Last week, we interviewed one of our animators, Will Marler, about his podcast project Straight from the Lungs. In the first part of the interview, we talked about how the project was first realised, and about the challenges that come with independent podcast production.
In this second part, we delve further into podcast distribution, developing an audience, and the insights that Will has gained so far from working on Straight from the Lungs.
Ember: We’ve talked about recording and production, but it’s quite easy to forget about the importance of distribution. How have you found getting Straight to the Lungs onto the various podcast platforms out there?
Will: There are a number of services available for uploading and distributing. I use Podbean, which is actually quite affordable. I bought a yearly plan for £80, which comes to about £6.50 a month; and that’s quite good for what you get. You can upload an unlimited amount, and it also includes statistics — how many downloads you’ve got, where they’ve come from in the world, what gender the downloaders are, what sort of devices are being used by listeners…
There’s another one called Stitcher, which is also quite common. That’s more expensive, but it’s known for its very detailed statistics.
If you don’t care about the statistics and just want to get your podcast out there, there are also free services like Soundcloud and Whooshkaa. If you use those, it’s then also free to get your podcast on places like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Ultimately, producing and distributing can be expensive if you want it to be, but if you want to try something out or do something for fun, then it can be pretty much free, using what you have already. Not to sound too much like Karl Marx, but what I love about podcasts is that they’re putting the means of production into the hands of the everyday person. You don’t have to be in the industry, or have expensive equipment to have your own podcast.
Ember: When working independently, it’s very easy to have an overly isolated perspective on what you’re doing. How have you dealt with quality control?
Will: I’d been sitting on the interviews for about two years before I really started to get everything together, so that gave me time to listen back to the interviews and my ideas. Because I’d had this process of just wanting to let the format of the show grow organically, there wasn’t — at first, at least — that thing of being able to look back and think that what I’d made was a load of rubbish after all that time.
When I started to edit it together, I brought in Sam Lewis — who I worked with while I was at Ember. He was essentially the only other person within the team that would listen to these episodes before I released them. He was a good person to give these episodes to because his only real experience of CF is working with me.
So he could help, not only in terms of the format and the content and the quality, but also with just making sure everything makes sense. If there was something that he didn’t understand, I was able to edit the script and add a bit more voice-over to explain that quickly — whether that was a term I quickly said and didn’t expand upon, or something where the editing made things a bit confused… he was a second pair of ears to be able to quality control that.
Ember: The podcast has a very clear identity. Not just because of the specificity of the topic, but also there is accompanying artwork and an original soundtrack that give the podcast its own sense of character. What was some of the thinking behind that?
Will: In my mind: if I’m going to do a podcast, I’m going to do it well. I don’t want to do it by halves, or anything. I didn’t want to just be relying on stock music or anything like that. Nor would I want the website, which is huge part of the project, to be half-baked, either.
Fortunately, I’m engaged to an illustrator — Vicky Neville, who does the illustrations for the podcast. I was very inspired by a podcast called Criminal, which has little thumbnails for each episode. It’s nothing too literal, but it’s a nice little piece of artwork that really elevates it further and takes it away from being just these audio pieces to, like you say, creating an identity for it.
And then I’d say that the soundtrack is one of my favourite things about the podcast. Although I didn’t create it myself, it’s one of the things I’m proudest of using. I’ve worked with the composer, Ben Weatherill, on a couple of projects before.
I gave him this idea for the podcast — he wasn’t able to hear any of it at this point — but I gave him the idea and said that I need a couple of tracks to evoke different moods and to be used in different situations. I love that music; it does an amazing job to lift every situation it’s involved with, to not only a standard of professionalism, but so it can also elevate certain moods.
A future ‘Extra Breaths’ bonus episode will feature me in conversation with Ben, talking specifically about the music. I’m really excited to release that because it’s a really good conversation, with a lot of insight into how he constructed the soundtrack.
Ember: How have you found the process of developing an audience over the four episodes released so far? Have there been any surprises?
