How a creator-led storytelling podcast is supported and funded.

Introduction

Stories from the Hearth is a fledgling, creator-led, fictional and educational storytelling podcast and community. I started it in January of 2021, and have watched with humble joy as it has grown ever more popular since. However, running an entire podcast as just one person is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding in ways I could never have envisaged, whether I’d read every advice article on the internet before starting or not.

I thought I would take a moment to talk a little about Stories from the Hearth – what it is, why I produce it, and how I keep it going. Hopefully in doing so I can offer a little advice to those looking to start their own podcast, or soothe the anxieties of those who already have but are – like me – still at an early stage, in which everything still feels excruciatingly ‘make or break’.

An immersive storytelling experience

First, a little about Stories from the Hearth. Stories is an immersive queer storytelling experience and educational platform. There are two types of episodes released through the podcast, with two very different (yet complementary) functions. Story episodes (on which the podcast was founded) contain the performance of a completely new and entirely original story (written and performed by me: your host, Calum Bannerman). Each of these episodes is accompanied by a nuanced and thoughtfully-produced soundscape, to help immerse you in the story’s fictional world. These story episodes are released on the last Sunday of every month, and feature cross-genre tales from science and historical fiction, to romance, horror, speculative and fantasy fiction (generally all with a queer focus).  

Educational history episodes, released in The Wandering Bard series, examine the history of storytelling, the people behind it, and its importance in the evolution and expansion of our societies and cultures. These educational history episodes are released on the second Sunday of every month, and are usually much shorter than the story episodes, at around just 10-15 minutes in length (designed as bitesize lessons).

More than being just a podcast, however, Stories from the Hearth aims to reconnect its listeners with that most ancient and wholesome of traditions: gathering together around a (virtual) fire, and listening to the telling of a good story. The goal of Stories from the Hearth is to revitalise and reenergise community in a digital age which the creator finds lacking substance. In time, the hope is that Stories from the Hearth will host not only the stories of creator Calum Bannerman, but those of writers and performers from all around the world. 

You can listen to the podcast here, to get a feel for it:

Chinese Shadow Puppets – TWB S2 E3 Stories from the Hearth

By flickering candlelight, Chinese storytellers have been telling tales with exquisite, colourful shadow puppets for over two-thousand years. Surviving war, famine, regime changes and revolutions, this is one of the world's oldest and most intricate storytelling traditions. I look at the music, singing, and puppetry of the artform, the training its mastery requires, why it has a decentralized, anarchist structure, how it survived its tumultuous history, and what a future version of Chinese shadow puppetry might look like.Welcome to The Wandering Bard, a bonus historical series on Stories from the Hearth examining the history of storytelling. This month’s episode is the third in a season asking "Who are the storytellers?" Today we examine the shadow puppeteers of ancient and modern China.The next story episode from Stories from the Hearth is out on 26th September. Next month's Wandering Bard bonus episode will take a look at the Arabic rap-battles of Lebanon called Zajal.The aim of Stories from the Hearth is to rekindle its listeners' love for the ancient art of storytelling (and story-listening), and to bring some small escapism to the frantic energies of the modern world.Support the podcast from just £2 ($3) on Patreon, and get early access, exclusive content, bonus story-episodes, in-episode shout-outs, and the chance to become part of a wider community. Simply click here: https://www.patreon.com/storiesfromthehearthpodcastToday's sources: chineseshadowpuppetry.com, China Puppet and Shadow Art Society, UNESCO, travelchinaguide.com, Google Arts & CultureVideo links! – Traditional Chinese Shadow Puppet Show, Bazhong, ChinaBallerina – Chinese Shadow PuppetryClever Monkeys – Chinese Shadow PuppetryPuppet Master Liu Laoshi Shows Off His SkillsInstagram: @storiesfromthehearthTwitter: @Hearth_PodcastYouTube: Stories from the HearthEmail: storiesfromthehearthpodcast@gmail.comFire Daemon Character Artwork by Anna FerraraAnna's Instagram: @giallosardinaAnna's Portfolio: https://annaferrara.carbonmade.com/Thank you for listening. Please consider following, subscribing to, and sharing this bonus episode, and please do tell your friends all about Stories from the Hearth.
  1. Chinese Shadow Puppets – TWB S2 E3
  2. Caveworm: 2/2 (Fantasy Drama) – Story #9
  3. West African Griots – TWB S2 E2
  4. Caveworm: 1/2 (Fantasy Drama) – Story #9
  5. Hawaiian Hula Dancers – TWB S2 E1

