Today, I launch Futurized, the podcast. Futurized goes beneath the trends, tracking the underlying forces of disruption in tech, policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. It took me about a month to get to this point. I’m launching with six episodes, a video and audio trailer, and a bit of initial traction from beta listeners. In this post, I go through what have I learned so far in eight lessons answering the following questions: What it takes to be a podcaster? Who listens to podcasts? What equipment is needed? What digital resources need to be assembled How to identify podcast guests? What makes a great podcast? How to establish your podcast workflow?
In the first five episodes, I tackle surveillance capitalism, the future of decentralized finance, the emergence of remote activism, the remaking of transportation, the future of beverages, and how corporates can re-ignite the entrepreneurial spirit. Upcoming shows will go into deep learning, edge computing, the future of elderly care, the future of nuclear waste, post-pandemic tech, the future of pre-seed investing, and much, much more.
I’m generously syndicated by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and fifteen other podcast players and counting (see full list), many thanks to all of you! If you like what you hear, please consider giving it five stars, download all my episodes and subscribe to the Futurized RSS feed in your player of choice.
Having been asked many times to do so by my network, knowing that I liked the audio medium, it is a mystery that it took me so long. I should have launched it years ago. Well, here we are. What I was not prepared for was all that it takes. It essentially took one month of 30% dedicated time to get this off the ground. In this blog post, I’ll share the things I’ve learned so far and it’s only launch day. Instead of listing all the hundreds of sites I’ve come across, I’ll summarize the advice below. My observations about the podcast medium so far include the following eight lessons, and I start with the questions I asked myself first:
Lesson # 1: What does it take to be a podcaster?
My approach to anything starts with figuring out what the right mindset is. Without that, you are going in blind. I spent a few weeks learning about what podcasts are, exploring other podcasts, reading about best practices and checking out what kind of equipment I would need. My lesson from that exploration is that whilst podcasting is not rocket science, pulling it off requires some energy and dedication and a modest amount of investment. There is no shortage of blog posts offering advice, but these sites are of mixed quality. The podcast medium requires listening to others, new tech skills, and a modest financial investment.
Lesson # 2: Should I be a podcaster?
Podcasting is for people who are curious, keen to learn from others, and for people who like to question things rather than necessarily pronounce the answers to every question. This seems obvious, but podcasting is, at least so far, a long form listening medium. I found that I pass this filter just because I’m endlessly curious and love to interview people, having done thousands of interviews already for previous projects, both in research and business. You could potentially be a podcaster if you are good at asking questions.
Lesson # 3: Who will listen to my podcast?
Podcast listeners seem very similar to podcasters in that they are discerning about where they get their sources of information, which I highly respect. On the other hand, once they find high quality podcasts, they can also be fiercely loyal. Given the current variety of podcasts out there, they can also afford to be eclectic.
The podcast medium is still in its (later) early days. However, in 2020, the number of podcasts in Apple and Spotify’s catalogues each passed one million. It’s getting crowded and no new podcast can assume they will succeed. The internet passed one million blogs somewhere around when TypePad and WordPress launched (in 2003), which is typically when one assumes blogs went mainstream. By 2020 there are above 600 million blogs. It’s unclear whether podcasts are on the same trajectory, probably not, but given COVID-19, they will go mainstream over the next five years, that seems quite certain.
I’ve thought a bit about who my target listeners are which seems to be an important question to ask. As my current logline (a fancy word for tagline) indicates, I’m aiming for folks who want to tackle disruption head on: preparing YOU to deal with disruption. Who do I envision those people to be? I think the community interested in the people I’m bringing in to be interviewed on the show, which is “smart people with a soul: founders, authors, executives and other thought leaders”. If I drill down, the core of my audience would be innovators or those who aspire to be innovators. However, as the title of the podcast indicates, Futurized will explore all aspects of the emerging future, which I have defined largely as the next decade. I’m aware that this is still quite broad, so succeeding will require providing ample content that substantiates the value proposition that I can cover an array of emerging trends, domains, industries and technologies. My target audience is anybody who wants to be prepared for what the next decade brings.
Lesson # 4: What equipment is needed?
Having read everything I could get my eyes on in terms of podcasting equipment blogs, I settled on the following: an External Line Return (XLR) microphone for sufficient quality not to stand out for providing a bad audio experience, an audio interface, an audio recording software setup, and an audio post-production plan.
