I’ve spent some time this week catching up on all the news from last week’s Podcast Movement. PM is the big, annual US conference on all things podcasting. And while many sessions caught the eye, VP of Libsyn, Rob Walch’s session busting the marketing myths of podcasting was standing room only.
The myth that captured the most attention in Rob’s talk revolved around the ideal length of a podcast. Conventional wisdom says it should be about 22 minutes, as that’s just below the average length of a commute. Complete bunkum, says Rob. In fact, of the shows that had hit a hundred thousand downloads within 60 days, only 10% were under 30 minutes. 84% of them were 50 minutes or longer.
I worry people cling too tightly to stats like these. New podcasters may decide to go longer because they think that’s the way to get bigger downloads. What they might not think about is whether they have enough quality content to sustain 40 minutes, 50 minutes, an hour.
Ideal Length of a Podcast
So how long should a podcast actually be? The question is impossible to answer; unless your happy with the answer “It depends”. It depends on the subject matter, it depends on the target audience. Our physical and emotional circumstances dictate the length of our attention spans from one day to the next.
Your podcast should be as long as it needs to be, providing that it remains compelling. If it doesn’t, you’re likely to lose people’s attention. Harsh as it sounds, you’re likely to start wasting your time and theirs.
No one is ever ungrateful to be handed back time. No one is ever disappointed if a delivery that was due between 9 and 5 turns up at 9.05, or even 9.30. So, if you’ve got some great points to make in your podcast, make them and get the hell out of there – while your listeners still want more.
Personally, I shudder when I see a podcast stretch over an hour, because I know I don’t have an hour to give. I will make exceptions, but the chances of me listening in one sitting is very unlikely.
Of course, what feels long to me might not feel long enough to someone else. But what unites podcast listeners is the need to derive value from what their listening to. Quality counts. I may balk at an hour but I wouldn’t listen to a 20 minute podcast if I thought it wasn’t going to be an investment of my time.
The average duration of the Top 10 Podcasts in the US right now is 40 minutes. Take Up First and Planet Money out of that Top 10 – both of which are under 20 minutes – and that average shoots up to nearer 50 minutes. Most, if not all, of these podcasts have big production teams. The latest edition of This American Life credits 34 people, plus presenter Ira Glass. These are resources beyond the reach of nearly all of us. Most UK radio stations don’t have 35 people on their staff, never mind on a single programme strand.
No one begrudges This American Life this level of production. It is magnificent. Perhaps the original podcast gallactico. My point is that every word on every edition of TAL is measured. Poured over. Thought through. Nothing is wasted. No second of those 59 minutes is left to chance. This episode of Gimlet’s Start Up lifts the curtain a little on how much effort goes into producing big podcasts like these.
Would I give 50 minutes of me time to Start Up or This American Life? Absolutely I would. I do. But that’s because I trust them that each minute of that programme is worth the investment.
Can the same be said of your podcast? Are there any areas that are flabby? Is that introduction too long? Are you jokes too in? Is your audio quality good enough to listen to over a sustained period? Is your content well thought through? Do you know how you’re going to start, move on, end? Are you guiding your listener by the hand through your episode, so they know what’s coming next?
Challenge yourself. Does every minute offer value? If it doesn’t, cut it back.
Because, we’re all time poor. And your listener is trusting you with one of the most precious commodities they have; their time. If you handle that with care, then you’ll build a relationship that will see them transition from occasional listeners, to regular listeners, to fans, to advocates. If you don’t, then you have to expect the opposite.
Steve Austins is the Director of Bengo Media. Talk to us about helping you delivering great content, every time.
Earlier this week I received an email from a friend. He said he and two of his friends were setting up a new podcast. It’s the kind of news gets me punching the air with joy nowadays. It takes all sorts, I know.
Crucially the email said:
“we have absolutely no funding. What is the minimum equipment can we get away with? I was thinking of initially recording it via my iphone/ipad but need mics and possibly a simple edit software to add a jingle or two.”
Hmm. Providing there’s a little wiggle room on the “absolutely no funding” thing, challenge accepted.
We all hear that setting up your own podcast need not be expensive. But just how cheap can you set up a three person podcast for? Well, let’s start with the basics. For something like this, you need the following:
Plus, if you want a jingle or two, you need to budget for that too. So, let’s break it down.
