Secrets to Podcasting Success
In May 2014, Anna Sale launched the podcast “Death, Sex & Money” from the studios of WNYC. She had been working in news for public radio in New York City when they asked for ideas for podcasts and she was given a green light to pilot her concept.
In the 10 months that has followed, Anna’s podcast has hit #1 on iTunes and she’s learned a ton about producing a successful podcast. Lucky for us she shared her revelations at Radiodays Europe and with the Radio Stuff Podcast.
“If you’re thinking of starting a podcast just start recording,” Anna told me in the echo-filled hallway following her session. “When I came up with the idea of “Death, Sex and Money” it was this idea on a piece of paper and I had a sense of what I wanted it to feel like, but the step between that sense and then making something that actually is taped and scripted — that’s the place where you need to be experimenting. So sit down, book an interview, tell somebody you’re in a pilot phase for your podcast, but just do it. That’s going to get you into using those muscles of learning how to make your podcast. I would not think about strategy. I wouldn’t think about audience growth. I wouldn’t think about anything before I started trying to make the show and making sure it was something that I could get really in to and that I’d be proud of.”
During a session titled “30 Ideas in 45 Minutes,” where we both presented ideas, she shared these ideas around the production of a podcast. (Here they are listed as documented by our friends at Earshot Creative.)
1. Record everything. Always. Start your audio recorder before anything happens.
2. Not getting somewhere in an interview? Just… wait.
3. Edit mercilessly but keep the space. Take out whole chunks of dullness, but retain the human pauses that add to the dramatic tension.
4. Don’t suppress your natural reaction, even when it makes noise. It gives the listener permission to smile and it builds your personality.
5. End with a bold set of compulsory questions. Anna always asks standard, personal, powerful sometimes rude questions that could ruin the dynamic earlier, but provoke great answers at the end.
In our one-on-one discussion Anna and I talked about a few other lessons she has learned.
Podcasts are intimate. Be vulnerable. I asked her how vulnerable she’s been. Anna didn’t hesitate, “I’ve talked about being adrift in my relationships and not knowing if I was ready to commit and having real big questions about what I wanted my life to look like, because I’m a woman in my 30s figuring out if I’m going to have a family, if this was going to be the guy I was going to be with and that was one of the first episodes so that felt pretty vulnerable.” Listen here.
Podcasts are what grow other podcasts. Despite being featured on NPR radio stations across the country through “This American Life,” the “Death, Sex, and Money” podcast didn’t see an audience impact until the “This American Life” podcast was posted. In hindsight, it makes sense to Anna, “Podcast listeners know how to use podcasts. And so why not go to those listeners first? People are still learning how to use on-demand audio. If you’re not already a podcast listener figuring out that you need podcast player on your phone and how to search and how to download and how to subscribe — there are some steps to that.”
People are still discovering the world of podcasting. Case and point; this was tweeted out this week by “P!nk” who is familiar with radio, but brand new to podcasts;
A good friend just turned me on to this weird amazing thing called PODCASTS. Anybody heard of this? The TED radio hour- blowing my mind 😳👍
— P!nk (@Pink) March 20, 2015
Podcasts are not broadcasts. Podcasting gives you permission to “go there.” You can presume the audience is ready to go there with you. When doing a radio show you have to assume there are kids in the car, mixed company, and there are the FCC guidelines to consider. Not so much with podcasting. And those weren’t the only differences for Anna, “The thing that was hard was losing all the constraints of radio. A clock is your friend in radio, because you know at a certain point — you just have to talk until 12:01 and the next show is going to come on. And you just have to avoid dead air for that long. In podcasting, you can go for however long you want. You have the freedom to make the podcasts as long as they need to be instead of filling the clock.”
Sharability matters more than news hooks. “I never knew how long the tail of episodes can be, because coming from news it is like you put something up, it goes out and that’s its moment,” Anna said. “In podcasting, the discoverability is so much longer. So, the idea of making something evergreen and when someone is going to find your podcast — you can’t presume they’re finding it right around the time it comes out. Because, what I’ve noticed is when people discover the podcast then they’ll listen to several episodes and binge listen.”
Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.