Back in 2007, I was hired at the Dallas NPR affiliate to improve their on-air fundraising drives. If you've listened to public radio or watched public television, you've probably experienced program interruptions that ask for donations. It has never been the audience's favorite part of a show.
At KERA 90.1, drives were dragging, and they weren't achieving their goals. Listeners were also expressing their frustrations by calling the station. Meanwhile, this was my first job in radio and non-profit fundraising, but it was my responsibility to develop new messaging, strategy and content to address these problems.
When it came to developing a strategy to inspire listeners to give, I came across a set of challenging roadblocks:
Addressing the first two required a variety of strategies using messaging, urgency and content.
The third? That was a challenge since most of the drive is filled with the station's staff asking for listener support.
Then I realized we had contact information from people who were sustaining members (monthly drafts from bank accounts) and people who donated throughout the year. I decided to reach out to them and ask for their help.
Some of them came to the station, to record an interview with me. I would then take the best parts of that interview, piece together a narrative and put a music bed under it.
Some of our pledge breaks could last between 6-10 minutes. These stories broke up the long stretches of staff talking to listeners about donating. More importantly, now listeners were making the pitch. The "they're paid to say that" reaction was no longer valid.
These audio testimonials not only improved the fundraising drives, the station received positive feedback about the stories they heard each day. It was true, despite each donor telling listeners why they give and why they think others should give, they all had a special way of expressing themselves. Laura's testimonial is a prime example when she calls the programming a mind vitamin.
Another example came from a contributor named Sheela. As she expressed her reasons for giving, she described the station's on-air voices as the "companions in her car" who joined her during daily commutes. I took her comments, turned them into a script and produced a different kind of testimonial story. This one was complete with voices, music and sound effects.
Testimonials were game-changers. Simple interviews with a donating member of the station solved several issues with the drives:
1. They made interruptions sound more like programming
2. They infused the drives with more storytelling
3. They allowed listeners to hear pitches from "one of them" instead of station staff
4. They broke up long breaks
After this content strategy made everyone happy, testimonials became part of every radio drive.
In July of 2014, I had an awesome opportunity and a problem.
The opportunity: An in-person interview with David Giuntoloi and Bitsie Tulloch about Grimm.
The problem: I didn't watch the show.
However, I had to assume that many of my listeners did watch it. So, I researched what happened in previous seasons, and I developed some questions. I then sent those questions to friends who were big fans of Grimm because I wanted to make sure I crafted good questions.
My friends said they were good questions and didn't have anything to add.
Then, when I sat down to talk with David, he noticed I had a set of prepared questions.
He was shocked.
He playfully expressed his surprise by telling me he didn't expect a podcast interviewer to come prepared with questions.
While I appreciated the compliment, that wasn't the best commentary about podcast interviews. Yet, it wouldn't be the only time I would have to be the exception to that rule.
When I asked Anthony Michael Hall for an interview, he agreed but wanted to keep it short. He soon realized I was prepared, and we ended up having a longer (and enjoyable) conversation.
While attending a convention, I walked into a room full of independent podcasts and media outlets who were there to interview voice actor Fred Tatasciore. I was the last person to interview him. He was so pleased with my preparation and questions that he offered to sign some posters for my listeners. These were posters he brought to the convention.
Do some research
This may sound like common sense, and it should be automatic. However, it's one of the major reasons why so many podcast interviews suck. When I say research, I mean:
1. Ask for a biography page, read their websites and/or read news stories about them
2. If there are prior interviews with your guest, find some and watch or read them
3. If they're an author, read the book
4. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and ask yourself what you would want to know
5. Make sure you don't have too many (if any) questions that start with, "What was it like..."
Many podcasters will improvise or decide on simple questions that don't take a lot of time to develop. Keep in mind, your questions and preparation are a representation of you. While it's important to always remember that, I've interviewed quests whose expertise was way beyond mine. For example, when I had to conduct an interview on the mind's impact on back pain, I had to do a deep-dive into research in order to give me and the interview some meaningful credibility.
Research is critical. Start with these steps, and you'll be well on your way to conducting a stronger interview.
Craft better questions
While I was attending a convention a couple of years ago, I came across someone who I've interviewed in the past. He's an in-demand author, and he told me he was starting to cut back on podcast interview requests.
