Podcast Problems is still a fairly new site, but I’ve reviewed quite a few podcasts. If you haven’t read my review guidelines–which would probably be irrelevant to most of you–you might not know that the podcast reviews I’ve written are only for the shows I’ve wanted to review. I don’t typically write bad reviews for shows unless they’re the subject of national conversation, a la S-Town.
This list isn’t going to be about why I turn down certain podcasts. You can find pretty much every reason in the Podcast Problems section, which is full of posts on common issues I hear in podcasts. Instead, this post is going to talk-up the things other shows are doing well, in hopes that more shows will actually do them. It’s a way of me putting my pet peeves in a way that is, hopefully, helpful. In my mind, these are the things shows should be doing as soon as they go live. A lot of these wishes are selfish, but they’re also things that will help your show in the long run.
1. Have a website. Make it good.
Repeat after me: Your Libsyn is not your website. Your BandCamp is not your website. Your goddamn Apple Podcasts page is. Not. Your website.
If you plan on making a podcast, I would hope that you listen to podcasts (see #9 down below if you don’t, but also, please note that if you don’t, I’m mad at you). This means that you have heard at least one ad for SquareSpace in your life. I personally use WordPress at the moment (clearly), but SquareSpace is a much easier way to make a website that isn’t focused on articles. Make a website. Make it nice. Make it easy to navigate. Have a section for your cast and crew. Have a section for your episodes. Have a section for how fans or other creators can contact you. Have an “About” section. Have a good website. This might seem like basic knowledge, but I have listened to–and even reviewed–too many podcasts without websites. If you want sources of inspiration, both The Bright Sessions and Wolf 359 have wonderful websites.
2. Provide transcripts of your episodes.
Accessibility is important. Don’t dismiss people who are d/Deaf, hard of hearing, or who have issues with auditory processing. Not having transcripts immediately sends the signal that you, as a creator, do not care about these people. I should hope you see the lack of empathy in making such a choice. In case, for whatever reason, that isn’t enough of a reason to motivate you to take the time to write out transcripts, fans being able to look back and dissect the transcripts for your shows is important. Having a written record of things is important. If you’re making an audio drama, you have even less of an excuse; you literally have a script. Transcripts are a lot of work. I understand this. It is work you should expect to do in order to help make your show more accessible. Transcripts should be part of your regular workload when making a podcast.
3. Have a press kit.
If you want people to talk about your show, you should give people the means to talk about your show. Only one show I’ve reviewed has a press kit, admittedly–the wonderful, beautiful Love and Luck–and I was so thoroughly impressed. Their press kit includes images in different resolutions, a PDF with information on the podcast, their upload schedule, their cast and crew, etc. Having the information all packaged up made my job much easier (I said upfront this was a selfish list), but more importantly, it was just such a professional move. It shows how much the podcast’s creators care about their work and how seriously they take it. It gives a message that the podcast isn’t just a hobby, and that it’s something they respect enough to put in the legwork.
4. Approach reviewers like it’s a business transaction–because it is.
Whether or not you’re profiting off of your podcast, your podcast is part of your work. It is something that takes time and energy and effort to create, and if you are dedicating more of those things to its success, it is work even if it is a hobby. I do not write these reviews for money at the time. However, they obviously require my time, energy, and effort. This is also my work, even though it is my hobby. I think I can vouch for any podcast review writer here when I say that replying to one of my tweets, “Hey! Listen to my podcast!” will make me want to do anything other than listen to your podcast. I have a contact page. I even say in my review policies–which have written and pretty clearly posted–it’s fine to contact me directly on social media. Most of the review requests I’ve taken have been from professional, polite DMs on Twitter. These are not the same as a random reply on a tweet. Sending me a random reply on one of my tweets about the industry–especially if my tweet was one of my posts–just shows me that you only want work from me without caring much about the work I do.
5. Know your prospective reviewer.
Similarly: If you would like someone to review your podcast, it might be wise to know what they write, how they write it, and things they have said in the past. Many critics have no interest in audio dramas (which, I agree, is a shame), which is something you should know if you’re trying to pitch them an audio drama. You should also know that if a podcast gets a bad review, you likely won’t want to pitch your podcast as inspired by, or similar to, that show. If you approach me saying your podcast is just like S-Town or The Black Tapes etc. etc. etc., I’m not going to listen to your show. Is your show your prospective reviewer’s taste? Do you like the reviews written by them?
