TPS099: Lessons Learned

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99 podcast episodes is a lot. Hopefully, when you reach that milestone, you’ve learned a thing or two about how to make your podcast better. This episode is a collection of lessons I’ve learned over those 99 episodes. First lesson, be your own best critic. But if you’re a creative type, you probably already are;) In that case, give yourself a break, create, learn, repeat.TPS99

Most of the lessons in this episode where culled while listening to most of my back catalog of content. I scrubbed through all my past podcast episodes picking out those things that made me think I could of done it differently or want to change moving forward past episode 100.
Here are the highlights or perhaps in this case they are lowlights?;)

  • Get reliable hosting from the start. I had to migrate from free hosting when it closed. Not a shock since it’s hard to keep the lights on for free. The migration can be a headache, especially if you have lots of episodes and it may end up costing you all the money you “saved.”
  • A how-to show, like mine, would benefit by telling the audience to listen in reverse chronological order to get the most recent info. Consider whether or not you may need to teach your audience how to listen.
  • Don’t start with an intro episode, start off with content as fast as possible. Don’t do placeholder or episode zero. Start episode one as a regular episode. Deliver real content right from the start. Your audience will learn about you and your show over time, when they have already decided that they want to come back again and again because your content is good.
  • Starting my show as a live show AND a Q&A was a bad first move. I didn’t have an already established audience which means it’s really hard to fill up a chat room with questions or to even show up to the live-stream in the first place. Being live is fine but I’d save it until you build a core audience and only then if you have the extra time to do it.
  • Establish your format in the first 10 episodes (minimum). On episode 8 I had already mixed in an interview which was much different than a how-to show. I would of rather nail down exactly what the show is, deliver a lot of that content then learn how best to introduce various formats. Interviews worked great on TPS once I learned the best way to integrate an interviewee with my audience.
  • Use a tool to loudness normalize your audio. Auphonic.com is my recommendation.
  • Start your email list when you start your show and consider using a single call-to-action in your show to move listeners to sign-up.
  • Carefully consider your titling, artwork, ID3 tags, and overall branding for items that are harder to change the further you get along.
  • Shownotes are a perfect place to outline each podcast episode. Besides providing more text for your notes, it will serve as a great way to search your content for easy reference and to know if any given topic has already been covered. Combine this with a good search tool on your website.
  • Don’t break to music only. Put a music bed underneath what you are saying to maximize efficiency of a listeners time.
  • Setup your social and let people know how to reach out, how to share. I started @podcasthelper at episode 8 and it would have been nice to have the social channel setup when I started but this also isn’t something to stress out over more than just something to consider when starting. At a minimum, reserve your podcast’s name on the largest social networks.
  • For interviewees that are not necessarily known to your audience, write titles for the topic not the person but include their name in the title, at the end for good SEO in iTunes etc.
  • I probably wouldn’t have split some interviews into two episodes. Those interested enough will break up a long interview on their own.
  • Include clickable links such as your email sign-up and any other calls-to-action in your shownotes that appear in podast apps. Most apps now support clickable links.
  • Focus on those shownotes, the more the merrier. I’m still working on getting better at this. Not bad on this episode;)
  • Practice with your gear but don’t obsess over perfection. Learn your gear. Learn how to record clean audio and then actually record and publish.
  • If you do interviews, know your interviewees well. Be a fan so you can go off script and improvise.
  • Interviews: let the interviewee speak. Jot down notes instead of interrupting. I tend to speak up too soon because I don’t want to forget my question. Keep notes and let the interviewee elaborate fully.
  • Don’t refer to “we” if it’s just you. If I do this anymore, it’s mandatory push-ups.
  • Branded short, memorable urls. 
  • Build a home (website) that you control. At a minimum buy a domain name (.com. net, etc.). 
  • Though I used a bunch of different music in the beginning of TPS, it was all creative commons licensed. Make sure you have the appropriate rights to any music you use or you could lose your back catalog of episodes. Best case scenario, you have to go back through your entire library and remove all the offending music. 
  • If you do your own post production, don’t boost the low end. The audio will be “muddy” (sounds like you are talking from behind a closed door). One tip that works for all voices is to use a low cut filter to remove the low end frequency starting at 80hz.
  • Almost nobody likes their own voice. I didn’t when I started podcasting. Don’t listen as yourself. You don’t hear yourself the same way everyone else does. Listen as your audience. Is it clear, consistent and pleasing to listen to? Ask someone else to listen with an ear for quality separate from content. They should be judging your voice but instead, can they hear the audio well, are the getting the information without the audio quality getting in the way? 
  • Slow down. Long pauses are easier to edit out than ums, ahs, etc., and going slower trains your mouth to keep up with your brain. The filler words are because you are speaking (more like making sounds) before you know what you’re going to say. Ramp the speed of your voice back up to your normal talking pace once you have learned to remove the filler. I did this. Almost to the point of going painfully slow but it worked. And I still slow myself down today when I need more time to think about an impromptu idea. This can be harder when recording live and I’m still working on it but this may also be a good reason to consider waiting longer before doing live productions. 
  • Do your guest intro separately (not while the person is on the call with you) to maximize time with guest. And from an audio quality/consistency perspective use the same gear. In my case I’m going to record my track into an audio recorder. I hear some do this for their regular show content then, I guess, use the recording from the Skype recorder which can be different in tone from other ways you record your other audio. The audio in both cases may be good but when put next to each other the difference might stand out and that breaks the consistency of your sound, taking your listener out of the moment. 
  • Monitor your audio! I had distorted audio in my early video interviews and it’s painful to listen to. That said, I did publish it cause the content was good. If it was a longer form interview I may not have published it.
  • Artwork that can be easily adjusted to current specs. Keep the psd, don’t just make or get a jpeg or png. If someone else does the art work for you, ask or pay for the .psd (Photoshop file) so that you can always go back in and edit.
  • Get out into your community early and consider speaking on your topic. This was huge for my career and provided even more credibility to my show. And record it! This can be content for additional episodes.
  • Dates and numbers are important, in my opinion. I have more than one episode about “podcasting basics” or “iTunes.” Knowing when each was published is very relevant to the listener. iTunes in 2009 is very different than a discussion on iTunes in 2016.
  • Always have water with you! I can hear my mouth noises in early episodes and… ick! Based on Podcasters’ Roundtable “pet peeves” Rounds, we know this is way up there on the listener annoyance level.
  • When choosing music also consider purchasing it (royalty free, original) to be more unique and branded. Less people or nobody else will have your same music. Also consider how well it compresses to low bit rate mp3. Download a sample and compress to MP3 at 64kbps and see how different music stands up to compression. My current music does not compress well, you can hear the artifacts and for this reason I will be changing it. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be yourself (opinions, humor, etc.) or else what makes you different than someone else? For most podcasters, the goal should be to reach a mass audience. You’re appealing to people a lot like you so be you. That will be far more “successful” than trying to reach a broad audience. 
  • Getting close to the microphone can help you reduce reverb and allow you to turn down your preamp but be cautious of the proximity effect and plosives (as heard on TPS #33) lots of bad (buzz, plosives, muddy, mouth noise, etc.). That’s audio that gets in the way of content and that’s not good.
  • On TPS #32, I had a ground loop. Find where the interference is coming from (the source) or try a ground loop isolator. In each of my episodes, I try list the various gear I’m using if it’s different than the time before. A lot times this is content for my show but it can also be useful in case you want to go back and diagnose your audio for that episode. It may help with find the source of issues like a ground loop or maybe you just want to recreate the same sound you had some episodes prior. 
  • Call in numbers – make sure you integrate listener feedback if you offer a call-in line. This is really just an awesome experience and thank you for your audience. But it also makes your show more dynamic. This is something I should of done more of when I asked for feedback. 
  • On TPS #35, I front loaded all my contact info. This should probably be pushed back. I want to get to the content faster. I can work in contact info after I give people a reason to actually contact me. Make that info available in your shownotes and clickable.
  • Shownotes: deep, detailed and affiliate links cause why not. Affiliate links that are embedded into actual relevant content, as opposed banners etc, work much better because they are helpful info that someone is actively looking for.
  • Podcast players should be larger and have the essential functions. Small players make it difficult to scrub through content, are hard to use on mobile, and often don’t contain functions like 30 second skip. All things your listeners want to be able to do. Don’t frustrate the listener. This is still a problem on my site but PowerPress has a great new player with these features whereas before 2016, players were harder to easily integrate. But since that player is a premium feature of being a blubrry customer, I will switch to using my host’s player (Libsyn). Both are well done. 
  • Build your brand where you actually participate. Platforms like Snapchat are high maintenance and if you don’t love using it it becomes a dead zone which means it’s much less effective when you actually do use it. This has been the case for my own account. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned on this 99 episode journey is to stick with it!

