When I launched Beyond Bossfights, I posted a rather lengthy announcement post detailing some of my thought processes at the time. In the last five months, I’ve had time to sit back, do additional research, listen/talk to others about podcasting and reflect on why I’ve instinctively done some of the things I have. Perhaps some of my trials, reasoning and mis-steps can be of use to others who are contemplating taking the first steps into the world of podcasting. As always, the following is based on my own experiences and personal preferences, so others may not agree.
First off, if you’re looking for some excellent podcasts about podcasting, I have discovered that I really enjoy Daniel J Lewis’ The Audacity to Podcast and Dave Jackson’s School of Podcasting. Both have extensive back-catalogs of podcasts that address certain topics, give ideas, and generally just do a good job of keeping me motivated. Many of the things addressed in this post are “take aways” from these podcasts and from my own experience over the past five months. Another show with great insight is the Podcaster’s Roundtable, which features both of the above gentlemen along with others answering podcasting questions in a roundtable format.
What should I podcast about?
I’ve heard a lot of viewpoints on this, and the answer depends on why you want to podcast in the first place. For example, if you want to stand out amongst a sea of iTunes podcast titles, you might try and look for a niche that nobody else is covering. Probably the most important thing, though, is to keep the following in mind: Podcast about your passion, and make it either informative, entertaining, or both. If your topic is not something you’re passionate about, the odds of you continuing to podcast about that topic after seven to ten episodes is very slim. Most people in the gaming world don’t have this problem, because gamers tend to be very passionate about their hobbies. If, however, the content within the podcast is neither informative nor entertaining, it will struggle to find an audience. It may be tempting to start a podcast with a couple of friends talking about what you all played last week, but much care must be taken with that format. Balghast’s Aggrochat does a nice job because he and his guests are so knowledgeable about gaming that they are continually educating (informing) as they meander through the conversation. However, it can be very easy to go wrong with this style if you don’t strike a good balance between conversation and information. Three people who I don’t know talking about games I don’t play minus any actual information is not a formula that is going to hook me in as a listener. The good news is, once you do hook a listener in with quality content, they are more apt to listen again, and again, and again. Eventually, they will listen just because “it’s you”. They will feel comfortable with your personality and trust your input. In essence, they may feel like they know you. This is an important point to reach if you ever decide to alter the format of your show or retire it completely in favor of another. You will retain a portion of your existing audience simply because they like listening to you.
In relation to topics, one last piece of advice that I’ve found invaluable is this: keep a topic list. There are going to be weeks/months that you are inspired with four or five ideas for show topics. Instead of trying to shove them all into a single episode, write them down on a backlog list. As sure as the juices flow, they will also dry up. It’s during these bleak times that you can reach into the topic list and pull out something that your former, genius self put there for you. This is especially effective if your topics aren’t time-sensitive. Talking about your initial impressions of the Wildstar beta six months past launch probably isn’t such a great move, timing-wise.
I’ve found that I like to be somewhat structured in my shows, and I prefer to listen to podcasts that have a repeated structure in-place. Beyond Bossfights typically starts with an introduction to the episode, followed by the introduction of the guest, the guest’s “gaming history”, the main topic, feedback and then wrap-up. As a podcaster, it’s nice to have a repeatable structure that you can copy into the next episode. It keeps you from having to start from scratch. As a listener, familiarity is important. Generally, people like to know what to expect. Everything from church services to sitcoms follow precise, repeatable (proven) formulas to establish a level of comfort. I know we all like to pretend to be spontaneous artistic individuals, but let’s be honest – at the end of the day most of us don’t want to be weirded out by a podcast that follows no semblance of a coherent structure from episode to episode. That’s not to say you can never deviate from the formula. It’s your podcast, after all, and tweaking the structure to keep things fresh can be very healthy. However, it is advised that if you are going to go completely off the rails, let your listeners know ahead of time that you’re having a “special episode” or something of that nature. This will allow them to mentally prepare for something unexpected. So, before you sit down to record your first episode, spend at least a little time coming up with a rough outline, and try to make it reusable.
