Philbrook Museum of Art on their hugely successful Museum Confidential podcast
April 12 2019
By Jim Richardson
How do you make a great museum podcast? Museum Confidential from Philbrook Museum of Art is one of our favorites. The podcast takes listeners behind the scenes to meet the people who make museums, discussing an eclectic and always entertaining range of museum related subjects.
Jeff Martin produces the show (along with Scott Gregory from Public Radio Tulsa). Jim Richardson caught up with him to find out how the Museum Confidential Podcast came about and what tips he has for museums thinking of launching their own.
How did Museum Confidential start? The Museum Confidential podcast was born out of an exhibition of the same name that we organized and opened in 2017. The aim of the show was to turn the internal processes of a museum inside out and share as much as we could with the public. The original intent was to have one season just during the run of the show, but the podcast caught on and gained an audience large enough to warrant it continuing beyond the exhibition.
You’ve a partnership with Public Radio Tulsa which I can imagine is incredibly beneficial, how did that come about? When we first started thinking about doing a podcast, I wanted to make sure we had both the largest audience possible and access to the tools and skills needed to make it at the level of quality we hoped to produce. I reached out to Scott Gregory, producer at Public Radio Tulsa, and he immediately understood what we wanted to do and came on a co-creator. Scott Stulen and I then produced a pilot episode to share with the leadership at the station (which is connected to The University of Tulsa). They loved it. Soon after we launched Season 1 of the show in the fall of 2017 with a goal of releasing new shows every two weeks.
What other channels are you on and which do you think are the most successful for you? One of the great benefits to partnering with a public radio station to co-produce the show is that every show is released to NPR.org and the globally accessible NPROne app. Most of our downloads and listens come via iTunes and Spotify. The shows air on the actual radio station as well (89.5FM) reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners in the area.
The subjects you’ve covered are pretty varied, from Vincent Price and Native American art to the Museum of Ice Cream, how do you plan out your season? Most museum podcasts, at least at the time we were planning our show, seemed to be made for an internal audience, museum workers and like. From day one, our intent was to reach the visitors of museums, the external audience. This informed all decisions in terms of topic, tone, etc. We strongly believe that to get across something interesting it needs to be delivered in a desirable package. Also, we like to make 180-degree shifts from show to show. The first season dealt more directly with Philbrook-related issues and topics. In Season 2 we broaden our scope and begin taking on more serious issues.
The episodes sound very natural, like your having a conversation with friends, but I’m guessing you put in a lot of preparation and have a ton of notes? Prep is key. Although the secret (for me at least) is to not have notes. I don’t interview someone unless I’m already familiar with their work, their area. Usually my selections are sparked by reading an article, a book, seeing a show, or the like. So much of that is done. All I bring with me into the studio is an open mind and natural curiosity. We also edit the shows and craft it to a certain flow. This gives more opportunity to go down a certain road and see where the conversation goes rather than having a strict set of questions and roadmap of discussion. If you (the interviewer) are interested, there is a good chance the end result will be interesting.
What advice do you have for others considering doing a Podcast? One would be to find a production partner like a public radio station, but this is not an option for everyone. The second is to try and sound like the best podcasts. This is from the “fake it till you make it” school of thought. You may not be able to snag the best guests at first or even craft a structure that’s ideal, but not sounding like your show is amateur hour will solve a big chunk of the perception problems if you want to be taken seriously.
What’s been the big takeaway from doing Museum Confidential? There’s always an audience for a well told story. Despite the changes in technology and attention span, the power of narrative endures.
Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked as a consultant to the museum sector for more than twenty years advising on technology and leadership. Jim now splits his time between running innovation consultancy for museums and leading our museum conferences around the globe.