Yes, producing a show once a week consistently, is ideal but if you fall off that mark, don’t burn down the house you spent so much time building. Don’t stop.

Produce more episodes when you can. Your true audience will keep you in their feeds. It took way too long for me to get to this episode and many times I’ve thought it was time to stop TPS over guilt of not being here as often as I should be or that I might not have anymore to say but I know that I still love the show and still love being a voice in podcasting so I move forward and give special thanks to everyone that continues the ride along with me.

I approach this show as a hobby, its goal is not to generate the income I live off of, I don’t need it to make any money, its nice when it pays for itself but through 99 episodes that hasn’t been why the show is here. The show is here so that I can share my experience as a podcast producer with those of you who are also producing podcasts or are interested in doing so.

There’s nothing you could hire me to learn that I don’t teach on this show. So with an approach like that, just keep going. It’s better to have produced some episodes every year than to produce nothing at all.

I might give different advice to a show that was a marketing tool for a business but for most podcasters, keep going, do your best and make sure your podcast is something you enjoy doing not something you feel like you have to do. And be proud. Just starting a show and trying is a big accomplishment that most others will never achieve.

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About Ray Ortega

Full-time podcast producer and host of The Podcasters' Studio and Podcasters' Roundtable, I enjoy sharing my ten years of experience making podcasts to help others improve or start their own show.

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