The No-Bullshit Guide To Starting A Podcast

Hello podpals, I’ve been meaning to write a little something on how I created Best Girl Grip for a while, but kept chickening out, because I questioned what I had to offer. But then, I saw someone who hosts a major, VERY SUCCESSFUL podcast and are very much in a position to dispense helpful knowledge had written some advice on their website which amounted to keep your expectations low, brush up on your tech skills or hire producer. And I thought, yes, all true, but where are the nuts and bolts?! What does it mean to brush up on your tech skills? What if you can’t afford a producer? What if it’s literally just you and an idea and you know nothing about podcasting?

Well that’s where I come in! I was literally that person in January 2019. And no, I haven’t gone on to create a huge fancy podcast that goes on tours around the UK and gets lots of sponsorship deals and praise, BUT I have created something I’m proud of, and can lay claim to having hosted and produced over 60 episodes in less than two years, which has in fact, taught me a little something. So I thought I’d share that with you…

Find your niche

First up, what’s the premise of your podcast? And why are you in a position to produce / host it?

I came upon the idea of Best Girl Grip after three or so years working various jobs in the film industry and still not being sure what I wanted to do. Gradually I was becoming more aware of all the various roles that existed in film and how cool they all sounded, but I didn’t think a forum existed where they were interrogated beyond a surface level. Plus, a lot of these jobs were being done by extremely inspiring women, and I was interested to know how they got their start and how they progressed to the roles they were doing now. I had two things that I realised made me an asset to this podcast; curiosity and access.

What do I mean by access? I had a growing list of contacts and I was in the privileged position of having a job at the BFI at the time I started the podcast, which I always mentioned in my pitch email. I stated that the podcast would be unaffiliated with the BFI, but it gave me a bit of kudos and a reason for the guest to trust me.

So, follow your nose. What do you want to know more about? And is that information or are those conversations out there to satiate that appetite? If no, then maybe your idea has legs. I realised I’d hit onto something fairly unique when a lot of my podcast guests told me they’d never been on a podcast before. In my opinion, that’s what a good interview podcast should do: provide a space for honest and insightful conversations with voices that might not have been heard, but who have authority on that topic, before.

Decide on your format

Because I was planning to host / produce / edit / publish this entire enterprise by myself, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I love podcasts like This American Life and Serial both of which are incredible at telling stories, creating suspense and painting vivid pictures, but their production value is insane and something I couldn’t hope to replicate. Instead I looked to more straightforward interview podcasts for inspiration: NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz, The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter, the Longform podcast and Vox’s I Think You’re Interesting with Emily VanDerWerff. They’re all one-to-one interviews with an intro, an extended conversation with an fascinating guest and an outro.

Securing guests

This is one of the most important parts of an interview podcast and my favourite thing about it. It’s like going for shopping for cool people to talk to. I have a massive excel spreadsheet that is home to a wish list of lovely womenfolk that are doing impressive things that I want to get nosy about. Whenever I come across someone I add them to it and when it feels like the right time, I approach them.

What do I mean by right time? I don’t plan each season in its entirety but I am conscious of trying to get a diversity of roles and people on the podcast. The point of Best Girl Grip is to shine a light on the multifaceted-ness of the industry through the lens of a specific experience, so it’s no good getting three Heads of Development back-to-back that are all Oxford educated.

How to approach them? I give them the podcast logline and why specifically I want them as a guest, and then ask them if they have time to record in a specific time-frame (i.e. the next month) to create an element of urgency. The emails are always short and sweet and I’m proud to report about a 90% success rate in terms of converting them into a guest. So here are some tips:

  • Do your research. Cite what excites you about them.
  • Circle back. If they can’t do it now, but are interested, let them know exactly when you’ll check in next and follow through.
  • Get good guests. Ok this is a little snake-eating-its-tail, but I can’t tell you how many times potential guests have been gassed about who has already been on the podcast. If they think they’re in good company, people will be more likely to accept.

Invest in your equipment

Ok, here comes the part I was most nervous about. I was never worried about interviewing my guests, I knew what I wanted to ask them, and if I messed up, I could edit it out. The thing that I was most terrified about was inviting something to talk about themselves for an hour, and then realising I’d fudged the recording or that the audio was unusable.

So I wanted to make it as good as it could be but WITHIN MY PRICE RANGE. If I was starting over, I’d probably have a more honest conversation with myself about how much I wanted to invest in this pet project, because I got the ball rolling before realising how pricey it could be.

I googled what were the best mics for podcasts and time and time again the Blue Yeti USB Microphone came up. It’s currently £119 on Amazon. I got it for £90.

And I taught myself how to use Audacity, which is free.

I currently record all my podcasts through my laptop, which isn’t ideal. I’ve been told the Zoom recorder (not the video calling platform with which we’ve all become acquainted recently) is what I need to invest in next to get that audio popping, and I was on the precipice of buying it before the pandemic happened and everything went online.

It’s an expense, but one I considered worthwhile.

Make peace with limitations

You want this podcast to be the best that it can be, I get that. But from day one, I knew I didn’t have the resources to make Best Girl Grip as seamless and shiny as all those sponsored, professionally-produced podcasts. This was a budget, bedroom operation. And that means that at times, it sounds a bit janky. This is the part I’ve struggled with the most, and am still figuring out how to get high quality audio when the circumstances don’t always allow for that. I don’t record my interviews in a studio, when I looked into it, it was upwards of £50 an hour and considering I’ve now done over 60 episodes, that’s around £3000 that frankly, I don’t have lying around. I used to do them in small meeting rooms at the BFI, either on my lunch break or after work. (The smaller and more furnished the better so there is less echo and reverb.) But sometimes I’d have to go to an someone’s office where the only space available was a giant boardroom. It’s not ideal, but in prioritising the conversation, I figured I could get away with it. I’ve had complaints and people calling it unlistenable and I’ve asked for advice as to how I can make it better. I invested in a better microphone and I’ve honed my editing skills so that hopefully each episode is as good as it can be given that it’s never going to be perfect. But let’s face it, if a filmmaker said she wasn’t going to direct her debut feature because it wasn’t going to be financed by a studio and go on to win Oscars, you’d tell her to get over herself and make the damn film with what she did have. The same goes for podcasting.

