In this episode of Podcasting 101 with RSS.com, Deepti Ahuja discusses the advantages of hiring a podcast producer to create high-quality content for your target audience.
Deepti Ahuja is a Podcast Producer with HTSmartCast and produces over 100 podcasts a year. Collectively, the podcasts she helps to produce have earned more than 55 million downloads.
Well, Deepti, I’m so excited that you’re here today. Can you tell everybody about what it is that you do?
Absolutely, Ashley. I have been a podcaster, a Podcast Producer and podcast coach, for the past almost two and a half years. I work with the Hindustan Times podcasting leg, which is HTSmartCast. And in the past two years, and they’ve been really good years. The pandemic for a change has been pretty good for podcasting. It’s a controversial opinion, and I shouldn’t be saying that. But, well, why not celebrate that fact as well? So I have thus far produced about 181 podcasts, and in 40 genres, in six languages. So yeah, life’s been good.
It sounds like it’s also been really busy.
It’s been very busy.
And now did you just say – did you say 180 podcasts? Like separate shows?
Separate shows. 180 podcasts of which, on two of our podcasts, we just crossed 1000 episodes each.
Oh, my word. So that’s a lot of work.
Okay. So now, when you say you’re a Podcast Producer, do you mean that you actually have a hand in helping with each one of these episodes?
Oh, to an extent. Um, so I have a very small team. Here’s how it goes, you know, the entire process. So Hindustan Times, is a large publishing house. We have print, we have radio, we have digital agencies, we have all of that. Every other podcaster – or most of the podcasters are either print journalists, or they are RJs. Or, you know, they are just people who are passionate about podcasting and want to try out the medium.
They are also CEOs, the HROs. You know, all of that – the entire corporate world is also on podcasting. So, in our little universe, we have about 120, 150, podcasters. Right, at HT. And apart from that, you know, of course, we also open podcasters from outside. And we call that HTSmartCast originals. Now, the thing is that my team just consists of five people. The core team is just five people. And so we had to create this entire, what is it called, like, you know, an inventory of things – a way, a method, to do things.
Like a workflow.
Absolutely. So we have a content calendar that’s updated, you know, on a monthly basis, where we have almost 25 Episode releases in a day. Apart from that, you know, we have a pipeline where we release at least five podcasts per month. And what I tend to do is, I tend to train all the podcasters, so that they can become self sufficient. And they have their own agency, and they enjoy themselves. They have their own space to you know, explore the medium in their own way. And considering the fact that it comes from such a legacy company, credibility has never been an issue for us. Right. So, so in their own agency, in their own way, the way they explore their own medium when they have the ownership – you know, to sort of, they are responsible for their own weekly episodes, and all of that. And, I intervene every, say three months, when I want to discuss data with them when I want to discuss the podcast performance, and so on and so forth. I hope that answers the question.
Actually does. No, it’s fantastic. I think it’s, um, I think a couple of things that you mentioned are pretty interesting. You said that you train the podcasters to be self sufficient. So you give them, like a checklist almost, if you will, of the things that they should be doing in order to produce a good episode?
How Deepti Prepares Podcasters for Launch
Yeah, so um, we take about three to four weeks to release any podcast. Right? And we bank five episodes, which we do with them, you know, which we record with them. And during that time, the training is ongoing. So a lot of them speak faster. And so they don’t know how to breathe really well. A lot of them have issues scripting. Because you know, say for example, they come from the print world and the way you write in a print format in that medium is very different from the way you would write scripts for a podcast, right? Some of them don’t even write a script. And so you have to give them a little bit of structure. So each person, each individual is very different. And I coach them for about three to four weeks. Apart from that I have, you know, we have the HTSmartCast social media channels, and I have my own social media channels. But I keep putting out these visual nuggets of information where you know, people can just do a revision of the sorts. Plus, we’ve come up, you’ve come on our show Yeh Podcast Vodcast Kya Hai, right? Where we have expert opinions, anyone who needs to sort of who needs a, you know, a refresher course, who needs like a crash course in podcasting? Who needs a follow up? They can – there is enough information out there. And of course, we also make ourselves available, almost 24/7 to them so that they feel supported. Yeah.
