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Content Types

Lesson 4 from: Blueprint for a Standout Podcast

Julie Shapiro

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Lesson Info

4. Content Types

Next Lesson: Building Blocks

Lesson Info

Content Types

Now that we have a better sense of the lay of the land, let's talk about a very important question you have to ask yourselves at the very beginning: why are you doing this? What's your ambition in starting? Now, everyone in the room is gonna have a different reason for starting a podcast, and when you wanna get to the point where you're talking about how to be successful on your show, what are you setting out to do for your podcast, and how can you scale your ambition and the amount of work it'll take to get there? So, you can't really define success until you know what you're in it for. It's very important to think about that when you're going forward. Could anybody volunteer a reason why they feel like they wanna start a podcast? Actually, I already have a podcast, and my why was because, I guess a little bit of ego, because I always wanted to start a podcast because I've always been in music and other stuff like that, so for me, that was interesting. But my topic was on Stoic phil...

osophy, and for me, it was because I wanted to understand it better, so it was all about personal development, so in a way it was kinda selfish, but I needed to learn these things, I wanted to learn these things, and by digging into it and trying to share it with other people, so teaching, I found that it really improved my own life. Yeah, that's a great answer. I mean, answers might be personal, political, educational, you wanna entertain. There's all sorts of reasons to start. I can't actually answer this question for you. I would never try. But I will implore you to really keep in mind your own personal reason for starting your show. It'll become sort of like the North Star that's gonna guide you through your process. And this answer will likely change as you go. That's totally fine, it's just important to have that, because when you're staying up late at night, losing sleep, spending your savings on your podcast, you're gonna have to remember why you're making it, what it's worth to you. And start there, and then think about what it can be worth to other people, because you really have to nail your own personal investment in it before you start. Okay, so now we've kinda set the stage for what it is, who's involved, why we do it. Let's talk a little bit about content, my favorite topic. This is the way Apple categorizes podcasts. So, if you look at this list, they're pretty broad, but by and large, chances are, no matter what you listen to, your favorite shows will fit into one or more of these categories. It covers it pretty well. Well, I had an experience a couple of years ago with Radiotopia that actually helped me completely think differently about podcast categories. We ran a contest called PodQuest, where we were looking for a podcast to join Radiotopia. We invited anyone and everyone to submit their ideas. Normally, we would identify shows that we wanted to be in the network and invite them in, but in this case, we said, who's out there, who wants to make a show? Send us your pitch and the grand prize for this contest is that your show will be incorporated into Radiotopia. So, we knew there were people out there interested, we knew we'd get entries. We got 1536, 37 entries, actually. That's a number I like to say publicly. It was overwhelming, the response, and one thing that I realized in reading through most of the pitches, 'cause I got to most of them, and hearing the promos that people sent was that there were trends and ideas. We were hearing a lot about the same kinds of podcasts, and people out there were excited to make a lot of the kinds of shows that they were already hearing, so their ideas were sort of mirrored in what the landscape sounded like already. So, all of that thinking, and listening, and reading these entries helped me form a slightly different way of thinking about podcast categories, and lead me to this, which is a clumsy acronym that I can't pronounce, but stands for A New Taxonomy of Podcast Genres for the 20-Teens. So, without further ado, the first half of these I'm gonna show you have been around since that original list in 2016, but as the podcasting environment has evolved since then, I've added a few in the last year or so. So, I'll start with the CRIMEcast. Of course, crime is huge, right? Maybe the hugest, unsolved mysteries, legacy cold cases, guns, drugs, corruption. People eat this stuff up. The shows are often presented in a serial format with an upbeat, though very down-to-Earth host, and include a tangential episode that strays noticeably from the storyline. Bonus fact, these are ripe for Hollywood and several of them are already being adapted as we sit here. And then, closely related to the CRIMEcast is, more recently, the COURTcast has come into popularity, where reporters cover a court, a noteworthy court case as it unfolds, on-location, daily updates, et cetera. So, this is helping take listeners right into the heart of these court cases going on. There's the CHUMcast, also very popular. A couple of