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272 Interviews with Independent Podcast Producers: A Snapshot of Indie Podcasting in 2019

By Wenbin Fang · Aug. 9, 2019

Indie podcasting

Indie podcasting from @cowomen

Podcasts are super popular. But with millions of podcast episodes surrounding us as we soar into 2020, how can we find great podcasts that might slide under our radar?

The way that podcasts are currently ranked and rated, it might be difficult to uncover independent, niche podcasts. For instance, both Esquire and Cosmo named Over My Dead Body, The Last Days of August, and The Shrink Next Door as a few of the best podcasts of 2019.

They are solid lists with truly incredible shows, but most podcasts mentioned are produced by big players in the radio industry game. In short, it’s the podcast equivalent of checking out the Billboard Top 40 Pop Songs to find music to enjoy. And Drake’s new song “Dreams Money Can Buy” is indeed fire — but if it’s all you’re listening to, then you’re missing out.

Maybe you haven’t heard of podcast gems like Uncertain Terms, Build your SaaS, or Stroke of Wisdom. Those are just three of the 272 podcasts mentioned in the Listen Notes interview archive, wherein creators shared their wisdom with us.

Shows like Relic, Champagne & Lobster, and Can We Still Be Friends are independent podcasts about lost artifacts of history, food, and differing movie opinions, respectively. From the interview archive, you can learn more about what it’s really like to be an indie producer. The result is a snapshot of indie podcasting today — a look at the best, worst, most inspiring, and most frustrating parts of venturing into independent podcasting today.

 

First, some themes — why are people making and devouring podcasts in 2019?

According to Infinite Dial’s 2019 report, 70% of the population is familiar with podcasts, and more than half — 51% — are podcast listeners who have at least listened to one podcast previously .

The rate of podcast listening has steadily grown among men and women — including children, adults, and older people. “Online audio has reached a new high in weekly time spent listening,” notes the 2019 report, observing that the increase was “potentially driven by podcasting and smart speakers.”

It’s easy to see why online audio is so hot: Podcasts are an efficient, effective way to capture attention and tell a powerful story, direct to your audience. With more ways to listen to podcasts (hello, smart speakers) and easy access to podcast-making tools and software, it’s no wonder that so many independent podcasts are being produced today.

Sydney Axtell, host of Burnt Out.

Sydney Axtell, host of Burnt Out.

 

Why are independent creatives leaping into podcasting?

Here are some key trends and commonalities I found:

Podcasters help their listeners

Art is Alive is a podcast that focuses on increasing mental health awareness by creating interviews with celebrities who disclose their own struggles. Listening to the career successes and failures — or the peaks and valleys of real stars — helps others deal with rejection and understand that they are not alone.

“I’m doing this as a benevolent act for myself and for humanity as a whole,” wrote John Toycen, the host of You’re Dead Too. “Not in a grandiose sense, but in the idea that if one person takes anything helpful from it in the long run, then it will have been worth it.”

Podcasters help themselves

Ashley and Ryan are a married couple who started the Ruining Our Childhood podcast in March, “mostly as something to do together as a couple.” No doubt their pontifications about old movies each week also help plenty of listeners, as they harken back to the days of growing up by examining one film per podcast.

“Our main motivation is just to have a good time and a laugh together and if that brings entertainment to other then that makes it that much better,” said Derek Loflin and Nathan Ruf of Mixed Martial Idiots.

To tell stories

Storytelling is the driving force behind many other independent shows, like Deirdre Breakenridge’s Women Worldwide, wherein they interview mostly women about their careers. Some also use storytelling to prove a point, like Ari Andersen, who is out to prove that Millennials Don’t Suck. As with any creative medium, it starts with a story.

Because they want a place to dive into a really specific world

Are you really into dogs? Or role playing games? Craft brews? A minute-by-minute breakdown of the show 24, or The Simpsons? For hyper-fandom and deep dives, podcasts are (maybe) the new books.

Personal advocacy and awareness for a cause or business venture

Independent producers are using podcasts as a creative outlet to inspire, educate, and support their audiences. Many of the podcasters interviewed speak of how they wanted to create an audience in order to get out a message or idea that they see as important. For example, Civilla Morgan launched her show, Childless Not by Choice, to raise awareness and create conversations. Non Wels created You, Me, Empathy after a near-death experience.

A podcast can also be a powerful way to build an audience for professional endeavors. Neely Quinn makes The Training Beta podcast, which is an extension of their day job as a nutritionist and rock climber. Eric Rosenberg is a full-time freelance writer who runs a podcast called Personal Profitability, an audio extension of his own blog of the same name.

 

How are independent podcasters actually making money?

podcasts make money

Make money from @katyukawa

Well, often, they’re, er… not. (And if you’re a podcaster reading this, check out How Do Podcasts Make Money in 2019? Here are 8 Intriguing Ways…)

Most radio-makers have hopes to turn their hard work into a viable business. But with start-up costs, like equipment and editing software, and regular expenses like website hosting fees, the costs of making a podcast can add up. On top of that, promotion of your show can be costly. Social media management tools and advertising costs can add up. Submitting your own show for the chance to get recognition, like in the Webby Awards, costs money. So, can independent podcasts really be profitable?

Rob Maurer, host of The Definitive Tesla Podcast, generates around $565/month through listener donations. Okay, that’s about $8/hour — but it’s a start! Rob uses Patreon, a popular site for creators to set up a platform for donations and fan support. Some shows also take one-time donations via PayPal and rely on the generosity of their audience.

