Learning to Podcast – The Abstract Stuff

I’m back after quite some time of writing a decent post, so I hope you enjoy this looong one. I will follow it with another one about the more practical aspects of podcasting. For now, enjoy!

I created my first podcasts in 2011. I took four chapters from The A to Z of Spanish Culture and created some really cool audio files, with a bit of music, special effects… I then tried creating a business podcast but it was a bit souless, and when iTunes changed their spec, the podcast got rejected. Not a bad thing.

This summer, after recording the audio version of the A to Z, I decided to start a podcast to give the book some exposure. I’d been wanting to podcast again for a while, as I have been consuming podcasts since I discovered iTunes, but I couldn’t really find a reason for doing it. Just for fun, yes, but there are so many things that I do for fun AND something else, that just for fun didn’t quite get me in front of the mic.

In August 2014, with the sharing power and moral support of the Facebook group Writers and Bloggers about Spain, I launched the Spain Uncovered podcast. I hadn’t thought about the show too much. All I knew was that I wanted it to be about Spain and I wanted to avoid or crush all the myths and stereotypes about the country. So there would be no toros or flamenco. (Although there were, eventually…)

But I don’t live in the country anymore, so sometimes I’m not the best person to talk about the changes going on there and even about some parts of the country. So what better way of delivering this content than by inviting other people onto the show. I’d also learned from my own podcast listening behaviour that having guests on the show could only help build an audience, so another reason for bringing people onto the show.

Lesson 1 – When Interviewing, Use the Phone

By the time I started interviewing people for the Spain Uncovered podcast, I had already experimented with different ways of recording these conversations.

My very first interview, which was not for my Virtual, not Distant site, was with the wonderful Vaggelis. I connected through Skype with him and then just pressed recorded him with Quicktime. I then recorded my own comments and questions later on and pasted the whole thing together.

I then did a bit of research and found Call Recorder, which could record Skype conversations. My interview with Alan on Using Yammer, was recorded over Skype – both him and I were talking through Skype.

Finally, when I realised that I could use Call Recorder to record from a phone line, I tried it out with Maya. If you’re interested in how the quality changed with these three methods, have a listen to the interviews and compare.

The best way of recording an interview remotely if the other person has a dodgy internet connection, is to call their landline and interview them by phone.

This is easy to do with Call Recorder for Skype. You can add credit to your Skype account and call them through the application. Call Recorder is quite cheap and very easy to use.

Ask your guests to be honest about their internet connection and, unless they have super-hot wifi, I would avoid calling them on Skype through the mobile. Luckily I’ve only had one interview where the quality of the call was so poor that I had to drop it all together from the schedule. Otherwise, the quality has been quite good when using Skype.

I also really like recording someone from their landline, because it sounds just like the radio!

I learned that early on, very early on. However, if someone has a good remote set up, then it’s probably best to contact them through Skype. It’s cheaper and also, those people with a supercool broadband connection don’t usually have a landline. You can also meet them before hand by switching on the camera, but I don’t recommend recording the conversation with the camera on, as the quality of the audio will decrease. 

The podcast was going down quite well, at least, it was getting downloads, mainly thanks to all the guests helping to spread the word and to the cool people from WABAS who started sharing the episodes on Social Media, well, mainly through Twitter and Facebook.

But I wanted a bit more exposure. Up until then, I had been releasing an episode once a week, on Tuesdays. In October, to increase the number of downloads, I decided to launch another type of episode.

The Spain Uncovered podcasts were in English and so I was missing out on the audience who was more interested in practising their Spanish than in learning about Spain.

So I released a short piece in Spanish, talking about a Spanish phrase or proverb. To make life easy for myself, I decided to write the post in English (it’s my first written language even if sometimes it gets polluted by some Spanish syntax) and then translate it on the go as I recorded the episode.

This of course was great to encourage listeners to follow the post in English if they thought their Spanish wasn’t up to scratch. Which leads me to lesson 2:

Lesson 2 – Be Creative about Growing Your Audience

Let’s face it, podcasting takes up a lot of time so you want people to listen to your show. Marketing is not just advertising and getting the word out. Marketing also involves looking at your product and seeing how you can make it more attractive to your current audience or to potential listeners. Some people hit on a format that others love and so they stick with it. For example, Johnny Lee Dumas hit on a format, topic and schedule that has allowed him to build a mini podcast empire, so why shouldn’t he stick to it? (see Entrepreneur on Fire)

Us mere mortals are not as driven and so, thinking creatively, in a way that is going to allow us to continue having fun while reaching out to more people, is key. The new format definitely helped me to get more listeners. The British Embassy in Madrid picked up the first episode of the new Discovering Spanish series, “Me tienes frito” and shared it with their Facebook community. The podcast spiked, getting 200 downloads in one day, which is not a lot for a regular podcast, but for me, it was great. More importantly, the daily download for every day of the week went from an average 5 or 6 to a 25 – 30, reaching between 50 and 80 on the days when the episodes were released.

