The following post is an interview with ASFB Productions' director Clare Freeman written up by freelance writer William Gallagher on behalf of The Space Arts organisation, published in August 2019. The original article can be found here.
How can a small team or a small arts organisation, perhaps overstretched and always with limited funding, take their work and bring it to a wider audience through podcasting? Clare Freeman shows you how to use what you already know, how to add to your skills, and why now is the time to make an arts podcast.
Clare Freeman runs ASFB Productions (it stands for A Small Furry Bear) and is an award-winning full-time podcaster. She believes that that her ability to make a living from podcasting is only now possible because of how prominent and successful the whole podcast world has become for all of us.
“Who’d have thought this two years ago?” she says. “If someone said to me that I’d be making a living podcasting, I would have laughed in their face. Yet I’m currently making six series for organisations and earlier this year, I was doing two weekly podcasts plus my own series. So when I say I’m full-time podcaster, I really am.”
Clare has seen the podcasting world change radically, and most especially over the last year when more arts organisations have embraced podcasts – and funding has too.
“The funding is out there, more so than I have ever seen before,” she says. “I think there’s been a shift with more and more arts funders coming to my workshops, reaching out to ask questions, I’ve seen that grow massively. The trend is for the arts world to use this space to help share their message with more people.”
Alongside an awareness of podcasting by organisations who fund the arts, however, there are also increasing demands from them that a podcast can address.
“We’re seeing a lot more funding opening up from the Arts Council, The Space, and like-minded organisations,” says Clare, “and that’s putting pressure on these organisations to think ‘what are you doing in terms of your digital footprint?’”
Podcasting is a cost-effective way to document what your arts organisation is doing, to take your work and put it out in a permanent digital form. Yet it can do more than address a funding issue, it can create a new audience for your organisation.
“The stereotype of an artsy person might be a Radio 4, middle class, middle-aged listener, but podcast listeners are mostly under the age of forty,” says Clare.
“They are people who may actually have the time and the money to go to art galleries, museums, theatre performances, so how do we tap in to reach those people and get them to engage in our content? Podcasting can be one way.”
There are certain technical skills needed to make a podcast, and Clare runs training sessions that include these, but she says that beyond a certain point, it’s what you’re saying that matters the most.
“Anyone can make a podcast,” she explains, “and while the bar for quality has been raised, listeners are forgiving if your message is right and consistent. It always comes back to what you want to say to your audience.”
Good podcasts always have the audience in mind so you need to think about what you want to say in the podcast and also who you want to say it to.
“The podcast voices need to reflect who you want the listeners to be,” she says. “I hear a lot of podcasts which – no disrespect – are a lot of men of a certain age, talking generically. And when I ask the organisation who they’re aiming at, they say they’re under-serving their 25-34 female audience. So why isn’t there a presenter or a voice that’s a regular feature on the podcast in that particular bracket? What you put out is what you get back.”
Clare is adamant that you should just get on with it, that there’s no waiting for some mythical perfect moment and there is no such thing as a perfect podcast. You can always do better, you can always do more, but the only time a podcast can really go wrong is when it lacks passion.
Create a dialogue with the audience
“It’s when the people behind it are just reading a script. It can’t be a chore, it has to be something you enjoy,” she explains. “Podcasting is not a must-do thing or something you have to do, it’s one where there are creative benefits. We’re seeing a lot more demand now for long-form content, it’s no longer all 90-second videos. And taking our creative performances, putting them on a platform like podcasting, that starts and creates a dialogue with the audience.”
“People you wouldn’t usually reach can now interact with the ideas behind the creative stories that we’re telling as theatre producers, as visual artists and so on. People are interested in behind-the-scenes, that sense of opening the doors, and podcasting is an outlet for that where you can be free of the formulas and the costs of things like making high-quality documentaries.”
“You can make something that really gives your artists, your producers, your company a space that is truly you,” concludes Clare.
Clare's Tips for Getting Started in Podcasting
Don’t look for some technical perfection, it’s more important to get started on your podcast by thinking of your audience and what you want to say to them.
Use the assets that you already have. That can be how you’re making an art installation so you could have interviews with the artists, or it could be thinking about who in your organisation can do what with the podcast.
Do invest in training and do get a decent audio recorder, but there’s no point overspending on equipment.
Aim to be regular with a series and always release episodes at the same time each week, except for the beginning. To start your series, make a few episodes and release them all at once. That tends to get you more listeners initially.
Take time learning the skills of editing and expect it to typically take three times longer to edit an episode than it did to record it.
You can distribute your podcast on your website, but it isn’t effective. Instead, look for a podcast distributor such as Anchor or Acast which will put out your episodes on Apple Podcasts and Spotify for you, and also give you statistics about your listeners.
You don’t have to make a long podcast. Many people will listen on their daily commute and in the UK the average time for that is 22 minutes.
Make sure the opening of your first episode explains your mission. It’s the most-listened-to minute of your series.
The Space is a digital agency established by Arts Council England and the BBC to help promote digital engagement across the arts and cultural sector. It supports organisations by commissioning projects, building digital skills and capacity, and helping organisations reach wider audiences using digital content, media and online platforms.
ASFB Productions' director, Clare Freeman is a freelance associate consultant for The Space helping organisations through the funding process for podcast projects. She has presented workshops on behalf of The Space on how to podcast and audience development.