Should I start a podcast?
If you're reading this post, chances are you've asked yourself this question at least a couple of times.
I originally addressed this back in 2015, quite a few things have happened since then.
Things Have Changed (a Lot) in 3 Years
Google and Spotify have made podcasts part of their ecosystems.
Podcasting is being discussed in conferences around the U.S. (Podcast Movement, PodFest, DC PodFest, PodCon, Los Angeles Podcast Festival – just to mention a few), as well as in other parts of the world (I'm looking at you We Are Podcast, Audiocraft) and online on events such as International Podcast Day and my own Podcast Success Summit.
There's been a wave of new services for podcasters and apps for podcast listeners.
Apps originally created for purposes other than podcasting have shifted toward the medium (look at how cool Anchor 3.0 is!).
Podcast listening is on the rise. More and more advertisers and brand are investing in podcasts.
Heck, there's even a TV show based on a podcast (I assume you've heard of StartUp at least once).
All this makes podcasting sound really appealing, a no-brainer really.
But the question remains: ‘Should I start a podcast?'.
Why You Should Start a Podcast
There are a few reasons why you may want to look into the medium.
Firstly, the podcasting space itself is not as saturated as the blogging and YouTube space. Don't get me wrong, it's getting more and more crowded, but you can still join and not feeling as if you're (too) late to the party.
Unless you're a very skilled writer, it can be challenging to connect with a reader on an emotional level through your writing.
Take me as an example.
True, English is not my mother tongue. However, I studied in English at university level (I wrote my bachelor thesis in English and my entire graduate program and master's thesis were in English as well).
I've been using English professionally for years, including in my experience as a journalist for the Finnish, English-language newspaper Helsinki Times.
Despite all this, I find it easier to build a human connection with people through my voice.
This is what podcasting allows you to do: create a unique, intimate connection with your listeners (by using your voice).
You may be thinking ‘But Yann, isn't video better? I mean, one can hear me but also see me.'
Why it's true that video is the closest we come to face-to-face interaction (until Virtual Reality will be a mainstream thing), there's something that makes audio content different from video content: content consumption.
If you think about it, you can't really read a blog post or watch a video while walking your dog, exercising at the gym, cooking or driving (or at least you shouldn't!). The reason for this is simple: your attention has to be focused on the screen, in order for you to be able to consume the piece of content.
Things are different with audio, on the other hand. A listener can virtually consume podcasts 24/7 while doing pretty much anything: exercising, driving, cooking, working…
I have a quick story to share with you.
Before you read on, remember this: this is something quite exceptional, that doesn't happen often (I'd say it almost never happens).
A couple of years ago, I received an email from a listener of mine:
Now, let me ask you this: when is the last time you spent 12 hours on a blog or watching videos on a YouTube channel? No watching TV shows or cat videos doesn't count.
The moral of the story is that the way podcasts can be consumed by listeners leads to higher audience retention (= people consume audio content longer than textual or video content).
When it comes to audio content – and podcasts more specifically – and driving, I have two words for you: Apple CarPlay.
Apple CarPlay is a system that's being installed in the most popular car brands.
Through CarPlay, drivers are able to use apps such as Google Maps and, among other things, listen to podcasts.
In my opinion, the arrival of CarPlay in cars around the world will be big for the podcasting industry, as there are still millions and millions of people who have not idea what a podcast is, let alone how to find, download, and listen to one.
Additionally, the barrier to entry is lower compared to video.
Mind you, I'm referring to creating professional videos. Nowadays, most smartphones allow you to create high-quality videos. But when I'm talking about video, I mean putting together an actual video production (with the appropriate equipment).
While with podcasts your #1 focus is on the audio side of things, with video you have to focus on both visual and audio dimensions. Any video creation expert will tell you that audio matters big-time.
And there are resources, such as the new version of an app called Anchor, that makes it easy for you to record and distribute audio content (whether that's a 2-minute audio snippet or an entire podcast episode).
Here's why you may want to consider starting a podcast:
- you get to build a human connection with your voice (something that's harder to do as a writer or blogger)
- audio content is easier to consume (and has higher retention) than textual and visual content
- with apps and systems like Apple CarPlay, it will be easier for podcasting to become more “mainstream”
- low barrier to entry: it's incredibly easy to start creating audio content
- pricing: producing high-quality audio isn't as expensive as creating high-quality videos
- the podcasting space isn't oversaturated yet (though it's getting more and more crowded by the day)
Why You Shouldn't Start a Podcast
If you've followed any of my content before, then you know that sugarcoating things is not what I'm all about.
In fact, even though I LOVE podcasting (it's the space I work in) – I mean, Forbes even referred to me as “podcasting advocate” – I'm all about no-nonsense advice.
It's time for a reality check.
I think that the mistake many podcasters-to-be make, when asking themselves ‘Should I start a podcast?', is not looking at the podcasting space with a set of critical eyes.
Mind you, if you're simply interested in podcasting as a hobby, then it's a completely different story.
I'm referring to podcasting in a more serious fashion, whether that's using your show as an actual asset for your business or anyway being committed to creating content and building a loyal and engaged audience over time.
