Lessons From Producing and Marketing a Horror Podcast

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Marc Kate and I wrapped up our seventh episode of Scary Thoughts last night. Before we recorded, we had a conversation about how fast the show has grown in the last five months. We aren’t exactly pulling down Joe Rogan Experience numbers, but we are much further along than I anticipated we’d be by now.

Horror is naturally compelling and I think we have smart things to say that audiences will enjoy. We also put a lot of effort into the production and promotion of the show. In a lot of ways, having a podcast is like being in a band. Even if it’s the best thing ever, you still need to promote it.

This isn’t an exhaustive guide of things you should do if you have a podcast. It’s just some things I’ve noticed in the last five months of producing an extremely niche podcast.

Listen to your own show. This is painful for everyone because no one likes the sound of their own voice except sociopaths. But you need to do it. Listen critically. How often are you saying “like”? Are hooked on “um”? Work on your delivery. Each episode I try to correct one vocal tic I hate. Marc just edits his out.

Prepare as much as possible. Marc does a fairly involved edit of the show, but there is a direct correlation between the amount of research we do ahead of time and how smooth the show is to record and edit. For most episodes I have about 10 pages of written notes. I don’t look at them when we record, but writing things down allows you to work out ideas ahead of time and find better ways of expressing your thoughts.

You still need a Facebook page. Marc is much smarter than I am and left the cursed digital lands of Zuckerlandia. There is value in having a Facebook page, though. People message us interesting things all the time and it’s a really easy way to let people know when episodes are coming out.

Be shameless about asking for ratings and reviews. This is something that really helps your podcast and is super easy for people to do. But you have to ask. Over and over and over and over. This is something that was very difficult for me to do. Fortunately, I found Amanda Palmer’s excellent TED talk on asking people for things. Just get over yourself and ask.

Female and LGBT horror fans rule. I don’t want to stereotype too much, but they tend to be really engaged and fun to talk to. I get the feeling a lot of horror content is aimed at gore dudes and horror bros. I love that stuff, too, but our approach seems to be attractive to a broader audience.

Boosting posts on Facebook seems to be worthless at our level. I’m sure there are some brands that use this tactic effectively, but unless you are driving someone to a site where there is an action for them to do (purchase, download, join a list, etc.) you’re throwing money away. We’ve put some money into experimenting with boosting and so far it’s been crap.

Twitter is definitely worthless. I mean that both philosophically and practically. We could definitely do a little more in this space, but it doesn’t feel fun and I see way too many dickheads on my personal feed. Hopefully they can turn this platform around.

Take an interest in your fans’ projects. It’s amazing how few people do this. All of our best engagement comes from interacting with people who create. If I see someone doing something cool, I take time to let them know I dig it.

Make sure you rate and review other shows. If you want people to rate and review your show, you need to go rate and review shows you like. First, it’s good karma. Second, it’s important to understand what people look for in podcasts, especially in your genre.

Don’t listen to similar shows too much. Years ago I remember reading an interview where Robert Smith of The Cure said he avoided listening to any music while he recorded albums because he didn’t want to accidentally copy anyone. This is a real problem with podcasts in the same genre. I’ve observed a lot of group think in comedy podcasts and I want to avoid that. I’ll give shows that follow us on our social media channels a listen here and there, but other than Faculty of Horror, I don’t listen to any of them.

Instagram is better than Facebook. We have way more followers on Facebook, but for some reason people don’t see our posts there. We get far more engagement from Instagram. That has a lot to do with out content there being fun, but I think this platform is just more interesting.

Mix high and lowbrow/obscure and popular content. Originally we planned to do super underground, horror head movies. That’s still the plan, but we’ve observed something you probably don’t need to be told: the more popular the movie, the more downloads. That said, resist the urge to always please. If you chase what the crowd wants, you will dilute your vision.

80s horror is hands down the most popular. Nostalgia is huge right now. Anytime we post something from The Reagan era, it outperforms new horror content.

Make sure people can find what you’re talking about. Our show is kind of a pain in the ass for people. It’s really long, really niche, and requires people to watch horror films a lot of people haven’t seen. We tend to avoid extremely underground stuff because it’s had for people to engage with if they can’t easily find it. If you want to pull in listeners and you have the choice between something on Netflix and something only available on foreign Blu-Ray, go with the Netflix option.

Get right into your subject. Unless you’re already famous, no one gives a fuck about you. Spending 15-30 minutes of the beginning of your show catching up with your friend about his life is boring to people who came to hear what you have to say about whatever subject your show is about. Listeners will eventually care about that stuff, but only after you have proven you are worth listening to.

Get some guests. We got our biggest bump in downloads after Joshua Grannelle (Peaches Christ) was on. He was a guest I was personally extremely excited to meet and talk to. But to be honest, we knew he has a large fan base and would bring people in. It’s ok to be aware of draw when booking guests, but don’t make that your only concern. Big fan base + fun to talk to is what you want.

Guests don’t have to be famous.  A few days ago I put up a post asking fans who they’d like to see on the show. I hoped we’d get some leads on big name guests, but what we got was a bunch of gloriously weird people who raised their own hands. This isn’t what I was looking for, but it is great. If someone is interesting, comfortable on mic, and has a something smart to say the show will be good.

You never know, you might catch a rising star or help someone really unique get their story out. If you look back at the early days of big shows like Marc Maron and Joe Rogan’s, most of the guests were just their friends. No one knew who the hell Joey Diaz was, now every real comedy fan knows this glorious mutant.

Take it seriously. There are something like 350,000 podcasts right now. That’s about one podcast for every ten Americans. The field is unbelievably crowded, but most shows are garbage. Hosts don’t take them seriously. They don’t work on their performance, they don’t record with decent gear, they aren’t original. If you don’t care about your show, why would anyone else?

Get good equipment. You don’t have to break the bank, but make sure you’re using something better than an iPhone. Marc is a musician and he has great equipment he knows how to use. Because of this, our show sounds really pro. There are podcasts out there that might have great content, but I’ll never know because background noise makes them unlistenable.

You are performing. At the top I mentioned podcasting is sort of like being in a band. Ultimately you’re providing entertainment, so try to be entertaining. Work on your voice, make time to develop fresh ideas. It doesn’t hurt to think of yourself as a character. Accentuate what’s interesting and special about you.

Have fun. Doing our show is a blast. I’d want to have these conversations with Marc even if the mic wasn’t on. I think that comes across in the show. We each do an enormous amount of research before each episode. It would be impossible to do this show as well if we weren’t into the subject. I don’t anticipate breaking even on this effort for another year  or so, but that’s ok. It’s easily my favorite creative endeavor I’ve done.

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