Money

Ok real talk. I have some. I’m lucky to have a well-paid day job and zero other financial responsibilities besides paying rent which means from time to time I can indulge in a ‘me’ purchase. Here’s what the podcast has cost me so far…

  • Blue Yeti Microphone – £90
  • Audacity – free
  • Accusonus software for audio repair (ERA bundle) – £89 one-off payment
  • Podbean Unlimited Audio Annual Plan – £82.80 (a year)

So that’s around £350. I’ve made half of that back in live events, which I love doing and was definitely hoping to do more of before the pandemic, but in my mind the expenditure will for the time being outweigh the income because this isn’t my money-maker. This is a side hustle that I like doing without the complications or burden of monetary gain. And what I’ve gained from doing it has far exceeded what that financial gain could offer. (Again reiterating that my privilege very much allows this perspective).

I believe you have to have something in excess of 10k listens per week before a sponsor would entertain the idea of endorsing you. It’s a conversation I’m willing to have down the line, but honestly doing the thing itself takes up enough of my time and that’s where I want to put 100% of my focus at the moment.

Time

So how much time does it take to produce per episode? Here’s my breakdown…

  • 1-2 hours of research (this includes finding a guest, their contact info, then once they’ve agreed, prepping and writing the questions)
  • 1-2 hours of recording (interviews are usually an hour long, sometimes we get carried away…)
  • 3-4 hours of editing (I’m a slow editor, it’s really not my forte. I have no idea how long it takes other people, but if I really concentrate I can get it done in maybe 3 hours. I’ll go into what I mean by ‘editing’ below).
  • 1 hour of post (uploading the episode, writing any show notes, adding it to my website, letting the guest know it’s live and publicising it on social media)

So that’s about 9 hours a week, which is a full working day on top of my job. I’m not going to lie, it often feels like that. Since starting the podcast I am regularly doing a six day working week, but the thing that always energises and motivates and reminds me why I’m doing this are the conversations themselves. I always come away from an interview having learnt something and a massive smile on my face. Only you can decide if the podcast is worth your time. For me, it’s an easy yes.

Editing your podcast

There are lots of YouTube tutorials online for how to use Audacity. I didn’t watch any of them because I’m not great at learning that way. I tend to do better by diving in and learning through making mistakes. There have been several. The very first episode I edited corrupted and I lost the file. Now I habitually export the file after every major edit.

In editing mode

What does an edit entail? I called it a ‘light’ edit. I do the prep before the interview to try and make sure the conversation will flow and that the questions will do the work in telling that person’s story, so for the most part, the order stays exactly the same. I’m just tidying up pauses, repetitions or extraneous segues that feel distracting, so that what you hear is the conversation we had, but streamlined. As mentioned interviews usually last between an hour and 90 minutes and I try and get my episodes to sub 50 if possible. It doesn’t always happen, and I’m not that fussy about it.

I also like the safety blanket it gives my guests so that if they want to start over, or suddenly decided that something they’ve said should be off the record, I can edit that out. Then I pimp out the audio by making sure it’s as level as possible, getting rid of any external noises or interruptions and decreasing the reverb.

After that I record and add my intros and outros and add in the music! (I found my music here.) Then the final edit is ready to be exported and uploaded to podbean.

Promoting your podcast

The first step is deciding how regularly you wanted to put out your podcast and whether you have the capacity to stick to that. Podcasts get better traction if people know they can rely on it to deliver the goods! I release mine every Tuesday (lately I’ve switched to Fridays for pandemic related reasons) and barring one or two technical issues, I’ve stuck to that schedule.

I designed my logo in Photoshop with my fairly bare bones but serviceable skills. I’m pretty happy with the result. I wanted something colourful that captured the element of hearing women’s voices and experiences about navigating the film industry.

For the first year I did all my promotion through my own personal Twitter account @stonecoledfox because I’d established a ‘brand’ as a film-loving film industry professional and I was already following / followed by the people that I wanted to listen to the podcast. I’ve only recently set up an Instagram account for the podcast @bestgirlgrip because there is definitely value in having a curated space that is solely for the podcast, and it’s fun to engage with the insta community, particularly in recent times where I feel like it’s become more than a visual medium and more about elevation, dissemination and support.

As someone with a marketing background I did a lot of influencer outreach in the early days and emailed organisations, film schools and brands that I thought could amplify particular episodes, or might have a pre-established community that would enjoy listening to it. When I ask people how they found out about it though, most people say through word-of-mouth and honestly, you can’t beat organic recommendations like that. Again, it comes back to putting time into the thing itself and researching the guests, and letting that be it’s own promotion, rather than trying to publicise it too heavily. Oh and another thing I realised recently was that because my guests are fairly unusual / unique in the sense they haven’t always done lots of podcasts, or panels or public speaking and also their careers are sometimes quite niche, if you Google them with “podcast” or just their job title and podcast, Best Girl Grip does sometimes come quite high up in the search results. So circling back to point one, find your niche and carve out that space for yourself, because creating something different will pay off.

You can listen to all 62 episodes of Best Girl Grip on iTunes, Spotify and ACast!

If you have any other questions feel free to email me.

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