“How to Become the Center of Influence Through Insider Podcasting” with Mark Ramsey of the Inside Star Wars Podcast
Podcasting is hard. It takes time and a lot of work. Just because “anybody can launch a podcast” doesn’t mean EVERYBODY should. And it especially doesn’t mean YOU should.
As part of my series of interviews about “How to Become the Center of Influence Through Podcasting,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Ramsey. Ramsey has consulted with and delivered projects for numerous media, publishing, and digital brands over his career, including Apple, iHeartMedia (Clear Channel), Pandora, CBS, Bonneville, Sirius XM, U-T San Diego, EA Sports, and more. His latest podcast Inside Star Wars, produced by Wondery, came out in May of 2019.
Ramsey has authored two radio industry bestsellers, Making Waves: Radio on the Verge and Fresh Air: Marketing Gurus on Radio. His blog at Mark Ramsey Media is among the most popular in audio entertainment and information industry, and he is a popular speaker at radio and related industry events.
Ramsey is a Research Fellow with Coburn Ventures, change consultants to some of the world’s largest companies. He also serves on the board of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the producers of the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and Critics’ Choice Television Awards, both broadcast live on A&E.
Over the years Ramsey has interviewed a who’s-who of marketing and branding, including Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Larry Kramer, Tom Asacker, Peter Guber, Alan Webber, Bob Garfield, Gary Vaynerchuk, Adam Carolla, Kevin Smith, and Ricky Gervais.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about why or how you got started as a podcaster?
In 2013, Ramsey created the first-ever audio future festival, hivio, which debuted with more video impressions and social media engagement than all other audio industry events of the year combined.
In 2014, Ramsey launched the audio podcast Media Unplugged with branding authority and celebrated author Tom Asacker. Each episode dissects what’s happening in the media and breaks it down so we can understand what’s really happening beneath all the hype and fury.
In 2016, Ramsey created, wrote, and performed the podcast Inside Psycho for Wondery. It’s a story inspired by the making of the classic movie. It peaked at #8 in iTunes and for weeks held the #1 position in the TV/Film category.
Ramsey has appeared on MSNBC, VH1, and E!
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
My work in podcasting — creating series like “Inside JAWS” and now “Inside Star Wars” — has led me to projects with creative partners like Ed O’Neil (Modern Family), Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly, Good Girls), Sarah Wayne Callies (Colony, The Walking Dead), and David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy). People are awakening to the ability to tell a story powerfully with sound, and they need help from those of us who have come before and who know the space and it’s quirks. The fact that A-list Hollywood talent is getting interested in the space is a sign of things to come.
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What is the lesson that you learned from that?
Well just this week my series “Inside Star Wars” dramatized a scene where Mark Hamill is sleeping on Robert Englund’s couch as he learns about an audition for “the perfect part” in Star Wars. Hamill tweeted that it didn’t happen. Englund has been quoted as saying it did. And here I am in the middle. But one thing’s for sure, Robert’s story is way better than Mark’s. And this is, after all, a movie, not a documentary. So I wouldn’t call it a mistake as much as I’d call it a “collision with conflicting memories.” To quote the great John Ford, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
My work with Wondery on the Inside series has been going for about three years. We have done several series, including “Inside Psycho,” “Inside The Exorcist,” “Inside JAWS,” and now “Inside Star Wars.” All told there are about three dozen episodes. And that doesn’t count the hundred or so episodes I’ve done for a marketing series called “Media Unplugged” and a series about jazz legend Louis Armstrong starring Reno Wilson AS Louis Armstrong. That was another 6 eps. So all in all more than a hundred episodes.
What are the main takeaways or lessons you want your listeners to walk away with?
For “Inside Star Wars,” I want people to ponder the question: What happens when a man with a vision invests 40 years of his life in something magical, and then has to say “goodbye”? What lesson does HE learn then? And how can we all learn from it? I also want people to reflect on the gigantic legacy of Carrie Fisher, the forever Princess who remains an icon especially for women who fight for what’s right against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Any advice for how to create an extremely successful podcast?
Podcaster Influencer, Mark Ramsey of the Inside Star Wars | Unplugged Media — Audio Podcast shares the best ways to:
1. Podcasting is hard. It takes time and a lot of work. Just because “anybody can launch a podcast” doesn’t mean EVERYBODY should. And it especially doesn’t mean YOU should.
2. What is the essential, inescapable, unavoidable, new-to-the-world idea that the world can’t live without? Make that.
3. Great distribution is more important than great content. If you make it, they will NOT come. Not unless your distribution partner has a plan in place to make your podcast impossible to ignore and inevitable to discover.
