In September the In The Gloaming podcasts won the Parsec Award for Best New Podcaster. We jumped around like victorious loons for a few seconds, until we remembered that we hadn’t made a new episode since March. And that we had no upcoming episodes in the pipelines.
To the outside observer In The Gloaming looked cold and dead, and only we knew there was still a flicker of humanity inside just waiting for the right time to blossom. It felt like being Nick Clegg.
There were lots of reasons that we hadn’t been able to do as many episodes as we’d hoped. People’s schedules clashed, they got work or didn’t get work at the wrong times, we weren’t getting as many downloads as we might have hoped (the episodes had been listened to about 6,500 times at that point). However, most of the reasons we weren’t able to churn them out on a monthly basis were self-inflicted, and could have been avoided with a little thought early on in the process.
So, here are my tips about what NOT to do, if you want to make an audio drama podcast of your own:
Don’t bother making audio trailers – One of the first groups of people to be interested in what we were doing was one comprised of people who were doing the same sort of thing. People like 19 Nocturne Boulevard or Wormwood. And they often wanted to swap audio trailers, little snippets that could be stuck on the end of another show to spread the word. We never bothered to make these because we were too busy making the shows themselves, and thought they probably wouldn’t be worth the time in the number of new listeners they brought to us. We were wrong. There is a very small group of people used to listening to new audio dramas as podcasts. Get them involved from the beginning. Be generous with your time and effort with other podcast producers. Trying to forge the path completely on your own is hard and lonely. These are people who would like to advertise your podcast for free. Let them.
Be half an hour long – This was, in some ways, an intentional error. Part of the point of In The Gloaming was to prove that we could make half hour shows of radio quality. We wanted people’s response to be ‘This should be on the radio’, and to prove that it was ready to be. However, people often split up their listening to a podcast, catching a few minutes on their way into work, so broken shows work well. Narrative comedies that require unbroken attention (including any magnificent aural soundscapes you may create) ask a lot of the listener, and finding half an hour to listen to an episode (forgoing half an hour of television or proper radio or actual interaction with other humans) can be difficult. It suited our purposes, but it was far from ideal for in Internet show. If you’re planning on doing audio dramas or narrative comedies, why not think about ten- or fifteen-minute episodes? They will be easier for people to find the time to listen to.
Don’t have a business plan – This isn’t quite true. We had a plan, it just wasn’t a hugely good one. It was (as I outlined above) Get Picked Up By The BBC. When that didn’t materialise the next obvious option was to look for a sponsor. However, those things we’d designed to make it more like a radio show made it less effective on The Internet, and so we didn’t have the subscriber numbers we needed to get a sponsor. We had a little income from the tip jar – enough to cover the podcast hosting – and we had a merchandising site, but nothing people wanted to buy on it. There were successful revenue streams: live shows, signed scripts, etc. However, by the time we had worked out how to fund the shows, we had stalled on producing them for long enough that the momentum was gone. The lesson here is: at least have an idea how you’re going to make enough money to cover your costs, and always implement your business plan quickly. You may well have a number of people willing to support you financially, so give them a way in which they can. Speaking of which:
Fail to make the things people want to buy – In our case: CDs. We’ve had lots of requests for CDs. People want to give them as gifts, people who aren’t au fait with downloading, people who want to show their support. There has been constant demand for CDs of the episodes. I did try to get this set up at one point, using Lulu, but found that they made all their CDs in the US, and then shipped them to England making them hugely expensive (even though we were only charging $4.00 each for them). I then wanted to add some audio liner notes to each one, a little extra that wasn’t available on the website, but never got around to recording them. The fact that there was no UK service that would do what we wanted and that I couldn’t be bothered to fulfil orders myself meant that we missed out on the one revenue stream that seemed promising.
Underestimate the amount of time it will take – Each In The Gloaming took a few days to write, a day to record, and two or three days to edit. That’s at least a full work week out of every month. When you’ve got children (or, you know, a job) that’s just not feasible. Perhaps we’ll do them quarterly in future, but monthly doesn’t seem like we can do it at all.
Post irregularly – We started with a monthly schedule, but soon got bogged down with diary incompatibilities, and just the sheer amount of work it was. The fact that we couldn’t be relied upon to produce podcasts every month meant that a lot of the momentum we started with dissipated. Set yourself a schedule and stick to it. Don’t stick to two-thirds of it. Stick to it, no matter how difficult it is. Then sit back, learn lessons, and plan Season 2.
Don’t collect emails – We never had an email list or any promotion beyond writing a blog. This is silly. Do better than us.
Don’t allow embedding – It took us six months to find a service that allowed easy embedding and sharing of mp3s on Twitter and Facebook. We went for a paid service that was not as good as what we could have got from WordPress, and didn’t offer the stats or functionality. We’re now faced with the rubbish options of continuing to use a (paid) service that isn’t as good as other ones or to change the website RSS feed, and risk losing all of the subscribers who are attached to the old feed. Do your research about how you’re going to distribute your podcast before you set up a standing order…
Basic, fundamental errors. Tonnes of them. We couldn’t have been more dim if we’d just dribbled into the Internet whilst smashing ourselves in the face with a flat-iron.
However, we’ve had more than 100 downloads a week, every week, for more than a year. We were asked to perform at the World Horror Convention 2010. It’s led to other bits of work, and to the selling of some of the short stories written for the site. The live show is getting a full run in the Brighton Festival next year (Friday 13th May, for those who want to book tickets). We’ve won awards. And we’ve got a producer attached, who’s making an In The Gloaming feature film, which should be out next year.
That’s how not to do it. Go and do better…