So You Want To Be A Podcast Superstar
Updated: Jan 13
I have been daydreaming recently about ditching everything to chase my goal of being a full-time podcaster. So what would it take to do this? Well, pushing past dreams, let’s be realistic about what needs to happen here to make that happen.
First, I need to view myself as a full-time freelancer. I’d be my own boss, which means I get to make my own hours and take on only the projects I want. That’s great, but it also means I need to provide my own salary. Without getting overly detailed on taxes, health care, and all the rest, let’s just say for sake of argument that I want to pay myself a gross amount of $50,000.
Next, I need to provide all of my own equipment. While I already own a computer and lots of the other whiz-bang items needed for a show, I will need to keep things up-to-date, I will need to buy things specifically for podcasting (i.e. mics, pop filters, etc), and I will want to upgrade as appropriate. For sake of this example, as I have no other funding streams coming in to offset my expenses, I can consider my phone plan, cell phone, and other such items as business expenses. As a ballpark, I’d say that hardware and the associated upkeep can be ballparked at around $2,000-3000 per year.
Third, there’s software subscriptions. This can vary enormously based upon genres, but for myself I pay for access to a couple of research sites which help enormously. I also tend to buy books that I can consider as business expenses. Hosting software for your podcast can range in price from free (Anchor) to a few hundred dollars. Most podcasts have a website as well, and this can also range from free to a few hundred. And then there’s advertising. This budget can be as big or small as you want, and it’s up to you as to how to do this. The key take away for all of this is that there are a ton of free options that are available to minimize expenses in this category, but as the podcast grows and gets more professional, most of us are tempted to pay for the things we think can grow it to the next level. It’s nice to think that our content is so awesome that people will naturally just flock to the sound of our voices, but in reality, there’s a reason why people pay for these services. Let’s just say, for sake of argument, that in our first year we decided to set aside the same amount for this category as for hardware: $2,000-3000.
Okay, based on this basic start-up list we can say that our total costs (allowing us to grow the podcast and also, you know, eat) are around $55,000. Let’s toss in a roughly 10% cost for unknown/unexpected expenses; for sake of round numbers, we’re in the range of needing the podcast to make $60,000/year. Again using round numbers, $60k/year equals $5,000/month, or about $1,250/week, which also gives us four weeks of buffer time for things like holiday and sick time. If we want to work a standard 40-hour work week, $1,250/40 equals an hourly rate of just over $30/hour.
Now that we know our hourly rate, how are we going to achieve this solely through podcasting? Well, there are two main avenues at the moment for monetizing: advertising or subscriptions. Advertising requires going out and pitching our show to like-minded brands who see value in associating themselves us. Some services are making this easier; podcast services such as Anchor will actually do some of the work for you. Taking the actual task of finding advertisers out of the equation, let’s just say that we get one on board and they agree to pay a standard fee of $15 for every 1,000 listens. That means we need to get 2,000 listens to the advertisement for every hour of work we put in.
This can be daunting. Ask anybody who has tried to start a podcast; it’s rare to go viral quickly. People come in with dreams of being the next Joe Rogan or Serial and get discouraged quickly. According to Pacific Content, 12% of podcasts have published only one episode, and half of all podcasts have 14 or fewer shows posted. This means that to beat the rest of the crowd you have to be willing to start small, market well, post consistently and engage your audience outside of just the podcast. In other words, podcasting requires a long-game mindset and being prepared for lean times in the beginning. Again according to Pacific Content (2018): “The top 100 most-played shows in Castbox have a median episode count of 203.5… the top 1,000 most-played shows in Castbox have a median episode count of 191.5.”
So back to the idea of advertisers: depending on format, we can mitigate the number of listens needed by having multiple partners or by playing multiple ads per show. This comes down to knowing your audience and what they’ll put up with. Let’s say we run two ads per show at $15/1,000 listens; this comes out to $30/show, or one hour of our time, with 1,000 full episode listens. Since we plan on working 40 hours/week, simple math equals us needing 40,000 listens to our show every week. If we can make it to that level, we’ve likely transcended toward being a full-on social media influencer.
The other option available to us is subscriptions, and this comes back to sites like Patreon. Patreon can be a tremendous life-changer for multiple reasons. First, subscribers to your show agree to pay a certain amount on a set basis. This means guaranteed income, so long as people stay subscribed. It also means they are making a significant investment in our show compared to people who only listen to ads. When we break down 1,000 listens to make $20, this means an advertiser is only giving us two pennies per person they reach. That’s $.02. This means a subscriber to our show at only $1/month is worth 50 advertisement listeners, maybe more; suddenly we can see why Patreon is so popular! If we can get 1,000 people to pledge $5/month (a fairly common offering platform on Patreon is a $1/$3/$5 subcription level), we’ve met our monetary goal from up above. And if we can mix advertising and subscriptions together, we don’t have to hit those top-end listenership goals in either category to still be doing okay financially.
With all of this said, attracting and maintaining listeners is busy work that requires a lot of interaction and quality content. If our dreams is to make free money, well, we should play the lottery. Honestly, our odds of hitting the jackpot are probably higher than our odds of putting out a hit show with little effort.
I hope this gives you a little food for thought. Thanks to Pacific Content for the numbers; also check out MusicOomph for more podcast statistics. Let me know your thoughts below or on any of the major social media platforms!