10 Things I’ve Learned Podcasting
What you get out is always equal to what you put in
I started a podcast just over a year ago. I wrote a short article about why I did it here.
There’s been a few interesting lessons along the way, like there will be with any new challenge in life. If you’re starting a podcast, or a project of any kind, be it music, a novel, a business or even just starting a new job, perhaps this article can help. Or perhaps not. Nonetheless, it’s over a year since I commited to podcasting, so here’s what happened and what I’ve learnt.
1) Resistance is real
In the chilling words of Steven Pressfield:
“You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.”
I don’t know why but it feels like that last bit should be “Resistance will fucking bury you”. Because it will. It’s a hard bastard that’s here to stop you being you. It will turn your days into weeks, your weeks into months, your months into years and it will never stop taking, until lo! …you’re too old and you’ve achieved nothing. Resistance has won.
You can read much more about Pressfield’s theory on what consitutes resistence in his fantastic book ‘The War of Art’, but suffice to say, when you’re working on a project that’s just you, resistance becomes very real.
I had to make a mental shift to commit to this podcast, else it just wouldn’t have happened. And it’s been slow and tough. I’ve recorded a mere 13 episodes and a best of compilation (and a couple of unreleased episodes that were too dire in quality to release, even for my newbie standards) and just that handful took over a year. It’s been a slog, no doubt.
2) Results only come with effort
Talking of slogs, it quickly became clear that if I didn’t hound people for dates to meet up, drive 60 or 70 mile round trips (no really!), invest in apps, spend hard cash on equipment and sacrifice my weekends and evenings, then I wouldn’t have any episodes at all. I had to make a concerted effort to get the wheels of progress moving else nothing would ever happen.
This might sound plainy obvious, but when you’re in the mix of things, it’s not that apparent. For some reason we, or at least I, felt like these things should be easy, and if they’re not then something must be wrong. Perhaps it isn’t my passion after all. Perhaps it’s turning out to be a slog because I don’t have the talent or I don’t possess the level of focus required. Or perhaps the universe is just trying to tell me to stop.
The truth is that I had forgotten creating anything is difficult. I had already begun to look back romantically on my time in bands, forgetting the midweek rehearsals in winter, the late nights, the heavy equipment, the arguments, the cold studios where you spend three hours playing the same 45 seconds from one song. I had forgotten that the music I wrote at home by myself often took months of effort and frustration, that the articles I wrote for music zines took mountains of time and concentration.
It is only ever hard work that delivers, and there is no easy path with minimal inconvienence.
There’s a law of the universe where what you get out is always equal to what you put in.
Or as super-creative, film-making musician Rob Zombie once put it
“Hard work always pays off.”
One way or another, creating anything is a fucking pain in the arse and don’t let anyone suggest otherwise. The greatest minds in the world have felt that frustration. It’s the only path any of us can take.
3) You will always feel fear and shame when creating
Here’s the twist. You battle through to create something and the moment you finish, after the briefest sense of accomplishment, comes the immedate fear and shame. Every time I create anything, it’s like taking my innermost feelings and thoughts and chucking them onto a table so people can point and laugh at their weirdness. Every single podcast episode I’ve published I’ve wanted to remove straight afterwards.
Still, I tell myself that the awkward, embarrassed feeling is part of the process; it’s a price we all pay when we express ourselves to society. Some people shy away from ever creating anything because of that feeling. It’s super powerful. I have noticed that for some reason my fear of being mocked is unusually high, and it’s never more prominant when I push “publish”.
In the words of Steven Pressfield once again, “Fear never goes away.” So make it your companion and get on with it.
4) I miss talking to people
A funny side effect of all this is that I’ve been able to sit down and talk to my friends face to face, with no phones and no distractions for a straight 90 minutes or more. When does that ever happen anymore? Or ever in fact?
I’ll call up a friend I haven’t seen in a while, often a long while, and arrange to meet them with perhaps another equally estranged friend and we’ll talk together. Before, during and after the podcast. It’s a bonding experience. It’s also a focus to build a meet up around something that doesn’t involve getting drunk. It’s not very often one male can call up another and ask to meet up during the day and just talk. And the few times I’ve had someone on I don’t really know, or that I’ve only just met, it’s also great. It’s a deep delve into who they are and who am I and there’s a connection that’s made through the catalyst of the podcast recording.
5) The confident people are often shy and the shy people are often confident
And if we’re talking about guests, this is an interesting one. The people I know, names and faces that I haven’t seen for a year or two that are engaging and clever and have a lot to say often don’t want to be on a podcast. They’ll openly say no. Which is fine, of course. Often it’ll be by them expressing concern that they’ve nothing to say, they don’t like their voice or they don’t want a recording of them talking to go on the internet. No problem. It’s my project and there’s no pressure to join in.
