I started podcasting with pretty much no experience.
I’d done a bit of audio editing for radio in my undergraduate degree but beyond that my experience with producing digital audio-based content was next to none.
I didn’t know how a podcast got from my laptop to Apple Podcasts. I knew almost nothing about building an audience in an area where it’s next to impossible to see that they exist. And I wasn't a huge fan of how I sounded when I heard my voice playing back to me.
But I’m all for new experiences, so I decided to go for it and see what happened. I’ve learned a ton over the past few years. Beyond the mechanics of podcasting, there are a few things that I’ve come across that I found to be a bit surprising.
1. You Forget The Numbers
Downloads, listens, subscribers—these are all terms you hear flipped around by newer podcasters trying to get their footing.
When you first start out you are constantly checking the stats. You flip open your laptop and in 30 seconds you’re finding out as much as you can about the 15 people who listened to your show overnight.
I used to fill out a tracking spreadsheet for my numbers daily—I probably would have done it hourly if it hadn’t been so much work—but one day I opened it and realized I’d missed three whole days. The thing is, eventually you just forget.
If you ask me in the middle of the season break what our numbers look like, I’m purely guessing. I’m almost always shocked when we head back into production by how much I was off. Nowadays I check, at best, when I upload a new episode—but most of the time I forget.
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Your numbers are what they are. The only time they truly matter is when you’re testing out new content, partnering with someone or trying to actively grow them. Most of the time, you don’t even think about them.
Podcasting Pro tip: Give yourself some leeway to build up your audience. If you’re 6 or 12 months in and your numbers don't seem to be increasing, then it might be a good time to ask for help growing your audience. But building an audience doesn’t happen overnight.
2. It’s Harder Than It Looks
Upon reflection, this should've been obvious. Truthfully though, you go into it thinking you’ll whip out a few killer episodes, the audience will come flowing in and you’ll skip happily down podcast lane whistling a joyful tune.
But there's a lot of work that goes into producing one single episode. From picking a great topic (which I, personally, change at least 15 times) to getting everyone together to record, to editing… then marketing is a whole different beast.
As creator, producer and host, you’re balancing so many hats you can barely keep up. Producing a single 45-minute episode is a time-consuming feat that requires planning, coordination and a whole lot of effort. It really isn't for the faint of heart.
Podcasting Pro tip: Give yourself a head start if you have the opportunity. The upkeep of a weekly show is a lot more time-consuming than you think, so starting with a few episodes already in the works can give you the extra time that you need when things go wrong (and they will).
3. Feedback is Personal
Whether it’s a nameless, faceless avatar commenting that your show is poorly researched and the hosts are obnoxious, to a text from your sister saying girl, the sound on that episode was horrible, feedback is always personal.
It doesn’t matter who you are, negative comments hurt. For the first year, every time I got a terrible comment (which always seemed to be more spiteful than it needed to be) I was ready to throw in the towel. These days my reaction’s not as volatile, but it still stings.
The flipside to that is that every positive comment makes you feel like a million bucks. A kind message from a listener letting you know that they loved the last episode can put a little pep-in-your-step.
I like to tell myself that I’m a person who doesn’t care what others think, but it’s not as true as I’d like it to be.
Podcasting Pro tip: Don’t read your reviews for the first few months. There is a time and place for reviews but that time and place is not when you’re just learning. Of course, there could be plenty of constructive criticism and feedback that you can use to improve your show but there could also be a lot of genuinely awful things in there too.
4. You’re Not Always Jazzed About It
I truly love podcasting. But I’m an honest enough person to admit that I sometimes hate it too.
I started out thinking that there was no way that I would ever grow tired of podcasting. But countless times I’ve sat staring at the Adobe Audition window thinking about how much I simply didn’t want to spend the next few hours pouring through raw tracks. And there are plenty of days that I’d rather do anything but look at another haunted hot spot or send a half-a-dozen emails scoping out potential guests.
Don’t get me wrong, podcasting can be very rewarding but it doesn’t make you a bad podcaster to have a few days where you simply can’t even. It happens to all of us. As long as you do the work and show up, you’ll be ok.
Podcasting Pro tip: Give yourself actual time off. Even if podcasting is something you do for fun and you make no money from it, it’s still work. You deserve a week off here and there for a little rest and relaxation. For some folks, seasons-based podcasting can work wonders for combining periods of hard focused work with the opportunity to gab some restorative time off and unplug.
5. The Possibilities are Endless
If you’re a dreamer like me you’ll be pleased to know that the possibilities of expanding your podcast are truly endless. From money-making strategies to product designs and spin-off shows, you can truly make anything you dream about.
Podcasts really are an up-and-coming medium and the acquisition and television development of shows like Homecoming, Lore, and Dirty John demonstrate how they can be a great springboard for projecting your career into a new industry.
For those wanting to build a reputation within their own industry with a podcast, there’s plenty of opportunity for that as well. It can be an impactful way to differentiate yourself from the competition in a business context.
Podcasting Pro tip: Create a business plan for your podcast. In most cases, it’s hard to accidentally end up at success, you need to work for it. A business plan can help you drive your podcast where you want it to go.
6. Your Audience is Faceless, You Are Not
For some reason when I first started daydreaming about a podcast, I had these abstract visions of performing in front of a large audience (has not happened to date) and hanging out with listeners at a pub afterwards (also fiction so far). I had it in my head that I’d have this great connection with my listeners and we’d all become good friends.
As it turns out, podcasting isn’t exactly like that.
My time is spent prepping episodes, editing tracks, creating marketing materials and stealing time from whatever else I’m working on to shoot replies to comments and emails. Save for a handful of listeners that I’ve connected with for various reasons, most of your audience remains faceless.
The strange thing is that when I do get a chance to chat with listeners, it’s clear that as a podcast host, I am not faceless. When you step into the shoes of a podcast host you become more than simply a voice in the crowd to those that regularly listen.
Learning From Podcasting
The podcasting landscape is ever-changing.
There is always a new app, tool or virtual meeting place available to podcasters, so there’s always lots of opportunity to grow. I find that I’m constantly learning and growing as both a podcaster and a person.
If you're looking to start off on the right foot, or need some help and guidance on growing your show, be sure to check out The Podcast Host Academy. In there you'll find all of our courses (from editing, to promotion), and we run weekly live Q&A sessions too!