If you read Create Your Podcast | Part 1, you have defined whether you are passionate about, your podcast topic and whether or not there is a NEED for it. Now, it is time to get down to the nitty gritty, and time to start creating your podcast. First stop, pick a Format!
What do I mean by Format? Well, format simply defines the arrangement of things. If you come from a Broadcast Background, then format might be a familiar term to you. Another great synonym for Format for our discussion is Foundation. The way in which you discuss uour topic must be built on a foundation that provides some level of consistency for your listeners. This allows them to follow your show in an easier fashion, and absorb the awesome that is you! Format Consistency sets and expectation for the listener as to how they can expect the show to flow. The Format is also important for YOU as the producer. When you set your format, it makes it easier for you to start writing your show.
Also, there is another term, you may see me use, and that is ‘segment’. Think of Format as your Entire Show and Segments are the smaller parts of your show.
Let’s quickly discuss two key factors in defining a Format for your show. Those two key factors are CAST and DURATION. They are unrelated, but at the same time they are related. The interesting thing about defining your FORMAT is that there is no real starting point. You could start with Duration or you could start with the CAST, it really does not matter. You can also simply start with an idea and determine the cast and duration once you settle on a format.
Duration for our discussion here is the length of an average podcast episode. Podcast are an undefined medium in terms of Format, so in theory, you can pick whatever time you want. HOWEVER, if you worked in Radio or Broadcast the format is set in stone and unchangeable. The entire Industry is set upon these chunks of time which are mostly 30 minutes or one hour. Podcasts are NOT defined by those restrictions. A Podcast could be five minutes long or four hours long.
However, you should really consider a few things before you set yourself on a Duration. Old School Podcasters would tell you the ideal Duration of any Podcast is 22 minutes. That is the average length of an American’s commute to work. Many Professional Podcasts seem to be bound by this idea. However, there are many successful podcasts that exceed on hour routinely. The WTF Podcast does over an hour. Pete Holmes, You Made It Weird Podcast can clock in sometimes at three hours. You can do a Five Hour Episode, if you can keep those five hours interesting. And that is the key, can you make it interesting.
Personally, I think you want to pick a duration that restricts you a touch. Why? Because it forces you to edit down an idea to its quintessential premise. It keeps you from rambling unnecessarily and pushes you to get to the point of the matter with out chasing off topic conversations or leaving in extraneous detail. More often than not and audience will not be overwhelmed by a show that clocks in under and hour. Keep that in mind.
Cast also informs your format, and can inform Duration quite a bit. A dialogue between two regular hosts might need more time than twenty minutes, where a solo hosted show would be better served coming in under twenty. Cast is really quite Key, because in my experience the more people involved in the record, the longer it will go, especially if you examine a Talk Show Style Format.
So, what are the most popular formats? Glad you asked! Here they are along with recommended cast sizes and duration.
Single Host Talk Show – This is one person speaking to the microphone about a topic. It is popular for specific types of talent. For example, The Rob Cast is a popular Podcast by Rob Bell. He is a former minister and author. His show format serves his talent, speaking directly to the audience. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore history is another. Here Dan Carlin talks to the viewer directly about a historical topic of his choosing. Keep in mind, the Single Host is also the most challenging performance wise to pull off well, and for a non-experienced performer, one I do not recommend.
Cast: (1) Host. Duration: 10 – 30 Minutes (recommended).
Multi-Host Talk Show – This is a very popular format, and all of my shows currently fall into this category. Here multiple hosts get together to chat about a particular topic of interest. The success of this format lies in the chemistry between the hosts. In my experience, the topic is important, but people tune into these types of podcasts because it feels like they are listening to good friends having a chat about a topic they really enjoy. Nerdist strikes me as a great example of this type of format. Chris Hardwyck, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray built specific shows into their rotation that simply relied on the three main hosts to chat about life and their interests. This is a fairly easy format to pull off, and the most challenging aspect I have found to it, is getting multiple people together to record a show.
Cast: (2 – 4) Hosts, I recommend no more than four. Two to three hosts feels ideal. Duration: 20 minutes to one hour (recommended).
Interview Show – This is also a very popular format and many people have found great success with interview shows. While they have waned in popularity in our POST SERIAL World, they are still quite popular. Here a host or hosts will interview someone. Most people think the Interview Show has to feature celebrities, but that is not the case. If you were doing a Mental Health Podcast, you might choose the interview format and interview various care givers or researchers in that field. I often incorporate interviews into my shows, and I find them a lot of fun to do. Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast might be the very best of the Interview shows out there today.
Cast: (1) Host / Interviewer (1 – 2) Interviewees. Duration: 20 minutes to one hour (recommended).
The Journalism / Documentary Show– This is the New King on the throne for Podcasts. The Serial Podcast took an already popular format and took podcasting out of the ‘cottage industry’ phase and into the ‘enterprise’ phase. While This American Life and Planet Money were already finding success by re-issuing their radio programs as Podcasts, Serial came in as a dedicated Podcast presenting the same high quality experience you would come to expect from a funded Public Radio News Program. This made way for shows out of Gimlet Media like Reply All or Start Up. I would also like to point out, this is the HARDEST type of show to produce by far due to the amount of resources you need to make it work. This is PINNACLE level producing and while I do not want to discourage you from pursuing this format, you should understand what you are getting yourself into.
Cast: (1 -2) with potentially multiple interviewees in one show. Duration: 20 minutes to 30 minutes (recommended).
Scripted Shows – These types of shows are fewer and far between, but some are great. Welcome to Night Vale is a huge success not just as a Podcast, but also as a touring show. Here producers write a script and hire actors to perform it or they perform it themselves. Think of it as an old school radio play of some sort. The scale of these shows can be extreme with tons of production value from original music to large recording stages, or like LORE PODCAST one person recording a monologue of sorts.
Cast: (Multiple) it really depends on the story you are telling. Duration: 20 minutes to one hour (recommended).
Keep in mind Duration is a funny thing. Most people would tell you to consider average commute times when developing your show, which keeps it in the 15 – 22 minute range. However, some shows can go on for 1 – 2 hours and be perfectly entertaining for a certain audience. When you are unsure what to do, try to keep it short. Leave folks wanting more!
Now, the moment is upon you! What kind of format are you going to pick? This is an important step as it really informs how you structure your show moving forward. It also heavily defines the amount of ‘off air’ production time you will put in doing things like prepping production elements and booking guests. These are things to keep in mind as you start to actual write your show!
That is what we will get into NEXT in Part 3, writing you show! This is an area of Podcast creation, where I see a lot of podcasters stumble, when they can easily succeed! I will even provide you with a look at a show template you can use to write your show.
What did you think of this article? Did you find the information helpful? If so, I would love to know about it and chat with you! Feel free to leave a comment below, or hit me up on twitter!