That’s amazing. I mean, it sounds like you basically take anybody who wants to create a show, and you give them all the tools necessary to make it happen.
Absolutely, constantly to be honest. I mean, you know, because things keep changing in the podcasting world. I mean, you’ve come up, or RSS.com has come up with such amazing things already that we spoke of, in, in our episode on Yeh Podcast Vodcast Kya Hai. We were blown, and everything keeps changing so fast. So we keep refreshing the content as well, the educational material that is there on podcasting.
That’s amazing. And what’s interesting is, I actually had the luxury of speaking to our founders, for the very first two episodes. And just listening to them about all the things going on in the background that a lot of people don’t even realize [are happening]. Because I mean, you know, you open your podcatcher, like your Google Podcasts or your iTunes, and you turn on your content, and you listen to whoever it is that’s speaking. And, you don’t realize all the moving parts going on in the background. You don’t realize that they’re having to book the interviews. They’re having to write the podcast scripts. They’re having to put all these systems and processes in place. And so to me, it sounds like what you do is an invaluable service. So why is it that you think that someone should hire a Podcast Producer?
Benefits of Having a Podcast Producer
Um, so you know, podcasting, the way it was marketed initially, at least in India – we were told that it’s such a friendly democratic medium. Everyone can do it. Anyone can do it. And the first person who should be listening to your podcast, who could give you feedback, are your close ones, your loved ones. But the thing is that your loved ones don’t always understand the medium.
They don’t always understand the subject matter that you’re talking about. They don’t have expertise there. And another controversial opinion right here is that a lot of times, they might just not be invested in you in that way. Right? And so hiring the Podcast Producer becomes very clean. It becomes a cleaner process for you, where, you know, the producer is being paid to provide a service, where they keep you in check a where they can give you enough feedback. They can do secondary research or primary research for you.
They can coordinate guests for you. They can help you edit, or they can get it edited from someone, if they have a team. If you know, if an individual podcaster decides to hire a team, they will also help with the distribution side of things. Because it’s a constant, you know. It’s a constant partnership with your distributors. You can’t just leave your episode there. You have to market it. You have to talk about it. You have to talk to different kinds of distribution channels, and your Podcast Producer would be invested in your content more than they would be probably invested in you and your personal relationship with them. And so therefore, it just falls in line, right? Because on podcasts, content is king.
A Podcast Producer is Invested in Your Success
So true. And you know, something that you said that really struck me is you had mentioned that the Podcast Producer because you’re paying them, they’re invested in you. And it’s kind of like how if you go to the gym, let’s say and you decide all right, I’m going to get healthy, I’m going to get fit, I’m going to work out. And you go into it and you have, let’s let’s say you find an accountability buddy. Someone who’s gonna say, you know, come with me. We’re gonna keep working out, we’re gonna keep getting thin. Well, and then what happens? Eventually they stop coming with you. They stop checking in. They stop asking how much weight you’ve lost. But a personal trainer, someone that you’ve paid, they’re going to be checking in with you because they know if you’re not getting the results that you want. What are you going to do? You’re going to fire them. And so, yes, exactly. And so I think that the idea of having a Podcast Producer – that’s actually really brilliant. Because like you said, if you’re getting paid to do it. You’re going to be actually keeping them top of mind, rather than letting them fail.
Absolutely. It’s a part of their performance as well. Right? It becomes a part of your podcasts and becomes a part of their portfolio as well. Where they, you know, say that, Oh, I produce this podcast and this podcast is this successful. It has these many listens. It has these kinds of guests. So they would also be proud to, you know, sort of own the property along with you.
