Even with all that, the best most of us can hope for is slow, steady, consistent growth. Just getting more downloads on your new episode than on the last one is something to get excited about.
That’s why I’m a big proponent of putting your podcast on YouTube. It’s home to a new audience—a huge, massive, colossal, global audience—outside of the podcast apps, with enough data about that audience to know whether they’ll like your show and an algorithm that will shove it in their faces.
And the very best way to get viewers on YouTube is through video—actual video of actual humans, not a static image or an audiogram.
We’ve written about that a million times on this blog—so much so that I knew I had to try it with my own podcast. What I got was a 10x bump in subscribers, the kind of engagement a podcast my size could only dream of, and the determination to do it again, better than ever, next season.
I produce and host a narrative podcast called Taboo Science, which is all about examining topics that are socially off-limits through a scientific lens. There’s always at least one guest, but it’s not an interview show—instead, I chop up the interview and weave my own narration around it over some funky music beds. I’d say it was NPR-style, if that didn’t sound so conceited.
It was the narration that made me believe video would be too hard to pull off. If it was just an interview show, no problem—I’d just do some light editing of the remote interview and slap it on YouTube—easy.
But my narration was precious to me. I have a nice mic and a nice mixer in a tiny closet I’ve turned into my recording studio. No way was I going to reduce that audio quality by sitting in front of a camera in a big boomy room.
And that’s before you get to the video editing. I had attempted Adobe Premiere Pro in the past and knew I didn’t have the time it would take to surmount such a steep learning curve.
Luckily, my hosting platform at the time (Libsyn) had a feature that would let me automatically post episodes to YouTube with a static image of my podcast art. So I did that. The episodes didn’t get much traction, and my subscriber count languished. I had a whopping 34 subscribers by the time I decided to get serious and incorporate video.
How I turned things around
By the time I launched the third season of Taboo Science, I was working for Descript and shouting about the benefits of putting podcasts on YouTube to anyone who would listen. I knew I had to add video to my audio-only show, but I also knew I didn’t have the time or money to completely upend my workflow for video.
I decided not to let perfect be the enemy of good, and I found ways to make video happen. There are three things I did that helped me pile up subscribers without adding much extra time or effort.
1. Keep everything the same, but with a camera
It took me way too long to realize the obvious: I could just set up a camera in my closet recording studio and not change anything else. Would it look as slick as a MrBeast video? No it would not. But would it be better than a static image? Absolutely.
In fact, I was so determined not to change up my workflow for video that I didn’t even worry about looking into the camera during recording. Setting up and using a teleprompter would add time and headaches, and I was looking for the fastest, easiest route possible. (Midway through my season, Descript added Eye Contact, which was the answer to my prayers. More about my Descript process below.)
For the camera, I stayed on theme and decided to only use what I had on hand. That meant my options were my laptop’s built-in webcam, an Elgato Facecam, or my phone camera. After some trial and error, the best quality I got was from my phone camera — especially since I could use the Camo app to record straight to my computer. (I’ve got an Android; if you’re an iPhone user, you can use the built-in Continuity Camera).
I already had a ring light set up in my studio for guesting on other podcasts, so from there, all I had to do was point the camera at my face, press record, and start reading my script.
Once that was done, I moved on to the next strategy to slash my video editing time.
2. Edit audio and video at the same time (in Descript, naturally)
When I started my show way back in the olden days of 2020, the only video editing software I was aware of was Adobe Premiere Pro (which I had decided was too hard to learn) and iMovie (which I had decided was too basic and hard to customize). Video felt like it was off the table.
But by the time YouTube started paying attention to podcasts, there was a viable video alternative: Descript. With Descript, I could edit video from the transcript, which felt way more manageable than the video editors I was used to.
Using Descript also let me make the absolute minimum changes to my workflow, because I was already using it to do my rough edits for the podcast. Instead of importing in an audio file, I could import the video and go through the exact same editing process.
Here’s the process I used to make my audio and video podcasts at the same time:
Import the video interview
Make selects and plan out the episode
Write the narration
Film the narration using my phone and podcast mic
Arrange and edit the episode as if it were audio
Export the timeline to Adobe Audition for audio plugins
Publish the audio episode
Return to Descript, add a video template and any necessary video transitions
Export the video and upload to YouTube
By the time I had published the audio episode, I had a decent enough video that it only took an extra hour to polish it up for YouTube. That bears repeating: Video only took an extra hour of work per episode.
Here’s a video episode I made from the interview above:
A word about jump cuts
Here’s a frequent question I get about editing video podcasts: Unlike in audio, in video you can see every edit. Don’t you get a lot of jump cuts if you edit video the same way you edit audio?
My answer is yes, but it doesn’t really matter. First of all, podcast hosts and guests stay pretty still, for the most part, so any jumps that happen are usually subtle. And since my narration was scripted, allowing for endless retakes, those edits were seamless.
But second of all, this isn’t meant to be perfect. This is meant to get video of your podcast up on YouTube. Visible edits are a small price to pay to tap into such a vast audience—which probably doesn’t expect highly polished video to begin with.
Once I started uploading actual video of my episodes to YouTube, my views and subscribers started to increase. But there was one more thing I did to really send those numbers soaring—and I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t do it from the very beginning.
3. Optimize your YouTube channel
I hadn’t touched my YouTube channel since setting it up—and by setting it up, I mean naming it, writing a description, and uploading a profile image. My podcast host was doing automatic uploads, so I thought I could just set it and forget it. Which is probably one reason I had 34 subscribers.
So I created a YouTube banner. I marked my podcast trailer as the channel trailer. I created a podcast playlist. And I started making custom YouTube thumbnails and YouTube-style titles for every video instead of just repurposing everything from the audio episode.
And wouldn’t you know it? When it looks like the lights are on and somebody’s home, people are more likely to subscribe to your channel.
As a result, over a season of 13 video episodes (plus some audiogram reruns), my subscribers shot up from 34 to 370: a more than 10-fold increase (math!). Sure, it’s still a small number, relatively speaking, but it’s a huge difference and a great start.
I also got something podcasters never get—I got comments. Lots of them, on some videos. Some even told me exactly how the algorithm brought them to my channel.
One big reason podcasters should do video (even if it's bare bones, like mine) - these six words. You don't get this doing audio only. pic.twitter.com/plJE53QJlx
Now that I’m in the planning stages for the next season, I’m going to see if I can push the quality a little higher. A bare-bones video podcast has proven to be a manageable and valuable use of my time. Now I want to try using a real camera with fancier lighting outside of my tiny closet. Audio software is now at a point where I can make a big room sound like a small one (thanks to Studio Sound), so it’s worth trying out a better backdrop.
But one thing is for sure: I’m going to keep doing a video podcast. By adding just a little more time to my process, I got an audience and engagement that far exceeded my expectations.
Sometimes the most interesting stories can be the most traumatic for a person to tell. By learning trauma-informed interviewing techniques, you can make the experience a more positive one for everyone involved.