Before becoming one of the UK’s biggest podcasters, Scroobius Pip – formally known as David Peter Meads – was the famous voice behind XFM’s award-winning radio show The Beatdown, dedicated to hip hop and spoken word, in the late 2000s.
As his interest in podcasting grew, Pip decided to launch his own interview-style show, Distraction Pieces, in 2014, with almost 600 episodes to date. Since launching he’s interviewed some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry including Adam Buxton, Florence Pugh and Louis Theroux.
His love of podcasting started in the early days when the medium was still emerging, and led him to create Pod Bible magazine as well as launch a number of podcasts within the Distraction Pieces network. Being more than an expert in the industry, a number of podcasters have come to him directly for advice – including Blindboy and Adam Buxton.
“In my mind, with all the podcasts I've mentioned there, all the ones on the network… It sounds like it's selfless, but I listen to all of those things!” said Pip. “So if I've played any role in getting them into existence, I'm reaping the benefits, I'm truly there every week going, ‘Oh my God, another amazing episode!’ and having the best time.”
We spoke to Pip about how he came to get involved in podcasting, how he approaches bringing guests onto his show, and how podcasting as a medium has evolved over the course of his career.
How would you describe your podcast?
So the Distraction Pieces podcasts are normally 60- to 90-minute unedited conversations with anyone and everyone from Michael Fassbender to Mary J Blige to Stewart Lee to Florence Pugh, Spike Lee to… I feel as if I should have someone who rhymes with ‘Pugh’ now. A real variation of actors, musicians, comedians, activists, scientists, all sorts of stuff.
Why did you start your podcast?
I had a radio show on XFM, about nine years ago now, called The Beatdown. Unexpectedly, we won a couple of Sony Awards, which was amazing. But I realised I was mainly listening to podcasts – that was the early days of the second wave of podcasting we're still in. I spoke to XFM – Radio X now – about maybe doing a podcast, and they weren't in the podcasting world at that point. So I decided to go it alone.
I started the Distraction Pieces podcast and within the first month, I think, I had a bigger listenership than I had on my commercial radio show. Within a couple of months, I was earning more. So it was a real gamble of passion and what I was interested in that instantly made it clear that this was the direction to be going in. I've put out an episode every week for going on nine years now – I'm coming up to the 500th episode.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
Early on I went on Joe Rogan's podcast, before I started mine, and he gave some advice when I mentioned I had a radio show. It was fairly early days on his podcast as well, but he was very much on the: “Why would you do this for someone else when you can do it for yourself?” And that was a big key to think, I'm putting in all this work for another company and I could just put it in for myself and remove any restrictions, or any other kind of input that feels like it's holding me back.
One thing in recent years I've realised is that as a host, and as a listener, often keeping it around the hour mark is more enjoyable for me. But then in the early days, a few of the conversations that ended up being three hours long are some of the favourite ones that people still reference. So I guess just realising that any rules you set for yourself are only set by you, so if it's right to break them in the moment, break them.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
Me and a guest are the bare bones. I then fire the audio off to my producer, Buddy Peace, who's the best producer in podcasts. He does my podcast, Films to be Buried With with Brett Goldstein and numerous others. He polishes it all and fires it back. I've got a guy, Jared, who deals with getting it on to my website. We upload it all through Acast, so it's straight onto Spotify, Apple, everywhere you get podcasts, essentially.
The core team is me and Buddy Peace and whoever I've got on, and then there's a few more; John Harris deals with a lot of the socials and that kind of thing – but then again, a lot of that I do myself as well. So it's a bit of a one-man show with a lot of support in the right places!
Do you monetise your podcast?
I do. Quite early on I started working with Acast. It was an era where sponsoring podcasts, in the UK at least, was quite new. Acast and I reached out to Squarespace and numerous others who weren't sponsoring podcasts in the UK, but I'd heard them advertising on American podcasts, and I'd built my website by hearing about it on an American podcast. So I felt that we could do a good sponsor read by honestly saying, “Look, if you're listening to this, you're probably listening on a website that is only there because I heard one of these adverts on a podcast.”
