Keeping the Love Alive as a Long-Term Podcaster
There's a lot of advice out there (including from me!) for people considering podcasting or who have just started podcasts. This month, though, as Footnoting History celebrated its 9th anniversary, I have been thinking about being a long-term podcaster.
In many ways starting a podcast is actually the easy part. You are filled with the heady excitement of creating something new and putting your voice literally out in the world. But what happens when the thrill of beginning the adventure fades away? A podcast is a lot of work,
especially if it's an indie podcast and you have to do
all of the work yourself.
Sometimes, when I am exhausted from the routine of constant content creation, production, and release, I wonder how I do it. After giving it some serious consideration once I decided to write a post about long-term podcasting, I think I have boiled it down to some key things that help me stay engaged. I'm sharing them with you today because long-term podcasters need a helping, supportive hand just as much as those at the beginning of the podcasting road. It is my hope that by being as open and honest as I can about my own experiences you will both be able to learn from them and recognize that someone out there knows what you're feeling, because even if I don't shout about it in public all the time, there are always ups and downs behind the scenes. Keeping things fresh and maintaining your desire to be a podcaster even when the process becomes a grind can be hard, and sometimes you do have to step away from a project for good, but for those of us who are still in the midst of it, here are a few ways I keep my drive alive:
Shake things up a little.
I begin every single episode of Footnoting History by saying "Hey everyone, Christine here." If I don't do it, I feel out of sorts. It's a simple opening, but it became a habit, and now it centers me when I begin a recording. I've tried other ways and always ended up reverting back to that simple "Hey everyone, Christine here" before the final version is completed. But that doesn't mean everything I do has to be routine. If it was I would be bored and never want to podcast again. Because my podcast is non-narrative, I have the ability to jump around with topics, so that helps me keep things fresh, but there are other ways to do this, too. You may want to try a new theme song, or redo your website, or create a new logo. You may decide to deviate from your narrative format for a one-off episode about something tangentially related that interests you, or you may decide to try a live recording where your listeners can join in on the process. Having a process that works is amazing. Sticking to it so much that you get yourself into a rut and start to hate what you're doing sucks. For me, sometimes it's as simple as saying to myself, 'okay Christine, you've done too many biographies lately, maybe it's time for you to do a bit of legal history...' or 'you've been running this Twitter account for years, why don't you add a new hashtag like Medieval Monday so that you get to look up fun medieval things to share each week?' Small (or sometimes large) tweaks to your routine can really change your perspective, give you more energy, and possibly thrill your listeners, too.
Go easy on yourself. This may seem to contradict the factor above this, because shaking things up often means adding more work for yourself. But you don't always have to shake things up and you don't always have to do more, more, more. If it's dragging you down to keep up part of the podcast, you can stop it. We had a Tumblr account once. It didn't get much traction and I didn't enjoy updating it. We no longer have a Tumblr account. It's one less thing I have to worry about. Sometimes, I'll have a year where every episode (or at least most) of the episodes I do involve me having to research the topic from scratch. It's a lot of work. When I feel the dread rising at the prospect of doing that yet again, I sit back and think, 'okay, what topic can I cover that I already know a good deal about?' As soon as I realize I will have a much smaller burden of research because I am integrating things I have already studied for a long time, I feel better. The episodes are just as good, because odds are if I know about a topic already it's because I love it (and enthusiasm reads through audio!), and my brain gets time to enjoy the process instead of worrying about simply getting it done. Sometimes, it's okay to relax by taking the easy road, and it prevents you from becoming exhausted.
Listen to other podcasts.
I did not start off as a podcast lover. In fact, I barely knew anything about them when I began. These days, though, a lot more people are inspired to start podcasts because they've loved listening to them for a long time. The problem is, when all you do is work on a podcast, it can be easy to lose sight of why it is a medium you loved in the first place. Find a podcast other than your own, maybe not even in the field yours covers, and listen to it. Listen to several. Let yourself enjoy it. Remind yourself why you love podcasts, so you can also reignite your desire to create a great one.
