Don’t listen to what they say, look at what they do

Episode 4 – Full transcript

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  1. Gimlet shows
  2. Gimlet’s mystery show trailer
  3. Wondery
  4. Earwolf shows

Full transcript

Is it possible to make a hit podcast in the year 2020 with limited time and resources of a hobbyist at home? There’s probably a big names in podcasting now and investment is rolling in.

So is there still a place for independent podcasters like you and me? And if there is, how do we do it? The question is, can I make it a hit podcast?

Welcome back to episode four of this podcast. There has been a bit of a break, not surprisingly, perhaps with all that’s going on at the moment, and I hope you are safe and well considering the Corona virus, but, uh, perhaps this is the time, perhaps this is the best time ever to be thinking about doing some podcasting.

It’s got a little bit disrupted my normal flow things. So my daily updates on social media, aren’t coming out quite as often as I would like them to. But I got thinking the other day about this whole question of what sort of topic you should do if you want to make a hit podcast. One of the bits of advice I’ve always quite liked is this idea of don’t look at what people say you should do, because there’s an awful lot of people giving a lot of advice. Look at what they’re actually doing.

So I decided to have a look at what some of the most well known podcast companies are doing, some of the big companies to see if perhaps we could recreate it as independent podcasters.

The whole idea started off after I listened to a podcast called Business Wars in the car. It was about Airbus versus Boeing. The big aircraft manufacturers, and don’t get me wrong, it was really enjoyable, but you could feel it was podcasting by numbers. There was a clear formula to what was being made.

And as I started looking at other podcasts, you could start to see this as well. So let me give you an example. In this particular program, it would start each episode with a story. For example, it began with a fisherman was watching a plane flew over. He was twiddling with his beard. He’d catched a certain number of fish that day, and as he looked up, he saw an explosion and the plane falling from the sky.

So what they did was they brought to life the facts rather than just reading off the facts and saying it.

You know, in 1969X did X, they brought it to life by throwing in these stories, which they just narrated. Now, when you actually listened to the program, the information in it wasn’t particularly deep. In fact, you could have probably pulled everything in there from a few books or magazines or frankly, online, about the airlines.

But the way they put it together made it into an entertaining revelation of a story about how these two companies fought each other. But it certainly felt when you listened to carefully that you could feel that it had a low production cost.

Now I say this because when I worked in broadcasting, I worked for commercial broadcasting and we usedto have people from the big national broadcasters and they simply couldn’t cope with the way we worked. You know, they would have one radio package to make in a day. We would have to do three in the next hour, and it was a different way of working, but it forced you to become highly efficient and how to produce something of the same quality.

But in a fraction of a time with often zero to even less budget, where you ended up having to pay for things yourself.

So listening to these podcasts. I couldn’t help but start to try and analyze a little bit how they’d done it.

One of the, perhaps best known ones is a company called Gimlet. Now this, if you don’t know, it was set up by someone from national public radio, from NPR in America, and he started a series called startup about the creation of this company. And of course it became very successful and it’s now been bought by Spotify.

So if anyone knows what you need to do to make a podcast that is going to attract people in the year 2020 they should certainly know. So I went onto their website and I had a look at the shows they’re actually making, and I noticed straight away there was a series called Gimlet Academy. I subscribed to this.

Why? Because it was all about how to make podcasts so immediately, I guess from a personal point of view, I want to know what they know. It seems like it’s going to contain all sorts of tips that will be useful to me, so I didn’t even listen to it. I just immediately clicked to subscribe to it because I thought, that’s what I’m going to want to know.

I think there’s a slight element as well when clicking on podcasts, but if you think you’re going to get value from it, you subscribe it . It’s a bit like clicking. I want to later to a YouTube video, but you probably are never going to get around to it. So what actual programs did they have?

Well, there are a lot of crime stories, conviction, satanic cults, crimetown, which reports on crime cultures in different US cities. Crime, as I think we know is a very popular thing. Then there was one called every little thing, which was an interesting facts podcast. The sort of short bite sized things that you might not know.

There was a podcast called Heavyweight, which is about powerful real life stories. Certainly NPR are very good at getting people to tell their stories and you get engaged with interesting stories of people. There was another one, which was called mogul, about stories from the world of hip hop. So again, it had that sense of what happened in the world of hip hop behind the scenes.

