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“You need to engage.” With Jason Hartman & Keith Malley and Chemda

To encourage engagement, you need to engage. Talk to your audience and ask for a response. Let them know what you want to hear from them about and where to respond. Are you following a hashtag they can use? Let them know. Are you posting polls on Twitter based on the new episode? Read the […]

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To encourage engagement, you need to engage. Talk to your audience and ask for a response. Let them know what you want to hear from them about and where to respond. Are you following a hashtag they can use? Let them know. Are you posting polls on Twitter based on the new episode? Read the results on the show and quote some people. Like a fun party, the host provides opportunities for their guests to feel comfortable interacting. Find where your comfort lays and host from there.


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 Keith Malley and Chemda from Keith and The Girl.

Keith and The Girl (KATG) is a fast-paced comedy podcast that records five days a week in New York City. The show takes the form of a daily conversation about relationships, comedy, current events and more. Keith and The Girl began in March 2005, making it one of the longest-running podcasts in existence. “You guys got me started to begin with,” praises WTF host Marc Maron. “You were the original podcast people.”


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?

Chemda: Keith and I were dating and living with each other when we first started the podcast. This was 15 years ago when only tech-savvy (aka nerds) knew what a podcast was.

We met at a venue called Surf Reality on the Lower East Side of NYC. It was a converted living room above a brothel. (It’s now a yoga studio above a local bookstore.) It was a BYOB place that didn’t allow smoking anything but weed. There was often a joint being passed around during shows. (It was a simpler time.)

I was pursuing a singing career, and Keith was doing stand up. We would both try out material we wrote on Sunday nights at Faceboy’s Open Mic.

I reluctantly agreed to be Keith’s co-host on the podcast. I wasn’t as open about my life as he was. He was comfortable talking about taboo, intimate details of his sex life, failures, drug use, everything. What I didn’t know is that podcasting would lower my inhibitions. I was quickly at ease with chatting about big and small moments that I was used to being embarrassed about.

I was raised in Queens, NY but in a very sheltered and conservative environment by 2 middle-eastern old-school parents. Their dream for me was to be married with children in my early 20s (if not sooner). As a woman, I was asked to be modest and agreeable. That was nothing like how I express myself on the show. It was, and is, very freeing.

Keith: I was raised in the country in Pennsylvania. My father was a Catholic Priest who left the church to marry my mother. I was raised just as conservatively, being told how lucky I was to be raised is such an amazing way but at the same time told not to share anything about the family with the outside world. Well, why shouldn’t the whole world know how amazing our life was! I didn’t notice the dichotomy at the time — that I was sheltered but being told how lucky I had it.

After moving to NYC and then later starting the podcast with Chemda, I realized I never felt able to express myself in any meaningful way. To realize that hang-ups or questions I had were shared by so many people was life-changing.

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

Keith: I think the most interesting thing, over 15 years, is realizing you’re not alone in your thoughts virtually no matter how out there you think they are. Everyone’s nervous, shy, excitable, introverted, and extraverted in different ways, and with our show, we, as well as our audience, started realizing we’re not so unique in the best way.

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?

Chemda: We recently moved our studio to a new location. To raise money for the move (and to help my hoarding tendencies), we decided to sell “KATG Mystery Boxes.” The packages would consist of items from the old studio that we couldn’t use anymore but would have sentimental value to a listener. The products ranged from things like Keith’s stand up DVDs to old mixers to a poster signed by over 50 comics during a 24-hour recording marathon.

We under-priced the box at $50 and forgot to charge a shipping fee. The first batch of Mystery Boxes cost us more than half of what the audience paid for the box, and international shipments cost us $65 to ship, making us ultimately pay to send these out to the fans.

The lesson is to pay attention! Run the steps by someone if you can, and see if you missed something before you execute.

But the real tip is to our listeners: Get our deals the moment we announce them! We might not have learned our lessons yet!

