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Steps in Creating Podcasts

Content creation enterprises operate in a broader chain of tasks and transactions that culminate in someone listening to a podcast (or consuming any type of cultural product).  Here is one conceptualization of that chain:

Conception

The first step in this flow is conception, which involves developing ideas about the subject matter and format of a podcast episode or other multimedia item.  By “subject matter”, I mean the ideas, people, events, artifacts, or other items that serve as the nominal focus of a piece of content.  Questions of subject matter ask, What is this program about?  In contrast, “format” refers to how the subject matter is presented: length, style, emotional tenor, presentations guidelines, etc.

In the production of a single podcast program, this phase involves answering questions like: What is this episode about?  How long will it be?  Who is going to say what?  What other kind of audio is going to be featured?  These are the kinds of questions that can paralyze a nascent content creation enterprise, and ultimately prevent someone who is otherwise keen on podcasting from ever producing anything.

Podcast series that do survive often conventionalize or routinize many of the decisions that are determined at this stage.  For example, they settle on things like show length, presentation format, editorial guidelines, or performer roles.  Many established podcasters seem to develop a sense of what interests their audiences (particularly as communicated back to them through show comments or social media), and these exchanges help generate new ideas what or whom to feature in future programming.  As such, the establishment of mature show concepts can be seen as an asset that helps creators produce more (and hopefully better, more refined) content.

Content Procurement

The next two steps in the process involve production, in which ones creates the sound file for distribution.  It begins with content procurement, assembling the raw audio that will eventually be worked into a polished  program.

Original Content Generation.  By original content, we mean original audio material that is performed or captured by the content creation enterprise’s personnel.  This can include the performance of scripted material, conversations, or the capture of “real world” events that occur outside a studio.  Original content generation is a podcast’s lynchpin.  Without it, the content creator is just posting raw sound clips.  However, some enterprises do operate with very little original content.  For example, the YouTube channel police activity posts publicly-release police dashcam and bodycam videos without commentary (although it does edit the videos, which in and of itself is a form of content generation, see below).

Secondary Content Procurement. Many creators leverage their access to outside audio content to create their programming.  Sometimes, the challenge is finding great audio.  When it can be found, quality secondary content can produce compelling, popular experiences for the audience. When asked for an example of a podcast (at least partly) built on great secondary material, I recommend the first season of Atlanta Monster, a miniseries that uses audio excerpts of archived TV news programs to tell the story of The  Atlanta Child Murders of the 1980s.

Sometimes, the hurdle here can involve indentifying quality content, and having both the money and know-how to secure permission from those who own the content.  For example, what is arguably America’s most popular baseball podcast, ESPN’s Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney, reviews the day’s baseball games using the licensed from radio broadcasts and press conferences.  It takes a considerable amount of money to purchase permission to use this content in your podcast, assuming these rights even can be purchased (i.e., if ESPN hasn’t negotiated an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball and all of these broadcasters.)

Editing

The second step in audio production is editing.  Editing involves transforming these various pieces of audio into a polished program.  Operations might include cutting audio in clips, removing distracting or undesired audio elements from clips, adding or removing music or sound effects, changing volume, adding or removing silence, and much else.

Editing plays a major role in the ultimate experience that a podcast renders to its listeners.  It is possible to manipulate sound elements in ways that make the same exchange take on a different feel and possibly even convey different meanings or producing different subtexts for the foregrounded text of a podcast discussion or narrative.  For example, one can insert moments of silence to impart a sense of awkwardness or reticence on the part of the speaker, or silence can be removed to impart a sense of excitement or high engagement in interactions.  One can amplify background noise to impart a sense that a discussion is taking place in a busy environment, or can extract background noise to really foreground a particular person’s speech.  The main point is that what you hear on a podcast is often different from how it sounded when it was recorded, because podcasters often can and do manipulate audio to orchestrate an experience for the listener.

Once a podcast is edited, it is ready to be distributed. 

Posting

The next step in the process of creating podcasts is to place programs somewhere on the Internet.  Typically, when a user accesses an episode on, say, iTunes, their podcast players are directing users to a file that the podcaster themself is hosting on a website that has been registered with Apple.  The iTunes database queries these feeds for new content, then directs alerts or notice of this new content to the iTunes listener.  All of this is to say that finding a place to host your audio files on the web is part of the podcaster’s job.

Podcasts can be hosted on personal sites, like a WordPress site through their Internet provider or a general purpose hosting service (e.g., GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services).  Within the podcasting space, there have emerged several specialty podcast hosting services (e.g., Castos, PodBean, Blubrry, Libsyn).  Some of these hosting services appear to be growing, extending their product offerings, and in turn making plays in both vertical and lateral integration within the podcast services sector. 

Posting is a nontrivial facet of podcast development.  A podcaster can develop web sites in ways that can help people find the podcast (e.g., through search engine optimization or by creating web tools to facilitate or improve social media posts about the show), help build community (e.g., by creating comment spaces or online forums where listeners can interact with one another), to cross-promote a creators’ podcast with other elements of their media portfolio, or by serving as a hub for the enterprises monetization (e.g., through merchandising, sponsor links).

Promotion

Our final step is promotion, actions that are taken to attract new audiences to try the episode.  Search engine optimized show pages (as mentioned above) are one way to do promote a podcast.  Many podcasts orchestrate social media campaigns, in which they try to attach their released content to trending social media terms or tags.

One interesting dynamic that we’ve observed in shows whose format included invitees (e.g., guests on interview shows): There is sometime a deliberate cross-promotion, in which shows seek out guests with large personal followings partly in hopes that some of the guests’ following can be converted into show followers.  It is a reciprocal transaction, in which guests often participate in a show with a tacit expectation that the show’s audience will convert into personal followers as well.  I will describe this “reciprocal platforming” dynamic at greater length in future posts.

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