Three Idiot-proof Ways to Improve Your Podcast
If I believe one thing, it’s that there’s no objective “good” in podcasting. Sometimes people will recommend me a show and I’ll listen along and get nothing out of it. How could someone consider that good? I think to myself.
And then, conversely, I’ll often evangelise for something that proves divisive, like the Monster true crime series or Kim Noble’s Futile Attempts. And my recommendees will listen and stare at me like I’ve just announced I’m a tabby cat called Colin. Or, even more likely, I produce work of my own that is definitely imperfect. Some people love my podcasts, some people (freaks) don’t. All that means is that we live in a subjective world. And subjectivity can be the enemy of improvement. I meet podcasters all the time who will refuse to do things that would materially improve their product, because they believe in a different creative or aesthetic vision to their audience. Who’s to say they’re wrong? (Well, me.)
But there are also objective (or as close as we get to objectivity in this medium) ways for improving your podcast. These are tips that don’t mess with the content or the tone, don’t ask you to change your ideas or go from spots to stripes. You — the podcaster — have the seed, in your mind, that will make the podcast good or bad. If it’s good, it’ll be your victory, and if it’s bad, it’ll be your fault. For me, some hack at a computer, to try to change that would be lunacy. But here are three idiot-proof ways that you can improve your podcast without compromising your integrity.
- See each episode of your podcast as a step on a journey. This sounds like the sort of inspirational bollocks that regular readers will know I’m allergic to, but the reality is that each episode is a step on a journey. Your first episode is only the first step you take towards your centenary episode. But that first episode is also the first step you’ll take towards success or failure. I often encounter people who have a real clear vision, episode by episode, for what they’re trying to do, whether that’s “I want to claim that my uncle is the Zodiac killer” or “I want to sit in my mom’s basement, drink beer and talk about Dragonball Z with my friends”. Putting aside whether these are good ideas, what they often lack is a coherence for turning ‘episode’ into ‘series’. Your podcast needs to be a series; it needs to have a coherent sense of momentum carrying listeners over from episode to episode. So before you release that first episode, think about where you want to end up. Each episode is just a step on the way to that destination.
- Nobody has ever regretted over-preparing. Well, I’m sure someone has. But as a rule, over-prep is a thousand times better than under-prep. This isn’t just about content either, though I always recommend that people write the framework of their scripts (and some verbatim form of any interview questions) before they start recording. This is also about knowing your market — knowing the podcasts that listeners love, the podcasts that are your competitors and the podcasts that you want to emulate. This is about knowing the companies that might support your enterprise, from distributors through to hosts, from advertising agencies to trade publications. I meet A LOT of podcasters who love the product that they’re making but really know nothing about podcasting as a whole. Can you imagine what the films of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino would look like if those dudes weren’t massive cinephiles? (Don’t say: better). How would the books of Stephen King or Hilary Mantel read if they weren’t both voracious readers? There are so many ways that you can prepare before hitting record on your podcast. The idea is only the start of things.
- Hire me. Here comes the shill. I run a production company here in London, Podot, and we produce a lot of great podcasts for clients in the UK and abroad (we work with podcasters and publishers in the US and Australia as well as the UK). Working with a production company, if you can afford it, will improve your podcast — it will give you the brain space to focus on the things you love, and leave the rest to the experts. So if you need help with production and editing, do get in touch with me. But even if you don’t want, or can’t afford, to hand over the production reins, I do a lot of hands-on and (hopefully) helpful consulting and coaching. I’ve made hundreds (possibly thousands at this point) of hours of podcasts, for major publications, international corporates and tiny indies. I’ve had rave reviews for my shows in the FT, Guardian, Esquire, Sunday Times, Daily Mail and many more. And I love helping indie podcasters find their voice, and, in finding that voice, find their audience. So drop me an email to email@example.com if you want to set-up a call and discuss some freelance coaching or consulting.
Oh, and, as ever, do subscribe to my newsletter (free to all clients!) and follow me on Twitter. Thanks for reading this piece that you didn’t realise, until the final paragraph, was a stealth advert! Haha, call me Don Draper *glugs bourbon* *regurgitates bourbon*.