Rank #1: Let’s Take Your Show to the Next Level (Or Get Your Show Started)
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com/
- Support the show and get answers to your podcasting questions: https://www.patreon.com/aarondowd
- How to Add Chapters to Your Podcast
- It's easy to move your show to Simplecast: Check it out
- I highly recommend this class from Creative Live if you're thinking about starting a podcast: Simplecast CEO Brad Smith: How to Distribute and Grow Your Podcast
- Free blog post series from Simplecast: Absolutely Everything You Need to Start to Start Your Podcast
Where Have You Been, Aaron?
Fair question. After launching my Successful Podcasting course and joining Simplecast in late 2017, I immediately dove head-first into my customer success and support role there. In addition to traveling to multiple podcasting conferences and meetups in 2018, I also answered questions for thousands of podcasters about pretty much everything you could imagine.
It was super fun but also more challenging than I was anticipating, and didn't leave me with much creative juice for working on my show, so I would like to apologize for the lack of consistency over the past year (2018). I am going to continue working on this show, but it will be more of a side project for now as I'm putting 110% of my energy into helping Simplecast and our customers be successful.
That being said, the Simplecast team has been making some incredible tools and educational content for podcasters, so I'd encourage you to check out the links I've included in the episode notes.
I'm super excited to share what we've been building for podcasters over the past year, and I hope you'll follow along. As always, if you have any questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rank #2: Brief Hiatus (When Is the Right Time to Pause a Show?)
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com/
Here are the original notes for this episode, published at the end of 2016.
So… I’m pausing my podcast.
The decision to quit or pause a podcast shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many reasons to stop doing something, and many reasons to keep going even when it’s hard.
In this episode, I want to share why I’m pausing my show, and hopefully give you some clarity if you’ve been thinking about quitting or putting your show on hold as well.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- If your relationships or your personal health are suffering, it’s time to stop your podcast.
- Tell people what you’re doing and why.
- There’s a huge benefit to sticking with something for a long time, because it takes people time to notice you.
- Once you’ve had a strong impact on someone, it’s okay to take a break and step away for a while. People won’t forget you.
- If you want to make massive progress on one project, say no to everything but that one thing.
Why Am I Pausing My Podcast?
A lot of you know that I’ve been working on podcasting courses this year. I’m pausing my show to focus on finishing them and getting them launched. At the beginning of 2016, I said, “I’m going to get these courses done this year.” I started writing this big master course called Successful Podcasting.
I wanted to teach everything you’d need to know to start a podcast: planning a show, recording a show, getting good gear, getting the hosting set up, interacting with your audience, and everything that goes into making a great podcast. I wanted to do videos, screencasts, PDF downloads, checklists, and more.
I got it done (well, almost). I worked really hard on it this year, especially in the springtime. Cory McCabe (the video guy at seanwes) came up from San Antonio to help me shoot all the video lessons in the last two weeks in July.
I wrote something like 30,000 words for the course, and finished shooting all the videos in July (we ended up with 75 video lesson). The next thing was recording a short screencast course called GarageBand for Podcasters. That was six or seven screencasts about how to get started using GarageBand for podcasting. I got that done, too. The very last thing was my Logic Pro X for Podcasters course.
I knew my Logic Pro X course was going to be challenging. I knew it was going to be anywhere from 30 to 50 screencasts about everything I know about editing podcasts in Logic. I’m not quite done with that yet. I’ve recorded 90% of the screencasts and I have the other ones outlined, but life got crazy.
There’s so much I’m still doing: Editing shows on the seanwes network, trying to produce content, interacting with my audience, trying to answer questions for people, making videos, playing in a band...
It’s hard to do big, important work when you’re also doing lots of shallow work. I was trying to do a whole bunch of things and I wasn’t making much progress on the course as a result.
The primary reason for me pausing The Podcast Dude is so I can finish the Logic Pro X course, get it edited, and get all of these things launched. That way, people can invest in them and go through all the lessons at their own pace, on their own time.
I’m not going away completely. I’m pausing my podcast to free up time to finish my courses and get them launched. I’ll be returning to make more podcasts after I’m done with that.
I want to interact more with my audience and create more content that helps them specifically.
When is the Right Time to Pause a Podcast?
The biggest reason to stop podcasting is if your podcast no longer aligns with your long term goals.
If the thing you're podcasting about is no longer something you're passionate about, if you want to do something else, it’s okay to stop the podcast. It’s okay to change, to go from caring intensely about one thing to caring intensely about something else. You’re supposed to evolve as a human.
Don't Sacrifice Your Relationships
I asked my friend Cory, "What would cause you to stop doing a podcast?"
Cory said, “If my wife came to me and said, ‘I feel like our relationship isn’t good, like you’re investing a lot of time in this podcast and you’re sacrificing family time or personal time with me to do this podcast,’ that would cause me to quit the podcast.”
If your relationships or your personal health are suffering, it’s time to pause your podcast.
You might be doing too much. This is a trap a lot of people fall into, at least in America. We fill every second of our time with doing stuff, trying to get to the next level. At some point, you wake up exhausted, you’re out of shape, you don’t feel good about yourself or your life. If your relationships or things that are important to you are suffering, pause the podcast. Put your podcast on hold.
If your audience isn’t growing and you don’t see a way to make money from it, if it’s a huge time investment and you’re not enjoying it anymore, it might be time to quit.
You can change the format so that it takes less time to produce, or you can admit that the investment isn’t worth it for you, and that’s fine. Maybe you should be doing five minute YouTube videos instead. Maybe you should be writing instead.
This comes back to knowing your audience and what they want. I was listening to a writing podcast the other day, and they had their podcast editor on to talk about podcasting. Their guest said that she started a podcast for vapers (people who love electronic cigarettes). She thought, “There’s a huge, strong vaping community. They’re going to want to listen to a podcast.” She started a podcast about vaping and got no response.
She didn’t understand why the show didn’t get any traction. It might have been because she wasn’t well known enough, or maybe she hadn’t done it for long enough (she did it for four episodes and then cancelled it).
She said she realized that her target audience really wanted videos. They wanted to show off their gear and their clouds of smoke (it’s the dumbest thing in the world, but people get excited about blowing these huge clouds of smoke when vaping. Ridiculous.) She said that they wanted video, and the audio podcast just didn’t work for them.
There are some circumstances where video works better than audio.
Some topics just aren’t right for podcasts. For example, it’s really hard to explain how to do audio mixing and mastering on a podcast. It’s so much easier to record a screencast so your viewer can see what you’re doing.
Don’t Quit Just Because You’re Bored
Podcasting is a long term investment. You have to be thinking in terms of years rather than months when doing a podcast.
There are lots of benefits to podcasting: Meeting awesome people, growing your network, building an audience, and even getting clients (depending on what kind of show you’re making).
You’ll learn a lot of valuable skills, but in most cases, podcasting won’t make you a lot of money right away. You won’t get to 10,000 listeners and $5,000/month in sponsorships overnight. Many podcasters won’t ever get to that point, and if that's your only reason for podcasting, you'll probably end up disappointed.
If you’re looking for a quick return on your investment, podcasting is not the way to go. This ties into what I said earlier about your podcast not aligning with your long term goals: If your heart’s not in it, if you don’t really care about this thing that you’re podcasting about, it’s okay to shut it down.
Be Careful of Shiny Object Syndrome
Cory and I talked about this too. He said, “There’s one guy I know who always starts stuff and then stops and goes to something else.”
That’s Shiny Object Syndrome: You get excited about doing a new thing, and then it’s not as fun as you thought it would be or you get bored with it, and you move on to the next new thing. You bounce from thing to thing and never get really good at anything.
I see that happen in podcasting a lot. People get really fired up about the idea of starting a podcast, so they start a podcast. When it doesn’t turn out to be everything they dreamed it could be, when they don’t get Tim Ferriss levels of money coming back from it or tons of people talking to them and investing time in their show, they quit. They forget that getting good at podcasting and growing an audience takes time.
It takes time for people to notice you. You can announce, “Hey, I have a podcast,” one time, and most people aren’t going to notice.
You know what they’ll notice? They’ll notice if you post about your new podcast episode every single week for a year straight.
They’ll notice if you consistently talk about the same subject all the time. There are authors who don’t get noticed until their 10th, 20th, or 100th book.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when you should keep going or when to quit because the thing you’re working on just isn’t working out. Just be careful of Shiny Object Syndrome.
Quit Permanently, or Just Pause for Awhile?
You don’t have to quit permanently. It’s okay to take breaks, like I’m going to do. Bands take long breaks all the time.
There was a band I used to listen to when I was 14 (I think they were called Johny Q. Public). They put out a great CD in 1995, one of the first CDs I ever got, and I loved it.
5+ years later, I was browsing through the CDs at a record store and I came across a new record from this band (I hadn’t thought about them in years). They released a new record and I bought it, because I’d loved their first album many years before.
Once you’ve had a strong impact on someone, it’s okay to take a break and step away for a while. They won’t forget about you.
People don’t forget the people who've had an impact on their life. Momentum is important, and a track record of consistency is great, but sometimes you need to take a break to plan your next move.
Thank You for Listening!
Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. This podcast been one of the coolest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I want to say thanks to you for listening, sharing my show online, and for all the encouragement.
I hope I’ve had an impact on your life, encouraged, helped, or inspired you in some way. That’s why I do this.
Finally, I would really appreciate an iTunes review if you haven’t done that yet. It helps other people find the show, and I really appreciate it. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you again soon!
Rank #3: A Day In the Life of an Audio Engineer (with Special Guest Ryan Monette)
My guest this week is professional audio engineer Ryan Monette. Ryan graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in Music Production & Engineering. For the last 4.5 years he's been the Post-Production Audio Engineer on staff at Elevation Church, in Charlotte, NC, where he mixes their global TV show, and has many other responsibilities (boom operator, field recorder, sound designer, audio editor, etc.). You may have heard some of his work, as he sound-designed and mixed the opener video for the Circles conference for the past two years. He even had his own podcast for a short while (TheQueuecast.com). I asked Ryan to come on the show to share his journey towards becoming a professional audio engineer (a job that I've always wanted), and to get him to share some tips for anyone interested in working in audio/video professionally.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- Think long term and dream big.
- If you want to do anything with audio, start by getting a cheap USB microphone.
- Take advantage of free online courses to learn more about audio engineering.
- Get started with whatever you have.
- Your mix may sound completely different in a different environment, so listen with different headphones/speakers in different locations.
- Master the basics and keep going back to them.
- If you’re mixing a podcast, make sure your levels are consistent.
- When mixing, always use a reference track.
Aaron: You graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in music production and engineering. For the last five years, you’ve been the post production audio engineer for Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. You have a lot of jobs there: boom operator, field recorder, sound designer, audio editor, and you mix their global TV show. Do you mix that live?
Ryan: Not necessarily. We can get into that later. There’s a process for that.
Aaron: Some of the creative people here might have heard of some of your work. You sound designed and mixed the opening videos for the past two years of Circles Conference, which I was at. Have you been there for the past two years?
Ryan: I haven’t been personally, no. I have wanted to go. I love it from afar, and I want to go in person.
Aaron: I wanted you to come on this show because when I first got started, I had dreams of being a professional audio engineer. I thought, “How cool would it be to work in audio and get paid for it? That’d be awesome!”
I fell backwards into it by doing podcast editing as a hobby first, then for money, then I met Sean McCabe and ended up working for him full time. I edit podcasts and help out with a ton of other stuff. I asked you to come on the show to share your advice for anyone who’s interested in working in audio/video professionally, and to talk about how you got there yourself. So tell me a little bit about how you got into audio. When did you first realize that this was something you wanted to do?
Ryan’s Journey to Becoming a Professional Audio Engineer
Ryan: I love listening to your podcast, Aaron, and what I love about it is I feel like you and I have a lot of similarities in our backgrounds. You’re a musician, a drummer, and I’m also a musician. I play several things. My primary instrument is bass, but along with that, I started on piano. I picked up bass, and with the bass I picked up guitar. I took some drum lessons here and there as well.
I sing as well. I dabbled in a little bit of everything. I’m kind of a jack of all trades, master of none. I’m okay at a lot of things, but I’m not superb at one thing. Anyway, right around junior high or high school, I started playing the bass. I started playing in little bands here and there. When it came time for college, I had no clue what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved music.
Aaron: Same here!
Ryan: I was living in Las Vegas at the time, so I decided, well, everyone has to have that college experience, and I didn’t want to go to college in the same city, so I decided that I needed that “being away from home” experience. I went to the University of Nevada, Reno. I took your basic, general classes, not knowing what I wanted to do. At this time, for my high school graduation, I had received a graduation present of a Macbook Pro.
With that, of course, you get the wonderful iLife suite, including Garageband. As a musician, a whole new world was opened up to me. When I was in a band in high school, I was the gear head—I loved the PA and putting cables together.
I was drawn to that. Once I had this Macbook Pro with Garageband and I had my bass and my guitar in my dorm, I was like, “I can create music!” I figured out how to work it and record myself. I bought a USB microphone, and that world was opened up. When I was there, I had a friend, and her brother went to this school where all they learned about was music. I was like, “Wait, you can do that? You can go to school for just music?”
That’s how I found out about Berklee School of Music. I applied, and you have to audition as well. I applied and auditioned, and the first time I tried, I actually didn’t get into the music school I wanted to go to.
Aaron: This sparks something in my mind. I feel like I might have read an article about Berklee or looked into it and thought, “No, they’re really strict on who they accept, based on your performance.” That was intimidating to me at the time, because I never felt like I was that good of a drummer.
Ryan: It was intimidating for me, too. Clearly, I wasn’t up to par.
Aaron: Yet you went for it. That’s more than a lot of people would do.
Ryan: Yeah. After I finished my first year at UNR, I moved back to Vegas and went to UNLV, the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I took all music classes, forgetting the general ed stuff you need to get a degree. I took all music classes—music theory, because I had never had actual music theory classes, so I thought I needed that. With that, there were some audio classes that I took as well. I was like, “Hey, I like this audio thing.”
At the University of Nevada Las Vegas, I had my first exposure to a formal audio class, where I learned all the proper techniques. Later on that year, I applied and auditioned again for Berklee. I got accepted, and the next year, I moved to Boston and went to Berklee for about three and a half years. Then I graduated. When I went to Berklee, the only thing that drew me as a major was Music Production and Engineering. I naturally loved the gear side of things. I fell in love with recording. I was like, “This is what I want to do.”
Aaron: You got to spend three and a half years there, studying and learning?
Ryan: It is non-stop, 24/7, music, audio, and to be honest, I miss being in that environment so much.
Aaron: That sounds fantastic. I always love setting aside time to take online classes, read books, and listen to interviews about audio.
Aaron: You were drawn to the audio engineering stuff, and then you graduated.
Ryan: I can remember a specific time in my life, and I’m pretty sure it was my last semester at Berklee. They went by semesters instead of years. It was in one of my capstone classes. Our instructor asked us the typical, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question.
Aaron: I love that question now. I hated it when I was 22.
** Think long term and dream big**
Aaron: Plan out where you want to be, because if you can envision it, then you can figure out how to get there. But you have to start by saying, “I want to do this thing someday.” For me, it was, “I want to do work from a laptop. How do I get there?” Now I’m there. So you were 22 and someone asked you, “Ryan, where do you want to be? Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Ryan: At that moment, I was trying to figure that out, naturally, as you do when you’re approaching the end of college. While I was at Berklee, I loved music. I loved recording music, but my absolute favorite class—they only had one of them, but it was the class I yearned for, that I wanted to take and put in all these extra hours for—was audio for visual media, audio for video.
By far, that was my favorite class. The whole class, we were working toward our final project. You choose a five to seven minute clip from a well known movie, and all the audio is completely stripped. You have to recreate everything. That’s all the dialogue, all the foley, all the ambient background, all the hard effects, and so on. You have to connect with a film scoring student there at Berklee, and they have to provide the score. I absolutely loved every aspect of that project and the process. When it came time to decide what I wanted to do with my life, it was between audio engineering at a recording studio, working at Disney as an Imagineer, or doing audio at a church.
I have always been involved with church, playing on worship teams and whatnot, so I also saw myself doing audio for a church. Long story short, I was really privileged to dip my feet in all of those things after college. After I graduated, I moved back to Las Vegas. Eventually, I found an incredible recording studio, probably one of the top two recording studios in Las Vegas, and I landed an internship.
First Audio Engineering Jobs
Ryan: I say “internship” loosely, because your typical studio internship is all the stereotypical grunt work—taking out the trash, doing the coffee, and whatnot. I showed up, and they were like, “You went to Berklee? Berklee guys are cool. Here, hop in this session and help us out.” It was open to me, thrown at me, and next thing I knew, I was assisting on sessions with huge clients, I won’t name drop.
Aaron: You can drop a couple of names if you want.
Ryan: I had a pretty fun time helping out with a session with the famous engineer Eddie Kramer, who is engineering for Carlos Santana.
Aaron: Dang, man! That’s awesome.
Ryan: That was pretty incredible. But while I was there, I had this gut feeling inside of me saying, “This isn’t it.”
Aaron: It’s fine, but it’s not quite right?
Ryan: I could see myself staying there and working my way up, but it didn’t feel right. A few months after I realized that I didn’t want to stay at the studio, I applied and was offered a job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
I packed my bags, moved to Orlando, and I was working as a stage technician at the Epcot park. There, they found out that I was an audio guy, so they pushed me toward the live audio side of things. I was mixing shows and bands at Epcot and what was at the time Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs, area. Same thing. Almost as soon as I got there, the same gut feeling came in.
I was like, “This isn’t it. I’m more of a studio engineer. I definitely don’t want to do live stuff.” Although I love Disney, it just wasn’t sitting right. I was only there three months before the next great opportunity came up, which is where I am right now. One of my friends told me about a job opening for this church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Elevation Church. I had actually been following them because of their podcast.
At the time, I was kind of like, “I’ve got a job, whatever.” For some reason, I ended up on their website, looking at the job. I was reading, and I was like, “Wait a minute, they’re looking for someone to do audio for video. That’s what I really want to do!” On a whim, I threw out my resume. Next thing you know, I’ve been here going on five years.
Aaron: Did you mention that you were a podcast listener when you sent in your resume?
Aaron: The connections you can make through podcasting is really incredible.
Ryan: It is. And I’ve been working there for 5 years now.
How to Get Into Audio Engineering
Aaron: I want to jump into what you do at your job at Elevation, but let’s pause and do a section on what advice you would tell someone who’s wanting to get started. I wrote a couple of things down here. I think it’s hilarious that you got a Macbook and your first microphone was a USB microphone.
Ryan: Which was the Blue Snowball, by the way.
Aaron: That’s the worst microphone!
Ryan: I had no idea how to use it, either. If I find some of the earliest recordings I did, there are times I’m clipping to the max, square waves.
Aaron: Probably bad mic technique, too. But hey; it got you started!
If you want to do anything with audio, start by getting a cheap USB microphone.
Any USB mics will work for getting started. I like the Blue Yeti, but it’s like $100. The ATR-2100 is fine, too. You just have to get something that can record some audio and start playing with it.
Start playing with Garageband. Start playing with the free programs. Learn how to enable recording on a track, how to set your input device to the microphone, how to set your output device to wherever your headphones are plugged into, whether that’s your mic or your computer. It took me so long to figure that stuff out. I was like, “Why can’t I hear the audio in my headphones? What is going on?”
Ryan: Same here.
Aaron: You have to set input and output, then you have to record enable or do the input monitoring, all that stuff. But start with the USB microphone. Take some basic classes. There are so many great online classes. If you don’t have any money at all, if you’re super broke like I was when I started, watch some free YouTube videos. Read a book.
Ryan: If you go to Coursera.org, they’re a website where you can pay to take online courses and get certifications and whatnot, but they also offer free online courses. They even offer free online courses from Berklee. I’ve seen a music production class there. I’ve taken a free online song writing class.
Check out free online courses, because they can be a pool of incredible knowledge.
I took a photography class on there. Coursera is a great place. They’re great if you want to take free online courses.
Aaron: There are places where you can learn all this stuff. You just have to invest some time. You really just have to start: Don’t wait until you have $500 for an interface and $200 for some professional headphones and microphone. Whether you want to start a podcast, start recording audio for a video, or record and mix a demo for a band, start doing something.
Stop spending all your time thinking about how you can’t do anything because you don’t have certain gear or you’re not in the right place. You’ll learn as you do, especially in audio. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes.
Ryan: That’s how you learn, though! That’s one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in life. You learn from your mistakes.
Aaron: You don’t really learn when everything goes well.
Aaron: Any other advice you would give somebody, thinking back on how you got to where you are right now?
Ryan: Honestly, you hit the nail on the head with “just start.” It’s as simple and cliche as Nike, “Just do it.” There is always going to be the next latest craze, the gear, and we’ve all been susceptible to that. We say, “Oh, well, I could do this if I had X.” It starts with the drive and determination, wanting to do it. There’s knowledge out there everywhere. You just have to dig for it.
Chances are, you have at least something you can start with. Record something on your phone.
Aaron: I have a friend who makes some awesome music on his iPhone.
Ryan: Oh, totally. It’s as simple as getting an adapter. You can plug your guitar or whatever into your phone.
Aaron: Kids these days have it so easy!
Ryan: You have Garageband on your phone. I remember when I was figuring this out in high school, and we actually had a four track tape recorder. That was my first start. Get started with whatever you have.
Aaron: What kind of stuff do you do at the church? What’s your day to day life like? Are you there every day, or is it just a couple of days a week?
Ryan: Oh no, I’m definitely there every day. It has been a whirlwind for sure. In the past five years, I have probably played every audio role that there is to be played here. My main thing now is audio for broadcasts, pretty much anything that leaves the church. Our biggest output is the sermon, which goes to a lot of places.
It also goes in the TV episode, which we talked about, which goes locally, nationally, and, I believe, globally as well. That’s a lot of what I’ve done. We also create a lot of films, short films, for our worship experiences, anything you can imagine that’s video and audio related. Audio post production, like we talk about. I’m constantly on video shoots using field recorders, the boom op, anything you can think of. Audio for video, I’ve done it.
The Gear Ryan Uses
Aaron: Let’s talk about your gear a little bit. What kind of stuff are you using most in everyday life? I’ll do a quick recap: I have the Shure Beta 87A Mic as my main podcasting microphone. It’s attached to a Scarlett 18i20 USB Interface (update: I’m now using my Zoom H6 exclusively), which is plugged into a quadcore iMac that’s a couple years old.
Nothing super fancy, but I’m really happy with where I am. I remember wanting all this stuff back in 2011, thinking how awesome it would be to have it. I have a Zoom H6 portable recorder and a couple of SM58 microphones. I’ve been pairing down my gear collection because I’m planning on moving in the spring.
What kind of stuff are you working with? I use Logic Pro X for editing, and then Izotope iZotope RX 5 for cleaning up background noise or fixing clipping. What about you? What’s your day to day favorite gear?
Ryan: We use a lot. There’s a bunch of gear for field recording and then in my office, which is where I’m at right now. I’ll start with my office. Right now, I’m talking into my personal mic, which is a Rode NT1A. It’s very affordable.
The Rode NT1A is a nice beginner mic which works and sounds great, and I use it for a lot of voiceover projects.
Aaron: I like those mics.
Ryan: I’m talking into that right now. We also use the Shure SM7B. We have a nice Neumann that we’ll use for bigger projects. We like to use Universal Audio Interfaces, so I’ve got one of those. They’re great. They’re rock solid. You really can’t beat them.
At our main recording/editing audio work station, we use Pro Tools. That’s very standard, and I’ve been using that for years and years. I use a lot of plugins. I use a lot of the Waves Plugins. I do use RX as well, and that’s the bulk of it. I do a lot of processing, depending on the project.
I have a really huge sound library for if I’m doing narrative pieces that involve sound design, sound effects. I have a great app called Audio Finder, which a lot of electronic musicians use to help them find sounds. I use it to help me find sounds. It’s a nice way to catalogue sounds if you’re a sound designer or anything like that.
You can basically tag all these audio files with meta data, and you can search for sounds by their title. Or, if you type in a word in the search bar, it can pull up things based off the the metadata. If you have notes on something, it can find it. Audio Finder is a great way to find sounds.
I have some other things in here. I have the Artist Mix Controller made by Avid. I use those if I’m automating stuff. I use those a lot, actually, when I’m mixing the sermons. I do a lot of automation for that. If I’m mixing a piece with a music bed or something, I like to automate the music by hand.
It feels more natural, as opposed to clicking and making little dots. That’s the bulk of it here in the office. All of our audio engineers have a nice pair of Focal monitors. I also have another set of monitors I built myself. When I mix TV episodes, I have an output routed to a TV here in my office so I can hear how it translates on TV speakers.
Recording Audio for Video
Ryan: On the front end of things, if we’re doing shoots for videos, we use Sound Devices field recorders. We have three different models: the Sound Devices 788T 8 Channel Recorder, a 702 2 Channel Recorder, and then a 633 6 Channel Recorder. That last one is one of their newer models, which is great.
Sound Devices are steep in price, but they are rock solid.
One of the most trustworthy, well known field recorder brands on the market. That’s what you’ll see on pretty much every big budget shoot in some way. I do a lot of freelance on the side, which gives me the opportunity EPK shoots or BTS shoots for, recently, a show on HBO called Outcast.
Aaron: Outcast? I’ve been seeing that (I watch Westworld).
Ryan: I’m pretty sure it’s the same writers or producers or something. I know it’s the same writer as The Walking Dead. They shoot here in North Carolina, so with a local production company, we’ve done some interviews with some of the cast and crew. It’s been really neat to be on set and see what they’re using. It’s cool to see how similar their world is to what we’re doing day to day, just with more money and more resources.
It’s the same thing. Most of their audio guys have some sort of Sound Devices. A lot of them use the 788 as a backup recording rig, and they’ve got larger multitrack recorders as well, that are also made by Sound Devices. Sound Devices is a great brand. They’re crazy expensive, but when you buy that, you know you’ve basically got it for life.
Aaron: Yeah, I’m looking at the Sound Devices 788T SSD 8 Channel Portable Solid State Audio Recorder. It’s almost $7,000. I love that! So fancy.
Ryan: That SSD does have an internal hard drive. Ours has a hard drive as well, so it’s great, because it has the internal hard drive, but you can also use CF cards. You can record on two different mediums. In case something runs out of space, you have it in two places.
Aaron: This is super professional stuff.
Ryan: Yeah. It is. It’s top of the line.
Aaron: Fantastic. For all the rest of you, just go with the Zoom H4N or the H6.
Ryan: Hey, we do have a Zoom H4N, and we do use that every now and then. Before I came on staff, our first field recorder was the Zoom H4N.
Aaron: If I could start over and go back to before I had any kind of interface at all, I think I would buy myself an H4N or an H6. Not only are they portable field recorders so you can walk around with them—they have little stereo condensor mics on them—but they work as audio interfaces, too. You can plug it into your computer with a USB cable and record straight to your computer if you do any kind of podcasting or stuff like that.