Will: Currently I would say that the audience numbers are in the early stages. So far, I’ve had a really good response from it. There were over 1500 downloads within the first month or so. More surprising than that, it was downloads from the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Guernsey, Greece, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, United Arab Emirates, Austria, France, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Montenegro, and Russia. I know that that’s probably just that some people have seen the latest episode pop up on iTunes, tried it out, and listened to the first five seconds… but, still, the fact that it’s reached that many people from all around the globe is amazing. And since then, it’s now 2770; and episode 1, alone, has about 500 of those.
It’s not necessarily how good it’s been to have the numbers and the statistics, but when people have emailed or tweeted me with their opinion of an episode like “this bit made me cry” or “there was a quote that I loved” or whatever it was. That’s been really wonderful because, especially when I’ve been sitting on this stuff for so long, it can be quite a vulnerable thing to put it all on show. All those worries that any creative person has when they’re releasing their work into the world.
Additionally, I think the fact that I’ve spoken to, and interviewed, so many people for the podcast means, automatically, a bit of an audience. I was also able to launch the podcast at the CF conference, which was a really good opportunity because, immediately — whether they liked it or not — there was an audience of, I think, 50 to 100 people; so I could perform the podcast and give them a taste of it. That was really helpful.
Ember: How did you get involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Conference?
Will: When I started working on the podcast about two-and-a-half years ago, I originally approached the CF Trust in terms of, not only wanting to speak to the people there about CF and the charity themselves, but also because they have a strong following and I’ve loved their support. So my involvement with the CF Trust goes back since that starting point.
They also do a competition every year called the Helen Barrett Bright Ideas Awards — in the memory of a supporter of the CF Trust. You can apply for a certain amount of money to help you produce a project, or business idea, or whatever it is. I won the maximum amount and was really thankful that they chose my pitch as one of the projects to support. So that helped me a lot financially.
When I was actually editing it together, I contacted them again and said that I’d love to do the podcast at the CF Conference. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to launch it there.
They actually said a week or two before the conference that their host had dropped out; and, because I do stand-up comedy, they asked if I’d mind hosting the day 2 conference. I thought… “yeah, why not?”
So that involved, not just my own section with the podcast, but also getting there early to start the whole thing… coming out on stage and introducing different people, and saying that I was the host for the morning but that I’d also be taking to stage and launching my own podcast at 12:30. I said, “Can we all set our alarms for 12:30 and meet back here? Have we synchronised watches?” - I made a massive thing about it.
I remember, when I told my mum that that’s what I was doing, and she was so surprised that I was so happy and completely comfortable with doing that. Like I said, I’ve got public speaking and comedy experience, so actually, if anything, it took the edge off a bit when I actually did the podcast because I’d already been on stage all morning. There was nothing more to it than me basically contacting the CF Trust, asking if I could do the podcast at the conference.
Ember: As you’ve gone through this journey with Straight from the Lungs, have you developed further insights about the condition of CF and the wider community associated with it?
Will: Definitely. As I said, I’ve had CF all my life, but only my particular experience of it. Everyone’s CF is slightly different, but also everyone’s approach to it is slightly different. For example, I talked to a guy called Morgan in America who has more of a relaxed attitude towards cross-infection. When I was younger, I never felt that need to meet other people with CF because of the risks involved; but it was really important to Morgan, and his friends with CF are a big part of his life.
Also, different people passing away. I spoke to Becky, whose daughter Elle passed away from CF at the start of last year, and — because I’ve not really been strong friends with anyone in the community — I’d not had that experience of losing a friend to CF, which is unfortunately a common experience for people who have a lot of friends with cystic fibrosis.
Overall, it has been a huge learning experience. Even though I would have said a couple of years ago that I felt like I had a good grasp on CF, it was actually just the tip of the iceberg because it was only my individual experience.
Many thanks to Will for speaking to us about the podcast. The first four episodes of Straight from the Lungs are available on the website, as well as iTunes and other podcatchers, with further episodes due later this year.