March 7, 2024

My Perfect Console’s Simon Parkin on how to make your interview podcast stand out

Simon Parkin didn't set out to make an indie podcast, but that's what he did. He shares how a sharp format helps his interview show stand out and how to stay creative with a day job.
March 7, 2024

My Perfect Console’s Simon Parkin on how to make your interview podcast stand out

Simon Parkin didn't set out to make an indie podcast, but that's what he did. He shares how a sharp format helps his interview show stand out and how to stay creative with a day job.
March 7, 2024
Zan Romanoff
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How They Made It is an interview series that focuses on indie creators, exploring how they got their start and how their shows and practices have evolved since then. We hope you find inspiration in them for your own creative projects.

If there’s an indie creator who’s hit it big that you think we should feature, send an email to ashley@descript.com.

Simon Parkin knows that, in his words, “video games have an identity problem.” Even though plenty of people from all demographics love to play, we still all too often associate them with teenage boys in sad, dank basements. Which is especially crazy because the market for video games is absolutely enormous. It’s “the most popular entertainment medium in the world,” Simon says. 

So Simon has been trying to help with gaming’s image problem. He does this in print, writing for publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times. And he also runs a podcast called My Perfect Console, which asks people from the gaming industry as well as filmmakers, writers, musicians, and comedians to answer one simple question: what five video games would you choose to immortalize on a video game console with your name on it?

Simon chatted with us via Zoom from his home in the UK about how that unique, consistent format helps him land big-name guests, as well as how he ended up indie by accident… and why he’s so happy he did. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin

Did you consider trying to partner with an established production company or brand to make My Perfect Console? 

Initially I wanted to do it with an existing broadcaster. I'm at a sort of midpoint of my career, and there's a little bit of not wanting to put something out and have it fail. It’s one thing to do that when you're 23 years old, but when you're a little older it feels more vulnerable and frightening.

I spoke to the New Yorker, ‘cause they were wanting to do more audio projects. I spoke to the Guardian, ‘cause I do lots of stuff with them. The BBC were quite interested in doing a similar format to My Perfect Console, and we spoke about that for a couple of months, until they got to a certain commissioner. And then they were like, “Oh, it's not quite right for us.”

So I had three or four knockbacks, and I just got to the point where  I was like, actually, I just want this to exist in the world. As a book writer who works with a lot of archived material, I spend a lot of time listening to oral history projects, and I just know how valuable they are to researchers and authors in the future.

And I was like, I would just actually like to make a thing where we can hear from the creator of Pong. Not that they've not done documentaries before, but perhaps not an hour long, in-depth conversation. That's what I'd like to see in the world. I'm just going to make it. And if it fails, so what? At least I would have made something that I think is valuable. That was a process, though, to get to that point of thinking. It took almost a year.  

I understand that! It’s scary to work outside of a structure when you’re used to having a lot of feedback and support. It’s scary to be like, what if I put this out, and everyone tells me it’s bad?

There is a risk. But then the benefits of actually being independent are pretty major as well: being able to make it exactly how you want it, and have full control over everything. I had a vision for what I wanted it to sound like, and I didn't have to ask permission, or convince anyone. I found that quite liberating, to be honest.

Did you have much experience editing audio at that point?

Right when I finished college, I was in bands. I had a record deal, even, so, you know, had a fair bit of studio experience. Obviously that's making music, but it's all the same sort of skills. So I was very familiar with professional audio editing software, and understood how to set up a mic.

What does your setup look like now? What hardware and software do you use to make the show?

Typically I do interviews on Zoom. There's a little toggle where you can have original sound for musicians, so I turn that on, and then I ask my guests to wear headphones and record their side of the audio, even if I'm talking to people who are not necessarily tech savvy. If they've just got an iPhone I'm like, just put that on the table in front of you and record a voice note and send me that, because that will often be better than the Zoom. But I always have the Zoom recorded as backup. I record locally as well; I wear headphones, so I know that my audio is always going to sound really crisp and good. 

For a mic, I use an Audio Technica AT2020. I love it. That goes through a little DI box type thing, controller, and into my laptop. And I edit on Logic Pro, which allows me to use a load of different plugins, compressors and different things like that. I have a template where I've got everything set up how I want it. I do sometimes use Adobe's new podcast audio software, which you can run through and it will clean up ambient sound and make it sound like it was recorded in the booth.

I'd say my whole setup didn't cost more than like, $300 probably. The thing that takes the time is setting up your workflow and your templates. But once you've got it, then the process gets quicker and quicker. 

My Perfect Console’s homepage on ACast
My Perfect Console’s homepage on ACast


How did you start thinking about creating an audience for your show?