6. Have a decent summary for your podcast.
This also seems like a straightforward, obvious tip, and my god, I wish it were. If you look through my Current Subscriptions list, you’ll see that several times, I add something to a podcast’s given description. Sometimes, I will even add, “This is a bad description” before explaining the show further. Your summary–as listed on your website–should be a short paragraph long. It should explain your genre, your format (nonfiction or audio drama), and the idea behind your show. Do not be vague because you want your show to be mysterious. It isn’t a cute or clever choice. The only thing it accomplishes is alienating people who haven’t already started listening.
7. Don’t just post on social media–post on social media well.
First off, I’m a big believer in podcasts marketing themselves on every platform available. Have a Twitter, a Facebook, a Tumblr, and an Instagram (and probably a Snapchat? I’m officially too old for Snapchat and do not understand it). You should post your audio on a YouTube channel. If that all sounds like a lot to manage, yes, and like transcripts, you should factor this into your planning–but services like IFTTT can help a lot. You should also think about what you’re going to post. My favorite recent social media marketing campaign was that of 2298, which had its Twitter “taken over” by the antagonistic, Big Brother-esque NETWORK:
The marketing was brilliant. Before the show had even debuted, the listeners knew exactly what it would be about and what the tone would be like. They even used this structure to talk up other podcasts. It was so interesting, it had a huge portion of the community responding and intrigued. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was one of the reasons the show had such an early success.
What is your show about? What is it trying to say? Don’t just tweet about your show–tweet what your show is about. The same goes for sharing on Facebook, posting on Insta, and reblogging on Tumblr. Use your social media for more than just announcing your episodes. Use your social media to display what your show is about and appeal to the people who might not otherwise be curious.
8. Think about how you’re going to market your show to people who don’t already listen to podcasts.
If you’re doing good work on your social media, you’re likely to bring in lots of new listeners–who already listen to podcasts. What about people who don’t subscribe to many podcasts, if any at all? I’ve found that the best way to pitch a podcast to someone who isn’t typically a podcast listener is to compare it to a piece of non-podcast media. This is one of the reasons why you’ll rarely see another podcast in the last section of my You Should Be Listening To posts. You’re going to appeal to a wider audience if you can compare your show to something they already like instead of comparing it to another podcast or just giving it a description. Your marketing obviously shouldn’t be only comparisons to other media, but having it occasionally (or, say, somewhere on your website) will help you find an audience that just doesn’t know they love podcasts yet. Don’t forget that you’re making media that is totally free and that can be listened to on commutes, at work, etc. Remind your listeners that podcasts are similar to audiobooks but usually more engaging. Remind your listeners how to subscribe to a podcast (I know, I know, but trust me).
9. Know your neighbors; listen to other podcasts.
In creative writing classes, there’s a standard idea that the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. Most creative writing programs will have students dissect works and see what makes them successful and how to implement those features into their own writing while maintaining their voice and vision. Why is this not the same for podcasters? If you want to learn how to make your podcast better, don’t just keep hoping it will magically get better. Listen to some of the greats. If you’re making an audio drama, listen to how Mischa Stanton produces The Far Meridian. Listen to how Paul Bae writes for The Big Loop. Listen to how Lauren Shippen directs the actors in The Bright Sessions. If you’re writing nonfiction, listen to how Jad Abumrad sets the scenes in Radiolab. Listen to how stories are woven together on Invisibilia. Listen to the authenticity in Millennial. Figure out how to take the aspects of these shows that you like and translate them into your own podcast while maintaining your voice (and obviously not just stealing). One of the only ways you can become a better podcast creator is to become a better podcast listener.
10. Network by being nice.
I’ve been in various artistic communities in my life, and I can say without a doubt that the podcast community is hands-down the nicest. I’ve encountered very few bad seeds, but each of them has left a lasting impression on me, and in a very bad way. Podcasts that put other shows down for no reason other than trying to seem superior immediately lose my interest. Podcasts that only network by trying to promote themselves using a bigger show immediately lose my interest. The idea makes sense; in such a saturated medium, it probably seems dog-eat-dog, but it really isn’t. The best way to network with people in the industry? Be nice, and be genuine. Use your Twitter to engage in weekly events like #AudioDramaSunday, and talk up the shows you enjoy–and make sure to say why you enjoy them. Engage with other shows over social media in ways that are fun and nice instead of being solely for the purpose of promoting yourself. Being kind is going to make you part of the community, not just quick grabs for publicity. Often, being a kind person interested in the health of the community instead of focusing on your show alone is really all it takes.