Finding Purpose in Podcasting

February 26, 2019

The Beginning

I have never been one to stick with anything. Even as a young child, I had an over active imagination that was all over the place. I had lots of dreams. I wanted to be a veterinarian. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer (this was obviously before learning about how terrible sea world is!). I wanted to be lawyer. I wanted to be a journalist. And based on a cassette tape recording interview with my older sister I also wanted to “bring people food”. When asked why I said “because it makes people happy”.

I was lucky enough to have a childhood where I was placed in many extra circular activities. I did gymnastics – quit that. I did horseback riding – quit that.  I did soccer – eventually quit that. I even took an art class in university because I loved to draw. I remember my professor telling me that if I just focused more on it I would be so much better. But I was overwhelmed with other courses, trying to figure out what to do with my life that would land me a job, so I half assed everything else.

When I realized writing may not be my things as much as I thought it was, I landed on pursuing a career in Public Relations. Fast forward 5 or so years – I had a degree in PR, a diploma in Events and Promotions Management, and at that time had only worked one related job in my field (only for a summer, by the way).

Throughout high school I remember being absolutely obsessed with Much Music. I wanted to be a Much Music VJ so bad! Getting the chance to interview musicians and be on tv seemed like a a dream. I was also obsessed with talk shows. Rosie O’Donnel was my favorite at the time (before I discovered Conan of course). But for whatever reason, I didn’t pursue broadcasting and decided that maybe journalism was the way to go.  After a couple years and one relationship that kept me anchored in my hometown doing one year of an Arts degree at a university I was only “meh” about (Straight up guys, I went there because of a boy. Never do that. Don’t pull a Felicity).

When I realized writing may not be my thing as much as I thought it was, I landed on pursuing a career in Public Relations. Fast forward 5 or so years – I had a degree in PR, a diploma in Events and Promotions Management, and at that time had only worked one related job in my field (only for a summer, by the way).

I went through a breakup with that same long term boyfriend that had totally shattered me and turned my world upside down (blog for another time) and forced me to figure out who the hell I was. I ended up working in customer service and tourism for the next 5 years of my life.

 So the girl who was always all over the place ended up in random areas of work. That seems about right. Most of my working life has been in jobs that have been in some ways or another – unfulfilling. It never felt like I was doing “my thing”. I never felt like I was taping into my passions, and I also never really felt like I was being utilized to my full potential. It seemed like everyone around me had an easy time just falling into their careers, picking something and sticking with it to a point where success came easy. But that wasn’t me. Something felt off and not right. I didn’t feel like I was understood or appreciated. I had to struggle with a less than ideal job market in a small city, competing with recent graduates and people with years of experience in specific fields. I felt, for lack of a better word: screwed. I felt like I had wasted many years on working in fields I was not passionate about and didn’t want to stay in.

The Inspiration

I discovered my TRUE love for podcasts at a time in my life where I was pretty desperate for connection. Even as expressive and honest as I am with friends and people around me, I always felt weird and like stated before – not understood.

My first dive into podcasts was listening to a lot of TV recaps podcasts. Rob Has a Podcast is a network I still listen to all the time. It provided me a new way to ingest media because I was always someone who would watch a show or movie – and want to discuss it right after. Tuning in to podcasts after episodes of Big Brother (I’m not ashamed to say I love Big Brother!) became part of my routine. Eventually I started listening to more and more – How Did This Get Made, My Favourite Murder, Serial, etc. But then I discovered another type of podcast. I started listening to more comedic conversational human interest based podcasts about all aspects of life – sex, dating, friendship, self improvement. I became a loyal fan of such podcasts as Guys We Fucked and The Hot Mess Comedy Hour. These were podcasts with comedians talking open and honestly about life, sex and dating in a comedic way . They happened to be hosted by women which I found inadvertently inspired me to started speaking my mind more. I loved it. It was the escape I truly needed in my life. The hosts almost became invisible friends in my life that I could confide in – even if that meant simply nodding along in agreement to what they were saying at the time. Not only was it something to look forward to every week, that I could ingest while doing other things (like cleaning, doing dishes, commuting, etc) but it also felt like a community.