In December I realised that the Spain Uncovered podcast was taking up a lot of my time for very little financial return and, much to my artist’s heart sorrow, I decided I had to cut down on the work. Luckily my friend Estefania offered to write the script for the last Discovering Spanish episode on Santa Rita – saving me a lot of time too.

Let’s face it, my heart is not back in Spain. My heart is very much in London with my voiceover body and my efforts of trying to build a business to help virtual teams. The Spain Uncovered podcast was (and still is) a lot of fun, but it wasn’t really a business-hobby, just a hobby. (I’ve decided to call everything I do a business-hobby if I’m enjoying it and has the potential to make money. Whether it makes money at present is irrelevant. If I don’t enjoy it, I just don’t do it, life’s too short.)

After trying out podcasting with the Spain Uncovered podcast and realising that actually, it was something I really enjoyed, I set up the 21st Century Work Life podcast to gain exposure and to share some of my thoughts about the world of work.

I didn’t want to be the only voice in the podcast, but I also didn’t want to do another interview-based show. I was quite enjoying some of the podcasts out there with co-hosts and I wanted to build some sort of podcasting relationship with a buddy.

Lesson 3 – Team Up With Someone You Can Learn From

I’ve learned loads from Lisette. She is so clear, so direct and to the point. She barely needs any editing. She comes oh-so prepared to each call. For those of you who don’t listen to the 21st Century Work Life podcast (what are you waiting for?), Lisette Sutherland appears every other week in the segment Virtual Coffee With Lisette. The only reason why I haven’t asked her if she wants to make it a regular appearance is because I quite like the variety that different guests give the show. I also felt that the world of work is so vast, that limiting to just Lisette and I would, well, limit what we could cover.

Having someone who is prepared to give a good chunk of their time and who is always so up for it makes a huge difference to wanting to do a good job. Thanks, Lisette!

To make the 21st Century Work Life podcast the best it can be, I’ve reconnected with some old acquaintances and shamelessly connected with some people I’ve never met in real life. Twitter has been great for this, enabling me to start a conversation with people I just know I’ll never meet in real life (although, never say never!). When possible, I always try to move the conversation onto email, as I find that 140 characters doesn’t really let me say much once I get going.

Some of the people I wanted to talk to live or work in London and so I thought it would be a good idea to buy a portable recorder and hit the road with it! Great idea… some times…

Lesson 4 – Only Record in a Quiet Place
I know, this probably seems like very obvious advice, but I got so caught up in the whole interviewing frenzy that I didn’t realise how much noise the portable recorder Roland R-05, would pick up. I recorded a whole piece at The Hub which I am now having trouble using, as the background noise is not just distracting, but irritating. I also met up with another friend last month in a cafe, to have a good chat for the podcast. Bad idea. It looks like I might have to re-record over Skype!

Even the two interviews that I’ve recorded in a meeting room, in what seemed like a quiet spot, are full of noise from the street – mainly cars and motor bikes. These two are not too bad and the conversation is quite meaty, so, although the noise might draw you out of the conversation every now and then, I think it’s a small price to pay to bring the listeners out of an internet connection and into the real world.

Lesson 5 – Keep Listening and Keep Experimenting

There is not one way of podcasting, pretty much like there is not one radio format that will serve every audience, every theme and every host.

So far, I’ve tried the talking head, the scripted head (excuse me…), the interview, the interview looking through photographs (still needs editing), the co-host chat and finally, the roundtable. I am particularly excited about this last one, although it is probably the most time consuming to organise, if not to create and edit.

The one I organised back in November for the Spain Uncovered podcast is going to be aired as two separate episodes, as what started as a one hour plan, ended up lasting over 90 minutes. Four guests and I, all doing this for the first time. Talking about Spanish stereotypes and pondering over what makes us behave in a range of different ways.

I’m looking forwards to seeing how this kind of deep discussion goes down. The usual interviews can be quite meaty, but there are only two of us on the line and so, as soon as I feel the momentum decreasing, I move on. With the roundtable, however, I’d kick off discussion with a small statement or question, then guest 1 would pick up, then guest 2, guest 3 and then guest 4, which meant that we just went deeper and deeper into whatever it was we were talking about.  Of course the intellect of the guests had much to do with the quality of the conversation, reiterating the importance of Lesson number 3.

That’s it for now, feel free to get in touch if you’re thinking of starting a podcast and would like me to share further advice. Remember that what worked for me might not work for you – but I hope these five pointers will help you to move on.

Above all, ENJOY!

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