It’s good for the price. Otherwise, the little two channel interfaces are great. They’re about $100 for a good one, but they aren’t portable. You can’t take them to a show or out to a video shoot the way you can an H4N or an H6 or something.
Ryan: Speaking of Zoom, they’ve recently come into the more professional field recording market. About a year ago, they releases the F8, I believe, which is an 8 channel field recorder with 8 mic pres. It’s $999 for something very comparable to a Sound Device. It’s not quite as high-fidelity, but for anyone starting out, you’re really not going to notice the difference.
Mixing On Expensive Headphones or Monitors
Aaron: I was going to ask you this earlier. You mentioned that you had Focal monitors. Did you listen to the episode I did a few episodes back where I talked about mixing on headphones (Episode 69: Do You Need Expensive Headphones to Mix a Podcast?)?
Ryan: Yes, I did.
Aaron: I mix on $10 Panasonics. What do you think about that? You can be totally honest with me. You can tell me that it’s a stupid idea or that it’s okay.
Ryan: I agree to a certain extent. I agree that you should be listening to what you’re making on whatever the majority of people are going to be listening to it on. For a lot of audio engineers mixing music, that’s iPod earbuds, those standard earbuds you get. Something like that. When I mix TV, I have an output routed to a TV in my office, so I can hear it on TV speakers.
I do also believe in mixing on something with some sort of higher fidelity type of monitoring environment, whether that’s nicer speakers or nicer headphones. Naturally, you’re going to hear things differently. The main thing to take away is how things translate.
If you’re listening to something on one source and you make it sound good there, that’s great, but in a different environment, it may sound completely different.
iPhone earbuds may not have the bass that a car stereo has. You want to hear how it translates from one thing to another. That’s why it’s good to at least listen to it on two different sources and not just narrow yourself down to one cruddy thing. That’s good in theory, but again, the key takeaway is translation.
Aaron: Maybe it’s a little bit different for me and I can get away with it because of the consistency of the microphones and the recording environment set we use.
Ryan: Yeah, totally.
Aaron: I think if I was doing more stuff like you are, with videos and clients and all that kind of stuff, I would absolutely be using my higher fidelity headphones.
Ryan: Very true. The bulk of your work is dialogue, podcasts.
Aaron: Yeah, that’s really it. Just dudes talking into a microphone.
Ryan: Yeah. I have done a lot of work here where I’m working in a small studio, but a lot of my mixes have played in auditoriums and arenas.
If you’re working on projects like music or film that have different audio frequencies and spectrums, remember that sound will be perceived differently in different places.
Aaron: How do you even test for that?
Ryan: Here, I at least have a sense of how our auditorium sounds, so I’ve trained my ear to hear in advance and understand how it’s going to translate. For something like when we did a live recording in the biggest arena here in Charlotte, we had a video opener piece. I was on point for mixing that, so basically, I had to work with tech and production to find a time after setup where I can bring my session, copy it onto a laptop, and play it through the PA.
Then I can make any final mix tweaks there in the auditorium or the arena. I perfected it in my studio, and any small tweaks I was able to do in that actual environment. Granted, a lot of the times, we may not have that luxury. There are also great plugins you can buy that simulate different monitoring environments, like Sonarworks.
If you have certain pairs of headphones, you can tell the program, “I have these headphones, now make my mix sound like it’s coming through these headphones or these speakers,” so you can hear how it might translate. In that program, they have a final output like the Beats headphones. You can hear how it might sound on there, super bass heavy.
Aaron: I hear they’re getting better, but I still have never bought any Beats headphones. I probably should (just for testing purposes).
Ryan: There are definitely programs out there to help you see how things translate to different monitors.
On Location Gear
Ryan: We were talking about the gear we use for on location recording. Sound Devices would be our main recorders. For our mics, we use Schoeps. It’s a shotgun microphone, so it’s a narrow polar pattern with good off axis rejection. Schoeps is a great brand. Again, you’ll see this on professional movie sets.
That’s the mic we use. We have some Sennheiser shotguns as well, the ME66, we have a couple of those, which is more their entry shotgun mics. Recently, I rented some of the MKH416.
Aaron: I would like one of those. The Sennheiser 416 is well known as the classic TV shotgun mic, right?
Ryan: Exactly. I rented those out because I wanted to try it out for that reason. The Schoeps is very good and very well known on set as well, but so is the 416. I rented it to try it out. It’s a trusted mic that a lot of people use for these professional things, and it doesn’t really break the bank for what it is.
Aaron: They’re like $1,000, I think.
Ryan: Yeah, and it sounded great.
Aaron: The next mic I get is either going to be that or the Rode NTG 3.
Ryan: I’ve heard a lot of great things about that. I haven’t tried one myself.
Aaron: That’s the shotgun mics we shot my podcasting courses with.
Ryan: Yeah, I know that Sean uses that for all of his videos.
Aaron: I’m excited about getting to go work with those (I’m moving to San Antonio in March or April).
Master the Basics
Aaron: That’s a pretty good run through of your gear. I’m sure you could keep going and discuss a lot more, but I don’t think we need to go into that. It seems like you guys are at a super professional, high quality. You have made big investments in professional gear, which is fantastic. I encourage everyone to strive for that, to aim for that, but like we said earlier, use what you have right now. I don’t have anything close to what you guys have, but I’m still doing my podcast. I’m doing the best I can with what I have.
Ryan: It still sounds great.
Aaron: Thanks! It’s mostly just knowing how to set gain levels and not having a noisy room. It’s crazy how far the basics will get you— everything else is just icing on the cake.
I’ve been watching this video course called Zen and the Art of Work, which I really recommend to everybody. It’s mindfulness training mixed with productivity training, which is such a great combination.
In this course, he says, “So many of the masters continually revisit the basics.” Mastery is staying on a path. It’s not reaching some final goal, it’s more about being with the work and investing in getting better, but also revisiting the basics. He was talking about playing piano. He was like, “A lot of times, I just start by touching the keys, pressing the keys, and then doing basic scales over and over again.”
It’s true. When you get so good at the basics that you don’t have to think about it, that’s when you start to expand and get to that level where people say, “Wow, you’re so good at that. How did you get so good?” You’re like, “That was just doing the basics. It’s not anything fancy.”
It’s so important to master the basics and keep going back to them.
Aaron: What’s next for you? How do you invest in yourself and improve? Or are you working so much that you always have more learning opportunities? Do you buy books or courses or follow any websites to learn more about this audio stuff?
Ryan: Honestly? We had a shift at work to where my role has shifted to mainly just broadcasts. That has enabled me to have a little bit more flexibility and free time, so I’ve been doing a lot more freelance work. That’s great, because it energizes me and keeps me engaged. It keeps me from routine. Routine is great.
I love routine, that’s very much my personality, but freelance work keeps things interesting.
For me, it’s all about where and how I can get inspired and constantly feeding that. It’s about feeding my desire for creativity. We’re all creatives. We like to create. We were designed to be creators, really. Everything I try to do is about how I can become a better creator and what I can create next. It’s about finding things that inspire me, really. We touched lightly on a few of the resources that I like, things I’ve learned and places I’ve picked things up.
If you’re interested in audio for post production, there are a couple of great books by Ric Viers. I have two books by him that are really great. The first one is The Sound Effects Bible, and it’s not just sound effects in there. He talks about everything from gear to microphones, basics, setting proper gains, compression, some mixing techniques, etc. He also has The Location Sound Bible.
There are a lot of similarities, but there’s also a lot of talk about gear, shotgun mics, lop mics, recorders, and then he also dives into some of the basics when it comes to mixing, proper gain staging, and so on. Those are a really great pool of knowledge in book form. There are a lot of other books out there, but I have found those two to be really helpful.
Other than that, when it comes to audio for video, it’s a very small, niche field. There isn’t a crazy amount of stuff out there, like there might be for mixing music. For that, you’ve got tons. You’ve got Pensado’s Place, all these people on YouTube putting out channels on mixing, mixing from home, mixing on a budget, etc. There’s plenty of that.
Aaron: Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder are pretty awesome resources for anyone who wants to start a home studio.
Ryan: YouTube can be a pool of knowledge for anything and everything, too. You have to dig a little bit and do some searching. On the inspiration side, for me, since I love audio for video, Sound Works Collection is a great place. They’ll do mini videos interviewing the sound people that did sound for X movie. Whether it was the last Harry Potter or anything and everything, big budget films, they’ll sit down with the recording people, the sound designers, the mixers…
It’s really cool, because they’ll show footage of them doing stuff on location or the foley artists. It’s cool to see their process. For me, that helps me stay inspired. It gives me ideas to do other things. They have a podcast as well, and that’s great. The videos can be kind of short, maybe 10 minutes or so, but the podcast will go on at length, talking to the audio guys who have made sound for videos possible.
It will also be music composers for movies as well. That’s really great. I found that great not only as inspiration, but to know what and how audio professionals for big budget films get inside their minds, how they’re thinking, and what their process looks like.
It’s neat to see stuff about sound engineers for big movies and realize that we’re not so different.
Dealing With a Broad Loudness Spectrum (Dynamics)
Aaron: I have a nerdy question here. This is about normalizing and compression, I think. Aiya had asked, “I’m so torn about normalizing sound clips. If I’m working on a longer project in segments, would it be better to adjust my peaks manually for the sake of consistency? It’s for a video project.” I’m hearing that there are differences in video volumes. How do you deal with that? Do you do compression? Do you do automation for the different parts? How do you deal with dynamics?
Ryan: It depends on the project. I’ll talk about how I would mix a sermon, because that’s very dynamic. Our pastor will go from whispering, holding his handheld mic close to his stomach, to screaming, holding the microphone, cupping the capsule. Power and respect to him, because it creates a certain atmosphere, which has a powerful effect. That’s what I’m dealing with on a weekly basis.
That dynamic range is tremendous. Keep in mind, this is going to TV eventually. TV has very strict restrictions. It’s not so much on level, but on perceived level. There’s a difference between what you see meter and what you’re hearing. I can talk at length about that, too.
Aaron: Could you give us a super short version? I’m kind of aware of that, but since I just mix in Logic, I’m not sure how to measure it. Is there a way to measure it in Logic? Do you know? Is there a plugin you use?
Ryan: I use a plugin from Waves. It’s a loudness meter, and its just that. It has a lot of presets, so I’ll use the TV standard preset. I’ll use it for ATSE85, and I’ll use it for a dialogue bus. They’ve also got one for a master bus. The standard right there is your average level around -24 dB LUFS, so that’s full scale. If you have a classic meters, your peak would be zero, so that would average metering right around -10. At least for TV, I’ve got a hard limiter at -10 dB, to where nothing can go above that.
The difference between levels on a meter vs. perceived loudness is the differences between what we hear and the actual energy.
In our TV program, we’ll have the sermon, but we’ll also have a talking heads segments, which is dialogue and a music bed. We’ll also go into segments where they’ll go into worship from our live album, which had been mixed and mastered as an album. That thing is slammed. If you look at the wave form, it’s a sausage. If I’m setting all that by the meters alone and they’re all hitting -10, it may look right, but if I look at my loudness meter, that worship segment is going to be off the charts.
There’s so much more content in there. There’s so much going on with all the different frequency ranges as opposed to a dialogue track, which is a narrow field in the frequency spectrum. That’s the gist of it. When it comes to my technique for controlling dynamics, for something like mixing a sermon, if I’m going down my plugin chain, the first thing I naturally have is a high pass filter. I’m rolling off those unnecessary lows that are hogging energy.
The next thing I’ll do is use a compressor, and I’ll set the attack to right in the middle, so not fast or slow, and I’ll have the release time at fast. We don’t want to hear it pumping, letting go. That’s catching my peaks. It’s not doing a crazy amount, but it kind of is. That’s helping do a lot of the bulk compression. Before anything really hits the compressor, I will go through, and as I work my way through the mix, I will clip gain the wave form, so that, say, if he’s whispering somewhere, I might keep that, depending on how I have my compressor set.
Then, if we go up to a part where he’s screaming and my wave form is huge, I will take that down and create those nodes, those dots in the wave form, and drag the actual clip volume down, that gain down. That way, it’s not going into the compressor at this high gain level. It’s hitting the compressor evenly as the rest of it would. That way, it’s not driving the compressor crazy. Then I’ll go through and do some EQ and DSing and whatnot. I might add some more compressors in there, just to grab some of those little things coming through. After that, it’s subtle, just smoothing it out.
Aaron: It is a little bit of both. If she has access to an audio editing program—I don’t know what she’s using for editing. If you can put a compressor on the track, do that. It’s not exactly the same, but I did a YouTube video about how I process podcast vocals, and it’s very similar. For podcast vocals, I start with a Logic noise removal plugin.
Ryan: I actually have my noise suppressor, and I’ll use that later on down in my signal chain. My way of thinking is that if I’ve got all this compression going on, the compression is narrowing that dynamic range, so it’s bringing up that noise floor. I tend to do my noise suppression after the bulk of that compression, because the noise floor is higher and it’s easier to work on a supressor. If that makes sense.
Aaron: I’ve thought a lot about whether you should do the noise removal before or after you add a bunch of gain with a compressor or something, and I can’t think of a good reason that it matters. You can take out the noise before you add a bunch of gain, or you can add a bunch of gain and take out the noise afterwards. Which is better? I don’t know. Anyways, after the noise removal plugin, I put an EQ with a high pass filter, a peak compressor, an RMS or an average level compressor, and then a limiter.
Ryan: Like I mentioned earlier, before I had my long-winded answer, it also depends on what it is you’re mixing—whether it’s music, or a podcast, or something for film.
When it comes to dialogue for film, you want it to sound as natural as possible, but you also want to be able to hear if someone is whispering.
When it comes to that, I’ll still use a compressor, but it will be very, very light. If there’s anything I need to do to meet loudness, that I will automate the volume on my dialogue bus. I’ll bring that up. That way, it sounds a little bit more natural, instead of solely relying on a compressor to do all the work for you.
Aaron: That makes sense. For podcasts, if I notice that there’s a section where someone was talking much quieter, like if a guest backed away and talked like that for four or five minutes and then went back to the normal distance from the microphone, in Logic, I’ll turn that into its own clip. I make a cut on either side of the quiet part, and then, in Logic, you can double click on it and change gain by hitting Control G. Then you can add 3, 4, or 5 dB to it.
That works out pretty well. If it’s every five seconds or I have to do it more than five or six times in an episode, I won’t do the clip gain changes, I’ll just use a compressor.
Look at the overall audio file and see if there are long stretches where you can use automation to change the gain, or change the clip gain.
Common Audio Mistakes Podcasters Make
Ryan: You asked a question that I think would be good to talk about in regards to podcasting. You had asked, “What do you like about podcasts? What common mistakes do you hear people make?” Initially, I read this and thought, “I don’t know,” but I spent some time thinking about it. This is great, because it piggybacks off the loudness thing.
A lot of the mistakes that I hear when it comes to podcasts in regards to audio is the levels and loudness aspect. I’ll listen to some podcasts that sound great, and I’ll put on another podcast where the whole thing is super quiet. Then they start laughing, and it’s really loud. There are some, like mine, where they have a music bed underneath the entire thing, and then sometimes the music bed is so quiet that you hardly know it’s there.
You’re like, “What the heck is that noise in the background?” Sometimes, it’s the opposite. Sometimes, the music bed is way too loud. That’s a few of the things I’ve noticed. A lot of the fixes relate to what we just talked about. It helps to have knowledge of levels and perceived loudness.
If you’re mixing a podcast, make sure your levels are consistent.
One of the biggest things I can recommend for anyone mixing anything, whether it’s music, movies, a podcast, is the importance of having a reference track.
Aaron: Yeah, I don’t talk about that enough.
Ryan: That is huge. Professional audio engineers who mix platinum records still do this. They will pull in a track from a different song that is mixed well and is mixed how they want theirs to sound, and they’ll have it muted in their session. When they want to have a reference to listen to or train their ear, they’ll un-mute it, and they’ll go, “Oh, okay.”
I’m sure you’ve done the same thing as me, where you’ll be so involved in a mix, you’re in it, and you think it sounds great, and then maybe you go away. You go home, sleep, and maybe you come back, and you open it up and you go, “Woah! What was I thinking!” You can get so involved in it that the blinders go up. You get tunnel vision, and you’re not aware to some things.
It’s good to have a reference track or get an outsider’s opinion on a mix.
The main takeaway here is the reference track. That would help with anything, whether it’s the timbre, how you’re EQing, or the loudness. You pull in their track and it’s far louder than yours, and you automatically know that you need to do something about it.
Aaron: That’s a great idea. You can kind of do this before or after. You go through and you edit your whole podcast, get everything set up the way you want, create an extra track, and then find a podcast that sounds really good—This American Life or pretty much anything by NPR—download an episode, drop it into your editing program, and play it, mute it, and see what the difference is. Maybe you need to add some gain with an adaptive limiter or with a compressor, or maybe you can tell that your track sounds way sharper or harsher.
Are there are too many high frequencies or too much bass compared to your reference track? You can adjust those things. I’m so glad you mentioned that. I’ve never thought of that before, and that’s such a good idea.
Ryan: It’s one of those things you don’t think of much, but once you do it, you’re like, “Oh my gosh!” It’s really eye opening and really helpful.
You can find Ryan online at ryanmonette.com, and follow him on Twitter @RyanMonette.
Rank #4: Improving Your Productivity and Creative Output Through Deep Focus with Shawn Blanc
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- For big projects, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to think and work.
- Work on building your focus muscle.
- The first five minutes of focus time are the hardest.
- Pick a task, pick a time, and do the task at that time.
- Show up every day and do your best creative work.
- If you can’t overcome fear, push through it—fear is a sign that you’re doing something that matters.
- The way you feel about a product doesn’t change how much it’s worth, which is how much the market is willing to pay for it.
- Protect your morning productivity time and your mental energy by setting out your clothes the night before.
- Don’t undervalue your products.
- Pick one thing, do it for two months, and allow yourself to suck at all the other areas of your life—after that, pick a new thing.
- Pick one action you can do tomorrow morning that will get you closer to the most important goal.
Aaron: We both really loved Cal Newport’s Deep Work book. When did you get interested in the idea of intense focus and structuring your life in a way to make sure you get your best creative work done? When did you find that book or that idea and really start working on that?
Shawn: I think I found the idea years ago. When I was a creative marketing director, like I mentioned, I was doing 80 hours a week. Part of my schedule was that on Fridays, I would come home and work from home. I wouldn’t be on email or answer the phone. I had an assistant, and anyone who needed to get ahold of me needed to go through my assistant. She would screen anything and see if it was urgent or important for the day. If it was, she’d let me know.
I set up this distraction-free work time for myself on Fridays, because as the director for the marketing and all the creative stuff we were doing, it was on me to make sure that our marketing campaign for this big, end of the year, 25,000 person conference was going to happen. It was all on me. I had to drive that. You can’t do that in 10-minute time blocks scattered throughout your day.
For big projects, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to think, process, come up with ideas, and work on stuff.
That was my first experience of going, “I have to have this. If I don’t, I won’t be able to do my job, and I will always be in reaction mode.” That was my first experience, and that was in 2008 when I came across that idea. It was born out of necessity for me. Obviously, that’s not new to the world, but it was new to me. When I quit my job and started blogging for a living, I came to that same spot of saying, “I need to set aside time every day to write without distractions, intentionally.”
That has evolved as we’ve had kids, schedules have changed, and seasons of life go up and down. I need uninterrupted stretches of time on a regular basis to do my most important work and to focus on the stuff that’s not urgent today but is very important. If I neglect it, those things will become urgent, or the needle is going to start going backwards and I’m going to start losing ground.
Why Deep Focus Matters
Shawn: Focused time has always been important. Then I came across Cal’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I read that in 2015. That’s a fantastic book. There was this chapter in there on intentional practice, and that resonated with me so much. It’s very similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow.
He has a lot of books on very similar topics on finding flow, getting in the flow, whatever. He has one book called Flow and another one called Finding Flow. It’s the idea that not only do you need those times of uninterrupted work, but when you’re in that moment, if you can get into the flow, it’s challenging, it’s hard, etc, but you feel more rewarded. You feel better. You have a higher motivation about the work you’re doing. You feel like you accomplished something.
I don’t know if anyone listening can relate to this. You spend your whole day in reaction mode, bouncing around between your email inbox, your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed, your Instagram feed, back to email, back to Twitter, back to Instagram, back to Facebook, back to email. You’re bouncing around all these inboxes, and then you’re like, “Wow, I just spent four hours. I haven’t done anything.”
Aaron: You read a bunch of short emails, maybe you replied, maybe you sent some tweets, maybe you saw some articles.
It’s so easy to spend all day doing short, quick tasks that don’t really change anything.
Shawn: Exactly. They don’t change anything, and you feel zero satisfaction afterwards. You don’t feel like you got anything done, as opposed to if you took those four hours and, instead, spent it focused on something intentional, something that was challenging. If you set aside time to do deep work, when you come out of that time (even if it’s just one hour or half an hour), if it was distraction free and you’re focused and being intentional, you come out feeling better.
After spending intentional time working on something without any distractions, you feel more motivated and you have more energy. It’s this muscle. You have a focus muscle that you have to work on, as opposed to the distraction muscle.
Why is Creating Focused Time So Hard?
Shawn: The hardest thing for getting into that focused work time, getting into the flow, is called the Activation Energy, just getting started. The first five minutes of focus time are the hardest. Something I like to do is have a set time every day when I am going to have my focused writing time, and before I even get there, the day before, I write down what my single most important thing is that I’m going to be writing about. I have the time on my calendar, and I have the challenge, project, or task that I’m going to be working on.
As Cal Newport would say, what’s the artifact that I’m going to try and get from that focused time? Then I come, sit down, and do the work. I know that the first five minutes will be hard and I probably won’t be into it. I have to power through those first five minutes, and then you get into that flow. Time begins to get lost. Anyone who has been a painter, artist, musician, whatever, you can usually relate. You say, “I was just in the flow. I was in the zone.” That’s where your best work is going to be created.
That’s where you’re going to feel the most satisfaction with your job. That’s where you’re going to increase your skill level as a creative person. You’re going to level up your ability to do stuff. Sean has talked about this so much with his Learn Lettering course: he did 9,000 hours of intentional practice! That’s what he was doing every day. He had this focused time where he was practicing letters. You have to put in the time.
How to Stop Procrastinating and Do Your Best Work
Aaron: Everyone should read Cal Newport’s books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. Both of those books are phenomenal. It’s so important as podcasters to pick a day to outline and record an episode, and write the topic in advance. Say, “I’m going to spend 30 to 45 minutes at this time writing about this thing, and then I’m going to record an episode.”
Otherwise, what ends up happening, and this is true of so many areas of life, is that you will spend a lot of time thinking about how you should do a thing. I’ve been thinking about how I should record a screencast for three weeks now. “Hey, I have to record that ‘introduction to limiting’ screencast for my Logic course,” and I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but I haven’t done it yet. It’s so silly, but that’s how procrastination works. You spend more time thinking about how you should do a thing instead of just doing the thing.
Pick a task, pick a time, and do the task at that time.
That’s such a simple version of an idea presented in Deep Work that is so life changing. I talk about that book all the time because I love it, and I know there are still some people who haven’t read it yet. It is a book that anyone who wants to create stuff for a living professionally needs to go listen to. Shawn, you should do a whole series of videos or interviews where you talk about deep focus for creative people.
Shawn: I do. I did some stuff, like the TheFocusCourse.com/margin page. I interviewed Cal Newport, and we talked about this. I interviewed a few other folks and wrote some articles, and it was on this topic of having margin in your life, the breathing room, so that you can do your best creative work. That’s our mantra over there at The Focus Course: Show up every day and do your best creative work.
I think margin is a huge part of that. The deep work, the focus, it’s a huge part of it. Otherwise, you’re just working on your email inbox all the time. That’s no fun.
Push Through Fear
Aaron: The first question I want to talk about is this one from Mariali. She asked, “How did you overcome the insecurity of giving birth to a new idea you weren’t sure people would respond well to?” I think this was about a book but it could be about anything, really.
Shawn: I didn’t overcome the fear. I put it out there and stuck to the plan. The way that worked with my Delight is in the Details book, was that I had done it as a podcast mini series for my members only. It was a little five part podcast, and I got a lot of positive response from people. I had teased it out, and I got a positive response, so I thought, “I should sell this for maybe like $5 as a sample for the Shawn Blanc membership thing.”
I thought, “I should rewrite it, so it’s a little bit more structured. I’ll rerecord it so it doesn’t have the welcome in it, so it’s a little bit more of its own product.” As I’m doing that, it goes from five episodes to like 12. There were all these extra chapters that I ended up writing. Then I thought, “Gosh, if I’m going to to this, I might as well interview some other people, and then I can charge more for the thing.” Instead of charging $10, I could charge like $20. That would double what I’d make from it.
So I made the book, and when I was getting ready to sell it, that was the hard part. That launch day, I just felt super insecure. I felt bad and sick to my stomach. I texted a few friends of mine. I was like, “This book is coming out in an hour. People are going to hate it.” Everyone was like, “Stick to your plan. Put it out there.” The people I trusted, who’s opinions I cared about, all said, “You’re fine, keep going.” I listened to them, and I did. I kept going and it. I pushed through that fear.
I never overcame the fear—I just pushed through it.
I kept going. You begin to learn that the fear becomes this mile marker for you, a sign post that you’re probably doing something that matters and creating something that matters. Now I’ve learned that when I feel that, “This might not work,” or, “Holy crap, what am I doing? I’m in over my head!” I should probably keep going, because I might be on to something that matters at this point.
Aaron: That’s fantastic advice.
The Market Decides What a Product Is Worth
Aaron: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I talked about this in the Fired Up Mondays podcast this morning, which is that the market decides what’s valuable. People will complain when they see a product that they don’t think is worth as much as the company is charging for it. Let’s say that you look at a Lamborghini, and you’re like, “I don’t know why anyone would ever pay $400,000 for that car. Why would you want that car? You could just buy a 1999 Toyota Camri that has 140,000 miles on it for $4,000.”
“This ’99 Camry works great. It gets me everywhere. Good gas mileage, pretty comfortable. Not the most amazing sound system, but it does have a Bose sound system in it, so it’s fine. Why would anyone spend $400,000 on a Lamborghini?”
The way you feel about a product doesn’t change how much it’s worth, which is how much the market is willing to pay for it.
There’s somebody out there willing to pay that much money. They have that much money, and it doesn’t matter what you think about that product. Somebody else went out and made that, and they’re going to make money from that while you’re at home complaining about how somebody else is spending $300 for a picture book from Apple. How you feel about the price of a product doesn’t matter.
Shawn: It’s how the people that are buying it feel that matters. To say, “I’m not going to start a Lamborghini company because used Toyota Corollas exist,” that’s silly, but that’s how we feel.
