Podcast Plans: Questions For People

Oh look, it’s yet another post about my podcast!

I know, I’ve written very little other than stuff about the podcast recently — but remember that the podcast itself came to about twenty thousand words of writing last month, which *was* also posted as blog posts as well as podcasts.
Anyway, I’m currently trying to build up a decent backlog of podcast scripts, and once I’ve got a buffer I’ll be back to posting here more regularly about other things. And I should have a review of a Duane Eddy gig up tomorrow.
But for now, I want to ask people’s opinion about the best way to go about the book versions of the podcast.

You see, when I started writing this, it was intended as a series of books. I was going to write about a thousand words about each song. Five books, hundred songs per book, take five years to do at a reasonable rate. Hopefully they’d sell as well as my California Dreaming book, which would bring in a nice extra bit of income.

That changed a bit when I realised that a podcast was the best medium for this story. You see, each episode is about four thousand words. Covering five hundred songs will require two million words, which is almost four times the length of War & Peace.

But it turns out that that’s what the thing will require. In fact, now I’m starting to worry if five hundred songs wasn’t too few, and I shouldn’t have gone for a thousand songs.

Because this is important to me. More important, I think, than I’ve made clear. This is something that’s been percolating for about seventeen years, although it only took full form a few months ago.

I think it started when I was at university. In my second attempt at getting a degree, I was studying a course on popular music history, and early on in the course the lecturers talked about Carl Perkins, and played some of his music, then laughingly said “don’t worry, we don’t expect you to listen to this for fun, you just have to know about it.”

I *loved* Carl Perkins, then and now. I was listening to him for fun. And I wondered how someone could teach a course that would lead people to have any understanding at all of popular music, if they dismissed out of hand the very possibility that their students could actually enjoy the music they were talking about.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m watching the Everly Brothers on their last UK tour. The show was fantastic, and they came out and did an encore. They did two songs in the encore — “Blue Yodel #9 (T For Texas)”, the old hillbilly song by Jimmie Rodgers, and “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke. And they both sounded like Everly Brothers songs, and fantastic. And I had a sort of gut-level realisation that they came from a time when Jimmie Rodgers and Sam Cooke were both just… music, that they liked. They didn’t have to be in one style or another. They were just good music, and they were both connected to what the Everlys were doing.

Fast forward another year or two, and I’m at a mediocre festival. But like all mediocre festivals, there had been a couple of great acts, and one of them was the Del McCoury Band. I’d not really known anything about McCoury, who’s one of the all-time greats of bluegrass, before seeing him, but I was absolutely blown away by his band, who were professionals of the old school, dressed smartly in matching suits, playing with breathtaking precision. I instantly became a fan.
The next day, there was a band I *had* been looking forward to until that day, Hayseed Dixie, a novelty act who did bluegrass covers of hard rock songs. They came on, and they were… frankly nasty in their stereotyped, “Dukes of Hazzard” style faux-yokelisms, mocking Southern country people with every word they said, with a sense that they were more sophisticated than anyone who could unironically like bluegrass without turning it into a joke. 

I looked at them, with their overalls, and I remembered Del McCoury stood on stage in his immaculate suit, singing immaculate harmonies with his sons while they played the most blisteringly fast banjo and mandolin you’ve ever heard, and I knew who I thought was more sophisticated. I never listened to Hayseed Dixie again.

But anyway, those are just three examples of miniature epiphanies which have happened to me several more times over the years. And these have all had the same effect, more or less… which is that there is a *wealth* of music out there, important, wonderful music that has enriched my life, but it’s inaccessible to many people my age or younger. Without the cultural context, it sounds like a joke.

And that’s something that’s going to carry on happening. When I finish this project, assuming I get to, it’ll be 2028. When I cover, say, a song from Automatic for the People by R.E.M., it’ll be thirty-six years, give or take, since the album came out. “Blue Suede Shoes” was thirty-six years before that. Without context, will R.E.M. sound any less ridiculous to the teenagers of the late twenties and early thirties than Carl Perkins apparently did to the teenagers and lecturers at my university? I doubt it.

