How Fan Communities Can Power a Podcast

Micah Tannenbaum, Andrew Sims, and Eric Scull, Photo by Knowlton Haaland
Micah Tannenbaum, Andrew Sims, and Eric Scull, Photo by Knowlton Haaland

Mugglecast dishes on the secret ingredient to their success.

Even though the last Harry Potter book came out in 2007, the Internet has never stopped talking about the Boy Who Lived and there are dozens of podcasts to prove it: Swish and Flick, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text and New Wizards are just a few shows still putting out new episodes. But when Andrew Sims started MuggleCast —his long-running podcast centered on the Harry Potter books series— in 2005, he was wading into unexplored territory.

“We weren’t sure how this could work, because none of us had experience with podcasting,” Sims said. “But we knew how to bootstrap a podcast together well enough by recording through Skype and then releasing the audio file.” Reflecting on 400 shows recorded over the span of 15 years, Sims sees its success more clearly now.

“There was a need for this, and we filled it,” Sims said. The reason was the fans. As teenagers, Sims and his MuggleCast co-hosts Micah Tannenbaum, Eric Scull, and Laura Tee all came from the same online community: MuggleNet, the most popular Potter fan forum online. Through their experience in the bustling message boards, all four developed an innate sense of what topics moved the needle in the Potter fan community and a knack for developing unique takes on popular topics.They knew the books incredibly well and took their analyses extremely seriously, which connected them to fans who viewed the series the same way.

These days, whether they are working with the community’s robust bank of fan fiction, diving deep into Wizarding World politics, or grappling with emerging news pegs—like the Broadway hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or the new Universal theme parks—the group is rarely at a loss for topics that resonate with their diehard audiences. But keeping them engaged with MuggleCast is a mechanism that needs constant tuning. “As we've grown up, we look at these books differently,” Sims said. “And now we're looking at the lessons in these books and how they apply to our lives and our own experiences.”

Right now, MuggleCast is going through the entire book series in order, taking two or three chapters under the microscope in each episode. That approach has not only given them new insight into the complex books, but it’s given the show an easy-to-digest long-term structure. That strategy has also paid off when it comes to the most important feedback loop that the show has—fan engagement.

Listener feedback is just an endless trove of content right now,” Sims said. “You can always go to them and say, ‘Hey, we have a question for you to answer this week. What do you think of X, Y or Z ?’ And then that can easily build 10 minutes and hopefully people have some good answers there for you.”

If not, you can also try reaching out to others in the industry. Sims says the space is so much fuller than when they started out and with that comes more opportunities to meet other podcasters and learn from one another and their audiences. Even if it’s just a call or video chat, Sims has found networking between peers and fans particularly to be inspiring: “I meet other people in this industry who are also trying their hardest to make their shows a success and learning from them.”

— Corban Goble