Blog #1 - Podcast Hell

Podcasting is easy. There I said it. But for you, the budding podcaster, I must warn you, so take heed.

It is a very, very, very deep pool and swimmies are not provided.

In this Blog, I will shed upon you some personal experience so that you may know what to do, what not to do and hopefully from this you will garner some idea of what you're up against.

First things first, why do you want to do a podcast? Really ask yourself why and what you hope to get out of it. Is it because you have an idea, some friends and a few microphones? Is it because you've heard other podcasts in a topic you are passionate about and feel you could do better or have an alternative take on it? Whatever the reason, be sure you are prepared to put the time in and know that you are likely not going to make a living doing so. It is, beyond everything else, a labor of love… which took me a few years to learn.

I created the Motorcycle Men podcast because I felt I could offer a different perspective on a topic I was passionate about. A different perspective? I had no idea how way off the mark I would be. So know that your podcast will evolve, on its own, should you stick with it. So, let's get into it.

To begin with…

Creating one? Cake. Coming up with a name? Ppffft... easy. Recording one? Simple-ish. Finding a good podcast host service? Easy. Publishing? Please, don't waste my time, it's so simple. Promoting? Ha, that's what social media is for. Website? So many website companies out there that offer great templates and make it easy to create one is a no brainer (check out Bandzoogle).

Content? Well....What do you want to talk about? What are you talking about? What is your podcast about? Here is where you bust your ass, here is where the nose hits the grindstone, here is where you find out just how little you know about your topic. Here is where you learn.

Are you doing the show alone or with a co-host or co-hosts (plural)? One or two co-hosts? Three? Hell, how about 10? Whatever you decide, just remember, you are the HOST, it is your show. With Co-hosts, the show will be a lot easier, if you have a co-host or a couple of co-hosts who pull their weight, it's cake. Topics will loom large and chatter will happen effortlessly once a topic is breached. If you don't have co-hosts that fall into that demographic.... well…. prepare for an interesting show.

Then it's all on you, so, get to work. You content will steer the show… maybe. You may start off talking about something (pick your topic) and mid-way into the show you're talking about Lighthouses. Don't laugh, if you're a listener of this podcast, you know it's happened.

The Why's and Wherefores…

How about getting listeners? Well here is where your hard work, promotion and due diligence rears its ugly head. This is also where you would be significantly better off if you just did not look at the numbers. Because I can tell you from first hand experience, you will be gravely disappointed all the time.

On March 18, 2015 I made the questionable decision to launch myself into the world of podcasting and did so with a great deal of enthusiasm. The Motorcycle Men Podcast was live. Now I will be the first to admit, that I am neither articulate or as intelligent as I should/could be. I would also like to point out that I embarked on a journey into a field that sort of requires that one be both articulate and somewhat intelligent. Not to say that I lack two brain cells to rub together, but I probably lack sufficient know-how to host a motorcycle podcast. Regardless, I pressed on and here I am nearly 9 years and nearly 400 episodes later.

Have I learned anything? Well, the jury is still out on that. Am I a better podcast now then when I first started? I'd like to think so, but then again, it depends upon who you ask. Are my methods better? Oh yeah. Has the show improved? Uh.... well..... It depends on what you mean by "Improved". These are questions you will also ask yourself.

Having voluntarily jumped into a pool with the likes of The Motorcycles and Misfits Podcast, Cleveland Moto Podcast, Law-Abiding Biker Podcast and Adventure Rider Radio, to name a few, I found myself in a pool of nearly 200 motorcycle related podcasts. I must have been insane to take this on. As of this writing, the above listed podcasts and my podcast are the longest running motorcycle podcasts out there. The leader of the pack of course is the Misfits with over 500 episodes and a year or two on the rest of us. They are all top-notch shows with quite a laundry list of great content and tremendously credible hosts and co-hosts. Though I have never met any of them, I have had the honor of speaking with a few of them, some have been guests on my show and we've shared emails from time to time. If I've learned anything from podcasting opposite these shows, I know that my podcast pales in comparison to these other motorcycle content shows, it is impossible to compete, so I don't. It would be a fruitless effort. I have often said on my show that “…if you want technical expertise and extensive knowledge of motorcycles, listen to these podcasts. If you want stupid conversation, dumb-ass commentary that includes motorcycles, specifically Harley Davidsons, then you listen to us”….. The best that I can hope for with my show is to entertain my listeners and gain something of a loyal following, which I believe I have. 