Very important question: who will your audience be? The answer to this may change over time. When I started Beyond Bossfights, I thought that my core audience would be those who had heard/read my LOTRO Players contributions and were interested in branching out into additional conversation. While that did happen to some extent, I think the podcast is now starting to find an audience in the wider gaming community through my own exploration of the gaming blogos/podcastosphere, a point that leads us directly into
Ah, the P word. Such a tricky part of blogging or podcasting. Most of us are somewhat introverted by nature, so self-promotion tends to be a very difficult thing to do. We’re not used to bragging on ourselves, and we look down on others who do. I have a couple pieces of advice, and they all start with GET OVER IT! Dog-gonnit, you worked hard on that podcast. You should be proud of it. Tell people what it is, why it’s informative or entertaining, and ask them to tell other people about it! Word of mouth is the number one way to grow a podcast audience, but sometimes your listeners need a little nudge. Tweet your newly released episodes – twice, three times. Ask for iTunes reviews. Invite other podcasters to be on your show, and they may help you promote that episode to their audience. In fact, they may invite you to be on their show, in which case you’ll most likely have the opportunity to promote your efforts to a whole new audience that may not be familiar with you at all. I know for a fact that I’ve gained listeners via guesting on other podcasts such as Contains Moderate Peril and LOTRO Reporter. I know because those listeners have told me. Get listed in both iTunes and Stitcher along with other, smaller directories. The Audacity to Podcast has an older episode about which directories you should target. Use your own discretion. I don’t bother with the Blackberry podcast because I doubt that most gamers – or people, for that matter, use a Blackberry. Most importantly, make sure to put a link to your podcast RSS feed on the site where you promote the podcast. In my case, it’s my blog. This will allow people to manually add your feed to whatever podcatcher they use if they prefer not to go the iTunes/Stitcher route.
Podcasting is very forgiving in many ways, but there is one universal truth that must be confronted: you must have a microphone. If you’re a gamer, you probably already own a headset/microphone which in some cases is a more than adequate way to record your musings. Personally, I decided to try to “up” the quality of my recording with a desktop USB microphone. If you decide to go with a dedicated microphone, do a little bit of research first (I didn’t). There are two different types of microphones that you are liable to encounter in your journeys through the Google search results: dynamic and condenser microphones. I have one of each. Why, you say? Because I didn’t do my research – weren’t you paying attention earlier? Actually, it is very difficult to know which microphone is best for you without being able to test them out. Not only do different mics have strengths and weaknesses, but everybody’s voice sounds different in each microphone. The first mic I purchased was a Blue Snowball condenser, which is used by many hobbyist podcasters and has excellent quality for under $100US. In fact, most condenser mics are too high on the quality side, and tend to pick up every little sound in your voice…in your room…in your yard…in your neighbor’s garage…you get the picture. They are fantastic microphones designed to be operated in more soundproof environments. Mine was particularly good at recording the fans in my PC.
Next, I purchased an Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB dynamic microphone. The ATR2100 comes highly recommended by many podcast coaches for people who are just starting out for 3 reasons: 1) It is inexpensive, again under $100US. 2) It is a dynamic mic and suitable for non-soundproof environments and 3) It has both a USB port (to connect directly to your PC) and an XLR output which may be needed if you ever decide to upgrade your equipment with a mixer. In other words, it can grow with your podcast. I’ve been very happy with the way I sound on Skype calls with the 2100, and you can hear the results in the latest Beyond Bossfights episode 5.
Let’s say you’ve taken the leap and released your first episode. Don’t look at your stats. HEY! I said DON’T LOOK! You looked, didn’t you? Yeah, so did I.
The problem with download statistics is that they’re kind of like blog views. We all want to know how many people have been enthralled by our genius, and it’s nearly always fewer than we hoped, especially at the beginning. But, here’s the thing. That’s why they call it “building an audience”. When you build something, you’ve got to start with a foundation, right? Podcasters tend to hear other podcasters talk about “reaching 100,000 downloads” or something like that, and we naturally compare our piddley little audience to the media kings. But here’s the other thing. Even if you “only” have 30 downloads, that’s 30 people who found your content worth downloading. When was the last time you were able to speak to 30 people and have influence over their gaming attitudes? 50 people? 100 people? Many folks who speak professionally don’t even reach that many people in a week. The key is not to obsess over statistics, because there’s really no upside to it.
Like anything else, spending a little bit of time in the planning phase of your podcast can pay dividends down the road. I hope some of the thought-starters sprinkled throughout will be helpful for those podcasters and prospective podcasters who are just starting out. Seriously, it’s not as scary as it all sounds. However, considering some of these things and knowing what to expect may mean the difference between longevity and podfade.
#podcasting #podcast #NBI2014
Featured image by Sergio Bertolini on Flickr