Kristi Lee is an Australian-born Torontonian behind one of Canada’s top independent podcasts – the Canadian True Crime podcast, with more than 300,000 downloads an episode. While she works full-time in communications and marketing, Ms. Lee researches and records podcasts in her basement studio after her two children go to bed.
How did you first get into podcasts?
A friend told me about Serial [a true-crime podcast from the makers of This American Life] and I was hooked. Serial was the gateway to podcasting for many people. I was consuming every true-crime podcast that I could get my hands on. I was also very active in the online Facebook community for podcasts and true-crime podcasts. And a lot of people were saying that there’s nobody covering Canadian cases on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, I was feeling unproductive in my own free time. So I decided to set myself a challenge to see if I could begin the process of starting a true-crime podcast. After some months of procrastination, I had an episode. That was in January, 2017.
What was the reception like?
With the key phrase that I chose to use as the podcast name, people were searching for those exact words and things just took off from there. Within a couple of hours, I had almost 400 downloads. I remember thinking “Who are these people?” I hadn’t done any promotion anywhere. I think that was demonstrative of the demand that was out there with Canadians wanting their own cases covered. From there, I just thought, “Okay, well, I guess I’m gonna have to keep creating more episodes.” It was very much an accident.
You first started recording episodes in your closet. What was that like?
Oh, it was awful. I was sitting on my closet floor with my laptop on an upturned laundry basket. There’s this thing called a pop filter, which goes between your mouth and the microphone to stop those hard "p" and "b" sounds, but I wasn’t able to get it to connect up properly so I was holding it there manually and trying to hold my script. The first time I recorded, I kind of threw in the towel and I went to my husband and said: “That’s it. I’ve reached the end of the journey. I’m done.” And he was like, “No, no you’ve gotta try again.” So he helped me come up with a better setup in the closet, but it still relied on me standing up to record. A year ago, I was able to get my hands on a pop-up recording booth, which I put in the office in the basement. So it’s basically like a black tent and it’s got insulated blankets on the inside of it. That stops the echoes. And I have a little desk in there.
You got your first sponsor, Penguin Random House Canada, after a couple of months. What was that like?
I was over the moon. I didn’t even think that I would ever get to a point where I would be able to monetize the podcast. Before, there was no way of monetizing my Canadian audience. All of the U.S.-based advertisers were only interested in U.S. listeners. It wasn’t until this agency called TPX started at the beginning of 2018 that I was getting regular sponsors.
You also have a full-time job in Toronto. When do you find the time to work on the podcast?
I work on it six nights a week. I find that it’s very hard because once I do my nine-to-five, I get home and I’m cooking dinner, cleaning up and making lunches and putting the kids to bed. Then finally at about eight o’clock I get to sit down and start work all over again. Every episode is being recorded at night after my kids go to bed. I can see future opportunities to be able to quit my job, but I’m still undecided as to whether it is the path that I want to be taking just yet.
What keeps you motivated?
At the end of the day, I get an enormous sense of satisfaction from producing these episodes. And one of the big things that really makes me happy is when I hear feedback from the family members of the person that I’ve been covering. And in many cases now, I’m being approached by family members who want me to cover their story. It’s a big sense of satisfaction that keeps me going.
What have you learned about starting a podcast from scratch that you’d share with others in the same position?
A lot of people say: “You don’t have to wait for it to be perfect. Just do it, just put it out there.” But if you truly want to gain an audience, there are things that you should be able to figure out. Things like where your recording space is. And then I find a lot of people think that they can just sit down with a friend, turn on a microphone, have a conversation and then upload it as a podcast and then wonder why people aren’t listening. The reason why is that listeners require things to be tightly edited. So whether you go my route, which is the scripted show route, or if you go the conversational route, know that you will have to make sure that your podcast is tightly edited if you want to gain an audience.
This interview has been edited and condensed
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