There is a big debate on the merits of dynamic vs. condenser mics, and I decided to experiment with both but that got derailed since my condenser mic choice is still in backorder (Blue Ember) although I believe it will arrive this week, which is just as well because my loud air conditioner is running during the summer months which I would have to edit out. I might to into the choices I made for each at a later stage. Below is my current setup, which I’ll obviously upgrade once resources permit, and if it makes sense given how my podcast progresses in terms of audience and impact.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen (needed to connect the mic to the computer). This hookup has two line-ins and allows a typical interview setup in my home studio, recording guitar and voice or bass and voice, or indeed recording instruments using a dual mic setup, all of which I’m experimenting with.
Sony MDR-7506 (needed to record and edit audio with no latency or noise). These are the classic studio headphones used by studio musicians the world over. Good for mixing, good isolation, solid cable, fine to wear over time and okay price.
Audio recording software setup
Zencastr for remote recording (allows local recording which means acceptable audio quality and low latency for remote interviews).
Zoom H6 field recorder (I will purchase this unit when COVID-19 allows in-person recording again).
Audio post-production plan
Adobe Audition (to mix the audio together, add intro and outtro and background music). I chose this over the cheaper more basic audio mixing software solutions because I wanted something that I could grow with. I considered the industry standard tool, Pro Tools, but decided that, ultimately, the Creative Suite from Adobe is most versatile given that I might need to eventually edit video, photos, text layouts and a host of other functionality that all seamlessly works together through Adobe. Also, the user interface is quite intuitive and seemed the easiest to learn of the two pro level alternatives I was presented with. Admittedly, I also sought guidance from my good friend Malte Bernholz, who happens to be the VP Corporate Strategy for Adobe. Surprisingly, he was not in doubt about what was the best solution.
Mike Russell Pro Podcast Presets (to be time efficient and make great sounding podcasts without knowing the ins and outs of audio editing). Mike Russell from Music Radio Creative’s YouTube channel is the definitive resource for learning and maximizing your investment in the Adobe Audition audio editing software. Could I have outsourced editing my podcast? Perhaps, but you would lose creative control. Another alternative would be to not do any editing at all, but the quality would suffer. My sense is that we are at a phase in podcasts where inferior sound will put you in a different category and will not be helpful over time.
Don’t compromise on sound. Don’t spend thousands of dollars either (unless you don’t need to stick to a budget for some lucky reason).
Lesson # 5: What digital resources need to be assembled?
The three items I quickly identified as necessary included a podcast host, a podcast section on my personal website, and an online marketing suite of software tools and social media.
A podcast host: Podbean (needed to host your podcast episodes and to get an RSS feed you can use to syndicate your podcast around the internet). I considered a bunch of alternatives including Stitcher, Buzzsprout, Libsyn, Simplecast, Megaphone, Anchor and Spreaker. In the end, Podbean has the best combination of features, price/quality ratio, distribution (Spotify as pass-through partner), and service (Podbean is known for excellent customer services, which I’ve already experienced with my many questions surrounding why my RSS feed wasn’t immediately accepted at all podcast players, questions about website tweaks and other issues).
A podcast section on my personal website. I already had my own domain which is my full name: TrondUndheim.com, hosted on WordPress.com and had spent a bit of time updating the site (which is a continuous process). What all the podcast advice told me was that, in addition to a podcast host, I needed to have a section on my website which showcased the new podcast. The idea is both to drive traffic to yourself and not just to the podcast host and also to be able to provide additional resources: a list of all the places your show is syndicated, show notes, bonus content, merch, additional background, summaries, and a host of other contextual information (which all seems quite overwhelming at the moment). I ended up creating TrondUndheim.com/podcast, embedded Podbean’s player onto the site and listed the podcast players I syndicate with.
This refers to the sale or licensing of material for publication or broadcasting by a number of podcast media players. Many exist, but the top dog right now is Apple, followed by Spotify. For now, those are RadioPublic, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Podcast Addict, PocketCasts, Podbean, TuneIn, Google Podcasts, Player.FM, Spotify, Podchaser, Deezer, Breaker and ListenNotes. Two players, iHeartRadio and Pandora have not approved me yet, perhaps I’m not cool enough or perhaps they are slower. They certainly seem to have a manual approval process where they consider factors such as brand, audience, and fit with their platform. I’ve waited on submitting to Radio.com, since they asked for traction metrics I cannot yet meet.