Absolutely. I mean, that makes perfect sense. Because if someone’s actually, if someone’s there, and they care about it, they’re going to do everything they can to help you be successful. Because your success becomes their success, and their success becomes your success. And the more that you can show that you have downloads that are coming in, you have, you know, new listeners that are coming in. Then that becomes your piece that you can say, “Hey, I’m a Podcast Producer, I helped this guy become successful. Here’s what I can do for you.”
It’s in the beginning, it’s like when you asked me what I did. That’s exactly what is there, right? Like so many podcasts, so many languages, so many genres. And the one thing that I forgot to mention was that we have 55 million listens on all my podcasts to date. I mean, that is my achievement on the hole. And that is something a Podcast Producer would also take care of for your podcast.
Incredible. I mean, those kinds of numbers. People dream about that kind of stuff. And so I think that the idea of having someone who can help you achieve it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hire a Podcast Producer?
I don’t know. You tell me.
The Pandemic’s Impact on Podcasting
One of the things you mentioned actually really struck me. You said that the pandemic, even though it’s a controversial opinion, has actually helped podcasting. And the reality is it’s so true. Because whenever we were all at home, what did we do? We were looking at our phones. We were looking at YouTube. We were looking at, you know, even our podcasts or podcatchers. So I’m curious. Now, whenever the pandemic first hit, did that like, immediately give you guys a reason to start reaching out to people? Or did you do anything to tell people, “Hey, you should start your podcast?” What was it that you did directly as a result of the pandemic that helped in the business?
Yeah. When we began we were, I think I entered the company in November 2019. And I was already given a task. I was already told the team has to produce these many podcasts. I was a little shocked. Because, you know, that’s not the number that I thought would come to me. And then the pandemic hit, and it was expected that, you know, the number will drop.
We ended up revisiting – a lot of us – I mean, you know, a lot of different mediums ended up revisiting, you know, the end of year tasks, and you know, all of those things. But the thing is, with podcasts, the moment the pandemic hit March 2020, that was oh my god. I can’t believe we are entering 2022. Wow. Wow, it’s hitting me. Anyway, so, um, March 2020, from a couple of lack of listens, we straightaway hit 1.2 million listens. And then we were consistently making 1.2 million listens up until December 2020.
That sort of motivated everyone to come on board and make a podcast of their own. The other thing that was happening was that a lot of people, a lot of RJs, print journalists, a lot of influencers, a lot of, you know, corporate people inside the system, there was a lot of shuffling happening. And you know, we were just, we all suffered a recession – like the world over. And there was this thing of protecting personal brand, or at least having a personal brand. And this is exactly what podcasts did for each and every podcaster that I have on board today. It made them a personal brand. It gave them personal branding on a medium that is still organically growing.
There is no you know, paid stuff happening over here. Everyone is still collaborating with each other and by collaborating. I mean, the true sense of the word, you know. Not like you’re paying to collaborate and you know, all of those things. So, when that happened, it gave all of them a personal brand and therefore gave them a little more confidence about their careers. About their jobs, and in a way reduced stress, you know. The career stress that you are all facing. So it kind of did that. So the pandemic sort of brought down the stress of all of my podcasters to quite an extent, right. At the moment we hit January 2021 – we shot up to like 6 million listens. So we thought, yeah, so we thought it’s gonna go down because now you know, it’s been, we’ve been a year into the pandemic, and then you know. We don’t know what the next year is gonna look like. Are we going to have the second wave? Not have it? Are other markets going to open up? We didn’t have any clue. Right? But the moment we hit six million listens in January, they were like, okay this is going to stick. At least in India, this medium is here to stay.
Yeah. I think it’s not just in India. I think it’s also in the States because as people were starting to go back to work, you know. As soon as they had that commute again. It was okay, well, what can I do while I’m on my way to work? Have something to listen to. Whether it’s to educate, to entertain, to inspire, or even just get through the day? Yeah, because let’s face it. I mean, podcasters, they have some really cool stuff to share.
