Lessons Learned From My Year of Podcasting

I am a huge fan of the re-emergence of podcasts. Podcasts offer content creators another medium to produce valuable content while it offers individuals an alternative to reading or watching video.

Audio is something you’re always attuned to. Even when you don’t want to, you hear things, especially the noisy construction happening outside your window at 7am (or is that just me?). But audio also doesn’t require 100 percent of your attention, which makes it so valuable.

Audio is something you can do while doing another task, even a mentally intense task. It’s not uncommon to walk into an office and see throngs of people typing quickly, with headphones in. In fact, I’m doing that right now. Which is why I love podcasts.

Podcasts are a great way to learn. They’re an extension of traditional media that I no longer have access to since cutting cable years ago. Podcasts have brought different personalities, topics, and opinions into my life and made me think a little bit harder about a lot of things.

In addition to mainstream media, the podcasting revolution has taken a similar arch blogging took, when it gave previously unknown people a platform for them to voice their opinions. It’s great.

I love podcasting so much that I started my own podcast a few years ago. It wasn’t in an attempt to get famous, but more long the lines of personal curiosity. I could not only learn from my interviewees but I could learn how to produce a podcast, which was more involved than I originally thought. While I only produced a dozen podcasts, I learned a great deal from them. I have a much greater appreciation of the podcasts I listen to.

After a year of podcasting, here’s what I learned. Know your topic, have good quality sound, interview well, and publish regularly. This is important to know if you are to ever start your own podcast.

Have a Niche

To give you a little background, my podcast was called the TalkAnything podcast. Originally titled because I wanted to have the freedom to discuss whatever I wanted. As I progressed and listening to feedback (thanks to my friends who listened to my first few episodes!) I gave the podcast a more focused direction.

Disjointed conversations with people was not appealing to people. It was like listening to your friend’s phone conversation (which is literally what the first two were). Unless you knew me or my guest, it was hard to develop any connection to the content, giving you no reason to come back.

I quickly learned this lesson and decided I would interview professionals in different fields and learn about their journey and what their job entailed. It’s would be the same conversation I had many times at the bar with strangers. I have this acute desire to learn about other industries, no matter how boring they might seem. I recall having a discussion with an Uber driver about his other job, a truck driver. I found his perspective to be fascinating and that’s the type of interview I wanted to have with my guests after the first two episodes.

Audio Quality is Extremely Important

If you are so inclined, listen to the first 30 seconds of my first podcast. It will make you wince with regret. Unlike blogging, there is a slight barrier to entry when it comes to podcasting. You need good quality audio. If not, it’s a really unpleasant experience for your listener. Which means you need to take the time and learn a little about audio engineering and podcast microphones.

My first interviews were done via Skype and my generic Mac headphones. The sound quality was terrible and people let me know. For my third interview, I bought a Snowball mic, highly recommended by the internet. It’s a condensed mic that plugs right into your computer’s USB. It’s a good quality mic for the price, but the trouble I ran into with my third interview was reverb. Because I interviewed my guest in my kitchen, the sound bounced all over the walls, making it difficult to hear. It sounded like we were in a huge room.

To combat this, I built myself a little recording studio. It was simple, made from PVC pipes and blankets draped over the sides. While it looked a little weird, it was really effective. Listen to the difference in sound quality from episode 3 to episode 4.

If you’re really ambitious, you can buy a dynamic mic. These are expensive and require you to also buy a sound mixer. This gets really technical and requires a lot of advanced training. I never really got to the level that I wanted, but I was able to get some pretty good audio.

I never spent a lot of time editing my podcasts. Like many amateur podcasters, I recorded an intro/outro and then the episode it self. I added some intro music and combined all the clips into one file. I played around with transition and audio levels, but it was nothing serious. If you’re a professional podcaster, you’ll spend hours editing a single episode.

Whatever your budget is, figure out a way to get quality audio. Otherwise your podcast will always be a side project a handful of people listen to.

Interviewing is an Art

Interviewing someone is not easy. The people you hear on the radio or on television interviewing people, they’re trained professionals. They know what to do. While knowing this, I still thought I could wing it and just talk to my guests. Not so, respect your listeners and your guest by properly preparing.

I had an advantage with all my guests, I knew them beforehand. They were friends. But I still do my research. I watched their videos, I looked up their social media profiles, I even read one of their books. This gave me background information and a better idea of their professional background.

From there I was able to formulate questions that I thought would be interesting to a listener, someone who had no prior knowledge of the guest or subject. So there would be times where I’d be asking really simple questions I already knew the answers to. But you have to be conscience of your audience.

If you feel that during the conversation that the guest is starting to gloss over facts or make references that only specific people would know, then it’s your job to take a step back and walk the listeners through the last part of the conversation. If someone uses an acronym like SEO or is talking about locally known landmark LA, don’t assume your listeners will know. Make sure you clarify these facts to keep your audience informed and able to comprehend and enjoy the rest of the interview.

Perhaps the one skill that I struggled with and constantly worked hard on was developing a fluid conversation with the guest. People who are tuning in aren’t there to listen to you (the host) speak. They want to hear what the guest has to say. So it’s your job to set up each question properly that allows the guest to go into a longer answer.

On the flip side of that, you also need to be aware of when a guest gives you an answer that’s too short, causing an abrupt pause. Both the guest and the listener must feel comfortable. Which is why it’s important to listen to what the guest is saying and gauge how the conversation is going based on what’s being said, not what questions you have left on your notecard.

Like any skill, interviewing becomes more natural the longer you do it. I’m confident I could pic up a mic today and have a wonderful interview with someone that the audience would enjoy.

Maintaining a Regular Schedule is Hard

Perhaps the part of creating a podcast I overlooked the most was how difficult it is to maintain a regular schedule. Audiences like to get into a rhythm with their podcasts. I know that Wednesdays I’m going to get a new West Wing Weekly podcast while on Fridays I get a new Guys We F***ed episode. I look forward to those days. As a podcaster, you need to deliver on a regular schedule.

There were to factors working against me at this point. One was the fact I didn’t know what type of schedule I wanted to keep. Was this a weekly podcast? Bi-weekly? Decide this in the beginning and then work to keep that schedule. One missed week turned into two and then all of a sudden I had gone a month without podcasting.

The second thing that I found difficult was timing. Finding people to interview isn’t easy and syncing up schedules is even more difficult. If I were to do it again, I would always have 2-4 interviews in the works at all times. I’d rather have a month backlog of interviews rather than scramble to find someone who is available that week.

You have to be really proactive when it comes to producing your podcast. You’ll do more work in the front end, before the interview, than when you record. You can’t just call someone up and an hour later have a podcast.

I really miss my podcast, but I just don’t have the time to maintain it. I don’t regret trying it out and learning how to do it. It makes me appreciate the podcasts I listen to. I won’t rule out never podcasting again, but it would have to be a special situation. If you’re looking to get into podcasting, learn from my mistakes and start your podcast off on the right foot.

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