Trying to organize your podcast without an assistant is a lot of work. As I got so many responses on my offer to feature my network on my show, I realized that booking meetings with the manually (pre-podcast calls as well as recordings) would not be feasible. The quick and dirty solution I opted for was setting up some online calendaring options using Calendly.com. It’s not perfect, I will tell you that, and I’ve had some problems trying to rebook meeting times, and some times the Calendly reminder emails or even the calendar item don’t show up on my guests’ calendars, but it works 90% of the time, which is a start.
I license music for my podcast through Artlist.io and I have a bunch of other sites I’m looking at, too. A shoutout to Preben Grieg-Halvorsen, musician and sound designer and composer at Hocus Focus, one of the leading post-production companies in Norway, contributing to the best of commercials, feature films and TV productions, for his suggestions of sites where I could find great podcast music.
An online marketing suite of software tools and social media: Fiverr.com (I’ve used this freelancing service to create my trailer, thanks to Umerkhawer, and to do some basic, inexpensive promotion (thanks to a bunch of freelancers, but I’ve not really figured out which of them had the most effect, so will wait on listing any of them yet).
I use Canva.com to create artwork specific to the formatting requirements of each social network. I might have to upgrade to Adobe Photoshop soon, because the site has a cumbersome archive function when photos and dimensions start to add up and it’s not super configurable (yet).
The main social media for podcast promotion seem to be Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and I’ve so far used my personal accounts and I have not yet created separate accounts for the podcast. Again, this seems like a lot of work to maintain, but I’ll do it if I get convinced it is necessary. To see how my podcasts appear on these media, see Trond Undheim on LinkedIn, RealTrondUndheim on Facebook, and @Trondau on Twitter.
Lesson # 6: How to identify podcast guests?
To get the Futurized podcast off the ground, I did a shoutout to my LinkedIn network where I offered them to become a guest on my show. Overwhelmingly, I got 93 responses, which is much more than when I typically ask them to promote something or react to something I wrote. The lesson from that is that being a guest on a podcast is still an attractive commodity, which I should have known. In any case, I’m tremendously thankful, and have set up dozens of interviews already, securing my podcast for the next few months, at least. Once I hit 20+ episodes, I plan to become more strategic and will start to ask specific people to come on my show based on strategic topics and appropriate influencer visibility in those topics. Having said that, I aim to continue to focus on and feature emerging talent as opposed to the same old people that show up everywhere else. Yesterday, as I was finalizing this post, I got my first outreach email from one of the many podcast guest booking agencies out there, trying to place one of their clients on my podcast. I expect that to be a constant source of guests going forward, should I take them up on that. Here’s a shortlist: Podcastbookers, Kitkaster, Expertbookers, Interviewconnections, Expertsonair, Interviewvalet, Command Your Brand, LemonPie.fm, Interviews That Convert, Interview Connections. From what I understand, they work a little bit like traditional speaker agencies except that they charge the person who wants to be interviewed, not the podcast, which makes sense. For a review of some of these, see Best Podcast Booking Service & Podcast Guest Booker Services. The best of them offer a clear pitch, an easy way to connect with your podcast guest, and even offer a conversation allowing you to discuss which option works best for your podcast so that you don’t keep getting pitches from them that don’t make sense to feature. Also, they come with the promise that the guest will promote their appearance through their own network, which is the way great podcasts achieve network effects.
I don’t have enough experience yet to judge which of them makes the most sense to work work, so for the moment I’m open. What I’ll say is that you need to make it clear to these agencies what your standards are. For example, I’m not going to have a guest on my podcast whose only agenda is to pitch his or her startup. The startup can be one ingredient, but my show is about forces of disruption affecting the next decade. By the way, some of these agencies do matching both ways, so if you are having trouble identifying guests who want to be on your show, or you want to move into a higher influencer echelon, these services might be slightly helpful. I’m not intending to go that route given that I have the opposite problem at the moment: lots of interest, which I’m enthused about.
Start with guesting from your immediate network and broaden from there once you have a track record.
Lesson # 7: What makes a great podcast?
I have not concluded on this question yet but my early take is this: a necessary ingredient in a great podcast is a certain longevity, scale, and breadth of content. The content also has to be of a certain quality standard. Having said that, I don’t think all great podcasts need to win Pulitzers (yes, the apparently can win a Pulitzer now and the inaugural winner was WBEZ, Chicago’s “This American Life,” the public radio show and podcast.