They’re not only just sharing their personal stories, they’re sharing, you know, educational content, entertaining content. Some of them make you laugh. Some of them make you cry. Some of them scare the crap out of you. I mean, I’m talking about the true crime stuff. Yeah, the true crime podcasts. Those freak me right out.
Podcasting Makes it Easy to Share a Message
But um, but it is fascinating how, you know. What used to happen was, if you wanted to get your message out to a lot of people, you had to go and, you know, either get a radio station to hire you. Or get a newspaper to hire you. And then you almost had to pay to play. You had to get all this stuff in place. And you had to have a really good message. Because if you didn’t have a good message, you were let go. Or you were told you couldn’t do it anymore. But podcasting has kind of democratized the the content system. It’s made it so that anybody who has a microphone and has a voice can speak out and share their message. And I think it’s pretty cool that a Podcast Producer can take that message, refine that message, and help get it out there even more. So. I’m curious. Well let’s say, I want to start a podcast, and I come to you and I say, all right, tell me the first step. What would you say to them?
What Deepti Would Say to a Beginner Podcaster
Um, two things. One – that we will implement discipline, because that’s very necessary. The fact remains that any podcast that hasn’t run, you know, for 54 episodes, it’s not gonna be successful. In that sense, even if it is, then you know, it’s an anomaly. But you should at least have 54 episodes, which means that you should produce your podcast at least once a week, right?
So it, of course, requires a lot of discipline. But the thing is that I never simply say discipline, and then, you know, get the cane out. With me, it’s always supposed to be fun, right? You know, that’s my feedback. My podcasters – if in training they say it’s a lot of fun. My job is done. Right? I just have to get them hooked on to the medium. And that’s my job.
Now, the thing is that I start off with a couple of things that make sense to them later. So for me, that is this very important quote that, you know, has made sense to me all my professional life. Which is by Walter Murch, which is editing begins – no, editing starts at the beginning of your project. Which is what we try to do with, you know – a concept that [we start with] And, then we go into the why of training. We go into writing scripts, if anyone requires it. A lot of people are natural speakers. A lot of people are international orators. A lot of people aren’t. And so different people have, you know, different ways of doing things. Right. And my first first few sessions are just yeah, just speak. Just talk. I’m listening. You know, we just have a chat. Right? And then we go into the work. And the one thing that works very well with podcasters in training is that when they get to hear their own voice, when they get to hear a playback that’s in there, then that’s when they have those you know, aha moments.
You know, so, we pick out these smaller things like how you sound, your content, and then you start working on it. So no one podcaster has one set pattern. Each podcast is different. And so that training is also extremely different. And once they feel confident enough, as I said in the beginning, the ownership – the agency – comes from the podcaster. The moment the podcaster says, “Can you please record an episode and get it out there?” That is when we go first recording.
Okay, that makes sense. So now you said 54 episodes? That’s is impressive, but I’m curious now. Okay, so you said 54 episodes. And so that’s about an episode of week? Do you do them weekly? Or do you do them daily, bi weekly? How do you do this?
Um, some of my podcasts are weekly. Some of our podcasts are bi weekly. Some of the podcasts we produce are also daily, and some of them are released – episodes are released twice a day.
Wow. So now I’m curious with all that content – are people paying you to produce these episodes?
Brands in Podcasting
Some of you know, it’s the kind of podcasting that brands wants to do that the format in which the brands want to pay money to, you know, sort of have podcasts talk about them is branded episodes, or branded podcasts. For us in India, at least. That’s what most of the Indian podcasting industry is catering to at this point of time. And slowly and steadily, of course, you know, the more educated we are about podcasting, the more educated the entire industry, the advertising industry, and brands become about podcasting, then we will, of course, replicate into the other kinds of, you know, a format for monetization. But yeah, some brands absolutely do pay upfront and pay happily so.
Now, can the average Joe off the street come to you and say, “I want to produce a podcast?” Or is it more that you’re looking for a specific type of person who comes to you and says, I want to start a podcast?