Aaron: Relating to my courses, which I’m getting close to wrapping up, pricing is interesting for me. If I hadn’t met Sean and the people in the seanwes Community, I think I would have charged a fraction of what I’m planning on charging. I probably would have charged closer to $20. I would have put all this time and energy into it and not priced it high enough, because I didn’t realize that there are people out there that sell courses for $1,500 and $10,000.
Don’t Undervalue Your Products
Shawn: I bought a course recently that cost me $2,000.
Aaron: So many people don’t know that. A lot of us still think that $2,000 is a ton of money. For a lot of people, it is. That doesn’t mean that you have to apply such a low price to the product that you’re making, just because you feel like $50 is a lot of money.
Don’t charge too little for your product because you feel like a higher price is a lot of money—that’s an easy trap to fall into.
Shawn: That’s very true. You have to step back. This course I bought, for me, it was a no brainer. I bought the book that was written by the guy, and I went through the book and implemented some of the stuff in there, and it helped me launch my time management class. That did $20,000 its first launch week. I spent something like $18 on this guy’s book, and it helped me make $20,000. So his $2000 course was a no brainer for me.
This master class version of that book, the online course version of it, that was a no brainer for me. There were a ton of videos, all this implementation stuff, coaching, and all this stuff that was involved in it. There were all these things you can do that can increase the value of your stuff. Don’t increase your price just because. Start with your basic price and then double it and double it again. Now you’re probably at a decent starting point.
You’re so prone to under-valuing your own work. You don’t just jack the price up because people say so. You need to look objectively and say, “Alright, am I providing the value?” If someone comes in and takes my Focus Course, for example, we charge $350 for it. It’s not a lot, but it isn’t a little, either. If someone spends $350 and goes through this course, are they going to be able to walk away with at least, ideally, $700 worth of value? I want them to get at least double the value they’re paying for it.
Can I get it to be even more? Can I get them to walk away with $3,500 worth of value, 10X the amount of value that I’m providing? You charge that, and if people take it seriously, they’ll walk away with something that wil literally change the way they spend their time with work, family, health, and finances. This is across the board for their life, and you can’t put a price on that.
Objectively ask yourself if you’re delivering on your promises and providing the value that you say you are.
With your stuff, Aaron, with podcasting, if you can help people get a podcast off the ground, they can turn that into a full time business. That’s worth $50,000 or $100,000. Someone could say, “Thanks to your stuff, I started a business that’s now thriving. I do this as my job.” That’s worth so much money! To charge $20 for it? Don’t undervalue your stuff.
First Steps to Improve Your Focus
Aaron: I want to answer Kyle’s question here in the chat. I’m going to read his question and I’ll let you take a stab at it, Shawn. Kyle asked, “Is there a best first step to improved focus? I can think of so many directions I should go: exercise more, eat better, write down what I’m doing the next day, sleep better, etc. Trying to do all of it at once isn’t sustainable. What should I start with?”
Shawn: This is great, Kyle, excellent question. I feel like there are two best first steps (which obviously doesn’t make sense, you can only really have one first step, but play along). We talked about this in the Focus Course. On the very first day of the Focus Course, there’s this super dorky assignment. You have to set out your clothes for what you’re going to wear tomorrow. Tonight, when you go to bed, pick out tomorrow’s outfit. It’s super dorky. You can do it in two minutes. In the morning, you have to wear the outfit you picked out the night before.
You have to actually follow through with your commitment. You set this thing out, and you say, “I’m going to wear these pants and this shirt,” etc. In the morning, you wake up, and you have to wear it. You’ve made a commitment to yourself the night before. In the morning, you wake up and you follow through on that commitment. It’s a small step towards strengthening your personal integrity, which is your ability to follow through with your commitments to yourself. That’s super powerful.
The other component to setting out your clothes the night before and then putting them on is that it’s your current self helping your future self. You’ve saved your future self five minutes in the morning. The quality of my time in the morning is super valuable. My mind is fresh, it’s the beginning of the day, there are no fires happening yet. That’s my best chance to get my best work done, early in the morning.
Protect your morning productivity time and your mental energy by setting out your clothes the night before.
It’s this idea of helping your future self. Once you get your toe in that water, you begin to see all the other areas of your life where you can begin to help your future self. We were talking during the podcast about this. Kyle says, “Yes, I’ve done this.” That’s awesome. As Aaron and I talked about earlier, when you have that deep work focused time, try to decide ahead of time what that focus is going to be. This is your current self helping your future self.
It’s so powerful. For me, I write down my topic that I’m going to be writing about tomorrow when it’s time for me to write. I have the topic ahead of time, so I know what to write about. Then, when I sit down, I don’t have to think about. I have the singular focus to write about this topic that I’ve already chosen. That can really help with improving focus.
Be ahead of your own curve and help your future self.
Those of you who are registered for the Creative Focus Online Summit will get to hear Josh Kaufman and I talk about this. He talks about the importance of going on a walk in the morning and having 30 minutes where you leave your phone at home. You go outside, you’re moving, you’re getting sunlight, but also, it’s 30 minutes of thinking time where you can be undistracted. You can just think. He calls it “noodling.”
You let your mind “noodle.” He talks about how when you have a productivity system and a focus system that gives you space to think and to be uninterrupted for a little bit, you’re going to be far more productive than if you have a system that doesn’t give you space to think. For him, he says that that is the number one, single most important component of being more productive and focused—actually having carved out time on a regular basis where you can just think.
Be distraction free. That’s why he says to take a walk. You can combine that with movement, being outside, getting sunlight, and things like that. It’s easier than sitting on your couch and staring at the wall for 30 minutes. I don’t say that to put that idea down, but it can be easier to be undistracted when you’re outside walking around and you leave your phone at home. As opposed to, you put your phone next to you on the couch and you hope that it doesn’t buzz.
You can put it in airplane mode, obviously, but it’s still right there. You want to grab it and take it off of airplane mode. So coming back to Kyle’s question: You have so many directions you want to go. Exercising, eating, writing down what you’re doing the next day, sleeping better. Right? People say, “I want to improve my relationship with my spouse. I also want to get better at budgeting my finances. I also want to get better at budgeting my time. I also want to read these books.”
You look at it, and there is so much stuff that you want to do. You can’t do all of it right now, so pick one thing. What’s the one that’s most exciting?
Build One Habit at a Time
Shawn: Kyle, you listed exercise as the first thing on your list, so I would start with that. Not to pitch my course, but I’m going to pitch my course. We go through all the core areas of your life: your job, your relationships, your finances, your “down time,” your physical health, and your inner or spiritual life. These are the six areas of your life. We go through each one of those and spend time on each one, where you list out what’s important to you in this area of your life.
What’s a goal that you want to have or a lifestyle practice that you want to implement, and how can you move the needle forward toward that goal? You come up with six goals and six action plans, one each for the main areas of your life. Spoiler here, at the end of the course, you pick one.
Focus on improving one area of your life for six months and ignore the other ones.
Don’t ignore them in terms of ignoring your wife for two months while you’re focusing on work, but you pick one area to build a habit, a routine, a lifestyle practice, that has you making meaningful progress in that area of life. A lot of people say that it takes 21 days to build a habit. Actually, if you’re a habit building master, you might be able to do it in 21 days, but it takes most people 60 days to build a habit. That’s the average. That’s two months!
I think a lot of people are probably familiar with the Jerry Seinfeld productivity tip with the calendar. You write a joke every day and you put a big X on your calendar, and you don’t want to break the chain. It’s the same with this new habit of yours. Say, “What’s one thing I can do on a daily basis that’s going to help me move toward my goal of exercising more, of being more physically active?” What’s the minimum dose, the smallest thing you can do?
You’re going to go walk for 20 minutes, or whatever it is. Do that every single day for two months. It’s a small start, but now you’ve done it. You’re two months in, and now, instead of it being this thing you are trying to get the motivation for to move forward, you’re doing it. It has become routine for you, which requires far less activation energy, far less mental energy. It has moved into your life. It’s there. It’s something that you’re doing on a daily basis.
Now, you pick the next thing. “Okay, I have the exercise thing.” Keep that and layer the next thing on top of it. You’re doing that for your physical health. What about for your inner life, your spiritual life? What’s something you would want to layer on top of that, something you could do? Now, during that walking time, maybe you’re going to think about something. If you read a Bible or something like that, you could say, “I’m going to have a Bible verse that I think about during my 30 minute walk.”
Maybe you’re trying to improve your relationship with your spouse. Bring them along on your walk. Now, you can incorporate this. Say, “I’m going to do this on a regular basis,” and you do that for two more months. Then you pick the next layer. Maybe it doesn’t build on that 30 minute walk itself. Maybe it’s an entirely different part of the day, but the core is the same.
Pick one thing, do it for two months, and allow yourself to suck at all the other areas of your life—after that, pick a new thing.
This is why New Year’s resolutions never work. We say, “I’m going to go to the gym for five hours a day every day starting on January 1st, and I’m going to start budgeting, and I’m going to stop eating chocolate, and I’m going to go on date nights every week, and I’m going to read a book a week.” January 1st, go! It’s so much. You’re going to run up and try to push a truck, but you don’t have the energy, the strength, to move and change that much that quickly.
With the truck analogy, if you’re driving a car and you want to try and tow another car, you don’t gun it with all this slack on the tow line. You’re going to rip both of the bumpers off. You start super, super slow. You slowly build up that speed. That’s how you do it without getting in a wreck. You actually make that momentum. Start with just one thing.
The hard part is giving ourselves permission to pick one thing and focus on that for two whole months.
That’s the hardest part, really. It’s not in the doing. It’s in the not despising those small beginnings. That’s the crash course of the Focus Course right there. This is the value. If you stick around for the after show at seanwes, this is what you get.
Aaron: I’ll agree with Shawn and say this: pick one action you can do tomorrow morning that will get you closer to the most important goal. I know how many goals you have right now. I know, because I have that many goals, too. Pick one thing and write it down. Get a little calendar. Make a big X. Do that every day.
You’ll get other stuff done, too, but you need to think about doing one important thing first thing in the morning right after you wake up. Get that thing done, and then pat yourself on the back, feel good about it, and move on to the next thing.
You can follow Shawn Blanc on Twitter @ShawnBlanc, and be sure to check out his website at www.shawnblanc.net.
Rank #5: Content Strategy and Growing an Audience with Shawn Blanc
Shawn Blanc is a writer, small-business owner, productivity coach, and creative entrepreneur living in Kansas City with his wife and their three sons. Shawn has been teaching and learning about creativity, diligence, and focus for over a decade, and his online courses have helped thousands of people do their best creative work while learning to thrive in the midst of life’s tensions. A while back, Shawn sent an email that caught my attention. He wrote about the importance of creating a customer avatar and developing a content strategy to connect with them and help them achieve their goals. I liked the email so much that I emailed him back and asked him to come on my show to talk about his journey to making a living through writing online and what he’s learned about growing an audience. Shawn also shares my passion for productivity and deep focus; so much so that he’s gathered 12 incredibly smart people for a free 5 day online summit about the power of focused life. In this episode, Shawn shares how he was able to make a full-time living by writing online, and we discuss how you can grow your audience by creating a customer avatar (your ideal listener) and creating content that addresses their needs and desires.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- Interview your customers to get a real life picture of your audience.
- Start selling products as early as possible.
- Your customer avatar is a real person that exists out there.
- Use the language of your customer avatar in your content to create a deep connection with them.
- Be in people’s weekly cycle at a minimum.
- Your niche is going to draw your audience but your ancillary interests will keep people interested.
- Show up consistently to earn people’s trust and create an anticipation of future value.
- Do guest-based podcasts to grow your audience.
- Reach people that are far outside of your social circle by connecting with the people you can connect with right now.
Aaron: Shawn Blanc is a writer/small business owner/productivity coach/creative entrepreneur living in Kansas City with his wife and their three sons, and Shawn is a member of our Community. He’s been teaching and learning about creativity, diligence, and focus for over a decade now.
His online courses have helped thousands of people do their best creative work while learning to thrive in the midst of life’s tensions. A while back, Shawn sent an email that caught my attention. He was writing about the importance of creating a customer avatar, that’s knowing who you’re creating for and what you want to help them achieve, what kind of person you want to help them become.
I thought it was really interesting, so I sent him an email right back. I said, “Shawn, do you want to come on the show to talk about this? I think podcasters need to hear about this idea of customer avatars and also content strategy.” Shawn agreed, and he also shares my passion for productivity and focus, so much so that he has gathered 12 incredibly smart people for a five day online summit about the power of a focused life, and that’s going to be starting, I believe, as this episode comes out.
If you’re listening to this in your podcast player, it’s starting today, I think. I’ll give you that link later. In this episode, I want to talk with Shawn about why you as a podcaster need to create a customer avatar, know who you’re creating for, develop a content strategy, and then also the benefits of deep focus, what we call deep work.
A few small changes in your daily habits can lead to big improvements in your productivity and creative output.
Shawn, that’s one of the longer intros I’ve ever done. Thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate you being here.
Shawn: Thanks, Aaron. I love it. Super excited to be here.
Aaron: I think of you, Shawn, as a writer and as the creator of an online course called The Focus Course, which is great. You’re so much more than that. Do you want to give everyone a quick introduction, how you got here and where you came from? I would also like to hear what your biggest struggles have been over the years of getting to the point where you’re at right now.
Shawn: Absolutely. I’m in Kansas City. Originally, I’m from Denver. I’m a Colorado guy at heart. I’ve been married for going on 12 years, and my wife and I have three boys. It’s insane at our house. We used to call the first two the Twin Tornadoes, but we just had our third eight or nine weeks ago.
Shawn: It’s awesome. Love it. I love being a dad. I used to be a drummer. I know that we have a lot of musicians around here. Sean McCabe plays a little bit of music, I think.
Aaron: Yeah, he used to write music, just like he used to do lettering. I still play drums.
Shawn: I used to play drums for a large ministry here in Kansas City, and I ended up transitioning out of that. It’s a long story, but I ended up becoming a marketing and creative director. I ran a team, an in-house design team, with about 17 people—web developers, print designers, web designers, writers, editors, project managers, whatever. We did a bunch of stuff. One of our huge things was that we would host a conference at the end of the year that I was running.
25,000 people would come out for that. I did that for several years, and then my wife and I got pregnant with our first kid. I was like, “I don’t want to do this work as a dad.” Part of it was just super demanding. Anyone who has experienced working in the corporate design scene knows that it’s a very demanding spot.
Everything is urgent all the time. I was doing like 80 hours a week, and I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun, but I was like, “There’s no way. I don’t want to do 80 hours a week as a dad.” I had that, plus I had this little blog on the side, where I had been writing about marketing stuff. I felt like, “This would be a good opportunity to quit what I’m doing and take a leap, see if I can take my website full time. Could I blog for a living?” That was the thought.
I was doing about $1,000 a month in advertising and some affiliate stuff. I figured that if I could give it 40 hours a week, I could get the revenue up to a spot where it could pay the bills. I figured that it could grow from there.
Aaron: How old were you at this point?
Shawn: I was just about 30, not quite 30, like 29, when I made that jump. I asked everyone that was reading on the site. I said, “I’m quitting. I’m going to do this thing full time.” I asked people if they would be interested in supporting me to write the site for a living. I was like, “If you like what I’m doing, I’ll write more if you want to give me some money to do it.” I did this little membership drive. I was going to charge $3 a month for membership. I was doing a daily podcast as a perk of membership.
Aaron: You aren’t still doing that, are you?
Shawn: It’s on hiatus at the moment. We’ll see. I’m going to be diving back into the podcast scene starting early 2017. I miss podcasting. It’s fun.
Aaron: You decided to ask people to support you, give you $3 a month, to go full time with your writing?
Shawn: Basically. I figured if I could get 500 people, at $3 a month that’s $1,500, plus the other $1,000 I was doing, and that would be $2,500 a month. That’s not a ton, but I figured that would be enough to cover the bare necessities. I figured that things could grow from there. People signed up, and I hit the 500 person mark by the end of the month before I had even quit.
I started my new job, April 4th 2011, basically fully funded as an independent blogger.
Aaron: I bet that was exciting.
Shawn: It was really exciting. I felt like I got this permission slip from my audience to go for it. As a creative person, sometimes you need that. Sometimes you want to be like, “Do you guys care? I’m here. I’m making this stuff.” A lot of the work we do as creative entrepreneurs is for your audience. I know that we’re going to talk about this in a little bit, the customer avatar profile. It’s for these people that you really want to serve. When you hear back from them and they go, “Hey, we like what you’re doing. Let’s keep the relationship going,” it’s like having a DTR with your audience.
There’s something cool about that kind of permission slip moment. It’s like when you sell your first product, or whatever it is. People are interested. You get your first positive review on iTunes or whatever. Obviously, there’s going to be the junk that comes later, but whatever.
Aaron: Some of the haters that come later?
Shawn: You forget about that stuff and you keep moving on.
Aaron: That’s awesome.
Asking for Money
Aaron: When you think back, do you remember any big struggles or hurdles that you really had to overcome about that period in your life?
Shawn: There were so many. It’s hard to say, “If I could do it differently, I would do it this other way,” because who knows? If I had done things differently, maybe it wouldn’t have turned out the way I thought it would. One of the biggest struggles for me was asking for money. It was a huge challenge related to the membership drive. I was asking folks to support me on a regular basis to write for a living. I was like, “Who am I? What kind of a dork says, ‘Give me money so I can blog for a living.'”
Aaron: Nobody pays for things online anymore. Nobody wants to pay for writing.
Shawn: Exactly. That was a huge challenge. It has continued to be a challenge for years. I have been doing this for almost six years now, full time. When I came out with my first book, it’s called Delight is in the Details, and it was an eBook package thing. I did some interviews.
I charged $29 for my book, and I felt like this huge hypocrite.
It was this feeling of, “This is information. Information should be free on the internet. Why would anyone ever buy this?” I felt like there was no value in this thing that people would pay for. I was like, “I have to do it. I’m going to charge for it.”
Aaron: Sorry to jump in, but at the time, did you really feel like $30 was a lot of money?
Shawn: Oh my gosh. I woke up feeling sick to my stomach the day I was going to launch it. I was like, “I can’t believe how much I’m asking for this.”
Aaron: What did you think was going to happen?
Shawn: I thought that people would buy it because they trusted me, and then they would read it and come and burn my house down because I had ripped them off so bad. I charged so much money for something.
Aaron: It was your first time launching a product, right?
Shawn: It was. It was my first product launch ever. It ended up bringing in like $5,000 in that first 48 hour launch window. It made $5,000 that first couple of days. In hindsight, it was this huge inflection point for me. I think I spent about 100 hours building the thing, made $5,000 from it in the first week, and I thought, “Woah, that was a great return on my time investment! Now I have this product that I can continue to sell.”
Since then, in the last four or five years that I’ve sold it, I want to say that it’s sold $50,000 over the years. That’s awesome. There’s something great about creating a product, and it changed a lot.
Producing and selling a book changed my relationship with my audience.
Now I’m creating products for them to buy.
That initial hurdle was huge. $29 was so much money. I think that was probably the biggest struggle, of being able to properly identify how much value I’m providing people and to price it correctly. That’s just hard. I think that’s why you should start selling stuff as early as possible, because you have to learn. There isn’t a formula for how much value you’re providing and how much you should charge for it.
You can’t just plug your stuff into a worksheet and get a number back. You have to feel out the market, your market, your audience, your skill level. How much polish are you doing? How much depth of information are you providing? Whatever skill, service, or product it is you’re providing, you have to learn how to make money and price your stuff! It’s hard to do it when you’re starting.
The biggest challenging for me at first was becoming comfortable asking for money and learning to accurately price my products.
Aaron: The other thing is that once you launched that book and got familiar with all that stuff, that was a stepping stone to your future products, your future books and courses, and everything else that you’re doing. I’m sure, at that point, you felt like, “Okay. I’ve done this once before already. Now it’s like riding a bike. I just need to get back on and keep peddling, keep going.”
Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. It really was a huge stepping stone. One thing I loved about creating and launching a product was that there was a start and an end date to it. This thing has to ship. I worked on it, and I was done. I put it out there. Boom, now it’s there. I’m done. It’s out in the world. Obviously, you iterate on it. A year later, I added some new interviews. I added some new chapters. I created some videos. I remastered all of the audio for the audio book.
Product Launch Hiccups
Shawn: Super random story related to this. It was the relaunch of Delight is in the Details, a year after it had come out, and I put it out there. People are buying it during that relaunch period. I get an email from someone going, “I was just listening to the audio book, and the last chapter sounds like it’s not edited correctly. Something is weird about the last chapter. You should check it out.”
I recorded the audio book and edited it by myself. I go and I open up the audio book for the last chapter and I’m listening to it, and it is the original take that I did of the book. The way I did the audio book, I’m reading it into my microphone in GarageBand. If I goofed up in the middle of a paragraph, I would just take a pause, say, “Okay, again,” and then I would start talking again. That was my marker. The last chapter of the book was that track, the whole thing.
The audio track should have been 10 or 12 minutes for that chapter, and it was 30 minutes because of all my edits, retakes, and pauses. The whole thing. What’s worse is, it was there from the very beginning. For a year, I had been selling that thing. I was mortified. For a year, I had been selling my book with the last chapter all messed up, and I was mortified.
Aaron: Nobody said anything??
Shawn: They didn’t. Either no one listened to it, or when they listened to it, they just assumed… I don’t even know. I was so mortified. There you go. What worse thing can happen? Earlier, I had been so concerned about selling something that people weren’t going to consider valuable. Here’s this huge, huge mistake. What a goof!
Aaron: I need to remind everyone that this audiobook is called Delight is in the Details.
Shawn: The irony, right? That was one of the selling points of the book, too. I was like, “If you buy this book, it’s a case study in sweating the details itself. You’ll see all the areas where I’ve sweated the details in this product.” Whatever. Oh man. I was mortified.
Aaron: Thankfully, no one came and burned down your house, and it was over a year before anyone even said anything. A lot of us are so curious about people who do such good work, so when a mistake does happen, it’s almost humanizing. It’s like, “Now I can relate to this person, because they’re not 100% on top of everything all the time, either, like I struggle with. I make a lot of mistakes, so it’s kind of nice when you see a really awesome musician on stage mess up a part and then jump back into it. You’re like, “Oh, they are humans, too.” That’s really cool. Nobody burned your house down, thankfully.
Shawn: That’s why it’s so helpful to ship early. You get stuff out the door and you start learning. I love it.
Aaron: I tell people this a lot, too, when it comes to podcasts. If you’re thinking about making a podcast, there are so many things you can tweak, improve, or work on forever, but it’s so much better to say, “What’s the minimum I have to do? I want to try and do a good job, but let’s do this, ship it, and iterate and improve on it every single week.”
If you don’t ship something, you'll just pick at it and tweak it endlessly.
Before you know it, it’s been a year and a half, and you’ve got three or five episodes you recorded 18 months ago that you’re still working on. In the meantime, nothing has happened.
Shawn: As well, we have this picture of what we want something to look like and what we want it to be, but we have zero experience. I like the analogy of those lifesize mazes. Especially around Halloween and Thanksgiving, there are those corn mazes. They’re these giant things. Imagine someone standing at the entrance of this life size maze, staring at the entrance to it, and in their mind, trying to figure out how to get to the end so they can get straight to the end the fastest way possible without making any mistakes along the way.
Impossible! Not going to happen. You have to go in the maze and go left to realize that you should have gone right. Then turn around. You have to go through the thing to make it through. I like the phrase, “Action brings clarity.”
Action brings clarity.
You’re waiting for clarity before taking action, and it’s not going to happen—you have to start moving.
You just have to get going and you adjust course as you go. You start to realize what you should major on and what you shouldn’t.
Aaron: That’s an incredible analogy. I’m totally going to use that in the future now. It’s perfect. You sit there and you imagine yourself being at the end of the maze. That’s where you see a bunch of other people. Your friends have gone through the maze and they’re at the end, so you’re like, “I have to get to the end fast. I can’t make any mistakes. I can’t take a wrong turn, because that’s where all my friends are, and that’s where I want to be.” You do have to go through it. That’s really incredible.
Creating a Customer Avatar
Aaron: Shawn, you sent out an email and you were talking about this. I want you to explain how you think about customer avatars, and then if you did something like that for yourself when you were just starting, or if this is something that evolved over time. Customer avatar and content strategy, go!
Shawn: This is great. When I first started as a writer, I was doing ShawnBlanc.net. My entire job was publishing articles and links on my website. I didn’t have a customer avatar or a customer profile, what I had was an ideal reader. I think, in terms of podcasting, it’s very similar. Who’s your ideal listener? For me, I actually had a person who was my ideal reader, who’s name was Shawn Spurdee.
He was a really good friend of mine. He and I had become friends through the blogging Twitter-sphere back in the day. When I wrote articles or links, I had him in mind. I thought, “Is this something he would find interesting? Is there a story in here that he’s going to want to read? Is this a link to something he would like?” You had that ideal reader. John Gruber wrote about this for his site, Daring Fireball.
He talked about his ideal reader, and he called it “a second version of himself.” He goes, “This person is interested in all the same things I’m interested in, and he cares about what I care about. All the design decisions I make on the site, all the articles I choose to link to, the stories I choose to tell, all of that stuff is with this ideal reader/listener in mind.”
It was instrumental for me to have an “ideal reader” for all of the work I was doing.
You know who you’re trying to target. I’m still the writer for sure, but we’ve switched a lot more of our focus onto direct sales, building a customer base, and selling products to our audience. I still don’t have that ideal reader. Who am I writing this for? Who is this product being created for? It has gone beyond just an individual person that I know. We did a customer profiling thing. I have a guy who works for me full time, and his name is Isaac. We took a couple of big, giant sticky pad things, two feet by three feet, they’re huge, these giant sticky notes.
Aaron: Where do you get those? Can you get those on Amazon?
Shawn: You can get a lawnmower on Amazon, so I’m sure you can get sticky notes. We got ours at Office Max, an Office Depot kind of thing. It’s weird. You drive to this store, and you can walk in, and they sell products on their shelves. You have to pick it up with your hand and drive it home yourself.
Aaron: It seems like a waste of time.
Shawn: For this customer profiling session or whatever, basically, we had these four quadrants. What do they think? What do they feel? What do they want? What do they say? Something like that. You’re trying to get this picture of this person. Who is this person? What are the things that they say? Like, “I love my family. I like to watch Netflix.” Whatever.
Aaron: “I want to learn how to make a podcast.”
Shawn: Exactly. It’s not just business, it’s just life. What are the kind of phrases they might say? If you ask them what they care about, what things would they list? What are their pain points that they’re feeling in life? For us, creating this customer avatar, we named him Brian. We found a random picture of somebody and stuck it up there to begin to humanize the person.
Your customer avatar is a real person that exists out there.