One reason for this - People keep asking him the same questions.
"Instead of asking me how I got started, I wish they would ask me WHY I got started."
This goes back to my point about the "What was it like" questions:
What was it like doing this
What was it like playing this role
What was it like working with ____
There are better questions, and my former guest correctly pointed out that there are better ways to ask them. It's also another for reason researching prior interviews. If the person you want to interview is an in-demand guest, you can definitely learn about the repeated questions they've been asked.
One of the biggest guests I've ever had was Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter for Marvel. There are a ton of previous interviews to watch, including podcast interviews at San Diego Comic-Con.
So, you don't have to be the interviewer who asked that question because:
1. You did your research and noticed she's been asked this 100 times.
2. Your research will show you that she doesn't like to view the character in that context.
Now, it's almost impossible to line-up a set of questions that a guest like Hayley has never been asked, but you can craft a different way to ask it. When you do that, your guest will probably have to stop, think and share a new version of their response. The same questions will trigger the same responses, and that gets old with guests.
Don't make it a tennis match
During a tennis match, you can't help but take your eyes off the game and watch the crowd. The sight of people's heads going side to side can be entertaining as well. However, in the world of interviewing - it can be quite dull.
What do I mean by a tennis match interview? The back and forth is simple and one-dimensional:
I think it's much more effective to approach an interview as a conversation. You don't even have to follow your prepared questions at times because they might answer a prepared question while discussing another topic.
You have to listen and adjust.
Plus, if you're listening carefully, they may say something that inspires a better question than the one you have in front of you.
You can also make a guest comfortable with a conversational interview by having some pleasant small talk before you start recording.
Don't be afraid to bring up that other thing
This is another advantage of doing research. You might be talking to an author about their book, but your research showed that they're very passionate about a charity. So, you ask them about that as well.
Some interviewers are so one-track minded, they talk about one topic, and they're done. If there's an opportunity to work an additional highlight into your discussion:
1. It shows you did your research
2. It's a potential opportunity to ask something they're not always asked
3. It could add another interesting layer to your discussion.
I've done this on more than one occasion, and it's always a good thing. Back in 2012, I interviewed Alicia Witt about her role in Cowgirls 'n Angels and Two Weeks Notice. She lit up with a smile when I brought up her singing career, which is a bigger part of her life now.
Remember that when you conduct an interview, you're representing you, your show and your audience. Take that seriously. Let that help you gain a reputation as a prepared and professional interviewer.
That reputation could override the negative perceptions of podcast interviews and generate more opportunities for you.
One of the best traits of a creative professional is passion. If you ask a creative about their inspiration or thought process about something, you'll often get an impassioned (and sometimes lengthy) response. However, that passion can also lead creatives into situations where even the best ideas aren't generating the right amount of success. Here are two creative traps you can avoid.
The Impatience Trap
One thing that is universal with creatives is that we are reaction addicts. We love to produce something and get that positive response. When that response doesn't happen as fast as we would like, it can demoralize our moods. Granted, in some cases, it might mean we do have to go back to the drawing board.
Other times, it could be an issue of patience.
The truth is, some projects don't generate instant gratification. You have to understand that in the beginning. Otherwise, demoralization will prevent gratification, and it was your fault.
The formula for success in blogging and podcasting are similar:
If it was a simple "build it and they will come" proposition, everyone would succeed. Plus, I wouldn't have to write this blog.
The One-Hat Trap
They fell into the one-hat trap.
In other words, they didn't take their marketing hats off and replace them with their consumer hats. They were thinking like marketers and not consumers. You can't do that and expect tremendous success.
It can be easy to fall into this trap. There are times where I caught myself before falling into it. As creatives, we can fall too far in love with a concept and forget we're not producing it for ourselves. As a content marketer, it's easy to forget you're also a consumer.
Don't forget that.
Ask yourself questions about your content as a member of your target audience. When you think like a consumer, ask yourself:
You'll give yourself another layer of invaluable insight, and you avoid the trap. Evading traps like these will increase the chances of celebrating the gratification you seek.
