Chris Colbert: “Here Are 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Podcast” With Jason Hartman

I get my inspiration from life. I know that probably sounds cheesy, but almost all our shows come from my personal experiences with mental health, trauma, racism, racial identity & a desire for empowerment. And then I take my personal experiences, and I blend them with those of others As part of my series of […]

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I get my inspiration from life. I know that probably sounds cheesy, but almost all our shows come from my personal experiences with mental health, trauma, racism, racial identity & a desire for empowerment. And then I take my personal experiences, and I blend them with those of others

As part of my series of interviews about “5 things you need to know to create a very successful podcast”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Colbert.

Chris began his career in audio production over a decade ago as an intern and consultant for Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM Radio). While simultaneously earning his degree from Seton Hall University, he helped create Oscar and Grammy award winner Jamie Foxx’s comedy and music channel “The Foxxhole.”

Upon successful completion and tremendous success with “The Foxxhole,” Chris joined SiriusXM full time and helped create “Carlin’s Corner”, a 24/7 George Carlin comedy channel and “Que Funny”, SiriusXM’s only bilingual Latino comedy channel. He also oversaw programming and operations for “Urban View” and “Blue Collar Radio” (now “Jeff & Larry’s Comedy Roundup”). In addition to SiriusXM’s permanent stations, Chris also worked on pop-up channels such as “Richard Pryor Radio”, “Star Wars Radio”, “Comic Con Radio”, and “E3 Radio.”

As Director of Urban Talk and Comedy for SiriusXM, Chris worked on several audio documentaries. These documentaries provided his transition to the role of Vice President of Programming for Cadence13 (formerly DGital Media). While at Cadence13, he oversaw all documentary projects and produced top podcasts such as “Cover Up”, “Origins”, “What Really Happened”, and “Majority 54.”

Having worked with names like Jamie Foxx, Touré, James Andrew Miller, Joy-Ann Reid, Zak Levitt, Andrew Jenks, Joe Madison, ESSENCE, PEOPLE, Crooked Media, Sports Illustrated, WME, and the United Negro College Fund, Chris specializes in media partnerships and content development.

With a passion for connecting audiences with innovative and inspiring content, Chris founded DCP Entertainment; a place to bring together audio and visual storytelling that highlight underrepresented communities and conversations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of your “personal backstory? What is your background and what eventually brought you to this particular career path?

Growing up, one of my dreams was to be an NBA player, and for some reason, my backup was to be a psychologist. As I quickly realized my high school career was plagued by knee injuries that only seemed to get worst each year, I realized that basketball may no longer be my Plan-A career path. I was the captain of a Catholic private high school basketball team in Harford County, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. As one of the captains, it was my job to make school-wide announcements on the day of games. One of those days, I was stopped by a nun asking if I had been the one giving the announcements. When I told her yes, she told me I had a great voice and should think about a career in radio. That day set the path for my future journey into media and entertainment.

I went to college at Seton Hall University, one of the best communications & radio schools in the country. Its close proximity to New York City provided many opportunities to learn from professors who were working in the #1 media market, and it created the opportunity for me to intern at the little known Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM Radio) in 2006. That internship allowed me to work in the comedy department where I had the freedom to help create an ‘urban’ comedy channel demo, which only months later would lead to me being hired to create the same station for Oscar & Grammy award winner Jamie Foxx who in 2007 launched his comedy & music channel “The Foxxhole”. I would go on to work for SiriusXM for 11 years, culminating with my title as Director of Urban Talk & Comedy.

In 2018 as I was starting my own media production company on the side of my SiriusXM duties, I was hired away by the podcast company Cadence13, as their Vice President of Programming overseeing the production of audio documentaries. The 11-months I spent with Cadence13 opened up my eyes to the opportunities in podcasting for great programming that can have positive impacts on people’s lives.

Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?