We talked about, “Here’s Brian,” and we came up with this stuff. Brian has a job that he kind of likes, but he’s got these other creative ideas that he really wants to pursue. Maybe he wants to take it full time. Maybe not. That’s not really the most important thing for him. The most important thing for him is getting his best creative work out there and being able to do it and feel like he’s making progress on the areas of life that matter to him. He’s also a dad and a husband, and he cares about his family quite a bit.
He cares about his kids. He still wants to be available for them. When he comes home from work, he’s really tired, so the evenings don’t feel like a good time to do his creative work, but he’s not a morning person either, so he doesn’t know when he’s going to get the time. These are some of the scenarios, the stories, that begin to emerge as you begin to write stuff about this person. What are the pain points that they feel?
When they look around, what do they see? What kind of car does Brian drive? Does he like minivans? Does he have a minivan? How many kids does he actually have? You really kind of start to come up with this stuff, and there’s a lot you can do to get to a higher level of doing these customer profiles. You can actually do interviews with your customer base.
Aaron: I do this! I try to meet people and talk to them, especially when it comes to podcasting.
When you interview your customers, you can actually begin to get a real life picture of your real life audience.
Creating an Empathy Map
Shawn: There’s this thing that we did, an empathy map, and you take the empathy map to create your customer profile. We ran this survey to our email list, and we ran a separate one to our customer list. It was, “When it comes to focus, what’s your single greatest challenge?” It was just this open-ended question where people could write stuff down.
Some people say, “Time.” Or, “I can’t focus. I’m distracted.” Then you get some people who go, “I’m trying to build my photography portfolio website on the side because I love photography and I’m trying to grow it. I’m working this other job, and when I come home in the evenings, family is first. I spend time with family, so by the time the kids are in bed, I’ve only got about an hour left in the day. I’m so tired, and I don’t want to spend time trying to work on my photography website, so I don’t know where to get started.”
The person who gives an in depth answer to the challenge like that, vs. someone who just says “time”, they’re really in touch with their pain point. There’s a book called Ask by Ryan Leveque, and you can find it on Amazon. He teases out, “You ask these questions, and you separate the people with the longest answers. You put their answers up at the top.”
You cut the list at 20%. The bottom 80%, forget about those people, and look at the top 20%, these “hyper-responders.” What are their challenges? What are their pain points? Aaron, you could do this. You could say, “When it comes to building a podcast, what is your single greatest challenge?” You’ll probably have someone who says, “Building my list.” Or, “Building my audience.” Or, “Technical stuff.” But then you might have someone who really gives this heartfelt, in-depth answer.
If someone gives you a heartfelt, in-depth answer, they’re hungry for a solution.
That person is going to pay for a solution. That person is going to digest this, and when you give them something, they’re going to check it out. Look for these hyper-responders and cater your response to them. That’s what we did. That’s how we figured out that our biggest pain points for people who go through the Focus Course are one of four primary buckets, so to speak. It’s time management, getting traction on their business or side projects, finding clarity on what’s important to them and what they should be doing about it, and a lot of people also feel overwhelmed by all that’s already happening in life.
Or, they look at the thing that they’re trying to make progress on, and they feel overwhelmed. They don’t even know where to start. Really, all of these things feed off of each other. When one is in a rough spot, the others start to be in a rough spot as well. We go, “Okay, these are the main challenges we’re going to address as part of the Focus Course, in all of our writing. This is it.” The people that fit within these four buckets are the ones who are willing to pay for a solution.
Use Your Audience’s Language
Shawn: Read the actual responses, the answers, and take the language that people are saying and use it in your articles. Answer their actual questions in podcast episodes. You use it in your marketing language. The landing page for your product, or your podcast, or your sign up, or whatever—use the actual language of your hyper-responder customers. Now, not only are you listening to them and you know who that ideal customer is, but you’re also even speaking their language.
A) it’s going to be cool because hopefully you’ll do more sales, but B) you’ll actually get to connect with the people you want to connect with. That’s the whole point. That’s why we’re here.
That’s one of the huge benefits of having these customer profiles. It can help you stay focused on who you’re trying to talk to and what it is you’re trying to talk about, to help them.
Aaron: That’s mindblowing. That’s fantastic. At the core, I kind of know this stuff, but hearing you explain it made it even more clear to me. I love that. I want to take it in this direction.
How to Grow Your Audience & Create Deeper Connections
Aaron: One of the most common questions I get about podcasting is about growing an audience. It’s always, “How do I get more attention? How do I get more listeners? How do I grow an audience?” I love what you said right here.
Use the language of your customer avatar in your content to create a deep connection with them.
That’s where listeners come from. So many people think that they’ll magically get 100,000 people to listen to their podcast, and they won’t have any idea of who these people are. They’re nameless, faceless avatars on the internet. No! Especially in the beginning, you start small. You develop relationships with people who care passionately about the thing that you’re talking about.
By investing in them, getting to know them, and asking them questions—regardless of whether you’re doing some kind of business thing or not—by just talking to them and getting to know their language, that’s how you’re going to resonate with them and even more people. What methods have you found effective for growing an audience and developing deeper relationships?
Shawn: I think that’s a great question. Everyone wants to know the answer to this. For me, there are three primary keys to growing an audience:
- Honesty and transparency
Shawn: Consistency is core. This is a phrase in the seanwes Community, and it’s a phrase I like to use, and that’s this: show up every day. That’s consistency. We’re just people of habit. The internet is a thing of habit, so you have to have that consistency where you’re in people’s regular cycles. Sean McCabe talks about this a lot. You want to be in people’s weekly cycle at a minimum.
Show up on a regular basis. Also, that’s how people know you’re going to be there. There’s something about that consistency. One of the ways you develop an audience where people are tracking with you and paying attention when you’re showing up consistently.
When you show up consistently, not only do you earn people’s trust, but you create an anticipation of future value.
You want to have that. That’s huge. People are like, “I want to know what’s next. I want to follow this story and be here.” Consistency is huge.
2. Honesty & Transparency
Shawn: This comes out in a lot of ways. In some ways, you want to have the transparency like Nathan Barry talks about, to “teach what you know.” Share what you know. Also, there’s a human element, passion and persona, who you are as an individual. Humanizing yourself is so helpful. We don’t want to connect with brands, we want to connect with people. As indie entrepreneurs or indie creative folks, when you are running your own thing, you are a brand but you’re also a person.
You’ve got to keep the person aspect of it, the human aspect of it, you have to keep it there. Allow your mistakes to show through. Allow your passions to show through. For me, at ShawnBlanc.net, I cut my teeth and grew my audience originally by writing about Apple stuff. I wrote tons of product reviews. It was super nerdy, gadgety stuff. I would also write about coffee, camera gear, books I was reading, music, and things like that.
Aaron: Stuff you cared about.
Shawn: Exactly. Other interests that were related to Apple gear because it was my site, and I can write about whatever I want. That humanized the work that I was doing. So many people came to my site because of the Apple stuff but they stayed because of the coffee stuff.
Your focus, your niche, is going to draw your audience, but your ancillary interests will keep people interested.
You’re a real person with real interests who is not just this robot spinning off the same thing all the time.
Shawn: This is huge. I stink at it, but I’m trying to reply to emails. When people email me, replying back to them. Also, here’s a prime example, having me on your show, Aaron. The practicality of it is that when this show goes live, I’m going to tweet about it. I’m going to link to it. I’m going to point the people that track with me over to your stuff. That’s a way for you to grow your audience, but it’s also a way for me to grow my audience.
Your listeners, a lot of people, don’t know who I am. Now, hopefully, some of them will come check me out and sign up for our stuff. There’s a really cool dynamic here of introducing your group to someone else. Hopefully, that person will also introduce their audience to who you are.
Doing guest-based podcasts is an awesome way to grow your audience.
I did some back in the day, when I was first starting my site. I did interviews, blog interviews. The whole thing was conducted over email, and it was just this back and forth email. I did one with Daniel Jalkut, who used to work at Apple and then started Red Sweater. He has the best blogging app on the planet for Mac, MarsEdit. It’s a super great app. I emailed him and did an interview with him.
I did an interview with John Grubar. I did an interview with Brett Simmons, all these people who are super famous Apple people. I’m going back and forth with these guys and posting their interviews. They link to me on my site, and I get this influx of new readers. Or you find software that’s awesome. I would do super in-depth reviews about this stuff, and then people would link to those reviews. Honoring other people, connecting with other people, and doing stuff that’s worth talking about.
Then the word will spread. That consistency, being transparent and honest about who you are, having that passion and that human dynamic to the work that you do, and then just trying to connect with other people. Do things that people are going to want to talk about. Another example is the summit that we’re doing, the Focus Summit. I’m punching way above my weight class here with some of these folks, and it’s a chance to hopefully get some of their audience to discover the work that we’re doing and visa versa.
I hope that people who sign up for this summit will get introduced to some new people and that they’ll find some incredible resources. It’s just fun. We’re all just folks trying to do our best work, right?
Aaron: Absolutely. I love that. That’s one of the best answers for building an audience that I’ve ever heard.
The Importance of Investing One-on-One Time in Your Listeners
Aaron: The thing that I’m working on, and I just want to share this, is investing more time in my listeners. It’s hard sometimes, because you can spend all the time in the world talking to people on the internet, as I’m sure you know, Shawn. I’m sure people are constantly emailing you, asking for your thoughts, your advice, and your feedback on stuff, and you try to stay really focused. Something I’ve wanted to do is spend a little bit of time every day, like on Twitter, reaching out and telling people that I appreciate what they do.
Or, if somebody emails me, having a conversation. In depth, giving them 15 or 20 minutes of focus time to reply, and even asking them questions. Someone says, “Hey, thanks for doing your show. I really appreciate this thing.” I’ll reply and say, “Thank you so much. How is your podcasting journey going? What are you working on right now? What do you want to get better at?” Some great conversations have come out of that.
I’m trying to invest a little bit more in my listeners. I’m at the point now where I’ve started inviting some of them on the show. “Hey, you sound like you’d be a cool person to talk about podcasting with. Would you like to come on the show?” It just spreads.
It’s the building of community that will eventually attract people to you.
When I started, I had 30 or 40 friends, maybe a couple hundred followers. Every new person that finds my show and gets to know me as a person, who respects the work I do, they might have 200 people that follow them, and they share my show with those people. It just spreads out from there. It becomes this big net.
You can eventually reach people that are far outside of your social circle just by connecting with the people you can connect with right now.
Let them do the work of sharing your stuff with their people, too.
Shawn: Yeah, exactly.
Focus Summit & Products
Aaron: That’s fantastic. We’re getting close to the end of the episode. We need to wrap it up. I told everyone in the beginning that I would get you to talk about this Focus Summit that you’ve got coming up. What’s the deal with this? Tell us a little bit about that.
Shawn: The summit! I’m so excited about this. We have Jocelyn Glei, who just wrote this book called Unsubscribe, which is a fantastic book. It’s about email distractions and stuff like that. We’ve got Josh Kaufman, who wrote The Personal MBA. Anyone who is trying to do anything related to business, you need to read The Personal MBA. It is a bargain.
Aaron: So much good advice.
Shawn: It’s like a $35 book, and that book is so packed. Excellent, excellent stuff. Sean McCabe is on it, and Sean and I talk about how quantity leads to quality, which ties right into this stuff on showing up every day. The summit is going to be really, really cool. When this podcast drops, the summit is going to be kicking off. Here’s the link: The Creative Focus Summit.
After the summit wraps up, we’re opening up registration for our Focus Course. That has become my flagship product. It changed everything for me, in terms of what I was focusing on. I came up with this course as the next product in a series. I had done Delight is in the Details, and I wanted to write a book about diligence and productivity. I wrote the book, and then, long story short, I realized that it needed to be a course.
I felt like the way that I wanted to get these ideas across wasn’t a book that someone would read, highlight, think was cool, and then puts back on their shelf and returns to life as usual. I want something that’s really going to effect change. I knew that a book would probably go farther, broader, and reach a total number of more people. I would rather fewer people go through the course but have a higher number of them really get real impact.
For me, the book ended up turning into the Focus Course, and we’ve had close to 1,300 people go through it. It’s basically productivity training for creative people and entrepreneurs and leaders. It’s way, way more than that. It’s not tips and tricks. It’s what I call “meaningful productivity.” It actually gets to the core, the heart, and the foundation. What do you really care about? How are you really spending your time?
This is not a “Five Life Hacks That Will Help Me Go Through My Email Inbox Better.” It’s hard questions that will make me challenge my assumptions about my family, my work, my down time, and my rest time. Anyone that thinks that taking a nap will improve productivity, the Focus Course is for you.
Aaron: That’s me!
You have to have a healthy life to do your best work.
Shawn: You can’t sprint this. This is a marathon, so you have to have that breathing room. The Focus Course opens up after the summit is over, and I’m super excited about it. We’re going to have a whole group of people cruising through in January. We’re doing a winter class for it. We’ve got some forums, so everyone can share their progress. It’s going to be a blast. I’m really excited about it. The summit is free, and the Focus Course itself is going to be something we charge for, obviously.
Aaron: You have to charge for things, or else people won’t take it seriously.
Shawn: It’s so true.
Aaron: You have to invest.
Shawn: That’s something else. We didn’t get into that earlier when we were talking about the pricing stuff, but that’s another reason to charge for your work. Someone is actually going to have skin in the game. They’re going to find value for it.
Aaron: They have to ask themselves, “Okay. Do I think this is going to help me enough in my life journey to actually put money towards it?” If they answer that question for themselves and then make the choice to give you that money, they are going to say, “I told myself, I believe, that this is worth my time, so I need to invest my time in it.”
Shawn: Exactly. Very true.
Aaron: Where should people go if they want to follow you, connect with you, or ask you questions?
Shawn: Twitter is a great spot. I’m @shawnblanc on Twitter.
Rank #6: Streamlining Your Podcast Workflow (with Martine Ellis)
This week seanwes Community member Martine Ellis joins me to share her podcasting journey and how she created a detailed checklist to help streamline her podcast workflow. We discuss how niching down can help you attract a dedicated audience and how to spend less time creating a podcast without sacrificing quality. We also walk through Martine’s 9 step podcast workflow checklist and discuss our favorite podcast tools and tricks.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
Rank #7: Recording Audio at a Conference
I just got back from a 3 day conference in Austin, Texas. I knew I wanted to record some audio interviews, so in this episode, I share how I planned for the conference, what gear I deciding to bring along, and some general tips and thoughts about attending a conference as a podcaster.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
Rank #8: Do You Need Expensive Headphones to Mix a Podcast?
I’ve been watching an online audio mastering course on Creative Live called DIY Mastering (by Jesse Cannon). In it, he was talking about how he always checks his work on cheap speakers and Apple earbuds, since that’s what most people use to listen to music. It got me thinking about the importance of good headphones, and how much they really matter. Are expensive headphones really necessary for mixing podcasts? Do you really need the best gear to make great work, or are you just procrastinating?
My goal for this episode is to encourage you to do more with what you have and not fall into the trap of believing that better gear is the secret to success.
- Don’t fall into the trap of believing that better gear is the secret to success.
- You don’t need expensive headphones or speakers that are made for mixing music to make a podcast sound good.
- The difference between cheap and expensive headphones is subtle, but some people want and need that subtlety.
- Quality gear usually lasts longer than cheap gear.
- Terrible sound quality can ruin great content, but great sound quality won’t make terrible content interesting or compelling.
- Invest in educating yourself at first rather than investing in better gear.
- All the expensive gear in the world doesn’t make a difference if you’re not creating stuff.
- Constraints can help you create great things.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that better gear is the secret to success.
I’ve been going through an online course about audio mastering from a mixing and mastering engineer, Jesse Canon. In this course (DIY Mastering) he talks about how he always checks his work on cheap speakers and Apple earbuds.
He said, “It’s because that’s what most people use to listen to music these days.” He mixes the music on expensive speakers and headphones, but then he checks on cheap headphones because he wants to know what it sounds like. This set a lightbulb off in my head, and made me wonder: Do you have to have expensive gear when you’re making podcasts? And are expensive headphones really necessary for mixing podcasts?
Why Do People Recommend Expensive Headphones and Speakers for Mixing and Mastering music?
Mixing and mastering are all about making choices about how to make audio sound. Better headphones and speakers let you hear more detail in your audio so you can make more informed decisions about how to shape those sounds, how to do EQ, compression, reverb, and special effects.
Podcasts are not that complicated. Most of the time, a podcast is just a single person talking. You don’t use a bunch of effects (unless you’re making a show like Radiolab or Deep Vault). There aren’t a bunch of changes in volume and dynamics. It just needs to be consistent and pleasant to listen to. Much of that comes down to recording with a good mic, setting input gain levels correctly, using good mic technique, and not recording in a noisy room or a room with a ton of natural reverb or echo.
What Headphones Are Your Listeners Using?
Most people listening to podcasts are probably either using Apple earbuds, cheap earbuds, less than $100, or listening in a car. I would be very, very surprised if the number of people listening to podcasts on audiophile quality, expensive gear was higher then 5% or 10% of the overall population. I don’t think you need great headphones or speakers that are made for mixing music to make a podcast sound good.
I’m an audio nerd. Before I got into editing podcasts, I was studying recording, mixing, and mastering music. I want great audio gear, but these days, I mix a lot of podcasts on $10 Panasonic earbuds.
Even though I mix a lot of the seanwes podcasts I work on on cheap earbuds from Amazon, we haven't gotten complaints from listeners.
In fact, in most cases, people talk about how great the sound quality is. That’s because Sean invested money in some great mics, like the Shure SM7Bs, and some pre-proccessors, the DBX-286s. He knows how to set input gain levels correctly and he uses pop filters.
The only bad thing I can say about the recordings that Sean makes is that he doesn’t have sound treatment in his room. I can hear a little bit of the room sound, but it’s not enough to bother the majority of his listeners. I don’t think most people even notice it. I notice it because I’m a nerd, and I pay attention to things like that.
Why Do People Want to Buy Expensive Gear?
Everybody is different in their motivation and what they want, but if I can break it down a little bit, I think that beginners want expensive gear because they see their idols using it. They see a pro using it, that pro is doing great work mixing for great bands or doing great podcasts, and they think, “If I get the same gear that he/she has, I’ll be successful like him/her.”
They think the gear is why the pro has had success. So they drool over the gear, over the expensive microphones, the expensive computers, the expensive headphones, the expensive plugins, or whatever the pro is using. They’re forgetting the years that the pro invested in learning everything, making mistakes, going through processes, putting out work, trying, experimenting, failing, and trying again.
Why do the pros buy expensive gear and headphones? People who listen to a lot of audio develop their “ear” over the years, so they can hear subtle differences in the headphones—in the way that music sounds and in the way that podcasts sound. It’s nice to be able to hear everything really clearly. The $300 pair of Sennheiser HD 600 headphones that I have sound better than the $10 earbuds.
Here are the top four reasons I think pros invest in quality headphones:
- They sound great
- They’re comfortable
- They usually last longer than cheap headphones
- You get to feel fancy
Do expensive headphones sound way better? Maybe. Will they help you make a podcast that sounds drastically better? Probably not.
The difference between cheap and expensive headphones is subtle, but some people want and need that subtlety.
More expensive headphones are often more confortable. These HD 600s I have are stupid comfortable. I can wear them for 12 hours, they sound great, feel great, and they’re pretty lightweight. They’re a joy to wear.
Also, quality gear usually lasts longer than cheap gear. The cheap $10 headphones that I buy will often break after six or eight months. A good pair of headphones should last you for years, maybe even decades.
If you’re going to spend some money, ask yourself, “Should I buy three pairs of $10 earbuds or a pair of $30 headphones that will last the same time as the three pairs of cheap headphones?” I think that’s a tossup, but reliability and quality are worth paying for.
Finally, you also get to feel fancy when you have expensive headphones. That’s more about your ego, but it does feel good to have great gear.
I like having nice things, and it’s fine for you to want that too. It says something about you, that you’re willing to invest in quality gear for whatever kind of work you do. If it’s audio work, it’s nice to be able to have this gear, and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of showing off, taking pride in the stuff that you invest in.
What’s More Important: Great Sound or Great Content?
Terrible sound quality can ruin great content, but great sound quality won’t make terrible content interesting or compelling.
Crappy gear can ruin great content, but great gear isn’t going to make average or boring content interesting or compelling. Time spent looking at and lusting over fancy gear you don’t have is time you could have spent making stuff with the gear you do have. It’s a distraction. It’s procrastination.
Time spent looking at fancy gear is time that you’re not spending creating. The thing you’re giving attention to is taking up your headspace, so it blocks out everything else from your life.
Let’s use notebooks as an example. I know a lot of people write and a lot of people draw. What benefit does a $40 notebook have over a $3 notebook? They’re both paper, and you can write on either one of them. Will a $40 notebook help you write better than a $3 notebook?
What about writing apps? Do you have to pay $40 or $50 for Ulysses or $100 for Scrivener, or could you write a book or a blog post in the TextEdit app in your Mac? It might not look exactly how you want, but you could get the job done.
When I started podcasting, the microphone I had was a $150 Shure PG27 USB microphone. I thought I was fancy at the time. I have $250 BETA 87A now, running into a $500 interface… I have so much more now than when I started.
The point is that I got started with something, with what I could afford at the time. It didn’t sound amazing, but it sounded okay. I had to go through the process of learning all the different pieces that make up podcasting.
Eventually I got to a point where I wanted to get better at my craft and I invested in a better microphone. But what really made the difference in my sound quality was learning how to do things like EQ and compression, mixing and mastering.
If you have to choose, invest in educating yourself rather than investing in better gear.
Don’t get distracted by the gear. Don’t procrastinate by spending a bunch of time reading reviews and drooling over expensive gear.
At the end of the day, all the expensive gear in the world doesn’t make a difference if you’re not creating stuff.
If you don’t have an audience now, buying super expensive gear isn’t going to magically bring you a ton of listeners, viewers or readers.
I do believe that there is a minimum threshold of quality you should strive to meet, but it’s in the range of hundreds of dollars, not thousands or tens of thousands. If you’re just getting started or you’re a year or two into it, buying a $10,000 mic is not going to make your podcast better than buying a $250 microphone. You’re not going to know how to use it to the best of of your ability. You may have other problems with your podcasting setup and your workflow that you’re not even aware of yet.
Improve what you can, and don’t spend all your time looking at gear.
Examples of People Who Create Great Work Without Great Gear
I’m sure some of you have heard of Tim Farriss before. I don’t like the way he starts off his episodes with five minutes of ads, but that’s my only complaint. Other than that, he has a lot of great content. It’s not always stuff I’m interested in, but you can’t argue that he’s a very interesting person, and he’s producing very interesting content, especially on self improvement.
That being said, based on his sound quality, it sounds like he’s using a $100 USB microphone.
Most of the time it sounds like he uses a Skype call recording when he interviews people. He doesn’t have the most amazing sound quality on his podcast and he starts every episode with minutes of ads, which is kind of annoying, but it doesn’t matter that much.
Tim Farriss has a huge audience because he’s producing interesting content all the time. He’s focused on making great content and not having the best gear or sound quality, and he’s doing well because of that.
Another example is Robert Rodriguez. I heard him on an episode of Marc Maron’s podcast. He was talking about how he made his very first movie (El Mariachi) with a $7,000 budget. It was a tiny, tiny budget, but the movie blew up and ended up making $2,000,000 in the US. I watched it, and it was obviously low budget—but it was enough to kickstart his career.
He said that because he had so little money, he only shot a take or two for each scene. He did the best he could with the constraints he had, and he didn’t wait until he could afford the best movie gear.
You can create great work with constraints, and oftentimes it even helps.
If I had access to all the most amazing microphones, the best headphones, computers, audio interfaces, and all that stuff, I still couldn’t sit down in a studio with a band and make a record that sounded as good as someone who’s been doing it for 20 years. There’s too much that I don’t know. The gear isn’t what’s holding me back, it’s the knowledge. It’s practice and years of experience.
Remember that most people are listening on affordable headphones or Apple earbuds. You don’t need expensive headphones to make a podcast that sounds good.
It’s ok to get to know the gear and invest in good gear if you want to, but don’t trick yourself into believing that good gear will guarantee you success. You have to put in the time to learn and hone your craft.
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Rank #9: How to Promote Your Podcast on Twitter
You’re not sure how to get new listeners to your podcast, and you don’t have many followers on Twitter. On top of that, Twitter and many other social media platforms have a ton of noise on them. How do you stand out and get people to notice you and your show? You want to use social media to promote your podcast but you aren’t sure how to get started.
These are three problems that many people face. In this episode, I’m going to talk about the solutions.
- Go where your audience is. The platform doesn’t matter, the attention does.
- Prove that you can deliver something valuable to someone else’s audience, and then go out and do it.
- Don’t use social media for a bunch of different things—it dilutes the focus of your feed.
- Know if your content is going to be relevant to someone before you promote your work to a stranger.
- The more narrow your focus, the better chance you’ll have of attracting the right people.
- If necessary, create new social media accounts for your podcast.
- Your Twitter bio needs to be your mission statement.
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
- Think about the kind of people you want to attract and share things that will attract those people to you.
Problem #1: You Don’t Have Enough Listeners or Followers
You’re not sure how to get new listeners to your podcast, and you don’t have many followers on Twitter. Do you have to use social media to get new listeners? No, you don’t. But it helps.
Ask yourself, “Where are my people?” It might be Twitter. It might not be. Where is the attention? Where are the people who would be interested in your show? You need to go there. Don’t spend energy on platforms that don’t have many people or that don’t have engagement.
If you’re making a show for older CEOs, they probably aren’t going to find and follow you on Snapchap. Try LinkedIn.
Likewise, if you’re making a podcast for the younger generation, posting on LinkedIn will be a waste of time.
Know your audience and go where they are.
Go where your audience is, where their attention is.
You Have to Produce Great Work Consistently
You might look up these podcasters that have huge followings who are so engaged. What do these famous podcasters all have in common? They showed up and produced work consistently for a long time.
You have to create good work, good podcasts, good blog posts, and you have to do it consistently. It takes a long time. You have to build up a body of work.
On top of that, you also have to share valuable stuff that other people create. Sharing other people’s work–especially if it’s stuff your audience will be interested in–is a great way to get attention. It’s a great way to be seen as someone who’s plugged in and connected with what’s going on in the world of whatever your niche is.
Focus on Creating Real Connections with People
Nothing bothers me more than random people sending me messages saying, “Hey, check out my podcast! It’s about mowing yards.” I think, “I don’t care about that, man! Why are you wasting my time? Why are you wasting your time?”
Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t spam strangers by asking them to listen to your podcast. If you don’t know a person and you don’t have a good reason to believe that they would be interested in your show, don’t bother them.
Instead, look for people who need your help, who are part of your community (someone who cares about the same thing you do a podcast about).