Let’s face it, your new podcast is going to be amazing: a ratings winner. So, unless you’re sitting on significant bandwidth at home,you’ll need a podcast hosting site to deal with all the download requests your podcast will get.
A hosting site both manages your media files and generates you an RSS feed, which you need for iTunes and other podcast directories.
However, you can cut out the ongoing costs and find a provider that does hosting for free. Do tread carefully though. For example, do your homework on SoundCloud, which seems to be under a consistent financial cloud at the moment. Check out Podigee, Buzzsprout and Spreaker for its limited free option. For me, Podiant seems to have the best free plan, offering unlimited storage and bandwidth, an embedded podcast player and analytics – all for zip. People talk highly of Podiant within podcast circles, so they are well worth checking out.
Running Total £0
Let’s be honest, you could spend nothing at all on microphones. You could pick up your iPhone and speak into the in-built mic and interview your friends in the same way. If you did, at best you’d get arm-ache. At worst, it would sound terrible and no one would listen.
If you are going to do that, at least invest in a mic windscreen and put it over the in-built mic to get rid of pops and interference. In fact, having a windscreen in your bag is a good idea for recording quick out and about interviews for your show.
Investing in some microphones is pretty much a must. And, a decent start-up solution need not cost the earth. Lapel or lavalier (lav) mics are a good starting point and work well with smartphones. But they are condenser microphones, so find a quiet room to record in as they will pick up background noise.
You can pick a lavalier mic for under a fiver. – meaning you could mic up a double headed podcast for less than £10. But adding that third person into the mix – as my friend wants to – makes things a little more complicated and pricey. In this case, it might be worth looking at the Movo range. The Movo PM 20 has two mics on the one lead, with the PM10 a more straightforward one headed lav. I use PM10s and they create a good sound for a reasonable price.
Three lav mics would set you back £40. But if you consider the best cheap directional podcast microphone is about £60, you can see what a good deal this is.
To get those lavs mics plugged into a smartphone, you’re going to need an adapter. The Rode SC6 is very good because it allows you to plug in two mic leads and a set of headphones at the same time.
Running Total £52.51
So now that you’ve got a decent and low cost mic set-up, next its finding some recording and editing software. And here’s the mind blowing thing – you can do this bit for free.
If you’re an Apple user, check out iTalk Recorder, which allows you to record up to a 44.10kHz sample rate. It’s a simple and effective app to use. And I’m not sure you need the £1.99 upgrade offered as an in-app purchase.
If you want a step up, then the Ferrite app is pretty unbeatable. It’s a free multitrack recorder and editor, while maintaining a simple user interface. There are a selection of upgrades available all the way up to £19.99 but you can record up to one hour at a time on the free app, which may be all you need.
On Android, you can try Easy Voice Recorder or Audio Recorder. But whatever smartphone you use, please bear in mind that apps can be buggy at times. For peace of mind, you may eventually want to upgrade to a digital audio recorder. Zoom have a great range, from the basic H1 to a H4n or H6 for more complicated set-ups..
Once you’ve recorded, then it’s time to edit. And if you’ve got a desktop or laptop computer, then take a look at Audacity. It’s a free open source editing suite which is the choice of many podcasters. If you have a Mac or a MacBook, then the in-built Garageband, will also do the job well for no money. There are tonnes of how-to videos for both pieces of software on YouTube.
Running Total £52.51
Getting the audio spot on is important but your visuals are important too. To get your podcast registered on iTunes and other directories, you need artwork. Podcast art needs to be a 1400 x 1400 pixel image and has stand out to grab attention. If you’re a dab hand at Photoshop, you could do it yourself. Or there are lots of podcast artwork designers on Fiverr.
Running Total £56.41
You don’t need a jingle or a theme tune but a good theme tune can help your podcast be memorable for listeners. However, copyright law prevents you from just picking your favourite song and putting it at the top of your show. Instead, you’ll need to use royalty free music, which is clear for you to use once you’ve paid a small fee. There are lots of these sites – including two I’ve used in the past, Audio Jungle and Audio Network. The latter allows you to download a WAV of your chosen piece of music for £6.99 plus VAT. They do offer 10 MP3 downloads for free to get you started too.
And with that, you’re all set. Yes, you need to register your podcasts on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn amongst others, but that’s not going to cost you any money. So, at current prices, anyone looking to do a three person podcast can do it for a total cost of £64.80. Not bad eh? Certainly on a par with three friends going out for a meal.
