Table of contents:

"If an idea is shit, no amount of time will save it": How to Make a Really Good Podcast
"If an idea is shit, no amount of time will save it": How to Make a Really Good Podcast

How long it takes to create an issue and the importance of choosing a form.

"If an idea is shit, no amount of time will save it": How to Make a Really Good Podcast
"If an idea is shit, no amount of time will save it": How to Make a Really Good Podcast

Individuum publishes the book Let's Make Some Sound. How to Make Hit Podcasts”by Eric Nuzum - a recognized expert in the world of audio - for those who make their own podcast or are just planning to do it. With the permission of the publishing house, Lifehacker publishes an abridged excerpt from Chapter 3, "Function and Form".

The form

According to my observations, most people are rather naive about the form, and there is nothing surprising in this. A podcast is about thirty minutes long and they say, "How long does it take to make a half hour podcast?" The answer to this question depends on which form you choose, but it will never be "thirty minutes."

Even in those rare cases when a successful podcast is recorded immediately for publication (that is, there is no special editing after recording), it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare. Someone should read / watch / listen to what the guest is doing. Someone needs to think through the questions. Or the facilitator is an expert in the area under discussion and has years of training and experience behind him.

The most annoying thing is that there is no clear formula for how long it takes to make your podcast good.

It remains to be admitted that there is no correlation here. If an idea is shit, no amount of time will save it (but you can kill a good idea if you don't spend enough time on it) - and some just need less time than others to get it cool.

It's important to note that there are thousands of podcasters out there who just hit record, say a certain time, hit stop and post the result without changing anything. But almost all of these podcasts attract a very small audience. And you know what? This is completely normal. There is nothing wrong with making a podcast and minimizing the amount of fiddling with it. But don't expect too much either.

Now that you've got this figured out, let's talk a little about all the varieties of the shape … both varieties. There are over 700,000 podcasts in the world today, and they all fall into two categories: people chat and people tell stories. And that's all. If I was paid by words, I would try to grind the topic a little more, but it's actually pretty simple. Any podcast falls into one of these two categories I used to say that there is only one category - people tell stories, because even when people chat, they still tell stories. … Each has three subcategories.

People chat


A tirade is when a person talks about an idea or shares his opinion. Usually this person is a famous intellectual, a celebrity, a prominent voice in some area or a representative of a certain worldview, although sometimes this is an ordinary person who just needs to speak out. Tirade is a one-way conversation of a podcast star with an audience. Sometimes in such a podcast there may be a decorative interlocutor - a guest, a co-host, or some other irritant - but their presence is needed solely so that the star can make comments about them and receive prepared questions from them.

The term "tirade" may sound a little derisive, but it is not. He emphasizes that we are talking about soloing, not about an ensemble.

Examples of rants include The Tony Robbins Podcast, Rise with Rachel Hollis, Dear Sugar, The Ben Shapiro Show, and TED Talks Daily.

Questions and answers

One person asks questions and the other answers them. You might think this is about interviews (they make up the majority of this subcategory, of course), but there are other podcasts here, such as games and quizzes. The difference between "tirade" and "questions and answers" is that the first is a window into the worldview of another person, and the second is a two-way exchange of remarks, parrying blows.

The questioner here can also share his ideas and views of the world, but the main thing is what the presenter and the audience can take from the guest's answers. The host and star of such a podcast can either ask questions or answer them.

Examples: The Tim Ferriss Show, Fresh Air and WTF with Marc Maron.


A conversation is when two or more people are talking to each other. One of them may dominate the conversation (or be something like a leader), but there is no other hierarchy here. Nobody interviews the rest. Nobody dominates the rest. This is a discussion of equals, an intense conversation in which everyone says something valuable.

Examples: No Such Thing as a Fish, Culture Gabfest, and Pod Save America.

People tell stories

Seasonal storytelling

One story is told in several issues, the storyline develops over one season or a certain period of time. You listen to the episodes in sequence and follow the development of the plot, in each episode you are given the information you need to understand the next episode.

Examples: Serial, Slow Burn, Dr. Death and In the Dark.

Serial narration

Each issue is an independent story. The stories in all episodes are different and often unrelated to each other.

Examples: 99% Invisible, Embedded, and Revisionist History.

Multiple narrative

In this subcategory, podcasts have many episodes, and each can have many stories (sometimes they share a common theme). In other words, there can be two, three, or even more stories in one episode.

Examples: This American Life, Snap Judgment, The Moth, and Invisibilia.

