Career Advice

6 Podcasts Every Freelancer Should Listen To

By Aja Frost March 23rd, 2015

Last week, my mom called me last week to describe, in rapturous tones, what podcasts were and why she couldn’t stop listening to them. You know something is no longer on the fringes of journalism when your mother has incorporated it into her dog-walking routine.

New York magazine writer Kevin Roose has gone so far as calling this period in time a “golden age for podcasting,” arguing that while would-be listeners were put off by a lack of good content in the past, we now have “too many great podcasts to keep up with.”

Since Roose probably isn’t the only writer to feel overwhelmed by all of the options out there, I’ve rounded up the six best podcasts for freelancers.

1. Writer’s Bloc

J.R. Havlan, 17-year veteran writer for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, hosts this entertaining and informative podcast about writing for comedy television. Each episode features an interview with a top writer, like Portlandia‘s Lesley Arfin, The Colbert Report‘s Opus Moreschi, and The Tonight Show‘s Arthur Meyer. As you can imagine, getting comedy writers together to talk about comedy produces some seriously witty banter.

But this podcast has way more to offer freelancers than just quips. Havlan usually spends some time asking his interviewees how they became interested in comedy, the various writing jobs they’ve had, and how they got their current gigs—all fascinating details with plenty of useful takeaways for any aspiring writer. Freelancers will also get value out of the writing tips, which come up organically and can usually be applied to any genre.

2. Longform

The brilliant folks behind The Atavist and Longform collaborate on this weekly podcast about the “craft and career” of nonfiction writers. And while you may not recognize all of the journalists who come on the show, you’ll probably recognize their articles, which often get prime real estate in The New York Times,Politico, Vice, GQ, and Fast Company—and those are just from guests on the last five episodes.

The writers reveal what goes on behind the scenes during the writing process, explaining how they get their ideas, pitch, research, work with editors, and respond to public reactions. They also discuss moral and ethical issues: When should you take a source out of a story? What should you do when you’re working with an editor who doesn’t care? How do you get out of the “freelance trap” of writing mediocre articles because you need the money?

Not only is it fun learning the background stories for all these fantastic pieces, it’s also a great way to discover how well-known writers are dealing with everyday issues you can relate to.

3. A Little Bird Told Me

This series may be the most topical item on the list since it specifically covers “the highs, lows, and no-nos” of freelancing.

Hosts and U.K. freelancers Phillipa Willits and Lorrie Hartshorn do a wonderful job of answering both basic freelancer questions—like how to objectively evaluate your content—and questions many freelancers have never considered—like how to use Google+ to find clients.

The tips come fast and furious. In just the latest episode, for example, they discuss how to compete with people who write for $2 an article, how introverts can market themselves, how to objectively evaluate your content, and how to pitch to industry heavyweights like The New York Times and Time.

A Little Bird Told Me is a little less polished than the other podcasts on this list, but for me, the low-budget feel only adds to its charm.

4. 99U Podcast

99U describes its podcast as a deep dive into the creative processes of “leading makers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs.” While that blanket mission statement targets a lot of people—the podcast has turned into an unofficial guide to freelancing life. Managing Editor Sean Blanda hosts, which may explain the writing and editing slant.

Each episode in the series tackles one topic, and these topics range from practical to philosophical. In one episode, DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg explains how to market yourself when you’d rather be focusing on developing your product; in another, Radiolab host Jad Abumrad discusses the emotional cost of creating something new.

If you only have time to listen to one, “The Art of Negotiating Money” is roughly 40 minutes but will (literally) pay off.

5. The Moth

Storytelling is an essential skill for any freelancer, which is why The Moth podcast is an incredible resource. The Moth, a nonprofit dedicated to nonfiction storytelling, puts on hundreds of shows per year, during which people tell personal stories to a live audience. Each week, the podcast features a few of the best of those performances.

The stories range from the funny to the tragic and cover just about every topic you can think of, including first kisses, cancer, Comic Con, space shuttles—basically, the breadth of humanity. Some of the speakers are famous, while others are random people who got to go on stage after being picked out of a crowd.

Listening to these stories is a fantastic way to figure out what makes a story compelling, how to structure and time the action, when to use dialogue, and the various ways to emotionally influence your audience. In my opinion, it’s a much better training tool than reading books or articles about narrative journalism.

6. High-Income Business Writing

Ed Gandia used to be a freelance business writer and copywriter; now he’s a successful coach who helps other freelancers build, as he promises, “six-figure writing businesses.”

While that benchmark certainly isn’t every freelancer’s goal, Gandia’s podcast offers smart guidance related to the practical and financial aspects of freelancing. He talks to other experienced freelancers about what to include in a contract, how to maximize SEO for a personal website, whether professional liability insurance is necessary, when hourly rates make sense, and so on.

For B2B and commercial freelancers, there are also more than 15 episodes dedicated to less common income streams such as email newsletters, business plans, white papers, and content marketing.

Know of any other podcasts perfect for freelancers I may have missed? Tweet me @ajavuu.

Image by Iko
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