I started thinking about how cool it would be to have my own. I had a close friend group who would always gather at one bar every week, sit in “our booth” and drink. Some nights were more chill and silly, but other nights involved having deep heart to hearts – conversations that I thought others could relate to. It’s a simple concept to grasp: people open up when they are drunk. I eventually thought about the idea of having a show based around drinking where the guest picks the drink and I have to drink it no matter what. It was admittedly, kind of gimmicky. At the time I was drinking socially all the time and knew people like to see other people get drunk – so maybe they’d like to hear it as well.

November 2016 is when the idea came about. I came up with a few names – but my friend Corey suggest InTalksicated. Get it? InTALKSicated? Yeah, it’s clever as fuck!  Oddly enough the name did not win in the Facebook poll I put up, but I noticed people seemed to all react with a level of curiosity and amusement whenever I would tell them about it. I decided it was the name to go with.

First logo

I started pretty basic. I researched how exactly to do it and it seemed pretty simple. Buy a USB mic, download Audacity (a free recording software), come up with some intro music and upload it to Soundcloud. I soon realized that putting it on just one platform was not the best way to do it – I would also have to submit to iTunes and Google Play. I also had to think about branding – like logo and cover art, and down the line – making a website. I had a couple ideas for the first couple episodes. For the first recorded episode of InTalksicated I gathered my friend Danielle, Karen and Niamh in my living room. We drank Southern Comfort and talked about our friendship dynamics, told stories from college and discussed Karen and Niamh’s relationship. It was….so much fun! It was great for the first recorded episode to be with 3 close friends – people I was confrontable with. Even thought this was the first recorded episode, at this time it was the end of February and the Oscars were about to air. My friend Corey had also suggested that a cool episode would be to get together to talk about all the nominees for Best Picture, and release right before the Oscars aired so it was relevant. We ended up recording that episode as well and I decided that this would be episode 1.

The Launch

As it turned out – recording is the fun part. The more time consuming part is editing. There was a huge learning curve here. I knew how to make cuts – and got the hang of that pretty quick. What I didn’t realize was so much more goes into making a recording sound good. There’s equalization,  compression and all these other effects I knew nothing about. I got way too deep into editing I ended up trying to edit on a different program the day before the episode was supposed to be released on Soundcloud. I ended up messing up the file at one point and loosing the sound on the file. I spent 2 days sitting at my kitchen table pulling out my hair, googling, watching YouTube tutorials trying to troubleshoot. I thought to myself “why did I put this much pressure on myself to do this around the airing of an awards show?”

I somehow pulled it together and released the first episode on Soundcloud the night of the Oscars. Is it the best episode ever? Not really! The sound is awful and at the time I was really just getting used to talking on a microphone. My intro to that first episode is stiff, awkward and way too long winded for that it should have been!

I started to get my flow as the episodes went on. I recorded with friends who had interesting stories. I changed my hosting plan from Soundcloud to Libsyn – who I couldn’t be more happy with! I started developing the branding of the show. It was doing good. I mean, when you started out you really have no clue if people are actually listening or not. You see stats and you think “is this normal? Is this good?”. You really have no idea!

The Labour of Love

The first year of podcasting was legitimately fun. It enriched my life as a side hustle and helped me to connect with current friends. But things really started to turn around when I started reaching out to guests outside my immediate friend circle. I reached out to a comedian I really enjoyed – Heidi Brander, and I even connected with an author who I had never met remotely who lived in Australia.  If you would have told me I was doing this when I first started I would not have believed you. But as it turns out – there was never any harm in asking and most of the time people were down, willing and excited to come on as guests.

I’ve done some ballsy things in the last two years of podcasting. I have down two Canada Day centuries, a “talkies” awards show which acted like a best of clips episode, a two part “Us Too” episode all about the Me Too Movement and have also done 2 livestream podcast marathons (12 and 15 hours).  I have been loving the idea of pushing myself each time to do something bigger and better – it has been keeping things interesting for me.

