For the next few weeks, I’m going to be chronicling the launch of a brand new podcast, following the practises I believe in and teach, and giving you an inside peek into the process and the outcomes.
This isn’t a guide so much as a journal. I’ll almost certainly make mistakes, and I may do things that others advise against. Similarly I might fail to take actions others think are essential. But I’ll be doing my best, and showing my work.
The briefest of introductions
If you’re new to me or my work, hi. I’m Mark. I ran a podcast hosting company for four years before transitioning to helping creative, purpose-driven people use their voice to make a difference.
That work involves coaching and mentoring as well as production support (I’ve produced podcasts for other people since 2008).
Podcode (this site) is my growing repository of knowledge and experience, and Podcode+ is where new and emerging podcasters can come for advice and support.
I’ve started and quit a lot of my own podcasts. The ones that succeeded were well-conceived, well-executed, and had well-defined audiences. The ones that didn’t… didn’t.
The podcast in question
To try and mitigate the observer effect as much as possible, I’m not going to give you the specific name or outline of the podcast I’m launching. If you’re in “the industry” and you’ve heard from me recently, chances are you already know what this show is, so I’ll ask you to keep it under your hat for now. Any marketing success I have, I want to make sure is down to the merits of the show, and not because I have a mailing list of podcasters and podcurious people. 🙂
But I’ll tell you it’s a comedy fiction podcast, with sound effects and music, and a professional vocal performance. But before we get into the content, let’s get the pitch right.
If you work with me, you’ll know that any new podcast begins with a Listener Story, a short sentence that describes the podcast and crucially, who its for and how the audience benefits as a result of listening. Here’s the Listener Story for this project:
this podcast about
rabbits and cats solving crime, for
indoor kids between 9 and 12 and their nerdy parents, so they can
look forward to Tuesday bedtimes or enjoy the school run, and dive into a story that'll keep everyone laughing but won't patronise.
The sentence doesn’t have to be pretty or even that well-written… it just needs to clearly communicate what the show is about, and what people get out of listening. Even though these words will probably never make it into a pitch for the show, it informs everything about how we position it.
I’m not going to talk much about the author of the work. For one thing their name is a Googlewhack so it’d sort of give the game away. What I will say is, part of what I think might set this project apart from others – certainly others that I’ve worked on – is that you can hear the love that’s gone into every part, from the words to the production, to the vocal performance.
The source material is actually a book, so part of the work involved chopping it into podcastable chunks. That wasn’t as simple as taking each chapter and making it an episode, as some chapters are much longer than others, and not all of them ended in tension-inducing cliffhangers.
The episodes of this podcast will all be different in length, but I think the break points work better for podcasting than reading. There were a couple of minor tweaks to the text so that it felt like it was being delivered as a podcast and not an audiobook, but it’s probably 99% unchanged from the original. (Obviously this is all done with the writer’s permission.)
And speaking as we were of vocal performances…
The cast (of one)
I was delighted to work with the award-winning Imogen Church on this project. Imogen has worked on projects like Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. She’s consistently highly-rated on Audible, and writes her own stuff too.
⚠️ It’s possible I might be heaping spoonfuls of praise over Imogen through the course of this series, but she deserves it.
Imogen was the first and only person I thought would fit the bill for this project, after falling in love with her voice a few years back. Not only did she do a stellar job with the source material, she was a joy to work with – reassuring, encouraging, and kind.
Putting each episode together means taking the raw audio from Imogen, adding carefully-chosen music for each relevant cue – there’s a couple of intro pieces that are the same throughout the series, then the rest is chosen to match the scene, including the last piece, which I pick carefully to hit a particular emotional crescendo, to get the hairs on the back of the neck standing up. I love this part of the job, and it’s something I’m quietly excellent at, if I do say so myself.
There are some incidental sound effects thrown in at key points, but not an attempt to recreate a full landscape. At the end of the day, all the voices are being done by one person, so to try and recreate a 3D space in sound would probably be overkill… and would require way more time and budget than we have available.
The script has a lot of asides to the listener, which effectively pause time (this is actually called out explicitly in the second episode). When this happens, we dip the background ambience using an EQ filter to give it a sort of underwater effect, and add a whoosh noise to give the transition more of a kinetic feel.
What we end up with is a 128kbps stereo MP3 file that’s uploaded to Transistor, with a bit of metadata and a transcript. I wanted to make sure we used a transcript to make the audio accessible to those with hearing difficulties, even though the text will be made available in book form at a later date.
The 128kbps bitrate goes against the advice I usually give people, and is contrary to almost every single other show I produce. Again because there’s a single narrator, stereo isn’t being used to move voices around the soundstage, so it doesn’t present an accessibility issue (stereo files can be hard on people if they don’t hear very well out of one ear, and important dialog isn’t coming in through their good ear). I use stereo here to convey a bit of a sense of space, so when characters are walking from point A to point B, or we want to describe something coming from the left or right. It’s non-essential, and just adds a bit of flavour. It also makes the music sound a bit nicer, and it’s not like I’m footing the bill for each individual download, so I’m not worried about doubling the file size.
That’s the story so far
Next week, I’ll give you the rundown of all the work I’ve done to encourage people to talk about the podcast when it launches in November. The key thing here is giving enough time as possible for people to check out the show and schedule any promos they’re willing to give it.
I’ve submitted to Apple Podcasts and Amazon Music, and emailed a bunch of podcast newsletter authors already. All of that necessitated creating a press kit and getting the website in order, all of which I’ll talk about next week.
I’d love you not to miss the next chapter of this story, so please consider subscribing via email and you’ll get the whole thing in your inbox.