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

Keith: We’ve been podcasting since 2005. March 7th was our 15 year anniversary. We put out 5 episodes a week of KATG, and we’re proud to say we’re the single most prolific podcast of all time with well over 3,000 episodes.

We’ve also posted over 1,000 hours of content between our bonus shows (such as our weekly wrap-up show, Chemda’s interview show What’s My Name, and my show My Name is Keith), our annual marathon shows (ranging from 24–76 hours of live recording), and our other podcast My Opening Line. In January, Chemda also started a new weekly podcast (co-hosted by comics Tracey Carnazzo and our producer Andrea Allan) called Only in New York. Hey, why not? She had a free hour.

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

Chemda: We’re not trying to teach any lessons or send messages. It seems though, that the lessons we learn by talking about what should be embarrassing or sharing what would have been taboo is passed to the people listening if they want it.

Keith: We get emails from people letting us know that Chemda’s open-talk about her tumor helped them find the courage to face their own illness, that talking about being gaslit by my father about how we were raised opened up people’s eyes about their relationships, and, not to be overly dramatic, how we’re not all so crazy trying to deal with the ups and downs of life.

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?

Keith: Whether it’s a show with guests or without, I’m most proud of our show’s honesty and vulnerability. If you’re a guest on our show who’s deliberately aloof, you don’t last long. If you like to say shocking things with no follow-up, you won’t be appreciated either. People like our show because there are no filters. Of course, there’s superficial entertainment that we all enjoy, but for us, we see no point in doing a show that’s less than real and open.

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?

Keith: Remember why you started in the first place. Compare it to everything else you’ve ever done. Maybe the passion ISN’T there. But if it is, keep that in mind, listen back to your latest show, read some listener feedback to yourself, and remember how lucky you are to create something that’s unique and all your own. No, it’s NOT easy. Congratulations.

Chemda: Keith is right. Work is a lot of work.

For me, it helped to have a partner. It was easier for me to be accountable to another person than to myself. It’s like we’re each other’s bosses and each other’s co-workers. We have to answer to each other whether we’re having a motivated week or not.

What resources do you get your inspiration for materials from?

Keith: The world. Newspapers, personal stories, my girlfriend with 3 kids of her own… There’s always something happening every day to all of us. We just need to pay attention to it. Good or bad, I never find a shortage of topics that interest me.

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?

The professionals: Marc Maron, Joe Rogan, people that take their content seriously. And even if you weren’t already known before you started your podcast, make no mistake that you can become a professional as well. Care. Give a fuck. Put your dog in the other room. Hit pause before you have to answer your door. The great models are the ones who take their job seriously.

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?

Caring. Doing research. Look on social media and see what’s going on in your guests’ lives. Be inquisitive. Be personal if that’s the kind of show you want. Be real.

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.)

Give a shit

I’m amazed at how many shows there are (the vast majority) where the host didn’t bother looking things up or taking any notes ahead of time. Saying you want your podcast to be more natural so you don’t look things up is a lie you tell yourself to be lazy. (I’m talking to you, Larry King!) The audience can tell.

In fact, do your research if you’re a guest on someone else’s podcast. Be ready, be on time, and be comfortable. Does the show have a special segment at the end you need to be ready for? Know. Be comfortable as a guest and as a host. Take it seriously or no one else will.

Care about your sound

Giving a shit also means caring about your sound. It’s as important as content, if not more. I’ll turn a show off in 5 seconds if there’s a grating hum that everyone is pretending isn’t there. If you think of yourself as some schlub in your apartment recording content and you’re thinking, “Who cares about the sound quality, it’s just a podcast,” then that’s exactly what your non-audience is going to say. “Who cares.”

Get decent equipment, throw some foam on your wall, AND GET THE DOG OUT OF THE ROOM! IT’S NOT CUTE!

We created The Ultimate Podcasting Guide — a book accompanied by interviews and pros, and if you want to research the process yourself (that’d be silly), there are a thousand things you can research on your own. You don’t need an engineering degree. Again, you just have to care.

