►Tell us about you and your podcast
Hi I'm Nick Hildred, I co-produce a comedy sketch podcast with Alex Marion, which we write and perform with a group of very funny people. The podcast is called Release The Clowns. It's a 15 minute comedy sketch show that's a mix of silly characters and ridiculous situations. It's it an oasis of fun in a world that seems to be becoming ever more polarised, serious and cynical. Our listeners are people from 16 - 70 who like a good laugh from properly produced audio comedy.
►Why & how did you start this podcast?
We podcast because that gives us complete artistic control. We aren't trying to fit our comedy to a particular network or please a commissioning editor. I have a history with podcasting - I made the hit satirical podcast WhackMyBush way back in 2005/6 when you still had to explain to people what an iPod was. WhackMyBush was an iTunes top 20 podcast in 15 countries including the USA, and got to number 9 in the UK. I then made the 4th most listened to World Cup podcast in 2006 Pod The World Cup. Sadly, my co-creator on those projects, Rik Bell, died and so I took a long hiatus from podcasting. But now I'm back with the Release The Clowns team. I listen to a few podcasts, but my co-producer Alex listens to a bunch of them. The motivation was simply that as most of us are seasoned radio and TV writers and performers, we just wanted to have some fun in the studio and make some comedy on our own terms for a change. We're doing this because we really enjoy doing it, which is probably the best reason of all. Our first podcast aired in November 2017, but we started working on it in September that year. From first idea to first edited show airing was 10 weeks of hard, but rewarding, work.
►How'd you find the time and funding to do this podcast?
Okay, so we started out doing one 15 to 18 minute episode a week, but after 13 shows we cut this down to one every two weeks because the pace of the work was too great. Each episode is scripted, so writing time is probably 20 or 30 hours. We have 6 sketches per show(ish) and each takes about 20 minutes to record, so that's an hour twenty per show. I then have to sound edit all that, adding music, effects, atmos etc, which usually takes about 20 hours, then add 4 hours uploading and social media, so a grand total of about 55 hours per show. That sounds like a lot, but the writing time is split between 6 - 10 writers; Alex does most of the social media; I do all the sound editing, but 20 hours spread over two weeks is very doable. When it was 20 hours a week for the weekly show, that was harder work. I'm lucky because I work as a freelance writer and voice over director, so I can usually fit things round each other. But between October and February, I rarely finished work before 1am. The nice thing about podcasting is that it's fairly cheap - especially with the advent of really good free audio sharing sites like Freesound.org and freesfx.co.uk. Hosting costs about £60 a year. Editing is my own time, but I do have to buy some sound effects - I use Sounddogs.com - so that might be about £10 a month. I have a 'studioette' in my house, which is more or less soundproof for the recordings, so no spend there. Obviously, I had to shell out for pics, a mixing desk and so forth, so start up cost was about £600, but that's because we are basically making a Radio comedy show - the sound has to be high end. Marketing we spend very little, maybe a tenner a month. Alex and I fund all this ourselves - we don't expect the other writers and performers to shell out.
►What do you gain from podcasting?
No sponsorship. No revenue as yet. But that doesn't worry us. I made it totally clear to everyone at the start that it wasn't about money, but about making great comedy and having a ton of fun. So in those terms, it's a huge success. If we get the numbers to make sponsorship worthwhile, then we'll probably find them through our host Podbean.com. As to download numbers it's a little hard to tell, but somewhere in the region of a few thousand a month. Professionally, it keeps us all 'match fit' for both performing and writing. Also, it's just such fun making comedy of ourselves. We've discovered important things, for example in a sketch about zombie pigeons, the word 'shit' isn't as funny as 'poo', but even funnier than that is 'poop'. So the gains are mainly 'hidden' gains.
►How does your podcasting process look like?
We use Garageband on a 2009 Macbook Pro to record the show, through an Alesis Multimix 8 desk. A 3 mic setup using Shure SM 58s. I then transfer everything onto my ancient Mac iBook (circa 2005), because it runs Tiger, which is the only OS compatible with my Digidesign MBox 2, running Pro Tools 7. I dread to think what will happen if any of the old stuff breaks down, because I'm so used to the pro tools editing suite - it's all like a comfy pair of shoes. We don't have guests, but we do have new performers and writers coming in - either people we know and perform with or writers who answered our call via British Comedy. Preparing episodes, we just give everyone a writing deadline a week before the recording. We tend to record back to back Sat and Sun from 10am-6pm. We usually record about 40 sketches in a weekend.
►How do you market your show?
Listeners find us through iTunes, Podbean, various platforms like PocketCasts and PlayerFM. Applecoremedia, Chrome and iTunes are our biggest suppliers of listeners. We use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, smoke signals, tom-toms and semaphore to get new listeners. Personally, I like FB and LinkedIn, OK with Instagram, but I leave all Twitter to Alex.
►What advice would you share with aspiring (new) podcasters?
Being noticed is really hard. I still can't work out how the iTunes algorithm works when it puts a show in New and Noteworthy that stopped podcasting in 2016, but won't put our show in which is fairly new and definitely noteworthy. Lots of articles read to help us, but Mark Schaefer's 'Social Media Explained' is a good book.