What I learned from 1 year of podcasting

Today is the 1st birthday of MATE podcast. It was exactly 1 year ago, on 10th April 2016, that I launched the first episode of MATE, talking about artificial intelligence with Jayden Seric. Here’s what I learned from 1 year of podcasting …

1. Just get started; you’ll learn as you go. I spent years trying to muster the courage to make my podcast, and even after I decided to give it a crack I wasted over a year before launching it. But in the end, none of my elongated preparation (read: procrastination) mattered. No matter how much research I did … NOTHING could have prepared me for what I was about to encounter. You don’t know what you don’t know. So the best advice I can give is to just get started. You’ll figure it out along the way.

2. You’re going to suck. I knew this, but as a self-confessed perfectionist, I really wanted to make episode 1 as amazing as I could make it. And when I released it, I was so proud … I had never heard anything more beautiful. It’s funny, because now that I have a year of experience under my belt, I listen back and cringe. You’re going to suck, and you won’t even know it until later. Best to just get into it and learn to make it better over time.

3. Prepare for your shows before hitting record. In some of my earlier episodes, I completely winged the show. Listen back to episode 1, it’s pretty horrible to listen to. I didn’t do a good job of guiding the conversation. I asked the same question over and over, just in different ways. And I didn’t help my guest relax (sorry Jayden!). All in all, I was just inexperienced. Over time, I’ve learned to get better at preparing for my shows before the day of the interview. I write a rundown of topics we’re going to discuss which helps loosely guide the conversation, but it also gives the guest some peace-of-mind about what to prepare for. Whilst we’re on this topic …

4. Get your show format right. I’m still learning about this, and I got some feedback from a guest recently which helped me understand. The value of my show is it’s a fun, conversational interview with an interesting guest. In some of my episodes, I tried to be too serious and grilled some of my guests. I think this was a manifestation of me over-preparing for my shows and trying to stick too much to the run-sheet. Instead, I should have listened to what my audience was telling me. People were enjoying the conversational style interview better.

5. Conducting a good interview is hard work. One of my guests (ahem, Bob Knorpp) said that interview shows are the laziest type of podcasts, because it puts all of the pressure on the guest to provide the good content. That may be true if you’re shit at interviewing, but to get the most of your guest and help make them shine, you need to learn how to conduct a good interview. I’m still learning how to do this, but I’m much better today than I used to be. A good interview should sound less like a Q&A and more like a conversation. Plus, the interviewer should help the subject feel safe and comfortable so they can deliver their points confidently. Also, the interviewer should set the tone of the show. If you’re after comedy, set the scene early so the guest can play into that. If you’re after something serious, give the guest a framework for how the show will run. Finally, a good interviewer gives the guest ideas to bounce off. In fact, I try to offer a lot of my own opinions about the topics we speak about. Sometimes I even take a contrarian view just for the sake of making a fun debate which will be interesting to listen to.

6. Podcasting is a huge commitment. When you start a podcast, you’re committing to those listeners that you’ll continue to provide them with consistent, predicable content every week/fortnight/whatever-timeframe-you-chose. If you fail to meet that obligation, your listeners will become disenfranchised and may unsubscribe.

7. Creating great content is very time consuming. I tried to do the math recently, and I estimate that I spend 12 hours of work in the background creating 1 hour of listenable audio for my audience. Creating quality content is fucking hard work. Here’s a quick summary of the tasks involved:

  • General admin (booking guests)
  • Research (preparation for interviews)
  • Travel (to and from recordings)
  • Recording the actual interview (including set-up, recording and pack-up)
  • File management (saving, naming and storing recorded files)
  • Editing (editing coughs, pauses, “umm”s and other awkward parts)
  • Listening (listening back to the show to proof the edit and note down feedback)
  • Writing shownotes (writing the shownotes, creating social images, writing the blog post, etc.)
  • Uploading files (uploading the mp3 files to a media host)
  • Publishing (final proofs and hitting publish)
  • Amplification (notifying guests their episode is live, creating social images to share, writing social posts, etc.)
  • Promotion (attending events, speaking to people about your podcast, other general promotion)

8. Podcasting is a complicated hobby project. Podcasts have many moving parts. It’s not just about creating an amazing-sounding and quality content audio file. You have to learn about RSS feeds, media hosts, social media promotion, etc. It’s important to learn what these things are and how to use them effectively, as setting up your show improperly in the beginning will lead to a reel of problems later. Even as an indie, stick to well-known dedicated podcast hosts (reach out if you want a recommendation!) which have a reliable RSS feed.

9. Audio equipment is expensive. Whilst it’s not vital to invest in the best microphones and mixers, it does help you get the best quality sound. And quality audio equipment is bloody expensive. The more you invest, the better it will sound. BUT …

10. Learn to use your equipment. Buying the most expensive gear does not maketh the best podcast. Learn to use your equipment, because the features and functions of your mics/mixers/recorders can only produce good sound if you have the settings right. It’s better to invest in a more basic system you know how to operate than a state-of-the-art one which you’ll set up wrong. The former will get you better audio.

11. Always have a back-up recorder. There was one episode of my show where my good audio equipment failed to work. I tested it before starting and everything, but something went wrong and my file was all screwy. Luckily, I had been using my iPhone as a back-up recording device. Always have a back-up recorder. There’s no way to get back the magic of an amazing interview.

