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Monday, June 11, 2012

Podcasting Q & A with Heron & Crane Podcaster Extraordinaire Chris Gondek

Both for myself (I love to listen to podcasts while working in the kitchen or driving and even, I admit, while hacking away at the Himalaya of email), and for the sidebars in my forthcoming iBook, Podcasting for Writers & Other Creative Entrepreneurs,  I'm on the hunt for listen-worthy podcasts and podcasters to interview. Last week on this blog, I interviewed writer and artist Ricë Freeman-Zachery-- a big inspiration to me, and whose "Notes from the Voodoo Lounge" podcasts I enthusiastically recommend to you, especially if you're aiming to nurture your creativity.

Chris Gondek's podcasts of author interviews are a treasure trove of informative listing. I found him, serendipitously, when I received the newsletter from University of Texas Press about their new publications and noticed, tucked up in the left hand corner, a link to their new podcast series.  It turns out that Chris Gondek, (pictured right), an MBA, pioneer podcaster, and owner of Heron & Crane, not only produces and hosts the podcast series of author interviews for University of Texas Press, but also for MIT Press, Harvard University Press, University of Chicago Press, and several other clients. Plus, he hosts his own podcast series, the soon-to-end (oh, alas) Biography, and the ongoing and excellent  Invisible Hand, a monthly podcast on business, economics, and strategy that began back in (triple wow, is this not Paleozoic?) 2005.

Here are his As to my Qs:

C.M. Mayo: What inspired you to start the Invisible Hand?
Chris Gondek: I started TIH because 1) I always wanted to host a talk show and podcasting allowed me see if I could do it, 2) I ended up with more questions than answers after getting my MBA and thought it would be an interesting way for me to explore some of the issues that were bothering me.

C.M. Mayo: How do you select the guests for your show?
Chris Gondek: When I started, I literally had a list of about ten authors whom I wanted to speak with about books they had written. I thought it would take a long time; it took about four months, give or take. I then started to solicit publicists. Now, I get pitched books, but I will pursue an author if I read about a book I think would be interesting for the show. I’ve done enough shows now that I have had repeat guests and I do show a preference for them.

C.M. Mayo: Is it possible to listen to Invisible Hand shows before 2012?
Chris Gondek: Yes, but ;) I restrict access to older shows more for bandwidth issues than anything else. I also like to find out which older shows there is still interest in. It also is helpful when I have to dig into the archives and do a repeat, something I thankfully haven’t had to do too often.

C.M. Mayo: What's the best part of doing the Invisible Hand podcasts?
Chris Gondek: The best part of TIH is the fan letters I get occasionally. They always seem to show up on crappy days. 

C.M. Mayo: Any tips for podcasters?
Chris Gondek: Take care of your listeners- respond promptly to them, etc- and they will take care of you. Also, always ask for feedback on iTunes.

C.M. Mayo: About the wonderful The Biography Podcast... you're discontinuing it?
Chris Gondek: My last interview for TBP will be tomorrow [6/7/2012] and the series finale will be released on 6/15/12. TBP has a small, but very loyal, audience, and I need to give everyone some closure. I will miss it a great deal. I actually would have ended it sooner, but the guest that was going to be my last one talked me into continuing with the show, if for no other reason than to do a show with him for his next biography. 

C.M. Mayo: What inspired you to start the series?
Chris Gondek: Working on a failed biography (Sensing a theme…) I only had one rule during the run of TBP: I’d never do shows on Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill or Hitler. A guideline was to try to pick people that weren’t common biography subjects.

C.M. Mayo: How did you select the guests?
Chris Gondek: Roughly the same as TIH, though I never really got pitched by publicists. In general, biographers are keen to talk about their subject and their work, and I always tried to make sure I talked with them about their craft as well as their subject.

C.M. Mayo: You have many clients, including several prestigious university presses. For a publisher or writer looking to hire help with their podcasts, what are some of the things they should be sure to look for / ask?
Chris Gondek: How long have they been doing this? Listen to samples. Ask about turnaround time. Ask to see their sample contracts. References.

C.M. Mayo: How long does it typically take you to prepare for an interview, and then to edit?
Chris Gondek: Prep time depends on the book. Editing generally takes about an hour to ninety minutes, once I have all the pieces together.

C.M. Mayo: Why and when did you start podcasting (in general)?
Chris Gondek: I started in 2005. My reason is in the TIH section

C.M. Mayo: What keeps you podcasting?
Chris Gondek: The listeners and the access it gives me to people who have a book to promote. The show has been going on long enough with enough reviews that I have a great deal of credibility.

C.M. Mayo: Is there anything you wish you'd known when you started (but no one told you)?
Chris Gondek: I wish I could say yes, but I got into podcasting very early in the game and no one knew what they were doing. It was- and still is to a large degree- a fairly forgiving medium. Scratch that. One thing. Get on Feedburner from the start. You will need listener stats at some time and you might as well start at the beginning. One last thing. Longer interviews aren’t necessarily better interviews.

C.M. Mayo: Why did you select your hosting service? Would you recommend it, and if so, why (or why not)? 
Chris Gondek: I use and have been satisfied with their services.

C.M. Mayo: What has surprised / frustrated / enchanted / bamboozled / amazed you about podcasting?
Chris Gondek: I have been downloaded over a million times. I still can’t get my head around that. Also, it has led to me doing TV interviews for UCLA about once a year. I have three shows coming out this month. Doing TV is so different than doing audio, but it’s also a blast.

C.M. Mayo: What equipment do you use to record and what software to edit?
Chris Gondek: I do most of my shows on a landline, though I will use Skype if the guest prefers. Phone hybrid into a 4 pot Sennheiser mixer into an external sound card into a Mac. I splurged on an Electrovoice microphone for myself and it was worth it. You get a much warmer sound. I record and edit in Sound Studio.

C.M. Mayo:Any tips on improving sound quality?
Chris Gondek: Never call Texas. They have bad phones. Beyond that, if you are recording at home, deaden your recording area as much as possible. Mattress pads from Bed Bath and Beyond can be surprisingly effective.

C.M. Mayo: Any tips on promoting podcasts?
Chris Gondek: None. TIH got blogged about early in its run and has been in a good position on iTunes thanks to longevity and the ratings. Ask listeners to talk up the show.

C.M. Mayo: What podcasts do you enjoy listening to?
Chris Gondek: I’m putting on my sheepish grin to admit that I don’t listen to podcasts. I have in the past and can endorse “In Our Time” from BBC Radio 4 and selected episodes of “The Night Air” from ABC in Australia.

Later, via email, Chris recommended:

C.M. Mayo: Do you have tips for podcast listeners?
Chris Gondek: Use the same skills you would when separating the wheat from the chaff when listening to the radio.

C.M. Mayo: Any pet peeves about other peoples' podcasts? (Not necessarily to name names... just trying to find things for new podcasters to avoid...)
Chris Gondek: Nothing annoys me more than interviewers who think they are the guest. Do your homework, ask the question, get the hell out of the way. If you don’t agree with something in the answer, that’s what follow ups are for. I can talk interviewing until the cows come home so I’d better leave it there.

C.M. Mayo: What kind of feedback do you get from your listeners, and do you encourage it?
Chris Gondek: I get the nicest e-mails from listeners. I always ask them for feedback on iTunes or to send me e-mails or to join the page on Facebook. If you don’t have listeners, why are you doing a show?

C.M. Mayo: How do you see the future of podcasting per se / your podcasts?
Chris Gondek: Just remember: Starting a show is easy. Ending a show is much harder.