The most interesting story I have from podcasting is probably the one that got me into podcasting. To tell it I have to go back to a sad and traumatic time for me. During my senior year in college, just before getting hired to SiriusXM, my cousin, Dario Colbert Pinho, who was more like a brother than a cousin, died in a motorcycle accident. When Dario was alive, he and I would talk about how we’d have successful careers that would allow us to take care of our families together. He also had this weird knack noticing when it was 11:11, and he’d make sure anyone else around him knew as well. After he passed away, whenever my aunt would see 11:11, she knew that Dario was communicating with her.

Flash forward to 2018, as I was covering the American Black Film Festival as a judge for a comedy showcase, I had earlier that day received an offer to leave SiriusXM for the podcast company Cadence13. I was torn about the decision & wondered if it was the right move in order to get me to my ultimate goal of running my media company, especially because leaving SiriusXM would mean walking away from 6-figures worth of stock options & bonuses. I had brought my mother with me to the comedy show that night and confided in her about the decision I was trying to make. After the comedy show, as we left the venue, I had sudden reassurance that moving on to Cadence13 was the right move to make, and in that moment of telling my mother of my decision, she told me to look up… On a large clock atop a building in the distance, the time read 11:11, as my cousin Dario affirmed the decision I was making on behalf of ‘our company’, DCP (Dario Colbert Pinho) Entertainment.

Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaways you learned from that?

In the first year of my company, we made plenty of mistakes. As you learn when talking to other entrepreneurs, we all do. One of the biggest we made is in relation to one of our podcast series that was also a video series.

When planning out the series, we had decided the interviews on the show would be supported by the host doing some sort of activity with the guest afterward. But because we were doing the majority of our shooting in Austin, TX, we wanted to take advantage of SXSW, which was only a few weeks after we had brought this show onboard with DCP Entertainment. So in an attempt to get guests who would be in town for SXSW, we rushed into production without a lot of time to properly plan.

The result… We got great interviews because our host is amazing! But our audio quality was poor from not having the proper equipment suitable for the space we had only booked days earlier. We couldn’t do our video of activities with our guests, because some of our guests were not able to do those sorts of activities due to physical limitations. We couldn’t even air one of our episodes, because one of the spaces we rented ended up being in an art gallery with work that we did not have the rights to show on video. So we missed out on a lot of great potential with the show because we chose to rush into the production for the season so that we could take advantage of the major event happening in the city we wanted to shoot in.

The lesson… Make sure you always give yourself proper pre-production time to plan, even if you think you may be missing out on some good talent. Because even if you rush and get that amazing guest you really want, if you don’t have the proper production capabilities and plans behind it, you won’t be getting something that many people are going to want to watch or hear.

How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?

When I was at Cadence13 I worked on 11 podcast series in 11 months. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do that many, especially if many of those are documentaries. You won’t get to sleep or have any personal time. But at least we had some great success.

With my company DCP Entertainment, in 1-year we’ve launched a total of 10 shows, and we have more in development for year 2!

What are the main takeaways, lessons or messages that you want your listeners to walk away with after listening to your show?

There are a few takeaways I want our audience to leave with after listening or watching one of our shows. 1) You’re not alone. We make sure to feature diverse hosts that don’t get the same attention in mainstream media. Representation matters. Whether it’s seeing your reflection in the host, or your life experiences are being spoken to in an authentic way.

2) You feel like you’ve just got done listening to a friend. Our shows feel more like conversations than interviews.

3) You can improve conditions for yourself, loved ones and/or the world. Our shows are intended to go beyond education and entertainment but should inform those watching & listening, that they have a hand in creating a better life for themselves and others.

In your opinion what makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or your content?

There are many great podcasts out there. What makes some more bindgeable than others, is relatability. When people can feel a connection to the host in particular, as if they were a mentor and/or friend, then it’s hard not to come back each episode. What helps facilitate this are hosts that know how to speak, and create an atmosphere for their guests to speak candidly in ways that you normally wouldn’t hear on traditional radio or see on TV. Our shows aren’t beholden to corporate advertisers, and since they approve their own ads, we don’t have to censor our content for fear of being taken off the air. We are very unapologetic for our honesty.

Doing something on a consistent basis is not easy. Podcasting every work-day, or even every week can be monotonous. What would you recommend to others about how to maintain discipline and consistency? What would you recommend to others about how to avoid burnout?

