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This episode is for those of you who are thinking about starting a podcast. You’re tossing around ideas in your head. You’re wondering, “What kind of format should my podcast be? Solo, co-host, interviews, or something else?”
I want to start by saying that there is no rule that says you have to choose a single format and stick with it. You can switch it up once in awhile if you want. It’s pretty common for someone to deliver a short monologue before interviewing someone. Marc Maron does this every single week. The guys on the Shoptalk Show usually do interviews, but sometimes they do what they call a Rapidfire episode, where instead of doing an interview, they just answer listener questions.
The right format for your show will depend on your goals and what you enjoy. Each format comes with it’s own set of challenges, so that’s what I’m going to talk about in this episode—the Pros and Cons of the different podcast formats.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins
- Don’t wait for inspiration to strike before you write and record something. Put it on the calendar and get into a weekly rhythm.
- If you’re podcasting solo, you’re on your own. Write a good outline so you don’t lose track of what you were talking about.
- Podcasting with a friend will give you someone to brainstorm ideas with, and conversations will happen naturally.
- Make sure your co-host is on board with your recording schedule and committed to showing up on time every week.
- Discuss long term goals, money, and time commitment with your co-host before you start your show. This will help prevent future conflicts.
- Interviewing is a skill you can develop, so invest time in learning how to do better interviews.
- 3:334 If you’re just getting started, a solo show will need the least technical know-how, so it’s tempting to start there. But a solo show actually takes a lot of work, and I believe it’s actually one of the more challenging formats. But let’s get into it.
Pros of Doing a Solo Show:
- 3:55 1. You won’t have to learn how to record skype conversations or do much editing. If you’ve never recorded audio before, it’s easier to talk into a digital voice recorder or your iPhone than it is to set up Garageband or Audacity to record while you’re talking over Skype with someone. You’ll need to record your track as well as the Skype call, and the other person should record a track on their end too so you’ll have a clean recording of just their voice. It gets complicated from there (you’ll have to do some editing), so if you go solo, you can skip all that and just focus on getting comfortable speaking into a mic and delivering a message.
- 4:45 2. No scheduling conflicts with co-hosts or interviewees. Scheduling a time to talk to a co-host or guest every week can be a pain in the butt. If you’re doing a solo show and not streaming it, you can record anytime you want, just make sure you put it on the calendar. Get into a habit of recording on a tuesday morning, or a friday night; pick a day and stick with it.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike before you write and record something. Put it on the calendar and get into a weekly rhythm.
- 5:25 3. You can produce as often as you want. Feeling inspired? Record an episode. Have a lot to talk about this week? Record three episodes. If you want your show to only be 5-10 minutes long, you could even do a daily show. You have the freedom to do this when you aren’t tied to someone else’s availability.
- 5:54 4. If you build an audience with your solo show, you’ll get all the fame and glory for yourself. If you have to share your show with a co-host, there’s a chance they will sound smarter or more likeable than you. Your audience might like them better. That’s no good. If you record a show all by yourself, you get all the attention. Pretty sweet.
- 6:17 5. More intimate feel for your audience. I’ve found that recording and listening to solo shows feels much more personal. It feels like you are having a conversation with just one other person. Shows with two or more hosts are great, but there’s something intimate about listening to someone who sounds like they are speaking directly to you.
Cons of Doing a Solo Show:
- 6:57 1. Solo shows are harder because you’ll be responsible for everything. You’ll have to come up with content. You’ll be responsible for editing (unless you hire an editor). You’ll have to do all the admin work, show note writing, and social media.
- 7:29 2. Solo delivery can be more challenging than having a conversation. It’s helped me to think about having a conversation with another person—someone in my audience—while I’m recording (even if you aren’t live streaming). It can sometimes feel very awkward to just be talking to the microphone. If you have a co-host or someone to interview, you can just have a conversation and they can jump in if you get stuck.
If you’re podcasting solo, you’re on your own. Write a good outline so you don’t lose track of what you were talking about.
- 8:20 Podcasting solo is a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid solo shows. You really have to focus a lot on preparation and delivery when you are doing a solo show. Those are great skills to develop and it’s great practice if you want to record video or give a conference talk or do public speaking.
2. Recording with Co-Hosts
- 8:43 When I met Sean McCabe, he was thinking about doing a solo show, but I told him that I thought having a co-host would be a better format for his show. That’s what he decided to do and the seanwes podcast has been a “buddy” podcast ever since, although Sean does record solo shows from time to time.
- 10:05 Having a co-host seems to be more common than solo shows, and there are a lot of reasons why:
Pros of Having a Co-Host:
- 10:14 1. You’ll have someone to share writing and editing responsibilities with. You might get lucky and find a co-host who likes editing shows. At the very least, you’ll have someone else to brainstorm episode topics with. You can both gather ideas during the week or get together an hour or two before recording and hash out an outline for the show.
