PRX is proud to introduce our new Podcasting 101 video series. Part of the Google Podcasts creator program, this free 10-part video series walks you through the basics of podcasting — from sharpening your idea to reaching your intended audience, and all the steps in between.
Luvvie Ajayi, host of the Rants & Randomness and Jesus & Jollof podcasts and the NYT best-selling author of “I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual” and Sean Rameswaram host of Vox’s Today, Explained host the Podcasting 101 series. You can read about Luvvie’s experience co-hosting this video series here.
Sean has been podcasting a long time, even before podcasting was really a thing. He has lots of advice for people just starting out. So, we asked him to share some of what he’s learned.
PRX: You started your career in public radio. How did you get into podcasting?
SEAN: Even before I got my first job in public radio, I made stuff just for myself. I’d sit in my closet, recording narration and playing around with my editing software. That’s how I figured out my style. When I eventually got an interview for a full-time job at a public radio station, I could point to all these audio pieces I’d made.
When I got the opportunity to make Sideshow, an internet-focused spinoff of [the public radio show] Studio 360, that’s where I really started to experiment — to do things I couldn’t on the radio, like have random radio dramas, longer music interludes, or just cut to weird clips randomly without any explanation. To just play like it was a sandbox. It was really exciting and fun. This is around the same time podcasts were becoming successful on their own, WTF with Marc Marron comes to mind. It was very exciting to see you could just do something without a network, just be good and it’ll find an audience.
PRX: What’s your best advice from that time?
SEAN: If you want this to be your thing, you’ve gotta take it seriously. Don’t treat it as that thing you do once a week for an hour. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.
Let’s talk about your podcast, Vox’s Today, Explained. There are a lot of news podcasts out there. How did your team figure out what your show should sound like?
SEAN: We thought about the existing news podcasts and asked, how could we be different? What tone do we want? Let’s be fun, human, and not pretend we are the all-knowing authority. The driving force would be that this is a human show that is trying to understand the news. We didn’t start out wondering, “What is our show?” — we knew what our show was from the beginning.
The key was figuring out who our listener would be. The show is intended for “people who feel a little overwhelmed by the news.” A person who says, “Wait, what was that thing?”
The coolest thing [about this time in podcasting] is that everyone can make stuff, and the hardest thing is that everyone can make stuff. Keep asking yourself, Why is my show a must listen?
PRX: You’ve got a distinctive voice. What do you recommend to find your own style?
SEAN: I did a whole session about this at Third Coast Festival a few years ago! Take it from the pros: [This American Life’s] Ira Glass says, “Toss it off. Say whatever comes naturally.” [Marketplace’s] Kai Ryssdal told me, “Don’t think, just talk.” Your voice is great as it is so stop faking it. That being said, if you’re aiming for something more writerly, it’s okay to sound like you’re reading something. Figure out what makes the most sense for your show.
PRX: Podcasting is a really intimate medium and listeners often feel a deep connection with the hosts of their favorite podcasts. Do you remember a time when you started to connect with your audience?
SEAN: For the third episode of Sideshow, I did a piece about malt liquor and hip hop with Mike D from The Beastie Boys who admitted on the show that the Beastie Boys song “Brass Money” wasn’t about drinking 40 oz beers with orange juice, but in fact about a canned cocktail of the same name. This was an earth-shattering revelation for an extremely niche audience and that episode got a bunch of pick up which seemed so crazy to me. The third episode of a podcast I ever made got picked up by WIRED! Then I saw people sharing and retweeting the article. It was magical. I was pursuing the things I was interested in and other people were interested in them, too. That was a great feeling.
PRX: Even for someone who’s hosting a popular daily podcast, you have your tough days. What do you tell others about staying motivated?
SEAN: I tell people to (re)connect with what got you excited about making your show in the first place. The thing I find most encouraging about working in this medium right now is that it’s so young. We’re still in the black and white phase of podcasting. So much will happen. What will color look like? What with 3D look like? I have no idea, and that’s what you’re going to go figure out. On the one hand, there’s a lot out there and it can be hard to stand out even while most of it sounds the same. So go make something up. That’s what’s going to be exciting. Try something weird, raw and experimental, because people might like it.
PRX: How else can you encourage early-stage podcasters to stick with it?
SEAN: Get involved and go find other organizations who might have buy-in with what you’re making. Connect up with other people who might have similar podcasts and those who might be interested in what you’re making.
PRX: Any final pearls of wisdom?
SEAN: Hit record! I mention that in the video series. It’s really easy to forget to hit record when you’re entirely focused on getting that perfect interview. There’s no bigger tragedy than your guest walking out of the room and then you realize you weren’t recording. It happens to the best of us, kids.
You ready to learn? All ten episodes of Podcasting 101 are available to watch now, offering you so many more tips to build and sustain your podcast. For our friends who speak French, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, and Portuguese — we’re happy to tell you that all 10 videos are translated and subtitled in those languages! So what’s stopping you? Get your podcast career started now.