Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Podcast Perfecto, Part 1

I’m planning to launch a podcast for the Feldman File early in 2006. In the process of getting ready, I’m doing all the “due diligence” research needed to make a podcast work, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve found with you. Part 1 of this article will deal with content, while part 2 will cover technical tips.

In no particular order:

  • Pick a subject for your podcast, and stay on it. Just as in radio, where every station has a format (news, talk, oldies, progressive rock, etc.) that stays the same from day to day, you should establish a subject for your podcast that listeners can reliably listen to week after week. If you do a podcast on photography, don’t talk about politics (unless it relates directly to photography.) Wandering off topic will confuse and frustrate your listeners.

  • Bring in more than one speaker. I recently listened to a podcast by an industry analyst, and all he did was read an article that he wrote (including headings.) There’s nothing as boring as listening to a single person drone on about a topic. Again, consider radio: Howard Stern has a studio full of on-air staff and guests, and Rush Limbaugh takes phone calls. Bring in a co-host, have on-air guests, do interviews or take phone calls.

  • Entertain your audience: Make it fun for people to listen to your podcast. Even if you’re covering a very dry topic, find a way to lighten the mood. Have a sense of humor.

  • Inject some controversy. I resisted this concept for a long time, but controversy is entertaining. People like to listen to arguments. You can also take the Howard Stern approach of being outrageous. Don’t artificially create controversy; choose some topics where there’s a genuine difference of opinion.

  • Keep it short. Make the length of the show fit the material; don’t pad it out to make it 30 for 60 minutes long. With podcasts, there’s no “right” length.

  • Include music and/or sound effects. It’s essential to draw listeners in from the very start of your podcast, and opening music is a great way to do it. You can have music in other places in your podcast (to separate stories or topics, for example.) However, be very careful about the music that you use. Don’t use music from a commercially-recorded CD, unless you have performance rights to the song. You can acquire royalty-free music from many suppliers, or you can purchase software such as SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro to quickly compose your own without requiring any musical knowledge. If you have any question about whether or not you can use a musical selection in your podcast, consult an attorney.

  • Find advertisers that fit your subject. When I produced a comedy talk show several years ago, one of the “promotional consideration” sponsors was a vodka. It didn’t fit the show. The broader your subject, the greater the variety of advertisers you can choose from. For example, a sports show could have beer and car ads, but a show on knitting should have advertisers that make or sell products related to knitting.
That’s it for content. Stay tuned for Part 2, technical tips and tricks for improving your podcasts.
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