Guest Post: What is Podcasting?

This is a guest post from Myke Hurley, the podcaster at 5by5 with the British accent.

Over the last three and a half years, I have grown from hobbyist to semi-professional podcaster.

Most podcasters produce their shows in their spare time; there are very few podcasters who are currently making a passable living from this. However, this is changing. More money than ever is available to podcasters with popular shows.

Personally, I expect to be making enough money within the next year to be able to do this full time and leave my job.

Of course, podcasting as a craft is still growing and changing, but it is becoming a more viable business for people if they are willing to take the time to build an audience.

Audience building is a dark art. I cannot point to one thing specifically that will help you grow an audience for your show. For me, it has been a combination of hard work, sticking to a schedule, working with smart people and the kindness of others. None of this is new information or a magic formula, but it’s what has got me to this point.

Over the past week there has been a lot of talk about what makes a good podcast and a few friends of mine have launched a new project which defies the norms of what a traditional podcast actually is.

These events have prompted me to take some time to share some of my thoughts about podcasting.

Podcasts are a production. You need equipment, editing skills and something to say.

You do need all of these things, but the levels of each can and will differ from show to show. Some podcasts sound great, but the content doesn’t match the production, others have amazing content but lack quality audio. As podcasting is a hobby for practically everyone that does it and time is always a limiting factor, it isn’t all that surprising.

My first shows were terrible. I was using a Logitech headset mic, had absolutely no idea what I was saying and my editing skills were extremely lacking (to say the least). But I worked at it. I practiced and learned what I needed, listened to the feedback of my tiny audience and worked on making everything better.

To this day I still struggle with all of these things. Sometimes internet connections fail and Skype chews up the show, making my guests sound like they are in a tin can. Sometimes I edit something poorly and don’t correctly align tracks. Sometimes life gets in the way and I fail to outline topics as well as I should.

But this is the nature of the beast. This is reality for 99% of podcasts out there today. But for now, this is the medium we have; it’s a bunch of guys and gals trying their best to cobble something together that they are proud of. Independent podcasters work their hardest and open themselves up every week to be judged by their audiences, the same as all content creators do.

Recently, I attended the XOXO festival in Portland. A running theme of the conference was how terrifying it can be to release something you’ve been working on into the world.

For us podcasters, we do this on a weekly — sometimes daily — basis. We release something and the comments come in via email, Twitter and more. This feedback provides us with the judgment we need, but also they help guide the show. If our listeners agree with us, they tell us; if they think we are wrong, they tell us why.

This phenomenon is unique to podcasting. Radio and TV do not have this type of audience participation. Listeners are intrinsic to the process.

Podcast listeners feel involved in the process of creating the show with us. We receive follow up and ideas for topics. We are in their ears every week, sharing the thoughts and ideas that they have and can relate to.

This listener interaction is what makes our medium totally unique. No other entertainment medium is this linked to its audience. They rely on us to entertain; we rely on them to listen to the episodes, help us craft our shows and support us either directly or by checking out our sponsors.

Podcasting is still in its infancy, but is quickly moving towards teenage years. Gatekeepers are arriving, networks are growing, apps are being built, more sponsors are coming on board and listenership is growing.

A collection of my friends have just launched a project called the Unrecorded Podcast. I love these people dearly; I work with two of them on their other podcast projects. These guys are a collective of smart and creative guys and I can see that they are trying to push the envelope a little, but I feel they have missed the base with what they are making.

They are getting together to do a weekly show, but not release the audio, just the show notes.

People love podcasts because of the conversation. They hear how it flows from start to end and the show notes of an episode either add context to the discussion or allow someone to follow along. You will lose a lot without this and just be delivering a list of links to someone.

I don’t think I fully get this the way they do, but they are smart people that believe they are on to something different.

But Unrecorded is a podcast with the soul ripped out.

In a way I find it wrong to refer to this as a “podcast”, this is not what I work to create. It’s a project and a thing all of its own, it’s not what traditional podcasters do.

However, this project demonstrates to me is that people are trying to evolve the medium, which is an extremely positive thing. It’s something that I think about a lot.

So, what’s next for podcasting? I definitely do not have the answer for that, but I know I am going to find it eventually.

If you want to start a podcast, then you should just go ahead and do it. Don’t listen to people who tell you it ‘must be under an hour long’ or it ‘shouldn’t be about tech news’. Make the show you want to make and figure it out along the way. If you lack amazing editing skills (like I do), then just practice. Start with something raw and refine over time, you’ll learn what the bare minimum is that you need.[1]

What is podcasting? It’s an incredible, growing entertainment medium. The best days of the medium are yet to come. There are exciting things on the horizon.

  1. Whilst we’re talking about editing, let me tell you my philosophy. I believe that podcasts are conversations; they have a natural flow to them. They have a start, a middle and an end. Any point that is made has been influenced and guided by everything said before it. I personally believe that heavy content editing is a bad thing. “We don’t edit for content,” Dan Benjamin says, and I’m a believer. It disrupts the natural flow of conversation and I shy away from it as much as possible. Let your podcast be a living and breathing thing. If it lasts 90 minutes, then so be it. There was a reason you recorded for that long, you just need to decide if that’s the show you want to do. If you want it to be thirty minutes, find a way to make your conversations that length. Don’t arbitrarily construct a 30 minute podcast from a 90 minute conversation. Don’t make your editing application a slaughterhouse.  ↩