• Ben

Listening and Writing

So, I’m a month into podcasting. What have I learned so far?

First, podcasting is much more time-consuming than you may think. I’ve seen multiple comments on Twitter and websites with authors who apologize for running late or not sending out new episodes on a timely basis. And I get it. Researching for a history podcast is about a 20:1 endeavor; by this, I mean that it takes roughly an hour’s worth of work to get three minutes of finished podcast. And that may be on the fast side, to be honest. Doing a podcast well means going to the library, reading, finding academic papers, developing hypotheses and actively looking for evidence to refute them, and finally, developing these arguments into a narrative that someone will actually find interesting. In short, it’s hard work. Since most of us are doing this as a passion project, it’s easy to let other more immediate concerns – you meddling kids! – get in the way of regular episodes.

Second, making a podcast involves listening to a lot of other podcasts. If you want to sound unique, or at the very least interesting, you have to listen to others and understand what it is about a given show that you like, you don’t like, and that you can realistically hope to emulate. For example, I think Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a great show, but I cannot hope to get Dan Carlin’s sound right out of the gate. For one, he’s been in media forever. I’ve listened to him give interviews about his time as a reporter in the LA riots from 30 years ago; he knows how media works, and he has been developing his game for a long time. I respect that, and I won’t do him and myself the disservice of trying to be a simple knock-off. I do, however, really appreciate Dan’s production values, and that’s something I strive to do well on my show. I have listened to other podcasts that sound like they were recorded on an iPhone or without any post-production software, and while this is easy and cheap, I personally feel that it makes these shows sound easy and cheap. And it’s too bad, because a lot of them have great content. But I believe people want to listen to great content that is well produced, so it’s important to strike a balance.

Finally, producing a history podcast makes you a writer. These shows are not the same, or shouldn’t be, the same as an interview show or a panel discussion. That’s not to say that they can’t incorporate guests and interviews, but the bulk of episodes should be devoted to content. And content requires A LOT of scripting and rehearsing. For me, a 30-minute episode is about 5,000 words. If I plan to create 10 episodes per season and put out two seasons per year, that means I have to get 100,000 quality words on paper. For sake of reference, 100,000 words is about the length of a standard novel, give or take. And that doesn’t include show notes and sources that I know so many of my colleagues and I post in addition to the shows. So that means that your favorite podcaster, depending on how many episodes they produce, is writing a book every year and turning it into an audiobook in installments. Most are doing this while working a day job! I follow the #writingcommunity hashtag on Twitter with some frequency, and I think as a pet project I would like to start trying to inspire more input from podcasters on that thread. Because podcasters are writers!

There’s my thoughts from the first 30 days (plus a few years of listening to podcasts before I made the jump to making one myself). It’s time-consuming; involves listening as much as – if not more than – you produce; and it’s safe to say that doing all of this requires you to be a writer, even if as a podcaster you don’t naturally think of yourself as one. I’ll post more thoughts on podcasting as I go along, but in the meantime, I should get back to work. The next episode is not going to write itself…

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