But I think I can provide that context, culturally and musically. I think my particular talents, in so far as I have any, are more suited to this than to anything else I could be doing with myself. I think I’m good at telling stories, I’m good at research, I’m good at picking out the telling details from a mass of information. I’m also good at making connections between seemingly disparate things, and pointing out why they’re related. I know twentieth century popular music as well as… well not as well as anyone I can think of, but I’m probably in the top ten people I can think of as far as that kind of knowledge goes. I also am a competent enough musician that I can analyse the music, but not competent enough that I’ll try to put my own music into the podcast.

I honestly think that this is the best contribution I could make to human culture, and it’s something that I’ll take very seriously indeed.
But it’s going to be a lot of work. It sounds grandiose to the point of delusion, but I’m thinking of this as my equivalent to the multi-volume big books of 18th and 19th-century gentleman scholars — my Origin of Species or Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Golden Bough. One of those things that goes into all the detail that’s needed to create a complete picture.

Again, two million words.

Now, once I’ve got my buffer of scripts filled up, I *will* still have time to do other things — to blog about politics and comics and Doctor Who as well as music, and about whatever else enters my head. I’ve got ideas for a lot more short stories I want to write, I’m going to finish the Nilsson book, and I know people want the third Sarah Turner book, and that *will* be coming out next year. I plan to write more novels, too.

But the thing is, to do this, I basically have to treat it as a full-time job, and that means making it earn full-time job money, which affects how I do the books.

Now, before I go any further, I’m going to reiterate — this blog will always stay free, and advert-free. The podcast will always stay free.

I also *want* to keep the podcast free of adverts, but I’m willing to put adverts in if it doesn’t start paying for itself in a few months’ time.
So what I want to do is figure out ways to maximise my income from books, and also to maximise new Patreon signups from the podcast.

I *think* I have found a way to do both, while also keeping complete creative integrity, but I’d be interested in what people think.

I think the book versions of the podcasts, as books, need to be no more than five books in total. No-one is going to sign up for a ten-book series. So that means each of those books has to be big — roughly War and Peace big — and will come out once every two years.

Now, that’s not going to earn enough for me to live on — and if it does, it won’t be until two years from now, and I’d quite like to eat in the intervening time. So absent Steven Spielberg buying the film rights for The Basilisk Murders or something, I need to find another way to make a sustainable income from the podcast.

I don’t want to do ads unless I have to, but what I *can* do is make signing up for my Patreon more attractive.

So what I’m thinking for the books is this:

Every time I complete a “story arc” of five to ten episodes, I create an ebook version of that “story arc”. This will be based on the podcast scripts, but edited and rewritten to be suitable for a prose format rather than the audio form. That will be posted free to all Patreon backers at every level. These will be twenty to forty thousand words long, so roughly one or two hundred pages, give or take.

Every six months, I put out a revised paperback, for higher-tier Patreon backers only. This paperback does not go on general sale, but is only available for backers who want it, and covers six months’ worth of the story. That’s about a hundred and twenty thousand words, ish, or at the high side of normal for a paperback novel.

Then, every two years, I put out a volume of the finished books (which Patreon backers would also get, at the relevant levels, either as ebook, paperback, or hardback). These would be Big Fat Books, a thousand pages or more each, and they’d be available on general sale.

Is this plan something that would appeal to people? Current Patreon backers, is this something you would like (this will be on top of the blog posts and any other books I write, which you’ll get as before)? Potential Patreon backers, would this make you more likely to subscribe? Potential book-buyers, am I right in thinking you’d rather have five giant doorstops, released once every two years, than a series of ten (or twenty!) shorter books released more frequently?

(People who have no interest in my podcast, and can’t see themselves ever giving me money for any of my work, there’s no need for you to answer. I am aware that the vast majority of the world’s population won’t ever pay me for this, and that’s fine. Not everything is for everyone. But there’s no need to tell me that if it’s true of you.)

And also, does anyone have anything else they would like to see me do with this podcast? Ideally in ways that will make it more financially viable, but even if they don’t bring in money, anything that people like will pay off either financially or artistically in the long run, so I’m willing to consider all sorts of stuff.

