“Serial…one story…told week by week …” This concept of an audio story told over a long period of time is not a new concept. Before any one called them podcasts, they produced radio dramas and news. But since the development of the World Wide Web, people have been making kick ass podcasts since the 1980s.
What is a “podcast”?
The loose definition of a podcast is a digital medium that consists of episodic series of audio, video, digital radio, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through the web. But for our purposes when referring to a podcast we will talk about the audio series downloaded from some online source.
But podcasts open up a whole new world. So sit back Jasmine and let me take you on a magic carpet ride. “The biggest asset for a podcast it can be anything and break the rules by going longer or include elements normally cut,” said John Pemble of Iowa Public Radio.
Most often podcasts break the conventional news storytelling set up. Often the podcasts are set up as two-way conversations with both sides recorded. This also lends people to use podcasts as a soapbox. If you want people to really listen you’ve got to have more storytelling art then Bob over there ranting about the destruction of the modern world.
Examples of Some Kick-Ass Podcasts
This American Life has more 2.2 million listeners, so to say that its popular is an understatement. Produced by Chicago Public Media and has claimed the title of the most popular podcast in the country.
Every week they find a story of an average American but tell it in a way to make them unique. They also choose themes of the stories they tell. The thing that makes it the best is… the story telling is impeccable.
Radio Lab describes itself as a show about curiosity, and their sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy and human experience.
While they may not have all of the listeners that This American Life pulls in, they still have loyal followers and a wide fan base. Why? Because they can kick ass at storytelling.
Serial (referenced earlier in this blog post, the very first thing in fact!) swept the nation by storm. This was a story told week by week. But this particular story was different.
Serial focused a crime, actually a conviction of a man in 1999. As they dug deeper and revealed more the podcast became immensely more popular. Saturday Night Live even made a parody of it! You can find it here:
But to really get how funny the parody is, the podcast is necessary. Plus! You guessed it…it has amazing story telling capabilities.
There are million podcasts out there, but these made it to the big leagues. “Take the word “podcast” out of question and ask, how can I make this story stand out? When I approach a story about musician, I don’t ask myself, how do I make a good broadcast. I ask myself, how can a I make a good story about this musician,” said Pemble.
Okay, so really…Where to start
- Have a solid angle or theme. What that means is you need to establish what makes your podcast different from the others. Also, be sure to pick a theme that you can find plenty of content on. Don’t pick dogs shows, if there’s a finite number of dog shows you are going to be able to go to.
- Get the right equipment. As I’m sure Pemble can attest to, the right audio equipment is absolutely necessary for the success of your podcast. If people can’t hear the people you interview or are bothered by annoying technical error they are going to turn you off.
- Easy and simple, we live in a world that is increasingly spending more time online. Get on it or you’re not going to be heard. That said you need to develop a plan to get the word out that you have a unique experience for listeners. Find many social media platforms to promote your work.
Overall, I am beating a dead horse here but storytelling is key to making anything successful. Plan out your podcast to have a beginning, a middle, a climax, and an end.
Pemble has some final insight. “Podcast isn’t a verb, just like Photoshop isn’t a verb. Forget the platform when developing content. Pitch open and free, then whittle the list. Keep the rejected story or show concept’s in an ongoing list, they will prove valuable much later.”
For me, people like good story-telling and easy access to it. Keep your angle in mind and paint a picture for the audience. Make them feel like they know the people or stories featured intimately. Now, go out and produce that kickass podcast you’ve always wanted to create!