I always saw the podcast as a contrast of comedy and more serious life topics – similar to that of any drunk conversation you have had with a friend at 3am in a both of a bar. The overtone of the show is comedic but more serious topics have been covered as well (I have touched on sexual assault, mental illness, grieving & death, infertility and sexuality). Podcasting truly became not only a creative outlet for me, but a way to share other people stories and learn more in the process. In a world where everyone is connected but also disconnected, it was a couple hours of face-to-face communication with a friend I might not have got otherwise.  I was pretty surprised when people started asking to come on. People I never thought would. It almost became an opportunity for them to express themselves and get something off their chest.

I feel I hit my true stride with Intalksicated when I made the move of reaching out to comedians I was following on Instagram. The message was pretty simple: open invite to come on the show! This resulted in great episodes and now, really great friendships.  Comedians are my favourite guests to come on the show because they are not afraid to talk, they have great stories and they love having a platform to help get their name out there.  Furthermore, connecting with the Halifax comedy scene in general truly reignited my love for podcasting and also – provided me with a new knowledge of the business behind comedy that I didn’t have before. This newly sparked passion came along just when I needed it – at a time when I was questioning the direction of the show and my willingness to keep up with it all.

Regardless of the darker times, recording great conversations, editing them, packaging them and releasing them out into the world has fulfilled me in ways no job ever has. What I truly realized with the podcast was – it was my way to create value for myself, at a time in my life where nothing else was providing value. I’ve been working jobs that haven’t truly embraced what I can offer in terms of skill and it left me feeling bored and useless. Having an outlet that I am creating and controlling provided me with a new sense of purpose and confidence. Not to mention – it’s tons of fun and an amazing way to make new relationships. My face lights up when I hear of someone wanting to start a podcast. I know that it’s an oversaturated market but it’s such a fun medium and anyone who is willing to put the work in – I am willing to cheer on.

Lessons Learned

With all this being said I have hit many bumps in the road but have learned so much about podcasting and myself.  I figured I list some things I have learned over the 2 years of being an independent podcaster:

1. Doing it alone is going to be a lot of work

If you are choosing to do a weekly podcast by yourself, with no host or teammates helping you – it’s going to be a lot of work. For myself – I was just a girl who loved podcasts and had to teach myself everything from the ground up. Self teaching yourself things like sound/video editing, graphic design, website development, SEO and social media marketing is both time consuming and frustrating at times.  When you’ve spent hours googling/watching tutorials and then testing what you have learned it can easily start to feel like a full-time hustle and not a side-hustle. It can be stressful and exhausting.

You truly have to ask yourself if you love doing this enough to invest the time and energy into it. For me, because my work life has been generally unfulfilling – I used this opportunity as a way to gain transferable skills. The second I started thinking about it like that, it stopped feeling as stressful.

Making the choice to do a solo shows certainly has pros and cons. The cons – well, the things I mentioned above. You might feel swapped at times. You need to arrange recording, plan the next couple weeks out, edit and market the episode all yourself. Keep in mind that if you are working full time – you may not have enough hours in the day to perfect all these things – and that’s okay. Remember that a lot of successful podcasts have teams with multiple people doing various tasks to reach goals. If you are doing it alone you can literally only do so much. Also if a guest cancels on you and you don’t have a backup plan – you could be left without an episode. Keeping a long list of potential guests is very important in situations like this.

There are some greats pros as well – you have full control over your content and your brand. You can do the episode you want to do and you are the caption of your own ship. It also really pushes you to get better at interviewing because you have no one else to fall back on. The show becomes your baby and you can essentially raise that baby however you want.

2. Even if you are serious about growth, it’s important to still have fun.

I cannot stress this one enough. I am lucky enough that my show is essentially my social life on a mic – so for me it was never NOT fun. Even on nights where I may not have felt up for recording – I always ended up having fun with the guests. This is because I really know the kinds of guests that work for my show. This will come with time! If you are living and breathing your podcast every week you will soon know the type of guest that will give you great episodes.  In my opinion – the not fun stuff comes from two areas: overworking yourself and stressing out too much about numbers. People who don’t create content might not understand that growth comes in many forms (addressing this in another lesson!). Remember that this is your show – and you have to enjoy it first and foremost.  Every podcast will come with a level of stress but if the stress outweighs the fun it might be time to question why you are doing it.

