From Idea to Podcast – Writing Your Pitch
Given a direction and time, your brain will come up with anything. Whether, it’s just a synapse firing the right way, or two half-baked suggestions combining, ideas spark like mental lightning in all of us. We like to think that the idea is everything, that once you have the million-dollar idea, once you make it a reality, well, “If you build it, they will come.”
However, look at your options in the digital age. There are hundreds of thousands of other things your audience could be doing with their time, including listening to a different podcast instead. It’s all about the execution.
While networking and word-of-mouth advertising in the audio fiction community is incredibly important and helps get the word out about a new show, many of us have seen the work that is required to successfully execute a new production and successfully pitch it to the public. If you’re a new person starting out, you’re still learning how capable your execution is.
Therefore, when you set out to create a podcast, you need to be flexible – especially if you’re starting. Your plans may be adjusted based on what you can execute, and no production process goes perfectly smooth. You need to think ahead, not to when you’re recording and mixing, but to when your audience is going to find your podcast for the first time, and hit play.
There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts, and more are generated every day. You need to be aware of who your podcast would like to be associated with, what styles you’d like to invoke, in addition to the story you want to tell. There are important steps to consider and make clear for yourself prior to any other step in creating a podcast.
Even before you produce content, you’re making decisions that define the Production’s Brand and bring things closer to how you envision your execution. You’re starting to figure out what defines it, and why people should check it out.
Most importantly though, you have to be able to communicate what your content is about to others, especially if you want to bring them on board with you and help you execute your idea. No pitch meeting goes without probing questions being asked – it’s okay not to have the answers, but if you have a plan in mind, or there’s confusion, as the showrunner you need to create clarity.
Showrunners take the point of their podcast, it’s their production. Sound Escape is a framework to guide you, and you can rely on the Department Heads to assist or suggestions. No one achieves anything alone, so part of the pitch is you, and who you are.
To that end, the Sound Escape Productions Pitch sheet is designed for you to sit down and envision what your idea’s execution is, not just the concept, story, or characters, but your audience and how you plan to reach them.
Let’s go through the Pitch Sheet Together.
State your idea in a way that will get our attention and the attention of a single listener. Make sure we understand why it’s valuable and unique and something people should invest in. Make sure it aligns with our mission. We want to hear your voice and approach in your statement.
Headlines are a great way to state your idea in a way that gets attention. “Teenagers find a body on train tracks, must thwart Mafia attempting to take over their small town.” “Aliens pretend to be Rangers for the National Parks Service to capture Bigfoot.” “Grandmother finds a magic wand and uses her powers to help children in bad living situations.”
If a newsie screaming it would make you pay for the paper, you’re on the right track. Simple, direct, but open-ended to entice. This doesn’t have to be your logline and should give away any relevant information to your collaborators.
If there’s a major twist and you want to keep that under wraps, that can be from performers or the audience, but never keep relevant information from your collaborators – it informs their execution to know the characters are trapped in a glitching looping simulation and not a time loop.
AUDIENCE & IMPACT
Every project has a primary audience as its target, even as we seek to attract large and broad audiences. Tell us who your target audience is and how this idea serves them.
If you’re making “Art for Art’s sake” to make yourself happy, then do it for fun as a hobby, and it doesn’t matter who listens to it. However, if you’re making art because you have the drive to tell a story, then you need to get that art in the hands of people who will connect with it. Think about who needs to hear your show.
In addition to identifying your target audience, tell us what impact this series will have on them. How will they have changed, what will they feel, or what might they be moved to do as a result of what you produce?
Art succeeds when it evokes emotions. A comedy that doesn’t make you laugh misses the mark but so does a mystery that bores you. If you’re writing an erotic romance, then the emotions you want your audience to have are very different from your heist story. Even in an anthology, there can be specific emotions you want your audience to feel, which is your connecting throughline between each episode.
SOUND & STYLE
What will a listener hear when they press play?
The opening of your content prepares the audience for what they can expect. Like how the opening to a song is recognizable, the first moments of your production should quickly inform their listener exactly what they’re listening to – even during a cold open.
Tell us about the tone, the mood, the sound of your show. Feel free to compare your approach to other media as a way to describe it.
Specific songs, tactile sounds, ambiance for a location, are what we’re looking for – to keep in line with us our Sound Escape branding, we’re looking for an opening where someone can enter immersion. How do you signal it’s time to go someplace else?
Do you have a format in mind (on a scale from interview format on one end to full documentary on the other)?
Your format is separate from your show’s genre. There are several styles including one’s specific to podcasting like the True Crime format, which you can use. (Shout out to Arden.) This is also where you can showcase your familiarity with other podcasts. Like other Mediums, you should be familiar with the content being put out by your peers, and what they’re doing with it.
Do you have a way to innovate the sound and style to stand out?
A difficult question, it’s okay to not have a perfect answer. Creating specific, distinct, styles will come more during the decisions you make during production. Don’t be afraid to use a similar style, but give it your execution. For example, We Fix Space Junk has elements of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s style but builds upon it to make its distinct format.
Remember you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just need to assemble a car. In preparation to create your podcast, you should be researching others, and learning from them. You may come up with a style that is reactionary to others, but that’s good. That means you’re thinking about how others have done things and come up with your own take on it.
