What Worked in 2023: Podcast Production

What did industry pros learn about podcast production this year?

Untitled design (5)

 

2023 was hard on many of us economically. We started the year with a rocky economic outlook, and that tone seems to have stuck all the way through to December (in fact, my first blog post of the year focused on a “looming recession”). So, this year we’ve decided to completely revamp our year-end post. Rather than gathering a collection of predictions for next year, we’re taking a decidedly positive spin and focusing on what went right in 2023. We’ve asked industry leaders to share their biggest lessons from the year in the hopes that these learnings will help us all get stronger, smarter and ready for a better 2024.

We’ve split this retrospective into three parts. You can check out the other two parts:

Podcast listenership continues to grow. So do the number of podcasts. It’s never been more challenging to win listener attention.

What are podcasters doing to attract and maintain listener attention? What creative production approaches or strategies were effective in 2023? We collected examples from some of our industry’s most experienced creators. May it inspire all of us to push the boundaries of creativity in podcast production in the year ahead.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What did you try this year that made your production better?

… playing with creative formats

Say More with Dr? Sheila was different than anything I’d heard before, and that’s an exciting thing to be able to work on. Amy Poehler plays a totally unqualified couples therapist, it’s all improv, and she’s deeply committed to the bit. She’s also an amazing student of podcasts — listens to tons of them, loves them, totally understands what makes them funny or ridiculous or unique, and then lovingly and masterfully parodies them. We had great and committed audiences, made a lot of people laugh, and Amy seemed really proud and happy.”

Jenna Weiss-Berman, EVP of Podcasts at Audacy; Co-Founder of Pineapple Street Studios

 

… partnering up

Love, Janessa was the first co-production that we did with the BBC World Service. And it was a fantastic example of a partnership being greater than the sum of its parts. From the beginning, the interest around our joint commission call resulted in top-tier pitches from some of the best production talent in the world (Love, Janessa was artfully produced by Antica Productions and TellTale Industries). And while the involvement of two public broadcasters made for a more complicated production process at times, it also meant that we were able to use the best of our networks and team members to create the best series, and reach as many listeners as possible.

Chris Oke, Executive Producer, CBC Podcasts

 

… bringing narrative polish to weekly chat shows

OWNED, with Rex Chapman was a bit of a curveball for our company, which is known for longform audio — in our three years of existence, we have almost exclusively made narrative limited series, like Wild Boys, Hooked, and Suspect. We tried to apply some of our narrative tricks — and the extra polish I think we’re known for — to a chat show, which we co-produced with SmartLess Media. And I think it mostly worked? It was definitely fun to flex our creative muscles in a different way, and hopefully this is the first of many Campside weekly shows.”

Josh Dean, Co-Founder, Campside Media

What made your project successful?

… zeroing in on a fascinating subculture

“I think The Turning: Room of Mirrors was such a team effort in that it was rigorously researched and exquisitely sound designed. I think it also provided a nice narrative alternative that was infused with personal stories (and not in an overindulgent way). It’s a journey to a subculture many of us wonder about and it’s exciting to be a fly on the wall. We also felt the ballet community took notice (whether they were happy or not) and it’s great when the subject of your work actually checks out your work! Also nice to be voted one of the best podcasts of 2023 by the NYTimes. ”

Jessica Alpert, President and Co-Founder, Rococo Punch

 

… highlighting universal themes

“The storytelling style and personal narrative of Dear Alana allowed listeners to connect with characters that they may not have initially felt they had much in common with. We knew in order to have success we couldn’t lose track of the niche audiences that this show spoke to. Once we did that, we knew the quality would speak for itself. But we didn’t stop at the niche audiences, we also focused on key marketing initiatives aimed at branding the show more broadly. A story this important needed to feel big. Indie financing and releasing this project to the world was a success in and of itself. To put it into perspective, an Asian-America male first time podcaster told the tragic story of a young Asian-American young woman from Boulder, Colorado. It’s a powerful coming of age documentary about sexuality, mental health, and religion that many would not invest in telling. To have that underdog of a podcast debut at #1 on Apple and be in conversations as one of the best of the year, that is success. The goal was to move people, to touch them emotionally with an important story. We accomplished that. ”

Donald Albright, CEO and Co-Founder, Tenderfoot TV

How do you plan to foster even more creativity in 2024?

… creating a new space for podcasters

“The project we’re most proud of isn’t even a podcast! Yet. But it definitely has podcasts in its DNA, and will launch in spring 2024. In the first few months of 2023, John was laid off from a sizable podcast company and Julie’s position at a UK production company dissolved. We started talking, comparing notes about what was happening to us and all around us in the industry. We began dreaming up a project and eventual podcast that would stand for everything we felt had gone missing in the noise and confusion of Big Podcasting: camaraderie, imagination, a space to try new things, platforms for emerging talent, audio for audio’s sake.

This first Audio Flux circuit was successful on so many levels! To name a few:

  • We fostered the creation of six short-form audio gems, which have been shared widely and will be featured on S1 of our upcoming podcast.
  • We brought together six producers who had recently lost their jobs in podcasting, and who formed a deeply supportive cohort that will live and thrive beyond their Audio Flux experience.
  • We’ve already been featured in several industry publications, and ignited a much-needed spark of excitement and hope within the audio community. We’ve heard from dozens of producers, teachers, organizations, and companies across the world who are interested in supporting Audio Flux and collaborating.
  • We’ve just this week confirmed our second circuit, which will debut at the On Air Festival next February, and feature a new creative partner and six new producers.
  • We’re on track to launch our podcast next spring, and announce our first open call-out for submissions around the same time.”

John DeLore and Julie Shapiro, Co-Flux Capacitors, Audio Flux

Pacific Content’s Take

“Our Sound Designers had an opportunity to push into new territory in immersive audio production this year. They mixed Spooky Boo’s Fright Nights’ scary stories in Dolby Atmos, which made them even more bone-chilling. As a listener, you’re right in the middle of the super-creepy scenes, which was a very visceral way to show how much sound design can enhance a story. Nearly every listener review mentioned the sound design, so we know it had a real impact on the audience.”

Karen Burgess, Executive for Production, People and Culture, Pacific Content

 

Special thank you to Wanyee Li for exceptional editing of these posts.

 

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