Explore History & Pop Culture Of Pirates Here

Phil Johnson
May 15, 2019 - "Patience, young padawan. We all love to think that our show will be a huge success out of the gate. But it takes patiently building up a catalog of episodes and getting the word out. Sometimes one person at a time."
Since 2015
Society & Culture

►Tell us about you and your podcast

My name is Phil Johnson and I'm the host of Under The Crossbones, a professional comedian and musician, a pirate nerd, a Disney nut, and a very mediocre cook.

Under The Crossbones is a "behind the eye patch" look at pirates in history and pop culture. Deep dive interviews with the most interesting people in the pirate community who bring the history and stories to life. Actors, treasure hunters, musicians, historians, underwater archaeologists, and more.

The great folks that listen to the show are part of the pirate fandom community and all have their particular interests. Some really enjoy the historians and authors on the show. Others love to hear from the craftspeople making cool pirate gear and accessories. Some of the biggest episodes have been with the major pirate bands on the scene and people involved with the Hollywood pirate machine. Actors, screenwriters, composers, directors.

 

►Why & how did you start this podcast? 

I think it's a law now that ever comedian have a podcast. And I listen to a ton of them while on the long drives between gigs.

I didn't want to do a general "comedy" podcast because it's really tough to do well and not just sound like a bunch of dudes hanging out.

So I started looking through my collection of T-shirts. (A t-shirt podcast? Tough to do in audio...) I have a ton of band shirts. But a music pod is hard to do with all the legalities around playing music.

Lots of Disney shirts in there. But that seemed like a market with some pretty deeply embedded shows and hosts more knowledgeable than I.

Then I realized I have a lot pirate t-shirts. And I looked around my office and saw all the pirate stuff. Captain Hook figures, Pirates of the Caribbean posters, my tricorn hat.... And... "Well, duh," was my thought.

I'd also heard an author named Peter T. Leeson on an episode of Freakonomics talking about his book on the economics of Golden Age piracy. And that made me think that there were probably a lot of angles to be mined for content on the subject.

(And I even got Mr. Leeson on for ep. 43!)

As artists make things and put them out for people to experience, podcasting is another great way to do that. And I wanted to put out a show that would really give something of value to the listener and give me another platform to build an audience for the other stuff I make.

In doing a little research I realized that nobody was doing an interview show for the pirate community. There was a pirate history pod starting up about the same time. And as I started putting together a wish list of guests I saw how many interesting people were out there to be talked to. Nobody was doing a show for the community, highlighting their own cool people.

The other thing I learned was how big the community was. Strangely, I wasn't a part of it. I'd been to the odd pirate fest, watched all the movies, read the books, etc. But I had never "joined the crew" as it were.

So when I first started my target audience was wary of me. They thought "He's just some comedian who's going to make fun of us." Once they figured out that I was legit and had the best of intentions then I was fully embraced.

The show is often no about pirates unless we're specifically talking about pirate history. More often it's about whatever that guest's discipline is. Could be fight choreography, writing, education, hat-making... Pirates is just a way in to talking about whatever their art is.

The show began in August 2015 with an interview with Captain John Swallow and Quartmaster Seika Hellbound of NOLA Pyrate Week.

None of the interviews are done in character. I'm way more interested in the people behind the characters.

It took me about six weeks of preproduction before the first episode went out. I wanted to have at least 10 interviews in the can before going live so I wouldn't be under pressure to record an interview every week.

 

►How'd you find the time and funding to do this podcast?

My episodes come out every Tuesday and I do about 50 episodes per year. I'll sometime miss a week if I'm on vacation or the last week of the year. In there I might run a previous show or just upload a short show to explain why we're skipping a week. I want to make sure all my guests get my best promotion. And I can't guarantee that if I'm on vacation somewhere.

It can take 5-7 hours to produce an episode. Though I'm experimenting with having an outside company do the editing to knock a couple hours off of that.

I did do one experimental solo episode where I took a deep dive into a particular pirate movie. That took about 20 hours of work.

I'm fortunate that "make and release cool stuff" is my day job. So it was a matter of blocking out the time in my schedule to make it happen. Once I get on a schedule, I'm good at staying on it. And I make judicious use of to-do lists. And I've found that if there's something I really want to do it will push some of the less important stuff out of the way to get done.

