Here’s Why You Absolutely Must Do a Podcast

Disc jockey Pete Myers in action.

Disc jockey Pete Myers in action. Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Before I tell you why should ABSOLUTELY do a podcast, you should first know: DO NOT do a podcast.

Observer contributor Ryan Holiday wrote an excellent post in Thought Catalog, “Please, Please, For The Love Of God: Do Not Start a Podcast.”

He was dead on. There’s 400,000 podcasts. The world doesn’t need another interview podcast. Don’t do a podcast if you have nothing to say.

I agree with all of that. In fact, every day when I wake up I ask myself, “should I continue to do my podcast?” If you can’t create impact on yourself (which will lead to impact on others), then give up. NOW.

It’s easy for me to smoke my own crack. I always want to think I have something interesting to say. Something new. Am I reinventing along with the audience? Am I improving? Could I get better at asking questions? Is the production quality high? Am I solving a problem? Am I improving? Does it still interest me?

As Brian Koppelman told me on a recent podcast (not aired yet), “Don’t write what you know. Write what fascinates you.”

My podcast guests are my mentors. There is no one industry they come from. I want to learn the essence of peak performance, regardless of industry or artistic endeavor.

There’s something spiritual about getting better at something that fascinates you. You reach inside yourself and figure out what strings need tuning in order for you to hit closer to that perfect pitch.

My guests are the way I learn. That is why I do a podcast.

Here is why you should do a podcast:

YOU GET TO TALK TO YOUR HEROES

When you have a podacst, you can pick up the phone, call anyone you want and say, “I’d love to talk to you for my podacast.”

Most of the people you call will say, “ No.” Most of the people I call say “no”.

Here are some of the people who have said “No” to me this past month: Louis CK, Anthony Bourdain, Alanis Morrissette, and about 50 more (Bernie Sanders just said “No” a few minutes ago).

Do I blame them for saying no? Of course not. They are busy people. I’m lucky they even responded.

IT’S EASY

If I want to do a TV show, then that’s hard. If I want to do a radio show even, that’s difficult. Not as hard as a TV show but difficult.

A basic podcast is easy. There’s a recorder on your iphone. Record a conversation. Upload it to iTunes.

Now you have a podcast. BOOM!

Will it sound as great as “Freakonomics Radio”. Absolutely not. But it’s a start. It’s how I started.

YOU CAN DO A PODCAST ABOUT WHATEVER YOU WANT.

It doesn’t have to be an interview show.

I have a “mini-series” planned to start the next month where my very special guest and I will challenge each other to a different experiment to try.

One of my favorite podcasts has been: “Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor Ever. Period.”

Each episode was a couple of people analyzing a different Denzel Washington movie. This would never have been a TV show, a radio show, a blog post, a series of articles, or a book.

It’s perfect as a podcast.

I love ideas like that. The podcast medium is just in inning one of how fertile it could be to really explore fun creative ideas and bring alive the talents of the hosts and guests.

And, by the way, you don’t need audience to judge the quality of a podcast. Do a podcast about “This is my family” and simply interview all of your family members. One member per show.

Will this get a wide audience? No, not at all. But you’ll really get to know the members of your family and might bring you closer to them. And, again, all you need is something to record conversations.

YOU READ A LOT

I do an interview podcast. So when I interview someone like Tim Ferriss, I’m reading and re-reading four of his books.

When I interview Cheryl Strayed, I’m reading her three excellent books.

Today I’m interviewing both Seth Godin and Dan Ariely. I think I read about seven books and listened to two podcasts and watched a documentary to prepare for these.

Since starting my podcast I’ve read about five times as many books per year as I usually do.

And reading allows me to absorb their lives. They throw their life into a book. They had to live a life to come up with a single book. I get to absorb that life in just a few days.

And then, miracle of miracles, I get to ask them whatever questions I have! And hopefully ask the questions that are on the listeners minds as well.

SKILLS

Here’s some of the skills I’ve learned as a podcaster. These are good skills I can carry into every area of my life.

– How to persuade guests to come on the show.

This is DIFFICULT. It’s scary. You have to be sensitive to their time, sensitive to what they are trying to promote in their lives, persuade them that put in the work and are worth talking to.

You learn “permission persistence” this way. Not so much it annoys. Not so little they forget you.

– How to interview.

James Altucher at the Observer holiday party in 2013.

James Altucher at the Observer holiday party in 2013. Observer

I thought I knew how to do an interview. I had done thousands of them. But I had to learn a new level of interview.

I would have to memorize a life’s work and then, in a one hour period, take them off their canned messages and get them to really open up and share in ways they have never done before and in ways that can benefit me and the listeners.

– How to listen.

You can’t boil down a life’s work into an hour. Every word spoken contains 100s of stories.

You have to listen carefully and not just wait for the answer to finish for your next canned question.

