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Blog // Creativity // Technology
June 3, 2016

5 Lessons I Learnt (The Hard Way) About Podcasting

Podcasts seem to be more popular than ever. There’s new ones popping up all the time. Apparently most new podcasters give up after 3 episodes. I’m not sure if that is true, or it’s just a random factoid about podcasting that’s floating around the inter webs. But, it does make me feel good about the […]

Podcasts seem to be more popular than ever. There’s new ones popping up all the time. Apparently most new podcasters give up after 3 episodes. I’m not sure if that is true, or it’s just a random factoid about podcasting that’s floating around the inter webs. But, it does make me feel good about the 80 episodes I managed to help push out with The Society For Film.

Reading a few articles recently on the common mistakes podcasters make (7 Common Mistakes Podcasters Are Making and 5 Surprising Reasons Why Good Podcasts Fail to Get Noticed) made me realise that although The Society For Film’s podcast wasn’t hugely successful, I did learn a lot over the 2.5 years of putting out the podcast, both from personal experience and reaching out to people who had worked in podcasting and radio production.

1. Meet A Need And Have A Motivation

Why are you doing this? Why would anyone want to listen to you? If I had my time with The Society For Film podcast again, the biggest change I would make is to print out the these two questions and have them in front of me before every podcast recording, while editing every episode and during every meeting and conversation about the show.

If you just want to have fun (or express your opinion) then you can just choose any format that suits you and go for it. But, if you have some other goal, like attracting lots of listeners, then you’ll need to ask some hard questions about why people listen to podcasts and why they would want to listen yours.

Trying to appeal to everybody is unlikely to work. That’s because trying to think about everybody’s needs is an impossible task; it will make your head crack. As soon as you start narrowing down your possible audience, their needs and listening habits become easier to identify, and your job of trying to help, entertain and inspire them becomes more manageable.

2. Sort Out The Technical Stuff Early

Sound quality matters. You don’t need really high end studio gear to record a podcast, but you have to make sure listeners can understand what’s being said. People often listen to podcasts in noisy environments, while commuting, or doing household chores and if they can’t make out what’s being said, they will tune out. I worked hard on the sound quality good with The Society For Film, but on the 3-4 occasions where the sound quality was poor, for reasons outside my control, I always heard back from people about it. I believe those poor episodes affected our long term audience size.

Also, there are some technical hurdles like getting your podcast feed onto iTunes and other podcasting platforms. Early on I cut some corners, trying to keep my hosting costs down and moving fast to get the podcast running (running the site on a shared account and not documenting everything well). This came back to haunt me later as I put the project through some rounds of improvement.

3. Give People A Reason To Listen Right Away – Every Time

I composed a great intro theme for The Society For Film. The music fit the mood we were going for very well. But, we ran it right at the start of each episode, with no prior voice over. And, I don’t think that was a smart move.

The most popular podcasts listen to all starting with something engaging and intriguing, right away. A podcast only has a few seconds to convince listeners that they’ve made the right decision, not just in general, but for every single episode.

4. Play To Your Strengths

When The Society For Film podcast was good, it was probably 20% down to my editing and production and 80% because my former collaborator, James Marsh is a very good film critic. He’s a professional, I’m just a passionate amateur. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of films and I’ve written the odd bit of serious film criticism (many years ago), but reviewing films has never been my job, let along keeping up with current film news or the views of other critics. There were too many times when I couldn’t really contribute much.

Trying to address your weaknesses while producing something is virtually impossible. It’s like doubling your workload while halving your confidence. Going into the project I was confident talking about some things, like world cinema, soundtracks and cinematography, but I didn’t end up focussing on that and over time my confidence dwindled.

This is especially important because most podcasters do it as a side-project not a full-time job. It’s easy if the preparation and research is already happening in your life and work, but as soon as you start to go beyond that, it gets hard to manage your time and energy if you are podcasting about things that aren’t in your set of strengths.

5. You Most Important Job Isn’t To Put Out A Podcast It’s To Pull In A Community

It can take a lot of work to put out a podcast episode and it’s tempting to think that once you upload, your job is done. Actually, it’s only just begun.

A lot of the most important stuff happens after the podcast episodes go out. You can spam your social media as much as you want, but what really makes a difference is when your listeners share your work, and when they start talking about. Those conversations are gold, they will tell you what your listeners needs and habits are and the best podcasters draw their community in, building a close, loyal relationship that helps shape the direction of the podcast

There’s perhaps no more important time for this than when you launch. This might seem odd, since many podcasters start with no audience hoping one will “find” one. But, on iTunes you only have a few weeks to get enough traffic and positive reviews to be featured on the New And Noteworthy listings. After that, it becomes very hard for listeners to find your podcast without that initial burst of interest.

Would I Get Into Podcasting Again?

I’ve been asked this almost weekly since I stopped working on The Society For Film. The short answer is yes, I’d love to. The long answer is, right now it’s not a priority and it probably won’t be for a few years (see my Now Page) and I would want to do things differently next time. Don’t take this as an exhaustive list, but it’s my checklist for future use.

  • Have a clearly defined audience and evidence that audience would respond to a new podcast.
  • Have a budget; enough to cover website hosting, some graphic design and probably some PR and copywriting.
  • Have a location, with all co-hosts and regulars to record in-studio (not over Skype, or remotely).
  • Have an editorial calendar and a plan for growing a community.
  • Have a really narrow focus. I wouldn’t get excited about “photography in general” but a podcast about “street photography in Asia,” might.
  • NOTE: In September 2018 I started a new podcast called Seventeen Trees


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