for a compressed size. Make sure you know the deliverables before you hire someone so you can once again manage the expectations of the project.
Cover art should be simple and recognizable especially for a returning user. It should not be changed often, as that could led to confusion and become a distraction. It should be fitting and fun. If you aren't sure what you want, why not browse the iTunes store or Soundcloud and see what others have already developed. There are thousands of podcast artwork out there to browse through already.
Software to Make Cover Art
Maybe you are ready to make it yourself. If that's the case you want to look at Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Fireworks if you have these already. If not, you might not want to buy them once you see the price tag and opt for a free version instead. Free programs exist such as Gimp, Inkspace, Paint.net, and Dogwaffle just to name a few. Playing around a bit and getting the creative juices flowing could be exactly what you need. Sometimes you'll create something that you will appreciate more too!
Remember though that you are not creating a logo. I will cover logos separately so we don't mix and match.
Always remember to find colors that compliment, photos that match your podcast, and text that is fitting. Please don't use Comic Sans, it automatically downgrades your entire project just because it's Comic Sans. No matter which software you choose to try, the whole point of the exercise is to have fun and create something that suits your needs. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed at any time, walk away or hire a freelancer. Your time is better spent creating podcasts.
I could write a book on creating cover art. There is literally millions of ways to develop a piece but it's up to you to find the right one that represents your personality and your podcast. Without it, not many will pay attention. If you are still stuck or have comments, please leave them below. I will be happy to answer them for you. If you are still stuck after that, let me know and depending on my schedule/work load maybe I can do one for you. I will charge a reasonable rate depending on the scope of work.
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Developing An Album Cover For Your Podcasts
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