pals sit around a microphone or kind of badly record themselves on the phone talking about beer, movies, politics, whatever, it doesn't really matter. Often, there's a six pack, a bottle of red, something stronger involved. Also known as the PALcast or the CHATcast, the CHUMcast. Shows that go back, look back, report back, think back, from conspiracy theories to where's that 80s star now anyway, to traditional histories revisited, the BACKcast. The DATAcast. Full of facts, statistics, examples, conversations with regular people blended with interviews with experts. These are often overscored to music that probably hasn't been cleared for rights, the DATAcast. Next, HOWTOcast. Fix a leak, file for divorce, interpret the constitution, raise your kids, live your better life through how-to podcasts. Fiction is everywhere, right? Especially science fiction podcasts. Especially serial science fiction podcasts. Especially serial science fiction podcasts with women protagonists encountering the paranormal. We've heard a lot of those. The FICTIONcast. Also very ripe for Hollywood, by the way. And now we're moving into the more recent genres which I've noticed in the last year or so. The DAILYcast, right? News, news, news, it's everywhere, and most of the major news organizations are getting into the game of producing daily podcasts. If they aren't there yet, I predict they will be in the next year or so. And closely related to these are the POLITIcasts, where you have very erudite, entertaining people sitting around deep diving into the news that's often changing as they're recording in the studio, which has lent itself to the emergency episodes that populate these POLITIcasts. We've got the CELEBcast. What to Malcolm Gladwell, Levar Burton, Cameron Esposito, Oprah, Alan Alda, what do all these people have in common? Jonathon Dennis? Pretty successful podcasts. Now, this is a development I'm happy with: shows by, for, and about women. We've got rebel girls, and moms, and business women, and empowerment. This is a trend that's important because, you know, back when podcasts started, it was really imbalanced. The playing field was really highly, you mostly heard men talking to other men about things that appealed to men, so I'm really pleased with this trend and hope to see it continue. And last but not least, the KIDcast is up on the rise, cultivating the next generation of rabid podcast consumers, which is very important to me at least, probably to you too. These range from manic adults freaking out about science facts, to game shows. There's even a toothbrushing podcast out there. Interestingly or not, my own child, who's about seven now, doesn't have a lot of interest in these shows. He actually likes the adult shows about soccer 'cause he was really into the World Cup. So, go figure, you never know. But there is a huge, and growing, and exciting world of KIDcasts out there. So, I don't mean to throw shade on any of these genres, even though it might seem like I am. A lot of my favorite shows fit squarely into them. But I think it's really important, as you're starting your own show, to understand what's out there and to understand what we're hearing a lot about and who we're not hearing a lot from, and where can you step in to maybe fill some of those gaps, or how do you recreate one of these shows but do it in your own way that's original and singular to you? What are you bringing into this field? And that brings me to my next big point about your show, and that if you take one thing away from this course, well, I hope you'll take many, but if you take one thing, I want you to think about originality. So, for me, as I was mentioning, I get pitched all the time, and what stands out to me right away when I receive a pitch is whether it screams or whether it emphatically states you have to hear me, you must hear me, because I get a lot of pitches that kind of sound alike, and are poorly formed, and sort of fuzzy ideas about something. But when a pitch stands out and says this is a unique story, you haven't heard it yet, you really want to hear this story, then that's when I get interested. So, I'm gonna give you to examples of shows that, in the last eight to 10 months, came across my radar through email, and that we ended up commissioning and working with on Radiotopia. The first one is called The Great God of Depression, and I received an email in late from a public radio producer named Karen Brown, who I knew a little bit through my years with Third Coast, and this is exactly what she wrote to me: "My friend/colleague Pagan Kennedy and I "are developing a standalone podcast, "a five part series that tells the story of a famous writer "whose hand mysteriously went dead, "and the newly-trained doctor "at Massachusetts General Hospital "who got his case, and to some extent, "the modern history of mental illness in America." So, I thought immediately, oh, I've never heard a pitch quite like this, let's hear more. And when they fleshed out the pitch and delivered a very beautifully written few paragraphs on this, what I learned was that they wanted to tell the story of William Styron, who famously wrote a book on depression called Darkness Physical and struggled with it through his entire adult life, and put it on the