There’s a lot to be said for DIY — it’s an incredible way to develop skills and find your own way of doing things. But let’s be clear: there’s a space between what defines “DIY” and “independent”, with lots of stops in between. Here, we hope to offer not so much “a definitive guide” so much as a bunch of tools, questions and prompts to help you figure out what works for you.
(After all, that’s what this whole thing’s about, right?)
What are we talking about?
- What’s a useful definition of ‘independent’?
- And what part of that definition is important to you right now?
- Is it editorial/creative independence, financial independence, the freedom to produce at your own pace, something else?
- Very often, the freedom to produce exactly what you want to is in inverse proportion to the money you will be able to make; in most cases, money is an investment, and investments usually come with responsibilities.
- It’s fine to prioritise either; just try to have realistic expectations.
- Will you do it completely solo, or will you bring others in?
- What role will the others play?
- If you’re considering collaborations, be sure to be comfortable with the idea of shared burden, and shared control.
- Are others there to contribute time, skills, ideas, labour, money? What will they come away with?
- How much control of the content do you really need?
- And, will you get it in the format you’re going for?
- Consider the differences between live event-based recordings, talk formats and produced features.
Be mindful of two conflicting ideas that are widespread in the romanticised narrative of podcasting:
That it’s a democratic medium anyone can enter.
That it’s a specialised craft that requires experience and skill.
Both are true.
Sex and Silence (or, what’s so special about about podcasts?)
What can you do on a podcast that you generally can’t do on broadcast radio?
Sex is the most common one.
You can get (really) graphic in a podcast, in ways that simply wouldn’t pass many established outlets’ editorial gatekeepers (or station standards).
You can use particular audio storytelling techniques, including delicate sounds and deliberate silence, for example.
Silence is broadcast’s most feared nemeses, but has a (strategic) place in podcasts. Subtle static? Sure you can, as in this episode of Here Be Monsters.
You can be as inconsistent or experimental as you like.
Which means you can play freely with form, style, tone and audio.
You can ask different things of your audiences.
Love + Radio’s tagline is “listen with headphones”—and that’s a request you can make on the spot.
People don’t pause the radio, find headphones, and start it again, but podcast audiences do.
You can use that to exploit the oftmentioned intimacy with your listener, but you can also choose to be more distant. The point is that you have people’s attention. And if you don’t, you can ask for it.
On gaining legitimacy as an indie producer
How do you legitimise yourself as an independent podcaster — earning the trust of listeners, interviewees and potential collaborators/contributors?
In the realms of marketing and publicity, podcasting often operates as a numbers game, so increasing listenership/downloads is the most obvious way of increasing your visibility and perceived value.
There are some other things you can do to vouch for yourself as a producer:
Accreditation. In Australia, the MEAA’s fantastic Freelance Pro membership was created especially to offer a mark of trust for an increasingly casualised media workforce.
A roster of reputable freelance clients.
Rebroadcasts of your work. This could be on radio, or in well-known podcasts.
A career that includes recognisable work. (eg. “I used to work at the BBC!”) Awards. These can be specific to audio (Third Coast, HearSay, Audiocraft Prize) or have a broader media remit (Prix Europa, New York Festivals, Walkley Awards, etc)
Coverage in traditional media.
In the beginning
What should you do before you start? What decisions should you make, and what should you ask of yourself? Here are some ideas. You don’t necessarily need to answer them all, but we thought them useful questions to help guide your thinking as you move from concept into production.
- What’s the idea? How would you describe why you should do this in a sentence? Find a way to communicate your idea/premise in a succinct and compelling way, even if that’s just in your email signature or Twitter bio.
- Who’s going to listen, and what do they want? What does your idea offer your audience? Have you checked to see what else is already out there?
- What are you actually going to ask of your audience? Listenership? Sharing your content? Reviews? Are you asking for money, input, or story ideas? There could be myriad things. Also consider: what’s the best way for them to give that to you?
- What are you seeking from it? It could be a reputation, a career, activism or advocacy, a place to explore and develop craft, a platform for your ideas, a focal point for a community, or something else entirely.
- What do you bring to it? Are there any advantages that you have, or something unique about your situation?
- What resources do you have? How can you make the best of them?
- What’s the format? How is it supposed to sound? Do you know how much work is involved? What skills do you have, and which do you need? Can you sustain it?
- Can the idea sustain itself? Is it neverending, or a finite series? Will you do seasons? Will anyone help you out?
- What’s it worth for you? Do you have a readymade source of funding, or is that something you’re going to need to devote time and energy to as well? Or are you going to do this for free? If so, why … and for how long?
Whatever your responses might be to the above, it’s important and practical to continue to ask these questions as you develop. You shouldn’t even aspire to final answers, just the self-awareness to start to answer — and keep re-asking — these questions.
Above all: have realistic expectations, and patience.
Got a burning question about audio storytelling you'd like answered? Let us know!