What it takes to operate a physical podcast studio

Angela Connor opened a physical recording studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. She told me about her business strategy.

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If you want to launch a new high quality podcast, the learning curve can be steep. First there’s the equipment and software for actually recording it. You have to learn how to edit the audio, purchase music rights, and find a web host. And those are just the technical aspects; most non-podcasters don’t realize how difficult it can be to find an entertaining show format, book interesting guests, or ask engaging questions.

If you’re a full-time content creator, you’ll probably have the patience to figure all this out on your own, but many executives who want to dabble in podcasts as a form of content marketing want someone to guide them through the process. That’s the gamble Angela Connor made when she opened a physical recording studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. Angela’s career spans across journalism, marketing, and public relations, and recently she noticed that many of her local business clients were starting to get interested in podcasts.

A serial entrepreneur, Angela made the decision to rent coworking space and build a studio from scratch. I interviewed her about how she designed her podcast consulting offerings and what it takes to launch a high quality show.

So you have a pretty diverse career that spans all the way from journalism to online marketing to public relations. How did you also get into podcasting in addition to everything else? 

I've been an avid podcast listener for almost ten years. I love the medium and appreciate the learning experience, ease of use, and ability to connect with audiences. I knew I wanted to launch my own even before I started my agency two years ago, but never did. Once I did start Change Agent, I knew I needed to leverage the medium, so I did and created my first podcast.

I didn't come up with the idea to launch the podcast studio until last August, about a year ago this time. I had clients with podcasts and saw some of the pain points. For instance, my client was recording what became an award-winning podcast in her closet. Because I'm a student of my craft and follow industry news closely, I saw how that particular industry was growing, and I knew the barriers to entry. It seemed like a good idea to me, so I came up with a plan to launch a studio.

So would you say that there's a sharp learning curve to launching a podcast from scratch, and you saw a business opportunity in helping people scale that learning curve?

I don't think it's super sharp for people who want to scour the internet and watch YouTube videos to figure out how it's all done. The information is definitely out there. But if you're not in that camp, it certainly can be a sharp learning curve and easy to give up. And I don't think everyone wants to invest in the equipment. I wanted to create a studio with top-notch equipment so that anyone could create a podcast that has the same quality of the brands with the big budgets.

And one of the reasons I offer a podcast launch package is because people need help getting over that barrier to entry, and some of what can be super-intimidating, not to mention time-consuming and quite cumbersome. If I can get you to a place where you have a podcast trailer, three episodes, and a podcast of stellar quality, your chances of quitting are slim. And by handling some of the hands-on work dealing with hosting and getting up on the platforms, I believe this service provides freedom. Freedom to create.

But it's not just about the technical learning curve, right? A lot of business owners aren't necessarily natural born storytellers, and with your communications background you can help them identify what listeners would actually find interesting.

You're absolutely right. I'm finding myself doing a lot of strategic counseling based on my news background and all my years working in PR and marketing. And because I have that background, my clients have come to value my opinion. A few weeks ago, a new client came in to record her trailer and asked me to review it. I started making edits for her right on the spot, with a stronger call-to action, a bit more colorful language, and what I knew would draw people in based on experience.

I've also given interview tips, teaching hosts about being conversational and moving conversations along. You can do that when you've produced a ton of TV news. You're right, not everyone is a natural born storyteller and they don't have the experience to build on. I can help, and I do.

Let's talk about the physical podcast studio space. How long ago did you decide to launch a studio that clients could visit and how did you go about making that a reality?

Well, I originally thought the only way to do this was with funding and purchasing my own space. I started down the path of researching how to make the best pitch deck and I got pretty close to finishing it. But honestly, and this may not be a popular train of thought -- I did not want to parade myself and my idea around waiting for someone to validate it and then have to give them a portion of the business AND listen to their opinion on how it should be run because of that investment. And that's IF I was even successful. I knew the stats about Black women and VC funding, and I didn't have the energy to take myself down that path.

I did meet with one potential investor, but my gut feeling told me to run. I listened. That meeting let me know for certain that that was not my destiny. Not that way.

As I mentioned, my idea formulated in August of 2019. I ran it by two people I trust and went full speed ahead. Because I lease an office at a co-working space, I decided to speak with them in January about the ability to put the podcast studio in one of their facilities. I was not expecting a yes, but I got it. It hadn't occurred to me that they'd allow that, but I'd been a great client and they trusted me.

I decided to go for it. I would have opened in April, but Covid-19 didn't allow it. I had already leased the space though and I was going to stay on the path. So I did.

I really just opened for clients in June.

So you constructed it within the coworking space. What’s some of the necessary equipment required for a studio?

Yes, I did. I have top-notch Rode equipment. The current setup is for four, and I also hired a Recording Supervisor so that clients and guests aren't handling equipment. I have a cool mixer and setup for four, including mics, headphones, and boom arms.

And of course the proper acoustical treatment.

In addition to podcasts, audio books and audio spots for Pandora, Spotify, etc.. can be recorded as well.

Talk to me about how you structure your services. It's a mixture of packages and a la carte options, right?

It is a combination of both. But I never assume that I know what the market wants and I stay open to creating it. The launch package has been popular with people who have decided to get serious or may have had a podcast within them dying to come out and didn't know where to start. I also offer hourly rates for recording and podcast episode editing, mixing, and mastering. One of my podcaster guests asked me to meet with her about a different kind of project she'd like to launch, so I'm eager to hear about it. I hope it's something new and different and may fuel new ideas. I have not yet cracked the code on services and I'm glad about that. The market will tell me what it wants. Of course my juices are always flowing, but I listen with both ears.

I'm working with a CEO who had a strong idea on what he wanted coming in, and I've counseled him in ways that have been pretty effective. Company-branded podcasts can really make the creator stand out internally. 

So when a new client comes in, you'll advise them on the subject matter of the podcast, then you'll book them to come in the recording studio, record them, and then edit the recording so it's packaged and ready to go live?

In some instances. If they are clear on the subject-matter, I talk them through the process, find out where they are in terms of artwork and planning and go from there, letting them know what I recommend on how we can work together. I have them write and record a trailer first. Once we have that edited and sent for their approval, they are very excited to hear it. Then we work with them on booking guests or whatever else needs to happen depending on the type of show they're creating.

Depending on the package you purchase, it can all be done by the Triangle Podcast Studio team. With launch packages we even do all of the uploading to their podcast hosting service.

I also have a strategy brief I created that can provide guidance. You don't get that until you become a customer.

I know that it's early days, but how are you thinking about marketing the studio moving forward? I'm guessing you're trying to target a local base.

I've already been running advertising on the local NPR station. I'm trying some ads for brand awareness too. I must say that this is where having funding would really be awesome because this is my second bootstrapped business and I don't have the marketing budget I need to really blow it up. I know what needs to be done, because this is some of what I do for my agency clients, but I just have to work towards it. I did apply for the FedEx Small Business grant a few months back but didn't get it. I feel like what investors want is a product and not so much a service like mine. But as I said, I don't have the patience for what I believe I'll be up against. 

I've had some success with non-profit organizations and individuals I call solopreneurs who want to continue to build their personal brands and create a deeper connection with the audience. A local base, yes. But if I can go big picture for a minute, I'd love to create Triangle Podcast Studios in several markets and allow others to get along or even franchise it.

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It’s actually excerpted from an ebook of case studies titled “The Next Media Moguls, Volume 1: Lessons from 10 successful media entrepreneurs and executives.” You can download the PDF over here.

Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.