So, podcaster-to-be, know what and who you are going up against and what you have to offer your potential listeners. But most importantly, be your own show.

The Show

Podcasts are and should be fluid, ever evolving entities where each show takes on a life of its own. Some podcasters script their shows to the nth degree. Every "T" is crossed and every "i" is dotted. Rigid to the point and there is no room for flex, fluff or, dare I say, fun. Some are rigidly timed, some are excessively long and others are just all over the place on the clock. Mike Rowe, from Dirty Jobs fame and Deadliest Catch, has a podcast “The Way I heard It”. Great podcast. In the beginning his show was no longer than 15 minutes and it was awesome. They he decided to expand it to include more information on his stories and his show when up to and beyond an hour. I don't know why, but I lost interest. I used to want to keep my show to an hour or less. For the most part, only my interviews fit that timing. The regular show, as you know, can and often do go up to, and beyond, 2 hours. 

I've allowed my podcast to be "whatever happens, happens". I go into each show knowing I have some things I'd "Like" to cover and I have some things that I have a fleeting "Hope" will make the show. The only thing I can say with certainty is that my interviews will always be what they are; A conversation with somebody about something with no time limits or restrictions.

Money, Money, Money…

What I have noticed though is that regardless of how much effort I put into the show, it doesn't grow as I would have expected an 9 year old podcast with nearly 400 episodes to grow. I am unable to monetize the podcast and all efforts of the past to do so have failed miserably. There were two occasions where the podcast had sponsors at different times that actually paid for their "On-air" promotions and those funds went directly to the monthly expenses (website, webhost, promotional items, etc..), but those occasions were short lived. I even tried Patreon for a time. Patreon is a sort of a fundraising platform used by podcasters and Youtubers to help fund their efforts. Once again, though I employed this method for 6 months, with the intention to keep it going for as long as I could, it generated zero income. Why? We had nothing to offer the subscriber to Patreon. We didn't have extra content that listeners could enjoy, no video to share, no shwag we could send, nothing. The only reason for that is money. We have none. Everything the podcast was and is, has been and remains out of pocket. Primarily, out of MY pocket and I have never had the available funds to throw fluff at the podcast, not even now. Podcasting is fun, but it's not cheap and just know that nothing is free.

I've had sponsors in the distant past that paid for their air time and then went away. Those relationships lasted only a few months and although appreciated, they were seemingly fleeting relationships. Great people, great products, but they didn't wow me at the time. Maybe they didn't want to wow me, I don't know.

My current "sponsors" are the greatest people I could have ever hoped to work with. Tobacco Motorwear, Wild-Ass Seats and Scorpion Helmets. Most recently, the Stuck-up Sticker Company jumped into the pool and are now also among the folks who made the questionable decision to sponsor the show. Ian, who owns SUSC, produces our stickers for the show and my YouTube channel and has been doing an outstanding job at it for a few years now. Do they pay me for their support? No. But they will provide me and my team with gear from time to time because they know I believe in their product and I promote them on my show. We've become friends and we are in contact more often than most sponsors would be. These sponsors graciously contribute goods for our Christmas Giveaway each year. These people are top notch.

Lately, I have employed the use of a service called "Buy me a Coffee". Again it is sort of a fundraising/support system for creators where "supporters" can pledge money to the effort either monthly or with one single donation to the "cause". Remarkably, the podcast has received funds towards the operation of the show and those funds merely covered some of the monthly expenses to run the show... for a month or two. That's it.

In 2020 I started a merch page where our listeners can buy podcast merch to support the show. To date, that has generated $26. Not even enough to cover one month of podcast expenses.

Listeners, or lack there of….

One of the things that I like to do on my podcast is offer giveaways to our listeners. Sort of a chance for us to show our appreciation to our cult-like following for supporting, if only in the "We like you" sense, all of these years. But it bothers me to a point and let me explain why.