This is a ridiculously ambitious project for me, but I think I can do it — and once I’ve got the buffer filled up, normal service here will resume and I’ll have thoughts on Batman or Doctor Who or the latest attempts by the Lib Dem leadership to consign us to electoral oblivion or something.

Please let me know what you think. I’m after all the feedback on this I can get. And thank you for listening, those who have been.

If this appeals to you, please consider signing up for my Patreon. And if you’ve not heard the podcast yet, 500songs.com is the place to go.

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7 Responses to Podcast Plans: Questions For People

  1. davidgerard says:

    Frankly? This is a brilliant podcast. I keep *replaying* them, on my phone. You provide deeply knowledgeable historical context, and even if they started as writing, they come alive with the music right there.

    So I would say: keep just doing the podcast, let future books assume the shape they do, let the song selection assume the shape it does and feel free to rename it “500 songs or more”.

    (Now then, Joy Division. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was their signature number, but it didn’t have a lot of obvious influence! So what did? Something did, after all. How to solve that one? From your focus on stuff that came well before that time. That is something I’ll be delighted to hear, some time in 2028 …)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you! That’s *really* good of you to say.
      And yes, I’m going to let things take the shape they want — I’m putting artistic integrity first with this — but I’m interested in what people want from it.
      (And yes, I think having the music there makes it very different from how it would be as just plain writing, though I *think* I can reprocess it back into prose in ways that work for that medium too.)

      • davidgerard says:

        As I imply, I’ll be *really* interested when you get out of your specialty area,and into mine …

        btw, have you read Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah? It’s a history of pop that gets deep into disco and dance music. It’s really huge, but also awesome. Takes a while to get going, but when it does hoo boy.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          It’s one of several books I’m reading at the moment actually, along with “Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll” by Nick Tosches, “Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story” also by Tosches, “Hound Dog: The Autobiography of Leiber and Stoller”, and “Listen to the Lambs” by Johnny Otis ;)

          • davidgerard says:

            man, so many books. I’d ask you to write them up for Rocknerd, except clearly you need to write them up yourself ;-)

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              Before that I was reading or rereading “Before Elvis” by Larry Birnbaum, “Shout Sister Shout!” by Gayle F Wald, “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll” by Peter Guralnick, and “Last Train To Memphis” also by Guralnick.
              I won’t even be getting to the people these are about (other than “Shout Sister Shout”, which is about Rosetta Tharpe, and her episode goes up tomorrow) for several months, but I have to read a *lot* ahead to plant the appropriate seeds in the right places. I’ve got stuff I’m putting in to episodes I won’t be writing for two years, but which I need to set up now ;)

  2. po8crg says:

    I’ve done a lot of thinking about monetising podcasts – they’re possibly my favourite medium, and I’m doing research on one of my own.

    Other than adverts, here are a few things you might want to consider:

    1. Update your Patreon for the podcast. At the moment your patreon headline is “Andrew Hickey is creating Writing”, which is going to make some people think they’ve found the wrong Andrew Hickey.

    2. Consider creating a separate Patreon for the podcast.

    3. Podcast listeners like listening; if the only patreon bonus is something to read, that might put them off. Could you put together bonus podcasts for Patreon backers? Typically, these are “the things I found in my research that I had to cut” (either for length or for relevancy) and are eclectic and whatever the creator feels like (ie more relaxed and less structured than a regular episode). One a month is normal for a weekly podcast. Some podcasters literally just turn the mic on and record for 30-45 minutes and put that out, unedited.

    4. Contact other podcasters – music podcasters and history podcasters. I can think of a few on the history side who might be interested once you’ve reached the point where they’d be confident you’re going to keep going (which is about now; lots of podcasts only make one or two episodes). Pitch them with a guest episode exchange – where you do an episode for their feed, something like an episode on the early history of rock n roll; and they do an episode for your feed, which doesn’t count in your continuity, but might be on a broader historical context, or on a music-specific topic (I dunno, but an episode on the technical development of instruments, or on musical theory or whatever).

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