Right from the start, I wanted to get high quality guests, which of course, everyone who's running an interview-based podcast does. I did have a head start, because in the early months, a lot of the guests were people I'd interviewed before or knew already. But not all of them. I wrote to Josh Wardle, who is the creator of Wordle. He got back to me and was like, “I get asked to do loads of podcasts, and I don't do most of them, but I really love the premise of this.”

I think when you say to people, “What five games would you put on a console with your name on it?” They immediately start trying to answer the question. And then they're like, “Oh, I've got three really interesting things I could talk about. Yeah, I'll do your show.”

The initial core audience was probably people that already followed me on social media. And then with certain guests, they might say something that was newsworthy within the video game industry. I mean, not like 10 o'clock news on TV newsworthy, but something that would become a blog post or something. So there was a certain degree of me writing to editors I know and going, “I've got this episode coming out this week. I think it's got some newsworthy stuff. Here's a link so you can listen to it.” And then it gets on the map of journalists who are looking for that kind of content, and they start listening, and then they might do future stories. So that was a good way to sort of help build an audience.

I did lots of things to just try. Like, I wrote to Apple to try and get it featured quite early on. I knew I had a guest, Phil Fish, who made the video game Fez; he was one of the main characters in Indie Game: The Movie. And then he disappeared from the public eye completely. I knew him a bit and said, “Would you come on and do an episode?” And he said yes. So I knew that that was going to be a big deal for people who are into the scene. I wrote to Apple and like, I think this would be a really good episode for you to promote. And they were really supportive and were like, “Great, we'll do it.”

Reddit, as well. Like when I had Bryan Lee O’Malley, who created Scott Pilgrim. That's got a really big cult internet following with a very active Reddit. And they’ll post there’s a new interview with Bryan Lee O’Malley because everyone on that subreddit wants to listen to an interview with him. It’s about tapping into all of these micro audiences, and then hoping that a certain percentage of the listeners are then going to just subscribe and keep listening to it because they like the show. 

When did you start monetizing it?

I started off running ads quite quickly, through Acast. I think you have to pass a certain threshold of audience before you can apply to that program, but thankfully I passed that quite quickly. [Having been featured on Apple] was a big help. When you apply to do things like monetizing through Acast or other platforms, it just helps everyone feel comfortable about the quality of the show, and that it's a safe place for advertisers. 

I was sort of nervous about doing a Patreon, because again, it’s a public failure if it doesn't work out. And then it's been a modest success, I would say. Definitely a really strong core. 

I spoke to someone from Patreon who was really supportive, before I came out, who gave me some good ideas. She was like, “Why don't you ask your audience on Patreon to submit some user questions that you can give to guests when they're coming up, and put that out as just a short little 10-, 15-minute bonus episode just for supporters?” which was such a great idea.

I've not got like 5,000 patrons or whatever.  It's a small group at the moment, and partly that's just my bandwidth of being able to put out bonus stuff. This is not my primary job, so I work on this mostly outside of work hours. The idea of doing a whole other stream of bonus content is just not something that I can commit to at the moment.  


Simon Parkin’s author page on The New Yorker
Simon Parkin’s author page on The New Yorker

Can you talk a little bit more about trying to balance the podcast with your other work? Because that’s something that’s true for most independent podcasters, I think—that this isn’t a full-time job. 

Yeah. It’s tiring. I would say it's very rewarding, but I wouldn't do it if it wasn't rewarding. 

It’s a lot of work, especially when you're trying to approach guests. That takes time, to craft an email that feels personal and relevant. Then you've gotta record the thing, do all the editing, do all the promo. And then it's a rolling schedule. I do one episode a week and I don't miss any, so there's just a lot of planning and thinking to do. 

I tend to work on it in the evenings. I'll do like two hours a night, whether that’s writing to people to ask them to come on, or editing, or queuing things up to go out. And there's a bit of social media: I put out a clip for next week's episode every week. It’s quite nice to have the discipline and the rhythm of that for my own sake. 

I did an episode just before Christmas Day 2023, and then did a couple of clip shows of the best stuff. And then I just took four weeks off. I didn't stop the Patreon. 

It was really healthy to have that break. You do feel a pressure to go constantly, but I just think that's a pretty sure way to burn out. Now I’ve got renewed momentum and energy, so I definitely recommend that. I lost a couple of Patrons, but then got a couple as well. 

What advice do you have for beginning podcasters?

For me, the thing that's really helped is having a clear format. I do enjoy some of the formats that are just like two dudes having a chat for an hour. There's a lot of those podcasts around though. Also, it takes a heck of a lot of the creative strain off you, because you're like, great. I have the skeleton; I just get to put the meat on it each week.