I tend to be behind the scenes and not on the mic, though that may be changing in 2020… But running any company is a constant struggle of burnout. With running a podcast & media company, the best way I’ve found to avoid burnout, while still gaining necessary knowledge, is to take time to listen and watch other programs that are not part of the DCP Entertainment network. It helps get my mind away from the day-to-day concerns that can be overwhelming at times, while also giving me insight into not only what other companies are doing, but also reminding me of how our listeners perceive the type of content we do. It’s a nice resetting tool, which also serves as market research. And I get to relax and enjoy some really amazing work, while I’m technically working!

What resources do you get your inspiration for materials from?

I get my inspiration from life. I know that probably sounds cheesy, but I’d be lying if I gave another answer. Almost all our shows come from my personal experiences with mental health, trauma, racism, racial identity & a desire for empowerment. And then I take my personal experiences, and I blend them with those of others. I love to hang out at bars, or make friends with random people at parties or athletic events (pandemic willing), which lead me into conversations of what motivates them, what their anxieties are, what they’d like to learn, all of which inform me as to what is lacking in the media landscape, and how to create programming that can speak to those experiences & desires.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main questions of our discussion. Is there someone in the podcasting world who you think is a great model for how to run a really fantastic podcast?

Since I own a podcast and media company, I will choose someone who I think is running a great podcast network. That would be Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, who is the CEO/Founder of Lantigua-Williams & Co. Her company works in the same realm as mine, in terms of representing underrepresented communities. Each of her shows has a unique identity that speaks to audiences on topics like justice reform, tween/teenage women’s health, and career success. Though her programming is appealing & beneficial for all audiences, her company represents a voice for the Latinx community and other people of color. The informed intentionality of how she created her company, and how she creates and staffs each show, is a great example of how authenticity can be created when we get away from mainstream media. I also appreciate our shared vision in not allowing our companies to be pigeonholed as podcast companies. We both have video arms to our company, and Lantigua-Williams & Co. has a film division that is doing equally great work as its podcast counterparts.

What are the ingredients that make that podcast so successful? If you could break that down into a blueprint, what would that blueprint look like?

The most important blueprint is having a diverse staff. If your work is meant to speak to diverse audiences, it is imperative that your management team, producers, engineers, and all other staff be just as diverse as your content. If you don’t have honest opinions from the people you are trying to speak to (and I don’t mean just having one woman in the room to represent all women), then you are going to make work that doesn’t truly speak to your audience’s experiences. And even worst, you may create offensive or unhealthy content.

You are a very successful podcaster yourself. Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)

  1. Define What Success Is — Success can mean many different things. The majority of podcasters don’t make much money through ads on their podcast. But there are very successful podcasters who do not make money through ads. Some use their podcast to increase brand awareness so that people search them out for their other services. Some use us it to sell merchandise or products during the show. And some don’t have the goal of making money, and use their show to create awareness around an issue or cause. You can’t be successful until you know what success means.
  2. Authenticity — Don’t try to fake it, because the audience will know, and they won’t forgive you. I wish I could remember the name of the podcaster who did this, but they represented themselves as a vegan, and they built their social media and podcast brand around it. As they were raking in their advertising money, they voiced a meat product ad on their show. They immediately lost a large portion of their audience, because fans felt that this person lacked integrity or was faking their veganism.
  3. Build A Community — Make the listeners feel like they have the ability to participate in the show. You can create a Facebook group or create polls on Instagram allowing the audience to ask you or the guest questions, while also allowing those fans to talk amongst themselves because the share a common bond: you and your show!
  4. Good Audio Quality — More so than video content, in podcasting if you have bad audio where it sounds like you’re on a phone for the entire show, you’re playing music in the background that is louder than the person speaking, or the listener has to strain to hear you or your guest, causing us to constantly raise & lower their volume, then we are going to stop listening to your podcast, never to return. And most likely we’ll warn others not to waste their time listening either.
  5. Be Consistent — Even if your podcast is seasonal, make sure that if your audience expects your show to come out every Wednesday, make sure it does. You will find it hard to maintain an audience if you post on different days each week, miss weeks all together, or end a season without letting your audience know that was the last episode of that particular season.

