Your Podcast Sucks. Here’s How to Improve.

Do me a favor and go listen to The Weekly Substandard for just a few minutes before going forward here. I listen to very few podcasts. It is one of the ones I listen to and listen to regularly. It is not a perfect podcast, but it is probably a million times better than yours.

Here’s the thing — I’d like to find some good talent who, perhaps, could be a guest host on my radio show one day or move themselves into radio. So I have been listening to podcasts from conservatives around the country. And there is a lot of crap out there — just terrible garbage, verbal dumpster fires. Howard Stern is right that people are in podcasts because they aren’t good at radio and there are lots of people proving his point for him.

If you don’t mind, let me offer a few suggestions. Let’s start with the Substandard. Again, there are areas for improvement, but first and foremost they have good microphones. I cannot tell you how many podcasts I have listened to with terrible sound. Radio is far more intimate than other media. It is very personal. And having terrible sound is a deal breaker. And you, my friend, have terrible sound. Invest in a really good microphone.

At a minimum, go buy yourself the Blue Yeti microphone from Amazon and get this windscreen so we don’t have to hear you popping your p’s.

If you want better, get this Rode microphone, the pop filter, and you can even add the shockmount and swivel arm, which you should get to immediately.

If you have the money, get the Shure sm7B, which is the microphone I use in studio. However, you’ll have to have a very quiet room to use this one as it can pick up background noise. You will need this swivel arm for it.

I recommend this USB mixer to connect the XLR microphone to to your computer. It connects one microphone. I actually use the larger model myself. It connects two microphones so I can have a guest with me if need be. It is also light, runs off USB power, and makes it easy to travel with.

You’ll probably need an XLR cable too.

If you start with a good audio set up, you can only go up.

One aside here: I love, love, love this Rode lavalier setup. If I’m mobile, I use this for my radio show. I use it doing cooking segments too, which I do on radio. I plug the wireless receiver into my radio pack and am in the kitchen cooking and talking on the radio with the transmitter. It works amazingly well.

The next thing to worry about is multi-person podcasts. The great thing about the Substandard is that they are all in the same room. That helps with conversation, interaction, etc. If you can’t be in the same room, get a Skype account and see about having the person you are talking to record their end of the audio. You record your end. Then put them together in post. That will dramatically improve your quality. Otherwise, get a Skype phone number and have your guest call with a land line. Our ears will at least process that you are on a good line and have a caller.

Having two people with terrible audio is a deal breaker. I highly recommend Rogue Amoeba if you have a Mac. You and your guest can both run SoundSource and just record the audio from microphones then sync them in post production. Or use Loopback or Piezo.

Audio quality is key. If I’m listening with headphones on, the worse the audio the more likely I am not going to listen. Playing the audio over a speaker is more forgiving, but it still needs to be good.

Lastly, and this is the most important thing, remember what your goal is for your podcast. It is not to inform. It is not to display your brilliant wit. It is not to do interviews. It is not to make news. It is not to report the news.

The goal of your podcast, like the goal of any audio program, is to keep me company and entertain me. Your listener will put up with your terrible audio as long as you are entertaining him while he is at the gym, cleaning up around the house, or stuck in rush hour traffic.

And many of you are simply terrible at this.

If you’re going to interview someone, have a conversation. I can tell when you have a scripted set of questions and you are not even listening to the answers. The answers should lead you to the next question, your next question should not. Pay attention to the conversation and let the interviewee guide you. Listen to some of Jonah Goldberg’s interviews. He does a good job of letting the conversation direct the pace and flow of the interview.

Second, be able to talk. I spend two hours a day talking on radio about topics of my choice with no script. It is all off the top of my head. That does not mean I don’t put thought into it (most days). I spend hours every day reading and researching, shaping my thinking. At 4pm each day I outline my show and the order I intend to put it in. I’ll have related topics added and links to relevant articles. But when the microphone goes live at 5pm, I talk. I might take a caller. But it is all off the top of my head with no script written. As an aside, I cannot recall the last time that my show order outlined at 4pm was actually the order of my show. News happens between 4pm and 5pm and sometimes the entire show is off the top of my head with me completely ignoring the outline because the news has changed. You should be flexible in your podcast if a line drops, a guest can’t make it, etc.

If you can’t do shows off the top of your head, write a script, but translate it into conversation-ese. I can tell when you are reading because your pace is not natural and you say “thee” instead of “thuh” and use hard A’s instead of “uh.” You need to make your script sound natural if you’re reading from something.

My first week in radio all the phones went out. My show was 9pm to midnight. I had to talk for three hours with no guests and no phone calls. You should be able to do it on a topic for twenty minutes and keep it interesting if you want to do a podcast. Educate me, inform me, but you absolutely must entertain me. If you keep me company, I can put up with a lot. The Substandard is, again, a perfect example. These three guys are talking about movies and inevitably only Sonny Bunch has actually seen the movie they’re talking about. But it is entertaining, usually.

Next, always improve. I hate listening to my voice, but I’ll occasionally listen to the podcast of my own show to see what I’ve done poorly and what I can improve. There is always something. There should be for you too.

Lastly, a lot of groups and people are doing podcasts these days because of monetization. They are making more money off podcasts than off their websites. But some really shouldn’t and maybe you shouldn’t. It might not be your thing. You need to do a podcast consistently. Commit to a schedule and keep it. If you can’t do that, don’t start.

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Erick Erickson

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