When I tell people about these categories of podcasts, I am often debated. They are trying to give an example that does not fit into this scheme. But I haven't managed to find anything like that yet. Okay, there are examples that don't quite fit, for example, podcasts-instructions. But I would say that they use podcasts as a means of distributing material, they use podcasting infrastructure, but they are not directly related to podcasting. … Feel free to try it yourself, and when you fail, just use these categories as a frame.

Audio has one advantage - it is relatively cheap to produce, so nothing (minus the time) prevents you from experimenting with different forms and ultimately choosing what you like best.

Try a few options and see what happens.

When my team and I were developing the Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel, we could not decide on the form. If you don't know who Esther Perel is, let me explain: she is a family psychotherapist, author of bestselling books and two leaps into the stratosphere at the TED conference, a leading expert in her field. It is believed that going to Esther is a last resort; she is often visited by couples who have already tried (in vain) other therapists. Esther usually receives couples once, conducts a huge three-hour session with them, and then sends them to other specialists. Esther herself would not say so, but if she doesn’t help you, then no one will help you. We understood that Esther's talent is unique and if we manage to make an audio project about relationships with her, it will be something unheard of.

When we first started thinking about how to contact Esther, we went over the most traditional forms for her podcast: for example, let Esther talk to other intellectuals, let Esther answer the listeners' calls, let Esther be interviewed by the host-assistant, and so on. Further. We've taken a look at all the traditional podcast structured templates centered on someone with an extraordinary mindset. But somehow it didn't go well. And although Esther is brilliant at communicating with people and speaking nine languages, she is not very good at sight reading. It seems that she is embarrassed, not at all like the smooth, soft, warm Esther, which is heard on the recording now.

In general, none of the basic form options worked. In a fit of irritation, Esther somehow suggested that we just go and record her session with a couple. There is a huge entry for it, but you can skip the line if the couple is ready that they will be anonymously included in Esther's studies and books. We knew it would be pretty easy to find a pair. Esther wanted us to see what she was doing - perhaps that would give us some thought about what form to choose for the podcast.

My team put microphones in her office, put on lapels for Esther and for a couple (there were at least six microphones in the room). While we were recording the session, the production team sat in the next room. Subsequently, we recorded completely insane stories of couples with serious relationship problems, but the first couple was pretty common. They were young, originally from India, trying to strike a balance between traditional roles (and corresponding expectations) and modern attitudes. At first we thought that the recording was some kind of shnyag, but then we noticed something. She had one eerie quality.

Remember the movie "The Ring"? There, everyone who watched the videotape soon died. So, it was very similar with us, only no one died.

Every person who listened to the recording of Esther's session - honestly, everyone - independently of the others did the same thing. They all went home and discussed what they heard with their partners, and then tried to figure out if there was something similar in their relationship. Each. Human. When we noticed this, we expanded the test base. Everyone told us that after listening to the recording, they began to discuss their relationship with partners. And then it dawned on us. The recording of the session was not just a demonstration of Esther's skills, not just a guideline that was supposed to help us determine which of the known boxes to put the podcast in. That was Esther's podcast.

While documenting what was happening, we accidentally stumbled upon the concept of the entire program. Esther. Pair. For three hours they sit alone with each other in the room, and then we edit and pack up their conversation. Many people later said that the podcast Where Should We Begin? was a breakthrough, but there was nothing breakthrough in its essence. People are just telling stories. The couple have several versions of the same stories - one common and each one has its own. Esther helped them rethink these stories and look at them in a new way. But, in fact, they still told stories, nothing more. Again, don't assume that there is only black and white. Should you listen to Where Should We Begin? take a closer look, you can find traces of different shapes. Most of the episodes begin with a short sketch, the listener gets to know the couple and learns about their problem - this is a short story.

During editing, we often pause the recorded session so that Esther, who is recording later, can deliver a little tirade about what we hear and what that means, all intertwined with the original recording. And even if you do an innovative experiment with shape, it may not work the first time. You will need to tighten it up.

“Let's make some noise. How to Make Hit Podcasts”by Eric Nuzuma
“Let's make some noise. How to Make Hit Podcasts”by Eric Nuzuma

Eric Nuzum is a producer and strategist. He led the podcast divisions at NPR and Audible and now shares his experience in a book. How to choose a podcast plot and build a story? How to plan production and find listeners? The author answers these and other questions, and also shares tricks and techniques that help him in his work: for example, the "ten words method" and "the Schwarz technique". If you haven't tried podcasting yet, after reading it, you will definitely want to buy a microphone and record your first episode.

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