August 8, 2016

So You Wanna Podcast? Part II: The Skillset You Need

audio studio
Now that you know why you want to podcast, here’s how to get started.

In the first part of this series, we talked about the important thinking that goes into whether or not you should even bother with podcasting. If you’ve made up your mind to move forward, congratulations! Now it’s time to start figuring out what exactly you need to get started.

Narrative chops

At the end of the last post, I recommended some narrative-style podcasts, including Startup and Serial. These shows aren’t just “talk radio.” They tell compelling stories that got me totally hooked as a listener.

In essence, these podcasts had the same effect on me that I want my films to have on audiences: I work to show viewers a new world and offer tastes of an experience they don’t normally have access to. I strive to hook them on an emotional level. These are tools of our trade. You need to translate the narrative skills you have as a filmmaker into the world of podcasting, and you can start by simply asking: what story am I trying to tell and what’s the best way to tell it?

You’ll learn enough to be dangerous. Which is where we need to be as indie filmmakers.

Audio production & post-production

This one may be obvious for an audio-based medium, but you’ll need to tap into your existing skills on all these fronts, or supplement them with resources like tutorials. Fortunately, these also dovetail nicely with your film toolbox. However, with the emphasis on the audio side of things, you may have to do some learning instead of relying on your sound crew like you normally do on set.

So you’ll learn about different types of microphones and their pickup patterns. You’ll think about mixers and pre-amps. On the post side, you want to learn how to build narrative drive when editing audio alone. You’ll probably use a variety of plugins to clean audio, or fatten it so the voice sounds great, or EQ it and add a little reverb, or DeEss it to reduce the sibilance. Mixing, audio file formats and loudness specifications. The list goes on and on.

Most importantly, delivering production value when all you have is audio will soon become second nature to you. You’ll become an “Audio Guru.” Well, maybe not. But you’ll learn enough to be dangerous. Which is where we need to be as indie filmmakers.

Be ready to learn and iterate. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Show development

Once the idea for your podcast starts to take shape, you move into the “Development” process. The first step here is answering the following questions as best as you can.

  1. What benefits do I get from creating this podcast?
    The best podcasts are where creator needs meet audience desires. Know your needs.

  2. Who will listen to this podcast?
    What value will you offer to your listeners? Information. Education. Entertainment. Novelty. Access. Know what you can offer.

  3.  What story am I telling and what’s the best way to tell it?
    As I mentioned above, this is really where the whole thing starts.

Compile your responses into a pitch document and run it by a few advisors. Go back to the drawing board if it’s not a compelling pitch. Because of the amount of work that goes into podcasting, you’ll want your pitch to be very strong, but you don’t have to finalize all the answers before you begin. Be ready to learn and iterate. Don’t be afraid of failure.

I wanted to learn how to make a podcast and get it on iTunes so I could understand the workflow. Once I got that benefit, I killed that podcast.

Here are my answers to the development questions. I aimed for the following personal benefits:  

  • Exercise my visual production workflows (test out lenses, anamorphic workflows, Davinci Resolve color correction, Premiere editing skills, etc.)
  • Build up audio production and post-production skills
  • Learn the craft of audio narratives
  • Explore narrative at an individual and societal level (next script I write, my societal conflicts better have some teeth to them!)
  • Build a channel to connect with an audience and network with them

Indian Cowboy
A still from my film 'Indian Cowboy,' which ended up serving as part of the inspiration for the 'Sinema Story' podcast
The audience I want is one that’s interested in an analytical and philosophical discussion around the power of media in modern societies. Note that this audience may be small, but if they are media savvy, they are the kind of people I want to network with. Audience building is a hard task. I don’t have it first on my list as that’s not the the most important benefit for me (just yet).

My first iteration of my podcast was called Lone Man Talking. I recorded it on a Macbook in the Quicktime player and threw that unedited file up on iTunes. What value was I offering to anyone? Absolutely NOTHING at all! But that was OK. I knew that going in. I wanted to learn how to make a podcast and get it on iTunes so I could understand the workflow. Once I got that benefit, I killed that podcast.

My next iteration led me to Sinema StoryThis quote by Chimamanda Adichie inspired me to explore the idea of narrative and how it shapes our culture and society: “Stories matter. They have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.”

But this alone wasn’t enough to shape my podcast. It needed to tie into film—the powerful storytelling medium in which I work. Then I landed on the idea of using the narrative structure of my first feature film Indian Cowboy to explore the artifice of storytelling. BOOM! I was in business.

Sinema Story
An anamorphic still from 'Sinema Story'

Genre and format

The next step in the development process is to figure out the genre and format of your podcast. Your desired benefits, your capabilities and your target audience will drive this decision.

Pick your genre
Is it going to be a solo show? Interview-based, or a narrative style? Two people on a mic doing comedy? Sounding out points-of-view? Make a choice that fits your capabilities. Remember, you can iterate on this and even do a complete pivot mid-season or scrap and relaunch a different podcast!

Choose between an audio podcast or video podcast
When people think podcasts, they generally think audio-only.Now video podcasts are also possible, but being audio-only makes for small files and easy downloads. Plus, they are gentle on your cellular data plan. You are able to listen to them offline, in the subway, on the commute to work, while driving, and on and on. The strength of audio-only podcasts is that you don’t have to be looking at a screen. These days, you can also tie in other rich-media into your podcasts, but that’s for the next level.

Although I decided to make Sinema Story available both audio-only (iTunes) and video format (YouTube and Amazon), I recommend audio-only if you are starting out. For audio-only, you don’t have to worry about having access to a camera and related equipment. It doesn’t matter if you are presentable, and whether the visuals you have look good or not. If you have guests, you don’t need them to be in the same room as you. They can Skype in and your listeners would never know. You don’t have to worry about visual continuity. Or lighting. Or wardrobe.

Flesh out a show format
How does your show break up to give audiences a chance to breathe and absorb the info you are presenting? A basic format is:

Hook->Intro->Opening->Main Content->Closing->Outro

For Sinema Story, my decision was to open with a cinematic visual. The, a quick intro, followed by the problem statement, the main thrust of the show, a quick closing and a simple outro that re-iterates the name of the show. This format will continue to evolve throughout the season.

Your turn now: put together a proposed show format. Then run it against every benefit you identified earlier to see if it’ll deliver them. Tweak it until it does.

What next?

Almost there. In my next post in this series, we’ll go through the steps to record, upload and launch your own podcast.     

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