Read this article from Boston University Innovate@BU here. Tips and resources from BU podcasters at The Sweaty Penguin and Science Rehashed According to Podcast Insights, there are over 1.5 million podcast shows worldwide and 34,000 new episodes published in October 2020 alone. Even at the BUild Lab, we have seen a steady increase of students using our programs to launch new podcasts. With millions of options and formats to choose from, how does a show stand out to listeners and gain the downloads needed to be successful? BU students and podcasters Ethan Brown (COM & CAS ‘21) and Shen Ning (MED’23) shared their tips and the most important lessons they learned from their first year of podcasting.
Science Rehashed, co-founded and hosted by Shen Ning (MED’23) and Mehdi Jorfi, PhD, uses podcasting to provide universal access to scientific breakthroughs in the biological sciences and engineering fields through interviews with lead authors of published scientific papers. In addition to its “Rehashing Science” episodes, the show produces special series on women in STEM, recognized pioneers in the field, and a new series that provides comprehensive views of specific diseases through the eyes of scientists, physicians, pharmaceutical and biotech leaders, policymakers, and patients.
The Sweaty Penguin is a comedy environmental podcast founded by Ethan Brown (COM & CAS’21). “When we read or watch environmental news, it is often overwhelming, depressing, confusing, and politicized. Given how much political polarization there, I find that liberals and conservatives don’t even agree on what the problems are, let along solutions. I think if we can agree on what the problems are, we could make progress on solutions. Each episode focuses on a specific environmental issue. I deliver a comedy monologue, sharing its impacts on more than just the environment, discuss a few possible solutions, and interview experts and professors from around the world.”
1. Listeners, downloads, and guests won’t come overnight. Building a following requires consistency. “Downloads, social media follows, or even guests won’t come overnight,” said Ethan. “One of my professors said ‘People want to be on a moving train, not a train that is standing still.’ and I couldn’t agree more.” During the show’s first few months, Ethan and his team struggled to book guests, but found that consistency was key to building an established show that guests wanted to say “yes” to. “We do a weekly show, but any semblance of consistency will help your podcast look more established.”
2. Think about the listener experience. With so many shows to choose from, listeners are looking for something new and engaging–and better production adds value to that experience. If you’re just sticking to an audio show, Ethan advises to “make sure it’s an exciting experience for the listener. You don’t need an expensive microphone, but find a space conducive to good audio and make sure to shut the windows and avoid any extra background noises.” For Shen and the Science Rehashed team, it’s all about crafting a story for the listener. “We’ve learned so much about drafting a narrative for a podcast that conveys complex science ideas in an easy to understand, digestible, and effective way,” she said.
3. Be adaptable for both listeners and your team. An audio-only format can look drastically different from show to show: short vs. long; interviews vs. conversations; game shows; news; recaps and reviews, and so many more. It’s vital to be adaptable and open to changing the format of your show based on listener feedback and on the growth of your team. Ethan said that they changed the format of The Sweaty Penguin “to better fit what the audience liked and made it shorter. Our audience and downloads improved.” “It’s been amazing to watch everyone grow as writers, audio engineers, and marketing professionals…The podcast is always going to be evolving based on your audience and the diverse interests of your team. It’s important to keep an open mind and encourage creativity during the production of your podcast,” said Shen. “Amazing and unexpected things can happen if you take the time to foster your teams’ talents.
4. Ask for help and work as a team. From planning to production to promotion, a lot goes into making a successful show. Both Ethan and Shen agree on the importance of finding a team to help turn the vision into a reality–and that it makes the process fun and produces an even better show. Both the The Sweaty Podcast and Science Rehashed teams leverage members’ key skills to divvy up responsibilities from research to marketing to audio production to business development.
5. Use the network of your team and institutions. The Science Rehashed team includes members of the BU, MassGeneral Hospital (MGH), and Harvard communities. Each member leverages their community connections to spread the word about the show and it has paid off–the show was recently featured in MGH’s BenchPress blog and in BostInno, a leading innovation news outlet in Boston. Currently, they’re building an ambassador program to engage their listeners around the world, too. Ready to get behind the mic? Before you get started, check out these resources recommended by Ethan and Shen.
Innovation Pathway: Both teams recommend using the BUild Lab’s Innovation Pathway program, a self-paced accelerator for ventures and projects that provides coaching, mentorship, and funding. “Go through the Get Inspired stage of the Innovation Pathway before launching your show. You’ll gain a lot of understanding of the hole in the market that you fill and if there is a need for your podcast,” said Ethan.
BU media classes: In addition to fulfilling his Innovation & Entrepreneurship minor requirements, Ethan’s elective courses are helping the podcast, too. Media Business Entrepreneurship helped his team map out the problem they wanted to solve with the podcast and Promoting Creative Ideas Online taught them strategies for growing and improving the show.
BU Start-up Law Clinic: The clinic provides pro-bono services to current students who are launching new ventures of all kinds. After becoming a client, they can assist with formation entity (i.e. LLC vs Corporation), copyrights, trademarks, and more.
Find even more BU resources that can help you launch a new project here. The Sweaty Penguin publishes new episodes every Friday. For season two, they will be hosting a weekly public discussion on Go Off!, another student-led venture, and will be recording bonus episodes with student guests who are new to environmental issues (reach out if you’re interested in being a guest). Science Rehashed published 20 episodes in its first season and is gearing up for season 2. New episodes are published every three weeks on Wednesdays. They are always looking for exciting and innovative science to feature and are currently recruiting new members for its global ambassador program. Nominate a guest or paper, and/or apply to the ambassador program on their website. Both shows can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and on their websites. Learn more about using the Innovation Pathway to launch your own creative venture or project. More Innovation, More Inspiration