Updated: May 17, 2019
For the past few months I used my blog to host the #PodcastingHistory series, which sought to give established independent podcasters a place to discuss their methods and experiences in an unedited format. Each time an entry from a new colleague came in, I was happy to read a new perspective on why and how people podcast. Now that the series (or, at least the first incarnation of it) has concluded, I took the time to reassess what it was like to begin a podcast.
When Footnoting History started back in 2013, we basically closed our eyes and jumped into the fire of the podcasting world. Sure we talked about what we would do before we launched, but it still took some time for us to find our proper footing. This is perfectly normal, but it is always good to be as aware as possible of what you are getting yourself into before you start.
This entry seeks to help you answer the question, "Is (history) podcasting for me?" You'll note that 'history' is in parentheses because much of what I am going to say can be applied to many genres of podcasting, but I am aware that my experience and expertise is limited to the history podcast world. The good thing about podcasting is that no one can stop you from doing it, so what I've done here is compiled a list of ten questions to help you decide if creating a podcast is for you. There are no wrong answers and it is certainly not up to me to tell you whether or not you belong in this world, but I feel it is important to provide some basic things to consider before you, too, go into the figurative fire.
I hope they help, and should you decide to come to the jungle, I wish you luck and would love it if you let me know in the comments.
Five Questions about Your Podcast
What would your podcast be about? A podcast without a purpose is one more likely to flounder. Your niche can be anything you want it to be, from the specific (think: military history of Ancient Rome or the wives of Spanish kings) to the broad (overlooked people and events in world history or world fashions), but knowing what your podcast is about will help you focus your episodes, and give you a lens through which to choose your individual topics. This is also the most important thing to consider because, if you are not in love with your topic, your audience will know and they will turn away.
Who is your target audience? Just like with in-person conversations, in podcasting you will have adjust your word choices and the density of your information to a level that will best connect to your intended audience. A podcast geared toward the general public will sound very different from one created for academic specialists or high school students.
What tone do you want to set? If your strength is humor, make your podcast funny. If you want to be a strict educational podcast that is more like a textbook, embrace that. Sometimes it takes time for a podcast to find its tone because what you think will work, doesn't in practice. That's okay. Evolution is a natural part of the process, but it's always good to consider how you want to convey your information before you do it.
Why is your podcast special? The podcast world is constantly bursting with new content and with people having so much selection, it allows them to toss you aside before they've listened to much and move on to greener pastures because, let's face it, whatever your topic is, someone else has probably tried it before and if they haven't, there's no one who can stop them from doing something similar. Therefore, it's good to know what your spin is going to be that makes people want to listen to more than half an episode. Can you tie every historical event to a modern pop song? Are you a certified specialist in that field? Did you grow up in a castle and now you're podcasting about them? These are all very specific hooks, and yours need not be so strong but you do need to consider why someone should choose you over the hundreds of other podcasts vying for their attention.
How will you promote your podcast? Plopping your podcast out into the world so it can be located on various apps is easy. Making sure people want to find your podcast takes significantly more work, and you will have to be your podcast's greatest champion. A website, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr are just some ways you can promote yourself online, so it's a good idea to lock up the user names you want across the various platforms as soon as you know where you want to funnel your energy, plus this way you can start hyping your podcast before it even launches!
Five Questions about Yourself
Do you enjoy your free time remaining free? Consider however long you think it will take to determine, research, write, record, edit, release and then promote an episode on various platforms then multiply it by at least two. In fact, at the start, unless you have audio processing experience, it is probably better to multiply it by three or four. The point is, however long you think it will take, it will more likely than not take much longer.
Can you handle criticism? Putting a podcast out into the world is not unlike releasing a book, album, film, or television show. People are going to talk about it, they're going to review it, and they're going to let you know when you do something they didn't like. It is important to know when to engage and when to ignore. Don't block out the people giving you sound advice, but don't make yourself look bad by engaging with the trolls. No piece of public art is going to please every person who engages with it.
Are you willing to work for free? The fact of the matter is, unless your podcast is being created by a company with money or you have enough listeners to gain sponsors, you will likely be doing this for free, at least at the beginning. In most cases though, you, as an indie podcaster, will actually spend money on things like a microphone and web hosting.
Would you prefer to work alone or with others? There are different pros and cons for working alone versus having partners. For example, if you are working alone you get to set your own time table and have no one to answer to, but you also have to shoulder all of the pressure of creating the product. Meanwhile, if you work with partners, you can split up the work load but you could also easily find it difficult to schedule recordings or end up having disagreements about the podcast's mission. You need to decide which best suits your personality and work preferences.
What do you hope to achieve with your podcast? The level of effort you put into your podcast should determine the level of success you achieve, but that isn't always going to be the case. It is entirely possible that you might never have a fan base that lands you a book deal based on your podcast theme. Are you okay with that? If you feel rewarded and happy with the product you put out and gaining whatever audience you are able to foster, you are far more likely to be happy with your role as podcaster than someone who will be upset about not being on every Top Ten list by the end of your first month.
The ease with which one can enter the podcast world makes it very tempting to consider, and the ever-expanding marketplace means you can always have a seat if you want it, but it will be as much work as it is good fun. If you can answer all of the above questions in a way which maintains your enthusiasm about beginning a podcast (with all the work and growing pains that come with it), then I look forward to seeing your logo pop up on apps in the future.
Happy (potential) podcasting!