3. Unless you have a pre-existing fan base, you will need to invest money to see growth.

So here’s the thing – I’m not a famous person. I’m an average girl in a smaller city with a decent friend group trying to spread the word about a drunk podcast. It’s SO IMPORTANT to remember that organic growth is not always huge. If you truly want to expand your listener-ship you may have to throw some money into marketing and new equipment. Now – with marketing  it remains to be seen if my audience grew at all based on paid facebook ads, but what I can say is, throwing down $50 on a facebook ad gets more eyes on your show especially if you target it based on interests. Unless you have a mega supportive friend circle who is constantly pushing out your episodes – you may have to do this from time to time.

In terms of equipment, a lot of people have different opinions on this. For me – I knew I was in this for the long haul and pretty serious about it so at about the year point I started considering upgrading equipment to get more of a studio sound. This is not cheap with all things considered (XLR mics, mixer/interface, cords, stands, etc) but it is an investment that I believe pays off in the long run. So…don’t feel like you have to, but also know that doing it certainly won’t hurt anything. For the most part upgrading equipment meant listeners were appreciative of the shows quality because it took effort to perfect it.

4. Making the choice to be shameless about promoting your show will work in your favor.

This is a lesson that I learned by jumping in headfirst. When my show first came out I was a little cagey about it due to the personal content. I also felt bad asking people to subscribe or share because self promotion felt icky. Then I changed my way of thinking. I’m not selling a pyramid scheme. I’m not asking for money (until I got a Patreon page of course!). I’m making FREE content that I love. So why should I be ashamed? If people get annoyed – they can block you. But honestly if you are proud of your show – share it! I make a point to not go overboard with this, but I certainly don’t avoid it. I promote my show on it’s own social accounts and I will also share each episode to my personal facebook as well. Because the fact of the matter is if you are confident in your content – you should be sharing it. The second I started doing this was when I really started seeing people react positively to the show. They loved the fact that I was proud of what I was doing.

5. If you feel down about numbers – change what your definition of growth is.

Over two years of doing this I have seen ups and downs in terms of “growth”. If we are talking about growth in terms of numbers alone – it’s not the most consistent measurement. I’ve had months in a row where I have seen a consistent rise in numbers and other months where it drastically drops. Doing a weekly show that requires you to book guests means each episode is going to be different. It can be really hard to judge what people do or don’t like based on numbers alone unless your listeners give you feedback (which, you really don’t always get!). So when I think of show growth I have been learning to not think about it in terms of numbers – because if I did I likely would have quit a long time ago.

Do I wish all the work and complements I get about the show could be represented in terms of stats? Sometimes, for sure. Do I have goals for the show? Absolutely.  Downloads certainly mean your show could grow faster because you could start taking on sponsorships and getting paid to podcast is kind of the dream. That said, if you truly love what podcasting provides you outside of numbers, start to look at other aspects of growth in terms of how far you have come. For me this manifests itself in compliments/feedback I get personally from listeners of the show, knowing that people outside my friend circle know about it, getting requests from people to come on and knowing that others are spreading the word. All these things are signs that people are enjoying what you do. Any form of support you see – count that as a win.

I won’t lie to you, it can be extremely hard to see how other podcasts are doing – and making it look so easy and not think “what am I doing wrong?” I found this to be the case when I started following various podcasting facebook groups. Lots of podcasts would post their stats and the numbers were so high – statistics I could only dream of. It can be really hard to not let that get to you. All I can say to that is trust your content, know that many factors go into growth and every pod will grow at a different pace.

6. If you want a guest on your show – just ask.

This is SO IMPORTANT! This was key in me seeing growth in my show. I loved having friends on sharing super person stories, but those friends weren’t always willing to share the episode (maybe they went by a fake name or didn’t feel comfortable). I saw a true shift in the show when I started asking public facing people who were open to sharing the episode with their networks. So don’t be scared to ask that person you admire to come on your show. Podcast episodes give them free marketing that they can use as well and so it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. Once you build up the guts to reach out to people – it will become easy and you will be glad you started doing it.7. Establish a routine and it won’t feel like work.

