How to Keep Your Podcast Going for 500 Episodes
Kreative Kontrol's Vish Khanna has turned his homespun podcast operation into a masterful production.
Can you name a podcast that has been around for more than five years (ancient, in podcasting terms), has published hundreds of episodes, and features the sort of revelatory in-depth interviews with notable names in music and comedy that regularly make headlines? Marc Maron's WTF is the obvious answer, but everything described also applies to Kreative Kontrol, the podcast hosted by veteran Canadian music journalist Vish Khanna.
Granted, Khanna’s home in the college town of Guelph, Ontario, isn’t a landmark podcasting destination on par with Maron’s garage—Khanna actually conducts most of his interviews by phone, Skype, or remote recordings. But despite being a homespun shoestring operation funded by modest Patreon crowdfund donations and in-kind support from local pizza and donut shops, Khanna’s attracted the sort of guests—from rock icons like Nick Cave and Jeff Tweedy to famous funny folk like David Cross and John Mulaney—worthy of the most high-profile and well-funded entertainment podcasts. And some of his most noteworthy interviews have stemmed from relationships he developed as a music writer: An early Kreative Kontrol interview with his friend Steve Albini—in which the producer revealed new details about his experience working with Nirvana—went viral. More recently, a longtime pen-pal correspondence with the reclusive David Berman yielded one of the singer/songwriter’s final interviews before he took his life last month.
But even though Khanna has landed the sort of coups most independent podcasters can only dream of, Kreative Kontrol remains a pure passion project that he squeezes in during off-hours between his various freelance-writing and hosting gigs, managing Guelph’s community-radio station, and parenting his two kids. And despite his proven track record engaging guests in quality conversations—earning accolades from some notoriously cagey subjects in the process—he says producing a weekly podcast is still an uphill effort. Here, Khanna reveals just how much labor goes into making a podcast that’s earned him “a lot of cultural capital, but not actual cash capital.”
Spotify for Podcasters: How did Kreative Kontrol come into being?
Vish Khanna: I was working at the CBC [the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] and had a podcast there for some years, but then in March 2013, I was let go. So I had something to prove—I wanted to show everyone that I wasn’t just a music guy, so I wanted to do a magazine-style show. My first guest was John Cook from Gawker, who had literally just broken the Rob Ford scandal. And I knew him from when I interviewed him about his Merge Records book, so I just e-mailed him. I don't remember if it was any good. And it was a weird format for the show. I was trying to prove that I could do a multifaceted show, but then at some point I was like, “Fuck it, I'm just one person, I don't have eight producers chasing stories for me!” Then, within 20 episodes, I had Steve Albini talking about Nirvana in a way that he had never talked about Nirvana before, and traffic-wise, it blew every other episode away. I mean, that episode has been cited in books about Nirvana.
That would happen a couple of times a year for me—something will blow up, because a news story by a prominent music outlet I contacted helped blow it up. I’d be like, “Hey, so-and-so said this; here is literally a transcription of what they said, I thought you might be interested.” And then lo and behold, within a couple hours, the major news outlets were on it.
How many hours per week do you devote to the podcast?
I wish my wife was here to answer this question. What's your best guess about how long it takes to consume an album for research? It takes me a while before I can wrap my head around what I think is going on with a record. Let's say that takes five hours. And then you schedule the interview, which generally isn’t more than an hour. But then it’s like another five, six hours just getting it out there. The editing of the interview file can be three hours, or longer. And then every time I'm done editing a podcast, I’ll think, “OK, I'm almost done!” But then I have to write and record the intro. Then I do the outro. Then I put it all together. Then the file renders. Then I have to change it to an mp3. Then I post it to my distribution network, Libsyn, so that it goes everywhere. Then the next morning, I have to add the artwork and tags for the post on my website. Then I'm socially mediating it.
If you look at the history of the show, there's almost always two episodes a week, and I’d always wonder if my listeners were thinking, “What the f*** is he doing? Why are there so many of these?” So in 2019, by and large, I've posted only one episode a week. That’s more than enough. I think for anyone in our realm, setting a limitation like that is not failure. You're going to be in a better state of mind. I have two kids, and since switching to one episode a week, my wife and I might even watch a TV show together!
What else has changed for you over the years?
The producer part of the job has escalated a lot over the last few years, because I would take it personally on some level when a guest and I had what we both considered to be a good chat, but when I posted the conversation, they didn’t share it. And I would always be like, “Why?” It's a weird thing when a guest is like, “Wow, that was great”... and then it comes out and they don't acknowledge it. But I've come to realize maybe it's their own voice that they're disturbed about. It's nothing to do with me, really. So that's made me hyper-vigilant about editing so that people sound their best.
It used to be that we all embraced the kind of unmediated raw quality of podcast conversations. But when I put my radio-producer hat on, I think, “Wait a minute—I wouldn't want to be in a position where someone has recorded me and left me fumbling about for language when they could have just cleaned it up in two seconds.” And people don't do that s***. So I have been more mindful of that and I've noticed more people get behind the episodes because they realize I've spent time editing it. I spend a lot more time making sure everyone sounds good because I think that's my job.
Now that you’ve been doing this for a few years, does the podcast feel like it’s acquired a natural momentum, or do you still have to prove your legitimacy?
I’m still relatively low on the podcast totem pole, so anytime I talk to a comedian of any prominence, it's kind of a nightmare, because they’ll have some handler telling me, “You only have 15 minutes.” And I'm like, “That's not how this works!” Like, until the true crime podcasts really took hold, the biggest podcasts were comedians doing interviews where they were telling Hollywood stories and discussing their various forms of neuroses and psychosis, and you just can't get to that in 15 minutes.
So it’s still a bit of a push to convince publicists and label people to buy in. It's interesting: I am based in Guelph, Ontario, and the show does the best in Chicago and Los Angeles. And that has a lot to do with the people I've had on. The show goes to YouTube now, and somebody commented, “I don't understand why this show isn't bigger! Look at these guests!” And I think that's a difficult thing to have to reconcile: that I have this weird, limited appeal for something that is now everywhere.