Lessons in getting an indie podcast off the ground
My name is Kaitlin Prest. If we haven't met before, you can discover some of my most intimate and personal life details by checking out The Heart.
Like this piece about an uncomfortable kiss that probably never should have happened.
On The Heart you'll find personal stories from all kinds of people baring their souls about the most exciting and most terrifying parts of being human.
Like this piece by Mitra Kaboli, about being haunted by a man who broke her heart.
The podcast began as a broadcast radio show called Audio Smut on CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal. That was in 2008. Over the years a rotating cast of women, queers and trans folks worked for free to make the show month by month.
Our explicit content was never destined for the radio waves. After being rejected time and time again, podcasting gave us the freedom to say f--k you to the broadcast stations. But that didn't mean we were getting paid.
After six years of making the show on the side of odd jobs we joined PRX's Radiotopia, a podcast network of some of the best sound driven storytelling podcasts out there. The Heart was born. A passion project turned into a real job, and somewhere in heaven, an angel got its wings.
The episode Welcome to The Heart explains all of this in a much more aurally pleasurable way.
There are millions of ways for a podcast to be successful. For us, success is making work we are passionate about and having financial and administrative support in doing that. These are some things that helped us achieve that goal.
10 THINGS THAT TURNED A PASSION PROJECT INTO A FUNDED INDIE PODCAST
1. Developing a strong brand
1b. I know it's audio, but think about your image
2. Structure (Deadlines! And all the tricks you must play on yourself to stick to them)
In the absence of a station, a boss and a broadcast clock, The Heart had to create and enforce a production schedule. Firstly, to make sure anything got finished. Secondly, because an audience wants and needs consistency. Whether you decide to be weekly, monthly, or seasonal, a production plan is important. How long you want to spend making an episode? How many internal deadlines should go before the final release deadline? After you figure that out, you must find someone to hold you accountable. Which brings me to #3.
3. A team (Don't do it alone!)
4. A creative community
Find audio producers or artists you admire and respect who live in your city. Become friends with them. Hang out with them all the time and talk shop together. Share work with each other. Everything I ever needed to know, I was able to find out through my creative community. Save up to go to radio festivals and meet your ilk: Deep Wireless, Third Coast, Hearsay, Megapolis.
5. A greater purpose
6. Good sound
Please. For the love of radio. Do not wake up one morning and decide you know how to make a podcast if you do not know anything about audio. Audio is a craft. It is an art. It must be respected. Worshipped. Cherished. Learn basic audio engineering. Or ask an indie musician if they want to be your engineer. Reaper is an amazing editing software that is user friendly and cheap. Putting your mic close to your mouth when you record makes us want to listen to you. But practice is the only way you will learn.
7. An audience
Doing really good creative work helps in getting an audience, it really really does.
Movies In Your Head is a radio play we spent over a year working on. We worked with composer and sound designer Shani Aviram, which brought the audio quality to another plane. This piece promoted itself. Our audience grew 8k in the months after we released it.
But making great work is often not quite enough. It's known podcast wisdom that appearing on bigger shows/podcasts is the secret to growing your audience. Countless shows got their start by producing a version of an episode for This American Life and having Ira Glass promote the podcast. He's called 'the podfather'. The Heart produced a piece for NPR's Snap Judgment. Our audience grew 10k in a couple of weeks. Having an audience is really important for pitching your podcast to networks, because your audience numbers are what creates revenue.
8. Money (Be dedicated to finding a way to pay yourself)
Figuring out a funding model is the challenge all artists face. These are sources of cash I know of within the podcasting universe:
- a) A company that wants a podcast - many arts institutions, magazines and businesses are interested in having a podcast of their own, and hiring you to make it for them. Find one that's in alignment with your interests, and pitch!
- b) Sponsorship/advertising - podcast sponsorship operates on CPM (cost per thousand) downloads/episode. The industry standard is a $20 CPM. So once you have a few thousand regular listeners, you can start pursuing businesses to sponsor you!
- c) A network - see below.
9. A network (A home)
- a) Podcast networks - Radiotopia, Buzzfeed, Earwolf, Gimlet, Panoply, MaxFun, and aCast are some recently born podcast networks.
- b) Media networks - big media companies are beginning to flock into podcasting, Vice, Rolling Stone, MTV, Amazon. They're looking for content producers who know their way around audio.
- c) Radio networks - many public radio networks and stations are starting their own podcast departments. Not sure if the CBC is starting a podcasting program, but now is a great time to pitch them on the idea! [Editor's note: Here's how to pitch a radio program or podcast to CBC.]
10. Perseverance (If the door is locked, climb the fence and go in through the window)
Ultimately, audience, funding and networks should be tools you use to make incredible audio. But there will always be obstacles to making great work. The balance of being profitable to making something truly surprising is always the artist's struggle. It's your job to use whatever resources you have at your disposal to make something that moves people. However you do it, know that great work will go a long way. You can do it.