I was asked at my Facebook Group recently about how I create my weekly podcast. When I explained it is usually late at night after eight pints of cider and involves twenty minutes cutting and pasting from Wikipedia, the questioner wasn’t quite sure if I was serious or not. This was a bit of a worry, so I promised to write a short article about how I have produced the 160 or so episodes of the UK True Crime podcast.
There is no research team. Around ten of my shows have been written by others (I am always grateful for assistance, so please contact me if you would like to research an episode) but essentially it is just me. My podcast is released every Tuesday, with no breaks during the year for additional research or to produce a pipeline of episodes. I also produce a bonus episode monthly for supporters on Patreon and as someone who works full time and has a young family too, time can be tight.
To achieve this, I must ensure I make as much use of my free time as possible. And the other key element, which is the advice I always give when asked about how to begin a podcast, is I don’t let perfect get in the way of very good (no chuckling please).
With that all said, let’s look at how I work.
Selecting a case
I am not so interested in the well-known cases that are covered in numerous books and podcasts, so I concentrate on covering lesser known cases. Each week, my first task is to find a story that is of interest to me as if it isn’t, I can’t expect the 100,000 or so weekly listeners to my show to be interested either.
I am often contacted by someone who wants me to cover a specific case. This can be a story that is just of interest to them, or they or a friend/relative may have been directly involved and they want me to publicise the story. I am usually happy to do this, but sometimes this can cause issues about what I really should or shouldn’t include. This struggle with ethics is something that comes up again and again when producing a podcast of this genre, and for a more detailed discussion on this, why not come and join me at an event I am doing in Manchester in May where we are discussing the ethics of true crime shows.
Another good source of crimes to cover is Total Crime run by the excellent journalist Chris Summers. I browse this site regularly looking for more information on stories that interest me. And other times, I will just google criminal trials in certain parts of the UK and follow up any that look interesting. Often, I start with one story but when I get to the detail, I see links to other stories that intrigue me more and so I switch cases.
I ensure I don’t just cover murders, but a mix of crimes. My story selection can put me into controversial areas when I cover some stories, especially terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland, when I am accused of taking a political stance from all sides. In reality, I am, as always, just trying to tell the personal stories and the complex politics are mentioned as little as possible and only included to set context.
I try to start the research by Thursday at the latest. What I would like to do is to travel to the area where the events took place so I could talk to the families of the people involved, local police officers and journalists. This would allow me to be certain of my facts and gain additional insight. However, the reality of a weekly podcast which I create in my spare time makes this impossible, so I do the very best research I can.
I know that I work best in the early morning so will usually get up around 5 and if I am at home will sit on the couch with 2 my two lovely dalmatians (Buckley & Cooper), laptop and black coffee researching everything I can find on a story. I will usually listen to LBC, 5Live or Talksport as I research information from books, online magazines, articles, forums and social media. It is quite astonishing just how much information can be found in places you wouldn’t expect, e.g., I have found football forums really interesting as people connected with a story tend to talk very openly in these places – probably way too openly for a public area – about what they know.
Lesser Known Stories
As I cover lesser known stories, naturally there is not too much information about the people involved, especially the personal information which to me brings a story to life. I am naturally inquisitive on detail and want to know what someone had for breakfast, which football team they support and how they spend their leisure time. This is the crux, I think, of why people listen to my podcast, or most true crime podcasts, as it makes the people involved real. Luckily, during the course of the last two and a half years creating this podcast I have built up a strong network of journalists, crime authors and police officers and these contacts are invaluable in providing me with the information I really want to find out. Again, there is some material I cannot use but the context really helps shape the story.
I then start structuring the information I have found by placing it under certain headings, e.g., John Smith family, day of the murder, the murder, trial, aftermath, similar cases, concluding thoughts. This can be 20,000 words or more and for my podcast, which I aim to last 25 minutes, I need around 3500 words for the final script. Why 25 minutes? I listen to some excellent podcasts which are much longer, like the excellent True Crime Enthusiast Podcast. But most commutes are around 25 minutes, so this is one reason I keep it shorter. Another reason is that my show aims to appeal to a wide audience, not just people like you and I who love all things true crime, all of the time. The final point is consistency. One of the first pieces of advice I was given about producing a successful podcast – and it is, I think, excellent advice – is to be consistent on length, style and day of release. With the time I have available I know I can consistently release a weekly show of this length.