Caveats? Well, smartphones and apps make me twitchy, so a decent digital audio recorder is a good investment. Secondly, putting a few quid into the coffers of a start-up like Podiant will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside (and help them stay in business in the long term). Finally, good directional microphones will give you a much better sound than lavs.
But all in all, this is a good set up to get going. Which means now all you have to worry about is getting the content right. Putting a price on that? Well, that’s a whole other story.
Steve Austins is the Founder and Director of Bengo Media. Check out how we can help get your podcast off the ground and make your content stand out.
Hot on the heels of a hastily called General Election in the UK, Blurrt, a Cardiff based social data analytics company, commissioned Bengo Media to help them take their first steps in to the podcasting world to showcase how their skills could shed new light on classic election talking points.
‘Blurrt Out The Vote‘ was a weekly podcast that discussed how the General Election was being played out through the eyes of Twitter users.
Follow their progress and results in this case study.
I was just approaching 18 months old when the King abdicated, so what I know about Elvis has been gained from television, radio and playing catch up on some of his greatest hits. Plus, for many years, I’ve watched and listened in awe to the passion of Elvis fans at the annual Elvis Festival in Porthcawl, South Wales, which has always been a must-do outside broadcast for my old radio station, BBC Radio Wales.
But whether you’re a fan of the King or, like me, swotting up furiously to catch up, there are some great podcasts about Elvis ready for you to download and listen to.
To start, I’d recommend Pete Mitchell’s excellent podcast series This Day in Music, where you’ll find a two parter on the early life of Elvis, revolving around his time in the US army. Yes, that’s right, in 1958 Elvis was drafted into the army and served for two years as a regular soldier – can you imagine Bieber doing that? Mitchell’s documentary tells the story well and the production is both music and archive rich, giving it the edge over many of the podcasts here.
Meanwhile, Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, tells the story of how the media in Elvis’ hometown reported the news of his death, in the first of its series Eternal Fame: 40 Years Later. The star of the show is veteran disc jockey Rob Grayson, who was a rookie overnight presenter deputising on the afternoon show when the news broke. Not only did he have to navigate his way through a shift that would define his career, he later had to become an instant Elvis expert by doing a procession of interviews for radio stations across the world. Not bad for a 19 year old Beatles fan!
For an insider’s perspective on Elvis, check out a podcast series from 2012 called The Gospel Side of Elvis. The late Joe Moscheo, a member of gospel group The Imperials — who performed with the King between 1969 and 1971 — and author of a book of the same name, tells the tales of working with and knowing Elvis, and particularly his love of gospel music. Each of these episodes were built short, to the point and no doubt intended to sell books but they are beautifully crafted and well worth your ears for a morning’s commute.
Despite positioning itself as the place to get ‘the latest Elvis news and events happening here a Elvis Presley’s Graceland’, the Official Graceland Podcast hasn’t updated in a few months. But if you’re a fan of Elvis’ movie career, this is the place to come, with a bank of short, conventional, two header review show which do a decent job. But I was expecting a bit more, particularly in the run up to the anniversary.
So instead we turn to the hardcore fans. Online station, TCB Radio, run a fairly regular podcast service, full of ‘news you can use… produced by Elvis fan for Elvis fans’. TCB stands for Taking Care of Business, Elvis’ motto and the name of his rhythm band through the final years of his career. Of course, you’d have to be a fan to know that, but that’s the point – this is proper fanzone territory. Expect shout outs, events, giveaways and facts. The only complaint is that the episodes are broadcast first on Facebook Live and the podcast could do with a heft bit of post production to remove the visual bits. But if you want to experience what I used to see at the Porthcawl Elvis Festival, this is it.
Perhaps the most unusual and refreshing take comes from a Penaltybox Productions’ Elvis And, which sees an improv comedy group take key moments in the life of Elvis Aaron Presley and create comedy sketches around them. It’s very daft, and downright rude in places, but it’s very entertaining. Check out the episode on the Million Dollar Quartet, which is perhaps the most far-fetched take on the infamous and impromptu Sun Records Studios session you’ll ever hear.
People talk about 2016 like it was the end of days. But if I were last year, I’d be talking to my lawyers right now, because it doesn’t have a patch on 2017. I’ve lost count how many times my stomach has turned this year: the thought of civil rights being rolled back in America; the sheer man-made horror of Grenfell Tower; terrorism back in the UK big-time; and now, this week, a nuclear fuelled stand-off between the US and North Korea. My appetite for consuming the news is somewhat waning.