Surround yourself with good people. Maybe you entered the podcasting world with a lot of friends on your production team like I did, or maybe you decided to go it alone. When I say 'surround yourself with good people', I don't mean that you have to work with anyone else, but I do mean that you should cultivate friendships within the community as a whole. Places like Twitter, Discord, YouTube, and all the other social media outlets are fine ways to connect with other podcasters if you don't already know any. If you want to be able to do this for a long time, you're going to need people to talk to who understand what you're doing and who can sympathize when you're frustrated or help you when you get stuck. You'll also need some people who know absolutely nothing about podcasting so they can help you get your mind off it on occasion. Your time is precious and filling it with people you like and trust is important. It's a heck of a lot easier to stay feeling fresh and in love with podcasting when you have others in your life who will help you work through the problems that arise and celebrate the successes that come your way.
Be determined and appreciative. I recognize how good Footnoting History has been to me. Without it I wouldn't have many of my friends and colleagues, or heck, edited a book (Independent Scholars Meet the World). It helped me establish myself as an independent scholar and historian, leading me to many opportunities I might not have had otherwise. My life would look incredibly different if I did not have this constant growing presence in the podcasting world. Every time I sit back and think about where I am and what I'm doing, I am shocked by how this podcast (a format I was unfamiliar with at the start) has done so much for me. It fuels my determination to continue making the best content I can to reach as many people as I can for as long as possible. I may complain about being tired or wanting a break, but so far (and this could always change, no project is forever unless you're playing Olivia on Law and Order: SVU) my dedication to this podcast has served me well, and my appreciation for the fruits of that labor gives me reason to want to continue.
Don't take it too personally. Footnoting History's success is important to me. Keeping the quality of my episodes (and my fellow hosts) high is important to me. Making sure our listeners are happy is important to me. But I know we can't please everyone. Someone out there is going to dislike the topics we choose. Someone else is going to think we should have done a topic from a different angle or chosen to focus on a theme they prefer. Someone, at some point, will leave us a review that states they simply cannot stand the sound of my voice. Good for them. Letting that sort of thing embed itself in your consciousness and dictate your feelings about yourself will make you forever unhappy. It's an easy thing to have happen and a hard thing to let run off your back, especially at the start. But one good thing about podcasts is that there a lot of them out there, so someone who dislikes yours can move on to someone else's. If 100 people listen to your podcast, and one person is moved to tell you that you stink, that's an incredibly low percentage. That means that, in all likelihood, the vast majority of your listeners actually (gasp!) like you. I'm a natural pessimist, so initially this way of thinking seemed like a bizarre mind game, but then it dawned on me that it was actually just about getting out of my head and looking at what was really going on. If your work is good and you keep at it, it's very likely the listeners will stay or grow. But if years on social media have taught me anything, it's that angry people aren't afraid to use their voice, even if they're wrong. So don't let those folks get you down. Focus on the ones who do appreciate your work, and create for them. Let the haters go elsewhere.
Have other interests, too. Podcasting should not be the only thing you do with your time. Even if you don't have your sights set on some massive level of commercial success, the constant demands put on you to keep your project going and growing can make what started out as a fun hobby or side gig feel like a depressing job. Make sure it is not your only outlet for enjoyment or creativity or, heck, fun. Do other things, too. Watch movies and read books that have nothing to do with your podcast. Go out and take a walk or catch a game or paint something. It doesn't matter what it is. You may at times feel like indulging in other things will take away time when you 'should' be working on your podcast. Unless you have an episode that has to go out tomorrow and you haven't finished it yet, that isn't true. Having outside interests with no relation to the topic of your podcast is healthy, and it may end up inspiring. My love of Disney led to episodes on Pocahontas and Winnie-the-Pooh, and my affinity for the Mets caused me to eventually do an episode about Moe Berg. As much as your podcast should center on something you care about so you keep loving it, it's okay (encouraged!) to go out and love other things too. It will help you keep a balance, and possibly (even if you don't realize it at first) might inspire you in your podcasting work, and an inspired podcaster is the best kind of podcaster.
May you podcast for a long time, and may you prosper as you do!