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There's an old saying that I tend to repeat often; Never meet your heroes. Especially if your heroes are celebrities. Generally speaking, I think that same advice applies to celebrities in the podcasting world as well. At the very least, it applies if you’re hoping to learn how to become a better podcaster from one of podcasting’s celebrities.
Many podcasters want to get better at podcasting. The fact that you're reading this article or have listened to the accompanying audio episode is a strong indicator that you want to get better at podcasting. And if you are actively engaging with the Advancing Podcasting community on Discord, it’s a near-certainty that you wish to get better at podcasting.
So it stands to reason that a demonstrably better podcaster is the right person to learn from, right? Surely someone who has created and grown a show to become one of the biggest in the podosphere would be the right person to learn from, especially if you want to emulate their success and make a podcast very similar to theirs.
Learning from the best seems logical. But in fact, history is littered with examples of why that’s often a terrible idea.
The Best Pros Are Often The Worst Teachers
After Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest NHL player to ever lace up the skates, retired from the game, he became the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons. Under his leadership, the team lost more games than they won. The greatest player the sport had ever seen wasn’t, it turned out, a good coach.
Stephen King's book On Writing is often quoted as a must-read by many authors. But in reality, it's his memoir and not a “how-to-write-books-the-way-Stephen-King-writes-books” book. Inspiring? For sure. Good curriculum? Not so much.
Musicians who want to get better know that while they can go down to their local music store and pick up sheet music or watch instructional videos from guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen that promise to teach how to shred just like Yngwie Malmsteen know that, after watching or reading, they still won’t be Yngwie Malmsteen.
Working actors aren‘t the ones signing up for masterclasses taught by actors with multiple academy awards on their mantle. Working actors know that those courses often do not provide actionable, sustainable techniques that propels forward their career in motion pictures. Because being a great actor does not mean being a great teacher.
Dabblers Love Learning From Pros
Generally speaking, when pros put out some sort of class or guide, they’re targeting beginners or those who just want to dabble. People who have an interest in a craft and are looking not for mastery, but the ability to quickly demonstrate a smattering of surface-level competency. They’re looking for shortcuts that make them feel like they’re better than they were before.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve watched more than one bass riff video to learn a tricky pattern. And I proudly demonstrated my newfound “skill” to my very patient wife who only rarely reminds me that my music “career” ended 20 years ago and that I should stick to podcasting.
Both dabblers and beginners eat up advice from pros. And for good reason! It’s fantastic to be able to copy a technique directly from the pro. It’s great to see exactly how they do it and then, if not match their style perfectly, at least incorporate some of the styles from the pro into their own repertoire. People just starting out or just dabbling will often show some immediate improvement after taking a class, workshop, or watching a video series from someone at the top of their game.
But those resources are for dabblers and beginners. And those improvements are marginal, at best. Typically, the improvements are single-use, learnings that allow one very specific thing without imparting any of the stepping stones that lead to further improvements. That’s not what the beginner or dabbler typically wants either.
Resources designed to transfer highly specific “quick hits” to beginners and dabblers are rarely of any use to experienced, already-working-in-the-craft people. The same is true in podcasting.
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Getting Serious About Your Podcast Education
Everyone currently podcasting—even the pros—experienced a point when they were a beginner. At some point, everyone—even pro podcasters—evolved to the dabbler stage. A much smaller set progressed to becoming more serious and start considering podcasting either as a career or as a part of their career.
At that point, the value we can derive from pros departs greatly from the beginners and hobbyists. What we get from the professional podcasters at the top of their game is primarily inspiration, not instruction.
When you get serious about your career as a podcaster, the educational bits aimed at beginners are of little value to you. Because you’re no longer a beginner. I get that you (like me) may sure feel like a beginner sometimes, especially when exploring new avenues of podcasting or worrying about new platforms and services that you’re only peripherally aware of. I’m right there with you much of the time.
But we’ve likely moved past the point where podcasting pros can help us. Particularly if the podcasting pro you want to learn from is putting out 101-level content. Yes, it may be great content. But it’s likely not great content for you, because you’re well past the need for 101 info.
So where are, exactly, the resources that help serious podcasters get better? How do we get the information we need to keep improving our craft so that we too can someday reach the top of our game?
Resources like this are a lot more scarce, for sure. They’ll be the focus of the rest of the episodes this week, and I’d love to incorporate some of your finds as well. There’s no one right way, after all.
Have you found an excellent resource for the serious podcaster? Do you know someone who’s great at teaching and has created educational materials that other serious podcasters need to know about? Let me know so I can explore and surface them on a later episode. You can email me or jump into the Advancing Podcasting community and contribute to the conversation.
And if you found this episode enlightening and you wish to return some of that value, please visit PodcastPontifications.com/support for many ways that you can make that happen.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.