When I evaluate podcasts to feature in my own research on my upcoming book Future Tech, I include criteria like (a) are they still running, (b) do they have at least 25 episodes, and (c) do I have a favorable impression of the first 10 minutes of the podcast I’m listening to, and only secondarily do I consider impact metrics (website rank, total downloads) and the track record of the podcast host. Even less important is the influencer rank of the guests on the show although that certainly would be an indicator of success and would help the podcast earn money through advertising. From what I understand, podcast advertising revenue potential only begins once you have 5000 downloads per episode, which only happens to a slim percentage of podcasts (7.1 % of Libsyn’s podcasts) and perhaps only becomes truly profitable at 40,000 downloads per episode (1% of Libsyn’s podcasts). The average podcasts gets 129 downloads per episode (source).
Lesson # 8: How to establish your podcast workflow?
One thing is to produce a few initial podcast episodes. A whole other thing is to figure out a workflow that can be sustained over time. Here are the main steps involved and how I’ve found my way around them:
Preliminary topic research
I’ve got a whole list of topics simply stemming from my chosen focus on “going beneath the trends, tracking the underlying forces of disruption in tech, policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment.” The future of all technologies are relevant topics. The Future of all industries are in scope. I mainly limit myself to things that will emerge in the next decade, so a lot of my research for past books, emerging books, as well as consulting engagements on foresight and futurist thinking are relevant topics.
A prospective guest is always asked to suggest a topic that fits for both them and my podcast. That topic is then adjusted to what I think is most relevant right now and what fits in my schedule. Failing that, I’ll suggest the topic that I feel the guest has the most unique take on.
Identify potential interview guests
Since I got the ball rolling with my existing network, the next question is how to follow-on. In other pursuits, I’ve used the snowball sampling approach, which consists of asking the person you are interviewing who they would suggest we interview next. You can usually get 1-3 suggestions that way. This approach can be done at the end of the interview, as a follow-up as well as on during regular intervals, such as assessing each season. Another, more strategic approach which I’ll begin soon is to look at the desired topics I want to cover this season and brainstorm lists of people I think would be reachable. I’ll try to make a shortlist of 1/3 desirable (but long shots), 1/3 relevant (and reachable) and 1/3 workable (and slam dunks to get to appear on the show). Without such a mix, I fear the work would become too strenuous. The last approach, which is the one I criticize a lot when I see it happen in mainstream media, is to resort to having the same guests on time after time. I understand why it happens (it is easy and it provides a recognition factor) but I think it degrades the show. This is not to say that I won’t do repeats, I just think it cannot be overdone.
Reach out to potential guests
The best way to reach out is obviously personal outreach face to face. Whenever that cannot happen, a phone call is good. Failing that, an email pitch could work. Worst case, outreach through social media has worked, too. Often, you can ask somebody in your network if they know how to get hold of someone, and because it is for a media appearance, there is a fair chance the outreach will get to that person fairly quickly.
Create preliminary questions for guest
I do this in two steps. I create a rough podcast topic sentence and try to attach a small description (3 sentences) which could be in question or statement format. Those are sent to the guest via email for their comments. The reply might generate some better, more focused questions or might lead in an entirely different direction, which is fine.
I insist on this step. It was something I started during my time running monthly events at MIT Startup Exchange. Essentially, calling up panelists or interviewees and having a 25 minute conversation ensures that you (a) catch up with them or get an initial sense of who they are, (b) explore the topic and potential questions as well as go/no-go types of questions, (c) get a chance to verify their audio/video setup. Oftentimes, you may have to suggest they adjust their mic settings, use a headset or make sure they are sitting in front of a PC or laptop and not just using a mobile device (Zencastr doesn’t yet support mobile recording devices, for instance).
Create a full set of questions for the guest
After the pre-podcast call I immediately send out an email summarizing what I now believe the podcast topic to be, a 3 sentence description of the topic, as well as a set of questions I plan to ask the guest. I typically have at least five questions. In the beginning, I try to get a sense of their background, in the middle we discuss the topic at hand, and at the end, I explicitly ask about their view of the future more broadly. The format works quite well, but I’m also keen to adjust this based on feedback and make sure it is unique enough and goes deep enough. What I don’t want to do is produce a repetitive podcast that rehashes all the same questions the guest has been asked before.