Of course, to do any of this, I needed (and need) help. Which is where the financial side of things comes in.

Financing a new podcast

We all have our own, personal reasons for starting (or wanting to start) a podcast. Perhaps you think you’ve discovered a gap in the market, and are simply a savvy businessperson looking to bring in some additional income (good luck…). Maybe you and your friend are lifelong sci-fi fans who spend long evenings debating your favourite science fiction, and you just thought: heck, why not keep doing this, but record it? Whatever your reason, it’s got to be strong enough to stand up against the long, long working hours, the emotional rollercoaster that is the peaks and troughs in listener numbers and reviews, and, of course, the lack of money.

For me, I wanted to start Stories from the Hearth because I couldn’t find anyone else doing what I wanted to do. Moreover, I’ve been writing stories since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and I was sick of the elitism I was subjecting myself to in the publishing world, and so wanted to do something punk and DIY about it – i.e. put my stories out there myself. Thankfully, my passion to do so is as strong (if not stronger) than it was back in Jan ’21, and has stood the test of time.

Podcasts, however, are now so interminably popular, and the market so over-saturated with below-average content, that to make money from your podcasting endeavour is difficult. Of course, there are avenues you can go down which might make it a little easier – looking for advertisement/sponsorship, or pitching yourself to a podcast network. Certainly, if you’re already a household name like Jonathan Van Ness, RuPaul, or (it seems) literally any public figure, you can score yourself a five-to-six figure podcast deal no problem. But for those of us passionate about making our content accessible to all, free to all, and ad-free, monetizing your creativeness is not so straightforward.

Thankfully, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible…

For me and many others like me, the means of financing my podcast falls heavily on the shoulders of late-capitalist, artist-focused services like Patreon. Patreon (as the name suggests) is an online community and marketplace through which users can patronise (AKA fund) their favourite content producers, podcasts, artists, musicians (you name it!) in exchange for perks, which the creator can customise any way they like. The whole point of a platform like Patreon is to democratise the artistic process. If you can attract potential patrons, who are already fans of the content you produce, and who are intrigued by the promise of perks (such as bonus content, behind-the-scenes walkthroughs, one-on-ones, etc.), then you are able to start making money through your art, without ever having to pay commission to an agency or 3rd party service. In effect, you cut out the middleman, and create a direct relationship with those who are willing to pay you for your art.

For Stories from the Hearth, patronage through Patreon is the only means by which the podcast generates income. By supporting the podcast on Patreon, my patrons help ensure that I can continue to write and produce new episodes, whilst keeping them ad-free and never putting them behind a pay wall. With patron support, I aim to ensure Stories from the Hearth releases episodes even more regularly; expanding, in time, the variety of content featured on the show, as well as allowing me the time to create more exclusive content for my patrons. Ultimately, with the financial and moral support my patrons provide, together we are building a truly magical storytelling and story-listening experience.

You can visit my Patreon page here to get a feel for the kind of perks and subscription services a podcast like mine can offer its listeners, and how that helps the podcast stay afloat.

Additional Financing

Now, whilst my ultimate goal is to increase my Patreon following to the point that the podcast can operate self-sufficiently – paying me a salary and funding all of the necessary production costs – I am still far from that stage.

It should come as no surprise (if it does, you’ve got some thinking to do), that starting a podcast is not an instant money-maker. Think of it like a small business start-up; you have to be prepared to make no money for at least the first year (in fact, you’re going to sink a whole lot of time, energy, and money into your podcast, before you ever see a return). This is entirely normal, and whilst you should not be put off by it, you should be prepared for it.

