Sunday 25 August 2019

Taking the mic: how to master the DIY podcast

Wi-Fi and a decent hook is all you need to launch your own series, says Sophie White

Sophie White started her first podcast in January last year. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sophie White started her first podcast in January last year. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Sophie White

Everyone needs a gateway podcast - the show that starts them on the road to full-blown obsession. The one that took them from being the person who wasn't sure what that little purple icon on the phone was, to the person who is up on every additional update to Teacher's Pet and can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Casper mattresses (and gets these references).

I was late to the pod game - I didn't get a smartphone until 2016 when I had my second baby. Back then, everyone was talking about Serial, but I couldn't hear over the sound of newborn screaming. Serial came out in 2014 and has since gone on to be the biggest podcast in the world - as of September 2018, seasons one and two of the true crime series has been downloaded over 340 million times.

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There's an estimated half a million podcasts available on iTunes. And we Irish can't get enough of them: a Reuters report out this week revealed that a third of us listen to a podcast once a month. In fact, only two countries - Spain and South Korea - have higher listenerships.

And one of the biggest trends is making your own. For a while there, it seemed like everyone and their mother was hopping on the podwagon - literally, in podland, there are a fair few mother-daughter hosting duos and even a woman and her mother-in-law. So many people were taking to the medium, a New Yorker cartoon even appeared lampooning the podcast boom featuring two people chatting in a bar, one saying to the other: "I'm thinking of stopping a podcast."

But is it as easy as it looks? I started my first podcast in January 2018. I'd recorded a pilot for a series with an online publication, but the wheels were turning slowly with that project and against the advice of everyone, I decided to strike out on my own, figuring that what I was losing in terms of earnings, I was making up for in creative control and, hopefully, craic.

I was antsy because, at the time, there weren't too many Irish podcasts yet and I wanted to be the first parenting one because the medium is made for parents - we're lonely, cranky and up all night, a key demographic for the podcast scene. I had some notion I'd be able to DIY it after I'd been a guest on Esther O'Moore Donoghue's The 80% podcast - she had a set-up that wasn't too intimidating-looking.

Esther, who got her start in radio on TXFM and now works for TodayFM, invested in her kit. "I bought a couple of mics and a zoom and figured it out from there. My first episode took a week to edit and I cried 8,000 times. I was no expert, which is why my first interview with Amy Huberman sounds like I've sellotaped her to the inside of a bin."

I asked my friend Jen O'Dwyer if she would be my podwife. We named the podcast Mother Of Pod. She made the logo and took charge of the aesthetic of our Instagram page. The next job was figuring out how to actually get our voices on the internet. I emailed a woman I knew from previous work in digital, Cassie Delaney, who had a podcast called Before Brunch and asked if we could go for coffee so I could pick her brain.

Cassie initially offered to loan us her equipment to record a pilot and then, presumably despairing of my tech ineptitude, she offered to produce the first episode to get us started - 50 episodes later, we've managed to hang on to her. Between asking Cassie and googling, I just about managed the other technical bits.

I vividly remember the first night we put an episode up, I think I had about 2,000 people on my Instagram page and Jen was a private account, so when thousands of people listened to the first episode, it was such a shock. I'd said to myself, 'oh, it'd be really cool if 50 people listen', so when 5,000 people did, it was bonkers.

Mother Of Pod seemed to spread through word of mouth and WhatsApp groups, and in January of this year, Cassie, Jen and I launched The Creep Dive - another podcast, this time focused on the stories of the bizarre, macabre and downright creepy that we find ourselves deep diving on the internet.

The Creep Dive took off in a big way and currently about 9,000 people a week listen, with nearly 200 creeps and creepettes supporting our Patreon page.

We used to record on the floor of my father-in-law's living room because it was the only place I knew that had a carpet. In the year and a half since, however, Cassie has founded Tall Tales, a podcast network and now we're incredibly professional with mic stands and everything.

Much of the appeal of podcasts for both listeners and makers lies in the DIY element. As Esther from The 80% says: "Hosts can say anything and shape their shows to be as weird and idiosyncratic as they want to be."

The medium allows for an intimacy with hosts that is largely absent on mainstream radio. With a podcast, goofs and gaffs are often left in, underscoring the loose chatty vibe and making us feel we really know our hosts.

When I queued up to meet Karen and Georgia (from My Favourite Murder - a hugely successful true crime podcast) last year, it felt like I already knew them.

When I meet people who listen to MOP or TCD, their knowledge of past episodes is incredible. We've had people reference things we can't even remember saying! We also get a lot of messages from women who have told us that Mother Of Pod genuinely helped them adjust to motherhood which, if you've had a baby, you'll know is a pretty incredible compliment.

One woman told us that MOP should be HSE-funded because we're providing a public service - hilarious, especially given Jen and I are mostly just recounting our recent searches on PornHub, weak pelvic floor incidents, and how to clean human excrement out of a wicker basket (don't ask).

The beauty of podcasts is that there is nothing too niche, says Liam Geraghty, who just put Irish podcasting on the map in a major way this week, winning two bronze trophies at the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Awards. "Podcasts are popular because you can listen to anything you want. You want to listen to a four-part series about Dracula in pop culture? It's a podcast. You want to listen to an episode about people who role play as the gardaí in Ireland? It's a podcast. I know because I've made them! And listeners develop a sense of loyalty to the show.

"Myself and my friend Craig O'Connor decided we wanted in on the podcasting lark back in 2008. It's funny because people think of podcasting as a new thing now in 2019, but when we started, it was over 10 years ago."

While podcasts occasionally sound a bit unrefined, mostly listeners have high expectations and if the sound's below par, you'll hear all about it in the iTunes reviews.

"Initially, we looked into doing a DIY job," says Fionnuala Jones of Bandwagons podcast. "However, the expense of equipment put us both off. We decided we were better off just renting a studio in the beginning as we knew how to edit and produce from college."

As Fionnuala says, in podworld, content trumps production values. "No amount of fog horn sound effects or jazzy jingles is going to make up for sh*te conversation on a subject matter that hasn't been researched."

Irish Independent

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