Okay, so here’s the difference. Um, a lot of companies are UGC companies, which means they are user generated. They produce user generated content. And, you know, they basically have a bigger platform with a lot of listeners on their platform. And so therefore, that’s how the model works. So for a lot of companies like HTSmartCast, we do a lot of PGC work, right? Where we produce the content, we edit it, we take care of the podcast, we take care of the podcast. And when an individual from outside the company from outside the HT universe comes to us, we tend to, you know, strike partnership with them.
So of course, they are also, you know, working twice as hard if they are subject matter experts in whatever they are going to talk about. We are subject matter experts in training them to become better podcasters, right? And then we also take care of the editing. We take care of the post production. We take care of distribution. We take care of marketing. We also give them data insights. Like I said. After three months, I mean, I just step in, and I go like, “Okay, time to revisit everything, and see what we want to change and see what we want to keep and what is working for you on an individual level.” [We look at] what is working for their audience, you know, on a larger level, and what might work for brands for them to come and pay to be on their podcast. Right? So it’s a partnership we share. It’s a rev share model, if I’m okay to say that.
Absolutely. I think that makes perfect sense. Because it’s similar to how, like Google and YouTube work where if the person creating the videos succeeds, so will YouTube. So the goal is alright, we’re going to give you all these tools. Because like YouTube Creator Academy – they give you all the tools you need to start a YouTube channel completely for free. But then, you know, you put the content up, and if you do well, they get a cut. And even if you don’t do well, they get their cut.
Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean, they are. See the thing is that when an individual starts to podcast, they’re definitely taking a braver step than the podcast company and that needs to be recognized, that needs to be validated. Because you can’t as an individual, I mean, it’s just, you know, inhuman. To not validate that. It’s as simple as that. Right? When I was an individual podcaster, and I hadn’t started a podcast production as such as a career path. When I wasn’t on the podcast production and podcast coaching career path. That’s what I faced. And I felt lost and I felt alone in the entire process. And to be honest, podcasting is not you know – it looks like it appears that you can do everything on your own, and that you can do everything in isolation. That’s not true. It’s just like any other medium. Also, you know where things happen in collaboration and the more you collaborate, the better it is.
Right? Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Because I mean, you know – people forget that when we’re behind our microphones, we’re sitting alone. We’re sitting at home, and we’re speaking out to the ether, if you will. And we have no idea if the content that we’re producing is going to land .We don’t know who’s going to hear it. So I definitely can see the perks of having someone who’s in your corner, basically saying, like, “Yeah, you got this. You’re doing it, and then keep going.”
So yeah, I think that everything that we’ve been talking about today, what is really sticking out to me is that having a Podcast Producer in your corner is more than just having someone who’s helping you produce your content. It’s also someone who’s like backing you. Who’s giving you the validation that maybe a listener won’t. It’s someone who’s gonna be your cheerleader. Who’s going to be like you said, your coach, but also, like you also said, your partner. And I think that’s, I think that’s really beautiful. We’re having a touching moment here in this podcast. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Well, it especially is, especially when the person is around the corner.
Using Templates for Podcasting
So I’m curious. You said that, one of the things that you do is you whenever you start coaching people, you give them systems and you give them. You know, almost like a checklist, if you will. So do you have, like a template of things that you give them? Or is it individual based on the podcaster you’re working with?
I do have a template. That’s, I mean, that’s how I roll. I have systems for everything. That’s how, you know, a team of five people is producing so many podcasts today, with like, 50 to 55 active workers every month. So of course, I have a system for everything. I’m a very, very hardcore as administrator sort of a person. Despite the fact that I’m a, quote unquote, creative. So yeah, so I do have a system. There are a couple of documents that are ready for podcasters.
Of course, one is the podcast hygiene, where we talk about how to record how to record you in different formats. How to write a script, and even if they want you to write [it has] pointers, and if they don’t want to write the entire script, that’s also fine. So there are pointers for those, then how to, you know. Then there is an entire concept note, which I give to each one of my podcasters. So that they think of the podcast. So that they understand exactly what they want to do.