- 10:40 2. Conversations will be easier. If you’re delivering a solo show, you have to prepare. You have to have an outline. If you have a co-host, you can riff off of each other and have a conversation, and they can step in if you get stuck or lose your train of thought.
- 11:06 3. If you have a good rapport with your co-host, that dynamic can be hard to beat. It’s just plain fun to podcast with a friend. You’ll have inside jokes, running gags, it’s more comfortable. It’s just like getting together with a buddy to talk about things you like.
Podcasting with a friend will give you someone to brainstorm ideas with, and conversations will happen naturally.
Cons to Having a Co-Host:
- 11:37 1. Finding a committed co-host can be hard. Not everyone has a good friend who shares their passion and wants to commit to doing a podcast every week. If you do, you’re lucky. When I was talking with Sean about starting my podcast, he asked me if I was interested in having a co-host. I told him I was, but I didn’t know anyone who would be interested in being a co-host on a show about podcasting.
- 12:46 2. The show might get derailed if your partner isn’t good at keeping recording commitments. Hopefully your co-host isn’t flaky. I’ve talked before about the importance of recording episodes consistently. It’s really easy to let things to slip and before you know it, it’s been a month and you haven’t put out a new episode. I’ve seen it happen far too often.
Make sure your co-host is on board with your recording schedule and committed to showing up on time every week.
- 13:22 3. Your vision for your show might differ from your co-host’s vision for the show. When Sean and I started doing the seanwes podcast, I didn’t really understand his long game mindset and why he was so insistent on giving away so much valuable content for free. Back then, the only way I knew how to make money from podcasting was selling ads spots from advertisers. Sean was insistent that we were not going to sell ads even though I knew we had enough listeners. He was thinking about long term goals, where as I was focusing on immediate returns. I came to understand the value of giving to your audience and the rule of reciprocity, and I’m planning on having Sean back on the show soon talk about ways to make money from podcasting.
- 14:31 I brought this up because you may run into a similar situation. If your co-host’s goals aren’t aligned with yours, you may run into conflict later down the road. It’s a good idea to talk about what you both want to get out of the show.
Discuss long term goals, money, and time commitment with your co-host before you start your show. This will help prevent future conflicts.
- 15:04 4. What happens if your co-host quits or needs to take an extended amount of time off? Are you going to find another person to take their place? Will you do solo shows? Have a plan for dealing with this situation before it happens.
3. Interview Shows
- 15:54 Interview shows are arguably the most popular podcast format, but they require a fair amount of work to get right.
Pros of Interview Shows:
- 15:58 1. You might get to talk to people you admire. It’s awesome that we can use our podcasts as an excuse to have conversations with people we look up to. Even if you aren’t making money from your show, it’s fun to be able to interview smart people and experts in your field.
- 16:29 2. You won’t have to prepare as much content every week. You will have to be a good interviewer, but you won’t have to do a ton of writing like if you were doing a solo show. You should do research and prepare questions if you aren’t an experienced interviewer, but you won’t have to come up with original content.
- 17:09 3. Podcast audiences love interview shows. They get to hear someone they know (the host), and they also get to hear from someone new (the guest, who hopefully has something interesting to say). You’ll also get access to your guest’s audience which can bring in new subscribers.
Cons of Interview Shows:
- 17:44 1. You’ll need to be a good interviewer. If you only ask questions that your audience have heard your guest answer on other shows, they will tune out.
Interviewing is a skill you can develop, so invest time in learning how to do better interviews.
- 17:49 2. You’ll have less control over audio quality. Many people are getting more familiar with podcasting and they’re investing in good microphones, but I still hear many interview shows where the guest sounds like they’re using their laptop microphone or Apple Earbuds. If you are going to interviewing guests for your show, make sure they record a track on their end. I did a whole show about how to get great audio from your guests; go check it out. It’s tempting to just record the Skype call and use that, but you can run into a lot of problems if that’s the only thing you record. Play it safe and record both the Skype call and local tracks.
- 19:29 3. Guests may not stick to schedules or may be hard to book. If you are interviewing people who are busy or in-demand, they may not feel guilty about blowing you off last minute. It may also just be hard to find a time that works for both of you.
- 20:28 4. You may not be able to get the guests you want at first. We’ve all got dreams of interviewing famous people who have huge audiences. It’s a very effective way to get new listeners, especially if you do a good job and the famous person recommends your show or shares it on social media. Here’s the problem; celebrities get interview requests all the time. Everyone wants access to their audience. They aren’t going to give you the time of day unless you can give them a good reason. It might be better to start off with people closer to your level rather than go after the big names. After you prove your worth and grow a respectably sized audience, then you can reach out to the famous people and ask them to come on your show.