It helps to have a lens, especially if you're doing an interview format. We're in a latter stage of interview-based podcasts, where it's very difficult to stand out, to convince people to come on your show, to talk to you. Why are they going to do that rather than all of the other ones that are asking them in any given week?

Zan Romanoff
Zan Romanoff is a full-time freelance journalist, as well as the author of three young adult novels. She lives and writes in LA.
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My Perfect Console’s Simon Parkin on how to make your interview podcast stand out

How They Made It is an interview series that focuses on indie creators, exploring how they got their start and how their shows and practices have evolved since then. We hope you find inspiration in them for your own creative projects.

If there’s an indie creator who’s hit it big that you think we should feature, send an email to ashley@descript.com.

Simon Parkin knows that, in his words, “video games have an identity problem.” Even though plenty of people from all demographics love to play, we still all too often associate them with teenage boys in sad, dank basements. Which is especially crazy because the market for video games is absolutely enormous. It’s “the most popular entertainment medium in the world,” Simon says. 

So Simon has been trying to help with gaming’s image problem. He does this in print, writing for publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times. And he also runs a podcast called My Perfect Console, which asks people from the gaming industry as well as filmmakers, writers, musicians, and comedians to answer one simple question: what five video games would you choose to immortalize on a video game console with your name on it?

Simon chatted with us via Zoom from his home in the UK about how that unique, consistent format helps him land big-name guests, as well as how he ended up indie by accident… and why he’s so happy he did. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin

Did you consider trying to partner with an established production company or brand to make My Perfect Console? 

Initially I wanted to do it with an existing broadcaster. I'm at a sort of midpoint of my career, and there's a little bit of not wanting to put something out and have it fail. It’s one thing to do that when you're 23 years old, but when you're a little older it feels more vulnerable and frightening.

I spoke to the New Yorker, ‘cause they were wanting to do more audio projects. I spoke to the Guardian, ‘cause I do lots of stuff with them. The BBC were quite interested in doing a similar format to My Perfect Console, and we spoke about that for a couple of months, until they got to a certain commissioner. And then they were like, “Oh, it's not quite right for us.”

So I had three or four knockbacks, and I just got to the point where  I was like, actually, I just want this to exist in the world. As a book writer who works with a lot of archived material, I spend a lot of time listening to oral history projects, and I just know how valuable they are to researchers and authors in the future.

And I was like, I would just actually like to make a thing where we can hear from the creator of Pong. Not that they've not done documentaries before, but perhaps not an hour long, in-depth conversation. That's what I'd like to see in the world. I'm just going to make it. And if it fails, so what? At least I would have made something that I think is valuable. That was a process, though, to get to that point of thinking. It took almost a year.  

I understand that! It’s scary to work outside of a structure when you’re used to having a lot of feedback and support. It’s scary to be like, what if I put this out, and everyone tells me it’s bad?

There is a risk. But then the benefits of actually being independent are pretty major as well: being able to make it exactly how you want it, and have full control over everything. I had a vision for what I wanted it to sound like, and I didn't have to ask permission, or convince anyone. I found that quite liberating, to be honest.

Did you have much experience editing audio at that point?

Right when I finished college, I was in bands. I had a record deal, even, so, you know, had a fair bit of studio experience. Obviously that's making music, but it's all the same sort of skills. So I was very familiar with professional audio editing software, and understood how to set up a mic.

What does your setup look like now? What hardware and software do you use to make the show?

Typically I do interviews on Zoom. There's a little toggle where you can have original sound for musicians, so I turn that on, and then I ask my guests to wear headphones and record their side of the audio, even if I'm talking to people who are not necessarily tech savvy. If they've just got an iPhone I'm like, just put that on the table in front of you and record a voice note and send me that, because that will often be better than the Zoom. But I always have the Zoom recorded as backup. I record locally as well; I wear headphones, so I know that my audio is always going to sound really crisp and good. 

For a mic, I use an Audio Technica AT2020. I love it. That goes through a little DI box type thing, controller, and into my laptop. And I edit on Logic Pro, which allows me to use a load of different plugins, compressors and different things like that. I have a template where I've got everything set up how I want it. I do sometimes use Adobe's new podcast audio software, which you can run through and it will clean up ambient sound and make it sound like it was recorded in the booth.

I'd say my whole setup didn't cost more than like, $300 probably. The thing that takes the time is setting up your workflow and your templates. But once you've got it, then the process gets quicker and quicker. 

My Perfect Console’s homepage on ACast
My Perfect Console’s homepage on ACast


How did you start thinking about creating an audience for your show?

Right from the start, I wanted to get high quality guests, which of course, everyone who's running an interview-based podcast does. I did have a head start, because in the early months, a lot of the guests were people I'd interviewed before or knew already. But not all of them. I wrote to Josh Wardle, who is the creator of Wordle. He got back to me and was like, “I get asked to do loads of podcasts, and I don't do most of them, but I really love the premise of this.”