I fund the show myself and keep it pretty bare bones. As a musician I already had a lot of the audio gear. Though I did pick up a good USB mic and a Zoom H5 for location recording.

On a per episode basis, I'm only spending $20-25 to get it out. Though adding a company to edit for me is going to jump that up to $65 or so per episode.

 

►What do you gain from podcasting?        

I do have sponsors for the shows, though they don't always quite cover the costs. There's an audience size tipping point that is yet to come for profit.

My first sponsor was a digital radio company that syndicates my show called Pirate Radio of the Treasure Coast. They contacted me about syndication and said they'd also like to buy some ads. At that point I was only doing maybe 500 downloads per month. But the audience targeting was spot on and I was nearly the only game in town.

Sponsorships now often come from previous guests on the show. Since they're in the business of making cool things for pirates it's a direct shot to their target market.

Right now the show does 4500-5000 downloads per month. Plus the digital radio syndication which reaches hundreds of thousands.

For myself, the show is an excuse to dork out on pirates. But I've also made some very cool and interesting friends in the pirate community. And having creative friends means opportunities down the road for collaboration in a variety of ways too. I appear as an MC on pirate festival stages. A pirate-themed merch press company is helping me with some of my comedy merchandising. And listeners show up to my regular gigs. So the show is another way for me to get to know new people and them to get to know me.

 

►How does your podcasting process look like? 

I use Reaper to edit my shows. It's the same DAW I record music and voiceover gigs with so it was a natural choice. Izotope's Nectar plugin is the main plugin for cleaning up the voice tracks.

My USB mic is an Audio Technica ATR2100. And I use Sennheiser e835's for in person interviews. Live interviews are recorded with a Zoom H5. For online interviews I use Zencastr.

I host my show with Libsyn and their service has been flawless.

I first started finding guests by just googling "pirates" to see what came up. These days I'll see someone bubble up in a Facebook group, hear about a new book, and contact them. I solicit, and get a lot of suggestions, from my listeners too.

For some of the bigger named people I have to go through PR reps and such. Those are tougher to get, but many of them come through with a little patience.

My interview prep takes about 30 minutes. I want to have enough knowledge of their work to have an intelligent discussion. But I want to be a little underprepared so that I end up asking the questions that a listener wants to hear.

I also do bullet point show notes for the pre- and post-interview portions of the show with updates, ads, comedy bits, website links, etc. I have a format pretty well down now. So that only takes about 20 minutes.

 

►How do you market your show?

My show is available through all the main podcast channels - Apple, Spotify, etc. Though we're not on Pandora yet.

So organic traffic comes in through those channels. I also get a lot of traffic via pirate groups on Facebook. I try to be active in there at least once a week and post new episodes to the groups. Many people have come into the fold there.

Word of mouth is probably the biggest traffic generator. All my guests will post about their appearances. And since they aren't people that are also being interview on a thousand other shows, they'll buzz about my show for longer than otherwise.

I do maintain an email list, but it's a minor piece of the puzzle at this point.

 

►What advice would you share with aspiring (new) podcasters?

Patience, young padawan. We all love to think that our show will be a huge success out of the gate. But it takes patiently building up a catalog of episodes and getting the word out. Sometimes one person at a time.

Also, the podcast becomes a calling card for new opportunities. Much like an author might not make a ton of money off their book, it's something that opens up the conversation and makes you a "name" in that community. And that opens up the possibility for other things to happen outside the show.

I think my favorite podcasting resource is Libsyn's "The Feed" podcast. It's a great way to stay on top of important changes that Apple needs or new techniques for audience engagement. And listening to that gave me the pathway for getting one of my episodes listed at the top of Apple Podcasts awhile back.

 

►Where can we learn more about you & your podcasts?

Under The Crossbones - UnderTheCrossbones.com
Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction Comedy and Music - RoadsideAttraction.com

Facebook:
facebook.com/underthecrossbones
facebook.com/philjohnsoncomedy

Twitter:
twitter.com/undercrossbones
twitter.com/roadsidephil

Updated: 4 months ago