Find the word that has a secret clue and open up that clue (yes…interrupt as politely as you can) and ask the question.

You will NEVER again get the opportunity to ask that question so you might as well do it. But this involves listening at a higher level than I have ever done before.

– How to put on a production.

Between the time I first ask on a guest and the time you listen to it, here’s what happens:

i. an average of 17 emails gets sent back and forth to get the guest to agree and then schedule.
ii. a podcast studio is scheduled. Another 5 emails back and forth. Why a podcast studio? Why not just always skype? Because in-person is better than not in-person. Period.
iii. An average of 2-5 books are read. 3 podcasts are listened to. Interviews and articles are read. Friends of friends are called. Preparation is important to make your podcast special and unique.
iv. the podcast happens. I am sweating to death before each one. I’m almost hoping each one is cancelled right beforehand because I am so nervous.
v. the audio file is edited.
vi. I write a post on what I learned (more on this in a second)
vii. The post is sent to my email subscribers and to various websites depending on topic.
viii. Ads are read. Why ads? Because I have a producer, a podcast studio, an SEO expert, and an audio engineer that get salaries.
viii. Ads are sourced. I have to find advertisers.
ix. When the podcast comes out, reach out to the guest to see if they want to share it as well. Not always easy and requires diplomacy.
x. Follow up six months, a year later, to see how the guest’s career is going and if they want to come on again. Once a “Friend of the James Altucher Show”, always a friend. I am a loyal podcaster.

PLUS, MINUS, EQUAL

Ironically, I got this phrase from Ryan Holiday’s book, “Ego is the Enemy” when he came on my podcast to talk about his book.

I love this phrase so much I use it constantly now. It refers to the idea that to learn anything new in life you need a:

PLUS: someone to teach you (either real or virtual)
EQUALS: someone to challenge you
MINUS: someone to teach, because that helps you solidify what you learn. Not to mention, paying it forward.

When I do a podcast it’s ONLY with someone I want to learn from. So…

PLUS: the guest and all the preparation
EQUALS: Other podcasters that I listen to. Plus the listeners who give me constant feedback I am grateful for.
MINUS: As soon as a podcast is over I write down, “10 things I learned” and often share that with readers. Otherwise I’ll forget what I learned.

Almost 200 guests later I am so grateful for this Plus, Minus, Equal technique. It’s changed my life. This is one of the main reasons you should do a podcast, regardless of the size of your audience.

IT’S GROWING

Ryan mentioned in his article how there are 400,000 podcasts but only 60,000 active. That’s because many people give up. Or a podcast doesn’t satisfy whatever it is the podcaster thought it would satisfy.

But the people who give up, leave the area wide open for the podcasters who improve and stick with it. The growth of all podcasters I know is about 4x in the past two years.

I said to someone the other day: my downloads are now the equivalent of viewers of a shitty HBO show.

And it will keep growing. It doesn’t matter that you started now. There is no “too late”. We are still in inning one.

Do a good podcast, have a unique voice or concept, and you will grow with the industry.

NO GATEKEEPERS

I don’t need to work with a TV network to develop a 13 episode series. I don’t need to buy radio time. I don’t need to get a book deal.

I can do three episodes of a podcast and then give up. No harm, no foul. I can see if this is for me. If it satisfies a creative outlet of mine.

Why not? Why wouldn’t someone want to try a podcast for this reason alone.

NETWORK

Once someone is on my podcast, they’re in my network. I’ve since worked with many of my guests on various projects, both creative or financial.

At the very least, I just made a new friend. The other day I had dinner with two of my former podcast guests. The only time I had met them previously was in my podcast studio.

Why not make new friends that you admire?

ONE TAKEAWAY

A year later, I’ll still remember a few takeaways from each podcast. And since I focus on every area of peak performance, I often learn things about nutrition, art, music, writing, perseverance, entrepreneurship, creativity, comedy, and so many other things.

Like from Jesse Itzler: “Whenever your body thinks it can’t work out a second more, it’s going to collapse, remember at that point you can push yourself 40% more.”

From Coolio: “It took me 17 years of writing every day before I had my first hit on the radio.”

From Tony Robbins: “If you want to learn something, bring the target closer, master it, then move it further away.”

From Jewel: “What what your hands are doing during the day to learn who you are.”

From Wayne Dyer: “Do work you love so much you’d be willing to go to jail for it.”

From Judy Blume, “The most important thing in life is friendship. More important than anything else.”

And on an on.

The podcast has changed my life. Has made me a better person. A better father. A better friend. A better artist.

Sometimes I hate doing it. So much rejection. And I get so nervous before one starts. And I want the guests to like me (Coolio said, “I thought you were obnoxious when we first started”).

But I’ve made friends. I’ve learned things. And I have plans to be even more creative with it over the coming year.

I hope you do a podcast. It’s worth trying. It might change your life. And, if you do that, then you will change the life of everyone who listens.

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