Podcasting: A Learning Curve
Some thoughts on podcasting this week! As I said when I first launched this newsletter back in early 2021, its title was originally the title of an abandoned idea for a podcast way back in 2018/19, which I never managed to get anywhere with, despite the best support and hard work and encouragement of potential cast and producers. It was a really complicated, unwieldy idea and I just never got my head round it. It was basically indicative of an attitude I’d held towards podcasting for years, which was that I couldn’t see the point of trying to make a poscast unless it was manifestly different from most other podcasts, and had something baked into the very idea that made it stand apart in some way. It’s such a crowded, saturated market that I just couldn’t bring myself to put all the effort into developing, conceptualising, producing, editing and releasing a podcast that amounted to just another “two people having a nice chat”-type thing.
I finally had cause to rethink this attitude at the end of last year, because a company called Aurra Studios got in touch with an idea for a podcast they wanted myself and Alison Thea-Skot to host, which became Can’t Keep A Secret, the listener-generated secret-keeping podcast we’ve been putting out over the last few months. Can’t Keep A Secret IS another “two people having a nice chat”-type podcast, but the experience of making it, and the feedback it’s received, have prompted me to rethink my approach to the podcasting world a little bit. For a start, it was much easier to throw myself into finding the fun in recording something like this when I wasn’t solely responsible for the entire thing, and a lot of the more behind-the-scenes production/developing/editing/marketing work was being done either by Aurra or by our freelance producer, Benjamin Sutton. As such, it was possible to really enjoy finding a fun dynamic with Alison, and finding the best approach to take with Aurra’s concept, without thinking to myself “But how will I position this in the crowded podcast market?” That simply wasn’t my job, so I could get on with focusing on what was – making an entertaining podcast. I was surprised to find that, despite the idea not being incredibly convoluted and complex and meta-fictional and weird, I enjoyed it a lot! And was just as pleasantly surprised to be reminded by the podcast’s chart positions and good feedback that the thing listeners most want from their podcasts isn’t necessarily a challenging, highly original meta-narrative, it’s a warm, companionable atmosphere that they could feel a part of, which was particularly easy to engender thanks to the listener-oriented, user-submitted nature of Aurra’s original concept (similar perhaps to the Beef Brothers Cold Cuts arm of Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown, where listeners send in flatshare-related beef they need resolving).
Here’s where the more upbeat positive news shifts gear slightly, though – although for the first eight weeks of the podcast’s existence it was regularly charting in the top 10 of the iTunes chart for stand-up podcasts, it’s since slid down the ratings and Aurra have made the sad decision to put it on pause while they work out how to secure some sort of sponsorship deal to fund future episodes. Whether this will come to anything, or whether it’s a kind way to wind the podcast down, I’ve no idea. It’s a shame as I feel we were really hitting our stride with it, and getting great feedback, but I can understand that when a company is investing their money into something, they need to see a return on it and when momentum starts to stall, it can be an alarm bell causing a need to rethink rather than a need to plough on regardless, so it’s not my place to question or quibble with the decision – fundamentally it’s not my project, it’s theirs.
But it has made me wonder – if the end result is that Can’t Keep A Secret just winds down after ten episodes, and having found a fun dynamic with Alison that we enjoyed working on and could potentially develop further, is a friendly, companionable podcast that doesn’t wrap itself around a complicated meta-narrative something I could shoulder the responsibility for going forwards? Would I be able to produce, edit and market a podcast all by myself while being comfortable that what it was doing was providing a fun, friendly listen to people rather than hubristically trying to push the envelope of what the podcasting form can do? I’d like to think that, having learned that it’s a fun medium to work in, it could be something I could do in order to keep serving the audience we found, and keep building a community of listeners around something. But the pausing of CKAS also hits home an unavoidable truth about podcasting, which is that they can’t really become profitable unless you can build up regular momentum and eventually reach a sort of critical mass where sponsorship deals etc become more realistic.
So I’m wondering – did any of my readers here listen to Can’t Keep A Secret? Those that did, if further down the line it’s decided that that’s the end of that podcast and Alison and I were to try to make something else built around a different concept, would you follow us over to a different platform/idea? Would anyone support some sort of Patreon-led model, where Patreon subscribers help to fund the up-front costs of producing a podcast, and then receive exclusive bonus content in exchange? How do you tend to interact with the podcasts you subscribe to, and what do you look for from them? Any thoughts from people who are active participants in other podcasting communities on what sort of model can be followed as a self-produced podcast would be much appreciated!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The aforementioned super-producer Ben Sutton has also just released Sunil Patel’s ridiculously over-the-top BBC Radio 4 series, An Idiot’s Guide To Cryptocurrency, in which the two of them genuinely spent the entire budget flying to El Salvador to try and interview the president. Can’t wait to listen to it.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Yesterday I re-recorded the final versions of the voice tracks for my new show, and can report that when you shut Ben Target and Roisin & Chiara in a cupboard one by one and ask them to bring a bunch of weird characters to life, it really makes you crack up. There’s now a weird Italian guy who’s in the show for all of one line, and Ben manages to imbue the words “That’s impossible!” with more hilarity than you’d think possible.
Album Of The Week – Been a bit slow on getting round to new albums this week, so the only one I can really talk about is the Waterboys’ new effort, All Souls Hill. It’s not great, to be honest, but hey, it’s nice that Mike Scott’s still churning stuff out. It does nothing to arrest or reverse the general downward trend they’ve been on since 2015’s surprisingly good Modern Blues.
Book Of The Week – Stephen King’s On Writing. I think I started reading this when I was a teenager who wanted to be a novelist, but got bored and gave up. Finally finished it off, and it’s great. King has a refreshingly down-to-earth way of unpacking quite complicated storytelling tools, and he’s an entertaining guide.
Film Of The Week – I’m going to cheat and talk about two, because this week I saw both the second and third films I’ve given 10-out-of-10 this year, in Some Kind Of Heaven and Everything Everywhere All At Once. One is an incredibly sad, weird, beautiful documentary by Lance Oppenheim about a Florida retirement village; the other is a really lovely, daft, inventive sci-fi with a huge heart about Michelle Yeoh discovering how to be the best version of herself across the Multiverse. Both made me cry, and I didn’t expect either of them to. They’re very different, but both incredibly good at what they’re doing.
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you wanted to share this newsletter with a friend or encourage others to subscribe I’d hugely appreciate it. There won’t be a Therapy Tape next week as I’m working on a big job all week, but take care in the meantime and I’ll catch up with you all in a couple of weeks!
PS Here’s my birthday card from Miranda this year, which is of a fox version of me performing my show. I’m hoping it’s tantalising for those who haven’t seen the show, rather than being spoilerific…I mean, if anyone can decipher all its twists just based off this image then they’re being very insightful. Anyway, it’s a great drawing and I love it a lot.