BEYOND THE PODCAST
The best podcasts exist as strong ideas expressed across multiple media and activities. Does your idea have any expression beyond the podcast itself and, if so, please describe them. Describe the ways you might build on the idea you stated earlier to connect with the real world.
Podcasts need to exist beyond the podcast feed because that generates word of mouth and organic brand growth. Tides is about a stranded Xenobiologist, so outside of their content and episodes, Tides also shares ocean biology information. This not only helps the research that informs the show but allows them to interact with non-fiction counterparts. The art they offer to support the show continues this strong idea.
THE PRACTICAL REALITIES
Make financially sustainable shows. That means they need to be made efficiently, and they need to attract large audiences. So please address these questions:
How many seasons will your show be and how many episodes in those seasons?
In any project, its scope changes everything. Sound Escape works in production phases, where we finish seasons before releasing them, but the scope influences the Story you seek to tell. If you have a definite ending for your story, how long should it take to get there?
What kind of budget will it take to produce your idea? If you don’t know, please be explicit about that.
Sound Escape calculates the production and profit share based on the tangibles in the production, writing, recording, sound design, composing. However, have an idea of what you think it will take.
What support would you need to make a successful/hit program?
This is where you admit your failings. I burnt out trying to create content while working full-time; the support I need to make a successful/hit program is flexibility because if I’m having a depressive dip.
What partners might you bring to the process for audience, funding, or other support?
You have a project you believe in. Especially if you’ve done this work to create a pitch. Having resources and people you know you can work with helps us and helps you. If you’ve got a sponsor already, we’re happy to work with them.
Every Pitch needs details about yourself.
Why could you succeed in producing your idea?
What kind of creative home are you looking for?
Why are you the only one who can make this show?
Imposter syndrome is an issue, but art is a matter of self-expression. Who you are as an artist and what you bring to the table is valuable. Don’t discount yourself. Even if you’re still learning and growing, your drive to learn and work with others is what will help you succeed.
For practical purposes, the best release schedule is weekly or semi-weekly. Establish your season release window. Plan to only make this one season, before moving on. Make it great.
Seriously, life happens. We want our seasons to have a beginning, middle, and end because if you get hit by a bus, and that’s all that is made, it’s better for the audience to have a resolution. Cliffhangers are acceptable, however, they should never replace climaxes.
As we work in phases of the entire season, it will be some time before the next one for a show comes out – especially as life causes delays. Even though it’s just your first season, make it count, and make people want to come back for more.
Please give an episode outline and detailed descriptions. For a show with an overarching plot, please attempt to hit the eight sequences as best as you can, but that’s a guideline.
It’s okay if this is barebones, however, the reader should have an idea of what each episode would be. If it’s an overarching story, how do events impact each other, leading to the climax in your season finale? If it’s episodic, how do the separate events take the audience on a journey?
ALREADY EXISTING SHOWS
We are open to shows that fit our values and wish to do our best to help them. If a show joins the collective it might need to go under a “retrofitting” to bring it in line with our presentation and practices, such as remastering, or adding sponsorship segments retroactively.
Total downloads by Episode?
Breaking down your total downloads by episode on average gives a sense of the total size of your audience.
Last 30 day downloads?
This tells us how active your audience is, as naturally, your total downloads go up over time, but how many people listen to your last episode within 30 days, is who’s actively following you.
Current social media followers by each site?
Not all Social Media is created equal, but this gives us an idea of how much of a reach you currently have.
We value content over numbers, but we want to know that information because it indicates the audience you’re currently reaching, and we’re interested in reaching audiences outside of our current demographics. If you’re coming in with a backlog of content and an existing audience, you have an advantage over a new show.
Seriously, a show that already exists, even if it has small flaws from being new to creating a podcast, is easier to buff and polish than a show we’re developing wholesale and are still figuring things out.
However, the main thing the numbers tell us is how well you’re reaching an audience currently. If you’ve got amazing content, but you’re not reaching a large audience, we want to help you out.
If you’ve got a large audience, but need help making content for that audience, well, that’s why we want to help you. We’re tired of Podcasters burning out because they have to do everything at once.
If you’ve got a small audience, and you’re still finding your voice; don’t be afraid to pitch. What matters is your willingness to learn and grow with us. Each production is different, has different needs, and requires different strategies. What decides our acceptance of your pitch is more how flexible you are to working with us.
After you submit your pitch, the executive producer may have some notes or thoughts before bringing the pitch to the collective board, which is comprised of our showrunners and department heads.
The Board will discuss and votes as they see fit, and a majority is all that’s necessary to approve the pitch for the collective. If the vote fails, the feedback from the board is synthesized and the board is open to another pitch in the future.
If the vote succeeds, then, the next steps depend on the needs of the show. Either we move into development if it’s scripted, putting together outlines, a writer’s room, scripts, and editing them until the season is ready for production, or unscripted shows move into production, working to get all their episodes recorded.
In fact, here is the pitch Tal Minear wrote for Someone Dies in This Elevator, to serve as an example of a pitch the board accepted.
Alright, are you ready? If you want to pitch a production, you can get a copy of our Pitch Sheet here.