The Stages of Having a Podcast

Frasier_Crane_Shrink_Wrap_radio_station_KACLIn addition to working full time, being a freelance writer, and trying to remember to wear pants, I took on podcasting about a year and a half ago. A lot of my friends had podcasts and I loved the revival of radio. I currently listen to 30 podcasts so I still love the medium. I jumped in whole hog and it’s been a great and awful experience. For those of you looking at podcasting as a possible avenue, I have detailed below what it’s like with helpful reaction gifs.

Stage One: The Idea

Look at you with your baby face all full of zeal and excitement. You’ve listened to Welcome to Nightvale and enjoy 90’s nostalgia, and you want to take on this project. “A podcast!” you declare, “I would be so good at that! I’m funny! I’m charming! My friends love me at parties! This will be great!” All of that might be true and good for you if it is, but you honestly have no idea what you’re doing. Starting a podcast is like starting a television show. It sounds great when you’re 14 and think you could write for SNL but then you realize that producing one awesome thing once a year is not an option. It’s a continuous process that goes one even when you aren’t feeling that into it.

Stage Two: Picking a Topic

The topic of your podcast is important for a couple of reasons. You have to actually care about that topic and be passionate about it but you also have to consider your audience. Pop culture podcasts tend to do the best and get the most listens. Things about television shows and 90’s pop culture do really well in numbers but then you might be trying to write your own stuff like Black Tapes or Swings and Roundabouts. If you’re writing AND producing your content as well as being the talent, you are going to need staff. That’s just the reality. I recommend also having audio recording and mixing skills. You’re going to need to do more than just talk into a recording device too. You need to map out segments, figure out what your recaps will look like, and plan out extra content. If you’re doing an educational podcast you’re going to do research, a lot of it. Most of the time you’ll be putting in will be behind the scenes in development and production. While these sound like sexy fun words the work is laborious, exhausting, and requires commitment and attention to detail. Everyone has to have a gimmick and you’re going to need a snappy name and personae. You’ll need to stand out in an incredibly flooded landscape of content.

Stage Three: Buying the Equipment

I know you think that you can just record into Audacity with your laptop mic or onto your cell phone and figure you’re fine. You aren’t. Podcasts with bad sound quality are frustrating for all involved. They require more editing and a lot of forgiveness from the listener. You’re looking at $500 for a decent and easy to use mixer, probably $200 on decent microphones, and while Audacity is open source, you’re going to need to get a logo sorted out. If you don’t have design skills or some resources from a podcast network, you’re gonna be doing this all out of pocket and on your own. Plus you need to host it somewhere and submit all of that information to itunes and other streaming apps. For unlimited podcasting space you’re looking at $15 a month and they will make sure you’ll need unlimited.

Stage Four: Figuring Out That Equipment

Yeaaaaaaah unless you’ve done this before it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Made more difficult if you’re doing long distance recording and sending tracks back and forth that will alter the quality and compression. You’re going to fuck up a lot and you’ll learn to not be too precious because Gilmore Girls has 7 seasons and you’ve got a lot to get through.

Stage Five: Selecting Cohosts

I would like to say that I love my friends very much.

Are they looking away now? Good. You’re going to need a cohost and it’s always going to be the worst. Even the most responsive and responsible people have lives to work around and it’s like herding rabid badgers. You’ll be working out scheduling for recording, editing, and figuring out responsibilities. Now if you pick long distance cohosts this is made exponentially harder because you’re passing files back and forth and coordinating skype calls. Set up works differently and things are twice as likely to fail technologically. Nothing is worse than having to rerecord episodes because someone’s microphone wasn’t set up correctly. On the bright side, hilarious things like getting recordings of people peeing because their mics are so sensitive can also happen. It’s a double edged sword really.

Stage Six: Editing

GOODBYE HOURS OF YOUR TIME. It’s tedious, it’s frustrating, and frankly that never stops. It never really gets that much easier or more fun. It might start off as fun because you’ll get to revisit the fun you had recording the episode but eventually you’ll get sick of your own voice. Length of your podcast will dictate how much time this will take as well and if you’re adding recordings in the middle like segment headers.

