How to grow a podcast
17 APRIL 2021
written by Mike
GROW A PODCAST
After over five years of working in the podcasting space, we grew our main show Casefile to hundreds of millions of downloads and consistently feature on top of the charts. We also successfully launched several podcasts under Casefile Presents umbrella and hopefully continue to do so for a long time.
Exact success is never replicable because there are too many variables to copy. However, there are a few general rules that I think can help in achieving long term success. At least they worked for us.
I want to go through 3 of them and break them down further.
Content is and always will be the king. Podcasting is no different, and the content will always win in the long run. I want to discuss what I think is relevant to podcasts.
The first one is the voice. Podcasting is all about the audio and developing the connection through sound. And just like with radio the host or hosts’ voice is crucial.
The voice needs to be likeable, easy to listen to, soothing or fun, or dramatic – there are many angles to it. However, no matter the style, people have to like the voice and want to listen to it, sometimes for hours.
The second part is storytelling. The most important part of the whole podcasting thing is the story – the rest supports this centrepiece. The voice, the production, the team – everything exist to help the story.
It could be a comedy story, a true crime, fiction, an interview with guests, a chat show – whatever. However, there needs to be a point to the episode, a narrative and a timeline of what’s going on.
If it’s just two buddies talking about nothing, then it won’t be easy to keep the listener interested.
The story needs to grab from the beginning and hold the listener until the end. Don’t take anybody’s time for granted – it is our most precious resource.
And the third one is consistency. There are so many channels and platforms that a person who clicks on your show needs to know why they are here and what they will listen to. If you want to talk about true crime in one episode and then comment on movies in another and games in the third it will be pretty challenging to build a dedicated audience.
Big personalities or celebrities are exemptions to the rule and people tune in just to hear them talking about whatever.
However, for most of us, consistency will be the key to growth and developing a listenership.
Let’s now talk about
Podcasting is all about sound. There seems to be an opinion, at least in some corners, that podcasting is easy – you record, upload and people will listen to whatever.
Now ask yourself this:
Why would you spend your time listening or watching or reading some poorly produced thing?
There are plenty of good quality pieces of art or content that the bad ones don’t deserve anyone’s attention.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the story will always win. If you have the most expensive show with a bad story, the production quality won’t save you.
But if you have a great story with so and so audio quality, you can still get people interested.
However, to scale up and win in the long run you need both – great stories and great quality.
Let’s start with recording.
Ideally, you have a nice microphone and a quiet set up. You also keep it in the same position and always use the same settings. It’s worth reading and watching basic recording tutorials and techniques. The way you speak to the microphone matters but the choice of the microphone matters even more! You don’t need a professional studio or a microphone worth thousands of pounds, but don’t think you can get away with a $20 one.
The second step is production. Audio production is not easy. The basics are not super difficult either but don’t think you can record and upload.
What about editing, the volume levels, EQa and compression?
You want your listeners to understand at least what is being said. If you want to add music on top of the dialogues, then at least you need basic mixing techniques.
You don’t need an expensive set up as everything can be done on your computer with a nice pair of headphones.
But production takes time and it’s slow work, so many people just skim it.
You wouldn’t believe the number of expensive shoes that I check and think to myself – did no one listened to this before the release?
And that leads to my last point and that is consistency. As you learn you will upgrade your set up and make your show sound better but you should always strive for consistency. In volume levels, in recording settings, in your production template.
You want the listener to go from one episode to the next seamlessly and you don’t want them to adjust the volume during listening. You want people to have a smooth listening experience every time they click play!
The third leg of podcasting success, in my opinion, is teamwork. To grow and sustain a popular show, you will need a team of people who will support you and work together on bringing the episodes out.
It’s easy to start alone, but it’s rare, and I would argue, impossible, to achieve something great by yourself.
A dedicated team of people makes it easier when times get tough.
To have the right team, you got to have the right people – but once you gather them around your show, you also need to work on the team from within.
One is feedback – there needs to be an open feedback platform to give their opinion – good and bad. Feedback needs to be discussed by the rest, and if necessary, the changes implemented straight away. When team members feel like they don’t have a voice, they will grow in resentment and sabotage everything from the centre: feedback, even most trivial, needs to be heard.
The same goes for ideas. To stop growing is to die. You have to keep moving, keep experimenting to some degree and try out new things. It’s a fine balance between doing what is working and still improving and evolving. It doesn’t matter if a person is a senior or new to the team – ideas just like feedback need to be heard and discussed calmly.
Some will be good, some will be bad but don’t even think you found a winning formula and can now coast and relax. The thing that is winning at this moment may not be the best strategy in the future. Keep the team talking and brainstorming, and don’t criticise anyone for their ideas.
The last thing when it comes to right teamwork is dedication. You want people to care about the show and their work. To do so you need to learn what motivates each individual as it won’t be the same. For some is money, for others, flexibility and freedom, someone else thrives on getting the credit and so on. Once you discover the right incentive it will be much easier to get people pumped up to care about the work. Personally, I think that money is only the first and most obvious one, but once that is covered you still need to dig deeper and discover the why.
Those are the three elements that I think are needed for a successful podcast. However, there is something else that I value, and it is necessary to talk about.
I’m a big proponent of randomness and luck. I do agree with the saying – the harder you work, the luckier you get. However, most of the things are outside of our control and are driven by random events. You can have the best team, work hard, produce awesome content – and still, no luck.
Or you can start a podcast from your bedroom and straight away grow and gain a huge audience.
Sometimes we get lucky or unlucky, and remembering that, in my opinion, will keep you humble.
Because if you do get success and attribute some of it to luck – you know that you shouldn’t be boasting or thinking you are the best in the world.
Same if you get unlucky even though you worked hard – it doesn’t mean you suck, it doesn’t mean you are stupid, it just means that this time it didn’t work out.
As the ancient saying goes, sometimes Lady Luck gives, sometimes she takes it away!
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