If, like me, you’re looking for some escapism, here are four great podcasts guaranteed to lift your mood and forget the world for a while.
James O’Brien is omnipresent at the moment. The talk show presenter is marking himself out as a bit of a liberal lion, whose LBC show is a thorn in the side of right wing politicians and press alike. Therefore this seems like an odd place to start on the quest for happy podcasts.
However, there is an hour a week of James’ show that is fenced off – sacred almost – in its intention to get away from the day’s news agenda. Mystery Hour is a phone-in dedicated to solving mysteries. Not murder mysteries or conspiracy theory mysteries. But the most mundane mysteries like:
How is it that we hold our pee until we can see the toilet bowl?
Why do you throw salt over your shoulder for luck?
and, Why don’t dolphins get the bends?
You ask the question, and either James or his listeners will answer it.
However, the bar is high. If the question is deemed boring, pointless or has been asked and answered before, you’ll be treated with the ire normally reserved for right-wing nut jobs (albeit with tongue firmly in cheek). Meanwhile, in order to get a much coveted, canned round of applause, you must state your qualifications for answering the question – “I googled it” really does not cut the mustard. At the start of each episode, James promises that you will almost certainly learn something new and there will be at least one belly laugh every week. The show delivers on both counts.
There are plenty of belly laughs in the BBC’s new bespoke podcast of the best of its radio shows. Now, admittedly, I’m a little smitten with Fortunately‘s two presenters, Jane Garvey and Fi Glover. They were my era of 5Live presenters, when listening to the BBC’s news and sport network was not only essential for my job (as a junior researcher in the BBC Wales newsroom) but also a real joy. Jane was brilliant at keeping the acerbic Peter Allen in line on 5Live Drive. Fi was essential listening both late at night and afterwards in the slightly more civil mid-morning slot.
Before long, both headed off to join the grown-ups on Radio 4. But this podcast allows them to let their hair down and embody that cheeky, intelligent but fun spirit that 5Live had in its hey day. Check out the episode with Jeremy Vine to see what I mean.
Fortunately is a bit like Radio 4’s Pick of the Week. That is if Pick of the Week was presented by two of your best friends over a glass of wine (it’s actually recorded in the BBC cafe so no wine is actually imbibed, but roll with me here). Imagine Pick of the Week without a script and with little reference to the audio clips it plays, other than to fuel a wonderously ponderous conversation. So, actually, it’s nothing like Pick of the Week at all. But oh my god, it’s brilliant.
He earns £1.7 million a year for presenting Match of the Day, so you’d expect Gary Lineker to have someone to walk his dog for him – and certainly to clean up the poo. But, no; residents living around south west London are used to seeing England’s greatest living centre-forward take his Yellow Labrador for a walk around the local park, poo-bags in hand. And its just as well, because it seems Snoop (dog, geddit?) isn’t fazed by the presence of a microphone when doing his business, thus leaving his very famous owner clearing up one almighty bowel movement.
You’ll be pleased to know Walking The Dog is not predominantly a podcast about dog-mess. Instead, it’s a lovely, simple and effective interview format where host, Emily Dean, interviews people about their lives while taking their dogs out for a stroll. It’s effective because the point of a good interview format is to make the interviewee relax and feel comfortable sharing. And here Gary shares a lot about his childhood, home-life, even the end of his second marriage. In fact, the only thing Emily fails to get out of him is how he voted in the 2017 Election: which probably disappointed the Daily Mail more than it disappointed me.
And talking of great interview formats with a twist, check out this brilliantly silly podcast where Steven Davidson interviews fellow comedians about their life and career. The twist? The questions Steven poses refer to a life that he has completely made up for his guests and they are learning about for the first time. In the latest episode, former Scottish Comedian of the Year, Mark Nelson, has to improvise his way through questions such as how it felt growing up as the youngest of Prince Rogers Nelson and Margaret Thatcher’s three children; and whether he still get a hard time for accidentally killing Ronnie Corbett at a trampolining competition. It’s certainly surreal but also laugh out loud funny at times. Perfect escapism stuff, in fact.
Steve Austins is the Founder and Director of Bengo Media. Talk to us about creating a podcast to help cheer the world up a bit.