Stage Seven: Recruiting Talent

Sometimes you’ll want special guests to come on and discuss a favorite episode of the show you’re reviewing, or the book you’re discussing, or maybe you just want to mix it up. Begging people to be on your podcast will be an exercise in hating the world. Your friends will all want to be on it but not have microphones, good internet connections, any concept of preparation, or time to do it. If you have guests in house that’s obviously better because you can hold them hostage to be funny but if you’re calling in someone famous or a big deal or an expert, it’s going to be a hassle. In addition, everyone who comes on your podcast is essentially doing you a favor, hence your constant need to bend over backwards to make it work out.

Doing crossover episodes is also a struggle with other podcasts because so much coordination has to go into the enterprise. Hence when I pissed off the cohost of a rival podcast so badly he deleted me off of facebook I was relieved because then I didn’t have to try to work on that team episode. (Sorry not sorry for pissing off a conservative with my pinko commie ways).

Stage Eight: Deadlines

This part is the worst to anticipate. You’ve made it this far and still want to do the thing. You’re quite the feisty whippersnapper, huh? Now you’ve recorded your first episode, paid for your platform, and everything is ready to go. You’re completely convinced you can get out a weekly episode. Maybe even biweekly! You’re invest. You care. You totally love bad television or bad books or How I Met Your Mother, whatever your topic is. You will never tire from this and you will absolutely get everything out on time. Except you probably won’t. You’re going to be busy, tired, and trying to herd the rabid badgers as previously mentioned. You’re going to get sick. You’re going to get tired. You’re going to get sick and tired. You’ll be needed at work, at home, and realize that a lot of your free time is being funneled into this project. Your dishes will be dirty or your cohost is AWOL or you just want to pet your damn cat without having to think about reliving your review of a Call the Midwife episode. You either will soldier on or you won’t.

Stage Nine: Social Media

In order for people to feel like they’re a part of your project you need to have your social media bases covered. Facebook fan pages for the old guard, Twitter profiles, Instagram and Snapchat if you’re into that. You need to be visible. You’re also going to need an email address so that fans can reach out. This is going to blow up in your face later but we’ll get onto that in the next section. If you’re doing a pop culture podcast (like I do) you’ll at least have posts coming up about whatever show or movie or fandom you’re doing but this can get tedious. You’re maintaining a lot of extra Internet garbage. If you get enough of a fan base you might consider a facebook group where all the fans get to talk to each other. This can take some of pressure off to constantly be posting content but inevitably will spin out of control because we have moved onto —

Stage Ten: People Actually Listen

Your first episode is up! You’re available on iTunes and Podcast Addict and whatever else is available and you’ve started watching downloads. Much to your excitement and horror, people find you and listen. Your numbers start to climb. People like your social media pages and follow your profiles. It’s not amazing overnight, but you’re feeling really really good. Enjoy that feeling. Something that you made was consumed by an audience you never would have found otherwise. That’s a big deal!

Now that you’ve had your afterglow moment, something you probably should account for are the fans. Fans are a wonderful, terrible thing. You will find people that love what you do and devote themselves to listening to your product. Inevitably they will also feel like they own it. In my experience, most of my fans have been perfectly lovely, but you have to remember this is the internet and we can’t have nice things. I once ran a Gilmore Girls podcast that scrounged up a male fan who comment responded to every single discussion point my cohost and I had. He lit up the Facebook page with his insights on our jokes that are meant to be consumed in the privacy of your own earholes. He basically felt like he was part of our podcast and conversation and this is not uncommon. The ownership intensifies because your fans get to hear your voice and your banter in their ears a couple of times a month and they forget they don’t actually know you. You’re someone they have a relationship with and that relationship turns sour on a dime. I made a joke about having a Drunk Episode where I reviewed one of the episodes drunk and this man marched to Twitter to tell the podcast he didn’t appreciate us doing that and if we did it he would switch to another, more famous Gilmore Girls podcast. Going so far as to tag that podcast. This is going to happen a lot. People will want you to fight other podcasts on the internet for their love. It’s incredibly stupid and I recommend not engaging.

