Yes and no.
What’s easy and what’s hard? I’m going to break this into three tiers of podcasting and only one of them would I consider easy. But here’s the caveat: easy doesn’t mean your podcast will be good.
Get a host or two, grab some guests, put some microphones on the table hit record and talk. Save the file, make a couple edits add some music, upload to a podcasting host and click publish. Done and done… you’re podcasting!
Will it be good? Probably not.
The technical side of any show is important and requires attention. Making sure people are on mic, P’s aren’t popping, the room doesn’t echo… those kinds of things are really the price of entry into any decent podcast. They are important and require attention, but after some trial and error that’s the easy part and just the beginning. (I’m sure there’s an engineer out there that will tell me the talking is easy, and the technical is hard.)
Hosting a group discussion is a skill that many broadcasters hone over long careers. Steering a conversation to make it interesting for a listener (or viewer) is not as easy as it looks.
The “roundtable” or panel discussion is a staple of almost every Sunday morning TV talk show, and plenty of other TV and radio shows too. It’s easy, right?
In order for this kind of podcast to be good each person has a role to fill and can bring some kind of insight or value to the discussion. It also helps if your group has good “chemistry” and generally get along with each other. They are in fact putting on a show, and need to perform.
There are a LOT of podcasts that simply consist of a panel of people talking. Many of them are quite good like Slate’s Political Gabfest. (I’m a fan) They have been doing this for a long time, they know each other well, they have distinct roles to fill that compliment each other and they all bring something valuable to the conversation.
Many of these panel shows are not good. If you just randomly grab some friends, or people from around the office and get the same result as the Political Gabfest… you have won the programming lottery my friend. It doesn’t just happen accidentally.
And if you think you’re going to make it easier by not doing a panel discussion, but instead just a one on one interview, well you have another thing coming.
Great interviewers do a lot of research, great interviewers LISTEN to their guests and don’t let any comments normal listeners consider an “aside” go by without following them to the end. Great interviewers make their guests feel comfortable, open up and share interesting answers to interesting questions. It’s really hard.
Marc Maron and Terry Gross are two of the best and it was fun listening to them together in this episode of Fresh Air
Segments and variety.
Ok, so you have higher aspirations than just a few people talking each episode. You’ve read MidRoll Media’s White Paper and you want to change things up a little bit and have interview segments, and panel discussions, and narrated stories.
Ok…. cool. You’ve just made it that much harder.
If it were easy to produce a good show, Pat Sajak would have just retired from CBS Late Night instead of David Letterman.
You’re basically producing a radio show. Have you done that before? It’s not impossible to learn, but there is a lot to learn.
Audio programming is different than writing a blog post or even making a video. There are times you have to tell people what’s going on, and what’s coming up next. Helping a listener navigate a program is subtle, but totally necessary.
At CNN Radio two people (@LisaDesjardins and @DanSzematowicz) produced an award winning podcast “American Sauce” with the help of Editor Chip Grabow. It was a great show, and a HUGE lift in terms of work. Lisa and Dan were run into the ground and burned out. And these are two talented people working full time with an editor. That’s what it’s going to take for a great podcast. Are you and your company ready to invest that time and effort?
Serial did it, so can I… right?
Narrative storytelling is all the rage (again) and podcasting is a great platform for it. Alex Blumberg left This American Life and started a whole company (Gimlet Media) based on quality narrative podcasts.
C’mon… do I really need to keep going and describe the amount of time and education and experience that goes into this kind of audio production and storytelling? Just reading the part about how hard it is to put people around a table and get a good product should be an indicator as to how hard this process would be.
You need technical expertise to capture nat sound in the field, and the voices of your host(s) and guests. You need the technical expertise to layer all those sounds together and make clean audio edits.
You need a host/narrator/talent to “drive” your podcast and track the necessary scripts to keep your story moving forward.
On top of that you need an editor to contract the story. Not an editor that makes the cuts in the audio and layers all the pieces together, but an editor that checks scripts and makes sure the order of all the pieces make sense to the listeners and construct a compelling, interesting story.
Just Google Aristotle’s dramatic arc or Freytag’s Pyramid or Three Act Structure to get an idea of what you’re going to have to do with your reporting and story.
Are you still ready to jump in? Great!
There are groups and sites dedicated to the craft of audio production and storytelling. Current.org and AirMedia.org and Third Coast and Transom.org and This American Life are great places to go for advice and maybe a little self-taught education.
I wrote about a newspaper jumping into podcasting, and doing it well. The AJC made “Breakdown” with the help of experienced radio producer Susanna Capelouto. If you are jumping into podcasting with no previous experience in audio production or storytelling, it CAN be done. I don’t want this post to discourage you.
But, it should inform you that a high quality production intended to attract an audience and be beneficial for you or your company, is not as easy as plugging in the mic and hitting record/save/publish.
Thanks for reading, please leave your comments here or find me on social.
Featured image from: [Photo credit: www.nicolassolop.com]