As avid listeners of the genre, we’re here to make your beer podcast better.
Before I became the internationally-renowned author and beer writer you know today, I spent a little over a decade in the magical yet dying industry of broadcast radio. Specifically, I hosted talk shows, news broadcasts, wrote news copy and produced talk shows for small market clusters and top-rated Chicago stations.
As such, my thoughts from time to time cross-pollinate between beer and the people who record themselves talking about beer.
The world is full of beer podcasts, and I have listed to a vast array of them. Many of them – probably most – are dreadful. And yet, some find a way to do some things right. Others do many, many things wrong.
In the hopes of making a better world for people to listen to conversations about beer — or start their own! why not! — I have set forth on the task of listing some broadcast-tested recommendations to make your podcast about beer as good as it possibly can be.
Am I going to call anyone out onto the carpet here? Nope. Am I going to tell you who my favorites are and who gets gold-stars for being great? Nope. No one’s perfect, and everyone could use a refresher every now and then.
Consultants charge radio stations huge amounts of money for this advice. Because I was never great at making money in radio, I’m giving these away for free. Do with them what you will. I’m going to assume you’ve spent a few bucks for some decent microphones, because no one’s listening to something that sounds like garbage.
So we’ll start with…
Don’t Do Your Podcast For the People in the Room.
Never forget you’re not here to entertain your co-hosts or your panel. You’re here to entertain your listeners.
In talk radio, the corollary is this — don’t do the show for the callers, do it for the audience. In your role as a podcast host, everything around you is there to make the show great for the people listening, not participating.
As a former talk show host, I know it’s easy to get locked into the four walls around you, the microphone and the phone line. As expansive as broadcast is, it can still feel very insular. When you’re staring at the same room day in and day out, it’s easy to forget that there might be hundreds, thousands of people listening. (Or dozens. I worked for a few small stations.)
But you still have to put on a show for whoever you want your audience to be. Not just for your friends behind the other mics.
Too much crosstalk, too much room noise, too many separate side conversations — all these are sins of doing the show for the room. The listener wants you to be the ringleader. Not just a lone bright nose in a sea of tipsy clowns.
Which leads me directly to…
Don’t Podcast Drunk.
The point of your podcast is to communicate. Not to get drunk. I assure you, there will be time to get drunk after you record.
Drinking beer is fun. Listening to drunk people is. not. fun. Listening to people get progressively and quickly drunk over the course of an hour or two is definitely not fun. Keep the barleywine pours short, friends.
You may be tasting great beers — the point of your podcast may be to talk about those beers while drinking them — but you’ve gotta be able to talk to me about them in some detail if you expect me to sit around.
If you’re talking about beer news, beer culture, beer events, you may think a couple drinks might loosen you up and really let you start going on something, but I guarantee we know if you’re half-cocked. Sometimes this may be fun, sure. But every time? No.
Don’t Assume Everyone Has Listened To Every Episode You’ve Ever Done.
After doing a beer podcast for six months, a year, or more, you may have a nice large backlog of episodes. Great! Good for you for keeping at it. It may feel like a fully-formed, actual show that has its own rhythm, its own structure, its own unique feel. Also great! That’s awesome. That can also be bad. Here’s why.
When you’re in a comfortable rhythm like that, you may actually be keeping other people at arms length from listening. You may be too comfortable with your co-host or guest and forget to introduce them. Your in-jokes may be so long-running that you don’t bother to explain them any more. You may be assuming that everyone knows as much about your show as you do.
I assure you, they do not.
Every episode should be done with the idea that it may be someone’s first time listening to the show. If they don’t get it, they’re not going to stick around to figure it out — and that’s not their problem. It’s yours.
Every episode: introduce yourself. Tell everyone what the point or the outlook of the show is. (You do have a point, right?) Tell everyone who’s joining you on your show. Tell your audience who they are and why they’re there.
Otherwise it’s just some friends in a room talking about beer. If that’s all you want, do it without a microphone and save yourself some effort. Remember that you’re doing a show.
Don’t Keep Things Closed Off.
Most beer podcasts, I’ve found, are two dudes talking into a microphone about beer. Nothing wrong with that. But there is a great, big, awesome world of beer and beer-related conversations to be had out there, so if you’re going to make the effort to record your conversations about beer and put them into the world…bring other people in.
More specifically, you have the opportunity to talk to people you might never cross paths with in the regular non-podcast-y world. Take advantage of that. I’m not talking about Skyping with Shaun Hill or Tony Magee — but I bet that they’d give you an interesting conversation no matter what. Rather, I’m talking about people in your surroundings that can and should be heard.
Choose to create a world with an inclusion rider. If it’s just you and a co-host talking beer, make it a priority to bring in another perspective — like, say, a woman or person of color. I know, crazy, right! Seriously: Inclusion is important.
If you have a panel discussion where every show has a few guests, and each week every single one of those guests is a white male, you’re doing it wrong.
It might take a little more effort. But the payoff is direct, it is immediate and it is important. You’ve chosen to inject yourself into the world of media. Do a good job of it.
Speaking of Skyping…
Skyping people in usually sucks.
The world now has technology where you can talk and record conversations with people all over the world. And yet, the best podcasts are still the ones where everyone is in the same room.
You lose a tremendous amount of visual cues and human interaction just by being on an audio line, and even if you can see the other person via camera or FaceTime, the audience can tell when you’re out of sync. The energy is completely different. Make an effort to be sitting across from the person you’re talking to.
Maybe you’re thinking, “You hypocrite! Talk radio is built on the backs of listeners and callers!” And yes, you’re right. Sorta. Interviews are often done over the phone — often times with people who know how to operate in the give-and-take cadence of radio interviews. Whenever possible, getting those people into the studio was preferred.
In my experience, listener calls are there for two reasons — to either start a fight with the host and let them rant for a few minutes before the break, or to back up the host’s point at the moment, allowing the host to rant for a few minutes before the break.
Get people in person whenever possible.
Remember your audience.
This is going to sound a lot like the “don’t do your show for the room” part above but it’s so important I’m reinforcing it. You have — or want — an audience. Not everyone has the same level of information you do. I’m not saying that you dumb yourself down — show your listener a bit of respect and assume a certain level of expertise — but if something is getting way too esoteric or out there? Please remember to add a little Beer 101 or 201 every now and again.
Are you digging into some fusel alcohols in a certain golden ale? Remind some folks what those are. Loving the phenolic characteristics of a certain brewery’s grisette? Remember that everyone might not know what either of those are. You have an opportunity to educate and enlighten. Give it a shot. Not everyone knows what brettanomyces bruxellensis is yet.
It might help to have a specific person in mind when you’re talking and recording. When I was writing my book, every thousand words or so I’d leaf back through what I read and think, “Would my mom understand any of this?” And if not, I’d make sure that there was something somewhere — even if it was in the glossary — that might help with that.
Your mom might not be your target audience, but you should know who you’re trying to reach.
And after all that…
Don’t forget to entertain.
Aside from all of this, all we really want to hear is people who are passionate, energized, interesting and fun. Please make sure you’re one of those. We can tell when you’re not. I promise.
Do you listen to a lot of beer-centric podcasts? Anything that really drives you nuts about them? Tell us on Twitter.
UPDATE: Yes, you should absolutely know the basics of what you’re talking about as well as your guests background before you take up their time and ours: