Adventures in Podcasting 5: miscellaneous

The potted guide to podcasting is almost complete. I’ve spilt the beans on hardware, software, sound quality and editing, so here are the leftovers. If there’s anything else you want to know about, pipe up in the comments.

• Help

This is the most valuable piece of advice I can give you:

Don’t ask anyone to listen to your early episodes. And NEVER the first episode. Because there’s a good chance the first episode will be a bit rubbish, and then the people you’ve asked to listen to it will quite probably never give your podcast another shot, even when it has become excellent.

Wait to ask till you’ve been podcasting for at least three months or ten episodes, whichever equates to the greater number of episodes. Even when made by experienced broadcasters, a podcast takes a while to establish its tone, its format, its shape, its voice. While this is taking place, you kind of have to ignore the help of others and find your own feet. And by the time you’ve found them, you might not want or need other people sticking their oars in anyway.

• Keep yourself regular

I hate to shatter your illusions, but as hobbies go, podcasting is quite Not Fun. It is hard work, surprisingly time-consuming, and quite dispiriting at the beginning, when you discover that you’re not as good at it as you expected. Even if you are an experienced broadcaster, your first few episodes aren’t likely to be super; and if you’re not, prepare to hate your own voice and every single word it forms.

Duly disappointed, you might be tempted to waylay your next podcast until you feel like doing it again. But don’t! Because you probably never will feel like it. Had we not determined from the beginning that Answer Me This! would come out every Thursday, we would have foundered by the third episode or so.

So, set yourself a regular deadline – weekly or fortnightly is good – and you’ll not only have to get over your own noob deficiencies and move on, but also you’ll learn and improve far more rapidly and efficiently than if you only make a podcast once every several weeks. Moreover, if a listener is becoming keen on your podcast, they’ll want a regular dose, to fuel them on the path to addiction.

• Length

We decided early on that 25-30 minutes was the optimal duration for Answer Me This!: it seemed to fit in with a commuter journey, and isn’t too great a commitment for the listener. I’d imagine that spending any more time per week in our company would be intolerable.

Your company might be more tolerable than ours, but still, don’t outstay your welcome (as discussed in my previous post about editing). There are only three or four podcasts to which I am willing to surrender my ears for more than around 40 minutes.

Can you make a podcast too short? I dunno. Once you’ve made a few episodes, discovered the integral character and/or straightened out the format, and listened back a few times, you’ll have an inkling of the appropriate length.

• Name

You want a name that will date well – ie isn’t a pun on ‘pod’ (so 2006!). You also want this name to be googleable, so not a name shared by a far bigger operation, or such a common word so that you haven’t a hope of appearing within the first 10,000,000 search results. That said, you’re shooting yourself in the foot with a name that is so esoteric, it’s impossible to remember.

I’d also suggest opting for a name that doesn’t suggest friends just mucking around whimsically. Why would I listen to a podcast advertising itself as ‘random’, ‘waffle’ or ‘rant’ when I could simply tune into my inner monologue?

• Format

You don’t have to have one, but it can be useful, because it’s difficult to pluck conversation from thin air. The format of Answer Me This! always provides a spine for the show. It also invites audience interaction, which is a way to keep the audience interested week after week – and provides some relief from our opining.

If you do opt for a format, make it one that is explicable in a sentence. And choose one that facilitates conversation, not limits it: a very elaborate or specific concept may pen you in.

• Artwork

Concoct a nice and clear graphic to brand your podcast – browse the iTunes store, where you will immediately see ones that work and that don’t.

We were lucky that Olly’s girlfriend is a graphic designer, so she charitably dealt with this side for us.

• Jingles

They are not compulsory, but you might like a little bit of music to provide an audio signature for your show at the beginning and/or end. Aural branding, yeah?

We do use quite a lot of jingles in Answer Me This! – indeed, they were the only things worth listening to in our first several episodes. They punctuate the show, plus provide a more memorable and amusing way of repeatedly delivering boring information, like our lengthy email address.

If you do decide to deploy music, be wary of copyright. We circumvent this issue by only using music made in-house by Martin and our various musical friends, but there are plenty of copyright-free tracks available online. Remember to credit the composer somewhere on your website.

If you are planning on making a music-based podcast, contact PRS, who offer a range of licences depending upon the scale of your operation.

Ta-da! You now know all you need to know to venture forth into the world of podcasting.
I hope you have a good time therein.