Can you share some insight from your experience about the best ways to: 1) book great guests; 2) increase listeners; 3) produce it in a professional way; 4) encourage engagement; and 5) the best way to monetize it? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)

For booking great guests, we use a talent producer/booker as we go after well-known public figures for many of our DCP shows. For people who do not have that at their disposal, I recommend trying to find potential guests that fit the dynamic of their show, and are promoting something (book, movie, product, etc.), as they may be easier to entice since they are looking to reach as many audiences as possible, especially if your audience fits a specific niche for them. When pitching the guest, educate them on why your audience (even if its small) is an audience that would be intrigued by their conversation, and primed for what that person is promoting.

To increase listeners, I encourage getting yourself or your host booked on as many podcasts that share the demographic you’re looking for as possible. There is no better advertisement in podcasting than showcasing your voice and perspective in front of prospective podcast audiences. When pitching, figure out what expertise you are uniquely providing, as well as specific talking points you are able to bring to the conversation. Make it as easy as possible for the producer or host of that show to know why they need to book you.

To produce in a professional way, find a quiet space to record, and buy professional microphones with mic stands and a small portable mixer. If you just need 2 microphones, you can do this on a budget of less than $500. Recording gear gets cheaper every year, so it doesn’t cost a lot to sound like a pro. Do the research and make the investment. The Zoom H6 is an industry favorite recording device, and I personally like the Sennheiser e835 microphone to get you consistent sound.

To encourage engagement, I like using the social media platforms that you are most popular on and using them to create a community of followers that feel like they are helping you produce the show. If you have an upcoming guest, tell them who it is, and let them submit questions for the conversation. Pick 1 or 2 good questions (even if you had already planned on asking them) and give those particular people a shout out when you ask their question to your guest. Everyone loves their 15 seconds of fame. And those people will now evangelize for you, telling others to listen to your show and follow you on social media. You can create a real snowball effect when you do this consistently.

The best way to monetize a podcast is not a one-size-fits-all. This really depends on your circumstances. I will stick with what works for the majority of podcasters. The best way to monetize a podcast if you are not a big star or brand, is to make it a show that helps bring in business to something else you are doing. You can do a career advice show that encourages people to sign up for your person-to-person online course. You can do a show telling stories about crazy events that happened to you out at restaurants to help push your restaurant review page that you sell ads on. The possibilities are endless, but you’ll need to be creative in how you get people’s attention.

For someone looking to start their own podcast, which equipment would you recommend that they start with?

The Zoom H6 ($350) is an industry favorite recording device, and I personally like the Sennheiser e835 microphone ($50 per mic) to get you consistent sound.

Ok. We are almost done. 🙂 Because of your position and work, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is tough because there are a lot of movements I want to influence. The one that I’ll choose for this question though, is the one I think is talked about the least. I want to see more conversations about mental and emotional health for entrepreneurs. All people are impacted by mental health in some way, but entrepreneurs, have unique responsibilities that can create added levels of stress and anxiety. As the leaders of organizations, I think we are afraid to admit that we struggle mentally & emotionally, for fear that we will scare our shareholders and staff. We’re afraid we’ll be seen as unstable and weak. But by being open about our struggles, and how we’re finding care or managing our problems in a healthy way, we can do a lot of good. We can show our teams by example, that it is ok to have these struggles, and that we encourage them to find the care or routines they need to create better lives for themselves, which ultimately makes them more efficient and happier employees. There aren’t many great blueprints for this, so I’m still figuring things out as I go along with my team. But through my openness with my team about my own struggles, my weekly therapy sessions, and our policy on mental health sick days, I hope to be an example of how other CEOs and executives serve as positive examples of mental & emotional well-being for their teams and communities.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow my company @DCPofficial on all social media platforms. And if you want to follow me personally, I am @ChrisColbertReport on Instagram.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

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