As a kid listening to Calgary’s QR77 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM block of late-night programming, these are the programs I grew up on: Four half-hour radio programs each night, in genres ranging from suspense (such as, well, Suspense) to crime thrillers (The Shadow), to comedies (Hancock’s Half Hour, The Goon Show, Ozzie & Harriet, so many more).
These are shows sponsored by spark plug manufacturers, insurance policies and cigarette men. They’re fantastic little time capsules, with every star on their way up, and ever classic trope riffed off of a million different ways over since. This is where I learned that radio was, for comedians and interviewers alike, a place to hone their skills. A cost-effective medium for sharpen show formats and build an audience, always dreaming of crossing over into a bigger medium.
Any effects of chronic insomnia I may suffer now I pretend to attribute to some other cause. Forcing myself to stay awake to hang out with a radio wasn’t the best idea (I rose early to figure-skate) but I had become obsessed. From this obsession grew a long-running dream to create a radio show which naturally, in time, led to a dream of podcasting.
Podcasts had been on the rise since I was in junior high, gradually overcoming consumer doubt to become a key piece of the content-on-demand system we now take for granted. They’d become a cost-effective new way for my favourite comedians to put themselves out to the internet audience, and a format in which weird young audio buffs to realize their odd little stories.
The dream of podcasting is much more easily realized than the dream of being on the radio. Unless of course you count your time spent as a DJ in college, which I absolutely do and why yes I was a DJ during my undergrad, thank you for asking. Anyway, the dream of podcasting basically leads directly to podcasting.
It’s an easier goal, but not one without stumbling blocks. Podcasts fall apart for many reasons, the most common of which comes down to a lack of commitment on the part of the creators. I’ve had two podcasts before now crash and burn after five episodes, where creative partners can lose faith in the project, and the will to produce. These are passion projects, and passion can burn out quickly. It’s a disheartening process at times, but never say die! You quickly learn to spot the red flags, and there’s an enormous pool of creative talent out there online to partner up with.
I’ve recently re-entered the ring as far as producing podcasts go: I’m a co-creator of the TV Donut podcast, available now HERE on iTunes. I’ve created this podcast with two writers I met in the Vancouver Film School as a recurring exercise to dissect storytelling in television and web series. I’m helping produce an upcoming podcast called The BachelorEats about food, comedy, and feminist issues, hosted by two amazing Vancouver actors and comedians. It’s always a blast, and makes creating the podcasts a reward in and of itself.
[Note: One of said talents is Caotica’s own dynamo/voice-acting-weirdo Racquel Belmonte, check out her writing HERE.]
These are new projects, sure, don’t look for our 100,000 downloads a month just yet. But they’ve got me thinking about all the things I wish I’d at least known the first time around. Making a podcast isn’t easy, but it’s easier than garnering an audience, something I still work at daily. So consider this my personal list of Podcast 101 resolutions, mantras that I share with you free of charge.
Here are 15 tips to help strengthen your podcast:
- Listen to your audio quality.
This one is absolutely mandatory. It’s said that with film, an audience can tolerate bad picture but will refuse to tolerate bad sound. Obviously in podcasting, sound is all you’ve got. While you may not have money available to invest in high quality sound recording equipment, taking notice of your environment is free.A room full of people cross-talking over a single, omnidirectional mic will create a senseless babble. If you have your windows open, your audience will be listening to traffic. Keep bumping the mic stand? Yes, we will hear that.Your audience can tolerate a bad quality episode once in a while, say for a live event, but it’s not going to win anyone over if it’s the first episode they hear.
- Have 2-5 episodes under your belt BEFORE advertising.
Boy-oh-boy, do I wish I’d known this one before inviting every single person I know to “like/share/review” my first podcast. I left the country for a month, and though we released consistently in that time, my partner effectively fell off the face of the earth while I was gone. It’s immensely embarrassing to tell everyone you know about your new venture, only to have it then immediately fail for a reason as boring as apathy. Had I waited, Icould’ve released the existing episodes as a bundle of content, and spared myselfthe embarrassment of over committing.This is also a problem we met with the BachelorEats: after recording two episodes, the talent and I realized just how confusing our format was. Looking back, it’s hard to say we even had a format. We sat down, redefined the show, and came back fresh. If we’d just started publicizing the day we began recording, we’d be pressured to live up to a deadline with an inferior product. Now, we’ve two new episodes in the can that we feel we can put our names behind, and some interesting raw footage now dubbed the “test eps” that we can cut into bonus footage. Anything is interesting if you edit it correctly, after all.Waiting to publicize means being absolutely certain you can make the long-term commitment to putting out quality content on a regular basis. See “consistency” further down this list.
