I produce a podcast, 2 Degrees of Alie — with my wife — the very funny and talented Alison Flierl, and we came at podcasting with a different approach than most people in the comedy business.
I'm a podcast snob. I love listening to something fun and informative, smart and concise, because there's a huge queue of podcasts in my playlist right behind the one I'm on. And I'm always hungry for the next one.
But when too many people rush to fill an expanding market, a lot of what we're left with is not the best content. The growing pool of podcasts can get watered down with what is essentially a huge glut of "student film" quality — that is, stuff I wouldn't be listening to unless you made me.
In doing a lot of podcast research before we began 2 Degrees of Alie, we learned a lot of rules and tested the listeners against podcasts we liked and podcast that got skipped. Here's what people did to make me hit the skip button.
The days of Seinfeld are over. If your podcast is about nothing, that’s how much attention you're going to get. Instead choose, a theme and title it appropriately. When I start hearing an episode of your podcast, I'll be in the car, honking at someone and eating a snack during my harrowing commute home. I will be more likely to get sucked in if your podcast — or even episode — is about something. Something specific. Great examples of this are Freakonomics or Stuff You Should Know. The title and the opening of the show get my mind set for what I'm about to get into and that helps keep me engaged on your content and not the guy who just cut me off.
The big trend in podcasting has been comedians who make their own podcast. This can be a great way to broaden your audience, but only if you're amazing. Few people are that quick on their feet and that funny and that prolific to be entertaining for 30 minutes or more. You can still be funny, but focus your podcast on something. If you're looking for what to direct your attention on, see #1. (A great exception to the rule here is Jimmy Pardo's Never Not Funny. And if you'e ever seen Pardo do stand-up, you’ll understand why he's the guy who can walk up to a microphone and rely on his improv skills.)
An easy one. If I'm selecting which podcast to listen to next and yours is two hours, I'm gonna have to get back to it. Keep it around 45 minutes and the likelihood of me listening to it roughly triples.
This American Life takes weeks and months to prepare an episode. That's why they win awards. If you can't take the time to prepare for your episode and do your research about the basics of your guests, I don't have the time to listen to you fumble your way through an interview.
And now a knock against the NPR body of podcasts. Listening to someone read is not the same as listening to someone tell a story. That might mean prep time on your part, but ultimately, it means some passion and confidence about the topic you'’re talking about.
Tell me, don't read to me.
For 2 Degrees of Alie, we spent about 300 bucks on audio equipment. Yes, we did some research on where to spend the money, but a small investment nonetheless. And we get what I would consider professional quality sound out of it. If you're starting a podcast as a hobby, don't expect me — a total stranger — to share in your hobby unless you’re willing to shell out a few dollars. I understand sometimes your big guests may have to call in to your podcast, but you better be answering them using some device I can clearly understand over 70 mph freeway noise.
I deleted one podcast from my iPhone at a red light one day when the host had a guest call in during the middle of the podcast. I get that this was a live recording of an actual conversation. It's a little sloppy, but what really burned me was that the host took a full 30 seconds to answer with: "I saw someone was calling but your name didn't show up on the caller ID and I didn't know if it was going to be you but I guess it is and now we can get started …" No, you could have started 30 seconds ago. But rather than take 30 seconds out of your life to edit out the garbage, you expected me to take 30 seconds to listen to it. Remember that giant podcast queue I have? It just got shorter.
I saw a writing podcast that did this. The idea of watching a host talk to a guest for 45 minutes doesn't really bother me, but it certainly doesn't help your podcast. The problem with this was that it took up not just 70 megabytes of iPhone space, but more like 1 gigabyte. The talking head you expect me to watch just cost me the space I needed for the entirety of the second Game of Thrones book. That gigabyte is gonna get freed up before I finish listening to your first episode.
I heard a comedian friend of mine tell a great story on a podcast. Or should I say try to tell a story. What was once a funny story for three minutes of stage time now took almost 20 minutes of podcast time because the three co-hosts could not stand to let anyone but themselves be the center of attention. No one listening could really have appreciated what the story was. A waste. If you need to be the center of attention, do it on stage and give your guest the spotlight when they're on your show.
I hate to say it, but some people are more entertaining than others. Training and pepping up your guests before an interview may not be your strong suit, but that means you'll have to be selective about who you want on your show, entertaining your listeners. Marc Maron on WTF does a great job of never breaking the prime directive of entertainment: don't be boring. If you can take a boring person and bring some entertaining material out of them, you have yourself a marketable skill in the world of podcasts.
Check out a quality podcast at 2 DEGREES OF ALIE, a podcast about breaking into Hollywood that's hosted by Alison Flierl (TV Guide Letter Theater, Conan).