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What I have learned from starting a podcast

Three years ago — long before it was cool — a friend and I created a podcast.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

It was called Dadpod; it was about the trials and tribulations of being a dad; our first recording session took about three hours, and ended in something of a drunken singalong.

We only recorded one episode. I don’t think our wives or our livers could have handled much more than that.

During the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand in March this year, we revived Dadpod under the new, improved title Two Tired Dads and we have recorded ten episodes so far. We still drink during recording but we’ve managed to trim the multi-hour recordings down to a snappy, slightly more coherent 45 minutes. Both our listeners are grateful.

There’s plenty of advice out there for aspiring podcasters, written by leaders in the genre. When I read it, though, this advice can often feel quite abstract — as though the success of these podcasters was due to them following a set of rules that can be applied equally well to anyone else.

The practice of podcasting seems to me to be quite a lot messier, and I can’t help wondering whether success — the sort of massive success that lures so many people like me into the genre — doesn’t come down to something as simple as being in the right place, at the right time, with the right format.

So what’s it like to be at the start of a podcast — a few episodes under your belt but hardly setting the world on fire? Here’s what the Two Tired Dads are finding . . .

Good topics are damn slippery things

Our original idea was to pick up where we left off with Dadpod and discuss dadding in the modern world.

Sounds like a reasonably productive topic but we realised fairly early on it wouldn’t be enough to sustain us. We both have small children and, while we love them to bits, they don’t necessarily do enough interesting stuff to sustain a fortnightly podcast. And, considering we began the podcast partly as an escape from the mundanities of domestic life, it seemed counter-intuitive to devote our podcast to our children.

We would be like those married couples who go on date nights to escape the kids, only to find they have nothing else to talk about.

So we’re constantly thinking about what we want our podcast to be for. Sadly, we haven’t yet worked that out and I suspect we won’t. That’s partly the nature of our podcast — it’s as much about our banter with each other as it is about a set topic — and partly because you simply don’t know what’s sustainable until you begin.

You can do all the planning and research you want before you pick up a microphone, but nothing beats seeing what works and being honest about what doesn’t. Is that a problem for the long-term longevity of the podcast? We’ll let you know.

Podfade is oh so seductive

There’s a phenomenon in podcasting called podfade — where a podcast you began with the loftiest of intentions and the greatest of excitement simply peters out after a few episodes. The topic no longer interests you, the listeners are non-existent, and it feels like you’re simply chatting into the void.

We’re only just touching on double figures so podfade may well be just around the corner. We have not stuck to as rigid a recording schedule as we might have done. We regularly feel like recording an episode is the last thing we feel like doing at the end of a long day at work, or wrangling kids.

I also know that we’re going nowhere unless we keep churning out the episodes. Of course, all good things must come to an end and the time will come when we simply can’t be bothered anymore. But I find it helpful to think of podcasting like any other craft — you only get better at it if you keep going. You don’t dash off a novel in a couple of sessions — at least not one worth reading — and we’re going to need practice.

Recording yourself, for yourself, can be an end in itself

One of the ways you keep going is by not thinking too far ahead.

I confess I have a terrible habit of allowing a half-formed idea to mutate into a dream of fame and fortune within about two minutes of it first arriving. I tend to skip the part where I work away at the idea for years and years, investing blood, sweat and not an inconsiderable amount of money into it before anything is likely to happen.

And when you look around at the success that some podcasters have — Joe Rogan’s $100m deal with Spotify (although it’s complicated); the social and cultural capital amassed by the Pod Save America guys; the lightning quick banter and simple fun had on the Hamish and Andy Show — it’s hard not to think yourself into their shoes.

I confess it’s hard to imagine any of that happening with Two Tired Dads. We certainly won’t turn down multi-million-dollar sponsorship were it to fall into our laps but it seems highly unlikely at this point. That’s why I’m treating it as much as a way of catching up regularly with a good friend to enjoy a whisky and a yarn, and to feel like I’m producing something.

So much of my daily life is unremarkable, and seems to slip by without leaving much trace on the world, that I find myself deriving an unreasonable amount of satisfaction from looking back at our list of finished episodes, sitting there, ready to be enjoyed.

And that, by itself, may be enough of an achievement for me.



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Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith

I’m an avid reader from Wellington, New Zealand. History, crime fiction, literary classic. You name it, I’ll read it. Twitter @pileobooks