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5 Comments to “Adventures in Podcasting 5: miscellaneous”

  1. Hi, Helen! Discovered you through the Allusionist and have recently decided to pick up podcasting for myself, less to gain an audience and more to practice storytelling and audio editing for the benefit of other projects. I’ve read through your ‘Potted Guide to Podcasting’ – thank you for the resource! – and have an additional question or two.

    First is about pacing. …how do I think about it? Not the individual episodes, but the workload. My format will probably be similar to your Allusionist, ~15min biweekly. I’m trying to set realistic deadlines for research/outlining-writing/recording/editing. I’m also wondering if weeks will start to overlap; if I’m working on episodes 12, 15, and 17 while recording #11, how do I make sure I’m prioritizing the right work at the right time? …I’m trying to figure out how to keep this side project from swarming over and swallowing the whole rest of my life. Any suggestions? Either how to manage the multiple episodes, or how to think about what “done” means? I know a lot of this will work itself out once I get into it and am in the groove for a little while, but some head-coaching beforehand would go a long way for me.

    Thanks in advance!

    (FYI – link to “podcasters on podcasting” on your homepage is broken. Which is a bummer, because I was interested to check it out.)

    And thanks for Allusionist. It is always a great day when a new episode shows up in my feed.

    Cheers,

    Jess

    • Hello Jess! Here are the podcaster interviews: https://soundcloud.com/answermethis/sets/podcasters-on-podcasting Bear in mind they’re from early 2014, so things have changed a little, but there might still be some useful stuff.

      Re your question: I’m not naturally organised so unfortunately have no specific or sensible advice for you on this front, but if you establish a deadline/release date for each episode, you can work back from that to figure out what you should be doing when. You’ll figure out your own pace once you’ve been doing the show for a while and have found your rhythm. Eg, some people like doing all their editing for a bunch of episodes in one go; others will do all the tasks for one episode at a time. Consider what fits in with your temperament, and the other commitments you have in your life.

  2. I would listen to longer podcasts, but I agree that 25 to 30 minutes work best, with your format. I am addicted to listening to podcasts, because I can only get BBC through the internet, so I download podcasts onto my phone for when I am out. (The downside of living in France) They are all BBC except for yours, and generally are about medicine, science, (including the Infinite Monkey Cage in that category) or are documentaries. I discovered AMT because it was in a list of suggestions on my phone…and it was serendipitous!
    I love it and have persuaded all three of my offspring to listen. It gives me lots of information about the culture and language (I also thought mingey was a word describing something/one mean and whingey) and it feels like having friends in the car with me. I also love the music…I wish the jingles were available on your webpage as Mp3s,

  3. The only thing I always quibble with is the issue of length.

    Don’t get me wrong I understand all the short attention span, busy lives, better short and good than long and boring arguments. But first of all nearly all the podcasts I listen to are around an hour long. This is the same with quite a few of the radio shows I listen to, generally 45 mins to an hour. Then there is the commute length thing. My commute is 1 hour each way. But even if it was half an hour that’s an hour to fill each day of the week. Then there’s many people who listen to podcasts while they work.

    But it does seem true that on the UK it is much harder to engage people with longform podcasts. In the US there may be a lot of longform podcasts, but their niche markets are much bigger than ours as they have a larger population. I guess that’s what sustains the podcast length. Plus people will listen to an hour of a famous comedian rhry’ve heard of, interesting them in an hour with someone they haven’t heard of is a much harder sell.

    But I love the longform style. The RadioLab or WTF formats. So I persevere. Partly because I think the UK may change their minds about length, partly because I think that the global nature of podcasting means I may be able to tap into the US longform podcast listenership, but mostly because it’s what I love, and if I’m going to spend all the rubbish boring and stressful time making podcasts then I might as well do ones I love.

    Thanks for sharing your process. It’s always good to hear how others are doing it.

    • I think one of the reasons why longform podcasts have more currency in the US is because a lot of listeners are seeking from podcasts what, in the UK, is supplied by the BBC and other national radio networks.

      I’m not saying long podcasts can’t or shouldn’t work, but particularly if one is a podcasting novice, not overstaying your welcome is desirable, whilst one is learning how to podcast and trying to gain an audience. Whereas I know you, Dave, to be a seasoned and expert podcaster! Also WTF and Radiolab are really, really good podcasts, amongst the best in the world – so perhaps are the exceptions rather than the rule? As I said, I do listen to a handful of long podcasts – chiefly those two and This American Life, but all are examples of shows where a great deal of thought has gone into the pace and editing. They’re not lengthy for the sake of being lengthy.

      Meanwhile, the most popular podcast in France is only a couple of minutes long. Takes all sorts.

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