- Promote, Promote, Promote
An audience doesn’t just happen, you have to keep telling people to check you out, where to find you, and why they should care. Guest on other shows, bring guests on your show, cross promote between similar (or dissimilar) programs, offer yourself up for interviews, social media, blogs, stickers, quizzes, online promotions, whatever you have to do to get noticed you should do it.Most people never get comfortable marketing themselves (myself included), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it if you want to put yourself out there.
- Have a website.
It’s not mandatory, but having somewhere online where people can see your playlists and learn more about the reason your podcast exists is the first step in persuading them to listen. But having something more than “find us on iTunes”, or thirdparty.yourpodcast.com, will lend you legitimacy and mark you for a distinct brand. Check if your domain is available with this nifty tool.Spend the money it’s worth it.
(Domain search tool courtesy of Lexicom web services.)
- Have a media server.
There is no free lunch. You need room to store your podcasts and an RSS feed to get your podcast into podcast directories. Most of the “free” options will not last a serious podcast long, some are poorly designed, and migrating your work off of the initial site may seriously disrupt your content distribution. Sooner or later, one way or another, you’ll have to invest in your content.
Same rule as #3: Find a good company and pony up already.
- Consistency is KEY.
Even more important than how often you schedule your work, is how consistently it appears. If you promise a podcast every week, you have to be sure you can meet those deadlines. If you can’t meet a deadline, make sure you communicate with the people who are already listening. Always be in touch with your fans.
- Be Your Biggest Fan
Nobody else will. You have to be your biggest promoter, your harshest critic, and the person who tells you to keep going in the face of seeming indifference. It takes time for a podcast to catch on, so if you don’t love what you’re doing then nobody will. And if you don’t love what you’re podcasting, ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Above all else, podcasts are a passion project. You should love what you’re creating, and have fun doing it.
- Don’t Wait For The Fans
If you don’t see the reaction or audience you want immediately, don’t give up. You’re doing this for yourself, and you have to trust that if you have a good product, people will come. Podcasts can take years to really start seeing results, but it may also take you that long to really get your format and patter down. Stick with it, and do it for yourself. Don’t expect people to start showing up just because you have a good show either though, you still have to promote, promote, promote.
- Don’t Wait For the Money
Unless you’re a celebrity, don’t expect to draw enough people to make any money doing this. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to cover costs with a banner ad or something like that. Less than 10% of podcasts actually turn a livable profit. Otherwise, this podcast is just a piece in your portfolio and a neat little hobby for your own amusement. Then again, a 10% success rate is nothing to sneeze at.
- Originality: What’s Your Hook?
Try defining your show. Is it unique? Are there a million other shows just like it out there? Is there a topic you approach that fits a niche? How will you make yourself stand out in the sea of thousands of podcasts available, free, online? Are you a specialist, or do you at least offer a special perspective? If you don’t know what makes your show unique, nobody else will either.
- If You Don’t Like Your Audio, Don’t Release It
Or, if you’re going to release it, don’t spend a lot of time apologizing for it. Ideally, you should love everything you put out, but if you really think it’s important to get a scratchy, muffled episode up for some reason (a killer guest), then try to keep your pathetic excuses and apologies short. Nobody really cares what your reason for failing is, not really. All the audience knows is this weeks episode sucks eggs.
- Be About Something, Be Prepared
Even improv podcasts take suggestions and have a mission in mind. If you’re relying entirely on your ability to improvise for the bulk of your show, it’s going to end in much hemming and hawing and stretching for time. Your show will be a wasteland, devoid of content and listeners alike. Very, very few people are that quick or that funny, and nobody wants to listen to you practicing to get to that level. At least have something specific as a topic or theme that you can work off of, some sort of foundation and touchstone you can return to when you flounder.Being prepared wasn’t cheating in school, and it’s not cheating here.
- Get Listed
There are tons of podcast directories out there, waiting to help direct interesting listeners toward your work. Don’t be afraid to submit yourself, once you have a few episodes up and at the ready. Some directories won’t even look at you until you have a few episodes backing you up, and some decent cover art, but applications themselves are straightforward and fast. There’s no excuse not to.
I hope some of these tips will inspire you, or help you get a little extra boost to your podcast audience. If you have a tip I missed, or want to take part in some podcast cross promotion, please leave your thoughts and podcasts in the comments!