I get it. When you get into podcasting, you're likely going to learn some things the hard way. I know I did. When I launched my first podcast in 2011, my mistakes included:
However, it's 2020, and podcasting is going more mainstream every day. With that, it's a lot easier to find good podcasting advice from reputable professionals. When I started, I found some random guy in Australia who produced a podcast about podcasting. Now you can find great experts like Cliff Ravenscraft, Daniel J. Lewis and Chris Brogan to help guide you.
While I think it's important to continue learning, there are some things I've heard podcasters say that made me instantly facepalm.
I asked them, "Is this what you're listeners want you to talk about?"
They answered, "It's what WE want to talk about."
Well, that's a fair answer if you don't care about your listeners. I know podcasters who aren't worried about downloads. They like talking and uploading it to the internet.
However, these podcasters wondered why their audience hadn't grown. One answer is universally simple -
If you promote an episode topic, then talk about it. If you veer off the subject too much, listeners are likely to bail.
Plus, listeners like to feel like their part of your conversation. In this case, if two people talking about their school lives together, the listener may feel like their eavesdropping on two people talking about something they were not present to experience with them.
I think the better option for Soundcloud is to showcase episode clips or previews with links and mentions to your podcast website.
Just because you can talk without limits, it doesn't mean you should. Remember, you're not only a podcast producer, but you're a consumer of content. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and try to measure when something is dragging on for too long or veering off course for an extended time.
In response, I've had people tell me, "Oh, but our listeners say they love our really long episodes, and they want more."
Really? How many of them told you that? Two percent?
Even if it's 80 percent, don't listen to them. Respect their time, and keep your shows at a reasonable length. I can promise you that your listeners will appreciate it.
You probably won't get a lot of emails saying, "Could you please talk about things for another hour?" Instead, if your episodes are too long, most people won't say anything.
Instead, they'll unsubscribe.
Not to mention, if you think 30 minutes isn't enough, you haven't listened to Mike Rowe's podcast.
As they said in Beverly Hills Cop - don't fall for the banana in the tailpipe.
As Daniel Lewis says - Don't fall for the podcasting myth of monthly downloads.
In 2020, podcasts are bigger and more popular than ever. That means there area lot more resources available for building a good show. Take advantage of it, and don't forget to keep learning along the way.
When I was a kid, the first productions I ever produced were audio stories. Back then, I was using tape recorders, the SK-1 Keyboard and homemade sound effects to bring it all to life. I never thought I would get to produce audio stories to share with the public through podcasting.
Obviously, things were going to be more manageable since I could infuse music and sound effects digitally, but there were going to be some big challenges as well.
Developing the story
Creating a new superhero story was a little intimidating. After all, there are so many great ones in existence. How could I create a unique hero and villain with that in mind? Well, the first thing I wanted to do was not go the typical origin story route.
One way I did this was to tell the story through someone else's eyes. That way, the story wouldn't have to fall into a cookie-cutter origin theme, and it made the hero a little more mysterious in the beginning. The story opens with two internet video guys trying to make a ghost hunting video.
It doesn't work out the way they hoped, but it leads to an accidental viral video when they accidentally caught the mysterious hero in a shot. This fortuitous opportunity inspires them to look for more.
It was important to develop his story as well. I didn't want to create a villain who just wants to "create havoc" or rule the world. It had to be deeper than that.
I was very fortunate to know a very talented graphic artist named Alex Ray to design the logo. All I told him was that I wanted an older hero (late 30s or early 40s) and to design the costume with the Battle of the Planets characters in mind. I also wanted the wings to open up and close. We clicked on how the costume and logo should look.
Casting was going to be everything. Audiences can tell whether or not there are experienced actors voicing characters. It would instantly make or break the show's credibility. Fortunately, thanks to my work in the Dallas indie production scene, I had access to talent agents and ways to promote the casting call. Some people were able to email their reads to me.
I know Stephanie Nadolny (Dragon Ball Z), and we have been talking about working together for some time. She was the perfect voice for The Crimson Crane.
I also searched online for actors with websites and demo reels and reached out to them to audition. For the extra or smaller part reads, I reached out to friends or found people on Fiverr.
As luck would have it, a new recording studio (Arcturus Studio) opened up about 20 miles from me. They were only going to charge 50 dollars an hour to record the shows. Once I got everyone scheduled, we worked out a way to get 1-2 episodes done per session. In Season 2, some actors were able to send in their episode reads, and that cut back on studio time. If I needed a re-read or a different take, I could email them.
