You can't change the fact that Conan O'Brien and other well-funded celebrities are coming into the podcasting space, I've a secret for you: they've been here for a long time and they're going to stay.
Why wouldn't they stay? This is a medium that people are flocking to on a quest to get great content. Big media companies know how to make money on media they put it in front of people. Big media companies have piles of cash to throw at awareness campaigns to make sure that millions of people are exposed to their new podcasts. Big media companies use those piles of cash to grab the best and most recognizable names to make podcasts with the celeb’s name in the title. Piles of cash are used to hire gigantic teams of a dozen or more talented people to work on a single episode.
And you, the indie podcaster… you probably don’t have any of that.
You likely don’t have piles of cash that you can use to hire a team of talented people. You probably don't have a name that is recognizable by the majority of households in this country (or any country). You likely can't spend hundreds of thousands or millions of marketing dollars to give your work exposure to the masses.
So no, indie podcasts probably cannot compete with big media podcasts at that level.
But big media doesn’t have a monopoly on shows that sound great. Some of them seem, to my ears at least, a little half-assed. Like they’re relying on the star-power to get away with skipping some of the spit and polish.
As my friend Tom Kelly stated so eloquently, indie podcast doesn't have to mean shitty podcast.
You do not have to invest tens of thousands of dollars to have amazing sound quality for your podcast.
You do not have to build a broadcast-level studio that puts you in the poor house.
Note: It’s possible that you might have to spend some money to improve your sound, but it doesn't have to be an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. Heck, it doesn't have to be an investment of much more than $1,000. (And if $1,000 seems out of your ballpark, I get it. But that still doesn’t mean give up. More on that in a moment.)
As an indie podcaster, we can compete with big media podcasts on quality. They’re probably going to win when it comes to marketing. They’re probably going to win when it comes to talent acquisition.
But there is nothing stopping you, me, or any individual person from making a podcast that always has amazing sound quality.
Granted, you may have to right-size your expectations. If you’re set on creating a podcast the same way the New York Times does with The Daily, the Washington Post does with Post Reports (hi, Martine!), or the way Defacto Sound does with Twenty Thousand Hertz, you’ll need a lot of people-hours. That’s harder for you to compete with as an independent person, perhaps juggling a day job. And even if podcasting is your full-time job, but you're just one person with no way to scale to the ~125 hours of work required to put out a complex episode.
So deal with that reality and do something different that does not require that level of people-hours. Reduce the frequency if you need to. Or better yet, reduce the complexity. Whatever you do, do not reduce the quality.
With very few exceptions, there’s nothing stopping you from ensuring your episodes sound amazing every single time. If you’re committed enough, you should be able to work with whatever tools you have at your disposal to make a show with amazing quality sound.
You’ve probably heard it said that your audience will forgive you if you try to reach for something that’s a bit out beyond your ken. That’s true, but only to a point. Know your limitations and work within them. Because if you spend countless hours putting together a highly complex episode but the quality of the sound sucks, you're wasting your time. And you’re wasting your listeners’ time.
Your goal is simple: when someone listens to the Conan O'Brien podcast and then listens to your podcast, that person should be unable to detect a difference in sound quality.
And if anything, you want your show’s sound quality to be better.
You can do this. You, the individual and independent podcaster can do this. No, there isn't a magical button or box that big media spent $50,000 on that makes their shows sound amazing. It’s mostly just people and resources. Well, you’re a person, and clearly you already have the resources to make a podcast.
Yes, this takes work. Yes, this takes commitment to your craft. Yes, getting better likely means doing things differently. Yes, it means understanding every bit of equipment, every piece of software, and everything else in the entire process of making your podcast and its episodes. Yes, this requires you to become a student of the process and to learn how to be a fantastic audio storyteller.
If you can do all of those things, then you can compete with big media podcasts where it matters the most: sound quality.
This is possible for any podcaster who's willing to invest the time and maybe a little bit of money. No, you may not be able to compete against marketing, talent acquisition, or other big money spends.
But dammit, you can compete on quality. And you can win.
The next time you get together with your podcasting friends, start a conversation about commitment to quality. If they ask you to check out their show, be honest with them about how you perceive the quality. They need to hear an unvarnished opinion.
And if you don't want to be the one to tell them, send them this episode of Podcast Pontifications and I will tell them how incredibly important sound quality really is.
Enjoy your Friday and the weekend, maybe using some hours in those three days to work on your sound quality if you need to.
I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.