And the questions are very, very specific. Right? So if I have an audience question, if I for example, want to ask my podcaster, who do you think your target audience is? It’s not going to be just one question. So they have to write, of course, you know, whether they’re in which age group? Do they belong to what sex? What city do they belong to? What [economic] section they belong to, and, you know, so on and so forth. Right? All of those things, educational levels, all of those things they have to write. But apart from that, then there are questions like, “What does a day in the life of your listener look like?” Right? Because that will determine for them when their episode should be released?
Then they would have a question like, “What is your audience really looking for?” Right? So someone can say, “Oh, they stumbled upon my podcast because they’re just looking to escape from reality.” Right? But then whatever you offer as a podcaster, to your listener, and then the question then becomes that, okay, so maybe they clicked on my podcast, because they want to escape reality, but what they will get in turn, is the sense of community. They will get a sense of, you know, belonging. That they will get expert advice on something that they were looking for, and therefore were feeling lacking. Right? So these are the kinds of questions that vary. Like, you know, streamlined questions is what I do with my podcast concept out. And then it goes on to, you know, guidelines for show notes, guidelines for podcast, intro, podcast, outro, all of those things. And, you know.
Podcast Producers Set Podcasters Up For Success
That’s really amazing, because everything that you’re describing sounds like, not only giving them ideas to make them start thinking about it from a listener’s perspective, but what you’ve been describing sounds like everything that someone would need to know if they actually want to be successful. Because if they’re not thinking about the end listener, the end person that’s going to be consuming the content, then they’re setting themselves up for failure.
That’s true. Yeah. And wow, and we keep revisiting it. I mean, so like I said, every three months they revisit the concept now too.
Okay, so you actually do quarterly checks to make sure that they’re living up to the expectations that have been set from the beginning
Yeah, totally. Absolutely. I mean. I’m playful and fun, but I’m also hard taskmaster.
Cracking the whip making sure they do what they need to do.
Absolutely. Their success is my success and my success is theirs.
That’s fantastic. Well, where can people find you online if they are interested in learning more about your podcast production?
Um, so if anyone has a question for me, they can always reach out to me on my Instagram handle. It is mindyourpodcast. Like mind your language, it is mindyourpodcast. And for any kind of inspiration regarding podcasting, right, I mean, that was just information on podcasting. But if you want to be inspired to become a podcaster, then you must must follow us on at HTSmartCast. And we are available on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Clubhouse. Have I left anything out? I don’t know.
I’m not sure that was a lot. What’s really awesome is if you look at HTSmartCast, you might even find me. Ashley Grant from RSS.com
Absolutely. On Yeh Podcast Vodcast Kya Hai. So all you got to do is if you want to listen to our previous conversation, our first conversation ever on a podcast. You must go to htsmartcast.com. And either search for Ashley Grant, or RSS.com or Yeh Podcast Vodcast Kya Hai.
We’ll make sure we leave a link in the show notes. Now I’m going to ask you the same thing I ask everyone, and it always puts them on their toes. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would prefer that I had?
Oh, there are so many questions, actually. But I think we should continue a conversation after the recording stops. You know. Ashley, me of course, after all the, you know, conversations with people globally have been eye opening. One of them being you. Right? And it’s been so amazing too. I mean, to work for an industry where you don’t know where it’s going. Right? Now we know where it’s going. Now we know where we are all going in terms of the podcasts industry globally. And I love that. So yeah, so that’s one thing. And we will continue our conversations, but maybe off the mic. Off the record.
I love it. Well, I just want to say that I really appreciate your time today. I know that you’re very busy. I mean, a lot of podcasts going on. So thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
Thank you so much, Ashley for calling me. This was really really nice. It made my day. Thank you.
Well, my fellow podcasters I hope you enjoyed all of the insights Deepti had to share with us. To learn more about how to grow and launch your own podcast, visit our website at RSS.com/blog. You can get started for free and have your first episode on us. Thanks for tuning in!