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Write these two rules down, podcasters. Rule #1: Never meet your heroes. Rule #2: A dream job cannot be both.
Clearly, there are rare exceptions. I've met Drew Ackerman from Sleep With Me several times and can say he is a genuinely lovely person. Also, I’ve had jobs that I really loved and felt really loved at. For a while.
You’ve probably heard the adage “Find a job that you love and you'll never work a day in your life”. Eventually, you’ll come to learn that's garbage, privileged advice. Because no matter how much you love your job; it’s still a job. And not all parts of the job are fun. Not always.
Podcast Producer - Best Job Ever?
Being a podcast producer sounds like a fun job. Hey, it’s my job to produce podcasts on other people’s behalf and I can tell you that yes, absolutely, it is fun. And yes, absolutely, I love it. Most of the time. Other times, it’s just a job.
Back in the early days of podcasting, I saw many of my friends jump into the “podcast consultant” career path. I resisted the temptation, mostly because I was paid well enough in my day job, but also because I put everything I wanted to say about “how-to-podcast” into Podcasting For Dummies back in 2005.
I saw other friends take what they knew about podcasting to build a podcasting competency in their employer’s organization. I flirted with the idea of doing that as well, as my day job was in digital advertising and marketing, and we could have offered podcasting services to our agency’s clients. But I never seriously pursued that option.
It’s not that I’m risk-averse. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s just that I’d seen how those paths played out for other “new media things” that were hot. And, to be fair, still are hot. Blogging, video production, social media… I watched my friends and colleagues fight hard to create that internally for their employer or as something more than a side hustle for themselves. And for some, it worked great! But others—most others, in my experience—the honeymoon was over quickly.
Creating Podcasts vs Creating Profits
There's a conflict between creators like you and me who want to create amazing things and those who we create for. Those on the other end, especially if they are a business, may seem to want the same thing we want: to create amazing content. They’ll high-five us when engagement numbers are high or when we see a big spike in our metrics that shows more people are digging the content we’re making on their behalf. They’ll tell us they’re giving us the room to make more of that.
But what they really want is to make money.
Because if they don't make money, they can't make payroll, which means they can't pay us or anybody else to make great content on their behalf. So while they’re telling us that they, like us, want to make amazing content, they still have to make money. Maybe not directly from our efforts. But at least enough to cover our efforts, and then some.
In most companies, most podcast production will be seen as a cost-center, not a revenue-driver. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of an internal on-the-payroll team, working as a contractor, providing freelance services, or are the agency of record. If you and your efforts are not directly driving substantial revenue to the company, you’re a cost-center. And cost-centers always face pressure to either lower costs or increase efficiency.
Ignorant Bosses Everywhere
If podcasting is not core to the business that’s paying you to make a podcast, then it’s highly likely that your boss (and your boss’ bosses) are going to know a lot less about podcasting than you do. Worse, there’s a very good chance that the people you report to don’t even listen to podcasts. Not even the ones you produce on their behalf.
Even though podcasting has been a real thing for a couple of decades, The Infinite Dial 2021 report reminds us that 72% of American’s don’t listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. There’s a very good chance that if those decision-makers are listening to podcasts at all, it's an infrequent behavior at best.
Preparing For The Inevitable
If you’re being paid to produce a podcast for someone else, you need to prepare yourself for the reality that, at some point, that’s going to come to an end. Because all jobs come to an end. The proverbial writing is on the wall. It may not happen today. It may not happen tomorrow. But I assure you it will happen.
Here’s how you can prepare for that harsh reality.
Do and document your best work
Even if—or perhaps especially if—things are getting shitty at work, you’re still being paid to do a job, so do your best work to the specifications outlined. In fact to a little more. You want to use that work as a showcase in the future, right?
So take screenshots of your work-in-process, showing before and after. Grab source files or other materials as you can and save them outside the work environment. Caveat: Don’t violate any contracts you may have signed. I’m not advocating corporate espionage in any form. But I’ve usually found it simple enough to “sanitize” assets so they serve my purposes without crossing any confidentiality lines.
Get credit for your work
Even if you’re just a freelancer or contractor, you should ask for credit if you’re an integral part of the show. And yes, a podcast producer is an integral part, any reasonable person would agree.
Ideally, the place for this credit is in the in-app episode details. If you’re worried about pushback, play the best-practices card and give your boss Executive Producer credit while you’re at it! They’ll probably love the idea and will be happy to have you listed there as well.
Build your credibility
Once again avoiding any employment contract issues, get on the circuit and start talking about you, the podcast producer, in the podcasting industry. No, you can’t speak on behalf of your client, but you sure can speak on behalf of you, the podcast producer. And you can reference shows you’ve worked on.
Update your LinkedIn profile by listing each of the podcasts you're working on/have worked on as a project, detailing specifically what your role was/is on the show. And if you do list your actual job in the Experience section, make sure it talks more about you than it does the show, OK?
Do you know someone who's not happy with their job as a podcast producer? If so, share some of these ideas with them. Send them a link to this article so they, too, can prepare for the inevitable.
And if you personally found value in my thoughts, please consider going to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra to buy me a virtual coffee.
I shall be back tomorrow for another Podcast Pontifications.