Telling the story
Once I think I have exhausted the research, it is time to think about the best way to tell the story in an engaging manner. When I start writing I try to head to my home office, which is away from the noise of the house and looks out through trees over our valley to the sea. It is a beautiful, calm place to work and I turn the music up – not Kings of Leon or Elbow obviously – and start to write. I work three times as quickly in my office, but if life gets in the way I may find myself doing this on my laptop at a children’s play centre or similar with my headphones on and music blasting.
Two points are always in my mind when I write. Firstly, the story is all about the victim(s) and am I telling their story in a respectful way? I am often contacted by relatives/friends of those involved who have heard the show and how they would feel listening is always at the forefront of my mind. Secondly, what detail isn’t needed and is just padding out the story and what adds to the experience.
Engagement and Humour
As I put the content together, my preference is to start with the crime and then work back, as I think it is vital to engage the listener instantly, but it depends on the material. When I hit a stumbling block – and I hit many – I move away from the case to research the music and stories of the day, which is quite fun for me as I can add some personal comments, usually pretty sarcastic. I get a bit of stick about this sometimes as I talk a lot about being kind to people and yet am pretty disparaging about some of the musicians. But I think my listeners know it is all in good humour. Well, most of it anyway. And humour is something I play around with during the podcast. I appreciate that with the seriousness of the content humour can be seen by some as distasteful and showing a lack of respect: I appreciate it is a fine line. But podcasting forms a unique relationship between host and listener and the feedback I receive is that my listeners like a bit of personality. Not too much, but a little. Of course, the negative comments I receive slate me for it (and most other things) but hey, this is my independent podcast. I don’t work for the BBC or any other organisation and the joy of this is that I can say exactly what I want. I can talk about the Mighty Leeds United, and keep in-jokes going, e.g., a recent case involved a sex sauna in Rochdale, and I can’t quite seem to let the references to this go. I think that after podcasting for a while my confidence has grown, and I would have been less comfortable with this in the early days.
When finished, I always leave myself a couple of hours – preferably overnight – before I return to the script ready to record. This is vital as it allows a fresh view on the material and I always make a worrying number of changes at this point. It is now that I add my final thoughts to conclude the episode.
Finally, it is showtime and I record the episode. If I am at home, I try to do this early on a Saturday or Sunday morning as I make less mistakes. I still get butterflies each time I sit down to record, wondering if anyone is going to listen or enjoy the show, so it is time to take some last sips of water before I begin. I’m not sure about you, but additional mouth noises are my pet hate listening to podcasts, especially with headphones. My experience is that a fizzy drink or no drink at all leads to very odd noises – maybe this is just me – so I always drink some water during the recording.
Finally, it is my least enjoyable part of the process, the edit. Don’t you just hate your own voice? Me too. I must really concentrate to eliminate noises and correct mistakes, but I just find it so dull and sometimes find myself drifting off into a daydream, which means going back and listening again. I made some horrendous editing mistakes in my earlier days and being sloppy at this final stage really detracts from all the hard work putting the show together.
It is then a matter of creating a title and writing the show notes as the recording downloads to my host, Audioboom, for release at 5 minutes past midnight on a Tuesday. Every Tuesday. I always now check that the whole episode has recorded as the one time I didn’t check there was a technical error and I lost the end of the show. It was a really sensitive subject about an IRA atrocity and without all of the episode the story ended abruptly without explanation. I (rightly) received a lot of criticism for this error and it won’t happen again.
Publication & Social Channels
When I wake up on Tuesday morning, I open Apple Podcasts on my phone to check the podcast is live and usually immediately publicise the show on all my social channels, which I usually do in bed surrounded by our 7 pussy cats before I get up. All day on Tuesday I am replying to comments from people who listened to the episode. Being a part of the true crime community is one of the real pleasures of podcasting – other hosts and my listeners are almost all a joy to be involved with and I reply to every single person who contacts me however negative the message.
And by Tuesday evening, I am usually starting to ponder which story to cover next week……
I hope you have found this of interest. If you would like to discuss anything you have read here, please contact me at: Adam@uktruecrime.com, come and say Hi at one of my live events over the next few weeks, or join the discussion at the Facebook Group.