With this cast, there were few re-reads. They are a very talented group of people.
I knew post-production was going to be a big beast of a project. It would take hours and days to finish an episode. However, when it's all done, it's worth the effort. It was awesome to hear these stories come alive with all aspects of production.
In Season 2, I found a website called Storyblocks.com that made it very easy to get music and sound effects.
Learn more about The Crimson Files on the website
Hear my interview on creativity and fiction podcasting on The Create Art Podcast
I've always said my top two childhood heroes were Luke Skywalker and Mike Donovan. Everyone knows the name Luke Skywalker, but not everyone knows the name Mike Donovan. That's a tragedy because if it weren't for him, alien lizards would've gotten away with eating people and sucking the earth dry.
When I talk to people about Marc Singer, they usually think about The Beastmaster, but he will always be Mike Donovan from the 1980s V television series. As a kid, I pretended to be Mike Donovan while attending elementary school in Fort Worth, Texas. My best friend pretended to be Martin (the alien visitor who was on our side), and we turned the school into the mother ship.
During the day, he would approach me with news and plans that his people were developing against the humans. At recess, we pretended to blow up the water pipes and return stolen water to earth. Many years after the show was cancelled, Mike Donovan continued to be a key figure in my nostalgia.
So, you can only imagine what it was like for me to meet him in person. He came to a comic convention in Plano, and it was a memorable experience. He was an incredibly nice guy, and my wife enjoyed meeting him as well.
However, this exciting moment came with some regret. I didn't want to hold up the autograph line anymore. So, I didn't tell him how much his character meant to me. I didn't tell him that I played Mike Donovan on the school playgrounds. I assumed there would be another time, but as conventions came and went, he didn't appear on the guest list.
Then I got into podcasting and launched a celebrity interview show. While developing an episode about childhood heroes, I tried to find a way to reach Marc. It wasn't easy. I came across an email address that MIGHT get to him, but I didn't really know for sure. Nonetheless, I wrote my interview request and sent it off to who knows where.
I never got a reply. I figured it ended up in some random person's inbox, and they deleted it.
Then, months later, someone called my cell phone while I was at work. It was listed as UNKNOWN, and I never answer those. Surprisingly, the "unknown" caller left a message. So, I checked it.
That night, I called Marc back. During our discussion, I finally got to tell him, one-on-one, with no lines of people behind us, what his character meant to me. And that meant a lot to him.
During the interview, he even brought it up, and I confirmed that I pretended to be Mike Donovan in school. He then told me and the audience how much that means to him, and that he knew I did the character proud.
As they say today - "Uh! The feels!"
At the end of the interview, Marc read I liner I wrote for the show. It was a nice bow tied around a fun conversation and a meaningful opportunity.
"Hi, this is Marc Singer. I played Mike Donovan in the 1980s series 'V'. Scott Murray also played Mike Donovan in school. And thanks to him, no lizards ever infiltrated the classroom. Long live The Resistance."
I love it when I come across the occasional meme or message on social media that states something truly meaningful. For example, I like it when I see reminders that in a very celebrity-obsessed and self-focused world, important people get overlooked - like our military heroes. This is especially true for those who belong to The Greatest Generation.
No doubt about it, I was always excited when I booked a celebrity guest on my first talk show. However, I was honored to talk to two heroes in February of 2012. The movie Red Tails was coming out, and it told a story featuring a group of Tuskegee Airmen. Sure, I could've worked on finding a couple of actors from the movie, but I decided to go a different route.
I went out and found two actual Tuskegee Airmen to feature on the show - Master Sergeant Joseph Montgomery and Colonel Charles McGee. First off, Colonel McGee was a modern day badass. From World War II to Vietnam, he was like Maverick from Top Gun. He flew over 400 combat missions during his service. He is 99-years-old today.
I had the unique opportunity to interview Master Sergeant Montgomery at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Like many heroes of his generation, he was a great storyteller. He talked about making the trip to Tuskegee via train and having to cover up the windows at stops where skin color could cause some problems for them. At times, he chokes up talking about the experience, proving how much pain still existed. I was sad to learn that he passed away last year, but I feel lucky to be someone who got to hear his story.
I'm also proud to be someone who can help keep the stories and memories alive for both of these American heroes.