Find the people talking about the stuff that you talk about, have conversations with them. Don’t jump in by saying, “Check out my show! Check out my show!” Get to know them first. You qoulsn'r go up to an attractive person on the street and ask them to marry you, do you? No, you have to find out if you have common interests first.
Be a Part of a Community
Interview people with common interests on your show, and ask to be a guest on other shows. You’d be surprised at who will say yes to an interview request if you frame it as something their audience will find interesting.
Prove that you can deliver something valuable to someone else’s audience, and then go out and do it.
Q: Can I Reach Out to Total Strangers to Promote My Podcast?
What about reaching out to strangers to promote your show? It really depends on the situation and what your show is about. Are you sure your show is something they’ll be interested in?
Let’s say that you make a podcast about making YouTube videos. You run a search for “problems with my video” on Twitter. You see a total stranger who says, “I can’t figure out the audio problem on my Canon 70D,” and you remember that you have a podcast episode that talked about that exact problem.
Tweet at them and say, “Hey, I had that problem too. Here’s what I did”, and send them a link to your podcast episode. That's an example of how to promote your content without spamming someone.
Know if your content is going to be relevant to someone before you promote your work to a stranger.
Problem #2. Social Media Is Full of Noise
There’s a lot of noise online, especially on Twitter. People aren’t paying as much attention as they used to. Some people follow thousands of people (and you know those people aren’t reading everything in their feeds, that would take forever).
How do you stand out?
Ryan Magner posted this in the chat earlier, “I’m listening to Seth Godin this morning. Good bit of talk on brands: Seth said, ‘I worked hard to listen to what it was [the customer] wanted to tell me, what they needed from me, so I could deliver on the promise they wanted me to make.’ That mindset requires you to commit to the marketplace you want to be in.”
“If one minute you’re selling snow shovels, the next minute you’re selling life insurance, and the minute after that you’re helping people beat traffic tickets, nobody can figure out who you are. Nobody can figure out what to expect from you next. There’s a difference between being a ‘meaningful specific,’ and a ‘wandering generality.’ A wandering generality is looking for the next thing all the time, and can’t possibly build a brand.“
I love this. This speaks to a problem that a lot of people have when they have a Twitter or social media account, which is posting a bunch of different stuff. I’m guilty of this too. My Twitter account is @thepodcastdude, and I mostly keep it to podcasting stuff, but every once in a while, I’ll think, “Here’s a random thing I want to Tweet about,” and I tweet about it.
If you're trying to reach a specific audience, don’t use social media to talk about a bunch of different things—it dilutes the focus of your feed.
You might need to create a new Twitter account for your podcast.
Some people might be interested in following you as a person (humans want to connect with other humans). I love following people, especially people that are cool podcasters. But some people might just want to see updates about your podcast, or whatever it is that your podcast is about.
Imagine creating a YouTube channel where half the videos you post are related to your podcast, and the other half are completely random, unrelated stuff. You’ll turn a lot people off. Probably not everyone, but people subscribe to channels and other people online for a reason. The more narrow your focus, the better chance you’ll have of attracting the right people.
Problem #3. How Do I Get Started Promoting My Podcast on Social Media?
You’re overthinking this. What are the big social media platforms? Go create an account and start sharing what you make.
Yes, it’s a time investment. You’ll have to invest time to figure out how the platform works and how to get attention there, but just like anything else, you have to learn this stuff.
Some platforms might not be right for you or your audience. Do some research. Find out what kind of people are on it, what the age groups are, whether your audience is there. In the bio section, describe the show you make and who it’s for, and what your purpose is.
If you do a podcast and you really just have a personal Twitter profile, I really think that your bio needs to be your mission statement.
Your bio is important. It tells people why they should follow you.
You have to tell people why they should listen to your podcast.
Three things that you need to include to convince people to listen:
- This is what this episode is about.
- This is what it’s going to do for you.
- Here’s why you should listen, here’s why you should care.
Put some thought into how you describe your episode. Otherwise, people are going to scroll right past it. If you don’t tell people why they should care, they’ll swipe up. Or down. Whatever.
Don’t Be Afraid to Share Links to Old Episodes
Promote your older episodes too. If you’ve made a lot of content, it’s okay to promote it. It’s okay if it’s six months old, unless you’re just doing a new show. That’s a whole other problem. New shows are hard. If you’re making content that’s remotely evergreen, which means that it will still be interesting to listen to six months, a year, or three years from now, promote that stuff online.
Don’t be afraid to re-post your old content.
You’ll get new followers all the time and some of your current followers will miss the first time you post something. People aren’t paying close attention. You can post a link to a new episode three or four times a week, every other day, and most people won’t notice. Just make sure that you change the wording, the description, the value proposition a little bit every time.
There’s no magic shortcut to growing an audience online. Buying followers is not going to get you there. Sign up for accounts, add your information, and start sharing your work.
Step #1: Make good work.
Step #2: Talk about it. Share it.
*Quick tip: Before posting something to social media, ask yourself: Is this something that my audience is going to care about? *
Sit with that for a couple of minutes. More people would be in a much better place if they asked themselves that question before posting stuff on Twitter.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself
We all have personalities, values, and goals. Some people share too much, but some people don’t. Some people are afraid to let their personalities come through in their work or their social media accounts. They try to keep it professional and it ends up feeling sterile. I
t’s okay to share and talk about things that you love. Realize that the stuff you put out will attract people that are interested in that same stuff, so be careful. If you’re using a lot of negative messages, you’re going to attract negative people.
On the flip side, if you’re a positive, encouraging person, you’re going to attract people like that.
Think about the kind of people you want to attract and share things that will attract those people to you.
Allison asks: “I’ve heard people say that you should post on social at least once a day. I find it really hard to do that, and it feels like I’d overwhelm my audience. Thoughts?”
I’m not sure which platform you’re talking about when you say “social,” but if it’s Twitter, once a day would be pretty easy, because it’s just text.
Think about your audience. If you’re an artist like Allison, who’s a musician, share stuff that you find valuable or interesting related to your style of music.
Snapchat? You could definitely post more than once a day.
Instagram? I’ve heard that some people lose followers because they post to Instagram more than once a day.
Don’t worry about those people. It’s about relevance, whether your audience will find it interesting. Curation is important.
You might not be sharing your old content because you think that everyone that followed you back then is still following you and that they’ll get annoyed. But if it’s good, it’s good. Post it. Link to it.
Julia asks: “Am I the only one who feels that keeping up with your own social media schedule is a full time job?”
It’s hard. It can be time consuming. There’s a pressure to keep up with everyone else who is active and sharing everything they do on social media. There’s a problem with that, though: There is so much content out there, you could spend your whole life watching other people live their lives.
Anyone can buy a GoPro and live-stream their life. You can fill every second of your life watching other people, and it’s not going to get you any closer to anything.
For me, social media is about sharing the work I make, helping other people, and paying attention to really smart, successful people that are teaching things I want to learn about.
I see so many people spending hours every day watching other people, but I have personal goals, and watching other people live their lives doesn’t get me closer to having the kind of life I want.
Cal Newport has a lot of interesting things to say about social media and paying attention to things, so check out his blog, Study Hacks.
Adina asks: “How often should you promote the same podcast in a day, in a week?”
You can promote it three or four times a week. I don’t promote my own show that often, but I should be. Just change the message every time, add a new takeaway or valuable insight from the episode to keep it fresh.
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Rank #10: Portable Podcasting Setup
I got a question from a Community member about recording audio away from home, so I grabbed my Zoom H4N and a few mics and headed to a local Starbucks to test out the different mics in a real world setting.
If you’d like to invest in an affordable, portable recording setup, this episode will help you get started.
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Rank #11: How to Write a Podcast Description That Attracts New Listeners
Your podcast description is one of the first things people see when they come across your podcast online or in a podcast app. This is your chance to catch their attention and sell them on your show. It’s your opportunity to convince them to listen.
The ideal podcast description answers two questions for your potential listener:
- Is this show for me?
- What am I going to get out of listening to this?
When a potential audience member comes across your podcast and starts reading your description, they’re wondering, “What’s in it for me?” This is your chance to tell them why they should care about your show. Otherwise, they won’t.
- Your podcast description is your chance to tell people what’s in it for them.
- Refine the goal of your podcast down to a single sentence.
- Write your description in a way that brings agreement from your intended audience.
- Don’t make your description all about you, make it about your listener.
- People will only care about you once you’ve proven you care about them.
- Your description is there to let people know you have what they’re looking for.
- Write in a simple way that’s tangible and clear for your audience. Try to deliver complex ideas simply.
- Your social media bio is a chance to communicate to people what they'll get if they follow you.
I’m joined this week by Cory Miller. Cory is the co-host of the Invisible Details podcast and loves all things design and branding.
Aaron: In this world where there’s millions of pieces of content competing for our attention, your audience is looking to see if your content solves a specific need they have. You have to put thought not just into your podcast description, but into each of your episode descriptions as well.
When a potential listener comes across your podcast for the first time, they’re reading the description and wondering, “What’s in this for me?”
Your podcast description is your chance to tell people what’s in it for them. You have to tell them why they should care about your show, otherwise they’re not going to.
What Should My Show Description Say?
Aaron: When writing a description for your podcast or podcast episode, here are some questions to think about:
- What is your goal with this show?
- What are you going to teach or share with your listeners?
- Are you going to interview people? Are you going to bring people from that community in to share what they’ve learned, or is your show strictly about entertainment?
The last two weeks I interviewed two guys who run a company called Dead Signals and produce two radio drama style podcasts (Related: e064 Creating a Radio Drama Podcast Part 1 (With Writer Marc Sollinger) & e065 Creating a Radio Drama Podcast Part 2 (With Producer/Engineer Dan Powell)).
Their podcasts are very much just entertaining stories. They’re not business related and they’re not trying to change the world with their podcasts, they just want to tell stories in the audio medium and entertain people.
The way I write a description for my podcast is going to be way different from the way they write theirs. They thought about that and asked, “What are people who would be interested in our show looking for?” They’re trying to write a description that would catch the attention of someone looking for an entertaining story.
I love the description for their Archive 81 show: “Three months ago Daniel Powell vanished. These are the tapes he sent to me. If you know anything, please contact me at email@example.com.”
They don’t even tell you who the guy is, all you need to know is this guy vanished after he sent a friend some tapes.
Try to Describe the Goal of Your Podcast in a Single Sentence
Cory: Write your description in a way that brings agreement from your intended audience. Write it in a way that, while they’re reading the description, they’re thinking, “Oh yeah. Yes! This! Exactly that! Yes! I need to listen to this.” That’s the reaction you’re looking for.
You want to write your description in a way that brings agreement from your intended audience. When they look at that description from Archive 81, people are like, “Whoa. That’s creepy. I feel like I need to listen to this because I’m intrigued.” You’re bringing intrigue and agreement.
Whatever it is you write, you want it to resonate with your intended audience. The second thing is to write it in a way that if they’re sitting with their phone on a bus heading to work and someone looks over and says, “I see you’re listening to a podcast, what’s that all about?” they can respond without looking up the description.
That’s what you’re aiming for: you want something they can quickly tell their friend about without looking at the description. It’s about clarity. It’s not all about you, it’s about what they’re getting. If they said, “I’m listening to this show where this guy wants to help make me a better podcaster,” that’s huge.
Or, “I’m listening to this show where they teach me how to build a better brand.” That’s very simplistic, but you can build off that and you can craft a description where people can pass that on. That’s rooted in telling people what the mission of your company, your brand, or your life is. Being able to distill it in a way that allows people to be able to pass it back and forth is very powerful.
Don’t Make It All About You
Share and talk about the experience you have and why you’re qualified to teach on a certain subject.
I can say, “I’ve been helping people make great podcasts for five years. I’ve worked for 5by5, the founder of Dribbble, Sean McCabe, and the Shop Talk show.” That shows authority and expertise, but if someone asks a listener about my show, they’re not going to say, “Aaron Dowd is this great podcast editor and he’s worked for all these people and he knows all this stuff about audio engineering.”
The person asking about my show doesn’t care about me, they only care about what the show will do for them if they listen to it.
The words I should use instead could be, “If you want to learn how to make a great podcast, this is the show you should be listening to.”
Cory: There’s aspects of that you can include in your description. Instead of saying, “Hey, these are all of my accomplishments,” you can change that to something like, “Get knowledge from a guy who has years of experience in podcast editing.” You’re putting the emphasis back on the listener and what they’ll get from the show.
You can do fill-in-the-blank stuff, like:
- “Learn how to (fill in the blank).”
- “Get knowledge from 10 years of experience in (fill in the blank).”
- “If you’re an X, Y, or Z, you’ll get tangible insights on (fill in the blank).”
These are actionable steps. Your description should resonate with the listener, tell them what the benefit is for them, and give them a glimpse of the person they’re going to become after listening.
If you want, you can slide a little bit of your credentials in there. For instance, Aaron’s podcast description says, “Professional podcast editor and producer shares everything he’s learned about making great podcasts.”
In the moment someone reads “professional podcast editor,” they’re going to think, “This show is going to teach me how to become a professional podcast editor,” or, “I can learn something from this person who has this experience.”
Ultimately, you have to remember that people will only care about you once you’ve proven you care about them.
In regards to a value-exchange like this, you have to prove that you care about this person before they’re going to start caring about you.
If I find a new show, and look at it's podcast description, I don’t know this person, I have no connection with them, I have no background on them, so I’m looking to see if this is worth my time.
Once I listen to it, I can create a connection. That’s exactly how it happened with seanwes. I started listening to the seanwes podcast out of the blue and I didn’t know who Sean and Ben were, but after listening to so many of their shows, I started really connecting with these guys.
That’s why I joined the Community in the beginning, because they were talking about all these conversations people were having and I had total FOMO. I wanted to be in on the inside jokes because I felt connected to the podcast hosts.
The connectedness happens after you’ve proven that you’re here to deliver value. You deliver value first and the connectedness is all about, in a sense, selling yourself, your knowledge, and the benefit to the listener, and then they can continue to connect with you.
Aaron: Make your podcast description about your listener. If you don’t know who you’re creating a podcast for, that’s a problem. If you’re just creating a show because you want it to be out there, you might get a few people listening, but you need to think about who you’re making your show for.
Podcast Description Review
Aaron: One of my listeners (Stan) reached out to me, and I wanted to do a review for him to give him some practical steps to help him write a better podcast description.
I feel like I can’t pick apart his podcast description without looking at my own podcast description first, so let’s pick apart my podcast description, then we'll do Cory’s show (Invisible Details), then Stan’s show.
I feel like I need to rewrite my description anywys, so I’m hoping the things we talk about in this section will be helpful to someone else who has been listening who might want to rewrite theirs.
Breakdown of The Podcast Dude’s Podcast Description
Here’s the (current) description for The Podcast Dude:
“Professional podcast editor and producer Aaron Dowd shares everything he’s learned about making great podcasts. If you’re interested in starting a podcast, growing your audience, and increasing your influence, this is the show for you.
Get answers to all your questions about podcasting: gear, recording, content, editing, interviewing, mixing, mastering, and more. To stand out from thousands of other podcasts, you’ll need to produce a high quality show. The Podcast Dude will help you get there. Don’t just make a podcast—make an awesome podcast.”
I don’t know if I like that first sentence. It’s making a claim that I’m a professional podcast editor and producer, but I don’t have any evidence to back that up. I’m not saying, “Professional podcast editor and producer for these people.”
I do have evidence to back that up, and the people that know me know I’ve worked with some fairly well-known podcasters, especially in the design realm, but I’m not backing it up with evidence.
Also it puts me first—the first thing you see is my name, then I say I’m going to share everything I’ve learned.
Another mistake I think I'm making there is talking about myself in the third person. I want to speak to a single person and I’m not speaking to a single person until the second line.
Cutting out the first and the last sentences would be a good place to start, because that puts the focus back on the listener. "What do you want? Do you want to start a podcast? Do you want to grow an audience? This is the show for you."
The next part, “Get answers to all your questions about podcasting: gear, recording, content, editing, interviewing, mixing, mastering, and more,” explains the kind of stuff I talk about. This is what I’m going to teach you.
That’s good, so I’ll leave that as it is.
Finally, I give my mission statement, “To stand out from thousands of other podcasts, you’ll need to produce a high quality show. The Podcast Dude will help you get there.”
Cory: I think you should remove the first sentence and the last sentence. I thought the last sentence was a mistake, honestly.
I think you can add your name in the new last sentence, like, “To stand out from thousands of other podcasts, you’ll need to produce a high quality show. The Podcast Dude, Aaron Dowd, will help you get there.”
Aaron: I would say, “To stand out from thousands of other podcasts, you’ll need to produce a high quality show. My name is Aaron Dowd and I want to help you make an awesome podcast.”
Cory: “Make an awesome podcast,” is the last thing people will read and it’s the last thing that’s going to be on their mind. They’ll read, “If you’re interested in starting a podcast…” and they’ll think, “Yes, I’m interested in starting a podcast.”
Breakdown of the Invisible Details Podcast Description
Cory: Invisible Details’s description says, “A weekly show about building a successful brand through story and authenticity. A brand is so much more than a logo or what is visible on the surface. It’s the heartbeat of a company. A brand is about values and the story you’re telling. Join Cory Miller and Kyle Adams every Saturday for clear and practical advice on how to define your brand from the inside out. Connect with your audience and stand out from the competition.”
I like it, but I think I could rework a little bit. There are a couple of things I’m trying to do with this.
First, I’m setting expectations with “a weekly show.” There’s no confusion about when it comes out, like bi-monthly, or a seasonal thing. It’s a weekly show.
Next, the description talks about building a successful brand. Most of the people I encounter who are starting this journey of building a better brand think branding is a out the visuals, logos, and all the things you see, but a brand is all about perception. It’s all about how people think and feel about you and what they say about you when you’re not in the room.
I could rework that second sentence, but I also want it to be introductory, because the people we’re trying to reach are people who have new and growing brands. They’re just getting that first taste of redefining what brand means, and that’s what that second sentence is for.
Aaron: You have a solid first sentence and a solid last sentence. Let’s say we cut all that stuff out in the middle; it would still be a good description—“A weekly show about building a successful brand through story and authenticity. Connect with your audience and stand out from the competition.” It explains what the show is about and what the listener will get out of it.
Cory: It’s very action-centered. I’m a very simplistic kind of person when it comes to design and writing. I adhere to this idea of, “How much can I remove but still have there be quality? Can we do less, but better?” That’s my whole philosophy. I know people who write out their whole about pages in their description and no one will read that or remember it. You need to create something that is short and memorable.
If someone asks if there’s a podcast about podcasting I’d recommend, I’d say, “If you want to make a podcast, the Podcast Dude is all about helping you make an awesome podcast.” That’s how I would describe it. Those are the ideas and key words you want to plant into people’s heads through the description in a very simple way that’s tangible and memorable.
Aaron: You can’t ask people to remember four paragraphs about you and what you do, because they’re not going to. If you can’t explain the point of your show in one or two sentences, you’re going to have a bad time.
Cory: People already know what they’re looking for. You need to demonstrate that you have what they’re looking for.
People already know what they’re looking for. Your description is there to let them know you have what they’re looking for.
Breakdown of Stan’s Podcast Description
Aaron: I didn’t get Stan’s permission to share the name of his podcast, but I do want to give him some direct feedback. Here’s what’s on his website when you first visit it, “I’m passionate about coaching leaders to help them reach maximum impact wherever they are currently leading.”
“My heart beats faster when someone I spend time with takes a next step towards being more closely aligned with God’s will for their life, enabling them to make an even greater impact. My goal is to provide leadership resources that are practical and can help anyone develop as a leader, including moms, dads, teachers, administrators, managers, volunteers, campus pastors, and lead pastors. Everyone leads someone.”
The description for his podcast is, “This podcast focuses on ministry leaders to reach maximum impact where they currently lead. We also focus on brainstorming and idea creation for leaders.”
Cory, what’s your first reaction where you hear that?
Cory: It sounds like something I would read in an about page, not a home page. On a home page, you need to speak to the pain of the person who’s problem you’re solving and it needs to speak with a benefit.
I see his goals, but I don’t see the benefit for myself. I want to know what I’m going to get out of going to this website.
Condense that down to a single sentence—that’s what people need to see on the home page.
There’s a lot of things there and I’m sure Stan is awesome. In fact, I’d love to talk with him about some of this stuff. The problem is I don’t know Stan yet and all he’s doing is introducing himself. If I’m a leader and I want to have maximum impact wherever I’m currently leading, I want to know that you’re here to benefit me. That’s ultimately what people are trying to figure out when they first go to your site. You can bring in yourself a little bit later.
For the podcast description, I think that’s a good start, but I would love to see more actionable sentences. Like, “Learn how to make a maximum impact in the industry you’re currently leading.”
Aaron: Stan, what do you mean by “maximum impact”? I think that’s important, because those aren’t very specific words. If you want people to make a change, what kind of change are you trying to get people to make? Go a little deeper on what those words mean. Also, what specifically about brainstorming and ideas? What’s missing is a clear description of the problems you’re trying to solve for people.
Cory: The other aspect with that second sentence is, I see, “We focus on brainstorming and idea creation for leaders.” Does that mean you’ll brainstorm for me and give me ideas? Or are you trying to teach me how to brainstorm? Are you trying to give me the tools to have better idea creation? Are you trying to make me into the kind of leader that is able to lead a team, brainstorm, create ideas, have successful meetings, make an impact in our community? Those are the things I want to see and hear about.
You can expand on it without being too wordy with it. If I looked at this and someone asked me what the podcast is about, based on the description I’d say, “If you’re a leader, they want to make you a better leader.”
Another thing you can do is if you’ve had a podcast for a while, you can go look at the reviews and see what people are saying in your reviews. From there, you can rewrite and clarify your description based on what other people are saying. If you’re a new podcast, you may not have that yet, but I would recommend talking with someone. Share everything about what your podcast is about and what your mission is and have them repeat it back to you in a sentence or two. That will give you some good ideas that you can include in your description.
Have clarity in your podcast description. If you don’t have clarity, you have nothing.
Aaron: Talk to a couple of people you trust, or if you have an engaged online community, reach out to them and ask, “What do you think my podcast is about?” and see what people say. If you don’t have a podcast, try it for yourself instead. Ask some of your friends, “How would you describe me to someone else? What do you think I’m about?” You’ll get a lot of insight out of the answers to those questions.
Cory: Stan, I hope this doesn’t discourage you at all. The fact that you’ve shown up and have a grip on your mission and you know how you want to help people, that’s good! That’s more than a lot of people will ever have, but you just need to focus on clarity. Clarify some of the words and clarify who your target audience is based on this list you wrote. This is a great list, but try to condense it in a way that’s repeatable for someone you’ve just shared it with. You have to write for stupid people. Is that a terrible thing to say?
Aaron: It’s not just stupid people. People are in a hurry, in a rush, people don’t want to think.
Cory: Let me rephrase: You have to write in a simple way that’s tangible and clear for people. I often see people use inside slang, jargon, and terms that average people wouldn’t understand. Don’t give me the marketed, straight-from-a-thesaurus words. I don’t care about that. If I’m your intended audience, I need it explained in a simple way.
You can deliver complex ideas simply with clarity. Communicate in a simple but clear way.
Aaron: Candice said, “A well-known author I know said he writes his books at a fifth grade level so that anyone can understand it.”
Cory: I didn’t mean that people are stupid. You just have to write in a clear way that anyone in your intended audience can understand. That’s the most important thing.
How to Write Better Social Media Descriptions
Aaron: Jonathan asked, “Is there a formula or best structure for writing an effective bio for your social media descriptions?”
Cory: First, what is the goal of your social media account? I don’t know that there’s necessarily a formula, but I know that a lot of social media descriptions have a cap, so you can’t write past a certain amount of characters. Write something that’s succinct and will help push you toward your goals. Especially now, try to make something that’s memorable beyond “Father. Coffee lover. Hiker. Mountaineer.” Everyone is doing that, so if you’re doing anything different, you’re in good shape.
Aaron: The formula I use for my Twitter bio is what I do and what I want to do for you, the person reading. My Twitter bio is simply, “Audio engineer/podcast editor for the seanwes network. I want to help you make an awesome podcast.”
Cory: Mine is, “Director of Member Success at seanwes. Podcast host of Invisible Details. Author of Nice-to-Have, currently writing.” It depends on what your goals are. I want my Twitter to be a place where people can get access to me and the content is not in the description, the content is in the timeline.
That’s where I want people’s eyes to look. I don’t want to be clever, I want a bullet point credential. That’s how I’m using it. Figure out what your goal is, what the goal of your social media account is, and what the goal of your description is. Then, condense that in a way that provides you some kind of credibility and people will continue going down the timeline.
No one is going to care on Twitter unless they’ve gotten some kind of value on your timeline, whether it’s entertainment, practical, etc. They’re going to go to your timeline first and then they’ll want to know about you. I use my bio as a tiny about page related to what it is I’m posting.
Aaron: You’ll get more followers if you include what you want to do for other people in your bio.
Cory: Kyle Adams has a great one, “Icon designer intent on communicating in profound ways and helping others do the same.”
Aaron: Jeremy Mura has a good one too, “Designer and illustrator. Teaching others what I know and helping people design a life of greatness.”
When I look at someone’s bio, I’m wondering, “Why should I follow this person?” Your bio is your chance to convince me to follow you. If I’m not already convinced, I don’t know you, and you don’t already have a huge audience advocating for you, and you don’t tell me what you want to do for me, I probably won’t follow you.
Your bio is a chance to convince people they’ll get something out of following you.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com/
- How to Write Great Show Notes (free show notes template included)
Rank #12: Creating a Radio Drama Podcast With Producer/Engineer Dan Powell
In this episode, we talk about his recording process, how he designs sound, and his editing process. He shares some of the hurdles he overcame while producing podcasts and what advice he’d give to anyone interested in making a modern radio drama.
- Don’t buy your gear new—if you buy the best gear used, it’ll last you forever.
- The hardest part of any narrative creative medium is the transition between two parts.
- Make sure you understand what’s happening in your environment before you choose a space to record in.
- What you make should be in conversation with your audience, but don’t make something just because it’ll get a lot of downloads.
- Find people who are established in your field, reach out to them, and ask for some direct advice.
- Think about how the ambience and background noise where you’re recording can contribute to the story and the feel of your whole piece.
Aaron: Hey Dan, thanks for joining me today. Tell me a little bit about yourself—where you’re from and where you are now. Maybe a little bit about what your path to audio and podcasting has looked like over the course of your life.
Dan: I was born in Rome, Georgia and I was there until I was about 18. It was a medium/small size town in the middle of the woods. I spent a lot of time by myself alone with my thoughts, which is probably what caused me to gravitate to sci-fi, horror, and secular fiction. I began making radio dramas at the age of eight or nine. I used Window 95 Sound Recorder to make these one-man shows.
Sometimes it would be me and sometimes it would be my friends, and we would get in front of a microphone and see what happened. That’s really what introduced me to audio editing and creative sound design. From an early age, I was interested in what would happen if you slowed down, sped up, or changed the pitch of your voice.