I think when you say to people, “What five games would you put on a console with your name on it?” They immediately start trying to answer the question. And then they're like, “Oh, I've got three really interesting things I could talk about. Yeah, I'll do your show.”

The initial core audience was probably people that already followed me on social media. And then with certain guests, they might say something that was newsworthy within the video game industry. I mean, not like 10 o'clock news on TV newsworthy, but something that would become a blog post or something. So there was a certain degree of me writing to editors I know and going, “I've got this episode coming out this week. I think it's got some newsworthy stuff. Here's a link so you can listen to it.” And then it gets on the map of journalists who are looking for that kind of content, and they start listening, and then they might do future stories. So that was a good way to sort of help build an audience.

I did lots of things to just try. Like, I wrote to Apple to try and get it featured quite early on. I knew I had a guest, Phil Fish, who made the video game Fez; he was one of the main characters in Indie Game: The Movie. And then he disappeared from the public eye completely. I knew him a bit and said, “Would you come on and do an episode?” And he said yes. So I knew that that was going to be a big deal for people who are into the scene. I wrote to Apple and like, I think this would be a really good episode for you to promote. And they were really supportive and were like, “Great, we'll do it.”

Reddit, as well. Like when I had Bryan Lee O’Malley, who created Scott Pilgrim. That's got a really big cult internet following with a very active Reddit. And they’ll post there’s a new interview with Bryan Lee O’Malley because everyone on that subreddit wants to listen to an interview with him. It’s about tapping into all of these micro audiences, and then hoping that a certain percentage of the listeners are then going to just subscribe and keep listening to it because they like the show. 

When did you start monetizing it?

I started off running ads quite quickly, through Acast. I think you have to pass a certain threshold of audience before you can apply to that program, but thankfully I passed that quite quickly. [Having been featured on Apple] was a big help. When you apply to do things like monetizing through Acast or other platforms, it just helps everyone feel comfortable about the quality of the show, and that it's a safe place for advertisers. 

I was sort of nervous about doing a Patreon, because again, it’s a public failure if it doesn't work out. And then it's been a modest success, I would say. Definitely a really strong core. 

I spoke to someone from Patreon who was really supportive, before I came out, who gave me some good ideas. She was like, “Why don't you ask your audience on Patreon to submit some user questions that you can give to guests when they're coming up, and put that out as just a short little 10-, 15-minute bonus episode just for supporters?” which was such a great idea.

I've not got like 5,000 patrons or whatever.  It's a small group at the moment, and partly that's just my bandwidth of being able to put out bonus stuff. This is not my primary job, so I work on this mostly outside of work hours. The idea of doing a whole other stream of bonus content is just not something that I can commit to at the moment.  


Simon Parkin’s author page on The New Yorker
Simon Parkin’s author page on The New Yorker

Can you talk a little bit more about trying to balance the podcast with your other work? Because that’s something that’s true for most independent podcasters, I think—that this isn’t a full-time job. 

Yeah. It’s tiring. I would say it's very rewarding, but I wouldn't do it if it wasn't rewarding. 

It’s a lot of work, especially when you're trying to approach guests. That takes time, to craft an email that feels personal and relevant. Then you've gotta record the thing, do all the editing, do all the promo. And then it's a rolling schedule. I do one episode a week and I don't miss any, so there's just a lot of planning and thinking to do. 

I tend to work on it in the evenings. I'll do like two hours a night, whether that’s writing to people to ask them to come on, or editing, or queuing things up to go out. And there's a bit of social media: I put out a clip for next week's episode every week. It’s quite nice to have the discipline and the rhythm of that for my own sake. 

I did an episode just before Christmas Day 2023, and then did a couple of clip shows of the best stuff. And then I just took four weeks off. I didn't stop the Patreon. 

It was really healthy to have that break. You do feel a pressure to go constantly, but I just think that's a pretty sure way to burn out. Now I’ve got renewed momentum and energy, so I definitely recommend that. I lost a couple of Patrons, but then got a couple as well. 

What advice do you have for beginning podcasters?

For me, the thing that's really helped is having a clear format. I do enjoy some of the formats that are just like two dudes having a chat for an hour. There's a lot of those podcasts around though. Also, it takes a heck of a lot of the creative strain off you, because you're like, great. I have the skeleton; I just get to put the meat on it each week.

It helps to have a lens, especially if you're doing an interview format. We're in a latter stage of interview-based podcasts, where it's very difficult to stand out, to convince people to come on your show, to talk to you. Why are they going to do that rather than all of the other ones that are asking them in any given week?

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