Here is the back story which shares how we create and produce each episode of the Analyse Asia podcast. We break down the process into five stages: sourcing, recording, editing, publishing and distribution and share our tips to others who may be keen to get into podcasting in where they are in the world outside the United States.
I started my podcast show “Analyse Asia with Bernard Leong” on 2 Sep 2014. For the past one year and three months, the podcast has grown tremendously with the help of my friends in the Asia technology space and guests who have graced the show with their presence. The average growth month on month for my subscribers is about 80% per month, but eventually, I hope to reach a consistent 10% week on week growth. While juggling a hectic corporate career as a senior executive (and I am the Head of Digital Services for Singapore Post Ltd) and spending time with my family, I can only dedicate five hours of my personal time per episode on this podcast.
The vision of Analyse Asia Podcast is to be the premiere podcast for Asia focused on dissecting and analysing the pulse of business, technology and media in Asia. It will not be only about start-ups which I have worked in my previous media outlet, but focus on the region in an over-arching view. As a host of the show, I have also selected role models for the podcast and the main inspiration came from the Charlie Rose show, which I find Charlie Rose amicable, calm and able to draw insights and thoughts from the guests that he has interviewed. I have segmented my audience into two, first, the US and Europe audience and then the Asian audience. The reason is that I want to help the US, Europe and other parts of the world understand Asia.
In starting this project, I have set up a set of principles in how I want to produce the show:
Building & managing the show like a startup with a mission while iterating with a Shokunin attitude: As it is still far from the next company which I will build, I decided to use the podcast project as a way to exercise my dormant entrepreneurial muscles given that I have two exits and one failure. I built a simple business plan for the first year, putting a modest target of 10% month on month growth for listeners and growth metrics for the social media assets of the podcast. My goal is to reach 500K subscribers in 3 years and in the mean time, figure out the potential monetisation models.
However, unlike my past start-ups which I have learned from, I want to impose the Japanese craftsman culture into this project. To ensure that I do not waste the five hours of my precious time while being a perfectionist for every episode, I developed a workflow and broke the whole production process into five stages and set up processes into each part. The systems in the workflow may not be complete, but the Shokunin method is to keep iterating, innovating and perfecting each process till the whole content creation will reach flow for me, i.e. the state which I enjoy my craft of building the podcast interview. The rationale is that I will build the good habits from this podcast that will propagate into the next startup. Of course, in adopting the Shokunin approach, I discovered interesting problems in the podcasting market, and decided that I might be able to solve some of those along the way. By developing a workflow, I can split up the components such that I can build a team to help me grow later in the process.
Focused on building a high quality product for my audience (or customers): As I adopted the Shokunin method for the Analyse Asia podcast and being inspired by the way how Jiro did his sushi and Hayao Miyazaki produced his animation, one key focus of every podcast production is to ensure great sound quality and edit out every slur or repeat pronunciations off the podcast. Interestingly, I discovered something interesting in the process and started collecting data on my own editing work. It turned out that by editing out the slurs, repeats or phrases that are not relevant to the discussion, I have eliminated on average 10 to 15 minutes of time off the podcast. In my view, I have saved 10–15 minutes of time for my listeners so that they can spend time doing other things, for example, listen to another podcast or reading a book. In doing the podcast, I have also become conscious of my delivery and learned to be more critical about how I present the questions. In getting to that quality, I spoke to professional broadcasters and sought their advice in how I can do this better.
Growing my network fund where I can listen & learn from my guests either by communicating online or meeting them face to face: For me, I am thankful and appreciative of every guest’s time on the show. In the same light, I am also building my network fund so that there may exist possibilities or opportunities where I can be of help to them in the future. Sometimes, the stars aligned where I can meet a fellow counterpart from another organisation and we spent the time outside the actual recording to discuss businesses and best practices in digital strategy and implementation. There is one thing which I hope to get out of every conversation I have from every guest: listen and understand better the person I am having the interview or discussion. Of course, that is to train my muscle in being better at hiring and managing people.
The workflow of every episode
Every episode goes through five stages in the production: (1) sourcing and setting the date with the guest, (2) recording of the podcast episode, (3) editing of the podcast episode, (4) publishing the podcast episode and (5) distribution of the podcast episode via social media and channels. To manage the podcast production, I rely on a couple of tools: the project management tool, Asana where I broke the tasks down to the 5 stages and resolve each one with a deadline, google apps for the following: email correspondences, scheduling dates for interview with calendar, a simple google document to be shared with my guest to pre-empt them in advance what I will be asking them. Over all, in my first year, I have spent about US$500 per month from monthly hosting, social media advertising and getting mugs made for my guests.