Know why you’re motivated

The majority of podcasts never make it to their seventh (7th!!!) episode. This is because people fail to question their motivation in the first place.

Be sure you’re passionate about your show’s form and topic, whether, like Keith and The Girl, it’s a personal and revealing show or something more niche, like the behind the scenes of hand sanitizers. The great Fred Durst yelled it best: “Cause if you don’t care, then we don’t care!”

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.)

Booking guests

When you start, it may be difficult to get notable guests, because, well, who are you? We knew we’d be in the same boat, so when we began 15 years ago, we interviewed our friends and previous co-workers who had great personalities or off-the-wall stories. We also asked a few comedians to be on that we befriended at open mics that we frequented. A lot of those first comic guests have worked their way up in their career and gained acknowledgments from their industry, notoriety with their followers, and they have established solid careers in their field. We have “moved up” in our respective careers together while holding on to the bond that we made with people during the early days in our careers. Our list of guests today still include many of those initial people with whom our audience had fallen in love. The audience connects to a good story and a giving guest.

Your friends have wonderful stories. That’s why you’re friends with them! Your peers know your business and can be a great asset in a mutually-beneficial platform. Not getting big names at the start isn’t the worst place to be.

If you don’t know anyone in your field because you are using podcasting to start connections in a new career path, ask for help! You’d be surprised at what kind of results a post on a social network brings you.

Example of such a post: Looking for a person in [your field] who can speak frankly and articulately about [subject you want to talk about] for my podcast. Please recommend anyone you think that would fit. Much appreciated!

Another way to get a good guest is to search who is performing, speaking, or promoting in your field, locally. Look for meetups on your podcast’s subject that get together in your area. ANY topic has a gathering based on that subject. Start with Meetup.com. They specialize in, well, meetups! You can also find great speakers who fit your show’s criteria by searching for people who are writing about your topic in blogs, magazines, and fan sites. Connect with the editors or leaders of these organizations by joining their online presence. Be a part of their community, and you’ll find several ways to reach out to them and the people that they mention, interview, and discuss. While it’s very important not to be afraid to ask, remember to be humble and polite.

For example: “Hi [their name — and spell it right as per “show up”], I recently read about your struggle with addiction on whatever website. I found your story truly inspiring. It was quite uplifting to hear the way you turned your life around. It motivated me in my own endeavors. Thank you for sharing your story. I am doing a piece on recovery on my show ‘Keith and The Girl’ (link to your site). I’d love to add your voice to this episode.

Please let me know if you’re available for an interview the week of May 3rd. I record in Lower Manhattan, NYC on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 2 pm ET. Hope to hear from you soon. — Keith Malley KeithandTheGirl.com”

Don’t say you’re not worthy of their time. Of course, you are. Because you showed up.

Build a community

Provide a forums/Facebook fan page, Google Hang, hashtag, or whatever platform you are comfortable with. (At the very least, a comment section with the episode’s information.) Having a platform for your audience is important in building an online community. It gives your fans a chance to speak to you and to each other.

Our forums always had a section specifically for individual episodes and a section for general conversation. You might think that the latter is unimportant because conversations that are not about the show seem counterproductive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. No audience will want to chat solely about one show and its topics. They want to connect with each other and share ideas, information, and personal stories. Give them a reason to keep coming back and help them build relationships with each other via your site.

We read the content on our forums on a daily basis, and we post frequently. In fact, we love reading the comments from our message boards on our episodes. We have also found that fans like when their feedback is read on the show, whether it’s a comment they posted about a previous episode or a post about a personal experience. It makes the show more personal and builds the connection between you and your audience.

Professionally produce

Have a good sound. Research our guide. Below I’ll flat out tell you the gear we use. It’s 2020-something. You can easily do it all on your own.

Encourage encouragement

To encourage engagement, you need to engage. Talk to your audience and ask for a response. Let them know what you want to hear from them about and where to respond. Are you following a hashtag they can use? Let them know. Are you posting polls on Twitter based on the new episode? Read the results on the show and quote some people. Like a fun party, the host provides opportunities for their guests to feel comfortable interacting. Find where your comfort lays and host from there.