I went to Syracuse University for college and majored in English. I loved reading and still really do, but I realized I was spending all my free time in studios recording my friend’s bands (or recording myself), and that working with audio might be a good career path. I’d always been interested in creative writing, but I thought it might be good to develop a more technical skill or trade that I could have on the side while writing.
I ended up really enjoying working with audio and I decided to make that my primary creative and career pursuit. After school I moved to New York City. I interned, I did some odd jobs, I worked at an Apple store, and I eventually got my first job in the sound industry at Soundsnap, a commercial sound effects library. I did that full time for about two years and then transitioned to working there part time while making more time for freelance work, sound engineering, and working on my own podcast on the side. That’s where I’m at now.
Aaron: You met Marc (the other half of Dead Signals) in college?
Dan: Yeah, Marc and I met his senior year and my post-senior year. I stayed after I graduated to do a fellowship in audio engineering and sound design. One of the cool things about Syracuse is they have this program where if you get to the end of your four years and you decide you want to do something different than what you studied, you can apply for a fellowship that will let you stay an extra year. You basically get a free year of credits that you can do what you want with. I did that after I finished studying English so I could build up my portfolio and get some more one-on-one mentoring strictly with audio stuff. That’s where Marc and I met.
Aaron: Then you guys formed Dead Signals Productions.
Dan: We formed Dead Signals this time last year. Marc came and visited me in New York and we were talking about ideas we had. The project we worked on together in college was Marc’s senior thesis project, a radio play he wrote and produced. I was just acting in it, playing the lead. More recently, starting last year, was when we started collaborating and both giving equal input for the project.
Recording Radio Drama Podcasts
Aaron: Let’s talk about Archive 81 and Deep Vault, the recording process and the tools you use to handle the editing. Marc said you guys recorded Archive 81 in a bedroom. Do you remember which mic you used for that?
Dan: It was the Sennheiser MKH 8040. I got this mic because it’s a really good all-purpose sound design mic. It’s good for all-purpose folio recording, like footsteps, fabric movements, and every day objects you want to record. It’s also really good for ambient field recording. We recorded the dialog with this mic and another mic called a Sennheiser MKH30, which is a bi-directional stereo mic. The two of these things together form a really good pair for mid-side stereo recording.
What I was really interested in when I bought these mics was, one, it was the best deal I found on eBay, and two, I was interested in doing more ambient field recording. Living in New York City there’s so many interesting sounds everywhere. There are neighborhoods, parks, and subways. You can turn a corner and be in an entirely different sonic landscape than you were just in.
I wanted something that was good for capturing my environment, but when it came down to produce Archive 81, after doing some tests, we realized that these mics would work just as well for dialog recording. I personally would have liked to use a wider diaphragm AKG microphone, but I still think the mics we used worked well for recording dialog. It’s good gear and it’s what we had available at the time.
Aaron: I know a lot of podcasters who use $60 or $70 USB mics and there’s a big difference in quality between those and the MKH. What do they run used, close to $1,000?
Dan: Close to $1,000. The mic I’m on right now goes for about $1,200 new, but I’m a big Craigslist and eBay deal-hunter. When I was first getting into audio, one of the best pieces of advice I got was when I was talking to someone five years my senior who’s successful and established in the music production scene here in New York. He said:
Don’t buy your gear new. Even if you buy the best gear used, it’ll still last you forever.
He told me, “I’ve made a spreadsheet of every piece of equipment I’ve purchased from when I first started out. Collectively I’ve saved about $30,000.” That really stuck with me, so now I only buy used gear. I got the mic I’m talking on now for about half of what it would cost new.
Aaron: I’m currently on a Shure BETA 87A, which costs $250 new and I think I paid $120 for it used at Guitar Center and it’s an awesome sounding mic for podcasting.
Dan: I like the richness of it. In general, I really like dynamic mics for podcasts. I like the rich low end and the proximity effect you can get. I use the mics I use because I want to have a lot of applications for things like sound design and field recording, but I don’t want to make it seem like you have to buy a $700 or $1,000 microphone. I’ve seen people get fantastic results with an SM58, which I use when I do event recording gigs. You can get one of those used on Craigslist for $50 in most cases. In many cases, it’s probably more ideal if you’re at home instead of a treated acoustic space because dynamic microphones do a better job of isolating the sound source and not picking up your refrigerator, your roommate, or your neighbors yelling at each other.
Aaron: I agree. I love the large diaphragm condensers, but you do need a quiet, treated room to make them sound good and not pick up a bunch of sound. Alright; let’s talk about sound design. Here’s a clip of episode one of Deep Vault, which has some dialog with some reverb on. I wanted to ask you about that, and about the part in the music where the footsteps transition into the beat of the song.
First, let’s talk about the ambience and reverb you used. As I’m listening to it, there’s some kind of ambient sound in that. I’m not sure if it’s reverb in the space you recorded it in or if it’s reverb you added afterward. There’s also an air conditioning kind of “swoosh” background ambience. Can you describe how you achieved those effects?
Dan: None of that reverb is natural. It’s all added in post. I exclusively use impulse response reverb, which is basically the ability to capture the sonic snapshot of a real, indoor space by going in and blasting a sign wave or white noise in it and then recording the echo that comes afterwards, then notching out the original sign wave in post. This gives a ghost emanation of what a space actually sounds like.
There’s two reverbs fading out and in. There’s the outdoor reverb, which I have a light touch on. It’s meant to evoke the sense that the space is outdoors and then there’s the echo-y underground reverb of the vault they’re about to go into. If you listen prior to them entering the vault, you can hear how it evolves from one space to another. I think very visually when I’m working on it. I’ve said this a lot in various interviews, but because I’m working with Marc on the scripts from the beginning, I don’t really think of this as post production.
I’m always thinking about space and sonics as I’m reading the first draft of a show.
I usually visually map out or make a flow chart of what the space looks like and how things need to transition from one stage to another. That helps me focus better. In the background, we have a desert ambient sound. It’s a field recording of a desert that’s near an urban area. You have some wind and outdoor air atmosphere, called the air tone, which is the outdoor equivalent of a room tone. If you search Soundsnap for air tone, you’ll find a bunch of ambient recordings of outdoor air spaces that don’t have crowds, people, or traffic.
It’s more a general wash like you hear in that clip. There’s the air tone and then there’s the vault sounds—the ambient sounds of the space they’re going into, which is a field recording by a field recordist named Stephan March. I think it’s some recordings of some abandoned bomb shelters on the Danish coast. It’s some industrial room tones with some distant waves, but they have an underground low-fi industrial roominess to them. Those things blend together to create the atmosphere of the vault.
Aaron: I’m embarrassed to say it now, but I was thinking these were effects you could achieve with something like the reverbs that come with ProTools or Logic Pro X. What program do you use to do all this stuff with?
Dan: I use ProTools for editing, mixing, and basic sound effect placement. For what’s referred to as composite sound effects design—designing a sound effect that needs a lot more depth to it than what you can pull from a library as is—I use Logic. I do that for two reasons. One, I think it’s good to have separation between sound effect editing and show editing. I like to be in two different programs when I’m creating the sound of a robot or a door and when I’m editing the show. Having the different software environment helps to streamline that.
The other reason is, though I do think ProTools is great, I think it’s very flawed for making things creatively from scratch. I would never write a song or demo a song in ProTools because I don’t think the user experience is tailored toward composition, whether that’s composing a song or compositing a sound effect from scratch.
It’s great for editing and taking material that’s aesthetically already done—like you recording a guitar through an amp—but if you’re trying to dial in the tone of a guitar, I prefer to use Logic, something a little more built for making music from scratch. For this scene, I used pretty much all ProTools because I wasn’t designing anything beyond simply layering things together and the reverb that goes along with that. I wrote the music in Logic.
Dan’s Favorite Editing Programs and Plugins
Aaron: Are there any stock plugins you use inside of Logic or do you have any favorites?
Dan: I use Logic’s modular synth plugin, the ES2, a lot because I know it really well. It has a very particular sound but I’ve been using it for many years, and I can dial in the sound I want pretty quickly with it. I probably should learn some more synth plugins so I don’t get set in my ways.
Aaron: What about reverb or special effects? I know there’s like 50 stock plugins inside Logic.
Dan: Space Designer Plugin for Logic Pro X is incredible. It’s a great impulse response reverb plugin. I use Waves IR1 for the reverb in this scene, but it could have as easily been achieved with the stock Logic Space Designer plugin, probably easier even, because they have a larger native sample library. Any sound designer you talk to will say that Space Designer is the best free stock plugin of anything. That’s a big one. There aren’t a lot of other stock Logic plugins I use for sound design in terms of compositing. Although I do really like the basic Chorus and Phaser modulation stuff for voice processing for robot voices.
Aaron: You wrote the music for the show. Is the music going to be available somewhere else later?
Dan: Marc and I would really like to release an album of the music from our shows. It’s something we want to do and there’s a few reasons we haven’t done it yet. One reason is time. I’m very skittish about making sure everything is mixed properly. I wouldn’t want to release the music stand alone unless I was absolutely sure it was put together well. The other reason is that I write most of the music for our shows, but we do have some songs that are done with side collaborators and I would want to make sure it’s done legally and copywrite-wise we were in the clear. I want to sign some kind of licensing or formal distribution agreement to make sure everyone is happy money-wise. The song from episode one was me ripping off Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I’m a big fan of their scoring work.
Music & Sound Effect Creation for Podcasts
Aaron: Let’s talk about how you achieved that effect for the song in the sample clip I played earlier. I’m guessing you had the sound of the footsteps on a ladder. Is that something you recorded yourself or is that something you got out of the sound library?
Dan: I used several different libraries for that. There’s a mixture of some simulated ladder movement in there, like arms reaching and hands grabbing the rungs of the ladder. There’s also some pure metal footsteps in there. When I was originally putting that together, there were six or seven tracks, three of which were cloth movements and body motions and three of which were footsteps.
Some were more foregrounded, like when one character named Jeremy is counting his steps. His footsteps are louder because he’s drawing attention to the fact that he’s counting them. The others are more off to the side to evoke the sense of space and depth, because presumably, they’re going down a circular enclosure to a vault. That was a real pain to put together.
Aaron: I can’t believe you recorded clothes rustling to make this realistic.
Dan: I can’t speak to film, tv, or video, but part of what makes the footsteps convincing in audio dramas is the footsteps being good, but also having cloth movement and fabric rustling.
Aaron: With headphones and soundscapes, you have left and right channels, obviously. What do you do when you’re trying to make something seem like it’s coming from above or below. Is there any way to achieve that affect?
Dan: In episode two of Deep Vault, where two characters crash through the floor of the room their in, they’re down there for a bit, and then you hear them crawling up through the crash hole to the other characters that are above them. I think it worked pretty well. I think the sequence of the narrative and that you hear them crash through the floor first and the space change around them helps to establish that.
It’s just a matter of having more reverb and/or more delay on the voices that are further away than the voices that are close to you. I’m still figuring out what my philosophy on panning things is for the Deep Vault. It’s an ensemble cast with four actors talking at once, I have them panned around the clock—some are hard left, some are hard right, and some are close to the center.
Usually if characters are interrogating or trying to get information from another character or recording, I’ll try to have whatever recording or character they’re talking to in the center to give the sense that they’re gathered around this new source of information they’re trying to learn. As far as making things sound far away or from above or below, it’s a matter of adding more reverb to the things that are farther away and hoping the sense of space translates.
Aaron: I think it does most of the time, but it’s something I’m curious about. I’m thinking about the future with virtual reality and how they’re going to handle the different angles of sound. Have you had a chance to try VR yet?
Dan: No, but I have some friends who told me I need to do it and I really want to. I have some friends who say Google Cardboard alone is incredible. I’m curious what that technology is like, but also what it’s going to mean for sound. I’m curious what sound for VR is going to be like and how it’s going to differ from the old guard, but also how it’s going to use some of the same techniques to make a realistic experience.
Aaron: I used the equivalent to Google Cardboard, not even one of the great ones, and it blew my mind. It’s going to be a game-changer. Maybe we’ll both have future careers in sound design for VR applications.
Dan: I’m just trying to stay ahead with what’s new for sound design because I’m afraid of being replaced by robots. It’s something I think about regularly. Am I doing something that will still be done by a human in 20 years? I feel ok about it most of the time, but you never know.
Aaron: I like to think that you’ll still have a job because you’re being creative and you’re doing things that take a human. I guess we’ll see.
Let’s talk about then music a little more. You did this transition where you have this music playing over the sound of the footsteps, and the footsteps blend into the beat of the music. Did you write the beat first? Were you listening to the pattern of the footsteps or did you go back and match those things up later?
Dan: They were matched up later, but my choice of percussion samples definitely made them more easily blendable. With the exception of the kick drum, which is more of a classic, electronic bass-pulse kick drum, everything else is found percussion—everyday objects being tapped on. Things like chairs, bags, or plastic silverware. I like working with low-fi sound percussion samples. I think the fact the percussion track in the song isn’t a real snare drum recorded in a studio helps serve as the connective tissue between the footsteps and their percussiveness and the song’s percussion, and it’s driving the melody forward.
The hardest part of any narrative creative medium is the transition between two parts.
It glues two things together that work well on their own. Sonically, that could be a good example of choosing the right percussion sample in the context of this being a score rather than a stand alone song. Perhaps if this was just a song released on an EP and it wasn’t meant to score anything, it would sound better with a non-found percussion or some other type of sound.
Sound Proofing vs. Sound Treatment for Podcasts
Aaron: Let’s jump into some mistakes or hard times you came across when you started doing Archive 81 and the Deep Vault. What are some of the things you struggled with?
Dan: I do have one thing about recording in a bedroom. The bedroom we recorded in sounded really good as far as bedrooms go, but we had only ever tested the sound in the room at night when everyone else in the house was really quiet.
When it came to production time, we were recording during the three most blizzardy weeks in January when every person was holed up in their apartment in New York City. Above my friend’s bedroom is a family with five teenagers, so we had to pause all the time because there were so many footsteps, running water, and cooking sounds. We didn’t plan for all of that.
I realized that, even though acoustically the room sounded very good, there was no isolation from what’s above and outside. That was definitely an error I made in trying to plan the space. The next time, we paid for a real studio, because as cool as it is to record in a good-sounding bedroom for free, it’s worth that money to not have to stop every take for outside noise.
When you’re pausing takes like that for noise coming from upstairs or outside, you’re losing the groove you have with the actors. The actors might move around if you have to wait for 10 minutes between a scene and you might have to reset levels, which makes it harder to set levels in post and mix. That was a real learning experience.
Make sure you understand what’s happening in your environment before you choose a space to record in.
Aaron: That applies to regular podcasting too. Someone asked me the other day, “How do I soundproof my room?”
They’re actually asking two different questions: “How do I make the sound of my room less noisy?” and, “How do I keep outside noise from coming in?” First, you have to stop noise from computers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and the sound of your voice from bouncing off the walls and being recorded by your mic. Then you have to soundproof the room so that the external sounds aren’t picked up by your mic. For me, I have three windows directly in front of me and it’s an old house, so the windows aren’t soundproof at all. If someone was running a lawn mower outside of my window, everyone would hear it.
Soundproofing is making sure noises from outside don’t come in. Sound treatment is making sure there aren’t noises inside your room causing problems in your audio.
Know Your Limits
Aaron: Any other mistakes or things that stood out throughout this process?
Dan: There are so many. The question is what’s a useful mistake to talk about, and what’s one I perpetually torture myself about at night? I’ll talk about casting. With Archive 81, we didn’t have a system for how we went about casting it. We put the character notices out on Craigslist one at a time and auditioned and chose people piecemeal. It worked out for the most part, but there were some characters where we were in a real bind because we didn’t have enough people in time, so we had to choose the best option. I would have liked to have more options.
I pretty much did all the casting for the first season and I didn’t go about it systematically, so for the Deep Vault, I wanted to make sure I did it more systematically. I spent a whole weekend auditioning people and planned in advance the characters they were auditioning for and allot time slots throughout the day so I could do it all at once. That was good and it was organized, but I packed too many people in one weekend, so by Sunday afternoon it was too much.
I’m pretty introverted by nature and I think I chose my line of work in the technical side of audio production because a lot of times, it’s just you and the machine. You do need other skills and to be able to talk to people professionally, but you also spend a lot of time alone, which I’m fine with. I definitely love socialising, like on this interview, but I’ll be glad to go back to my little audio hole.
That Sunday after three eight-hour days of auditioning and reading lines in character for these people, I was totally depleted. I think I’ve learned I need to be more systematic about it, but that I also need to spread it out over a few weekends in advance as opposed to trying to do it all in one weekend.
Aaron: I’m a productivity nerd when it comes to planning out my days and making sure I have stuff to do. There’s a lot I want to accomplish, but when you first get into that, you tend to overestimate what you can accomplish. You think you can do meaningful work for 12 or 14 hours and you don’t realize that you can take on too much and say yes to too many things.
Half way through, you’ve given it all you have for six hours and you’re worn out and you feel guilty because you didn’t do all the things you said you were going to do. It’s good to plan and try that stuff so that you know next time not to plan 12 hours of work for both Saturday and Sunday. Maybe you can do that, but you don’t know until you try. Start by planning and make notes about how it goes and you’ll have a better understanding about yourself and your stamina for the next time.
Dan: That speaks to the more general philosophy that doing it is the only way you’ll know what your own patterns are, what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you. Be open to some trial and error for your own personal workflow. It’s easy to look up to certain human accomplishments and think, “This great musician practiced for 12 hours a day, so I must have to do that to be the Rachmaninoff of podcasting,” but at the same time, there are successful and accomplished people who have more human and normal working hour regimens. Trent Reznor is one of those people and it’s obvious from his output that he’s someone who never stops working. That works for him, but some people need more time to unwind and not get burnt out on things.
Dan’s Advice for Aspiring Podcasters
Aaron: What kind of advice or tips would you give to someone who’s interested in doing something like Archive 81 or Deep Vault—a found sound or radio drama podcast? I’ve noticed in the last year or two they’re skyrocketing in terms of popularity. I think there’s a lot of people who might be turning the idea over in their mind. What would you say to those people?
Dan: The first thing is the writing and acting has to be really good. Have people you can trust give you feedback and critique who you can run things by. If the source material and story doesn’t work, then everything that follows isn’t going to work either. If you’ve never done a podcast before, be prepared for many ours of sedentary work. Doing this kind of work takes a lot time and it’s a lot of time you have to spend alone in front of a computer.
I lost count of the number of times this summer my friends said, “Hey, we’re going to the beach. Want to come?” or other things I wanted to do and I had to blow them off because I was editing or doing revisions. Be prepared for that and make sure you’re ok with that.
If you need a lot of time outside of the house and you really need a social life, maybe this particular kind of podcasting isn’t right for you. Interviewing is a very different thing. I don’t like to be preachy about exercise, but I do think it’s good to exercise if you’re doing sedentary creative work because it makes the mind work better and for me, it puts me more at ease.
Aaron: I’m with you on that, so two out of two podcasters recommend exercise and good sleep.
Dan: Go out there and do it. Work hard and tell the story you want to tell. Don’t make anything because you think it’ll sell or bring an audience. Marc and I made Archive 81 because we thought it was a cool idea.
What you make should be in conversation with your audience, but don’t make something just because you think it’ll get a lot of downloads.
I still feel like I’m learning a lot and trying to figure all this stuff out. Keep an open mind and stay open to learning new things as you go along. I still study sound design with a mentor because there’s always new levels I can push myself towards and I don’t want to get too comfortable.
Sound Design Resources
Aaron: Are there any books, websites, or online courses for someone who’s a total beginner, or someone like me who is relatively familiar with recording, mixing, and producing music and podcasts but hasn’t really gotten into sound design?
Dan: Transom.org is a great resource. Although it is geared towards beginners in radio and podcasting, I still find articles on there I can learn from. I think it has a good intro overview to things like sound design. I can’t name anything specific, but for a few years now, when I want to learn more about a subject, I find someone I like and relate to who’s established in that field and I reach out to them asking for some one-on-one mentoring lessons. That’s something I think is worth paying for. Most people will take $50 for a few hours to talk about it.
No matter what artistic discipline you’re in, it’s helpful to find people who are established in your field, reach out to them, and ask for some direct advice.
That’s what’s been the most helpful for me. If there’s a sound designer, composer, or radio producer you admire, reach out and see if that’s an option. I don’t think Ira Glass is capable of doing private lessons with as busy as he is, but I’m sure there are other people who are really good at what they do who are capable.
Aaron: There’s people at all different levels on this journey. We’re talking about audio specifically, but it’s true for anything. There are famous people you’ve heard of and then there’s people in the middle who have more experience than you but maybe aren’t quite so famous yet. Surrounding yourself with people who share your passion and interests on your skill level is great, but try reaching out and offering to pay for some consulting.
Chances are they like talking about that stuff, but it is good to pay people for their time. That makes sure they’re invested and they’re not feeling like you’re taking advantage of their time. Audio engineers have to make money to buy gear!
Field Recording Gear and Tips for Podcasters
Aaron: Diana asks, “What’s your setup for mobile recording?” She’s about to start a podcast and will be doing some traveling. I know there are times where you take microphones out into the real world to do field recordings. What’s your setup? Is it the same mics and a portable recording device?
Dan: A Sennheiser MD421 or a Shure SM58 will work great because most dynamic microphones are good at sound isolation.
Another good option to consider would be the Sennheiser ME66 Shotgun Mic, which is a great short shotgun microphone. That’s good for both ambient sound and interview recordings in a live setting. It’s in the $200 to $300 range and you can find it on eBay, Craigslist, Guitar Center, or Reverb.com for much cheaper.
Aaron: What device do you record into?
Dan: The Zoom H5 or H6 is a fantastic piece of recording equipment. You can find that new for $300 or used for way less. It’s a solid improvement over the H4N in many ways. There’s less handling noise, it’s less noisy, and the majority of people looking into podcasting would do great with one of those.
Aaron: I think this is a situation a lot of people will get in. When you’re out and about and recording, you have to think about the noise in the room and the ambient noise, and if there’s a possibility of a lot of noise where you are. Coffee shops and crowded restaurants aren’t going to be great for getting clean audio. You'll also want to set input gain levels correctly, so you can be sure the levels coming into the microphone doesn’t hit zero and clip. You want to keep the highest peaks coming in around -12 DB. What’s your thought on that? What do you aim for?
Dan: I aim for -12 to -6 at absolute highest for both studio and in the field. I always stuck by that as universal truth of audio, but when I was doing some sound design training this summer with the person I was mentoring under, for sound effects recording, he was advising me to capture things at as high of a signal level as possible without clipping. Being able to focus and isolate the sound source that way really is much more beneficial when you’re trying to make a sound effect at non-dialog level.
Aaron: Did you have limiters on in that situation?
Dan: I usually keep the limiters on, but I try not to hit them. I record on my rooftop a lot. Sometimes I get up at 6am and record the morning rush as it starts to unfold and I usually need the limiters to catch a truck horn or a plane that flies overhead. If you’re in a noisy environment, that’s another good case for using a dynamic microphone because it does isolate the sound source pretty well.
When I was in school, I did a student radio project for a radio podcast production class where I was riding the campus buses and I was on one of those buses on a Friday night when it was filled with drunk kids going from one frat house to another. You can imagine how quiet that was. I was using a dynamic mic and it worked pretty well when I was cutting the interviews together. It had that loud, crazy ambience in the background, but if I held it pretty close to the speaker, I could still isolate them in a way that worked for the final product.
Think about how the ambience and background noise where you’re recording can contribute to the story and the feel of your whole piece.
Dan: With all the woes that came with recording Archive 81 in a bedroom with loud upstairs neighbors, I do think the fact that it felt like an apartment helped the actors get the vibe. I’m not sure how much of that translated sonically, because it’s hard for me to be objective about it at this point, but I do think that background worked for that piece. In theory, I would like to do more location recording for audio dramas.
If something takes place on a busy street corner, I’d like to get out there with a more formal production sound rig and record it, but Marc and I work at a pretty intense pace and it’s not always easy to coordinate that. Many times it makes the most sense to do it in the studio and create the atmosphere after the fact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Aaron: Do what your gut says and plan for it. Last week, Marc said one of the hardest thing for him is the time constraints. I definitely feel that too. My podcast isn’t anything complicated but it still takes a few hours to produce. When you have a full-time job, other projects, and people you want to hang out with, you really have to focus on what you want to say yes to and what you have to say no to.
Huge thanks to Dan and Marc for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. If you’ve enjoyed these interviews, head over to their Patreon page and support these guys
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Dead Signals Productions
- Archive 81
- Deep Vault
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com/
Rank #13: Creating a Radio Drama Podcast Part 1 (With Writer Marc Sollinger)
My guest this week is Marc Sollinger. Marc is one half of Dead Signals, a podcast production company that produces the modern radio drama podcasts Archive 81 and Deep Vault.
In this episode, we’re going to take a deep dive into what it takes to plan, write, and produce a modern radio drama.
This is part one of a two part series: Next week I’ll be interviewing Dan Powell, who handles a lot of the editing, sound design, and music for Dead Signals.
- The most important part of the writing process is collaboration.
- Audio storytelling is a powerful medium.
- Work with people you trust and ask them for their feedback.
- The hardest part of creating a modern radio drama is making time for all the work required.
- If you’re into podcasting, create stories that can only be told through sound.
Aaron: Marc Sollinger: Thanks for joining me. Tell me what you do at Dead Signals. My understanding from our brief conversation previously is that you work more on the writing side of things?
Marc: Both Dan and I write and contribute to the creative process equally, so both of our roles are really creative. We’re both the “idea person.”
Aaron: You do a lot of the writing and he does a lot of the editing, but you both contribute equally to the writing process, yeah?
Marc: Yeah, and we’re both audio professionals. He’s an engineer and works at a sound effects library, I work in public radio for Innovation Hub. We both work with sound for our day jobs. It’s really fun.
The Most Important Part of the Writing Process: Collaboration
Aaron: I brought you on because you and Dan recently launched a modern radio drama podcast called The Deep Vault. I like the description you guys wrote: “The Deep Vault is a serialized, seven-episode audio drama set in in the almost-post-apocalyptic United States.
“The story follows a group of longtime friends as they journey from the uninhabitable surface world into a mysterious underground bunker in search of safety, shelter, and answers to their past. Robotic servants, tooth-filled monsters, and terrible computers collide within the claustrophobic, steel-reinforced walls of The Deep Vault, a modern day homage to the golden age of sci-fi radio drama.”
I want to hear about your background and how you got into audio and radio. Before we get into that, I have to say that the Audible ad read at the end of the first episode of The Deep Vault is one of the most genius things I’ve ever heard. Good job on that, whoever had that idea.
