Kill your (podcast) darlings
On podcast iteration, calibration, and junking episodes
There will be mistakes. You either view them as failures, or as the attempts that get you to success.
An author I really admire once wrote about his work. People felt like he was publishing so many good stories that he couldn’t write a bad one. Eventually, he revealed how he had such a high quality of stories. He wrote one story every day of the week. On most weeks, he would junk six of them. Sometimes he would junk all seven. He only ever let other people read, let alone publish, the ones that he felt were great.
This kind of thinking inspires our process for podcasts, too: pursuing creative avenues that might not be successful. Testing new things that might lead to an amazing breakthrough, but might also be a total waste of time, money, and effort.
At PumaPodcast, we’ve tested all kinds of gear, formats, approaches, processes, styles. For our own editorial content, we explore many spaces and verticals. While we might be best known for our news content, we have so many more titles and we are always trying to find and tell new stories in as many spaces as we can.
But for each of the titles we’ve developed, we could probably fill a whiteboard with concepts that we thought about and killed. We could probably fill another whiteboard with concepts we actually started development on and then trashed. And there are many many more whiteboards, notes, and other spaces we have filled with dream projects and ideas we want to develop but haven’t even started on.
We are relentless in our willingness to explore, but are just as relentless in our aggressive approach to either finding how something works, or cutting it if we can’t find a way to move it forward.
Alongside our owned content we enter into partnerships with experts, brands, advocacies, organizations advancing important causes, and other groups so that we can tell great audio stories together. In these partnerships, we find that our own relentlessness is matched by our partners. They have podcasts they aspire for, podcasts that are in their heads, and we are striving to get those out into the world.
There’s a lot of junked tape, way more trashed drafts, and too many unsuccessful pilots to count. We go through these iterations because we want the best possible podcast, and so do our clients. It’s a long, sometimes painful, often frustrating road to launch. But it’s a process that gets us to the quality standard that we aspire to.
So we embrace that there will be revisions. We embrace that even as we make extensive preparatory and developmental documents and drafts, we will probably have to calibrate and re-calibrate as we bring a pod to life.
When I tried to make my first pod…it was great on paper. I went out into the field, the team recorded it. We did multiple script drafts. I was trying to pin down and develop a narrative, really aspiring to do what I would imagine could have been an episode for, say, This American Life. I thought I could do it because…I had produced so many episodes already. I’d produced, edited, or in some way or another guided enough podcasts that I felt that I could try my hand at taking the lead on this one episode. It was…horrible.
We did maybe two or three audio drafts of it before I finally put it (and myself) out of its misery. That wasn’t the last time I would put episodes on the chopping block because they weren’t up to muster.
All of this is a baked-in part of our process. That’s an important part of how the work gets better. We want to be innovators, at the cutting edge, doing new things in podcasting in audio production.
What happens behind the scenes though, is so much iteration, and so many attempts, go into a finally getting to something innovative.