Discover more from Be a Better Podcaster
Let's Talk About Podcasting Myths
or why the gurus and "experts" aren't helping you or your show
For the last 14 years, I’ve been involved in podcasting. Okay, that’s not quite correct - I published my first podcast episode back in 2009 on BlogTalkRadio, but then didn’t record anything else until 2016. So, technically, I’ve been in the space for the last 7 years - my bad!
That’s both as a podcaster, someone creating podcasts for others either through the agency I used to work at or my own freelance stuff back in the day, or as Head of Podcaster Support & Experience at Captivate, one of the leading podcast hosting, distribution, analytics, and growth/monetization platforms in the industry.
Over that time, as podcasting has grown in popularity both for podcasters and listeners, it’s safe to say that growth has also attracted the usual crowd of experts and gurus that offer their “expertise”, usually for a large sum of money, to unsuspecting podcasters looking to grow their show(s) and enjoy whatever modicum of success they’re looking for.
Now, that’d be fine - after all, everyone deserves to make a living. But, sadly, a lot of the advice given is misunderstood at best, and outright shilling at worst, where they just want to make a quick buck out of a new and eager audience.
The latter example I have zero time for. The former, however - the misunderstood advice - can often be traced back to something the person might have heard at a conference, or read online, or even heard in a podcast episode. And while it’s possible there may have been some truth at that time, things move fast in podcasting and you’ve got to make like Ferris Bueller to keep up.
So let’s talk about these podcasting misunderstandings - specifically the most popular ones that have essentially turned into myths. I also asked podcasters on Twitter to share some of their favourite myths, along with their take where applicable, and I’ll share these below too.
Podcasting Myth 1: It’s All About the Downloads
Probably one of the most popular myths is that for any show to be successful, it’s all about the downloads. It usually goes something like this:
your show isn’t successful if you’re not getting 10,000 downloads per episode in the first 30 days
your show isn’t worth sponsoring without these kinds of numbers
if your show isn’t hitting thousands of downloads every episode then podcasting might not be your thing
no-one takes a podcast seriously if it’s not hitting hundreds of thousands of downloads
These are just some of the soundbites I’ve either seen online myself, or watched others ask on places like Reddit if this was the case and, if so, should they give up now. And that’s the part that really sucks, because so many new podcasters are getting put off before they’ve even started by believing they’ll be a failure if their show doesn’t hit some form of magic target.
Now, in fairness, if you want to use ads as your main form of revenue for your podcast, then higher download numbers are important, since ads tend to use the Cost Per Mille (CPM) model. This means cost per 1,000 listeners - so, the more downloads you have, the more listeners. The more listeners, the more ad partners will pay you.
Also, you can’t have listeners without downloads, and without listeners then you’d be talking to yourself. Which is fine - but there are easier ways to do that than to podcast!
But to say a podcast’s success is dependent on download numbers is wrong, because no-one but the podcaster knows what success means to them. Additionally, you can have a hugely successful podcast with “low” download numbers:
a hyper local podcast might “only” have 100 listeners, but to a local business that might want to sponsor, that’s 100 highly engaged potential customers
a super niche podcast with dedicated fans is a more attractive proposition to sponsors than a generic podcast with fairweather listeners
a podcast that helps someone through their mental health issues is more valuable than any ad revenue could offer
a small podcast that acts as a big lead driver for a small business is super successful in their growth goals
I spoke a little bit more in-depth about this back in December, along with some more effective alternatives to the downloads-as-success question. Over on Twitter, there was a similar consensus:
So, yes, while downloads are the starting point of a podcast’s success, they’re not the definitive one.
Pod Chat is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Podcasting Myth 2: Anyone Can Podcast
It’s funny, but as I was writing this, I saw a post in a Facebook podcasting group, where the question was along the lines of what makes a podcaster a podcaster, and is it “just” speaking into a mic (I paraphrase, but you get the gist).
It wasn’t the question that stood out for me, but the use of the word “just”, because that suggests podcasting is as easy as speaking, recording what you speak, and publishing it. And, yes, at its core, that’s exactly what podcasting is - recorded spoken words that are shared with others, ether via podcast apps or a podcast website. But to say this is “just” what a podcaster is kinda negates a lot of what else goes on (in fairness, the poster of the question did expand on these other things). As well as the voice behind the show, a large majority of podcasters are also:
social media community manager
That’s a whole lot of responsibilities to take care of. And, yes, you can outsource the tasks that you’re not comfortable/skilled with, but that’s extra outlay that you may not have. So then it falls back on to your shoulders.
Back to the podcasting side of things - for this myth, let’s just use the host as an example - yes, anyone can podcast, and it’s been made easier by newer platforms and hosts that remove a lot of the technical jargon that podcasting might - rightly or wrongly - be known for. And that’s great to see. But to ensure you get past that reported “many new podcasters don’t even reach episode 6” statistic, you need to have a plan on why you’re podcasting, what you want to achieve, what you need to do that, and how you’re going to see things through for the long haul. Because, unlike Field of Dreams, listeners won’t come just because you’ve built it - and that’s where the hard work begins.
So, for sure, anyone can podcast, and I highly encourage everyone to try and dip your feet in - just be aware that there’s a little more work involved than just speaking into a mic.
Podcasting Myth 3: You Need the Most Expensive Equipment
Being an audio-first medium, how your podcast sounds is key to growth. While great content is obviously important, it won’t matter much if it sounds like it’s being recorded in a wind tunnel with lots of echo and bumps, etc. So, investing in the right equipment is key - however, despite a lot of “experts” saying you need to buy top of the range gear, this isn’t the case.
Instead, the most important thing when it comes to your audio quality is your recording environment. It doesn’t matter if you have a $400 mic like the popular Shure SM7B, or a studio-quality piece of kit like the Rodecaster Pro II: if the space you record in is bad to start with, no amount of high quality kit will make it sound good.
Indeed, even with lower-priced mics and recording tools, you can get a great-sounding podcast if you start off with a good recording space. That means removing hard surfaces where sound bounces (this is what causes echo), not recording in a large, empty-ish room, and learning good mic technique to reduce the space between your mouth and the mic, which is where some of the bad audio you can hear on podcasts comes in.
The good news is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on sound treatment solutions, though if you have the budget it’s definitely worth it. If you do have a lot of hard surfaces (bare walls, hardwood floors, lots of windows, etc) you can remove the harshness of the room with stuff you probably already have lying around your home:
soft furniture (maybe a chair or futon)
moving blankets, or thick curtains/drapes, covering the walls
closing the curtains/blinds on the windows before recording
canvas pictures on the wall
Even making some changes to your room will make an immediate difference to your audio, without needing to spend lots on hardware in the hope that’ll improve your audio. Some of the podcasts I listen to sound amazing, and I know from the podcasters sharing their equipment set-up online that they’re using $50 dollar mics, but you definitely can’t tell.
So, start off the right way and the equipment won’t matter quite as much.
Other Podcasting Myths
The above are three of the most common myths you’ll see online. There are a lot more, and when I tweeted my original question the other day asking podcasters to share their favourites, there were a good few shared, from becoming rich through podcasting to editing, formats, and more.
As you can see, there are LOTS of myths out there, and many of them can either put new podcasters off, or lead them to give up before they’ve truly got started. And that’s a shame, since we could be missing out on some of the best podcasts you’ve ever heard. So, as an industry that’s generally really supportive, let’s continue to bust these myths and help podcasters get the best info and the most useful info they can, by recommending people you trust to them when they need to hear the right advice.
Note: for a complementary discussion, check out this thread from Jeremy Enns around podcasting growth advice that’s anything but.