Monetization

When you first start your podcast, your download numbers might not be high enough for an advertising agency to run ads on our show. Affiliate programs, however, do not rely on the size of your audience. They run on a response-based system.

Some affiliate programs will give you a percentage of the sales that you drive to their site, while others will pay you a flat rate on a conversion basis, which means your audience clicked through or signed up to a service through your link or promo code.

A great place to start is Amazon’s affiliate program. It’s easy to use and flexible to a podcaster’s niche/themes. We’ve also experimented, with good outcomes, with alternative sponsor sales. Your listeners know and like your show. That’s why they listen. Every time you post an episode, you are connecting with your fans. That means that they know what products and services would be compatible with your program. For that reason, we have reached out to our listeners to buy ads on our show. They know our reach because they have checked out websites we’ve mentioned on the show in the past, they’ve contacted a guest because they heard their information via an episode that we posted, and they’ve voted, commented, and otherwise participated because they got excited by the content provided by the podcast.

Your audience knows the value that your podcast provides when you’re promoting their site, business, and opportunity. Sell your ads to your audience! They know your podcast’s value.

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

When we first started, there was no podcasting recording gear and there were no podcast ‘kits’. Not many people knew what a podcast was. Now that podcasting is so popular, it’s hard to decipher what gear is necessary to produce the best show. After years of experience, we decided to put together the information that we’ve accumulated for The Ultimate Podcasting Guide. Here are our gear recommendations:

GEAR:

MICROPHONES

Heil PR40

These are the mics we’ve graduated to. We always recommend dynamic/directional mics as opposed to condenser mics, as we don’t want a hollow sound that picks up the entire room. These Heil mics are smoooooth. Angels on high, I’m saying. Top of the line as far as we’re concerned.

You can also get the pop filter that is designed especially for it. It looks elegant. A regular pop filter will work just as fine as well, but it’s just not as fresh, y’know?

MIXER

Mackie proFX12

You will always find that you can spend more and more money on higher-end mixers. You can spend thousands, easily. But this is our model. Simple to use, not pricey, and it comes with some simple, fun, and easy-to-use effects to play with.

PORTABLE RECORDER

Zoom H6

Now, this is a safety hardhat! Great for portable trips as well! Incredible sound quality! This recorder is King of the Hill.

HEADPHONE AMP

Live Wire HA204

Four inputs for headphones. Quiet, and the one we use in the Keith and The Girl studio.

HEADPHONES

Don’t forget your headphones! Clearly hear what your listener hears. Be sure to get a pair for EVERY co-host and EVERY guest as well as yourself.

CORDS

When possible, whether from a mixer or a headphone amp, always used balanced chords. There’s a big difference between balanced and unbalanced to the point where the makers of unbalanced cords should be sent directly to prison.

SOFTWARE

We use the inexpensive program Sound Forge with the more expensive Wave plug-ins X-Noise and L2 which eliminate background/computer noise and raises everyone’s voice to an equal level respectively.

Have fun, and go get ‘em!

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. 🙂

Keith: We’re not here to necessarily motivate you to begin one of the greatest things of your life. It’s the old adage of If you’re not excited, who am I to excite you. But I can say this: There are a billion podcasts. Okay. So what? There are a billion TV shows. Do you love some though? Are you there every Thursday? Of course, you are.

You’re ready to start or you’re ready to give it an extra push. Either way, you showed up. Now they will too.

Chemda: If you do 1 thing every day towards a goal you want to achieve, no matter how small, you will have done 7 things closer to your dream at the end of the week.

How can our readers follow you online?

The Keith and The Girl show is everywhere podcasting can be found.

We’re on all social media under KeithandTheGirl. Give us a how ya doing.

Our site is KATG.com

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

Thank YOU for loving our excellent insight!

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