Broadly speaking, there are two types of podcasters. Those who are working on the next episode they need to produce, and those working on the next episode they need to publish.
Those two groups are very much not the same.
Many, perhaps most, podcasters are of the latter ilk. The episode they currently have in development or is set as the next one to be developed is the next episode their audience is going to listen to. Sound familiar?
Serial podcasters—fiction, documentary, educational, et cetera—are much less likely to be in that spot due to the nature of their show. But episodic podcasters are very likely in a position where what we are working on now or what we will be working on next is also what our audience is going to hear next.
And many of them—many of us—would like very much not to be in that position.
The Podcasting Grass Is Always Greener
Life for "the others" not in that position looks pretty great to us. We see, read about, or hear from other podcasters who have a bank of five or six episodes already produced and scheduled to publish... and we're a little jealous. We imagine those podcasters living without the pressure to get a show produced right now. And we want that.
But "produce ahead" isn't a reality for every podcast. In fact, it's sometimes not possible. Podcasts that report the news like The Download from Sounds Profitable, Podnews, or Techmeme Ride Home can't be produced in advance. All three of those shows are news roundups, which means that the news has to be rounded up right until the requisite time required to produce and publish the next episode to listeners. Producing early would potentially mean missing "breaking news" content that their audience would have expected them to cover.
The same goes for shows that follow the release cycle of other media properties, like a companion podcast to a television show (or perhaps recap another podcast). Or for podcasts that cover trending topics. And podcasts that don't want to sound too dated.
Living in one world isn't categorically better than living in the other. The realities of the type of show you are producing often require a particular production and release cycle.
But many of us get to choose our production and our publishing schedules. And for those of us, who've chosen to mirror both our production and release schedules for some time, the idea of not doing that is really enticing.
We see ostensibly-smarter-than-us podcasters working on episodes that won't publish for weeks or months and we wish we could get ahead like they are.
If that's you, I have some bad news for you. There's no such thing as getting ahead in podcasting.
When I say "there's no such thing as getting ahead in podcasting", I need to clarify my position. And I'll do so, as I am wont to do, with a clunky metaphor.
Rock Hard Podcasting Abs
I'm no gym rat, but more than a few years ago, I managed to get in the best shape of my life. I was working out twice a day, five days a week. And while I wasn't going to make anybody swoon if my shirt accidentally fell off, I was markedly less Pillsbury Doughboy-like.
For about three months.
Then I slowed down on the workouts. And eventually, I stopped them altogether. And then, surprising exactly no one, my body reverted back to its own baseline. That's how life works.
To stay at the point I achieved, I would have had to have kept working out. I wasn't "getting ahead" of my metabolism. Nope. I had instead reached a new level of fitness that required a new level of commitment to stay there. Sitting back and admiring my diminished moobs clearly wasn't going to—and certainly didn't—keep me there.
The same happens with your podcast. You can't really "get ahead" with your episode production. Yes, you can put in the work to get your production schedule ahead of your release schedule. You can, as many podcasters do, work your tail off and get three or four episodes in the can and even scheduled to release in the future.
But if you don't keep working ahead, you'll see that gap between production and publishing quickly diminish. And, eventually, if you don't change your behavior, close. All it takes is letting a production date slide to start eating into your progress. All it takes is getting distracted by fun new projects you think you have the bandwidth for now that you're "ahead". But you're not ahead. And you're sliding back to your baseline with every missed production opportunity.
When I came back from my Long Winter's Nap in January of this year, I was a full month ahead. While you are listening to the episodes I released in early January, I was working on episodes that wouldn't publish until February.
But by early February, I was only ahead by a couple of weeks. And by the time you hear this episode that publishes in early March, I'll only be ahead by five days. Possibly less.
That's why I say there's no "getting ahead" with your podcast.
Had I really wanted to stay a full month ahead, I should have (and I hate saying should have) done was keep going. I should have made every day a production day, just like I had previously done for the prior three-and-a-half years, even if the produced episodes wouldn't publish for a month.
But I didn't do that. And my lead gradually withered.
There were many reasons—good reasons—why I didn't keep up with that production schedule. Launching new projects, exploring new podcast ideas... and also, to be honest, opting to not crank out an episode on a day when I wasn't feeling it and a gotta-put-this-out-today deadline wasn't staring me in the face.
That's why I say there's no getting ahead with your podcast. There's only adjusting your calendar and developing the discipline to keep separation between your production schedule and your publishing calendar.
That's not working ahead. That staying on schedule.
But as with anything, your mileage may vary. My mileage is certainly changed!
I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.