7. Establish a routine and it won’t feel like work.

This is key in maintaining momentum and consistency with your show. When I started out I didn’t even have a consistent day per week that I would post. Soon enough I established that I would record whenever I can (mostly this is weekends and evenings), I could make the beginning of the week my editing nights (Mondays and Tuesdays), I would prepare promotion towards the middle of the week and I would release every Friday. Once you get into the routine of doing this it will start to feel normal and it may even feel weird if you miss a week. Kind of like going to the gym.

8. You will have to make sacrifices to put in the time.

This is a hard pill to swallow but with only 24 hours in a day there’s no way that work, side hustle, personal life and self care can all be allocated equally. If you choose to do an ambitious episode you may have to stay up late or turn down plans with friends to get it done. It’s just the name of the game. Again this is something that gets easier with time and establishing a routine. You will naturally figure out ways to deal  with life circumstances as it comes up in relation to your show. Sometimes you may have to make the call to put an episode on hold, or miss a week. Whatever your decision is – own it, and your listeners/friends will understand.

9. Take some breaks to get re-inspired if you need it.

Alright so here comes the big downside of podcasting: burnout. You see this with a lot of content creators – especially youtubers who are pretty much expected to release consistently. Releasing and promoting consistent content could be a full time job for anyone serious about doing it. But the fact is most of us are working other jobs and have other things going on in our lives. It’s close to impossible not to feel burnt out at some point. I have felt this a number of times over my two years of podcasting.

I can say that the worst kind of burn out you might feel as podcaster is when you not only feel tired from working your butt of, but you also feel uninspired. You might loose your spark for doing it because you don’t think people are enjoying your episodes, or your downloads are down. Or maybe you simply aren’t having fun anymore because of depression. It happens. For me a huge point in my burn out was November/December of 2018. I was feeling really down on myself and beating myself up about not seeing the growth I wanted. I also had seasonal depression which made me lazy and not in the mood to be social as much as I used to be. I legit thought about quitting podcasting because I thought “how is this worth it if I’m not getting new listeners?”. When the new year hit and I knew I was approaching epsiode 100, things kind of shifted for me. I decided to go balls to the wall with guests, and I also looked back at how far I have come and felt very proud of it all. I decided to keep my head up and keep going. I went to a lot of comedy shows which made me excited for new potential guests for the show. I refocused myself on the direction I want the show to go in and I got totally re-inspired me for the new year.

So don’t forget to put your mental health first. If it’s getting to be too much for you – take the break. Think about things and find some new passions. It’s important to make stories for yourself even if your podcast is about other people’s stories.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback

During my burnout period something inside me knew I didn’t want to go down without a fight. I started asking for feedback from listeners/followers. This actually didn’t scare me at all. Any time I receive constructive criticism I always saw it as a positive because it meant I could make positive changes going forward that would only help the show. I started posting Instagram polls that helped me figure out what was working and what wasn’t. It reconfirmed that my insecurities were mostly sarah vs. sarah and had nothing to do with the work I was putting out. So it just goes to show we are our own biggest critic. I have been lucky enough to get feedback from people who listen regularly and to me this is the best kind of feedback. Having people be open to me about what the loved and what could be improved meant I had something worth sticking out.

Closing Thoughts

I love podcasting…so much. Sure, I might not have a huge listener-ship just yet. But I have 100 audio records of my life out there for the world to hear and if even one episode helps someone, cheers them up or gives them something to relate to – I have done my job. I absolutely love showcasing interesting, funny, unique people and giving them a platform to share their stories and talents. In doing so, I’ve kind of discovered mine and for that I am immensely thankful. There’s a lot of things in my life that I cannot control – I can’t always control whether or not my day job is fulfilling, or if a certain boy wants to date me or people think I am “too much”. I still to this day feel misunderstood in many ways, but starting this podcast and finding my community has significantly lessened that insecurity. Joining forced with other creators has been pivotal in me making the decision to stick with the podcast. The work ethic I have gained from giving my all to something not at all motivated by money has been the most significant development in my life. I seriously didn’t think I could do it, and now I’m only thinking of what else I can do.

I am ridiculously excited for what’s to come on InTalksicated – the little drunk comedy podcast that has completely stolen my heart. I can’t say thank you enough to all my amazing guests – and future guests to come.

Here’s to (at the very least) 2 more years!

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