Stage Eleven: People Review It

You know what they say: never read the comments. People reviewing your work makes it more visible but an important thing to remember is that people generally talk most when they get to complain. I recommend encouraging people to review and then never reading the comments. I run a Bob’s Burgers podcast and someone was FURIOUS that I said Bob is a bad dad (he is). In continuation of your fanbase problems, whenever you do something they don’t like or doesn’t align with their values, you will be accused of being incendiary. Also anywhere a man can make a comment he is calling a woman a cunt so stock up on gin. Ignore this. In fact, double down. It’s your podcast. You’re the one putting the work in and paying for it. Rule with an iron fist.

Stage Twelve: Realizing that Podcasting Has No End Goal

It’s probably not going to dawn on you until a year in that you’ve essentially fucked yourself. Maybe you’re a comedian or a writer or a video editor and you thought “hey I’ll create a podcast and that will help build my brand.” It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Unless this is your full time job with actual start up capital it’s difficult to monetize podcasts and getting on a network isn’t easy. A lot of podcast networks are start ups with little capital and so your labor is unpaid in a lot of different ways. Unless you’re going to be a professional podcaster, having a podcast doesn’t add that much to your empire. Your credibility is not heightened really and there is no real end goal for you. You finish all the seasons of your show, then what? If you’re reviewing books you continue until you get bored. Unlike a blog which at least has the POTENTIAL to take off or go viral or get you work out of it, podcast fans are unlikely to support your other work. There is a lot of reasons for this including if your fans don’t live near you and can’t attend shows you’re in or they like you in the context of discussing the Goosebumps series but don’t really want to deal with reading your articles about sex work. It’s all perfectly reasonable it just doesn’t help much.

When the art you make is so specifically focused, it’s hard to bring people in especially if they don’t watch Downton Abbey or whatever your focus is even if they love your stand up or video game reviews. Pop culture is a beautiful way to bring people together but it also creates boxes for people to live in. Pop culture is identity and people are unlikely to branch out. It’s like Montagues and Capulets out there.

Stage Thirteen: Realizing the Thing You Picked is Going to Take 4 Years of Your Life Minimum

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WELCOME TO THE CLUB, SUCKER. You’ve really done it now. You’ve managed to make a deal with the Devil and now must serve your sentence. If by some miracle you have enough fans that have embraced your other work and haven’t managed to mansplain you into suicide or worn your face like a mask, you have basically the best podcast life imaginable. But you still are locked into a social contract to complete what you started, whatever that means. You’re looking at long term investment and it’s going to be a weary task. Sure you get to hang out with your friends and talk about comic books, but this is not a project that can be successful and take a back seat.It will be a monster of a priority. You are also going to start to hate the thing you love. You will grow to resent the show you are recapping or the comics that you’re reviewing so much because inevitably everything you love betrays you and loses its luster.

Stage Fourteen: People Constantly Ask You to Form New Podcasts

This one I really didn’t see coming but it happens all the time. You have experience in podcasting and friends want to start their own (because they are in stage one). If they ask you for advice this is an ideal situation because you can look at them with your dead shark eyes and convince them to run before it’s too late. What is more likely to happen is that they will ask you to be on it. I get requests like that once a week generally after I go on a tangent about something I like or I say something funny. I’ve now grown so weary of that suggestion that I’ve countered with, “if you write, edit, and pay for it, I will do that podcast.” They will be shocked that you don’t want to because they have no idea the amount of work it takes and you will feel like a spoilsport because you don’t have the energy to do vaudevillian sketches where you talk in Dorothy Parker quotes.

 

There you have it. This is the complete breakdown of having a podcast and these are all things to consider before making that hilarious call in show in the style of Loveline. Being the talent can be a lot of fun, it’s the other stuff that is some of the most important work and some of the most frustrating. It’s not all for naught, though. You’ve made a thing and people cared and sometimes you were funny and brilliant. You have cache evidence of your wit and creativity and that can be great.

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