map for Americans. He was one of the first celebrities to come forth and talk about depression. And the doctor who he eventually found his way to and treated him, Alice Flaherty, who was a doctor working in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she had had her own psychotic break, and so she was the crazy doctor who then treated William Styron later in his life. And there was this detail that fascinated me that they'd outlined in their pitch, which was Alice's symptoms when she had her episode were exactly opposite from Styron's. She developed hypergraphia, which meant she couldn't stop writing. She would write on her hands, and her arms, and on toilet paper, and on the walls, and his symptoms, when he got depressed, was that he developed writer's block. So, they had these exact opposite symptoms, and I thought this was a very fascinating point of tension that would make this story more interesting. Other things they mentioned in their pitch that really caught my eye was that they had access to Styron's archives because they had access to his wife, Rose Styron, who features prominently in the show. Pagan Kennedy, the writer of the podcast, was close friends with Alice, the doctor, so right away, I knew this was gonna be a close and personal story from these people, not just about them, removed from a distance. And maybe my biggest sign that this could do something special was that I think that mental health and depression is such an important topic to hear more stories on. It's so timely, it's ever timely. You know, after this summer, it's never not timely, but it's really on people's mind. But this wasn't gonna be like a first person story, this is my experience with depression, and it wasn't gonna be here are the experts talking about the science of depression, it was gonna sit nestled in this really unique space where it was a personal story told from the outside, proximity to the characters. And when Pagan told me that she was inspired by the podcast S Town to think about this in a very literary way and have it be strongly written and almost sound like a book unfolding in front of listeners, I thought we have a chance here to do something special. So, all of that said, they also were very open to playing with sound design, which always pricks my ears. So, we decided to do the show together and we ended up dropping it as a five episode series this past August and sort of presented it as a short novel that you could read with your ears and hear the story of this. We'll actually hear a little bit later. Now, on the other side of the pitch spectrum, so Pagan and Karen eventually sent me five or six very thoughtful and crafted paragraphs about the story, I got an email not that long ago, maybe about six months ago, from another producer who I'd known when I was in Chicago at WBEZ, and he said, hey Julie, I haven't talked to you in a while, would you be interested in hearing about a show that I'm working on. Here are the basics: "Everything is Alive "is an unscripted interview show "in which all of the subjects are inanimate objects. "But aside from the fact that the things can talk, "it's nonfiction, everything the objects say is true." That was basically his pitch. If you're interested, I can share a pilot, which was an interview with a generic can of cola. So, to which I said I've never heard anything like this, it seemed kind of absurd but possibly very unique and special, so Ian sent me the pilot, I listened to it, I wrote back, that was delightful! Who hasn't wanted to ask these questions of a generic can of cola? Let's keep talking, I have a ton of questions. Four and a half months later, we launched Everything is Alive on Radiotopia, it's doing great, and I couldn't be prouder. But in talking with both of these producers, they sent their pitches, I initially responded positively because I had never heard of anything like them, and basically I said these sound great, but I've got a ton of questions, like I said to Ian. So, the questions I asked them were generally around what I consider the building blocks of any show that you're gonna start. These are the things that you really have to think about, I need to know about a show before I'm interested in working with a producer. And you know, it starts mostly with your creative vision.

Ratings and Reviews


Thank you for the class. I am grateful to have received vital information pertaining to the layout of podcasting (ideas, intentions, technological aspects, industry, etc.). As a beginner, the talking points created ease and clarity for the next steps, while inspiring me to continue to push out content. Ms. Shapiro is thorough and seems honest, I most certainly learned a lot and will use the information as resources for future planning and application. Take care

Krista Massad

Great flow! Ms Shapiro has a wonderful voice which makes the content desirable and easy to listen to. I especially liked the end when she listed off several sources for further expansion of my podcast project. Thank you so much!

Anjani Millet

Fabulous, interesting, informative class by a very knowledgeable and highly experienced professional. I loved it. A must-listen for anyone interested in starting a podcast.

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