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Five Things to Learn From Your Favorite Podcast (and One to Avoid)

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By Melissa Brinks

The beauty of podcasting is that, theoretically, anybody can do it.

The downside is that the podcasts that inspire us to try our hand at it typically have more staff, better equipment, and more funding than we can hope to achieve at an early stage.

When it comes to drawing inspiration from our favorite shows, there’s certain things that can help us shape our own work, without setting ourselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations.

With that in mind, here’s a list of five things to take away from your favourite podcast…and one thing to avoid!

Do: Figure Out What Makes Your Favorite Shows So Good

We’ve all got a favorite show, but asking yourself why you like a particular podcast is a great way to help you crystallize your own ideas.

If you’re a Radiolab fan, perhaps you’re in it for the unique editing style, or if you’re into This American Life, you might enjoy the personal interviews that shape the larger story.

Really dive into what makes your favorite show work, and use that to shape your project’s direction. It’s not about copying another show – we already have Welcome to Night Vale and any imitator is going to feel shallow – but instead about digging deep into what makes these shows work and finding something similar to set your show apart from the crowd.

Do: Reach Out For Guidance

Sure, the likelihood of 99% Invisible’s team offering to take you under their wing is pretty slim – they have their own podcast to produce, after all – but asking a few questions about how they do what they do and how they got to where they are can help you forge your own plan for how you want to proceed.

Much of this information is probably available somewhere online, and doing some reading can help you find it. Your journey will probably differ from theirs, but if you really like the way a podcast sounds or feels, it can’t hurt to ask how they achieve it.

Even better, consider asking for an interview for your own show – what interests you will likely interest others, as well. And if they say no, it’s not a big deal; you’re exactly where you started.

Do: Pay Attention to Schedules

Ever been frustrated by a podcast that updates sporadically? One of the best ways to find and keep an audience is to guarantee consistency.

In your listening, do you prefer shows that update frequently with shorter content, or more infrequently with longer episodes? Paying attention to your own preferences as well as how your favorite podcasts structure their releases can help you draft a better plan for how you want to handle your own.

Some shows benefit from timely weekly releases, while others take longer and rely more on diving deep into a topic regardless of timeliness. Consider your content and the types of discussion you want to have and plan accordingly.

Do: Consider How Other Podcasts Make Use of the Medium

When listening to your favorite shows, think about why they’ve chosen the podcast format over video or text.

Podcasts are easy to release, but that’s not the only reason to make one. Audio has unique benefits over other media, and honing in on why your favorite podcasts use it is a great way to help shape your own work.

Sound can help immerse you in a time or place, and an unfiltered conversation can create a sense that you’re part of the discussion yourself.

Make use of all that podcasting has to offer, as your favorite shows do, by focusing on the things that podcasting does better than other media.

Do: Always Look For New Things To Try

Consistency is good, but a podcast that’s able to evolve and shift is a podcast that lasts.

Consider the ways your favorite podcast has changed over time, including sound quality, production value, and overall form and structure.

I’m not suggesting you try to reinvent the wheel overnight, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Changing things up is a good way of reinvigorating your content, whether it’s for a one-off special episode or a more long-term strategy of growth.

No podcast stays the same forever, and yours shouldn’t either.

Don’t: Compare Yourself To Your Favorite Shows

Inspiration is good.

Inspiration is what makes us want to create things in the first place. But if you spend your time comparing your work to that of your favorite podcasts, you’re always going to end up feeling like what you create isn’t worthy of release.

If this is your first time in audio production, your editing skills and equipment probably won’t be capable of producing the next Radiolab, but that’s a good thing. In the early days, you’re finding your voice and learning as you go.

Concentrate on building your own work and striving to create something you’re proud of, not on capturing the exact sound or focus of something you already love.

Turning to your favorite shows for inspiration can help you shape your work, but it’s important to use them as a jumping-off point, not something to copy.

Find a way to celebrate your own unique voice and perspectives, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a show that appeals to audiences just as your favorites do!

What tips and tricks have you adopted from your favorite podcasts? Let us know in the comments!

Melissa Brinks is co-creator and host of the Fake Geek Girls podcast

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