But conversely, the people I thought would least be up for it are natural, calm, enthusiastic and open. The intimate nature of the podcast shows a side to people you don’t see. Neither attitude is right or wrong, it’s just a interesting paradox that I didn’t expect to encounter.
6) Yes I hate my voice
I don’t think you’re human if you like your face on camera or your voice on tape. But more than that, I’m an inarticulate, nasually, half-cockney stutterer who can’t describe a single thing. I used to believe I was quite good with words. Now I realise perhaps I was just gobby. Two very different things.
Listening back for the hours I’m editing, I’ve realised how poor I am at communicating. This process is making me rethink how I speak, including things I didn’t even think about before, like my breath, tone and rhythm. It would also be nice if I didn’t go super high every time I got excitable or made a point I thought was important. Yes, it’s a painful experience all round but also a good lesson in self-improvement. How else would I hear hours of my own voice droning on?
7) You need to do more with life to be an interesting person
This is another harsh but fair criticism of myself. Also a good kick up the arse. You see, where I’ve talk for hours, then listened back to it, I’ve began to get a really clear handle on my basic thought patterns and attitudes. It’s a bit like therapy. The process has clarified what I think, who I am and what makes me interesting, special or unqiue. The answer, as it turns out, is not much.
Yes, we’re all unique in our own ways and blah blah, but ultimately, I don’t have many stories. I’ve been on some exciting holidays to some exotic destinations, I’ve played music for a number of years, and I’ve worked, drunk, partied and wanked my way through a couple of decades of adulthood. But the question is, who hasn’t?
So I’ve begun to reflect on this. It’s given me the impetus to get moving, to make things happen. It made me organise a National Three Peaks Challenge with friends to climb the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in twenty four hours (I failed but you can watch a short documentary about it here). It’s made me enter the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and possibly make a short film about it. It’s made me realise that if I want to be interesting, I have to stop letting life pass me by and do things. It’s been surprisingly revealing.
8) It can open other avenues — aka editing
Here’s another plus. Nothing you do is a complete waste of time. It all contributes to a bigger picture. There are always things to learn and apply elsewhere. After all, how you do anything is how you do everything.
With podcasting, there’s a long chain of activites to go from nothing to a published episode. The recording and technical side. The logistics and administration side. The persuasion and coercion side when trying to get people to sacrifice their time for you. Then there’s the travelling, the editing, the publishing and the promoting. It’s a long list of things that I’m mostly well versed in, as it’s similar to being in bands. The only difference is, instead of asking for someone to see your shit band on a wet Wednesday night, you’re asking them to talk to you for an hour or two in a pub or their house into a microphone.
Still, in that chain of activities, it’s easy to learn what bits I like and what I need to improve upon. And it turns out that I’m terrible in promotion but I love editing. Sure, having to give up my time to do it is tricky, but I enjoy it. Many of these skills I had already picked up when making my own music at home for the last decade.
And because of this, I’ve decided to learn more about speech editing and perhaps venture into the podcast editing business one day. I will have a mountain of experience and examples of my work. It is this kind of opportunity I didn’t even consider when I started out.
9) No one cares about your crappy art — Yet
That’s right, you heard me. Your art is crap. And so is mine. I’m not saying the podcast is appalling — I put a lot of work into some of those episodes — but it’s nowhere as good as I want it to be in my mind, or where it could be in one, five or ten years.
So people aren’t going to care. It’s been a constant frustration that I’m surprised ever caught me off guard. I was meant to be hardened to the indifference of others by now. I’ve been in enough crappy bands over the years to understand even close friends and family have no interest in other people’s creative efforts. And why would they? I’m producing mediocore recordings of somewhat medicore conversations.
So I have to wait. It’s all part of the same path as the fear and the shame. Creativity is by it’s very nature personal, difficult and self-reflective. I don’t expect anyone to care anytime soon. I need to accept it as much as the next podcaster.
10) There is never a perfect time to start
And finally. This point. Perrenial overachiever and general purveyor of good advice about the creative process Tim Ferriss said:
“Timing always sucks… The stars will never align and the traffic lights will never all be green at the same time. The univese doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of it’s way to line up pins either. Conditions are never perfect. Someday is the disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it… just do it and correct course along the way.”
Ferris, as always, is right. There’s never a right time to start. There are always obstacles. You won’t have the experience, the right equipment, the available money, the helpful network, the free time. These things will never change. That my friend, is life. But as Brian Rose from London Real said “Start before you are ready.” It is the only way. If you want to podcast, I implore you just to do it. I’ve just bought an audio interface and I’m 13 plus episodes in. Before it was all recorded on my iphone and cleaned up afterwards. So just start. And let the wisdom and experiences roll with you.