Marc: Listen to the second episode, because it gets crazier. With podcasts that are more host-driven and not fiction, it’s usually the hosts talking about how much they love Blue Apron or Squarespace. For us, it felt a little weird to break the world and say, “Hey, it’s Marc Sollinger and Daniel Powell, and we’d love you to try out Audible or Blue Apron,” so we came up with the idea of a robot that’s not a character in the show. It’s just a random robot that’s gradually gaining sentience and is really pissed off at his masters. It’s fun and hopefully people will enjoy listening to it. The main thing is we wanted it to be fun.
Aaron: Mission accomplished. So when did you get started with audio?
Marc: I fell in love with audio in high school when I was driving around in my car and I heard a This American Life episode. It was one of those proverbial driveway moments, where I stayed in my car for 30 minutes because the story was so good.
(Audio storytelling is a powerful medium.)
I feel in love with it and I adore the power of audio documentary and public radio. That’s my day job now, but I started listening to older radio dramas like Orson Welles’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air. That’s really good; start with War of the Worlds.
If you’re looking for other great audio drama podcasts, AV Club has a good list of creepy radio dramas from the 40s, 50s, and 60s you can check out.
Aaron: So you were listening to those and you thought, “I have to figure out how to do this for myself?”
Marc: Yeah, I noticed when podcasts were getting big in 2007 that there weren’t a lot of audio dramas. There were a couple and there were a lot of audio books released as podcasts, but I didn’t feel like there were a lot of podcast audio dramas that were at the same level as stuff from the 40s and 50s.
For my college thesis, I made a 10-episode audio drama that I released as a podcast. This was before Dan and I started collaborating, but he was featured as the main actor, playing a nebbish anthropologist who crash lands on an alien world and has to discover a bunch of secret stuff.
It’s called Transmission and it’s still something I’m proud of, but I didn’t do any promotion. I fell into the trap of thinking, “This is really good, obviously it’ll get big,” which is not a good mindset to be in. It’s a Patreon reward for our Patreon page now.
Aaron: So you dove in and made a 10-episode podcast series. What kind of experience did you have with audio at that point?
Marc: I interned for a summer at Chicago Public Radio’s Youth Vocalo, and I studied radio, television, and film in college. I did some work for Nick van der Kolk of Love + Radio. I interned for my local NPR station and I learned a lot about sound from the incomparable Douglass Quinn of Syracuse University. I fell in love with audio by listening to This American Life and old radio serials, but I became someone who could do audio through learning from Douglass Quinn. That shows the importance of having a really good mentor.
Aaron: When does Dan come into the picture?
Marc: We met in college (Douglas Quinn was his mentor too). Quinn kind of forced our heads together and it turns out we really liked each other. After college, we went our separate ways; I worked for the PBS News Hour and then I moved to Boston to work for Innovation Hub and Dan went to Brooklyn to work for a sound effects library.
He came to Boston to visit and we talked about projects we had been thinking about. Then I went to New York to visit him and he was talking about wanting to do an audio drama, something where he would be listening alone to a bunch of weird, freaky tapes. It was a really good idea so I said we should do it together. We brainstormed and came up with an outline. I wrote it, he edited it, but it was a very collaborative process. There’s a bunch of really dumb ideas that would have gone into it if he hadn’t told me to take them out.
Work with people you trust and ask them for their feedback.
Aaron: You’ve got to have someone you can trust to curate and edit what you come up with.
Marc: It’s a matter of trust. If I really like something and Dan isn’t sure about it, even if I don’t understand why he doesn’t like it, I trust him enough to know that there’s something wrong, something that needs to be fixed.
Archive 81: Writing, Editing, & Casting
Aaron: This podcast you’re talking about–where Dan listens to freaky tapes–is called Archive 81. The description for this show is, “Three months ago Daniel Powell vanished. These are the tapes he sent me.” How long did it take you to get all these episodes written, recorded, and edited? What was the preparation process like for Archive 81?
Marc: For the writing process, I can write about two episodes a week.
Aaron: Part-time on nights and weekends?
Marc: Yeah, and I’ve been a hermit. It’s a lot of work. After the episodes are written, we have a two or three week period where we heavily revise it. We script everything out and we usually do a table read over Google voice and we pause and re-write when anything sounds weird.
Aaron: Once you’ve got the script for the episode in a good place and you feel good about it, what happens after that? Studio time?
Marc: We recorded all 10 episodes at the same time. I’m glad we did that instead of writing an episode and then recording it, writing an episode, and then recording it. That saved us a lot of time and money.
For Archive 81, we got our cast together and then one of our friends let us record in her bedroom. For The Deep Vault, we went to an actual studio. With Archive 81, since it’s tape-based, it’s a lot of two people talking to each other, so the bedroom worked fine for that. With The Deep Vault, it’s more action, adventure-y and there were going to be five people in a room at the same time. You need an actual studio if you have five people in there at the same time.
Aaron: So you recorded all 10 episodes of Archive 81 in a bedroom. Were all the voice actors friends of yours?
Marc: A mix—some friends, some Craigslist, some family. We pay all our actors, which is something we think is really important. We didn’t pay them as much as we would have liked to but we did pay them.
Aaron: I noticed that the guy that plays Dan’s boss has the same last name as Dan. Is that his father or one of his brothers?
Marc: His father. It has a bunch of creepier overtones when you realize it’s Dan’s actual dad, who turns out to be a really really good actor.
The Hardest Part of Creating a Modern Radio Drama: Making Time
Aaron: Were there any struggles or hurdles you overcame that stick out to you during producing or recording either one of those shows?
Marc: The biggest one is how busy Dan and I are. We’re both working full-time jobs or more than full-time jobs. We started Archive 81—writing it, promotion for it, and releasing it—and then as soon as we began to release the episodes, we started to develop The Deep Vault, so there would be no pause between shows.
Episode 10 of Archive 81 was released at the same time as the teaser for Deep Vault, then episode one of Deep Vault went out the next week. It’s just a lot of work, managing time and pulling through it. We’re working on Archive 81 season two now while Dan is still finishing edits for the Deep Vault. We’re doing promotion, starting an LLC, working with advertisers, and responding to fans on Twitter. It’s just a lot for two people to do.
For the most part, we’re been really lucky and blessed to work with wonderful actors, and Dan is a wonderful partner. The studio we worked in for the Deep Vault was really great. It comes down to time management and knowing when to say yes to stuff and when to say no to stuff.
Aaron: Is one of your goals to take Dead Signals and make it a full-time job?
Marc: Maybe. I really enjoy my full-time job, but if the audience was there…The trouble is that it’s very difficult to do it unless you’re Welcome to Night Veil or you have the backing of Panoply or Giblet. It’s something we’ve discussed, but right now we’re not at a point where we could do that.
What Would You Do If You Had a Million Dollars in the Bank?
Aaron: I was talking to my friend Sean the other day, and discuessed a question: “If we had a million dollars in the bank, what would we do?”
Let’s say you and Dan had a million dollars in the bank. Would you want to spend most of your time on podcasting, or do you think you’d be happy keeping your day job and working on podcasts on nights and weekends?
Marc: If money was no object, I think most people would say, “Let’s go to Belize and surf!” For me, it’s all about weird creative projects. If we had a million dollars, we’d probably work on creating more interesting things. We’d be able to rent out more time at studios. We’d be able to do a weekly thing instead of a bi-weekly thing (I hate bi-weekly).
Aaron: Weekly is great, but with all the work you guys have to do for each episode, I understand why you do bi-weekly. I have a hard time keeping up with my podcast and it’s not anywhere close to the kind of work that your shows are.
Marc: Maybe if we were doing it full-time we could do it weekly. If I had a million dollars it would be nice to work with other writers and sound designers to do more weird stuff.
What’s Next for Dead Signals Productions?
Aaron: I had a related question, which was, “What are your plans for the future?” but it sounds like you’re just going to keep pushing forward. You’re working on season two of Archive 81. Are there plans for a season two of Deep Vault?
Marc: It depends on how it’s received. Deep Vault definitely has an ending. It leaves open the possibility for a season two, but we’re very happy with leaving it as a mini series. If everyone is crying out for a season two and gives us a million dollars, we’ll make season two. We also have other projects in the pipeline that we’re thinking about doing after season two of Archive 81.
We’re probably going to do something new before we do a season three of Archive 81, if we do a season three. We really like doing new things.
One of the reasons why we didn’t just plan for four seasons of Archive 81, or even do things in the same universe, we want to broaden the possibilities of audio drama and do interesting new things. We want to make stories that can only be told through sound.
Michal Wdowiak asks: “When recording the actors separately (even remotely) for a dialogue scene, how do you manage to keep the flow of the scene so it sounds like a real conversation? Do you ever record dialog scenes separately (remotely)?”
Marc: No, we don’t. If it’s supposed to be a conversation, they’ve got to be in the same room. That’s one of our big priorities for our actors, they have to be in New York.
You can splice stuff in, but I really don’t think you get the same performance when two people are not talking to each other. The actor’s performances feed off each other and having them in the same room is really important.
Virginia Houser asked: “How much effort and planning do you put into creating your own sound effects for your stories, if at all? Is it worth the time to create or add sound effects? If the go-to is using pre-recorded effects from online, what resources do you use to find those sound bites?”
Marc: We do a mix between creating our own sound effects and using effects from sound libraries. Dan is a manager at an online sound effects library called Soundsnap, which is helpful. He can get whatever he needs there, but we do prefer making our own sound effects so we can get the exact sound we want.
Before we wrap up, I want to say that it’s a really interesting time for audio drama and podcasts. I think we’re on the cusp of something. Welcome to Night Veil, The Black Tapes, Lime town, The Message, and The Truth were all the first mainstream audio dramas to be released as podcasts, and it’s a really good time to start one yourself. If you want to start an audio drama, don’t just do it because you want to start a TV show and you don’t want to spend a lot of money. If you’re really passionate about it, get started now; companies are starting to invest money in these podcasts. It’s a lot of work, though, so be prepared to put some time into it if you want to succeed.
Stay tuned, next week I’ll be talking audio production and sound design with Marc’s podcasting partner, Dan Powell.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Dead Signals Productions
- Archive 81
- Deep Vault
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com/
Rank #14: Dealing With Haters
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
- Recommended Gear: https://kit.com/thepodcastdude
- Podcast: https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepodcastdude
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thepodcastdude
- Simplecast Blog: http://blog.simplecast.com
- Successful Podcasting: http://successfulpodcasting.com
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- Being negative or hurtful is not an effective way to give criticism.
- When you receive criticism, stop for a second and see if there’s any truth to it.
- Don’t argue with strangers on the internet.
- People who are open to changing their mind will listen instead of arguing.
- Great criticism is rare—seek it out from people you trust.
- If you continue to blame your negativity on other people all the time, you’re missing an opportunity to feel happiness and gratitude.
I want to start this episode off by sharing a blog post about criticism that Seth Godin published the other day, called The Paradox of the Flawless Record.
He said, “If your work has never been criticized, it’s unlikely you have any work. Creating work is the point, though, which means that in order to do something that matters, you’re going to be criticized.
*If your goal is to be universally liked and respected and understood, then, it must mean your goal is to not do something that matters. Which requires hiding. Hiding, of course, isn’t the point. Hence the paradox. You don’t want to be criticized and you do want to matter. *
The solution: Create work that gets criticized. AND, have the discernment to tell the difference between useful criticism (rare and precious) and the stuff worth ignoring (everything else).”
What Is the Intention of the Person Criticizing Me?
When someone gives you feedback or criticism, ask yourself: what is their intention?
Hearing negative feedback sucks. It sucks to hear, “This thing you made isn’t very good and here’s why.”
That’s hard and it hurts our egos. We like to think that everything we do is great. But stop for a second and see if there’s any truth to the criticism. Regardless of how negative the person is being, see if there’s any useful information you can pull from it and apply to make your thing better. Your goal should always be to make your thing (blog post, podcast, writing, or video) better.
When I Provide Criticism, What is My Intention?
Think about the last time you reached out to someone to talk about their work. Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that sharing how much you hate something will somehow make your life better.
A wise man once said, ”The shit you hate don't make you special.”
So there’s someone creating work you don’t like: What does telling that person they suck do besides make them doubt their abilities or make them feel bad?
Why is it necessary for you to tell someone that you don’t like what they do?
I want to make it clear that I’m talking about creative work here, like design, podcasting, making video, making music, and so on. I’m not talking about the many injustices happening in the world.
If someone is hurting someone else, then I do think it is fair to tell them that’s not acceptable. But if you’re just telling someone else that you don’t like their art, why are you wasting your time on that? What are you trying to accomplish?
If your goal really is to help someone make something better, being negative or hurtful is not an effective way to do that.
Great criticism is rare. Seek it out from people you trust.
Seek out constructive criticism from people you know and trust.
Go to a friend or mentor you trust and say, “I made this thing. I want to know what you think about it. Please be honest about how you think I could improve it, if you think I could improve it. I appreciate your time.”
But keep in mind that you’re asking them for a favor, you’re asking them for time, so sometimes they may say no or just you a brief or unhelpful answer.
Five questions to ask yourself when someone gives you negative feedback:
- Is this person trying to help or just trying to hurt?
- Is there anything useful I can learn from this feedback?
- If this feedback upsets me, why does it upset me?
- Have I accepted that not everyone will agree with me or love my work?
- Do I give feedback in a similar manner?
Don’t Argue With Strangers on the Internet
It never ends well. It’s one thing to have discussion with a friend who you know and respect. Things can get heated and that’s fine. But when you argue with strangers, especially online, neither of you have any reason to be kind or respecting. It’s really more about proving who is right. It’s a complete and total waste of time because neither person is looking for more information. Yelling at people you disagree with doesn’t get you anywhere.
People who are open to changing their mind will listen instead of arguing.
I want to encourage you to be kind to other people. If you’re the kind of person who speaks unkindly to or about other people, I want you to ask why. What is it about their work that bothers you so much? Why do you feel the need to express that feeling to them?
If you blame your negative feelings on other people, you’re missing an opportunity to feel happiness and gratitude. Expressing those feelings will amplify them in your mind. You’re giving someone else permission to make you feel a certain way. Some people just like to complain. They like to find things they don’t like or disagree with and just spend a bunch of time explaining why.
I like to find awesome things in the world. I like to find things that are beautiful and make me happy. I like to focus on those things and give my time to those things, because I believe the emotions we choose to feel and choose to express publicly will be amplified through that expression. You only have so much time. Do you really want to spend it telling other people they aren’t good at something? Do you really care about those people?
Why not spend your time helping the people you do care about? Why not help them with what they’re struggling with and teach them what you know in a kind and encouraging way instead of discouraging them?
Focus on encouraging the people you care about. Let go of jealousy and anger and speak positivity to the people who are creating work that you love. You’ll be much happier if you do.
You can find more episodes at https://thepodcastdude.simplecast.com.
Rank #15: Allowing Others to Join the Conversation
Everyone has a story, but few people take the time to tell it. My guest today started a podcast to tell his story, despite having little experience with podcasting. As a result, he’s growing an audience, making new friends, and learning a lot along the way.
Brian Sanders is a project manager and app designer who formed a startup to build a new podcast app and platform called Nexcast. He’s joining me today to share what he’s learned in his startup and podcasting journey so far, and how podcasting is helping him learn more about his target audience and his product.
- People will reach out to you if you take the time to share your story.
- People relate to struggles. Don’t be afraid to share yours.
- It’s important to go make things happen—don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
- If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.
- Podcasting, videos, and blogging all come back to opening up, sharing your experiences, and telling your story—that’s how you build community.
- You don’t always have to have the best equipment—use what you have and start telling your story today.
Aaron: Joining us today is Brian Sanders from Nexcast. Brian, you’re trying to build a podcast app and maybe a platform. What’s your backstory?
Brian: I grew up in Hawaii and I got into UCLA for mechanical engineering, so I came to LA and I’ve been here ever since. I started in the engineering world where I actually got to design some rides for Universal Studios and Disneyland. So I was doing engineering, but I didn’t like it that much. The company I was working for went out of business during the recession and I went to another similar company.
That’s actually when I found podcasts, when I was sitting at a computer working on 3D models all day. It was kind of boring, so I was listening to podcasts eight hours a day. I would be laughing in my cubical and none of my coworkers even knew what podcasts were. I realized I wanted to be more entrepreneurial—I liked to design and be creative—so I started doing that on the side.
I started doing design for other people and getting paid for it. I joined up with a developer and we started building whole products for people in LA, New York, and Chicago for a couple of years. It took a while to figure it out because I was learning on my own, but eventually I got a job. One of my clients hired me on and we started working at a tech company in Santa Monica where I got to learn a lot more about the processes of building technology and managing an engineering team.
I still had projects on the side. I had an app that was like Instagram for writing, where you could post a photo with stories and you add chapters. People could comment and follow you. I decided to sell it to a private company, quit my job, and started working on a podcast app idea that had been in the back of my mind for awhile.
Overlapping & Taking Your Side Project Full Time
Aaron: So you worked your day job for a few years and saved up money and stripped back your expenses so that when you quit, you could support yourself doing your own thing.
Brian: Exactly. The biggest thing is to start pretending you’re not making a lot of money (even if you’re working a good job), and save as much money as you can.
Aaron: That’s very long-term focused. I think a lot of people struggle with that.
Brian: It takes a lot of discipline. I pretended like I was making minimum wage, but I was really happy. I had a couple of roommates from Hawaii that I grew up with and we still had a great time. You can get a lot out of life even if you aren’t spending much money.
Aaron: If you’re trying to go freelance or do anything that doesn’t guarantee you a steady paycheck, it’s important to practice for that while you’re working a day job. I know that’s not related to podcasting, but it’s important. Living cheaply is why I’m able to do what I do—podcast editing and helping people make podcasts. I learned in my twenties to save money and to really think about what was important for me to spend money on.
There are a lot of things that you can spend money on, but sometimes it’s better to not spend money so that later you can pursue your dreams. For example, you quit your job and you had this idea to work on a podcast app, maybe even a platform. Was that your plan when you quit your job, or was that a more recent development?
Brian: I didn’t pursue it fully until I put that platform bigger picture together. I wondered if we could listen to podcasts in a more interactive way or have more features. Why isn’t anyone building a better podcast app? The problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to make it a business and it seems like not many other people have either. The podcast industry is weird, but it’s growing. It’s hard to put together the business model. The day I figured out the business model, I started focusing on it for real and I put everything else to the side.
Your Life is a Story – Document It
Aaron: When did you start your own podcast to tell the story of what you’re doing?
Brian: It started about five months after I got the idea for the app. Now that it’s happening, it’s like, “Of course we should be doing a podcast. We have to tell our story and get people involved.”
Aaron: There are so many people who have stories, but they don’t document or share them. If you’re not writing, publishing blog posts, or even journaling, you’re going to regret that in the future. Brian, you’re going through a period in your life where you’re trying to start a company and you’re documenting the process so anyone who’s interested can hear it.
12:43 Aaron: You’re seven episodes into your podcast so far. Do you have a background in working with audio?
Brian: No, but in high school I worked a little bit with video. That really helped. I haven’t done anything with video since then, but I always think I can teach myself anything, and anyone can learn. It’s easy these days with all the tools and resources online. You just have to start.
Getting a Team Together
Aaron: You’re trying to build a team to help you create this podcast app. How’s that going so far? I know you’ve been struggling to find a new CTO.
Brian: We had an interesting process of getting a team together. As a non-developer, it’s always really hard to get developers on your team. It’s the #1 goal of your life. You don’t want to hire people from other countries because that never really works out well, and great developers always have jobs and are very expensive. Sometimes it seems like there are no options.
Aaron: Do you have funding or enough money to pay a full-time developer’s salary?
Brian: Well, Troy has a good job, so he’s busy all day and he has some money, but we’re not paying anyone. We have to find people who are in it for equity. Our next episode is about this crazy battle with some teens in the Philipines that have my Twitter handle (we’ve been in this crazy journey for nine months trying to get it back from them). After that, there’s going to be an episode about getting our new CTO.
Aaron: I usually want to be paid for work I do, but at the same time, when I started editing podcasts, I was working for free. I started a podcast with some people I knew online and they needed someone to edit the show, and because I was interested in becoming a podcaster and podcast editor, I was willing to do the editing without getting paid. I’m glad you found someone though, because that can be really hard. Did he listen to your podcast?
Brian: He didn’t initially, but the fact that we had a podcast helped. I could point him to it so he could see we were legit. But other people who listen have been getting in touch. There’s another developer who wants to join who happens to be in LA who found us by listening. That guy just wants to be part of the journey. It’s huge, having a podcast has been great.
Share Your Mistakes
Aaron: It’s one thing to be a stranger randomly emailing people on the internet saying, “Hey, help me with my project.” It’s a whole different thing if you open up and you share your journey, what you’re struggling with, who you are, and where you’re planning to go—sharing your story rallies people around you. This is not just for startups or businesses. You will make connections and people will find you. You’ll build a community.
People will reach out to you if you take the time to share your story.
Brian: Looking back, I can’t imagine not doing a podcast. There were different routes to go down and it was important to us to share the shortcomings and the mistakes. We didn’t want to be startup bros saying, “We’re killing it! This is going awesome! Everything we’re doing is cool!” I edited the first episode and people don’t realize I left all the bad parts of the pitch. I made it sound worse than it probably was.
Aaron: So you went to pitch an investor. You recorded the conversation and included it in the first episode of your podcast. You left the rough parts in because people relate to struggles—winning all the time isn’t interesting to most people. The first episode really grabbed me and I’m pretty picky about podcasts. I’m choosy about what I listen to and I really enjoyed your show.
Brian: I’ve only had one bad podcasting experience. All the other podcasters I’ve talked to have been amazing. This one guy thought I was the worst sales guy ever because he listened to that first episode and he heard me stumbling my way through that pitch. When I was interviewed on show, he said, “So, you’re the worst salesman ever. What do you do? You don’t build the technology and you couldn’t even get through a simple sales pitch.” I guess he didn’t realize that I edited that episode and chose to put that stuff in.
Aaron: Did you find it hard to put out those imperfections and mistakes?
Brian: Yeah, I regret it sometimes. I worry that it makes us look like idiots. There could be VC’s listening and they might be discounting us now. It might make a better story, but I might be losing my chances at investment. Sometimes I wonder if I can pull the episode, re-edit it, and put it back.
Aaron: You told me on the phone the other day that you’re trying to get on Planet of the Apps. Can you explain why and give a brief overview of what that is?
Brian: Apple hasn’t released all the details yet, but they’re producing a show with some big names like Will.i.am, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gary Vaynerchuck. They haven’t told us the exact format of the show, but it sounds a little bit like Shark Tank, or a reality show about app developers. The developers who are accepted to the show get access to mentoring, funding, and marketing and promotions.
Aaron: It sounds like a great opportunity for you. So you drove across town to audition?
Brian: Yeah, there was an event. Will.i.am was there and he talked about what he wanted to see. There were a bunch of casting agents there. There was this one casting area that no one was paying attention to. Everyone was wanting to talk to Will.i.am or nervously milling around, and I told my partner we needed to just charge these casting guys. We needed to sound like we had something really cool, and eventually we did that.
We found the lead casting agent and got him to sit down with us. We said, “We’re building something cool. Podcasts are awesome.” He didn’t listen to podcasts, so we had to make sure he knew how big podcasts are. We told him, “They change peoples’ lives, and we’re going up against Apple, who has their own podcast app already. This is good tv! We’re taking on Apple and we’re already doing a podcast about us building this app.”
He said, “I’m going to skip you ahead of the casting process. Make me a 10-minute video.” So we made the video and they emailed us the next day and wanted headshots. They wanted to see the app, but I had to tell them it wasn’t ready yet. We’re hoping to hear back from them soon.
Aaron: The takeaway here is that you could have just said, “Our app isn’t ready yet. We’re probably not going to win this,” and you could have stayed home, but you drove across town and you showed up. You tried to talk to people and make stuff happen. I just wanted to highlight that.
It’s important to go make things happen. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
Brian: There was as a specific moment where we were nervous and it could have gone either way. We had a choice; either just turn in our 1-minute audition video like everyone else and hope we’d get noticed, or go talk to the casting guy and try to make something happen. I’m happy we chose the latter.
Aaron: It’s scary, but if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.
What’s Next for You?
Aaron: What do you see in the future for yourself and your startup?
Brian: We had a few hiccups, but now we’re finally moving and things are back on track. Our overarching goal is to make podcasting better for everyone. We’re working on an app that brings the content right into the app. For example, you’ve got show notes and you send people to your site, but not everyone is going to do that, so we want to put that stuff right in the app.
It will show the visual content, photos of guests, promotions, links to your products, etc. It’s all right in the app. We’re also working on discussions and comment threads.
There are different comment areas on the internet that aren’t so great, but podcasts audiences are passionate and enthusiastic. It seems to me like the best place to have discussions.
Aaron: Having the ability to have a discussion about a podcast episode and go back and forth with other people inside the app would be really interesting. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, though.
Brian: It’s just the beginning, but I think we’re positioned in a good way. All of my team members have their own jobs, which could be seen as a down side, like they’re not focused or it’s not a career, but that’s what’s going to help us last a long time without investment. We’re going to see what happens and get advice from the community we’re in to see what features they want. It could take years, but I’m ready for that.
Aaron: It make take even longer than that, but you’re learning in the process. You’ll make some mistakes but you’ll document them for others to learn from, which is great.
Alex Castro asks: “Should I document the development of my brand, maybe on YouTube or a blog instead of podcasting? Sharing the journey as I go seems super scary.”
Brian: It is scary. YouTube might fit better if you’re doing a lot of visual things or if you’re already good at doing video. Why not? It will be scary, but you’ll realize that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had 99.9% positive feedback, except for one weird guy on a podcast. He was just a hater who hasn’t really built anything of his own.
Aaron: Alex is a phenomenal visual designer, and I think sharing your story in a video format or blogging with pictures is fine. The lines between blogging, podcasting, and video are all starting to blur for me.
I’m starting to think of these just as sharing a message or telling a story, instead of separate things. They are separate things, but if you start off by writing a blog post, you’ve got words that can be recorded and that’s a podcast. Or you could record a video of yourself saying those words. There’s different formatting and editing you can do, but it’s really all the same thing.
Podcasting, producing video, and blogging all come back to opening up, sharing your experiences, and telling your story.
That’s how you build community. That’s how you attract like-minded people and make friends. Opportunities will come from it. Even if you don’t think you have an interesting story yet, start telling it. You’ll find your story if you dig.
Brian: Just start doing it. It took us a few months to put everything together before we even went live with it. You figure it out as you go and you write ahead. No one has ever regretted putting their story out there.
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Rank #16: 5 Ways to Be a Better Podcast Host
Today I'm sharing 5 ways you can be a better podcast host. Whether you do a solo show, co-host or interviews, these 5 tips can help you make better podcasts, create a deeper connection with your audience, and grow your listener numbers.
- If you’re going to take the time to do a podcast, take the time to do it right.