Stage 1: Sourcing and setting the date with the guest
As a start, I sourced my guests from the people who I know personally. In the early days of Analyse Asia, I relied on my friends (Jon Russell from TechCrunch, Michael Smith from HOOQ, Serkan Toto, Sameer Singh, Gen Kanai, Rama Mamuaya from DailySocial, Dave Corbin & Terence Lee from Tech In Asia, Gwen Tan from Mashable, Josh Horwitz from Quartz, Arnaud Bonzom from 500 Startups) from the technology and media landscape. To build credibility and also grow the audience for the podcast, I have set up a simple spreadsheet to track the list of people who I want to invite on the show. Sourcing and setting the date with guests are similar to prospecting and closing the sale with customers. I adopted a customer relationship management (CRM) approach to ensure that I do follow ups for those who rejected me the first time.
One of my goals for the podcast I have set for myself is to get 50:50 representation of men and women guests on the show. As of now, I am still stuck at 80% male and 20% female guests and I failed miserably. I am not giving up on this objective and I will continue to get to 50–50 in a commitment for gender diversity and how Asia can lead the way with just a podcast.
Probably, a lot of people do not appreciate that for every guest who came on Analyse Asia, I get about one hit per ten rejections on average. As I treat it as part of the process for me to understand how to build a “sales pipeline” for guests, I have to continue relentlessly on getting people on the show, and at the same, deal with rejections or silence from people who I have invited.
On a silver lining, I am also thankful to Ben Bajarin, Benedict Evans and Horace Dediu who are leading global thinkers on their subject areas and we have enjoyable conversations which I have learned tremendously a lot. They came to the show with grace and humility. The question I get asked: How were they achieved? Simple, it was just me emailing them direct with no referrals. You will find it surprising that I often scooped the big guests, for example, Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt for my show via direct email instead of referrals. In fact, very few referrals have worked for me. For the many people who gave their time to come on the podcast or help me to source for guests, I am eternally grateful. Hence, I have started to show my gratitude with giving a simple gift of an Analyse Asia limited edition mug to them.
Stage 2: Recording of the podcast episode
Essentially, how do I record each episode of the podcast? Two options: either face to face or recording online. Almost 90% of the interviews are done online via Skype, using a simple recording tool called “Call Recorder for Skype”. Usually, I have a pair of headphones (which any will do) and a microphone which I used for recording podcasts online. If Skype fails and it has happened to me before, there are other solutions available. One interesting solution, recommended by my friend, Paul Papadimitriou fromLayovers.to is Zencastr, which is a web recording tool, where the conversation is recorded locally via the web browser (with HTML5 web audio capability. I have yet to use Zencastr in a real situation but so far, the reviews have been great.
For the online recording, I used the Samson Go Mic, a portable USB microphone which is really simple to set up. What is amazing is that I have been using this microphone for more than 8 years. In fact, my friend, Daniel Cerventus Lim bought it for me from Malaysia when we started the predecessor to this podcast, This Week in Asia. This microphone has been following me around the world, and the sound quality with this microphone is high. It is perfect for an online recording but not suitable for a face to face recording.
For the face to face recording, I have tried two microphones. The first is Apogee Mic 96K, which I first thought, would solve my face to face recording issues. It turned out that it was not very good, and the issue lies with sound quality and it is unable to deal with background noises filtering.A recent solution that I have used is the H2N Zoom recorder (recommended by my friend, Michael Cheng). This recorder is better and I am able to get very good sound quality with the recording with the 4 channel recording.
For those who do not know, here’s my little studio from a glance.
Stage 3: Editing of the podcast episode
Typically, the editing of the podcast episode takes up the most time. For every minute recorded, I typically spend at least 3–5 times more time to edit. As an Asian podcast trying to penetrating into the US, Canada and the European market, the quality of the podcast is extremely important, just as the content of the podcast. The reason is that as an Asian speaker, my accent and pronunciation is not natural to an American audience. Hence I have to compensate in the editing phase. Of course, to make myself sound better, I have started to engage voice coaches to help me finding the right voice despite I have been trained in theatre and have been involved in theatre productions at an early age.
My solution for editing the podcast is Garageband, which I believed it is the easiest podcast editing tool to use. There are other possibilities, for example, Adobe Audition and Audacity. Before I do the actual editing, the file will be sent to an online audio processing tool called Auphonic (recommended by Ben Thompson from Stratechery over a tweet) to process the sound quality. Actually, Auphonic can also help you to do the publishing and distribution at the same time, but I have decided that I want to separate the workflow.
