We chatted with a few local podcast producers about the ins and outs of making a podcast.
What became clear quite quickly was that as rewarding as producing a podcast can be, most people have no idea what’s coming. Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane of The Cheeky Natives podcast agrees. “This is a lot of work. That is something we wish we knew going in. It’s essentially running a business.” Letlhogonolo, together with Dr Alma-Nalisha Cele, produce their podcast that focuses on the review, curatorship and archiving of black literature.
Even someone with some experience in podcasting underestimated the work. Haji Mohamed Dawjee who produces Don’t Shoot the Messenger says: “I had a basic idea of the amount of work that it takes to produce a quality podcast because Rebecca Davis and myself did a three-part series on the Story of Bo-Kaap in 2019. [But it was easier] because of the news value and the amount of sources and information out there, which we were able to access through our immediate resources.” Haji could also draw on her own knowledge having a genetic and cultural connection with the place, in addition to having written about it in the past.
“I underestimated the amount of work, planning, research and management it would take when working with a slightly larger team. Since it’s a weekly podcast, the turnaround time has to be quick and most weekends are filled with emailing sources, studying research papers, catching up on the latest information, gathering historical context and background information, and the most important thing is to succinctly figure out exactly what question we’re trying to answer in each episode, which takes a lot of ironing out.”
Once everything is conceptualised, transcribed, and scripts written and signed off, the real work begins. “Each story has to be neatly planned… each paragraph, person, theme and mood has to be stitched together with ‘the invisible third person’ – the music – which has to be sourced.”
The Covid-19 spanner in the works
For Sound Africa Editor-in-Chief Jedi Ramalapa, the current pandemic made things even more tricky. “Since the start of lockdown in South Africa, we’ve been producing a weekly podcast called Covid-In-Africa. We’ve collaborated with journalists in African countries to get updates on how their countries are implementing Covid-19 measures and how people are reacting to the measures. We mix the personal and the political with journalism.”
They’ve had to implement “guerrilla style recording” strategies and get a lot of guest-involvement since working from home. “We record our voices in the cupboard or under blankets, which can be extremely uncomfortable if your cupboard is super-tiny like mine. We ask journalists who don't want to physically go out on stories to do interviews with their contacts. We interview them about the work they have been able to do,” Jedi says.
The lay of the SA podcasting land
Letlhogonolo says that the SA podcast scene is definitely growing. “There are a lot more people who are having conversations. There are podcasts about travel, about law, business, mommyhood.” With this variety comes a selection of styles. He explains that with The Cheeky Natives podcast, they’ve tried to “move away from the studio idea of podcasting” and rather capture the ambience of discussing a book with a friend over coffee.
Over at Sound Africa, Jedi says “we’re basically making it all up as we go along, experimenting with sound, storytelling and journalism… in the most creative way possible without losing sight of our goal. To tell underreported stories, and expose systemic issues underlying the virus, while still keeping our audiences interested and listening.”
“We need to allow ourselves the same flexibility and room to play that we allow American content to have. Podcasting can be so many different things. It can be experimental, comedic, serious. Sound Africa, for example, has generally done quite hard-hitting audio documentaries in the form of limited series, but we’re now branching out into a more conversational show. We’re figuring out all the growing pains related to shifting style and genre. Podcasting as a medium is still evolving and being taken up by new audiences on the continent, so there is so much room to play.”
Haji thinks that the industry can step up its game. “Not everyone has the privilege of resources and an exceptionally talented team [as with Don’t Shoot the Messenger] but I have faith that we will all get there. It takes time to produce a podcast and we need to focus on quality over quantity and have a clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Lessons learnt from those who know
Jedi says that it will make your life easier when you are clear about your subject and audience. A smartphone and a laptop is all you need to start with. Leave the professional equipment for when your podcast makes money. “Start where you are with what you have – there’s a lot of open-source software available for editing that you can use without spending a cent. While we use Hindenburg as an audio-editing platform, they often give away free or reduced subscriptions to podcasters who are starting out. PRX (a public radio distributor) and Google Podcaster’s creator programme, Podcasting 101, is available for free online. I’d advise anyone thinking of starting a podcast to start there; they give really useful advice.”
Haji says: “Read, read, read. And write, write, write. Podcasts, first and foremost, are good writing. It’s only from there that you can formulate a good story that is interesting and well-produced. Learn the value of sound. Imagine the score and the underscore. Think about the feeling and emotive value of music. And in the words of Miles Davis – it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play."
Listen to podcasts on your phone with apps such as Podcasts (for iPhones and iPads) and Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Podcast, Stitcher, PocketCast, Podbean (for Android). Many podcasts are also available on YouTube.
Author: Leanne Feris