You should have an action plan in place – a secure, dependable understanding of how you’re going to keep a roof over your head, food in your belly, and the debt-monkey off your back – before you even start. (Though I should note that I am being a little hypocritical here, and am giving you advice based on my own mistakes.)

For me, I turned to my freelance work to support me. After a decade spent working in the bookselling and publishing industries in Scotland, I left my job during the global pandemic and – thanks in part to the UK government’s furloughed pay scheme – was able to set myself up as a freelance writer, editor, narrator and producer (you can see my rates and hire me for any work, here). I then set about establishing a workable balance between the work my podcast demanded, and the work I required to earn a living.

This process is still very much in motion, but has (after 8 months at the wheel) now thankfully settled into a much less stressful, much more anxiety-free equilibrium. I now work freelance 2-3 days a week, and dedicate a further 2-3 days a week to my podcast and to additional creative projects (Stories from the Hearth is not the only creative thing up my sleeve… see here).

I sincerely wish I had established this equilibrium earlier on, and whilst I think things like this will always take time to settle, I would strongly encourage you to do all of the preparatory accountancy you can before starting out, to make sure that you spend your days as productively (and profitably) as possible, and not fretting that you’re going to be short on next month’s rent.

Something that I’m yet to look properly into, but would also strongly encourage, is to deep-dive into your local council or national government’s creative funding opportunities. You just never know what projects might be open to funding and grants, and if you write a convincing enough pitch you could do very well to secure yourself some institutional financial backing.

Conclusion and Top Tips for Apprentice Podcasters

You’ve hopefully learned a little about my journey to establishing Stories from the Hearth as a fiction podcast of steadily-increasing popularity, and most uniquely, of doing so 100% DIY: (all of the work which goes into Stories from the Hearth – the writing, narration, audio-mixing, production, sound design, poster and brand design, marketing and publicity – I conduct entirely on my own).

Perhaps you are inspired to start your own thing, perhaps you’d like to give my podcast a listen (click here). Whatever you’re feeling after reading this article, make sure that it’s not disheartened. Ensure that your creative output is of a high quality and you will achieve success, it’s only a matter of time. Let’s finish off my taking a look at some top tips on how to start your own podcast, fund it, grow its audience, and stay healthy and happy whilst doing it.

Stories from the Hearth’s Top Tips for Podcasters

  • Create, don’t deviate (don’t get hung up on the download numbers or your social media likes, keep creating!)
  • Graft just as hard to promote your content as you do to create it (you can produce the best podcast in the world, but if you don’t also have a solid marketing strategy, no-one will hear it).
  • Have a financial plan in place, and be prepared not to make any profit for at least the first year.
  • Do your research! (You’ve got an idea for a podcast, but so do 1000s of other people: make sure yours is genuine, original, and niche, and research all you need to before starting.)
  • Don’t be afraid to be proud of yourself and your work (in other words, be bold and courageous in your self-promotion; shake off the embarrassment!)
  • Always be genuine, never pushy or demanding (there are so many podcasts and podcasters out there: show your audience the value of your work, don’t tell them).
  • Enjoy what you do (you’ve started this podcast as a passion project, if the work starts getting you down, stop and reassess).
  • Be positive about growth (no matter how set-in-stone you think your podcast brand is when you launch, it’s healthy to change and grow as you receive and respond to audience feedback, and to your own personal development).
  • Patience and perseverance is key (à la Anthony Bourdain’s favourite saying: Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, I offer this adage: Patient Perseverance Precedes Podcast Prosperity).

Stories from the Hearth is copyright of Calum Bannerman 2020-21. You can listen to Stories from the Hearth on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and all major podcast apps, or here on the podcast website. You can support the podcast by becoming a patron from as little as £2 ($2.50) per month, just click this link to get started. Thanks for reading!

Instagram – @storiesfromthehearth
Twitter – @Hearth_Podcast
YouTube – Stories from the Hearth

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