How to make an (expat) podcast
Back in 2011, we were talking about our love of podcasts. “Have you heard this American Life? Or Radio Lab?” we asked each other excitedly. We couldn’t get enough, and lamented that we had yet to find an English language podcast about Berlin similar to the NPR ones we had come to love. Berlin is such a wonderful city and is brimming with interesting people with interesting stories, so we decided to make one ourselves, and Mädels with a Microphone was born.
Our dream wasn’t a big one, and we didn’t set out to become the next Ira Glass (despite our jokes that we of course wanted to…). Instead, we started with an idea for an inaugural podcast. We discovered that 2011 was the 125th anniversary of Kurfürstendamm, a famous shopping street in Berlin, and we thought this would be a good first report, even perhaps one that might get some attention. But we didn’t have a recorder, we didn’t have a name, we didn’t have a clue. This brings us to our first point:
- Buy a recorder. We’ve opted for an H2 zoom recorder, which is really small, handy, offers great quality, and is super durable. They’re generally about 200 dollars/euro, but they’re well worth the investment. You can get the best interview in the world but if the quality sucks, no one’s going to want to listen to it.
Unfortunately, we lost interest in the idea. We came to realize that we didn’t really care about the first tram that appeared on the Ku’damm, despite how interesting it may be, and neither of us really wanted to walk down the street talking about all the shopping to be done. So we scrapped it, which brings us to point number two about making an expat podcast:
- Don’t go crazy. Come up with a feasible idea. Don’t aim for your first podcast to be too long, and don’t be overly ambitious in terms of content. One really good, well-researched, well-produced story is better than five hasty ones. Make a podcast about something you’re really interested in. If you don’t care about the subject matter, you won’t be able to convey it to your audience, and then they won’t care either, and they won’t listen to you. More importantly, if you don’t care, you won’t be having fun, and that’s pretty much the point, right?
After giving up on Ku’damm (as we all inevitably do, are we right Berliners?), we decided to do something a little more fun and relaxed, and since autumn was approaching, Halloween seemed like a logical choice. We decided to do a podcast about ghost stories in Berlin, so we went on a ghost tour, scoured the internet, wandered around Berlin at night with our recorder and scared the bejesus out of ourselves. We tried to interview some ghost hunters, and ran into our next problem, which brings us to points three and four:
- Come up with a name. We wanted to interview people, but when they asked who we were and what we did, we couldn’t really give them a straight answer which made us seem a tad unprofessional. Think long and hard about a name, because it’ll stick with you forever and become your brand. We chose “Mädels with a Microphone” because it included a hint of German (mädels = girls) and also conveyed the idea of radio/podcasting/reporting. Plus it gave us the added fun of being able to introduce ourselves as “The Mädels”.
- Make a website, so that when people ask you who you are you can refer them to it. It sounds obvious, but sometimes a project can feel so exciting that the really basic stuff somehow just flies out the window. We use wordpress, and it does everything we need it to do. Don’t make your website too flashy and don’t pack it full of stuff. Make it easy for people to find your podcasts.
After that first foray into interviewing, recording, and researching, we then had to put it together. Podcasts don’t just make themselves, and like movies, they require a lot of editing, re-working, infusion of music, setting the scene, re-recording and general hair-pulling. This was perhaps the hardest part initially, but also the most rewarding, which leads us to point number five:
- Learn how to podcast. We use a great free program called Audacity, which is similar to film editing software and is slightly reminiscent of Final Cut Pro. It’s an open source program and is pretty bare bones, but once you get the hang of it and watch a few tutorials you can do all kinds of cool stuff. When it comes to adding music, check out creative commons music online. Just remember to back up your work. Editing a podcast down to five minutes can take hours, and there’s nothing worse than losing all that due to some dumb computer malfunction. This happened to us, and we almost cried. Buy an external hard drive and use it religiously.
So there we had it! We’d made our first podcast called “Berlin Ghost Stories” and it clocked in at just over twelve minutes. We were ecstatic, and sat in the kitchen drinking wine and congratulating ourselves until we realized that a mp3 on the computer wasn’t going to reach anyone, and we had to figure out a way to put it up on the internet, promote it, and get people to listen to it. This was terrifying, and brings us to a couple more points:
- Get a SoundCloud account. Podcasting using SoundCloud is really easy. This handy guide will tell you everything you need to know http://soundcloud.com/101/podcasting-101. This is also a great place to get free music that you can use in your podcast. Just make sure to give people credit, whether they specifically ask for it or not, because it’s a nice thing to do.
- Promote your podcast and yourselves. We had trouble with this point initially, as neither of us are big boasters (we’re Irish and Canadian after all), and the most daunting aspect of starting a podcast is making something and putting it out there without knowing how it will be received. What if it’s terrible? What if people hate it? What if they throw rotten tomatoes and lettuce at us? Or what if nobody listens? Well, Ira Glass has some wise words on the issue, so heed his advice, take a deep breath, and release it into the world. We set up a twitter and facebook account and started connecting with people. We told our friends and family to follow us, and slowly started becoming part of an online community.
Now, it’s been a year and a half, we’ve made almost twenty podcasts, have almost 10,000 followers on SoundCloud, and were SoundClouders of the Day in June 2012. We’ve made a few shows of varying lengths, but now we’re focusing on smaller, tighter podcasts where we can really hone our skills. Some popular podcasts we’ve done include Club Mate, Spreepark, Decadence and Doom in Weimar Berlin, and most recently The East Side Gallery Protests. We’ve started writing out scripts to give our podcasts more of a story arc, and we’re constantly keeping our eyes and ears open for potential subjects. We’ve acquired enough podcasts that we’re proud to start really putting them out there and we are now being featured on Expats Radio and some of our podcasts have appeared on Litro Magazine. This, leads us to our second last point:
- Make something you’re proud of. Unless you love it, and unless you can stand by it, no one else will. Of course, as you get better, you’ll inevitably reach the point when you look back on your first few podcasts with shame. “How did we make such obvious errors?” you’ll ask yourself. We did it. Nowadays, we can barely get through that first Halloween podcast without covering our ears in horror. But you know what? That means you’ve improved, you’ve learned from your mistakes, and that’s something to be immensely proud of. Also, while making your podcasts, no matter what the topic, do your research, make sure you’re telling the truth to the best of your knowledge, and think about the consequences of your actions. It will make it easier to approach people to interview and to carry your podcast if you can stand 100% behind what you’ve done.
- Be inspired by other podcasts! You can learn a lot just from listening to how the pros do it (for some podcast suggestions, check out some of our blogposts about our favourites). When do you fade music in and out? Do you include an interviewer’s questions? When do you speak for someone and when do you let them talk themselves? How do you create a story arc? Podcasts are not only inspiring, they’re also a great resource for amateur podcasters. The Third Coast Audio Festival Podcast for example is a great podcasting community that supports up-and-coming podcasters and has a number of competitions, they also link to lots more on their various social media sites.
So that’s it! If you have any more questions or just need a little bit of direction, feel free to email us at info (at) maedelswithamicrophone (dot) com, tweet us at @maedelswithamic, or contact us on facebook and we’ll do our best to help you out.
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