Anyone who has tried their hand at producing a podcast knows that it takes more than just ordering some equipment online and pressing “record.” You’ll need to focus on topics and guests you want to have on your show, and look for fresh ways to explore the same topics. The common denominator? Your community.
And if there’s anyone in the podcast universe who knows just how key community is in creating great shows, it’s Steven Ray Morris. He’s the prolific podcast producer and host of The Purrrcast, See Jurassic Right, Ologies, Pop Music Podcast, and the hugely popular My Favorite Murder.
Here’s what he has to say on the role community had on creating, hosting, and producing podcasts, and how it helped him launch his podcasting career.
Start by learning how to have good conversations.
First of all, everybody already has a tool, like a voice memo app on your phone, to record. But on the flip side, you first need to prove that you can talk for an hour, have a conversation, and that you enjoyed it. I think a lot of people want to start a podcast, but then they sit down and they’re like, ‘What’s happening?’
Don’t spend thousands of dollars on equipment if you can’t even actually do it. I’m a big fan of minimum investment. The great thing about podcasting is that it’s very forgiving of mistakes and also has very low stakes.
Think about who you want to have on as guests.
I think Emily Gordon said that, in LA, if you want to hang out with somebody, you have to invite them on your podcast. When first coming up with guests and ideas for podcasts, I thought about the people I Googled and the things I can talk about for hours.
Make podcasts to grow your community.
Podcasting is an art form that’s also a community-building tool. It helps you meet a lot of people and that will lead you to more things. You get to talk to people you’ve always wanted to talk to.
Because I was just doing that with cat parents, it makes it a little bit easier to talk to people that you’re nervous to talk to you because you have a reason to. And you now have this project to do together.
To start, I wanted to meet cool people who were into cats. I just wanted to talk to these talented, funny, artistic, creative people. But I wanted to talk to them about something that other people weren’t asking them about, because they’re probably so sick of talking about their careers.
Create a space for great conversation.
I think an audio engineer for podcasting just needs to create an environment where two people can be comfortable and have a really great conversation. That’s what’s really important. Obviously it needs to sound good, but when I’m recording in a studio, it’s much more impersonal and hands-off than recording in someone’s apartment. In LA and New York, where you’re going to people’s apartments and recording podcasts, it’s really about creating an environment that’s just a great space for every conversation.
Lean on your mentors.
While working on The Purrrcast, I was meeting comedians and other creative people. The biggest example was meeting Georgia Hardstark of My Favorite Murder because I already been a fan of her work and her podcasts and stuff for a while.
Then a lot of people who were guests on her show had an interest in starting their own podcasts and needed help. They were like, ‘We’re doing this. Would you want to help?’ I think people just need to see your skills and that you’re confident about them.
Georgia would say, ‘Hey, you should work with Steven.’ She was very generous, looking out for me for work and stuff. At the time, back in 2016, there was such an enormous growth of new podcasts and things and there just weren’t enough people.
Find ways to up the interaction with your audience.
We’re always asking people to comment, leave your reviews, ask questions – stuff like that. We’ve been doing The Purrrcast for three years, and it took us almost a year to be able to do a listener mail episode.
But it seems to be the case that every single time after an episode comes out, you’ll get almost twice as many people responding than the previous one. You start with the ask and need to be consistent with the ask. I think people might get discouraged if they do something and don’t get the response they want right away, so then they stop. You just need to keep doing it.
If you write an email or review of the show, we’ll read it out loud and we’ll put your name on the credits. People love hearing their name and they want to feel like they’re part of something. But you can’t expect them to contribute to your thing if you’re not willing to ask them.
Because you have an episode coming out every week, it also teaches you not to fret about stuff too much. You don’t have time to worry, because just as you finish one, you’re moving on to the next one. It actually encourages you to take more risks and make mistakes. I don’t think you can succeed creatively if you’re not always trying to make stuff better.
Have you started your own podcast? How did you build your community of listeners? Tell us in the comments below!