What does it mean to produce a podcast? The Pod Bible gang wanted to bring podcast producers out from their editing bays and research caves to tell you why they’re passionate about creating podcasts and illustrate for listeners what a producer actually does. Without further ado, we’d like you to Meet the Producer – Tom Whalley.
POD BIBLE: What does a producer consider when taking on a new podcast job?
TOM WHALLEY: There’s a bunch of things. Firstly for me, it’s whether or not I have the time to do it. I help produce a bunch of podcasts for Stakhanov as well as The Huey Show for BBC 6Music, Kermode On Film, The Cycling Podcast, and I present my own monthly show called Service Course, so I’m pretty busy. I’ve got a toddler to look after, too. Secondly, I think about whether it will be a fun podcast to make. I really enjoy complex projects that involve a lot of sound design, so I’m always looking for podcasts where I can be really creative. Thirdly, I like to think about the potential of the podcast. Is there an audience for it? Can we grow it? And will it pay any of my bills?
PB: How do you strike a balance when producing content for shows that fall under a unifying theme, but are all unique?
TW: Consistent sound design across a range of shows can help link them together, even if the content is radically different. The same goes for featuring familiar voices across your full range of shows. It’s also vital to have your presenters talk about the other shows on the network or feed. There’s also an element of trust involved. Stakhanov have built a really strong audience who trust them to produce new and unique content. Once you’ve got that trust it’s not actually that difficult to give the audience something different on the feed. Just being on that feed is an endorsement in itself.
PB: How much preparation do you do before episodes are recorded?
TW: It totally depends on the show. We recently did a 3 part documentary series for Stakhanov called The Return Of The Premier League. That involved days of selecting music, searching for archive material, and scripting. With the regular Football Ramble Daily shows, it’s not something I need to prepare too much for, I just need to make sure I’ve got all the right clips and I’m across the latest football news. The real prep there is done by the presenters who absolutely know their stuff because they do such a lot of research and are ridiculously well informed.
PB: What is the relationship between a producer and the show’s host?
TW: It’s a pragmatic one. I’ve worked with too many hosts to mention over the years and you work with each one in a slightly different way. I think you just need to work out what your presenter needs and work out how best to facilitate that. The main thing, whatever the relationship is like, is to build up trust. Back in my local radio days, I once had a presenter who trusted me so little that she thought I was waging some kind of psychological war against her. When there’s just 2 of you in a studio at 1am and that’s the kind of vibe you’ve created then things are not going to go well. Blimey, they did not go well that time.
PB: How do you experience other podcasts as a listener? Can you turn off your editing ear and just enjoy shows, or do you always tune in to the things you would have done differently yourself?
TW: I absolutely love listening to other podcasts and it’s a massive source of inspiration for me. I love hearing different production styles and then thinking about how they were done. Occasionally I’ll hear something where I spot an obvious edit, or the levels are out, or they just let a piece run on too long (sometimes this is when I’m listening to my older stuff), but 9 out of 10 times I’m hearing tricks that I want to emulate myself. I’ve learned a lot from shows like Radiolab, Science-ish, Ear Hustle, Crimetown, Atlanta Monster, 30 for 30, and Beef & Dairy Network.
PB: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a podcast producer?
TW: It’s all about working with people who understand podcasts. There are too many people who think “I should have a podcast” but they don’t listen to any other pods and are not part of the podcast community. I think you’ve got to really live and breathe podcasting in order to be successful.
PB: Do you like to have constant collaboration throughout the process of producing a podcast, or do you prefer your roll to be siloed?
TW: For me the hardest part of doing creative work is listening to feedback but it’s honestly the most valuable thing you can have when making podcasts. I like to be able to work alone to some degree but my work benefits so much for having people cast a fresh set of ears over it. Sometimes that can mean you do 10 versions of a podcast before you finally hit the version that is ready to publish, but it makes the end product so much better.
PB: What is something as a podcast producer you haven’t tried yet but would like to?
TW: I guess the only thing I’ve really yet to do is fiction. I don’t think I’d be any good at writing it but I’d love to bring some great fiction to life. In fact I’ve just had a couple of conversations about a really great comedy script so watch this space.
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