The guest today is Corey Coates from The Podcast Producers.
Choosing the right medium for your content
Corey’s experience has shown him that you have to make a decision as to who is going to be the one actually telling the story before you decide whether or not to do a narrative style. When doing narrative podcasting, people usually imagine as the narrator that they are “telling” the story, but the reality is a really good narrative podcast is one where the story is being told by the participants and almost unfolds on its own. There’s clearly a choice to guide the story in a certain direction, to edit in a certain way and to present the story that you might want to tell but before you even think about why you want to do it, ask “who is going to be responsible for telling the story?”
A lot of people are interested in the method of doing it this way largely because of the popularity of some narrative podcasts. When you listen to RadioLab or Serial, they sound beautiful and they’re fun to listen to. Corey knows how attractive that idea can be, but doing it just because a lot of the most popular shows or the ones you enjoy are in that fashion doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you should do. Choosing the right medium for your content is critical.
If you’re trying to bring pure information from individuals to individuals, maybe the interview format is the way to go. If you are trying to demonstrate, as Corey and Jessica did in The Podcast Producers, that there’s a lot of experts, information and ways to look at the exact same thing, then maybe the narrative way of going is better for you. Ultimately it comes down to deciding ‘who is telling the story and what is the story being told?’ and then choosing the format that goes around that.
Start with the story arc
It always starts with the story arc. From beginning to end, what is the story you want to tell? Decide how you will subdivide that into chapters, which can become the episodes. For The Podcast Producers, Corey and Jessica knew they wanted to do 10 episodes, because it was a time constraint and prevented the project expanding for the rest of the year. From beginning to end they brainstormed a ton of questions or topics, what would be a logical order to arrange topics, and who might they be able to talk to on some of those subjects. It was about the questions Corey, Jessica and their community had, who are some of the people that might be able to provide the answers, and then how can you link one answer to the next, or one question to the next answer that takes someone through the journey but most importantly leaves them where we want them to be, which is wanting more. When you get to the end of it, there’s conclusions and ideas but nothing is really conclusive.
Choosing interview subjects
Corey and Jessica specifically targeted certain individuals for their knowledge base and their experience in the industry. It’s tough because in a lot of cases you have folks that are the most vocal and prominent, that may not necessarily be the ones with the best information, they’re just the loudest so they tend to get the most attention. Having been in the industry for 10 years and 3 years respectively, Corey and Jessica were able to tell whether folks were really legit, they know their stuff, and they’re really making a contribution, or if they were jokers and they’re coming in marketing themselves but not really having the skills needed. So they laser pointed their pitches and ended up getting 95% of the people they wanted. The 5% that didn’t were often the ‘shot in the dark’ people, and usually the reason was that their schedules wouldn’t allow it or it wasn’t going to fit Corey’s production schedule.
Corey’s advice is that the more specific you go towards somebody as a guest, having knowledge of who they are and their background, the more likely they are to agree because they know that you’re not just coming at you with a form letter that you send to everyone but that it’s a personalized request. If you blast to everyone in an industry, that shows people that you don’t care who they are, you are just taking who you can get. Corey strongly advises against that.
Word of mouth types of referrals can also be great, even if then you are cold calling those folks, because you can tell them who recommended them to you. For season 2 of The Podcast Producers, they already have a great list of guests, most of whom have come through referrals this way, but that has happened over time as they built their reputation in the industry.
Tips for interviewing and sticking to the story arc
Ultimately when interviewing, Corey is always looking for sound-bites. He wants the two or three good phrases out of the guest in a 20-30 minute conversation that are going to be usable. Sometimes there are surprise elements in the interviews. There were times when Corey planned to interview a guest on a topic, but ended up going off track and talking about other aspects of podcasting and those sections became the gold that often fit into other topics.
His advice is to play a little bit fast and loose. In interviews for a narrative podcast you can get away with it because it’s not a show where the person you are interviewing is the sole guest for the one episode. As an interviewer, you don’t have to be ‘on’. You don’t have to ask the immaculate questions, perfectly phrased, and the guests don’t have to give you that perfectly phrased answer that leads from beginning to end of the show like you would in an interview format.
Corey does suggest that as the interviewer, you have to speak less. Ask a question, then allow the guest to speak. After they finish the answer, just pause for 2 seconds, and you’ll see almost every time that the guest will elaborate. And the second thing they say is almost always more profound than the original answer that you got.
Finding the gold in the editing process
Corey believes the hardest thing to do for any editor is to edit, especially when it’s their own show. As podcasters, we are the control room, the editor, the producer, the distributor, the marketing personality, all at the same time. It makes it difficult to be objective when making some of these choices. It’s important to find a way to put things in perspective to who that audience is going to be. Start editing and cutting, not from your own perspective and the things that you like, but the things that are going to be the most valuable to that listener. Of course you, the podcaster, will understand the topics but if your guest is using a lot of industry jargon or buzzwords, it’s important to think about whether the listener will understand. If the answer is that most people wouldn’t understand what that is, Corey says, “cut it, you don’t need it!”
On the cutting room floor
When interviewing, Corey suggests you try to save yourself time down the road. When you get an ‘aha’ moment during the interview, time-stamp it. It was an emotional moment for you and that could then translate well to be an emotional moment for the listener. What you’re able to then is take some of those emotional markers and start putting them into bins and experiement with arranging them around. As you’re doing that, you only have to go and look for the little 5-10% pieces of audio that represent linking the pieces together. That is really the trick: creating the entire story to the best of your ability based on only components provided by your guests. Everything in between that can’t be linked and doesn’t make sense is where the narrator jumps in to get people from point A to point B to point C.
Corey feels that repurposing audio is a great way to go, and with The Podcast Producers, they intentionally did 20-30 minute interviews with podcasters for this purpose. Partly it was because they didn’t want to take up more than 30 minutes of anyone’s time, but it was also because at the end of it they got a weekly 30-minute long form podcast with somebody within the industry. Having finished producing the entire 10 part series and doing all the marketing necessary to get it out there, he can then start pulling these to release as episodes, raw and uncut. It keeps subscribers happy because they’re now getting weekly content, fans of the series are happy because they love the ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff, and the editors are enjoying it because it’s a chance to see it in the raw perspective before it ends up in the polished product.
Tracking and transition techniques
Everyone has their own approach and every producer has their own flair. For Corey, it’s very simple: he’s always looking for wording to match. When something that one person says can naturally lead to something that someone else said, and those two things can be put together that is a win in narrative audio. Then you don’t need music, transitions, narration or anything fancy. It’s just letting the spoken word tell the story.
In many cases it doesn’t always fall that way because it is largely unscripted material so we have to find a way to bridge from one to the other, which is a good opportunity for a narrator to jump in, usually with a little bit of bed music under it. The music helps the listener to float in and out of the show when the narrator interrupts, but sometimes it’s also used in order to give the listener an appropriate amount of time to think about what was just said. If you can get two pieces of audio to stitch together naturally without having to do anything else to it, do that first. And if you have to get some narration in there, leave a little space, put a little music, give the narration and then go back into the content.
Avoid Analysis Paralysis
By his own admission, Corey is a proponent of the art of non-doing. He warns against getting overwhelmed by the amount of information that’s out there and getting locked into the research phase. He says just let the interviews flow, start getting the content in. In the meantime, start the hunt for your music. He suggests finding an individual composer so you have something that’s thematic that will work for the entire series. Then, see what happens!