- Think about the path you want to take your listeners through from start to finish.
- The difference between a host and a co-host is leadership.
- It doesn’t matter how good the content is, if your guest’s audio sounds like crap, people will turn off your show.
- Don’t ignore the people who aren’t famous yet. You don’t know who’s going to end up being more popular than Leonardo Dicaprio.
- Say “Thank you for listening” to every single person who reaches out to you.
- People might remember the content of your podcast, but they’re definitely going to remember the way you make them feel.
It’s been said that the best of the best are never satisfied with how good they are. They look for weak points to improve. I agree with that. Whether you’re doing web development, coding, acting, making podcasts, or playing an instrument, you should always look for the things you’re not great at and try to figure out how to improve.
1. Figure Out the Technical Stuff
Let me tell you a story about what happened to me last weekend. I’ve been getting into making video lately. I got a Canon 70D DSLR, a shotgun mic, and a Zoom H4N audio recorder.
I got a cable to run the audio coming into the H4N out to my 70D camera, because I’m lazy and I don’t want to have to sync the audio later. I just want to hit record on the camera and capture good audio straight to the video file. Should be simple, right? It’s 2016, we should have this stuff figured out.
Nope. After recording a video, I heard this hissing sound in the video file when I listened back. What the heck? I thought maybe I had the input gain up too high. Nope, that wasn’t it. I thought maybe I had the headphone volume on the H4N up too high. Nope, that wasn’t it either. So what the heck? I spent well over an hour trying to figure it out (not how I wanted to spend my Saturday night). I ended up googling “noisy audio on canon 70D” and finding out what the problem was.
Turns out… If you leave the Canon on Auto mode while you shoot video, it automatically adjusts the input gain. And since the mic preamp on the camera is crap, you end up with a noisy recording. I had to switch to manual mode on the camera and then adjust the sound settings. I tried removing some of that line noise from my video, but it ended up sounding a little off because I had to do so much processing.
If you’re new to the world of audio, there are a lot of things you’re going to have to learn, but if you want to be a great host, you have to learn them.
You have to learn how to record audio that sounds great. You have to be able to be confident in the quality of your recordings because otherwise you’re not going to feel good about sharing it and other people won’t be as likely to share it either.
I know it’s not easy, and I know it may not be fun for you. But if you’re going to take the time to do a podcast, take the time to do it right. Get comfortable with the recording process and eliminate any problems that are messing up your audio quality.
2. Be a Host, Not a Co-Host
The difference between a host and a co-host is leadership. Know the topic you want to talk about, how you’re going to introduce it, and how you’re going to end it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re technically the co-host on a podcast, you can still act like a host. A lot of people assume that the other person is going to take care of everything, and they don’t prepare. Don’t do that. Prepare and do research on the topic.
Think about the path you want to take your listeners through from start to finish.
It doesn’t matter if you’re technically a co-host, or if you’re helping out someone more famous than you, try to show up and provide value to your listeners. Take responsibility for making your show great.
3. Do Your Research
If you’re podcasting about a topic you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to talk about a lot of things just from memory (off the top of your head, as they say).
You can only go so far with this, though. At some point, you’re going to exhaust your well of inspiration and you’ll need to go look for new information, new topics to share.
This is why it’s important to always stay curious; always be learning, always be talking to people. Look for lessons and stories that are outside of your normal comfort zone.
Don’t get trapped inside the bubble of people who share your exact viewpoints and opinions. Look outside your social circle for the really smart people who are passionate about what they do. This is where you’ll find information that will elevate your personal understanding and knowledge but will also help you bring something new and fresh to the table.
For example: Let’s say someone is a heavy metal drummer and they go study jazz. Those two musical styles don’t have much in common, so when that metal drummer comes back from studying jazz, he knows all these different things that most people don’t hear in metal music.
If you go experience something completely different than what you’re used to, and bring elements of it back into your world, the blending of those two worlds is very interesting.
My friend Sean calls this being a gold miner: “A gold miner is someone who is always looking for something positive out of every situation. What a lot of people tend to do is they try to find someone who mostly shares gold—this is good, you want to find people who mostly share gold. But what you don’t want to do is completely ignore people that you disagree with, who maybe share things you don’t like, or have different views than you, or things that you would consider junk.”
“It’s easy to pay attention to the people you mostly agree with and who give you things you appreciate. But a lot of people tend to ignore and avoid people they disagree with. Even if there was something good, they don’t see it because they throw everything out. A gold miner doesn’t care how much they have to dig through. All they care about is finding that one little bit of gold anywhere they can find it.”
“Every situation you encounter, every conversation you have, every book you read—look for that little piece of gold. You’re looking for the million-dollar idea. This sounds simple in concept, but most people don’t do this. Most people aren’t gold miners. Most people are looking for the one little thing they disagree with so they can disqualify the person as a whole.”
Think about that. I’ve started paying attention to people I normally would have disagreed with because I want to educate myself and find the gold nuggets. Look for positive things and the things you can learn from—make notes of those things because you never know when they could turn into a topic for a future podcast episode.
4. Make Your Guests Look Good
If you have guests on your show regularly, focus on making them look good. This involves a couple things.
First, make sure they have a decent mic setup and help them through the recording process. Bad audio will cost you listeners. Example: a well known podcaster reached out to me this weekend and asked if I could help him fix up some audio. I told him I’d be happy to check out the files.
He sent over two recordings that were some of the worst audio files I’ve ever heard. They tons of pops and plosives, uneven levels, they were breathing loudly into the mics, one person had some kind of messed up headset mic that was cutting in and out. In other words, a total wreck. I spent almost an hour processing the tracks in Izotope’s RX5 Advanced audio editor (very expensive software, BTW, almost $1000), and by the time I was done, I wasn’t sure I had improved the audio quality much.
Talk to your guests about their recording setup in advance. Make sure they have a decent microphone. Ask them to make an audio recording for you before you sit down to record a podcast with them. Brett Terpstra does this; if you want to be on his show, you have to record an audio file and send it to him, which is a brilliant idea. (Well done, Brett.)
You should never have to guess what your guest is going to sound like. Have that conversation with them in advance.
Second, make sure your guest knows to record in a quiet room and wear headphones. Make sure they know to record a file on their computer with Quicktime, Audacity, or Garageband and send it to you afterwards. That way you’ll have their track isolated and free from any internet or Skype-caused problems.
It doesn’t matter how good the content is, if your guest’s audio sounds terrible, people will tune out and listen to something else.
It seems like two or three times a week, I start listening to a podcast and and I end up turning it off because the sound sucks and I have too many other good things to listen to. There are very few podcasts where the content is so amazingly good that people would be willing to tolerate painful audio to get it. There’s too many other good shows out there.
In addition to getting great audio from your guest, set them up to talk about things that will make them sound smart or stuff that they’re interested in. Decide on the topic and point of the episode in advance.
Whenever I have someone on my show, I always talk to them beforehand and ask, “What are we talking about? What are the takeaways? What kind of valuable stuff can you share with my audience?”
We plan a show out start to finish, because I want my guests to look good. I don’t want to surprise them with questions and have them say, “Uhh, well…maybe. I don’t know.” Talk about the questions with your guests. Almost everyone has some kind of valuable insight or takeaway to share, or even an interesting story. Highlight those things and give them easy home-runs.
(Of course, you can also go the other way and purposefully surprise your guest with questions to get a more natural resonse, but that's a discussion for another day.)
5. Be Grateful for Every Listener
This isn’t just a good idea for podcasters, it’s a good idea for anyone trying to grow an audience. Be grateful for every single person who gives you attention.
When you’re making a podcast or video, try not to say, “Hey guys!” Talk like a single person is listening. Create that one-on-one connection with someone else.
If someone reaches out to you and says, “Hey, I enjoy your show,” or they leave a review, be grateful for that. Say, “Thank you for listening,” to every single person who reaches out to you, especially if they give you a kind word.
And don’t ignore the people who aren’t famous. Just because someone only has 10 followers now doesn’t mean that you should ignore them.
I want to treat everyone with the same amount of respect, kindness, and consideration, regardless of where they are right now. I remember being a nobody and not having any kind of audience. I remember seeing these people who had so many followers, had done cool things, and I thought they would never bother to talk to me. I remember what that feels like and so I will talk to anybody and answer questions if I can.
I appreciate everyone’s attention, regardless of where they are on their journey—just getting started or decades in. People are people and I want to be kind to people. Providing that one-on-one connection may not scale well, but it makes all the difference in the world long-term.
People might remember the content of your podcast, but they’re definitely going to remember the way you make them feel.
When you have 500,000 followers, it’s going to be really hard for you to reach out and say hi to every single person who reaches out to you, but I still think it’s worth it. It makes a difference long term. People talk. If you say something rude or unkind to someone, they remember that and they tell people about that. And the opposite is true. If you show someone some kindness, give them an encouraging word, or just say, “Thanks for listening to my show, I appreciate you,” they remember that. They tell people. So try to always treat people with kindness and be grateful for every listener.
Ashlyn asked, “Could you send your guest a mic to use (so they sound good)?”
Yes, but if you’re going to be interviewing a new guest every week, that’s going to get expensive and time consuming.
Personally, I want to start a movement that says, “It’s not ok to have crappy audio on a podcast.” I don’t want excuses. I want people to invest some money in a decent microphone and learn how to use it, even if it’s an $80 USB microphone.
Investing in a decent USB mic is a great idea even if you’re not going to be doing podcasts regularly. If you do Skype calls a couple times a week, people will appreciate the sound quality that comes from a decent USB mic.
Get a USB mic, a pop filter, and a mic stand, and you can record audio that sounds good. I’m to the point where I don’t want to have guests on my show if they don’t have a decent microphone or they’re not willing to record a local audio file.
If someone says, “I don’t want to record a file on my computer and send it to you,” then hey, no problem, there's other shows you can go be on.
I want to have great audio all the time. I believe it's important, especially as there are more people making podcasts in every niche.
To stand out, you have to be good, and I’m not just talking about content, I’m talking about audio quality too. It’s ok to require your guests have a decent mic if they’re going to come on your show. It’s your show, after all.
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Rank #17: I Already Make a Podcast: Should I Make Video Too?
I only recently got comfortable with podcasting. I don't think I'm amazing at it yet, but it doesn't stress me out like it used to. I've been thinking a lot about video lately. Why do so many people spend so much time on YouTube? I watch a few videos here and there, but it seems like the audience for YouTube is much larger than the audience for podcasts. Am I missing something?
I was curious, so I spent a few hours doing research and what I discovered has changed the way I think about video. If you're like me and you've been mostly ignoring video so far, lend me your ear for a few minutes. I'm going to try to change your mind.
- Sight is our strongest sense: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and 40% of nerve fibers to the brain are connected to the retina.
- Visuals are significant drivers in inciting emotion, instigating action, and achieving memory retention.
- As with podcasting, making a video starts with a message—an idea of what you want to communicate.
- If you want to grow an audience and reach people, start making videos.
- If you don’t know what to say, start writing.
I’ve always been a little curious about why so many people are so into Youtube, because I prefer listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and reading. I do like TV shows and movies like anyone else, but when it comes to learning, I prefer reading or audio. But I started wondering: Why have I been ignoring making video for so long?
The other day, I saw an article that John Gruber linked to about a lawsuit where Apple sued Samsung for copying the industrial design of the iPhone.
Apple was saying that the visual design is so similar that people think Samsung phones are the same quality as the iPhone and therefore are more likely to buy them, so Samsung owed them the profits because Samsung was piggy-backing on their design. This group of 50 different industrial designers and companies (the best of the best) wrote this PDF called Professional Designers Amicus Brief and sent it to the courts.
This brief is a fantastic read on how visual design impacts sales and how important it is for things to be designed well, but inside this PDF was a quote from an article from MIT called The Rise of Visual Content Online that blew my mind:
Sight is our strongest sense: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and 40% of nerve fibers to the brain are connected to the retina.
As a result of this hardwiring, visuals are processed faster in the brain than text. Not only are visuals processed faster, they are processed better. Some suggest that 80%–85% of our perception, learning, cognition, and other mental activities are mediated through vision. Visuals are significant drivers in inciting emotion, instigating action, and achieving memory retention. One interesting experiment showed that when someone hears a piece of information, they will remember only 10% of it three days later.
Adding a picture to that information increases retention to 65%. Using visuals as a primary method of communication continues a longer trend towards short-form content and diminishing attention spans. In 2000, average customer attention span was estimated at 12 seconds, while today’s estimate is 8.25 seconds. Since it only takes humans about 0.25 seconds to process an image, we can still communicate much more information within these shortening attention spans with visual content.”
After reading this, I finally understood. Most people aren’t like me. Most people don’t love podcasts. Most people are visual learners.
To illustrate this point a little bit further, I read an article on Medium called Why a Visual Really is Worth 1,000 Words that had this great point: “The usefulness of text paired with visuals becomes obvious when you try to answer, “What is a circle?” The correct answer is: a circle is a curved line with every point an equal distance from the center.”
Sometimes it’s just easier to convey information with an image. You could just draw a circle! See how much simpler that is?
Is Video the Right Format for All Your Content? No.
Let’s look at a counter argument. An article called Video Is Not the (Only) Future of Media says: “There is a use case for PDF reports, just as there is a use case for text articles, audio clips, video clips, and other formats. For example, text is a lot easier to skim than video or audio content, so it makes sense to opt for that format if you want to give audiences the ability to do so (skim).
Additionally, videos are, by nature, attention hogs. It’s hard for audiences to get full value from the format if they’re not actively watching the visual content. So in return, you’d better be sure that your video is worth the time spent on it, or else it’s just another piece of clickbait. In other words, just because it can be a video, doesn’t mean it has to be a video.
Great digital strategies are a mix of formats optimized for how audiences actually want to read, listen, and watch what you have to say. Before you publish on a subject, ask yourself if it would be easier for your audience to watch or read what you’re trying to communicate. Ask yourself whether a video should be the focus of, or a supplement to, your editorial coverage.
My Experience With Video
I’m still not comfortable with video. I’ve still got a lot to learn. But I’m fooling myself if I can’t admit the truth: Most people prefer watching video instead of listening to podcasts. I talked with my friend Brett Terpstra yesterday and found out that he’s seen at least one of my Youtube videos but he’s never listened to my podcast. He didn’t even know I had a podcast.
He actually introduced me as a YouTube personality when I was a guest on his podcast. I laughed because I’m not trying to be a YouTube personality, I’m just trying to share and teach stuff that I care about. He said that he doesn’t listen to many podcasts, and I know most people don’t. Podcasting is on the rise, but I’m not convinced it’s ever going to be as big as video.
I don’t know that much about Youtube, but I need to learn. I need to start from the beginning. I need to swallow my pride and google “How to get started with Youtube”. I need to tackle learning this medium like I did with writing and podcasting. I still feel weird about YouTube personalities—all those vloggers who wander around and talk about whatever they want to, it just doesn’t appeal to me, but I can’t let that stop me from making videos. If you feel the same way, you need to stop for a second and think about why you’re resistant to making video.
If you want to grow an audience and reach people, start making video.
Yes, you’ll have to Google how to do it if you’ve never done it before. If you’re more comfortable just writing or taking pictures, you don’t have to make videos, but I want to encourage you to. Let’s do it together. I’ll share what I’ve learned, and you tell me what you’re up to. It’s also great practice for online courses, which are a great way to make money and establish yourself as an expert in your field.
How To Get Started With Video
You might be wondering, “How do I do this? I’ve never bought any video gear before. I’ve never shot a video. Maybe I’ve shot a little bit here and there, but I don’t really know how to put a full video together.”
As with podcasting, making a video starts with a message—an idea of what you want to communicate.
Write out your message, plan out the video, and hit record. You can get into shooting B-roll and getting different angles or investing in fancy gear, but it really comes back to what you have to say.
Start with writing. If you don’t know what to say, start writing. You don’t have to publish everything you write, but if you do a little bit every day, you’ll start finding things to share in all different mediums (blog posts, podcasts, and video).
If you aren’t sure what to write about yet, pay attention to the questions people ask you. Pay attention to the stuff you talk about with your friends. Figure out your message and record a short video. Don’t use gear as an excuse not to get started; you can get started shooting video with just a smartphone. I started with an iPhone, a Shoulderpod clip, and a tripod. Good audio is really important so I invested in a little Shure MV88 lighting microphone, but you could also get the Rode SmartLav+ mic for $80, it sounds good too.
If you’ve got an iPhone, get a microphone that plugs into your phone, a smartphone mount and a tripod, you’re good to go. As far as tripods go, you can either get something affordable like the Amazon 60 inch Tripod ($23) or the Moby GorillaPod ($23). If you want a sturdier tripod and you’ve got a little cash to spend, I’ve been very happy with the Slik Sprint Pro 2 ($70). You can buy some LED lights to get better lighting, but you’ve probably got some natural lighting in your room that you can use.
I learned a lot about lighting while shooting a mini-course called Getting Started With Video with Cory McCabe. I learned that you don’t want to have windows behind you when you’re shooting, so keep the windows in front of you and keep the camera between you and the windows so you’ll be lit up properly.
For editing, iMovie is great, and there are other free video editing apps out there too. If you want to record and edit screencasts, Screenflow ($99) is great for that (and for editing regular video, too).
If you want to use your podcasting setup for recording audio, you can pick up a Logitech c920 webcam ($62), which is great because you can clip it onto the top of your laptop or computer monitor or stick it on a tripod. It can act as a standalone camera that can record video straight to your computer while you use your podcasting setup to record audio.
If you already have a DSLR and are curious about microphones and interfaces for that, I actually figured out a way to run a shotgun microphone into an H4N portable recorder and then have a cable that runs out from the H4N straight into my DSLR. That way, the audio from the shotgun microphone was passing through and being recorded straight into the video, which comes in pretty handy if you don’t want to sync up audio files later.
It’s going to take some time to learn everything, but I don't want to ignore video anymore because most people learn visually and I’m not going to get romantic about the medium.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
Rank #18: Shooting My First Video Course – Part 2 (Two-Week Recap)
This is the second part in a two part series about shooting the video lessons for my upcoming Successful Podcasting course. If you're thinking about making a video or screencasting course, you'll want to listen to this! Cory McCabe and I just wrapped up shooting video and WOW. What a week. I've got the video gear packed into my car, and I'll be heading down to San Antonio in a few minutes to take it back to Sean, but I wanted to take a few minutes and share 7 lessons I've learned in the past two weeks.
Cool Stuff to Check Out:
Rank #19: Shooting My First Video Course Part 1 (with Special Guest Cory McCabe)
I wanted to make this episode to inspire you if you've ever thought about creating an online course or screencast series. If you've never done it before, there's a lot to learn. You wonder, “How do I plan this thing? How do I write out what I want to say? How do I get good audio and record good video and how the heck do I record screencasts in the 16:9 aspect ratio? (Hint: just buy a 16:9 monitor.) The video guy for the seanwes network, Cory McCabe, joins me today to talk about setting up to shoot a video course. We're going to talk about how the first week of shooting went, the gear we're using, what went well, what didn't go well, and what we'd do differently next time.
Rank #20: Can You Make Money With a Podcast?
It is possible to make money with a podcast. I've seen people do it. I've done it. But many podcasters struggle with this. Why is that? There are a few reasons.
First, a lot of podcasters don't have a plan to make money outside of maybe selling ads, which brings us to the second problem: Most podcasters don't have a big enough audience to sell ads, and they struggle to get new listeners.
So what are some ways to make money with a podcast when you don't have a large audience yet? That's what I'm talking about in this episode.
- To make money with a podcast, you have to have an audience.
- People associate podcasts with free content because that’s the way it’s always been.
- If you want to make money with your podcast, you need to treat it like a business, which means you have to consider what other people want and what they’d be willing to pay for.
- If you’ll be recommending products and services you use and love anyways, then affiliate programs are an easy way to make a little money without costing your listeners anything.
- If you give something valuable to people, they’re going to want to give back.
- Know who you’re creating for, what they value, what problems they’re having, and what they’re willing to pay for.
To make money with a podcast, you first have to build an audience.
It doesn’t have to be a huge audience. You can make money with a few hundred people if it’s the right few hundred people. You can make money with a few thousand and if you’re lucky, you’ll get 10,000, 20,000, or maybe 50,000.
I really think only the big, successful podcasts get into the hundreds of thousands of people. Those aren’t the people I’m taking to, though—I’m talking to you with hundreds or thousands of people in your audience.
Some people (read: celebrities) can launch a podcast and instantly start selling ads against it. This isn’t the case for many podcasters. You probably don’t have thousands or hundreds of thousands of loyal followers, and you can’t grow an audience that size overnight.
So if selling ads is your only plan for making money with your podcast, what are you going to do in the time between now (when you only have a hundred or a thousand listeners) and the future you’re hoping for (when you have thousands or tens of thousands)?
What are you going to do if those thousands of people never show up? Or what if it takes 5 years?
Many Podcasters Aren’t Asking the Right Question
If you want to make money, you have to ask, “What are people willing to pay for?” That leads to the question, “What do the people listening to my podcast want?”
I jokingly said earlier that I’ve made money in podcasting, but I’ve spent it all on coffee. I’ve had three or four cups of coffee already this morning and someone in the chat said, “You should start a coffee podcast.”
Let’s say I wanted to start a podcast about coffee. The first two things I would think about are:
- Why would someone listen to this podcast? and
- How could I make money with this podcast?
I love coffee and I could start a podcast about it because I like it, but it would be more of a hobby podcast. I tend to think of podcasts as an extension of another business.
This podcast is an extension of my personal business, which is helping people make podcasts. I don’t necessarily do it for fun. I enjoy it, but it has to be something that supports me so I can pay bills.
Why might people want to listen to a podcast about coffee? They might want to learn what the best coffee is. They might want to know where to find good coffee. They might want to know about coffee that’s better than the coffee they’re getting right now.
What could I sell that could help them reach their goal? Instantly, I thought I could sell a curated guide—The 10 Best Affordable Coffee Roasters. I could talk about how to find the best coffee, how to store coffee, how to make it, etc.
The problem is if you’re only thinking about what you want. Now, it’s not a bad thing to have goals or want things. But if you want to make money with your podcast, you should treat it like a business, which means you have to consider what other people want and what they’d be willing to pay for.
Asking the question, “What does my audience want?” will help you shape your content to be more appealing to them, but it will also generate ideas for additional streams of revenue.
I’ve got a friend, Joe, (who does freelance photography) that I hadn’t seen in a long time, but we met up for lunch recently. He said he’s really struggling finding clients. He’s been working with some restaurants to shoot some product photos, but he’s also really good at shooting landscape. I said that he needed to curate his website to attract those kind of clients.
Right now, he’s got a lot of portraits and random stuff on his site, so no one would know what he’s about. Something I noticed while hanging out with him was that he’s obsessed with growing his Instagram audience. He wants to get more paying clients, but he’s not sure how to do that, so he spends his time trying to get more followers. He even pays for a service that automatically likes and follows and unfollows other people. Personally, I think he’s wasting his time.
His problem isn’t that he doesn’t have enough attention, it’s that he doesn’t have a plan for what to do with the attention that he already has. He’s not directing the attention he’s getting towards his paid products or services. I told him he should be teaching. He should be sharing what he’s learned about shooting photography. He’s not doing that. He can shoot photos for you, but he doesn’t have a page on his website where he explains the process for the clients he wants to work with.
This is the problem so many podcasters have: They don’t know what to do with the attention they get on their shows.
Think About What Your Audience Is Willing to Pay For
I propose that you start thinking about ways to use your podcast to direct your audience to paid products that people are willing to pay money for, like courses, books, consulting time, or experiences.
I think bands could do podcasts to grow closer with their fans and to get more people to come out to their shows.
Do you know something that you can teach to someone to help them make money or save time? You could offer paid consulting.
Affiliate marketing is another great way to make money. If you are going to be recommending any products or services on your podcast, setup up affiliate accounts. Amazon is the easiest, but many other companies offer affiliate accounts as well. Sign up for an Amazon affiliate account and then buy Affiliate from the Mac App store to help you quickly create amazon affiliate links.
Check to see what other companies offer affiliate programs and sign up.
This doesn’t cost the audience anything, but these things can add up for you over time.
If you’ll be recommending products and services you use and love anyways, then affiliate programs are an easy way to make a little money without costing your listeners anything.
Start thinking about how you can repurpose the most valuable content you’ve created on your podcast into a different medium that people are willing to pay for. Sean did this recently with the book he wrote in July called Overlap. A lot of it is original, but he started off writing all these ideas down and then doing podcasts about them. Eventually, he turned the ideas into an 80,000 word book.
I’m doing this by making an online course called Successful Podcasting, a screencast series called Logic Pro X for Podcasters, and a mini-course called Garageband for Podcasters. And as time goes by, I’ll keep my eyes open for other courses and products that I can create and sell to my audience. Maybe a screencast series about EQ and Compression; maybe an ebook about writing show notes—whatever people tell me they’re going to find valuable. People are going to tell you these things if you’re listening and asking.
And yes, it is going to be a lot of work. Most businesses are. It’d be nice if people gave you money to do whatever was fun to you, but that’s not the way the world works right now. Maybe it will in the future when robots take over our jobs, but that’s not our current reality.
What you have to do instead is know who you’re creating for, what they value, what problems they’re having, and what they’re willing to pay for. Then create a product or offer a service that will solve that problem for them.
It might be hard in the beginning if you don’t have an audience because you might not know what problems people are willing to pay for. I started by writing about the problems I had solved for myself, then I started doing research into what problems other people were talking about. This led to me writing blog posts, which led to client work, helping other people make podcasts. I paid close attention to the questions they asked and the problems they were having.
A lot of times, I would notice problems that my clients didn’t even notice, so I started writing about those too. Then I started asking people what they were struggling with, which led to more questions, more clients, and eventually this podcast and the course that I’m shooting video for right now.
This all took a couple of years to develop, so don’t expect things to happen overnight, but if you want your podcast to be a part of what you want to do professionally, it’s important to keep your eyes open for the questions your audience members are asking and then create content that answers those questions.
To go back to the question Kyle asked in the chat earlier—do you need to make money directly from a podcast? If it’s not generating income directly, where does it land in the sales process and why should it remain a priority?
I’d say that if your podcast acts as an attention-grabber or an acquisition channel, it’s bringing people in and growing an audience while making them trust you and giving you an opportunity to sell something else to them, then you’re making money with podcasting.
Let’s say you’re a designer and you do a podcast about design, at the end of your episodes, you should be telling people, “If you have a design problem and you want to collaborate, or you want to hire a designer, get in touch with me.” You should absolutely be promoting your services.
If you’re in a band and you make a podcast where you interview other people, you should be promoting your merch, upcoming shows, and finding ways to give more value to people.
I didn’t even go into detail on ads or Patreon, but if you give value to people, they’re going to want to give back. But you have to start from the place of wanting to give them valuable and that they want. Don’t be afraid to sell and don’t be afraid to ask.