Creativity often comes from unexpected places, and for many people, the pressures of being confined to their homes during COVID-19 lockdowns spurred them to seek creative outlets in the form of podcasting. One such person is Andy Gaffney - a longtime podcaster and radio producer - who envisaged the Promenadepodcast while in lockdown in Galway.
Part of Irish podcast network The Shift, of which Gaffney is creative director, Promenade is a series about memory, stories and the stimuli that inspire them. The second season of the podcast was released in April this year, and we spoke to Gaffney about the creative process behind the show, the things that making it has taught him, and why he wanted to create the The National of podcasting.
How would you describe your podcast?
I always describe Promenade as a different podcast; it's a weird podcast, it's the saddest podcast you’re ever gonna get. My original idea was, imagine if the band The National made a podcast - that was kind of what I wanted. Where it feels less like a podcast and feels more like you're listening to an album where it's one voice, somewhere in the world, talking about a story and the things that trigger those memories.
They're all very short; some of them are 12 minutes, some of them are nine minutes, but we use soundscape and soundtrack to bleed them into the next, so there's an ongoing theme trail. I'm really leaning into that ‘album-style’ feel, where you can pop it on and listen to all 14 if you want. I even called them tracks, rather than episodes - that's how pretentious I've gotten with it!
Why did you start your podcast?
I've been making podcasts since you had to explain to people what a podcast was. When lockdown happened, suddenly there was a lot more time to sit and think about stories, and here in Ireland, there was a 5KM limit, where you couldn't travel further than that from your home.
I'm here in Galway, and part of my 5KM is the promenade here, which is a beautiful place to run next to the water, and I was on that a lot and I was thinking about stories. I was like, ‘what could I do here, where you could listen to an episode of the podcast and get a complete story of someone in nine minutes’. And most importantly, make people cry; get the sad stuff in. It took around two years for it to get together, but it was just a chance to do something different and I'm glad I did it.
What advice do you wish you’d been given when you first started?
It's kind of tricky; because of the different nature of Promenade, it could have been anything that we wanted it to be; I had no expectations of it and that was nice and freeing. So in many ways, had I got any advice, I would have been too in my own head about it and I would have second-guessed myself a few times - instead of going ‘no, this is exactly what I wanted it to be’.
So I guess if I was to go back in time four years and give myself some advice, it would just have a bit of faith in yourself, back yourself, because that's the person that you need to listen to. If you have an idea, back yourself first.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
So mainly it's just me and the storyteller really, but what's great about this is that you never know who’s going to be helping out with each episode, because they're all from around the world. And some episodes, I record in my studio in Dublin, but some episodes are recorded into phones in a forest in Scotland.
We’ve one episode this season from Mike Williams, a fantastic Australian storyteller. And his memory trigger was about potato salad and how potato salad always makes him remember his youth, and so he had this idea for his story, he said ‘I'm going to create a potato salad day in work, where we all get to make potato salad.’ And of course, that became a whole production, where he had someone recording him while he was doing it.
Do you monetise your podcast?
I stupidly don't, because - and I’m jinxing myself by saying this - it's by far the most successful thing that we've done and that I've been a part of, and it's also the hardest thing to advertise on. Because it's so different, and because it’s so short, if you put ads on it, it would interrupt the flow - and it's so important for these stories to flow into each other. If a sponsor wants to have a chat, we'll have a chat with a sponsor, but we don't monetise the show per se.
But I've been very very lucky and very, very grateful that work begets work. Because of the impact of it and because people have reacted very, very well to it, it has brought in work as a producer and a creator, so that's been a fantastic gift.
Who listens to your podcast?
I think primarily, the people who listen to it are the people who just love stories. I think it can be any age, any demographic, and people who love that these stories can be anywhere in the world. So I think the people who listen most are people who just love the fact that they're going to put on their headphones, and for seven minutes, they're going to hear a great story.
And I think after that, it's people who do want something a little bit different - people who might be tired of the usual ‘three people sitting around the mic having the craic’. And then I think the third bit is that, we've been lucky enough to have a good reaction to this, so people who hear that reaction and go ‘Yes, I want to check this out’. But I think primarily, it's the people who just love hearing a good story being told.
What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?
Maybe it's an Irish thing, I don't know, but whenever you step into doing anything creative, there’s always gonna be a sense of ‘Who does he think he is? What he's doing that for?’ And you have that burning away at you. And also the fact that, again, it involves taking a punt on yourself; it involves taking a gamble. The fact that you're putting something out there, that you are betting that maybe someone might listen to.
What I've learned about myself from doing it, I guess, is that not every idea is going to work. But then with the few of them that you're really genuinely passionate about and you think ‘Okay, I think this could be a little bit special’, listen to that gut. So what I've learned about myself is to have a bit more confidence in what I think makes a good podcast - and that's been fantastic.
How do you promote your podcast?
There’s a few ways that we promote the podcast. First is that you’re always at the whims of social media and we try, especially with Promenade, to make very kind of arty trailers and things that might catch your eye. Also, the fact that it is world-spanning - we've got some fantastic writers and some fantastic names - they might share it, and that's going to get on to people's feeds.
I've been asked for advice on if should you enter podcast awards, and I think absolutely you should, because if you're lucky enough to get something back, it's a fantastic ad for your podcast. For Promenade, for the first time ever with any podcast, I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a press person. And so we got some mentions in the Irish press, and that led on to other organic press things.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
I listen to a lot of podcasts; I'm always on the road, I'm always driving.The one podcast that I don't miss is the Pilot TV podcast because myself and my partner, we’re big TV watchers. Obviously Boyd, James and Kay know what they're talking about, but I've been lucky enough to interview James and Boyd a few times on my podcast, and they’re fantastic fun and fantastic people. So I’d be in a genuinely bad humour if I didn't have the Pilot TV podcast when I'm about to be on the road for three hours.