What You Need to Map Out a Season

How to Map Out a Season, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich
How to Map Out a Season, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich

The team behind EuroWhat? explains how they maintain momentum.

Starting a podcast is more than creating one powerful episode. You need to plan out your season—whether your podcast will occupy just one season, or re-up for multiples. Planning out a season not only gives you a road map for your conversations and reportage, it encourages repeat listening. "Part of building an audience is providing content on a consistent basis—so that they keep coming back," says Ben Smith of The EuroWhat? A Eurovision Podcast. Here are some tips on how to plan out each season of your podcast.

Figure out a rhythm—before you even decide on your first episode's topic

"Prior to launching the podcast, we needed to figure out a schedule independent of its content," says Smith's co-host, Mike McComb. "How often do we record? What kind of turnaround time do we want to allow for editing? When do we post?" Building in a schedule that works with your hosts' and producers' workrates and off-mic schedules will get you in a workable groove, which will keep everyone happy—and will let listeners know when to expect the next installment.

Seasons can be structured in your own fashion

If you look at the many podcasts available on Spotify, you’ll see that EuroWhat? posts year-round and has an "on" and "off" season, with each taking up roughly half the year; they’re differentiated not only by the show’s relationship to breaking news, but by the frequency of posting. "Our show has two phases during the year, each with its own 'beat'," says Smith. "January to May is our 'on-season,' where every week we have some combination of news updates ... and a calendar of upcoming national finals to stream, either with or without guests." The rest of the year is the show's "offseason," although they still update biweekly. For offseason episodes the crew chats about less time-sensitive topics like the similarities and differences between the songwriting process on NBC’s Songland and Eurovision. Narrative podcasts like Conviction have discrete seasons based on particular topics. Some podcasts have enough material and organizational verve to post episodes more than once a week. The key is making listeners invested enough to come back—and communicating to them that, yes, you have a plan for what's happening next.

You don't need an overall narrative through line to have a season's arc in mind

Shows that aren't tied to a single, particular story—whether it's the Eurovision Song Contest, which is EuroWhat's focus, or a pop culture roundtable discussion—can also have an arc to their seasons. Look at the topics you're focusing on in each episode of your podcast, and see if there are any natural narrative through lines that connect each one. Can your story be structured in a way that loosely resembles Freytag's Pyramid, The Hero's Journey, or other common narrative types? If not, that's OK. Like life, podcasts can sometimes throw curveballs at their audiences.

Break down the elements of each episode as you're planning each season out

While plotting out the overall season, you should keep in mind the elements you'll need for each episode within it—elements that will be called out in your scripts. What's the episode's main focus? How will that focus affect evergreen elements of the show? Will you be interviewing anyone, or hosting anyone in-studio? Will you be using other audio, whether it’s music or sound effects? Will certain episodes share any of these elements—will an interview be used for multiple episodes, or will a song recur? If so, consider how shared elements could become opportunities for you to brand certain segments throughout your season.

Have at least the first few episodes of your season sketched out before you post its opener

EuroWhat? works as a machine because its hosts plotted out multiple episodes way before the first episode was posted—and they’ve maintained that consistency. "In general, we try to have three to four episodes earmarked or in some form of pre-production—topic locked down, show notes created, guests booked—but we're ready to swap things around if the need arises," says McComb. This allows for less scrambling when the day to post a new episode arrives, and lets you establish consistency early.
"Having things planned out like this gives us time to actually do the pre-show research on some of the topics we want to do deep dives on well in advance of the actual record date," says Smith, "which I'm really liking as a person who also has a day job, social life, and partner."

Easily accessible organization systems keep everyone in the loop

"We use a Trello board to keep track of topics and move them around between the columns for each show as needed," says Smith. "We have separate columns of Trello cards for off-season topic ideas, links to resources like our Guest Setup doc, a wishlist of guests we'd love to try and book, and so on." Your system of organization can be as analog or digital as you like, but to make your life easier you and your team have to stick to it and update it frequently with new information such as show topics, potential guest hosts and other nuts-and-bolts items.

Build in between-season breaks, or some sort of "offseason"

Seasons can run anywhere from four to forty episodes, depending on your topic and willingness to dive deep. To give hosts and producers a breather, each season can be bookended by less resource-intensive episodes like mailbags that feature correspondence from listeners, "clip shows" featuring notable bits from previous episodes, or even full-on reruns of earlier episodes. Regardless of which strategy you choose, you’ll be happy you scheduled in a break.