In 2021, Start A Podcast

I'll help you!

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Start a podcast. It’s easier than you think and I’m here to help you.

Boss Barista will be turning four in February. To mark the occasion, I’d like to encourage more folks to get into audio.

I love audio for its immediacy and accessibility—even though it took me some time to get comfortable with the medium. At the beginning, Boss Barista looked like my former co-host Jasper Wilde and I using borrowed mics, with no prior experience of making a podcast. We’d sit in my apartment, trying to figure out how to record ourselves without picking up the other’s audio, and for months we struggled to get quality audio from our guests. There were hiccups, lost interviews, and generally really frustrating moments.

Since then, I’ve accumulated more than a few podcasting tricks. Some have come from listening to other podcasts; some from researching and scouring the internet; and others from simply stumbling along, learning new things, and trying my best to sit back and observe the work. At every step, I interrogate the process: Why was this interview different than the one before? What’s the best way to encourage someone to tell a story? What happens when a guest rambles, but I don’t want to cut them off? Why is everything we’re discussing afterwards more interesting than what we just recorded?

My colleague James Hoffmann runs a popular YouTube channel where he goes over the intricacies of coffee in a way that is both accessible to novices and engaging to experts. I learn something new from every video he posts. Some of what I learn is the immediate content of the episode; some is from watching how he structures his show and presents information.

Next month, James will turn over his YouTube channel to makers from far and wide. You’ll see videos from folks exploring corners of the coffee world that are fascinating, surprising, and thrilling. I had a chat with him just this week, and asked if I could steal his idea for my own platform. Always gracious and kind, James said yes.

If you want to make a podcast or an audio story, Boss Barista will help you—and will host one full episode of your project.

You don’t have to be an experienced audio storyteller or writer or creator to take part. I’m just looking for folks who want to tell a story, to have a conversation with their idol, or to string together interviews to build their own creative narrative. Although I imagine most ideas to come from coffee creators, your idea doesn’t have to be about coffee. The Boss Barista audience spans all sectors of service workers, and big themes about food and hospitality are welcomed and encouraged.

I’m aiming to launch this project in April (this is tentative), and would like to see creators take over the Boss Barista channel for the entire month. We typically release new episodes on Tuesdays, so there are four potential projects we can air.

Here’s a submission form. You don’t need any special equipment to participate: Feel free to record on your phone, and I’ll help you edit your project. This is open to folks across the globe, and I strongly encourage folks from outside the United States to apply. Your story also does not have to be in English. I’ll be limited in my ability to help you tell a story in another language, but I strongly encourage folks who want to tell stories in other languages to think through what that could look like.

I’ll keep the submission form open for a week—this article is being published on Saturday, January 16 at 11 a.m. Chicago time—and will follow up afterwards with questions, and to schedule times to chat. I will pay contributors at least $50 for their projects, and more if I can secure a sponsor.

If you’re interested in starting a podcast—or any sort of project—I hope this pushes you to go for it.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of those podcasting tips and lessons I’ve learned during my own journey into audio. Whether you’re a curious beginner or in the midst of honing your craft, I hope they offer guidance and support.

1. Set a schedule. Even if you don’t abide by it perfectly (I almost never do), a calendar is one of the best accountability tools you can give yourself.

For months before Boss Barista launched, Jasper and I would talk about our ideas or make lists of guests we wanted to interview—and then we never followed up on those plans. Eventually, we set a hard goal: February 1, 2017. We’d either have to have something ready to air or just find ourselves gabbing at each other.

Your listeners will also appreciate the heads up. Setting a schedule means managing expectations of when your show will be available, and helps build an appropriate amount of anticipation and excitement for each new episode.

2. Practice interviewing. Interviewing is a skill I’m so lucky to exercise weekly on the show. It’s not about learning to be a “perfect” interviewer—it’s just about getting comfortable. I’ve become better at interviewing the more I do it. It’s truly a muscle.

Find a friend, hop on Zoom, and pretend you’re interviewing them for your show. If you can, transcribe the interview and see what speech patterns you fall into. (I’ve gotten good at cutting out “ums” and slightly better at “likes,” but I use a lot of turns of phrase over and over, like, “It’s so interesting that…” and “I was wondering…”) You’ll also notice how you ask questions. Do you add a zillion clauses and qualifiers (I do)? Do you stray from your original intention?

One of the first things I do when coaching others is to transcribe their interviews for them. That way, I can show them if their questions are overly complicated, or where they interrupted their guest, or when they speak way more than their guest does. It’s one of the best tools in my arsenal.

3. Listen to other interviewers. If you’re looking for examples of skillful interviewing, I can’t recommend these two resources enough: The Turnaround, a podcast by Jesse Thorn where he interviews interviewers, and Out on the Wire, an illustrated book about podcasting and making radio. 

If you like podcasts at all, pay attention to how the host or narrator of the show structures sentences and questions. It’s likely in a simpler manner than they would if they were having a conversation or writing an article. The hosts I admire most are the ones who can ask dead-simple questions. “How so?” or “What was that like?” or “How did that make you feel?” can often provoke incredibly thoughtful and rich answers.

I also think Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse of The Nod are deeply adept at both interviewing and balancing a multi-host dynamic. Tyler Mahan Coe of Cocaine and Rhinestones has made me more interested in country music than I ever thought I could be. The Heart plays with audio in a way that goes beyond just words and straightforward storytelling.

I’d also recommend listening to audio being made locally in your neighborhood. And even if they aren’t your favorite podcasts, classics like This American Life and Serial are incredibly popular for a reason. Use them as study guides. Break down their structure and pay attention to how they tell a story.

4. Audio is visual. I read this in Jessica Abel’s book (recommended above), and it’s the number-one rule I live by. Audio evokes feelings, and feelings begin to paint pictures. Give your audience a paintbrush to start filling in the details.

Ask people to describe where they are. Record yourself in the car and capture those background noises. Build your world using audio’s rich tapestry.

5. Take notes. This is the best tool I can recommend for making your editing easier. If I have a timestamp written down for when I messed up a question or a line, I can edit it out easily. If I just vaguely know I made mistakes in an episode, I’ll have to listen to it from the top and try to find those mistakes.

6. Be silent. This might sound counterintuitive, but don’t be afraid to shut up and see what happens. If you turn on your recording device, something will happen. If a person answers a question, give them a minute before you jump back in—there might be more, and sometimes giving silence space also gives people a moment to think, to find more to say, to dig deeper.

I can’t wait to hear your ideas, and if nothing else, I hope this encourages you to tell your stories and find your creative voice.

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