Podcasting special part 4: talking about what you love, even when it’s tough – a case study of the Aston Villa Review

4

To round off my week of blogs about podcasting, I wanted to take a closer look at two of my favourite shows, which is exactly what I’m going to do!

Tomorrow I’ll be explaining why I love the brilliant That’s Not Metal so much, but today I’m looking at a podcast about another subject case my heart – that subject is Aston Villa and that podcast is the Aston Villa Review.

Now, for those who don’t follow football, I should make it clear that Aston Villa have, for a number of years, been rubbish – culminating in an absolutely dismal, relegation season this year. I’ve not had much enjoyment from my team this year – the highlights essentially are beating Birmingham City in the League Cup back in September and discovering this podcast.

Every week Steven Green and my friend Chris Nee take a sensible look at what is going on at this shambles of a football club and produce a show of very high quality. I caught up with Chris for a Q+A about the show and his answers are below – they’re brilliant, so don’t you dare stop reading.

It’s pretty obvious from the title of the show, but what is Aston Villa Review about? What would your ‘elevator pitch’ for the show be?

Aston Villa Review is simply about Aston Villa. Steven Green and I cover what’s happening on the pitch and off it, avoiding transfer gossip, and wrap it up into a very simple chat most weeks. We think of it as a podcast for “grown-ups”, by which we mean the average supporter who isn’t into tabloid hysteria and one-eyed opinions. We like depth and context, and we try to be circumspect about the highs and the lows.

What’s the story behind Aston Villa Review? When did it start and why did you start it?

When I left London in 2012 it brought my previous podcast, twofootedtackle, to an end after three years. I wanted to keep podcasting but there were a few criteria I put in place because of what I’d learned. Firstly, it should be a quick turnaround with minimal research. Secondly, it should allow me to talk about something I was comfortable with, as opposed to the research that made twofootedtackle a show of very high quality, but which required a lot of commitment.

AVR was created to fill a gap. I don’t think there was another Villa podcast at the time, which I found surprising. So I figured out the way I wanted to do the podcast while I was preparing to move to the Midlands and then scouted around for a co-host. Steve was the first person I spoke to about it and it was a fantastic stroke of luck. He’s a brilliant partner on the show and has become a close friend over the past four years.

Did it take you very long to build a following?

It’s been gradual. I’d describe our following as moderate even now, but the downloads have been on the up week by week since we began. It’s been important that AVR doesn’t become a burden for the two of us so we don’t put everything we could into marketing the show. It’s really more of a hobby. We get fairly frequent invitations to go on other shows, on the radio, occasionally on TV. Steve sometimes does them but I always decline. We’d probably be a bit bigger if we were willing and able to spread the word more.

A good tip for anyone starting a podcast is talk about what you love. Aston Villa Review has only ever existed during a period of severe decline for the football club, capped off by this shambles of a season – how do you stay motivated to talk about something you love even when that thing is causing you so much pain?

It’s been difficult. The only question mark over the launch of the show after Steve and I first met was whether Alex McLeish was sacked as manager. He was, so we started. It’s been an uphill struggle for the club since then and this season demonstrates pretty clearly that they’ve lost it. Luckily (I suppose) it’s been a very eventful period, at least up until this year. The team’s performances have been so predictable and so repetitive that we’ve struggled for new things to say this season. Even relegation has been boring.

There have been personal motivations over that time too. I’ve made the most of moving to the Midlands and have had a few seasons in which I either have or should have had a season ticket, so for the most part we’ve been able to combine a Holte-eye (editor’s note, Chris is referring to the Holte End here, a majestic, behind the goal stand at Villa Park – the largest such stand in the country in fact. It’s where the Villa hardcore tend to sit) view with the wider perspective. Talking about something you’re passionate and angry about is easy too.

Do you think having the podcast has given you a healthier perspective on what’s gone on at Villa Park this season? Has it altered how you support the club?

Having the podcast in general has helped to focus my perspective. The need to have something to say every week, and the fact that we set our stall out from day one as a mostly grounded show, means it’s important to take time over each game and each news story, and that inevitably leads to a balanced understanding, if not exactly balanced views.

By and large, what matters to me is that we make a podcast I’d listen to, so I’d hope it results from the way we support the club rather than the other way round. Having said all that, there’s nothing healthy about my perspective on this season. We’re approaching the point at which my active support isn’t just altered by the podcast, but caused by it. A lot of supporters are walking away and I’d most likely be one of them without AVR.

How long does it take you to pull together each show? And how do you go about recording with a co-host who lives in a different city?

It’s not too big a commitment. On a good weekend, we’ll both watch the game and maybe have one big story to discuss and a cup draw or some other little nugget, and the show runs itself. With minimal research, Steve and I can hold a conversation easily because we’re talking about the Villa. We record it inside 45 minutes or an hour, then Steve gives it a quick edit. It’s usually just a top and tail; we don’t edit to a particular length, or remove anything. What you hear is the conversation we had.

Recording was obviously something we wanted to crack straight away. A lot of podcasts suffer from the fact that they take their time finding their feet in terms of audio quality. We don’t seek or achieve perfection but we’re happy with what we put out. It’s a simple process. We invested in decent microphones, we talk over Skype and we each record our own track. Steve combines them and we’re away.

What do you think has been the best episode of Aston Villa Review so far and why?

Sadly we’ve had to do episodes about the departures of a few managers now and I think we deal well with those. But my favourite was a much happier affair. Back in April, Steve and I were at Wembley when Villa won in the FA Cup semi-finals. We met up afterward and focused on just being the normal fans we are, and recorded the show a few days later. It was the most positive episode we’ve recorded and it stands out for that reason.

What are some of your favourite other podcasts to listen to?

I’d be missing an opportunity if I didn’t recommend Football Fives, which I appear on each week and co-produce, but there are a bunch of others I listen to on the regular. The Sound Of Football, which is made by some friends of mine, has been a favourite from the beginning, as has Two Hundred Percent.

Outside football, That’s Not Metal is absolutely extraordinary. I listen to your show every week (and I’m very fussy), and I’ve always got a few of Jamey Jasta’s episodes waiting for me. I’ll dip in and out of Kevin Smith’s stuff too, and I’ll listen to Chris Jericho depending on who the guest is.

As a still-new podcaster, feels like podcasting is a pretty exciting medium to be part of right now and something that will only continue to grow – you’ve been casting for a few years now…do you still enjoy it?

I do enjoy it. Gary Andrews and I made our first episode of twofootedtackle in March 2009 and I’ve recorded something like 350 episodes and guest spots since then. A long time ago I worked out that the key to enjoying it was only doing podcasts on my own terms. I’ve got no desire to turn broadcasting into a career, so I’ll happily duck anything that takes too much of my time.

AVR is difficult at the moment, for obvious reasons. Even Villa’s relegation should have been rich territory for what is effectively a talk radio show about the club, but the whole thing has had this sense of numbing inevitability about it. What I get from the show, and the reason it continues while the subject matter seems to be drying up, is that I enjoy talking to Steve about a shared obsession.

What would your top tips be to anyone out there thinking of starting their own podcast?

Assuming they don’t have professional ambitions, starting and maintaining a podcast is quite simple. Talk about what you know, and, preferably, what you love. Invest a small amount of money in a microphone for each voice, and try to make sure that you’re not relying on ropey internet connections for the recorded output. In a nutshell: have an idea, know it inside out, and make sure you’re having fun.

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions. Whoever you support, please go and give Aston Villa Review a listen – and maybe even a nice review and rating in the iTunes store too…those guys definitely deserve it!

*Check out the rest of my series of posts about podcasting*

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