Breaking Free Of The Podcast Sandwich Paradigm

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Listening to podcasts is like eating a submarine sandwich. Making a podcast is like making a submarine sandwich. But too many podcasters try to make one like they eat one. Let’s fix that.

When I started this show way back in 2018, Podcast Pontifications wasn’t a podcast. It was a live video show I did via Facebook. And I know how weird that is coming from a podcast guy who’s been at it for nearly 20 years and has a fancy Podcast Hall of Fame award in my studio.

But I like trying new things outside of podcasting to get more people interested in podcasting, so that seemed like a good idea at the time. Fast forward some 550 episodes later, and Podcast Pontifications has become a real podcast. I’ve all been abandoned Facebook personally, but I’m still making videos at the time I record the audio. I do this because of my commitment to making every episode of Podcast Pontifications available and accessible. For me, that means an audio episode, a fully rewritten article that is emailed to a few hundred people who’ve requested it, and a video posted on YouTube. And because I care about accessibility; I also post a human-corrected transcript. Again, I want everyone to be able to get this content in whatever way they want to consume my content.

But that’s only true for the last few years. Prior to making the commitment to doing it right, I produced dozens of episodes-some of them filled with insightful information-that didn’t get that full treatment. They’re now buried at the bottom of the archive, with not even enough information to get some love from Google now and again.

I had pondered the idea of just re-broadcasting (re-podcasting?) those episodes, but quickly abandoned the notion. Far too much has changed in podcasting over the years. So while I’m not doing that, I do think it might be a good idea to revisit some of those choice bits, re-examing the topic, and perhaps coming up with a new and more relevant angle that fits where podcasting is today.

So today let’s talk about sandwiches. Specifically, what sandwiches and podcasting have in common, and what we podcasters can learn from sandwich makers.

Hoagies Do Kinda Look Like Podcast Microphones

No one called them “hoagies” where I was raised. Nope. It was a submarine sandwich. Or just a sub. But whatever you called it, I’m talking about the tube of bread and other goodies you can get today at any number of fast-food chains or your local bodega, if you’re luckly enough to live in a cool city that has bodegas on every corner. Unlike me.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve just unwrapped your submarine sandwich and are ready to start eating it. Where do you start? From the middle? No, of course not. That would be silly. Unless of course you cut your sandwich in half and start eating at what was the middle. But that’s cheating. For my metaphor to work, that means you effectively have two sandwiches, neither of which you start eating from their new middles, do you?

No, you do not. You start eating at one end. And you keep eating from that same end until you reach the other end. Or you keep eating until you give up. Maybe you didn’t like it (too much mayo). Or perhaps you ran out of time to eat all of it. Or maybe you had your fill and didn’t want or need anymore. Regardless of your endpoint, you still started from one end and progressed in a linear fashion towards the other.

That’s exactly how podcasts are consumed by listeners. In fact, that’s exactly how you consume most podcasts you listen to for pleasure. You start from the front, not the middle. Starting a podcast episode from the middle is hard! Just like trying to eat a submarine sandwich from the middle would also be hard.

So just like a submarine sandwich eater, you start listening from the beginning and you keep listening until you reach the other end. Or you keep listening until you give up. Maybe you didn’t like it (too much podcasting mayo). Or perhaps you ran out of time to listen to all of it. Or perhaps you got everything you needed from the parts you did listen to and didn’t need to finish. Regardless, and just like that submarine sandwich, you started from the beginning and progressed in a linear fashion toward the end of the episode.

So all of that is rather obvious. What’s rather less obvious is when we look at how the sandwich got made and then compare that process to how the podcast episode is made. This is also, you’ll be glad to hear, where the point I’m trying to make becomes clear.

Making A Sandwich vs Listening To A Podcast Episode

We’ve established that a submarine sandwich will be consumed starting at one end, eaten one bite at a time. Each bite is like its own sandwich: it has bread, condiments, toppings, and whatever “main” ingredient, like cold cuts, tuna, or tofu.

But-and this is the key point-it was not created one bite-sized chunk at a time, with bread, condiments, toppings, and whatever else, and then glued together to form the total sandwich. Of course it wasn’t!

Yet that’s the way a lot of podcasters still make their episode. They’re assuming-wrongly in all but a few exceptions-that the best way to assemble an episode is the same way that episode will be consumed.

Many of them hit record and do everything for their episode live in a linear fashion, one bit after the other. Is it possible to make a podcast like this? Sure. Lots of podcasters make this choice. In fact, there are a bevy of tools available, both hardware and software, that make it easier than ever to record-and-release an episode, often in nearly the same amount of time as it takes to listen to that episode.

So yes you can. But I don’t think you should.

Let Podcasting Be Podcasting

I don’t think you should do it this way because there are more appropriate places for the record-and-release style of audio, many of which didn’t exist just a few years ago.

A linear style of producing spoken word, where you start at the beginning and progress until you get to the end, adding in the music, guests, co-hosts, segments, effects, and whatever else is needed in real-time… we call that live radio. And podcasting isn’t live radio.

Today, that same thing (minus the transmitter tower) is called live streaming. Or perhaps social audio, a la Twitter Spaces. Or whatever name the next push towards getting production and consumption more tightly connected will be called. Either in this universe or the Metaverse. Those platforms, extant and emerging, will certainly gain audiences who gravitate toward that style of record-and-release or listen-in-real-time content. And if that’s the kind of show you want to produce, then you absolutely should make a show like that.

But should you podcast that show? Well, there’s that’s the question, isn’t it?

I think that, as these alternative content consumption and creation tools continue to proliferate, we’re going to start seeing a division in audiences and audience expectations. Audiences vote with their eyeballs and their earholes, and those actions in turn shape the content that creators produce, which further creates differences in formats and conventions from one platform to another. That’s why the whole concept of COPA or Create Once Publish Anywhere, didn’t really work out as well as content creators had hoped.

One of podcasting’s superpowers over those other platforms is the time buffer between production, publishing, and consumption. It’s because we podcasters are not forced to produce as we record that we can be more creative. It’s not appointment-based content we’re making. We can pay more attention to the craft of storytelling because we’re not assembling an episode one bite at a time. We have the time to edit, shape, and transform our work into something truly remarkable… without the stress of just trying to get through the damn thing in one take.

Podcasting has changed a lot in 20 years. I think it’ll change a lot more in the next 20. Heck the next two years, probably. I am absolutely convinced changes will continue to happen, faster than ever.

But if you look at the larger universe of podcasting, which now contains millions of podcasts, you’ll see that today’s podcast listeners are voting for the kinds of shows that take more time and care than can be put into a linear record-and-release style of show.

Now, as with all things in life, your mileage may vary. It’s possible you are listening to this right now, shaking your head and preparing to send me screenshots of your stats to prove that your recorded-and-released show is growing. But let me save you the trouble. I’m not talking to you. You’re the exception here. Congratulations. But you’re an anomaly.

My goal with this episode where I revisited a topic I introduced back in July of 2018-almost four years ago-is to encourage podcasters to embrace what makes podcasting different. To take the time to make episodes that could not be experienced anywhere but on a podcast. To make produce content on your podcast that would simply be impossible to do on any other audio medium.

That’s what makes podcasting special. So let’s keep doing more of that, please.

I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.

Cheers!

Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.

Originally published at https://podcastpontifications.com.

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