So there’s a big focus on stories. there was another one where a therapist goes into offices to understand the office dynamics by talking to people there. So again, real life stories. Again, there was a couples therapy one where couples tell their real life stories.

There was also one about motherhood. And this is a psychiatrist who talks to people, not surprisingly, mothers, getting them to tell their stories again so that you as a listener can relate to it. there was one called mystery show, and this was perhaps more appealing to me as well because of the whole investigation behind it, which is something that I used to enjoy doing.

So what they do here is that they investigate cases. But in return for the person that they investigating it with telling their story. So you tell the story of the investigation, but you also get the personal insight of that person that is being investigated for.

So it’s basically like a detective, but interestingly, it’s not just crime on this one, but all kinds of different things. So things from the past. So there was a one I was listening to whereby the presenter had seen a number play on a car, which said something like, I love nine 11. Interesting number plate to have, and this was years ago, and they wanted to try and find the person who had that number plate and they had nothing beyond having seen the type of car where it was and that was it.

so that’s a few of them, but one thing I noticed about all of them is that they all tend to be series, so six episodes, maybe eight episodes, something like that.

And I think. The psychological thing behind that is it’s a manageable series. It’s like, yeah, I can get through six episodes if the show is an ongoing show. It was one story per episode, so I think that gave people an opportunity to jump into him. One of the things I think with ongoing rambling shows is you don’t really know what you’re going to get from each episode.

It’s kind of a you to drop in and get lucky, but that also means that it’s far less tempting to subscribe or to follow it.

Then I moved onto another company called Wondery. Now, these were the people behind the Airbus Boeing podcast I’d been listening to, and I wondered if there was something in the title, in fact, giving us a clue as to the kind of podcast we should make and the title being the company named Wondery. Is it that a good podcast is about a topic that people wonder about?

People don’t need to know it. It’s not going to necessarily change their life, but they’re curious about it. Perhaps the best podcast topic is simply to look at Google and see what people are searching for and make a show about that. So what shows were they making? What? What are people interested in?

What Joe exotic was one about an eccentric, exotic cat center owner and a feud with another center owner. Again, real life stories, they seem to match the whole idea of Gimlet hair, even the rich real life stories about the rich and famous and their craziest moments, the eccentric stories that we all want to know.

They did have some fictional stories in there as well. So if you like writing stories, perhaps you can turn that into a podcast. Then I thought, okay, what other companies are there? Because Gimlet and wondering a very similar, there was another one called Earwolf. and this company focuses on personality podcast.

It’s you listen to it because you want to hear that person. One of the things I noticed was a lot of the people involved in those podcasts are people working in Hollywood. And immediately you see that listed in their names. You start to get curious. So, there was a producer from the bill Meyer show.

So you start to listen to just as a, see what these people are like.

But from our point of view. Oh, are you a personality? Are you a known personality?

In which case that approach is not going to work. Perhaps if you’re a hairdresser and you’re going to reveal the secrets behind hairdressing that that might make you unique, but it’s very hard to go down that sort of Earwolf approach unless you’ve got an existing personality or brand. So what can we pull out of all these?

One. It’s all about in the rated stories, either fictional or real life, but it is about a structured story , number two, you need to find something that people don’t need to know, but wonder about.

Wondery remember was the name of that company, so something that is a mystery. The next one, the episodes need to feel bite sized or the series needs to feel by size, so it’s not too much of a commitment, either one episode at a time with a specific story in each that you can grab in it, or a short series, three to six, eight episodes, something like that, which will tell the story throughout that series.

and realized stories. People clearly like real life stories with the voices of those real people involved in it. Now, whether you’re using archive clips or whether you’re interviewing people for real or whether you’re going out there and actually investigating something yourself and talking to people as you do it, that kind of stuff seems to be attractive as well.

So how can we apply that to what we do? Certainly if you take the low budget approach, you could go and research a story like the airline and you could narrate that yourself.

Or if you aren’t involved in something, I mentioned this before, if you’re doing a job or if you’re doing a career or a hobby, you can record and document what you’re doing and talk to other people in it to give that real life story. But the key thing, the key thing of all of this was story. Not just narration, not just stating facts, but having a story with a beginning and a middle and an end, and it’s that.

But I think I really want to look at next time.

Published by Richard

25 years in the communications business. Former news editor, journalist, political public relations professional, social media content creator, and podcast host of

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