School of Arts and Cultures
This case study concerns the creation of a podcast, the benefits to its participants and listeners, and how podcasting can enhance programmes of study. It is important to consider accessibility for this medium – you may need to consider the creation of transcripts as part of your process.
Iain runs the podcast Cultural Peeps; a series of interviews with Arts and Cultures professionals working across the sector. The interviews focus on their career journeys, and allow listeners to gain insight into real life careers in Arts and Cultures, and the various circumstances that influence their direction. The podcast is supported by a blog which covers the main points of each interview.
At the start of their programmes in Museum, Gallery or Heritage studies, students undertaking placements usually feel they want to pursue particular roles. In reality, there is a huge range of roles available that may suit students’ interests more closely – especially as there is no single career path or ladder to climb. Roles are very diverse and jobs with similar titles can also vary widely between organisations. In order to help students better prepare for a real career in Arts and Cultures, employability needed to be addressed and exemplified, and who better to do this than professionals already working in that environment?
Guest speakers have been part of the programmes for many years, but the prepared sessions delivered by them are usually about a specific issue or topic and any information relating to their role and career journey is often squeezed into 5 minutes at the start or end of a session. This means that they often don’t include the difficult choices, funding challenges and other personal circumstances that have influenced their career decisions. It was important to make the connection between how people had envisaged their future careers and how they have ended up unfolding. This addressed the need that students had to get a wider view of the sector and to help them find what they were interested in in terms of future work. An interview is a good way to explore these finer details, and to allow guest speakers to tell their stories in a more relaxed setting.
The podcast was made publicly available to ensure that it wasn’t just about our students. It was felt that the podcast could help lots of early and mid-career professionals who don’t have the network or connections to see how careers in the creative sector can develop. Publishing the podcast more widely gave it a bigger reach and widened participation from guests. Guests were also able to promote ‘their’ episodes for all to listen to.
Integrating the podcast with teaching
The podcast mainly addresses the employability aspects of programmes. It has been used in several modules, such as Communicating and Learning in Museums, Galleries & Heritage Studies postgraduate (MCH8503), and has also been referenced at other universities such as Northumbria. The podcasts are used as pre-session tasks, for example as the ‘reading’ before students meet the guest speaker. There was a noticeable increase in the quality of questions that students asked of the guest speaker when they had already listened to the interview. This definitely lends itself to a richer learning experience and a better connection between the speaker and the students. The podcasts are also used in connection with MGH Futures; a programme of talks, presentations and conversations with sector professionals that is designed specifically for students and to encourage networking and discussion.
Scoping the podcast took a long time. Early ideas included editing together themed episodes, but this quickly became unmanageable. After a few early tests it was clear that the focus needed to be defined and the format needed to be refined. It was useful to listen to a range of podcasts to see what others were doing. A great deal of time was spent listening to and dissecting various podcasts to learn what works best! There are a lot of articles which suggest the ideal length for a podcast as 3, 10 or 20 minutes, but there are plenty of long-form podcasts with huge followings too. The interview format seemed the most appropriate and lent itself to a longer episode length as this allows topics to be explored in detail and gives room for the specialists to tell their story. In terms of the interview structure, a chronological format seemed like the best way to go.
Initially guests were chosen from the guest speakers that were already involved with the programmes, but the list has grown to include other people – especially those who had made big career changes. Care has been taken to include a people working in a variety of roles, at different stages of their career, and who work in different geographical locations.
When interviewing, taking a step back and relinquishing some control of the direction was quite difficult, especially if the guest’s story was already familiar. The guests introduce themselves and define what they do, and then the interview begins. One good opening question turned out to be asking guests what they wanted to be when they were children and seeing how that relates to what they really do now – this allowed participants to select which stories about themselves they wanted to share and to unpack their story at their own pace.
The interviews themselves are often longer than an hour, but these are edited down, partly in collaboration with the interviewees so that they know what the finished product will sound like. This element is very important as the interviews touch on personal stories and it is prudent to revisit these to ensure the interviewee is happy to share them more widely. This sensitive treatment also encourages other potential guests to have confidence in the podcasting process.
You can start recording with a smartphone, but if you want to produce something of quality it’s best to get a standalone voice recorder, or even a voice recorder that you can attach to multiple microphones – which can help with isolating background noise. These microphones do cost, but they don’t have to cost a lot. Sound quality was important in terms of giving the podcast a more polished feel, but as long as the quality doesn’t make the recording difficult to listen to, a lot can be forgiven. People are listening for the content!
When recording, choose to record in a .wav format rather than .mp3 if you can, especially if you will be doing a lot of editing, as this helps with sound quality. Some microphones come bundled with editing software. Apple users can use Garage Band to do their editing, and Audacity is a good open-source free solution for Windows users. There are plenty of tutorials available online to get you started. The time taken to do the editing itself shouldn’t be underestimated – it takes a really long time, especially if you’re using multiple microphones or moving sections around. You do get faster with practice and learn tricks like leaving some gaps of silence between the question and the answer so you can pick out sections easily.
The choice of hosting platform is an important one. You need one that has an RSS feed so content can be pulled into podcast apps (like Spotify, Apple Podcast and Acast) enabling people to subscribe. The free option from Soundcloud is a good way to get started. From there you may choose to use the paid service if you want to continue. It’s good to think ahead about how you might want to develop the podcast from the beginning, so you don’t lose subscribers if you shift platform.
Hosting sites often come with access to analytics so you can see where your listeners are coming from and see some demographic information about them. This helps you work out if you are reaching your intended audience. You can also use different platforms to reach different groups – for example visual artists tend to find the podcast from its Instagram account. The soft launch for the podcast meant that interest could build bit by bit, and reduced anxiety around how episodes might be received.
Given the challenging circumstances during the pandemic, there are a few interviews which haven’t yet aired. One idea is to contact the same guests again and have a follow-up interview to see how circumstances have changed over the last 18 months. Another area to explore is processes – so, showing how one goes about putting on a big event, or a series of exhibitions. Some guests are already lined up to talk about these topics.
The podcast has grown a great deal, with audience numbers reaching the thousands for the more high-profile guests. The episodes have become a great resource for teaching, and the interviews have revealed a lot in terms of how careers in the sector really work. It is also useful from a professional perspective; doing this podcast keeps connections with the sector going, all of which feeds back into the teaching again. For the students, it brings the people behind the job titles to life – making them more approachable. This really helps to break the ice, start meaningful conversations and make valuable connections in the Arts and Cultures sector.
Iain Wheeldon – email@example.com
Lecturer in the School of Arts and Cultures, Host of the Cultural Peeps Podcast