Back in August, Kim Kardashian – leading supermodel, mom, fashion guru, and media millionaire – tweeted that she had discovered Serial and was loving the first season. Half of the Twittersphere responded that they loved the show and the other half was quick to inform Kim that she was around four years late to the party. But, to her credit, if she was late to the party, she showed up with the good stuff.
See, some shows are just understood to be amazing no matter how late you find them. Serial, Hardcore History, Reply All, Up and Vanished, The Joe Rogan Experience, Freakonomics: they’ve all proven that whatever a podcast needs to be great, they have it. So what’s the secret ingredient? We all know that, when it comes down to it, podcasts are a matter of taste, and whether or not you like a podcast will probably largely depend on your preferences. But there must be a reason that some shows consistently garner millions of downloads week after week.
We wanted to figure out what makes some shows such a hit, what turns them into a classic. Of course, an exhaustive list of what it takes to make a great show would make for a lot longer article than this and even then would never cover everything because the term “great” or “classic” will always be subjective. But hey, we figured we could give you a little something to go off of, so we gathered top industry leaders and creators and asked. Here’s what they had to say:
Cap Blackard runs The Nerdy Show Network and is the Director for Consequence Podcast Network. After over a decade in the industry, Cap has worked with dozens of creators and shows and watched the industry change and grow. Here’s what they think makes a great podcast in the industry today:
Similarly, it’s also, as time has marched on, gotten harder for people to succeed in the cottage industry of podcasts… Specificity and notoriety are the only things that make for successful podcasts today. Even with the Consequence Podcast Network, we make good shows that are very specific and have a big footprint because Consequence is one of the larger media blogs of its type. But at the same time, our shows are not doing half as well as if we had even a low-tier comedian doing the work. But instead, we have journalists who know the material even better than said low-tier comedian or whatever. But the working formula now is get a host that has some kind of following, it doesn’t matter if they’re good at their job as a podcaster, they just have to be notable, and have them talk about something really specific and then you have a successful podcast. And I don’t like that either, because one of the joys of podcasting is giving a voice to someone that hadn’t had one before. And now we are in an economy where prior known voices are very much the only way to get ahead.
Carrie Poppy is the co-creator and co-host of the hit show Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, an investigative journalism show about all things religious, spiritual, supernatural, and fascinating. The show has been running for over seven years and boasts millions of fans around the world, leading it to a spot amongst the most popular podcasts in several countries. Carrie has helped teach new podcasters what they need to focus on, and here’s what she thinks:
I think people are getting more and more specific with their podcasting ideas which is really good. I taught a podcasting class at UFC and the first thing I said was “Have an idea, don’t just sit down cause you wanna have a podcast. Have an idea!” And I feel like people are intuiting that now. You see podcasts with very specific concepts. You can describe the logline in a sentence instead of “it’s two guys, it’s really funny, oh just trust me you gotta listen to it.” That’s a real hard sell.
Jacob Bozarth is the CEO and President of Resonate Recordings, a podcast service that offers editing and production to both private and public podcasts. Pioneering the closed business podcast with names like Citibank and Associated Press, Resonate works to create professional podcasts that match the creator’s vision and connect with their audience. After years of listening to and producing podcasts, Jacob has a few ideas about what makes a great one:
Successful content really has to have three elements to really stand out in the space that we are in right now. I think number one it needs to be engaging for the listener, whatever that looks like. Sometimes that’s where I think sound design and music can come in to engage the listener in a way that the human voice can’t do by itself. So yeah, I would say successful content has to be engaging, I think number two it has to be authentic. So, I think there’s a level of authenticity that you hear in Serial, there’s a level of authenticity you hear in Up and Vanished, that really makes that content successful, that makes the listeners relate with pain… there’s an authenticity with those shows that really engages people and makes people feel like they’re a part of it. And then the third one would be just adding value in some way. For the shows that are less storytelling, it’s, are you just talking about yourself just to hear yourself talk about how great you are? Are you bringing some sort of value to your listener that helps them in whatever their space is? I think content that adds value to the listener is really gonna help you be successful and obviously keep your listeners coming back and wanting more and more.
Dan Franks has been in the podcast industry since 2013 and in that time has founded Podcast Movement, the largest conference for podcasters in the industry. Dan has also created and hosted two of his own shows and managed to take podcasters out to sea on the industry’s first cruise conference. As a leader in uniting and supporting creators in podcasting, it only makes sense that Dan would know what it takes to make a great show:
There are easy things to say like creativity and being different and I think those are always going to be the number one driving force. Because sure it’s hard to get a lot of listeners and sure if you’re an independent podcaster you have to start small and slowly but surely grow your audience. But at the end of the day if your show’s not creative or if it’s not interesting or it’s not something that’s different than what people can hear on other podcasts or other forms of media then you’re never gonna have that great growth in audience… Look at that concept and see what am I doing differently from the million other podcasts out there? Then focus on that difference and make that difference your unique contribution to the podcasting space.
Dave Keine is the Founder and CEO of Triangle Content, an editing and production house focused on creating a high-quality narrative experience for the listener. With an incredibly talented team and an impressive list of creators working with them, Dave has built a company that loves trying new things to create original content and compelling stories. His time in the industry has taught him that maybe none of us know what makes a great podcast:
I don’t think I can really answer that question, because it’s taste, isn’t it? A good podcast is just one that you like, right? ….So I guess that’s what makes it a good podcast if you’re able to serve your audience. That’s not really fair to people that are making good content that’s not getting an audience, so I wouldn’t even say it’s that…You’ve gotta figure out what your goal is. If your goal is to get a million listeners then a good podcast is a podcast that gets a million listeners. If your goal is to make something you’re proud of then a good podcast is something that, at the end of the day, you think you out in the effort and it showed and you made something good.
So, if you’re looking to start a great show that could work its way to being a classic, these may be a few perspectives to consider. And if you think our experts missed something or you know the magic ingredient that produces greatness, let us know!
Love hearing from these industry leaders? Check out their Creator profiles and the separate articles we’ve featured on each of them for more great content!