Last night, the most ambitious podcasting project I've ever produced was made public. No, this is not going to be a promotional episode about that new show. By now, you should know that's not really my style.
Instead, this episode is about recognizing your own limitations as a podcaster and then collaborating with other podcasters who have skills in other areas so you can collectively create a podcast experience bigger and better than any of you could do on your own.
It was almost a year ago, in late May of 2020, and the pandemic just getting started. It was also when an existing client introduced me to an associate of hers who was looking for a production partner on a new podcasting idea she had. It was clear from our early conversations, which started in earnest back in June, that we had an opportunity to do something markedly different than the client had produced before. The company already had some internal competency in podcasting, with a dozen or so podcasts coming out of various departments throughout the company.
But for this project, the standard business podcast format wouldn’t be sufficient.
Re-Imagining The Branded Podcast
I immediately knew that to make this really pop, I’d need some help. So I reached out to Sam Walker, veteran podcaster with BBC chops who moved to Phoenix literally on a whim two years ago. Initially, I was just going to pay her to do some consulting on the project. That idea lasted about five minutes in the wild, and I knew I needed a tight partnership with Sam to make this happen.
We decided that not only would the standard business interview podcast not cut it, but we’d be making something that didn’t perfectly fit the “branded content” mold either. Most branded content podcasts are about the brand, as you might have guessed from the name. Or they’re about customer success stories using the brand. Or other twists that put some other aspect of the brand front and center.
For this show, we knew the branding would be incredibly light, with the only brand-forward aspects coming at the top and tail, more in a “presented by” fashion.
But we knew the success of the show would ultimately be graded on its ability to drive business outcomes. However, we had a strong mandate and an opportunity to make a show that would be appealing well beyond the target demographic. No, we didn’t try to target “everyone”, because that means you target no one. Instead, we crafted a unique approach that would bring compelling stories to the episodes and a narrative arc to the six-episode first season in such a way that the secondary and tertiary demographics—people who are customers of and have experiences with companies, so that’s kind of everyone!—would be intrigued and might sample.
And if they sampled, we wanted to hook them right away.
At the start of the project, I thought I was a pretty good storyteller. And I suppose I still am, but Sam is great at telling stories via a podcast and sharing that vision with a client. All of the hard-fought knowledge she’s gathered as an award-winning audio-based journalist was front instrumental in not just our winning the contract, but also making sure the production of this behemoth podcast continued to live up to the lofty goals we defined early on.
Delighting Our Listeners Ears
With a plan in place, we were quite confident in our collective ability to create compelling audio. But we knew we needed to approach perfection in the quality of that audio, a lofty goal made more complicated by the pandemic and a guest list that demanded the most out of in-home recordings. With multiple voices in a single, contiguous episode, we knew we had our work cut out for us ensuring the in-episode listening experience was smooth and compelling.
To accomplish that, I turned to exceptional sound engineer Marcus dePaula, who I’d been wanting to work with on a project for more than a year now. Not only did Marcus help source an outstanding composer and musician (hi, Charlie!) who we commissioned to create the theme music for the series, but he also took on the incredibly important yet often overlooked task worthy of a podcasting project of this scale: mastering.
Marcus took the carefully mixed episodes and performed two primary tasks. First, he took the commissioned theme music and added it to the mix, using isolated riffs and secretions from the trucks and building loops to create give character, texture, and emphasis to the spoken words, drawing the ear’s attention back to the main points made by the guests and host.
Second, he worked hard—like, incredibly hard—to clean up some 20 different less-than-perfectly-recorded conversations with people (not podcasters) all around the world so that the natural differences in those recordings weren’t so noticeable to put casual listeners off the show.
And wow, did that work pay off! I’m tempted to share a before-and-after audio clip, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I thought the un-mastered version sounded fine, but now realize how incredibly wrong I was. Master your episodes, yo.
Creative Bravery Required
I first heard the term “creative bravery” from my friends at the excellent brand podcast production house Pacific Content. Over the last 10 months or so, I’ve gained a much better understanding of what that means, and why having the right client on board and in sync during the process is critically important.
This takes time. A lot of time. Much more time than we budgeted for, if I’m honest. But we did it, and all of us—those of us on the production side, the team on the client-side, and even our patient/quick-responding/amazing guests—can be incredibly proud of the final product.
This new show is one of the best and without question the biggest podcast I’ve ever created. And while I could have created a fine podcast for the client on my own, it would not have been possible for me to create a show of this level of quality and completeness had I not made the choice to collaborate with Sam and Marcus.
This is the part of the episode where I suggest you reach out to a peer and have a conversation about this topic. This is why I employ you to do that on every single episode of the show. I had already established a relationship with both Sam and Marcus prior to this opportunity. I knew they were talented. I knew the kind of work they did. And based on the personal relationship, I was confident we’d work well together. And I was right!
So yeah, take this episode and share it with a peer so that when the right opportunity comes up, you already know who you want on your team to make a show bigger and better than you can on our own.
I hope you’ll give it a listen. I think you're really going to appreciate what we accomplished from a content-creation point of view as a podcaster. But I also think you’ll like it as a listener. It’s packed with solid insights we can all relate to as customers. And you’ll probably find plenty of takeaways for how you might improve the listener experience of your own podcasting efforts.
If you like this idea about and example of collaborating with other podcasters to make something better than you can on your own, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and slide virtual coffee my way. And if you’re interested in ways we might work together on a big project; that'd be fun.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.