In 2005 my friend Pipes and I started a podcast called Six-String Bliss. We both play guitar and love talking about music, so we decided to record some conversations and post them on the Internet. Eight years and 272 episodes later, we finally ended the podcast.
I was talking to another friend recently, and he asked me, â€œHow much money did you make off your podcast over the years?â€
I wasnâ€™t sure how to respond, but I figured honesty was the best policy. â€œNegative. We made negative money.â€ There were hosting fees for the podcast, costs to travel around and interview people, etc. We made a few bucks from sponsorships here and there, but we never turned a profit.
â€œSo whyâ€™d you keep doing it for so long?â€ my friend asked. â€œWhat did you get out of it?â€
On the one hand, that is an odd question to ask about a hobby. After all, I donâ€™t ask him how much he makes from golfing or watching movies. On the other hand, podcasting is an Internet business (of sorts) in which it is theoretically possible to make money. His question got me thinking. I made some great friends and had fun podcasting, but what did I learn through the experience?
I learned itâ€™s easier than you think to connect with your heroes
The podcasting world was different in 2005. This was before celebrities and comedians started podcasting, and the most popular shows were tech podcasts.Â Most people I talked to had never heard the word â€˜podcastâ€™.
The first time we set up an interview, Pipes and I were terrified. We were convinced that at any moment our guest would realize we were just two guys in our basements talking into microphones and he would hang up on us. This was not a top tier celebrity â€“ it was a guy whoâ€™d put out a series of instructional guitar videos â€“ but we still felt like frauds.
Over time, that dissipated.Â We came to realize that interviews arenâ€™t difficult. People like talking about themselves, and it doesnâ€™t take a brilliant question to get them started. Any non-idiotic question will do.Â We botched some interviews along the way, but we learned our lessons. Over the years, we compiled a nice back catalogue of conversations with interesting people.
We also learned that itâ€™s much easier to set up an interview than you might think. You just email someone you think is interesting and ask if he or she has thirty minutes to talk about whatever it is he or she is currently promoting. If the person is a little more famous, you email his or her manager. The person or their manager either says yes or never responds. Thatâ€™s really all there is to it.
The podcast was a great excuse to talk to some of my heroes, and Pipes and I became good friends with a few of our guests over the years.
I learned to take an Internet punch
The first time I got a negative review, I was crushed. The second time, I was kinda bummed. The third time, I laughed. The fourth time, I barely noticed.
Negative reviews come in two varieties. The first is the publically posted rant. Hereâ€™s an example of a negative iTunes review for Six-String Bliss (typos left in to help me feel slightly better):
Wow where do I start.. Really nothing going on in the discussions, the guys tend to steer way of course and babble on about mindless junk far worse than a group of highschool girls. A typical session goes like this: 5 minute introduction, 45 minutes of nothing and then finally 10 minutes of the actual topic. My guess is these guys are dirty basement dwellers or even worse, stinking chud with a high opinion of themselves.
The correct response to these types of reviews is to ignore them and move on with your life.
The second type of negative review generally comes via email and is a little more thoughtful.Â Hereâ€™s an example:I just listened to your “podcast” with the feeble mention of Rory Gallagher (Pronounced: Gal- a – her) in it. My advice is to actually listen to some of his stuff and then if you like him, make the effort to know a bit more about the man before you stumble through a lame google synopsis of his career. And if you don’t like him, well, you can’t be much of a guitarist can you?
I usually responded to these types of emails. I would thank the sender for listening, very briefly explain the approach we take on our show, and recommend a couple other podcasts that might be more up his or her alley. I always saw myself as a bit of an ambassador for podcasting. If someone didnâ€™t like our approach, they might be better served by a different program.
In the case above, I responded to the gentleman and we exchanged a few very pleasant emails.
We received positive reviews and emails more often than negative ones. The ratio was about 10 good, 1 bad. But when you are starting out, you focus on the bad ones. Over time, you learn better.
I learned to be myself
Over the years we had a few people in the guitar industry approach us and say something like, â€œBoys, your podcast is so close to being great. If only you were a little more professional. If only you added a few more â€˜FM radioâ€™-like elements. If only you focused more on X or Y genre.â€
Every time we listened to those people, we regretted it. Every time we interviewed someone because he was popular rather than because we were genuinely interested in him, we regretted it.
Our unique personalities and our offbeat approach made our podcast special. We are laidback goofy guys. The best episodes are the ones when we let that part of ourselves shine through. We also found out that our listeners tended to be laidback and goofy just like us. The online guitar community is not always the friendliest place. We are lucky enough to have the friendliest guitar community on the Internet hanging out on our forums. Plenty of folk didnâ€™t like our podcast, but those who did tended to be really nice people.
In my eight years podcasting, I learned that some people are jerks, but that the vast majority of people are kind, generous, and genuinely worth getting to know. That alone makes the eight years worthwhile.