How do I edit to ensure a high quality podcast to be produced? I typically edit out repeat statements, slurs and sounds such as “hmmm”, pauses and phrases such as “you know”, “right”, “I think”, “and so”. In fact, I discovered after editing many episodes with such precision, I have removed an average of 12–15 minutes of wasted time per episode for my audience. It means that my audience have an additional 12–15 minutes to either listen to another podcast or do something instead of hearing two speakers saying “mmmm” many times in the conversation. To me, I have never compromised on this principle and the Shokunin approach has helped me to discover problems in podcast editing and I am working now on an automated solution to resolve this issue.
Stage 4: Publishing the podcast episode
Where do I publish my podcast episodes? Typically, after production, I create two audio files for the podcast episode: a medium quality mp3 file and a high quality m4a file. I distribute the mp3 file through the blubrry podcast hosting service as it integrates my wordpress main site seamlessly with the audio files, the m4a file through soundcloud, where the audience expect a better quality file. Typically, the file size is about 30 megabytes for a typical mp3 file in a 30 minutes recording.
What remains a challenge is whether we can get a audio format that can be reduced to 5 megabytes. The reason why most audience for podcasting are mainly in US, Europe, Australia and developed cities in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Taiwan) is that the sound files are too large for downloads in emerging and frontier markets. In order to get more audience from emerging markets (Indonesia, India, China and Vietnam) to come on, there are two ways: one via streaming the content and the other is a smaller file within 5mb size to distribute via 3G or 4G networks.
Stage 5: Distribution of the podcast episode
The challenge for podcasting is in finding distribution for each podcast episode. For me, when I first started Analyse Asia, I have faced competitors within the same space. Believe me, I have monitored the content and the numbers of my competitors that I realised that distribution is key to winning the podcast audience. I have utilised different growth hacks for distributing my podcast and I will explain why most of my competitors gave up.
On growth hacks, I gave my content free for distribution using a creative commons license. In podcasting, I do not need my audience to be on my site, but they need to find a reason to listen to my podcast. If you are an Asian podcast trying to penetrate into the US market, you have to work doubly hard in getting your audience. Hence getting different sites to embed my content is an essential step to increase distribution. Of course, you must be everywhere from iTunes store, RSS, SoundCloud, Stitcher, ACast and even Google Play (which I have placed an entry there and will let you know when it’s launched). Other means of distribution includes leveraging Product Hunt for podcast discovery and Quibb to get a sense of what content people will be interested to listen. Putting an episode synopsis in Product Hunt podcasts is useful for new audience to understand what you are doing. Every time, I get an increased number of downloads in Product Hunt if I placed the episode synopsis in the comments section.
One important rule is that you have to consistently engage your audience particularly, your fans and try to understand why they listened to your podcast. The most interesting tactic in making your podcast distribute better is to be gracious, and I can use this to explain why my competitors failed. First, don’t be an asshole and be gracious, while promoting my own podcast via social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I promote podcasts which my guests have done without any expectation. In fact, one of my competitors tried the tactic of banning my podcast content on their site, and they later collapsed on their own. In being gracious, I always promote the episodes by thanking the guest and acknowledging the people who helped me with getting the guests on the show.
Given that I have limited time for my podcasting project, I usually prepare all the scheduled tweets, facebook and linkedin posts in the weekend, and fired them across different timings of the week. The tool I used for this is Buffer, and I experimented with different messaging for each episode of the podcast, and iterated on the approach week on week. In addition, I have curated and annotated interesting statistics or diagrams which I have discovered from other sources and released them in the morning and evening two times a day. Getting the word out required repeated postings of the content but with different headlines and summaries to grab the attention of potential audience. With the right questions and hashtags, you also spread the word of your podcast to the outside world.
The second rule is tenacity. Podcast audience growth is a slow burn market i.e. it grows slowly and steadily till it reached critical mass. Most of my competitors started with good numbers similar to myself, but when their numbers started to dip, they gave up on the podcast. In fact, this is a pattern which I have observed in growing Analyse Asia. Every dip actually presents an opportunity for growth. In fact, Analyse Asia went through two dips, after the first 5 episodes and after a major guest showed up. This is important to those in building podcasts. You must figure out new content and ways to distribute content in order to counter the dips. Listening to feedback is an essential process to podcast growth. In fact, each dip pushed me hard in thinking means and ways to improve content distribution, experiment new content and quality of podcast. The result is that each dip ended up helping me to grow my audience by another order of magnitude.
The third rule is consistency. The most difficult part of maintaining a podcast is to ensure that you have an episode every week. I often state it as a weekly podcast, but I have produced an average of 6–8 episodes a month as I ramped up my production at scale. It is to ensure my commitment to my audience and being consistent is important.
In telling my story as a podcaster in Asia, I hope that you can understand how difficult it is to build and maintain a podcast from another side of the world. Of course, in telling you the back story in how each episode is produced and distributed, you can help me to spread the word about my podcast around.