What has a year in podcasting taught you? An interview with Dan McLaren

Over the last year, Digital Sport founder Dan McLaren has been raking up the numbers on the Digital Sport Insiders podcast. It was the end of August – just 11 months ago – when the first episode (an interview with Matt Cutler from the SB Weekly podcast) was posted.

Last week, Kevin Bain, head of digital development at The R&A, was the guest for the 56th podcast ahead of the Open Championship last weekend.

Dan’s been busy, averaging over a podcast a week talking to people from all sides of the sports industry and ending up with insightful and fascinating chats. But it’s been a journey – from setting out with the idea of recording the stimulating conversations that he’d been having with people in the industry, to becoming more of an interviewer and telling stories through audio, there’s a lot you learn in a year. At the point of consumption, a podcast is just a conversation you listen to on the train, but the recording, editing, time, effort and even the equipment needed to set it up makes the finished article look like the tip of an iceberg.

I spoke to Dan about his experiences over the last few months of starting up his podcast, what he’s learned as he’s gained more experience, and what the difficulties are when it comes to entering a field so saturated with content as the current podcast market.

What have you learned that you didn’t know when you started? Was it difficult to find guests at first? And were the technical challenges – the recording and editing – harder than you expected?

When I started with the podcast I was actually recording so many that I published two per week for the first six months or so! There were so many people I wanted to talk to and I was constantly learning with each one. From how to use the equipment correctly, what my editing style is (I’m quite thorough), what I’d like to learn how to do (edit better!) and who I’d like to hear myself interview.

One of the toughest areas I have found is not the technical side but more to do with the format. What story do I want to tell and how do I best do that through the questions I ask. I started with concentrating on the careers of the people, then more into what they are doing now and thoughts on industry. To where I am now with a mix of both as I love finding out how people got to where they are now, the stories that have defined the person they have become and also their thoughts on the industry.

I hope my style is one that’s quite intimate. I’m not a big talker anyway, so letting the guest tell their story is natural to me, and I try to pitch in only when I feel I can add something to the topic.

It is a constant learning curve, though, and on the technical side my next step is to get a more portable recording set-up so I can leave the big microphone at home for the Skype interviews!

On the editing side it can be hard work. I usually spend anywhere between 1 and 3 hours on each depending on how much I think is needed to do on it. I try to speed up the pace a bit – taking out gaps, umm’s and ahhs. Also if I go off topic and it doesn’t make sense then I’ll take those parts out too. Currently I use Audacity to edit but like to learn how to use better software such as Audition and provide a better product to listeners.

Has your aim changed as you’ve become more used to it? So, maybe you started wanting to just record your interesting conversations with people in the industry and by now you feel more like an interviewer?

It’s definitely changed as I’ve become more known for the podcasts. Initially, as you say, my aim was really just to record my conversations with interesting people in the industry. Since then I’ve had ones with PR people sat in the room to keep tabs on the interview and I’m seen as being a journalist as well now (though not a trained one, and certainly no expert!)

When I started I didn’t really know what I was trying to get out of the chats. But now I’m trying to find the stories within the career story and get to know the person more through it. Doing research on people is key ahead of it, with some easier to find out info about than others. LinkedIn has become pretty important to me for this!

Recently I’ve interviewed CEOs from top sports businesses, people I’ve not met before and I do feel the pressure at times to be very professional about how I approach the interview. But I always want to keep the atmosphere as relaxed as I can so that the interview sounds as informal and conversational as I can.

Has it been hard to find guests? You’ve done 56, so it seems like people are keen to sit down and chat about digital sport! Is there anyone in particular you’d love to have on the pod?

I’ve probably been through most of the people I already know! But I do have many on there who I’d like to have on the show but not been able to make work yet. Those within sports organisations – clubs especially – are hard to bring on but I’ll keep trying. And I’m lucky as well that people sometimes approach me about interviewing people in their organisation and setting me up with the right people, using their PR team. This is how recent ones with DFL Digital Sports CEO Andreas Heydon and STATS LLC CEO Ken Fuchs came about.

So if anyone out there things they know someone who would be great to hear from, then do get in touch! I’d love to get people from sports teams on the show more and there’s individuals such as new F1 digital boss Frank Arthofer who’d I’d love to sit down with.

In the year you’ve been doing this, podcasting has really blown up. People want more and more, but then there are two obvious issues: If you want to monetise a podcast do you go down a sponsorship or a subscription model… and if you do, how do you get people to pay for something that’s been free for years? And perhaps more importantly, how do you stand out from the crowd?

Two very good questions. I’m passionate about podcasting and have become more so over the last year of doing this. Probably as much as I was about social media in 2009/10 when I first got into the business.

Monetisation is hard but I feel filled with opportunities. Running ads against your podcast through Acast or Audioboom – who I use – is the obvious method but as with all revenue from CPM based ads, you need a large audience. If you’re starting out, or in a niche category as we are, then that route is not really a sustainable one.

There are other methods to raise money, though. Looking at football podcasts there are two that stand out for me. Graham Hunter’s The Big Interview gets a reported 100,000 downloads per episode but he still needed a Kickstarter campaign in Nov 2015 to keep it going. He raised around £30k and is still going strong.

The other is Sid Lowe, another Spanish football correspondent. He keeps his afloat via another crowdfunding method in Patreon and his ‘fans’ have committed about £2k per month. So there are ways, with sponsorship being another, to make money from doing what you love. So far we haven’t gone down any of these routes but I’m now looking to bring in sponsors for Digital Sport as a whole, where the podcast forms a part of the deal. Hopefully an easier sell than doing it on its own.

There are opportunities in this space to apply business models and make it successful. Something I’m exploring and have many ideas around. As Digital Sport Insider grows and improves then the appeal I’m confident with grow as well.

And what does the future hold for the podcast? What can we look forward to over the next few months?

As I briefly mentioned above, the podcast is being reshaped and has a new name. Initially it was Digital Sport Leaders and now will be called what it is: an Insider’s POV of the industry through the people I talk to. So The Digital Sport Insider will be that vehicle.

Not only will the emphasis change as I concentrate on the sports organisations and media companies, but also in how it is delivered. We’re going to be filming some of the interviews (where we can) and promoting those sections through social media to generate more interest.

I’m always keen to find out what people think about the show. I had a great email from a listener based in Switzerland with some great notes and advice a few months back. Things like that are invaluable and I’m always open with how to contact me – so if you have ideas/feedback then get in touch!

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 716 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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