Record the episode with the guest
I’ve decided to go for two main formats. Mainly, I’ll record around 45 minutes which is what I believe any decent morning run should last (prescriptive, I know) or which is about what time it takes to become sleepy if you cannot fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night. I also reserve the right to record for shorter or edit it down to 25 minutes if not all questions worked out or produced unique responses. If I happen to have an enormously rich conversation and all guests are fine with it, I might let it run a little longer. I don’t think I’ll go to the lengths of Joe Rogan Experience who regularly has several hours-worth of conversation. That’s fine but I think asking for that much time is a bit unreasonable.
Edit episode recording
In my workflow, I use Adobe Audition and I make use of Mike Russell’s excellent podcast presets. If any adjustments seem necessary, I do so. I always include my podcast intro and outro music which is Electricity by Ian Post, from his 2020 album Magnetism, which I license through Artlist.io. I also record new intro and outtros that make use of my tagline as well as mention the topic and who the episode’s guest is. I think I’ll eventually start introducing several more songs into the podcast to accentuate moods and potentially sound effects, but I’ve not found any energy for that aspect yet. It also prolongs each editing session. I’m aiming to get down from 1h (first few episodes) to below 30 minutes editing time per episode, maybe less, depending on how many bells and whistles I introduce, and how much I practice my editing skills. I’ve probably spent some 10h+ learning Adobe Audition so far, which is not enough, but sufficient to get by.
Add pre-roll and mid-roll ads
I haven’t gotten into ads yet. I’ll wait for traction until I introduce this element. What I’ve understood is that I need to start making invisible marks in my audio file so I know where to insert these ads, and I’m exploring how to do so in Adobe Audition.
Uploading the episode into Podbean is very easy. The only scary part is the Publish button which is the same as the Schedule button. Many times I’ve pushed the Publish button when I’ve intended to Schedule instead, which is not great. I think they could have found a better way to do it, but I’ll just have to be caffeinated when I attempt to upload my episodes. What’s useful is the ability to schedule many days ahead. I’ve only scheduled three episodes ahead so far, but it seems extremely useful during busy times.
Create and schedule webpage
I’ve not really managed to upload all the show notes and bonus material I wanted yet, but I’ll get to it. For now, the website is a near mirror image of my podcast site on Podbean, although because I opted to have my own domain, at least it is called Futurized.co not podbean.com/futurized.
Create and schedule email newsletter
I don’t send an email newsletter out after each episode I limit myself to once a week. That way, I can alternate days between Tuesday and Thursdays (which is when I publish my episodes). So far, I feel I can only bother my network once a week. That may change depending on feedback. Also, the email list I use is a larger list I’ve assembled throughout my career and is not limited to those who expressly have said they love my podcasts. I’ll eventually split this up into two lists, one for the podcast and one for the wider network.
Create and schedule social media posts
Some of this is automated in Podbean (they send to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook), however, I find that my own messages are more clever and will typically do separate messages a few hours after the automatic ones go out. I use Canva.com to create artwork specific to the formatting requirements of each social network.
Follow up with guest
The day before publication, I write an email to the guest giving them the option to tease their appearance to their network the day before (before it is published). I also give them artwork (images) that they can use on social media and I suggest they do an email blast. I also give them my social media accounts so they can look out for what I post. Best practice seems to be to try to vary the messaging for each social media so all messages don’t have the same headline and pitch. This is grueling work and I’m sure it could be perfected.
Follow up with guest 3 days after the episode has launched
I’ll try to do a quick follow-up just to check that they are fine with the feedback from the episode and see if they have anything to report. At that point, I may adjust messaging or potentially do another set of outreach efforts, if needed, or if the message seems to resonate particularly well.
Establishing a podcast workflow is essential to the longevity of your efforts.
Overall, these eight lessons are hard won. They didn’t come easy. Getting a podcast up and running takes a certain amount of time and energy and it has a cost. What will the payback be? It is too soon to tell. So far, I enjoy making podcasts and I’ve gotten great feedback from my initial guests and from a lot of listeners in my existing network. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing for a few months and will take stock at 25 episodes or three months whichever comes first, and then we shall see what I’ve learned by that time.
Don’t skimp on these steps, but don’t make it overly complex either. For some of you, my steps may be too much work, for others, it’s just scratching the top of the iceberg.