4. Mix and Match (NPR Style)
- 28:24 If you haven’t heard a podcast from NPR before, go listen to Radiolab, This American Life, or Serial. It’s a really cool format, often with multiple interviews and different sections. It’s like preparing a long and epic blog post but in audio form with interviews thrown in.
Pros of NPR Style Podcasts:
- 22:04 High production value. If you can pull it off, this format has a higher quality feel than a solo show or a few hosts talking about a topic. It’s a very popular format with podcast listeners right now for that reason. These kinds of shows are very compelling and interesting if you do a good job with the story, narrative, editing and mixing.
Cons of NPR Style Podcasts:
- 22:27 Longer preparation time. If you’re just starting out, this format is going to be the most challenging. You’ll have to think through the story of the show and who you are going to talk with. You’ll have to do a ton of writing, take the time to record the interviews and different sections of the show, and find background music that works well for the various sections and transitions. Finally, you’ll have a bunch of editing to do, and post production will be more difficult because you’ll have to mix lots of different audio clips together and try to make them sound similar and match the volume levels. Basically, it’s a ton of work, and that’s coming from a guy who was a professional podcast editor.
- 24:32 Dave Whiskus did a interesting video awhile back that he called Podcast Intervention. In it, he does a takedown of the typical “two white males talking about their phones and computers” format of podcasting. He’s right, this is a common thing in podcasting, and I’d like to see more thought put into a show instead of just two guys showing up and sharing their unscripted thoughts.
- 25:09 We can do a lot with audio. For example, Sean’s done great work just by preparing valuable content in advance. He’s not just showing up and saying what comes to mind, he’s thinking about how his message will help his audience. On top of that, at some point he bought a Kalimba (thumb piano) and started a new segment of his podcast called Zen Moments with Ben, where Ben Toalson, his co-host, would either read or adlib a meditative story. Ben even wrote a 12 part science fiction story about a monkey in space. That’s the kind of creativity I’d like to see more of. We have access to amazing recording gear and technology so think creatively about ways to take full advantage of it.
How Long Should My Podcast Be?
- 26:46 Your podcast can be as long as you want, just be aware that longer shows take longer to produce, edit and write show notes for. Some people like listening to shorter shows. I really like shows that are a little longer, 30-60 minutes. I’ve seen a lot of articles online that say that 20-25 minutes is the average length of a work commute, so that’s the length that you should aim for. It’s really up to you. Make it good, make it valuable. Don’t stress about length, stress about quality.
- 32:10 Kelsey asked: When should you start podcasting? Is there a benchmark for number of followers, blog posts, videos, or years of expertise before it’s a smart idea to start a podcast?
- 32:27 You shouldn’t start podcasting before you know what you’re really passionate about. You shouldn’t podcast about something that you just like the idea of doing. The topic of your podcast should be something that you have some experience doing. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, or how many blog posts or videos you have. It will help to brainstorm 10-15 episode ideas before you get started, and if you write blog posts about those topics, you’ll be off to a great start.
- 35:09 Juju asked: Is having a contract good idea to eliminate the future problems from a co-host such as not showing up consistently?
- 35:25 I’m never seen a contract used in that way before, although I’m not against it. I’m just not sure how effective it would be. What would the consequences be if the co-host didn’t show up? Some kind of fine? I doubt that someone would sign a contract like that. It’s more important to identify potential problems in advance, and then have a conversation with your co-host and set expectations. Try to anticipate problems and set expectations in advance, not when problems arise. Let your co-host know what you expect from them, and what they can expect if they don’t meet those expectations. Have a plan for what should happen if your co-host can’t show up one week or if they want to quit.
- 37:28 Rafael asked: How to do you do an interview show with people who aren’t in the same location as you?
- 37:37 This is usually done over Skype. You call the person on Skype, and you record the audio from the Skype call as well as a file on your end (using Quicktime or Garageband), but you also ask your guest to record a track on their computer as well so you have an audio file with just their voice on it. You then put both local recordings together in an audio editing program and do the editing, mixing and mastering on it. Check out episode 7 – How to Get Great Audio From Your Guests to learn more.
- 38:20 Sam asked: I will soon be launching a show about communication with a friend. Having been a co-host before, what do you wish you had known before launching a show?
- 38:44 I think it’s important to have a conversation about goals and what you both want to get out of the podcast. It’s important to know what your co-host wants to get out of the show and what their motivations are for doing the show. It’s also very important to have a good recording setup (mic and interface). I underestimated the importance of sound quality for a long time, but it’s a big reason why some shows are more successful at keeping listeners than others. If you need a great affordable setup, get the Shure SM58 dynamic mic, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface and a pop filter.