Podcasts and Seasons

I’ve mentioned before that I think more podcasters take the idea of “seasons” as a silly, “let’s pretend we’re real media” way. Like, “ohh, look at us, we’re season 2! Aren’t we keen!”

Not that I mind people having fun, playing around at something, whatever, but I feel like if that’s what someone thinks of as a season, they’re missing the point. And it’s a point I’ve been talking about here and there for the last year or so. That seasons can be a good idea, if you understand them.

These days, I don’t enter into new projects without some plan of an exit strategy. Things that sounds like they’ll go over forever tend to end at a point of low energy, which is a violation of one of my podcast rules: “Leave people wanting more, not having wanted less.” Which means that with anything on-going (including this blog), I break my time spend doing that into seasons, and choose whether to renew that project after each season.

I’ve been talking with a friend about starting a new show, something we’re both interested in talking about but want to make separate from our current shows. He was worried about adding another ongoing commitment to his life, and I agreed.

“That’s why podcasts aren’t ongoing commitments to me anymore. I think in seasons. Tell you what, let’s try five-episode seasons. If we like our first season, we’ll renew.”

As I described my thought and the advice I’ve given over the years, he came at me with a new thing I hadn’t considered before. “No. I don’t want to do something episode-based. That doesn’t feel like it has a hard stop.”

This blew me away, because I hadn’t considered something based on time-elapsed before. Or, rather, I had and discarded it. “Yeah, but if we say ‘Let’s try this for two months’ and we only do an episode…I dunno.”

We compromised. Five episodes in fourteen weeks. That’s one episode every two weeks, with an extra four weeks to cover life happening. Not that we’ve started that yet, but then GenCon recovery really only started with me last week, and I have a backlog of life. We should be recording our pilot in September.

Another podcast I might be a part of (holy crap, it’s almost like I’m a media producer again) is taking a similar approach, and it’s smart[1].  Small, agile seasons. It gives us a target to shoot for that’s reachable in the short term, a period when we not only can but must seriously evaluate what’s happened, a time where we can plan to take a break rather than it just happening…and lasting several months. Most importantly, it gives us permission to walk away.

Permission to walk away while you’re at a high point is important to being successful at anything. You’ll be remembered for your last acts on something. If you ride something all the way down to it crashing, that’s what people will remember. People give me shit still for Master Plan podfading rather than properly ending (though I am, slowly, getting back on that horse because I feel like I should finish it right, even if that violates my rule above). And that’s the point of seasons — to give yourself permission to quit something while it’s still good when you think you don’t have another full season in you.

Also, funding. But that’s another topic for another time.

– Ryan

(Not sure if I’m going to stick to “Media Monday” as a blog topic, but I’m playing with the idea. We’ll see if it survives a season!)

[1] Yes, I just said my own idea is smart. I’m a humble guy.


2 Responses to Podcasts and Seasons

  1. Mikael says:

    Bang on, Ryan.

    Before the whole podcast thing happened I did a Shoutcast series on the RantRadio network. Almost by random chance, I named and themed the episodes after the Kabbalah sephirots, so set myself up for a 10-episode run. The episodes launched on a weekly schedule. I produced a few, three or so, ahead of the start date and then they caught up with me. It was a tremendous burden (I was struggling with a lot of the technical aspects, which would be a much smaller problem today) but I still managed to squeeze out that 10th episode on schedule. It was pretty awesome and I got some fantastic praise and a loyal listenership.

    Since the earlier show went so well and I had listeners clamoring for more, I started a new one shortly thereafter with a different format and no distinct end. I think I managed about three of those before I crashed and burned. I just couldn’t fathom doing these damned shows once a week until the world ended and collapsed under imaginary weight.

    So while the concept of “seasons” in podcast land seems silly, it really is a good idea to decide on a distinct set of shows which you can plan a little bit in advance and, while caught up in it, look forward to an actual end-date. Reminds me a bit of Primetime Adventures and its season structure, which actually yields similar benefits.

  2. Wayne says:

    Looking forward to seeing what you’re working on, should be interesting.