This graph shows my total downloads since I signed on with Buzzsprout in 2017. Prior to that I just used Bandzoogle which relied on Google Analytics who provided no numbers at all. (data as of December 1, 2023)

I only get reporting numbers from one source, which is my podcast host, Buzzsprout. The reporting is excellent but it is only one source, so all the numbers I get are representative of only this one source. Still going by this one source, I'm averaging 500 to 2,000 downloads per week. In 2019, that number was 1,500 to 5,000 per week. A bit of a drop since going full remote (and a draw I tie directly to going fully remote), 2020 was the turning point. Again, just from this one source. I don't know what the numbers are from Spotify, Soundcloud, iTunes or Google Podcasts and whatever other sources are out there. Regardless of what host you use, reporting of the numbers for your podcast are just going to suck and only because you won't be getting ALL of the numbers. Now here's where it bothers me and this will eventually bother you… you budding podcaster you. Listener participation, listener response will vary from fleeting to engaged. This should be enough to drive you insane.

The top downloaded episodes on the left and the top apps used (as of December 1, 2023)

In an effort to bolster the podcasts listenership, I will have giveaways from time to time. When I have these giveaways, listener participation is minimal, at best, which baffles me to no end. One would think that if you're giving stuff away, you'd get a tremendous response. I mean, it's FREE STUFF!! For our annual Christmas giveaway, I always have high hopes for hundreds, if not thousands of participants. For the Christmas Giveaway of 2022, we gave away a GPS, Riding Jeans, a Helmet, books, t-shirts and more. Who wouldn't want any of those things? We had 95 participants in the giveaway. 95. Based on my download numbers, I should have thousands of people clamoring to get their hands on these goodies I'm giving away. In the 2023 Christmas Giveaway, we once again gave away thousands of dollars of prizes, two helmets, riding boots, motorcycle accessories, books and more. We had a total of 87 participants. 87

I just don't get it. But it is what it is. Participate or not, doesn't matter. My podcast has no requirements for its listeners, but we all would like to know that our efforts are being recognized and what we are doing is worth our time….. my time.

But wait… There's More!

All of this equally translates over to my YouTube Channel "Ride with Ted" as well. Though that channel has only been around for three years, it's growing very slowly. Very slowly…. S-l-o-w-l-y…. Not that I don't promote it, I do. But, I have, in typical Ted fashion, have jumped into an extremely crowded pool where everyone is doing the same thing; Trying to grow a motorcycle related YouTube channel in a field where motorcycle related YouTube Channels are a dime a dozen. AND we're all trying to compete with the likes of Itchy Boots, Million Dollar Bogan and Shadetree Surgeon to name a few. It's nearly impossible. How do you compete with that?

The simple answer is....... You don't.

As with podcasting, you do your own thing, be yourself and be your show. Don't compete, don't try and one-up the next guy, don't try anything. Like Yoda says, "Do or do not, there is no try". Do your thing as you want to do your thing. If you are fond of curse words, use them. If you want to be Pat Boone squeaky clean and wholesome, then do that. Be genuine, be yourself, on and off mic, on and off camera.

In closing….

I have always held myself to that standard that I will always be my own show and my own host, unincumbered by rules, should be's, better be's, influence, suggestion, pressure or what everyone else is doing. The bottom line boys and girls is, brace yourself, I don't give a shit what everyone else is doing. I will always do my thing the way I want to do my thing and I promise you I will always be genuine. If you meet me in person, you'll find me to be the nicest person you will ever meet. Honest, not a phony, I don't put on airs and graces to appease company, I am very approachable and friendly, what you see, is what you get. If I tell you I will email you, I will email you. If you comment on my show, I will respond and I will thank you for listening and watching. I am humble and I humble myself.

Podcasting isn't for everyone and I know I'm no Joe Rogan and I have no desire to be…. Who am I kidding, of course I do. Would I like millions of listeners? Sure. Would I like to have my podcast monetized and get millions for my voice? Sure. Will it happen. Oh hell no. But that doesn't mean I won't continue doing podcasts or making YouTube videos. I do it for myself and my few dedicated listeners and subscribers. When asked how long I'm going to continue to do the podcast, I simply respond “Until my last breath”.

Podcasting is a labor of love. Become one with that and you'll do just fine.

Ted Kettler
Host of the Motorcycle Men Podcast