What I learned about podcasting by podcasting

The Prodigal Podcast by Michael Saechang used under CC BY-SA 2.0

A couple of years ago I started a podcast with Helen Reynolds called Natteron. It was quite a loose arrangement. So loose in fact that we haven’t actually stopped, just haven’t released the latest episode for, well, many months.

Despite this rather dubious qualification people do periodically ask me for advice on how to start podcasting. A cursory listen to our recorded output would indicate that I have no advice worth sharing. However they continue to ask. This post is some quick notes on what we did and what I feel I learned.

Technical / practical

We mostly recorded over Skype. I used Skype call recorder. This creates a single Quicktime file. You then need a file splitter app to separate both channels (my voice always recorded louder and in one channel, the other voices always recorded quietly and in the other channel). Then we used Garage Band to edit the episodes and uploaded the audio to SoundCloud. SoundCloud gives you an RSS feed and you can burn this to iTunes.

I have a rather fine H2n Zoom microphone / recorder. You can plug this into a Mac or PC and use it as a high quality mic. I eventually persuaded my co-host to use a gaming headset and that seemed to be of sufficient quality.

We mostly had a guest on the episode. They skyped in. That was fine for people who use Skype all the time. Some people don’t. That was difficult.

We promoted podcast episodes on our own social media feeds. People listened and some fed back. That was always delightful. Otherwise you can feel you’re shouting into the void.

It’s actually surprisingly hard to get good data on subscribers and so on. Typically each episode was listened to a few hundred times (up to 1,000 in one case).

What I learned

I guess the key thing is that you are making a big ask of people. People listen to podcasts when they are walking the dog, going for a run or doing the morning commute. They are stuck with you. Your really have an obligation not to waste their time.

And, more practically, if your podcast is boring in content, uninteresting or poor in sound or ropely put together people will stop listening.

And pulling together a podcast that is interesting in content, that sounds interesting and justifies people’s attention requires effort, skill and practice.

As a rule of thumb I reckon that for every minute of output you are going to have to spend 3 minutes on recording and editing. That’s on top of planning and preparation. If your podcast is going to be short and sharp (and why wouldn’t it be) you probably need to up those figures. Like Mark Twain probably didn’t say

“I’m sorry this letter is so long I didn’t have the time to write a short one”

Our strap line was “the podcast for comms and digital folk who use their powers for good”. Essentially we were trying to produce something that would interest the attendees of CommsCamp or UKGovCamp. I think we mostly achieved this.

It is much better to be able to see the people you are recording with. Our best episodes were recorded in the same room. On Skype we typically didn’t have video on to maintain audio quality but this made it harder to get rapport and flow.

Our friend and colleague Esko Reinikainen gave us some sage advice early on about some characterisation and plot development. This maybe sounds a bit odd for a podcast of this type but I think all the podcasts I enjoy do this well. We did play upon some of our natural characteristics. I’m not really that stern, Helen’s not really that flakey. We tried to evolve the podcast as we went along, developing some shared jokes with the listeners and dropping ideas that didn’t work. All this requires work.

Overall

I enjoyed podcasting. Indeed I am in discussions about setting up a new podcast series.

Listen to other podcasts and analyse what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you would put that podcast together.

I guess my overall message is to treat the audience with respect. You’re taking people’s time and being with them in their daily lives. Give them something interesting and of the best quality you can manage.

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