The Art of the Podcast, with Reply All's P.J. Vogt

Creating a podcast isn't as easy as it looks. It's also not too difficult to learn. Take it from one of the hosts of Gimlet Media's "Reply All."

P.J. Vogt: I think that anybody can learn how to do it. I think that a lot of the things that people hear about podcasts that they love sound like innate talents and they’re actually just learned skills, you know. Like reporting certainly is something you learn. Interviewing is certainly something that you learn. And the nice thing for people who love listening to stuff is like a lot of the learning is just listening to the things you like and internalizing what works or wondering what works.

I feel like we’ve been lucky, Alex and I; we came in as such amateurs and we’ve gotten to be in a context where there’s a lot of training and there’s a lot of good people, which makes me think that yeah, like anybody could do it. But it’s hard and it takes like a long time to make a very little bit. And it takes a lot of work to make something that sounds like kind of fun and easy. For radio producers, the thing that is — the fundamental unique thing about it is I think is that we really, really think about it tape first. Like you had a two-hour interview with somebody. They said there were three moments that were really funny and then they told you one good story and then they described one thing that really created a picture in your head. That is going to be a huge story. Like you’re going to take those pieces of tape; you’re going to lay them out; and all the writing is really secondary to that. Where it’s like what kind of writing can get me through these pieces of tape that I want to play for the listener? And it’s just funny because I think radio — like when radio writing was good it feels like good writing.

And so when you’re listening to it you don’t realize how much, for most people anyway, the tapes driving it. But that’s really — like for instance one of the things we’re always worrying about in our stories is can we make sure that we get surprised by things on tape. Like if Alex is reporting something, is there a way that we can have editorial process where he’ll tell me about it in the edit room on tape and I won’t know about it prior to that. It’s a lot of just like making sure things happen as sound. So when I first started editing my own radio pieces, the hardest part was listening to the sound of my own voice. I hated it. It’s a normal human way that people should feel about themselves. Now it’s not that — I just don’t care. It’s just a thing that exists. For me now the thing that’s hardest about it is hearing all my mistakes. Like listening to an interview and thinking you idiot, if you’d just said it that way or if you’d just been listening a little bit more carefully, you would have something really good here and instead you’re going to have to work for three hours to find a way to salvage the little piece that you got. But for me that’s why it’s really valuable for us at least on our show for people to edit themselves is, you know, radio always feels like very much the art of the possible. You go out there and you record a bunch of stuff. Some of it’s good; some of it’s not. Some of it’s going to need writing. A lot of it’s going to get discarded. But by editing yourself, you hear all the moments that you might have a better chance of improving next time.

Creating a podcast isn't as easy as it looks. It's also not too difficult to learn. Take it from P.J. Vogt, one of the hosts of Gimlet Media's Reply All. It's important to remember, though, that sometimes it's the sound engineer — not the host — who has the most influence over whether or not you like what you hear.

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