What about sponsors? If you’ve listened to any podcast in the last month, you’ve probably heard a carefully-crafted spiel about the simplicity of Squarespace, the comfort of MeUndies, the luxury of a Casper mattress, the deliciousness of a Blue Apron box. According to Wired, podcast sponsorship is a lucrative path for advertisers, with a few players dominating the advertising circuit.

Sponsorship is front-of-mind for many independent podcasters; of the nearly 300 interviewed, many of them mentioned ‘sponsors’ or ‘sponsorship’. Sponsorship has become such an integral part of the podcast-listening experience that some shows, like Squatch Smashers, choose to add fake sponsors into the show in lieu of having real ones. That said, if you’re a smaller podcast, it can be tricky to get the attention or buy-in (and money) of a big-league sponsor. The sponsorship status of many indie producers can be summed up with a hopeful “not yet, but maybe soon!”

As a result, many producers that we interviewed aren’t making any profit from their show — and they’re okay with that. They talk about how they’re not in it for the money — the goal is creativity, fun, and audience growth.

“I gain nothing financially from podcasting,” says Sit Down & Shut Up host Joshua Tracey. “While it would be nice to be at a point where that is realistic, my real benefit is having the creative outlet and a strong listener base.”

 

Lessons & tips from indie podcasters

Lessons & tips

Lessons & tips from @helloquence

Tip #1: Find a friend.

Many of the independent podcasters interviewed are friends, partners, or siblings.

Three generations run the podcast “Review After Watching”: Brandon Church, Chris Church, and Joshua Church. The family-oriented movie review show provides a unique perspective due to the combination of hosts’ ages.

Ben Rosenthal hosts Hack The Dino with Dan McGuiness and the “Millennial” Brayden Dixon, who provides “live editing and off-the-cuff remarks.” The nonsense video game newscast is made better by podcasting partners who get to share their conversations with the world.

Other friendship-podcasts interviewed include Ben and Vicki, the Australian team behind comedy podcast Insane Ramblings; a husband-wife produced show called Sh*t Happens When You Party Naked; The Jupiter Boys, two brothers who claim to be from the planet Jupiter; and Smart Enough to Know Better, a podcast by two improv theatre friends.

Tip #2: Know the technical stuff.

You don’t need to own a private studio and a top-of-the-line microphone to produce a show, but you do need a good set-up. So, how do real independent producers create their own mini-NPR (often in their basement or closet space)? Here’s how a few producers described their podcasting process:

“I use Libsyn as my podcast host. I level my audio with Auphonic. I have two Audio-Technica ATR2100 USB mics and a small Xenyx mixer… I interview most of my guests via Skype, and I use the Ecamm Call Recorder as a recording device.” — Non Wells, host of You, Me, Empathy

“I designed our setup to be as mobile as possible while still focusing on quality of audio. We run 1 or 2 Audio-Technica AT2020 mics (depending on if we have a guest) mounted to desktop mic stands and we record on a Zoom H5 which I also use as my primary microphone. This allows me to monitor the levels as we’re recording and saves me from having to tweak anything in post. I use Garageband for any post work since it’s always so minimal; however, if it were more involved we’d be using either Pro Tools or Adobe Audition.” — Mind Gap host Justin Straundland

“I use Zoom to record, Audacity to edit, Podcast Press to copy the post over onto my website; Libsyn. I have conversations with people and invite them to be a guest if I think they will be a good fit for my audience. I use Zoom for guest interviews. I write each episode out as a blog post, that way I can use the wording as a transcript on my blog, I then record and make it chatty.” — Ruby McGuire, host of the Rock Your Fabulous Biz Podcast

Still a bit unsure of what to add to your Amazon cart? Check out Transom’s Podcasting Basics series, which covers everything from microphone types to editing software.

Tip #3: Get advice from your community.

Each interview in this series ended with a question: “What advice would you share with aspiring (new) podcasters?” The advice was widely varied. Some talked about the importance of scripting and planning for shows; others talked about just jumping in and getting started. Edit, but don’t over-edit; release a few episodes at a time at first, but don’t worry about it being perfect. And talk to more experienced podcasters for advice (they’re nice!).

The JNT Baggers suggested seeking communities and spaces where other podcasters are. “Join community-based podcasting groups on Facebook. A lot of veteran podcasters are in those groups and will or have answered almost every question you can think of in regards to podcasting.” They say that one of the biggest benefits of starting their podcast has been the opportunity to collaborate with other podcasters that they’ve met along the way.

Johnna, the producer of food podcast Champagne & Lobster, talked about the importance of being really passionate about your topic. “Choose to talk about a topic that you LOVE for your podcast. Podcasting is just like any other passion: if you do not love it, there will be plenty of days where it will be a challenge to do it,” she said. “If you love it, that challenge will be overcome with that passion.”

As with any new venture, consistency is key. “The most important detail the newbies need to hear is to be consistent, persistent, and on schedule,” advised horror podcaster Spooky Boo.

Tudor Alexander suggests that patience, consistency, and vision are key: “Be patient because there’s a lot to learn and the world is diverse with options. Be consistent in the sense of consistent action towards your goal and you will get there. Vision is also important because it is where you are going — why are you doing what you are doing and what is it that you want to contribute and share with others? How are you making their lives better?”

And the advice I found the most popular: Focus on making killer content for the show, and the rest will (hopefully) follow.

— 

P.S.: If you want to read one of the 272 interviews, here’s a link that will bring you to a random interview or you can just search, e.g., which podcasters use Skype?

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