The beauty of being a small team is that I've not got a lot of overheads, so I can be really selective. I have 100% say on what sponsors I accept for the podcast and there's a lot of stuff I turn down. Acast, from day one, have been supportive of that and never roll their eyes or get grumpy when I've got some over-worthy reason for not working with a particular company, or a particular sponsor at that time. That's been key, even if it's something you adore doing. To do anything every week for nine years, you need to be bringing some money in to make that doable.
How do you promote the podcast?
Social media has been the key way. Early days, the tradition of guesting on other people's podcasts – me, Richard Herring and Adam Buxton recently did a podcast together, to talk about those days where I'd go on Richard’s and have Richard on mine, and that thing of promoting by being involved in other people's podcasts. But I already had a profile coming into podcasts and so my music career meant that I had 100,000 or so followers on social media. That's changed a lot with how many people actually see your social media posts. But I've got that platform to at least try and shout about it.
I've never really spent on advertising. I've never had a marketing budget. I've seen amazing things done in that world by your Spotifys and your Apples and your Acasts, but it always feels like that works if it's a new podcast; it's harder to do with a podcast that's been around for years. It seems odd to suddenly have a billboard saying, “I've been doing this for ages, if anyone's interested come and have a look over here!”
Who listens to your podcast?
It's a real variation. I've been really conscious to have a variation of guests over the years. I've got a good core listenership who listen week in, week out. But then almost every week, I'll have someone new coming in because of the guest that has enjoyed it. We've had over 22 million downloads so far; I don't keep a good eye on numbers or demographics because I want to focus more on just making sure that I'm happy with the content I'm putting out and I hope that the rest will look after itself. About four, five years ago, I made a conscious effort to make sure I have more representation on the podcast- and if you're doing that, but you're keeping an eye on the numbers, it can swerve you away from what's important.
As an example of that, I’ve had Mary J Blige on, who's an absolute icon. That episode is at a fraction of the listens of Louis Theroux. Now, they're different, but they're both icons in their time. So if I paid too much attention to numbers, it would be easy to lean into, “Well, I need to just have on who brings in the numbers.” I do all the booking and it's only people I'm excited to talk about. When I get pitched people, 90% of the time it's a white male. So I've made a choice to go, “Right, are we more selective in that area?” It's gonna be 50%, white male regardless because it's my podcast, so I can't help with that. Half of the conversation is gonna be with a white male, so the more I can do to mix that up, the more interesting the conversations I have are.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
I've learned that when I'm excited, I interrupt people. It's always in an enthusiastic way! So far it's never gone badly with a guest because they can see that I'm genuinely going, “Oh my God, this is the best”. I've always felt a really important thing is to share stories to find connection. Always in my research, I try to find something that we've got in common, and I try to get a story of mine in there early. I genuinely feel, psychologically, it makes the guest relax more and again, feel like it's a conversation rather than an interview.
I had an interesting thing a few years in. I had a few different people reach out to say, “Is everything okay? Are you stressed? Because we've noticed that you’re stammering more on your podcast.” I've got a stammer. That was an interesting one, because I realised I was stammering more because I've got more relaxed and I'm not trying to hide it. I'm not trying to coat it, or not trying to find ways around it. The misconception of what a stammer is, and how a stammer works, could have people thinking, “Oh, Pip's obviously going through some stressful times”, but it was the exact opposite. I'm so relaxed doing this now that I stammer happily and not notice it myself.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
I'm currently listening to Random Movie Generator and the thing I was listening to just before that was the Severe MMA Podcast. I'm one of the creators of Pod Bible. We’ve been doing that for years now and if anything, being able to turn my podcast addiction into work has just made it worse!
I get through a stupid amount and because we similarly, with Pod Bible, we realised early on it's going to be easy to just be covering the same podcasts all the time. So we were really conscious early on to make sure we're being broad with our guests, our reviews, and all that kind of thing. And that’s just opened me up to so many new podcasts. So I've got tonnes I listen to on a daily basis.