4. The best way to grow a podcast is by promoting it on other podcasts. Advertising is no substitute. Social media is not substitute. Instagram influencers are no substitute.
5. Zig while the rest zag. You have a great idea for a True Crime podcast? How about something I haven’t heard a million times before instead. You may not win the top slot in the Apple Podcast ranker, but your fans who are hungry for something fresh will thank you.
6. Bonus answer: Make something great. Make something amazing. Don’t settle for less. No matter how many people listen, think of how proud you’ll be of the result?
7. Bonus answer: Have great production support. If you have high ambitions for the sound design, find the best sound designer in the world like I did
What are the five things you need to know to create a successful show?
1) Book Great Guests
Just ask them. Nicely. And remember that there has to be something in it for them. It has to be a win:win.
2) Increase Listeners
Partner with an amazing distribution platform like I did with Wondery. They know how to grow shows because that’s their business.
3) Produce it in a Professional Way
It doesn’t have to be “professional,” it just can’t be sloppy. The sound quality has to be great. You have to avoid “popping p’s.” Mic technique is key. But honestly, if you’re looking for best practices on technical proficiency before you’ve decided that you have something worth saying, your cart is squarely positioned before your horse.
4) Encourage Engagement
Listeners generally want to engage with their favorite hosts. But that means you have to earn the position of being “a favorite host.” In other words, focus on your art and craft first. The engagement will come.
5) Best Way to Monetize it?
There is no one answer here. You can monetize via Patreon — earning money from the fans themselves. You can sell ads or do a deal with a partner who sells them for you (assuming you have enough listeners). You can sell the show to a “walled garden” platform that’s subscription-supported, not ad-supported. You can also do it for fun without any expectation of profit. More people should accept that this last option is perfectly acceptable. We all have hobbies. Podcasting could be yours.
From your vantage point what are some of the reasons why a person should consider creating a podcast series?
They need to have a burning desire to put out something into the world that so far doesn’t exist. It’s why filmmakers make films, musicians make music, artists make art, and writers write. Anything less is simply not enough. And the idea that you’ll make money doing it is the worst motivator of all.
Are there people to whom you would advise to avoid podcasting and instead focus on another medium?
Podcasting rewards intimate relationships between hosts and listeners. You are literally in their ears. If this isn’t the way you communicate best, choose something else. If you are a visual entertainer, don’t do a podcast, be an Instagram influencer or a YouTube star. As if “influencer” or “star” were a job description.
How has your position as a podcast host and a person of high authority, impacted your business, sales, and/or increased your opportunities? Can you share a story with us?
As I said above, one day I was doing Inside Psycho for Wondery, and the next day I’m meeting with Reno Wilson, star of Good Girls and Mike and Molly, to write and produce a podcast series about legendary jazzman Louis Armstrong featuring Reno as Armstrong. And that led to meetups with Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead), David Harbour (Stranger Things), and a lot more. Now I have an agent and I’m fielding a variety of projects with a variety of partners. That’s what hard work, a bit of luck, and some good content gets you.
What makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category?
The story has a beginning, middle, and end. It has heroes who want things and obstacles that stand in their way. And as in all great stories — they may not get what they want, but they usually get what they need. Also, we spend a lot of time creating our audio world to be immersive and rich. And we write and perform our characters to have three dimensions and to make the audience FEEL something. All of this makes a difference. I think of it like a theme park ride. You may know how it’s gonna end, but what a great time you have along the way.
Ours is different from others in part because the single-narrator style is fairly unique. In fact, Wondery uses it for several of their shows now. But more important, it’s an audio movie about a movie where we’re telling a truth larger than the simple facts. A truth that we can all relate to. Not a lot of shows do that. It’s hard to do. And I hope we’ve done it successfully.
What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or the content itself?
The content itself is pretty unique. Before this series there never was a podcast about the people behind your favorite movies. And there certainly was never anything that dramatized those stories in bio-pic style. As a host, I try to bring out the emotion of the words to make those words clear and that emotion easy to grasp. My voice is not a classic deep voice, and it doesn’t need to be. Neither does yours.
Where can our readers find you on Social Media?
Is there a specific high-value guest (obviously still living) that you would love to interview on your show, and why?
Yes! I tried to get George Lucas for an interview and I got a note graciously declining that offer on the day the series launched. But his spirit looms large over this project. And if he were to hear it, I’m pretty sure he would approve.
Although no doubt he’d want to make a few small changes over the coming years :-)