The production and popularity of podcasts is rapidly growing, and like any good over-saturated medium, it can be tricky to stand out from the white noise. Honor Eastly is an artist, musician and podcast producer working out of Melbourne. Her first foray into podcasting Being Honest With My Ex has scored over 80,000 downloads, and Honor has found equal success with her new podcasting project Starving Artist, a podcast about financial and practical lessons for practising artists.
In the lead up to EWF 2017, Honor chats with us about her top tips for cracking into podcasting, giving us a glimpse into what she’ll be sharing at her workshop Writers’ Night School: Podcasting.
On standing out from the crowd
Every new digital media platform goes through phases, and it’s important to consider what phase the platform is in before you start something. A few years ago podcasting was a new game, and you could be successful without being hugely well defined (much like the early days of YouTube and the vlogging community), just by being entertaining and regular. This is essentially what happened with Being Honest With My Ex, a podcast I’ve been doing for 18 months, and which is basically just a personal journal that I keep with my ex-fiancé. We’ve managed to find a dedicated audience, one that I’m not sure we’d find if we started now.
These days podcasting is most definitely in Phase 2: Saturated. To find a substantial audience you either need to be a celebrity (hello every mildly famous person making a talk show podcast) or you need a niche. This is what happened with YouTube a few years ago, and is why there’s so many very specific YouTube channels these days.
So if you don’t already have an audience out there, you need to think carefully about who your audience is, and what they want. Again this is essentially what I did with Starving Artist. For most of my work I’m really my own target audience, so I wanted to make the resource that I wish existed, that is, a podcast where people talk candidly about art and money. I was lucky enough to already have a few people following my work online, and I just asked them “do you want this thing to exist?” and they said “YES PLEASE HOW QUICKLY CAN YOU MAKE IT?!” The rest is not quite history, but rather a year of a lot of hard work, but it did pay off by the podcast debuting at #1 on iTunes Arts and #10 on iTunes overall, with 10,000 downloads in the first week, which is pretty good for a new, independent podcast that I made in my bedroom.
On practicalities and equipment
People ask me quite a bit about equipment, enough so that I give a run down on what gear I use on the Starving Artist website, but my basic shtick is: you do not need a bunch of fancy equipment and editing software!
That being said, it is handy to go to a workshop to get a little bit of knowledge up your sleeve. I’m running an intro to podcasting workshop at Emerging Writers Festival this year where we’ll cover a bunch of the basics. I accidentally prepared for my career as a podcaster by doing a diploma of sound engineering back in 2013, thinking I would do music (and still part of me thinks I will), but I remember trying to get audio into my computer before that course and being totally confused! As with any new world of information, you need to find a key to open that knowledge gate, for me it was a year of study, but most people can get down the basics with something much less intensive.
On making podcasting financially viable
I’m still working out that whole puzzle, and will actually be moderating a talk about podcasting and money at Audiocraft this week. It should eventually come out as a podcast episode, so keep an eye out for that.
Basically, there’s kind of three models to go with in terms of money and podcasting. The first is to produce podcasts freelance. That could mean pitching individual episodes or series to places like Radio National or ABC or The Wheeler. The second is to get an in-house or ongoing contract with somewhere. There’s now lots of media companies turning to podcasting, so there’s more podcasts (particularly for long form interview podcasts) coming out of places like The Guardian, Dumbo Feather, MamaMia, and The Australian. And the third is to try to get sponsorship for your podcast.
The third is definitely where I’m at, and what I’m trying to move toward. Season one of Starving Artist was really an experiment that I put all my hard work coins into in a bid to see what would happen. What did happen was incredible, not just in terms of downloads, but also in terms of sponsorship, as I managed to secure a small sponsorship deal with a global brand before launch – listeners can hear that unfold in the second half of the first season.
Since the initial success of the first season I’ve done a bunch of fancy spreadsheeting and worked out that it is possible to make the podcast financially sustainable through sponsorship alone, but the audience would need to grow significantly, a fact that is both motivating and fatiguing.
At this very moment, I have a grant application open in my other browser that’s due tomorrow. This will be the third I’ve submitted already in order to find funding assistance for season two, and we’re only a third of the way through season one! My hope is that by season three Starving Artist will be financially viable through sponsorship alone. How we get there is a bit complicated, and heavily relies on finding a strong US listenership, maintaining an audience, and also y’know, me not totally burning out on this project. So stay tuned I suppose.
On setting yourself up for success
The best way to make a successful podcast is to make something people want to hear. I know that’s obvious, but fancy marketing strategies can only get you so far, and even if they get you places initially, the way to sustain an audience is always by making something valuable to them, so that should be your number one priority, cause it’s also your number one marketing strategy.
That being said though, it’s super useful to understand how the whole podcasting eco-system works, so that you know what’s useful to put your effort into. For instance, the number one place to get people to find your podcast is through the iTunes store, so it’s helpful to know a bit about how iTunes charts and the New & Noteworthy section work. Google it. School yourself.
On top of that it’s useful to know some basic stuff around content creation and marketing, but personally, I choose to tread lightly here. I’ve spent the last three years ingesting a lot of information around this stuff, and I think there’s a point at which you have to decide what tools you want to use, and what kind of ship you’re building for yourself. For me, I know that if I dip my toe too far into marketing strategy I end up feeling gross. You have to find your own line.
In launching Starving Artist I knew how important the first week was for setting up how the rest of the season went, so I put a lot of focus on that by hosting a launch party and having several feature articles in substantial media outlets come out in that first week. But I also did a lot of prep work beforehand, and by the time Starving Artist launched I’d spent almost a year talking about the project online, so y’know, people knew it was coming. Some might call it a very long marketing plan, but really I’d just been sharing what I’d been working on as I was doing it.
On marketing and building an audience
My number one tip is (other than making great content) is, make the marketing plan that you can achieve. There is literally no end to what you can do, so what’s most important is that you can do it, and that it doesn’t make you feel gross or totally burn you out (do what I say, not as I do on this last one).
A got a lot of wisdom on this from Jason Zook. He’s an entrepreneur-y guy that I’ve followed for a while, and about a year ago I bought into his Buy Our Future project. In doing so I got access to all his online courses, including ones like Podcast Like A Boss and How To Get Sponsorships For Your Podcast, as well as an online community of other people who’d bought in, where I could throw around ideas for designs, the launch party, really anything I wanted. Having a place where I could – unashamedly – ask questions of people who were trying to do similar things was super useful, and I think a real key to what I managed to do with Starving Artist.
In terms of tools, at the moment I use Buffer for scheduling Starving Artist posts to Facebook and Twitter, and Grum for Instagram. This is mostly just so I can stay away from the black hole that is my phone more, so I can focus on actually making the podcast.
I think the other best tool in terms of learning platforms and techniques and approaches is just to watch what other people are doing, and notice what you are drawn to. Other people’s time and attention is a precious resource, and in my mind you should be treating it as such. So investigate what other people are doing that you like, try to work out why you like it, and then try to recreate it in your own way.
The best way to do that is to actively engage with other people that are doing that stuff well. So I follow people with an approach that I like, even if it’s not on a topic that I’m especially interested in, cause I’m interested in how they make it interesting!
And of course, if you want to internet stalk Starving Artist to see what works / doesn’t work for you, go right ahead. Sign up to the mailing list (where all the good stuff is), otherwise, there’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.