Karly recently did a short but amazing free-flow convo on her podcast about the one year anniversary of Karlosophies. And with the one year anniversary of Radcasters fast approaching, I wanted to share some thoughts from the tech side (unlike the dark side, we don’t have cookies – just endless liters of energy drink and screeds and screeds of half-built code). Here’s some (of the many) things I’ve learned about podcasting as VA to an iTunes superstar, and tech support to the first class of Radcasters.
The evolution of your podcast is inevitable, and awesome.
If someone’s been podcasting for a while, it’s much easier for me to write their show notes and episode titles – this is partly because we’ll have developed a basic template together (that they like and their audience responds to), but it’s mostly because there’s a real sense of clarity and direction. This is something that you can only gain through actually putting your episodes out there. It’s kind of like how it’s much easier to write a reference letter for someone who’s been in your industry for years, than someone who’s coming off the back of their first job. You know what they’re about, what their most appealing traits are and who they appeal to.
When someone’s first starting out, I generally have to scan through the episode, pull out the best soundbites, try and condense them into a few sentences, and tailor them to try and lure in an audience who might like what the podcaster has to offer. Then, I have to come up with a zingy title with some good keywords in it, that will pique the curiosity of as many people as possible. If someone’s twenty or more episodes in, I usually know what I need to write by the end of their intro (though I’ll still scan the episode for any gems). They’re clear on what they want to say, how they want to say it, and who they’re saying it to.
Not every tech meltdown is your fault.
It’s easy to assume when some tech issue happens that it’s your fault – that if an episode doesn’t appear in iTunes or Libsyn craps out, you’ve messed up somehow. But that’s not always the case. I’m the absolute worst when it comes to this: I’ll be on the verge of tears trying to figure out what the hell I’ve done wrong, only to realise that the website is down or experiencing technical difficulties that have nothing to do with me. Check that you’ve done everything correctly, if you’ve made a mistake then own it and fix it. If you can’t find anything, then check to see if there’s any known issues. And don’t be afraid to lean in and ask for help – someone might know a weird hack or fix that will help you out (the kind you can only learn by stumbling straight through a useful loophole, then looking back and realising what you’ve done).
The possibilities are endless.
Just when I think I’ve seen everything, someone releases a podcast or does something with their podcast that makes me totally rethink the boundaries and capabilities of the medium. The Co-Optional Podcast releases its episodes on YouTube accompanied by a cartoon. Some people’s podcasts are series (episodes that you can enjoy and fully understand without ever having seen another episode – think The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Family Guy as TV equivalents), others are serials (stories told in segments, making knowledge of the previous episodes essential – think Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Orphan Black), and some sit somewhere in the middle (a mix of ongoing plot threads and plots that are resolved within the bounds of the episode – think Friends, Dr Who, The X Files). The diversity among our Rad Grads alone is really remarkable.
I have absolutely no doubt that the medium will continue to surprise and excite me, as people keep pushing the boundaries and trying new things.
Success is cumulative.
If you look at the podcasts that seem to have exploded right away, it’s important to note that they’re not stand-alone projects. Tim Ferris was already an incredibly popular business coach before he started his podcast. Serial was able to springboard off the success of its parent podcast, This American Life (you don’t get a feature in the New Yorker before your podcast is even released unless you’ve already got a decent amount of social proof).
The secret to podcast success is simple: put in the work. The work is the catalyst that will get you from where you are to where you want to be. There’s no shortcuts. Work hard to build your list and your brand. Create episodes and put them out there, and be your own biggest fan. Tell everyone about your podcast. Wander around the web and leave breadcrumbs everywhere you think your listeners might be.
Every time you promote one of your episodes, you’re promoting all of them. If people like what they hear, they’ll subscribe or at the very least sample a few more episodes – because they’re right at their fingertips, to listen to whenever they can offer you some of their mental bandwidth. So keep posting and keep promoting, and your efforts will snowball. Similarly, if you stop doing the work, your snowball will start to melt – so make sure you have strategies in place to keep people engaged while you’re on hiatus (blog post on this coming soon).
Story is king.
To be fair, this is something I’ve believed for a long time (what can I say, I’m a writer and a former film lecturer who specialised in adaptation) – but I’m now positive that it’s as true for podcasting as it is for any other medium. Everything else – artwork, title, editing, show notes – exists to serve the story. If someone has thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment but their story sucks, all you’ve got is basically a very dry advertisement for whatever microphone and/or editing service they’re using. If someone has an Apple headset, free editing software to tidy things up a bit and an amazing story, they’ve got something infinitely more valuable that’s going to have way more impact.
I think everybody, ultimately, has a story that they want to tell and a message they want to share – we all have something that’s happened to us or that we’ve learned or heard that fills us with this sort of crazy religious zeal and we honestly believe that everybody in the world would be better off if they could just hear about it. If you can tap into that story or message and turn it into a podcast, you’ve got what you need to succeed. Everything else is just gravy.
What have you learned during your podcasting journey so far? I’d love for you to tell me in the comments. And if there’s something you’d like us to blog about, please share that with me too.