Podcasting tips and trends from an audio production coach
Podcasts are so wonderfully versatile. You can take them with you out running, hiking, in the car, on the train, in the kitchen, or in the garden. In Rob Lawrence’s words, “podcasting is a form of media where you can truly multi-task”.
Rob’s love of sound began in childhood. He recalls recording the sounds around him on a pocket tape recorder. After a successful career in Australia as a leader of technical teams, Rob returned home to rekindle his passion for recording and producing sound. He is now an audio production coach, host of the ‘Inspirational Creatives’ podcast and Founder of Sound Theory.
How does audio differ from video in terms of audience?
It’s a slightly older demographic, 35-50+ where I think people have grown up with radio. Video tends to be quite broad in terms of its target, as wide as it is deep. Audio is deeper and narrower. It’s for people who want to go into a subject at a much deeper level.
One of the exciting things about audio is that it’s an intimate form of connection. You can hear someone’s voice but because you can’t see them you are using your imagination, which is much more powerful than any visual. When someone is telling you a very intimate story you really get into it and when you start adding sound it stirs the imagination and deepens engagement.
If podcasts go deeper, does that mean longer podcasts are more successful?
For a time, it was one of the most hotly debated subjects between podcast hosts. There was strong opinion that the shorter ones would do better because they are easier to digest. I think the right answer is that it depends on who you are targeting and where they are fitting the podcast into their life.
Where I found that debate really interesting is if you take that question to listeners. You get a different picture. They actually love the longer episodes. The reason being is that if they go out running for 30 minutes a day and the episode is an hour and half, they don’t mind pausing it because they will pick it up again the next time they go running.
What’s happening in the world of podcasting right now?
The biggest shift I’ve seen in the time I’ve been podcasting is from linear (week-to-week) to seasons or series-based shows. There’re a number of benefits to both the host and the listener. From the host’s point of view, they’ve got time between seasons to see what’s working and what’s not. It also gives you a degree of freedom and a break.
One of the comments I get from my listeners is that when I take a break there is often relief because it gives people the opportunity to catch up on content. The danger of a linear podcast is that if you get a new listener they look at your previous episodes there is no way for them to digest it in a bitesize way.
The very latest evolution in podcasting is that people are now starting to talk about doing a podcast series in the shape of a training course. You have to listen to episode one to get episode two. You have to listen to the whole season in order. This is great for listeners looking to learn about a new subject or topic. It’s also great for hosts as they can be confident their audience isn’t missing out on any vital content.
Are there any emerging changes in audio that you think we will see in podcasting?
The latest trend is wireless headphones, so people can share content. This has production implications because we have to think about Mono rather than Stereo. The other way we’re going is immersive audio experiences, or 3D sound. With the shift towards virtual and augmented reality you need to also have convincing audio that sounds 3D. At the moment, this is complicated to produce because it requires a lot of know-how and processing power; but it is coming.
What that could mean in terms of podcasts is that, for example, if you have a panel of people you could have an app where you can listen to audio but can choose where within those people you want to sit. Or, if you’re listening to a live event, you can choose where within that event you want to sit or what sort of mix you would like between crowd noise, commentary and sounds from the main experience. You could even choose to sit on the stage! What that does is alter the mix and the dialogue, the music, the ambience to give you a different audio perspective. The BBC have been playing around with this with some broadcast apps, for example, tennis. You can turn up and down the commentary, the ball noise, the court noise or the crowd.
What about in terms of podcasting technology, how will our listening experience change?
It’s going to become more interactive. We’re going to see podcast applications that will allow you to press a button during that listening experience and you will automatically have that document, presentation or guide in your drop box or in your email. So you don’t have to follow the call-to-action, which you have to at the moment. There’s a big drop off in terms of engagement with this.
I’ve also seen beta versions of apps that will let you jump to content. You can do this in the early formats by going to show notes in a podcast and it’ll take you to the right place in the audio. Do you remember those adventure books, you know turn to page 29 to go in the cave or turn to page 64 If you want to climb up the tree? It’s going to be more like that: choose your own adventure listening experiences. You’re going to have a podcast episode and halfway through it’ll ask you to press a button to learn more about x. Click the button and it’ll take you to a whole new episode. You can go deeper and deeper and navigate your own content.
What tips would you give to someone thinking about getting into podcasting?
Get started with what you’ve got. There are very few rules and limitations with podcasting and lots of new opportunities to meet like-minded people or grow your business or audience – if that’s what you want to do. My favourite tip is to think about a subject that you’re deeply passionate about or the problems you solve on a daily basis for people. That should be the over-arching theme of whatever it is that you want to do.
Then look at the best-selling book on that theme and look at the titles of the chapters. Each one of those chapters could be an episode. Then find an expert on that subject and that could be one interview. You may want to pick one of those chapters and do 10 episodes on just that. You could have your audio transcribed and edited then you’ve written your own book. This audio can also be supplemented with animations, images or presentations and made into a video for YouTube or Vimeo. Recording audio is the fastest way to elicit knowledge from someone’s mind, in my experience.
What’s fascinating me at the moment is hearing people repurpose their written blog content, almost in audio book form, and repurposing old content in new ways. I think it’s always nice when it comes from the person who has written it because you can hear the emotion and passion in their voice.
I’m recording this interview on an iPhone in a busy coffee shop with fire alarms going off. What equipment do I need to get started?
What I’ve seen some people do, regrettably, is spend £500 or more on software, microphones, stands and other equipment before they’ve decided whether podcasting is something they want to do or not. My best tip is to start with what you’ve got. If this was the first conversation I’d ever recorded, I’d go home and listen back to it and make notes on what I liked or didn’t like about it. I’d only spend money on kit to solve specific (audio) problems.
You might find from a technical perspective background noise was a bit too loud, so maybe I’ll change my location, which wouldn’t cost anything. Maybe I’d get an add-on onto my iPhone, or a clip-on mic. If I do this often enough I’d get a dedicated device like a Zoom H1 for around £80. Don’t estimate the importance of a good sounding room. Even an iPhone in a bedroom or lounge with soft furnishings can sound great when used in the right way. Experiment.
The hardest thing for most people is finding the time, the topic, or listening to their own voice. The only way you get over that is to get on with it. Stop thinking about it and take action. There’s as much or as little work that goes into this as you want, just like any form of marketing. But the more you put into it the more you get out.
Photo credit: Farrow Photography