As we saw earlier, podcasting has become a more appealing industry for advertisers and brands as well.
This has led to more big companies, celebrities and media organizations entering the space with their own podcasts.
Take a look at this portion of iTunes' New & Noteworthy section I've just taken a screenshot of. Podcasts from The Atlantic, McAfee, TED, BBC, Nintendo and Harvard Business Review.
Yep, that's your “competition”.
In my opinion, this is leading to a shift in the way podcasts are seen.
If years ago, podcasts may have been synonym of a more “underground” piece of audio content recorded by an independent host, nowadays many people often associate popular productions (with a team of professionals behind them) like Serial and StartUp with the word podcast.
In other words, the standards are changing.
Bad audio quality and shallow content don't do it anymore (not sure if they ever did it…).
What does this mean for you?
It means that, if you want to become a podcaster and stand out as such, you need to:
- be a good host – both in terms of your presentation skills and the content you provide listeners with
- sound like the real deal (yes, this mean NO computer built-in mic)
- come up with a concept that's fresh in either its topic, the way the topic is covered, the format your show has or all of these combined
Then, there would be the marketing of your podcast, which is all of a different story in itself (and that we aren't going to focus on in this post).
Keep in mind, though, that you may be a marketing “wizard” or have plenty of money to invest in paid advertising to promote your show. Even if that's the case, the quality of your content is what makes the difference.
If your content sucks, you'll be marketing bad content.
If your recordings sound as if you're recording from your bathroom, people will look for something else (your content can be fantastic, but bad audio-quality makes for a cringe-worthy listening experience and remember, your “competing” against podcasts produced by media professional).
There are a couple of additional things I've identified quite often in my work with clients and students, as well as in the Podcast Growth Mastermind and other online communities I'm part of.
First and foremost, I see so many people getting into podcasting with the wrong mindset.
Here's what I mean.
When I started with my first podcast – The Jazz Spotlight – back in 2014, I had prior experience as an interviewer (I had done newspaper interviews as a journalist, video and audio interviews for a few years).
Despite all this, it took me years to really feel comfortable in front of the microphone (I'm not going to say ‘and to become a good host' because it's for you to decide whether I'm a good podcast host or not).
In the online conversations I'm part of, I often see people who have no experience in front of a microphone or as interviewers. Despite all this, their #1 focus appears to be learning about the “magic formula” to get plenty of downloads and make money with their podcast.
I'm so not a fan of this!
It takes time to really feel comfortable in the podcaster's shoes, and honing your hosting skills is what I believe you should focus on as you start your podcasting journey.
This next point is something that really gets on my nerves.
Every now and then, I see new podcasters post things like “I've been podcasting for a couple of months now and I'm not seeing any results. Should I quit?”
In a fast-paced world, it seems that people forget that it takes time, blood, sweat and tears to build an engaged, loyal community.
Ask anyone who's built a blog readership, YouTube audience, email list or similar.
It's a long, slow process. It's called journey for a reason.
Impatience annoys me, because it's testament of the mindset some approach podcasting with.
It's a long-term game, filled with ups and downs. So, if you're not in it for the long-term, I'd say you may be better doing something else (perhaps chasing the next shiny object?).
One quick note about idols and comparisons: remember that if you're just starting out and trying to do something similar to those you follow, or compared your show to theirs, you're comparing your chapter 1 with someone else's chapter 21…
Having said that, I'd like for you to listen to what Libsyn's Rob Walch recently shared on The Podcaster Lab. Just click play on the player below and then click here – [spp-timestamp time=”34:14″] – to listen to Rob's words.
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If more independent podcasters had this mindset!
So, when isn't a good idea for you to start a podcast?
You should probably leave podcast hosting alone, because of:
- competition & quality: as more media companies, celebrities and professionals are entering the podcasting space, the bar is raising. Bad audio-quality and “vanilla” podcast content don't cut it
- your desire to take shortcuts and get there fast: it takes time (and by time I mean YEARS) to really feel comfortable in the podcaster's shoe and do a good job as a host
- your impatience when it comes to your audience and download numbers: ask anybody who's built a community, they'll tell you that it doesn't happen overnight (nor over a couple of months)
So, Yann, Should I Start a Podcast?
I wish I had a clear answer for you, but the truth is you're the only one who can answer the ‘Should I start a podcast? question.
I'm a big fan of podcasting at 360°: I always look for new shows to check out, get inspired by and learn from, I have a podcast that's all about podcasting (plus 3 other shows), I work in the podcasting space, help people start their own show and even have my own free online community for podcasters.
However, I can't tell you to go for it if you're looking for shortcuts or “hacks” to get millions of downloads and make a bunch of money through podcast advertising in a couple of months.
If you're eager to share your story and use your voice to either inform, educate, inspire or entertain an audience, but are afraid (because nobody will be listening to your show and you're no expert on the topic you're thinking about covering), I'd say go for it.
Just remember, though: it's a long journey. There are ups and downs, plenty of challenges and disappointments…but it's also an incredible medium that could literally change your life, as well as your audience's.