12. Choosing a location is just as important as expensive gear. I did a bunch of research on microphones before starting my show. But in the end, having the best gear still didn’t account for recording in the worst places. When recording audio, hard surfaces are your enemy. Steer clear of boardrooms with whiteboards, long tables and glass windows. Any flat surface will create echoes which degrade your audio quality. Listen to some of my early episodes (e.g. Athan Didaskalou or Saul Flores) and you’ll hear the room echo. Contrast this with my interview with Chris Rauschnot, which was done in a Vegas hotel room with carpet, curtains and soft couches. Much better for audio!

13. It takes time to build an audience. I remember when I was getting 20 downloads on an episode launch day and I thought that was amazing. Like, think of 20 people listening to your voice all at once. That would pack out a room. But I had my sights set on 1,000 downloads per episode. Thats when I would say, “I’ve made it”. A year on, I’m a lot closer to that goal, but it’s still a while off.

14. Consistency is key. The graph below shows my total downloads per day, over the last year. You can see upward trends when I have regular releases. The long, flat, periods where when I took a hiatus (see point 15, below). These periods are bad because you’re being inconsistent for your audience who you’ve essentially made a promise to, to deliver great, regular content. Having a podcast that hasn’t been updated in over a month is like one of those old blogs where the last post was 3 years ago. Existing subscribers are likely to leave, and you certainly won’t get any new listeners. Who is going to subscribe to something when it looks like it’s dead? It’s hard to grow a show when you don’t really have a show.

MATE podcast episode downloads — daily (10 April 2016–10 April 2017)
MATE podcast episode downloads — daily (10 April 2016–10 April 2017)

15. Get help with production. Initially I was the CEO of MATE; the Chief Everything Officer. But over time, I became lazy and stopped doing the tasks I hated. I didn’t enjoy editing, and as a result my show suffered a 3 month hiatus. In the end, I hired an editor (thanks Josh!) to edit my shows and help me stick to a release schedule. So my advice is, figure out what’s holding you back and outsource it.

16. Podcast statistics suck. I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me, “How many subscribers does your podcast have?” Followed only by the second most common question, “Surely iTunes gives you those stats, right?” The answer is, “No, I can’t tell you how many subscribers and iTunes gives you zero stats!” The key number for podcasts is downloads. There are no subscriber stats. iTunes gives you nothing and you’re basically left on your own to interpret what is good/not.

17. Statistics are (kind-of) not worth focusing on, anyway. If all you’re doing is podcasting for stats, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Chances are, your podcast won’t be the next Serial or This American Life. If you’re lucky, you’ll crack 200 downloads per episode (the median podcast gets about 200 downloads per episode, according to Libsyn). So think about why you started podcasting and focus on achieving that. More on that below.

18. Podcasting isn’t going to make you rich. The reason I say they’re “kind-of” not worth focusing on, is because they also “kind-of” are, too. When it comes to monetisation, stats matter. Most advertisers are looking for a minimum of 5,000 downloads per episode before investing in a podcaster, simply because it’s not worth their time or money to invest and reach such a small target cohort. And when you get to that threshold, you’re likely to be paid on a CPM model, which means you get paid approximately $10–25 per 1,000 downloads of your show. So doing the math, if you’re getting 5k downloads at $25 CPM, you’re making $125 per episode. It’s nice, but it’s not going to make you a millionaire. The exception to this is if you’re hyper-targeted (for example, a brain surgeon podcast).

19. The podcasting communities online are SUPER helpful! Join an online podcast community. There’s heaps on Facebook. They’ve really helped. Ask questions, share what you’ve learned, get involved. It’s great.

20. Have fun with it. You need to be enjoying the podcast if it’s to succeed. Otherwise you won’t continue to meet your release deadlines and you’ll despise working on it. Have a think about your ‘Why’. Why are you making the podcast? For me, it’s to enable me to have interesting conversations with fascinating people. I’ve been able to interview and befriend some of my idols through making the podcast. Once you’re doing you, the rest doesn’t matter.

Thanks for reading. What have you learned along your podcasting journey? Share your experience in the comments below!

If you liked this, you should check out MATE podcast. It’s a show about Marketing, Advertising, Technology and Entrepreneurship. Subscribe on iTunes.

4 thoughts on “What I learned from 1 year of podcasting”

  1. As someone who has been prepping to make my own podcast, I have to say that all these tips are really helpful.

    The one about gear really hit me, since I’ve been considering buying expensive equipment – but not sure if I could use them to the fullest right now. Also, that tip with the location is helpful too.

    Cheers!

  2. You know what? You’re such a good man for sharing this.

    Number 11 really hit me.

    Recently, I recorded an awemazing interview via whatsapp call but I didn’t have a backup.

    The audio just went ‘pop’

    Also, the facebook community is awesome. I have been Learning so far.

    Got your link from one 😉

    Let’s meet at the top.

  3. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is great to have a ‘real world’ perspective from someone who has done it rather than the hyped up version from people selling their ‘how to podcast’ programs. I appreciate the time you took to write this and share it.

    Cheers

    Grant

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