Later today (if you are reading this on Wednesday, August 30th), Sounds Profitable will debut the most significant and wide-ranging study we have ever produced, The Podcast Landscape. We worked very hard with our research partners at Signal Hill Insights to produce this important look at how podcasting can truly grow its audience, and I touched on at least one of the themes of this research in our keynote presentation at Podcast Movement in Denver last week.
From talking to both independent creators and network executives alike last week, it became increasingly clear to me that one of the biggest limiting factors podcasters of all sizes share can be summed up by a seemingly positive statement: you are making the podcast you want to make.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this statement – I would look like a jerk trying to talk someone out of making the show they want to make. After all, this is why many of us got into podcasting or indeed any creative endeavor. You want to make your art. I want you to make your art. Again, to insist otherwise isn’t exactly a populist argument.
I can tell you after 18 years of talking to tens of thousands of listeners is this: you do not deserve an audience. You have the right to make your art, and the right to make it as you see fit. But no one, from the Hoff-less reboot of Knight Rider to Chris Gaines, deserves an audience. That doesn’t mean you have to compromise your art. But if you want to earn an audience, you can no longer make the podcast you want to make. You have to make the podcast they want to hear.
One of the things I talked about in my keynote last week was the act of deciding what does and doesn’t go into your podcast. Decide is a great word – it’s from the Latin de cadere, which translates to “cut off.” The act of deciding isn’t just about choosing what to do. It’s also about cutting off that which doesn’t achieve that specific goal.
For a podcaster, that means truly understanding your audience and who they are at home, which has been a common theme of this newsletter for some time now. That doesn’t mean changing your topic, or your perspective, or your point of view on your subject matter – that is the podcast you want to make. But it does mean changing how you present that message, and killing off everything that isn’t that.
In practice, this means killing some darlings. This means cutting some tangents, not having certain guests, and even eliminating some favorite stories, if they aren’t contributing to the how your audience receives your message. This is in fact a big part of the process when I put together my Podcast Movement keynotes – I have to ruthlessly eliminate some of my favorite stories, or spiciest data meatballs, when they do not serve the audience I am trying to earn in that moment. I put them under the bed and chuckle about them later, but they are part of the talk I want to give, and not the talk that an audience wants to hear. But in pursuing this discipline, I am earning an audience and still achieving my ultimate goals.
I have a friend named Drew Davis who is a very successful public speaker. One of the things he talks about in his book with Michael Port (another very accomplished speaker), The Referrable Speaker, is his approach to getting keynotes all over the world in a wide variety of industry conferences. Drew picks a vertical (like “travel,” or “municipal government”) and immerses himself in every nuance of that industry for a year – he talks to them, learns about their problems, and tries to put himself into their shoes as best he can.
After he does this, he devotes himself to booking talks in just that industry. That’s not to say that he would say no if the phone rang with an unrelated inquiry – it’s just that he is choosing to commit every aspect of his paid speaking outreach to that one vertical. Now, here’s the thing – his topic (the speech he wants to give) is generally the same! But he does the work to cut out everything that doesn’t matter to the audience he is trying to earn, and that changes how he does it, every time. And when he has achieved his goals in that industry, he repeats the process and does it all over again.
It’s a lot of work, but if you do that work, that kind of immersion with the audience you hope to earn, you don’t have to make the false choice between the podcast you want to make and the one an audience wants to hear. You can have both.
It’s too much work, you might say. Sure – only the best podcasts do it.
Sounds Profitable exists thanks to the continued support of our amazing partners. Monthly consulting, free tickets to our quarterly events, partner-only webinars, and access to our 500+ person slack channel are all benefits of partnering Sounds Profitable.
- Listener.fm: Elevate your podcast post-production process with AI-generated titles, descriptions, and show notes.
- Telling Media is a podcast media agency where attention drives performance for fast growth DTC brands looking to scale their business across the UK & Europe.
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