Producing Your Best Podcast: Behind-the-Scenes Gems with Keisha “TK” Dutes
by Madeline Wright
I had the pleasure of speaking with Keisha “TK” Dutes who spoke at the Werk It Festival in Los Angeles. TK is an NYC-based executive producer consultant for the Hear to Slay podcast with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom. She began her journey when she acted on her decision to start something. Picking up industry knowledge as she honed her craft, TK has built a reputation as a powerhouse speaker and go-to podcast leader. Here’s how she followed her passion into producing podcasts as well as some gems for how you can do it too.
1. What inspired you to get into podcasting and how did you get started?
Keisha “TK” Dutes: I used to be in conventional radio as part of Pacifica Station WBAI in the early 2000s. Around 2013, my time there was up and I had to figure out how to do something with this skill. I was kind of isolated from the community of broadcasters and even upcoming podcasters because I had another life as a healthcare professional. I was a nurse. It was a whole thing! Because I was doing that work, I didn’t have time to meet people. I couldn’t go to the podcasting conferences— there weren’t any conferences back then.
Since I didn’t know where people were, I decided to mimic the radio. My artist friends and I started Bondfire Radio, an online portal for live-streaming radio. There I built up my skills: I learned how to edit. Then I would get jobs editing for folks. Then I would get jobs recording folks. I also attended a five-day workshop.
I was acutely aware that nobody knew me in this world yet, even though I had been working in broadcast for a long time. I still didn’t have people, so I thought, ‘What can I do to get people to know me?’
The only way to show people is to make things. So I made my own morning show. We just wrapped at 1,000 episodes. We did two audio dramas, and we helped so many people start their own shows. Through that, that’s how I learned that I could teach, that I could physically edit, and I learned the language of what I was doing. Giving a vocabulary to the skills I had was what finally cracked the code for me into this community.
Learning the vocabulary and language is so important. New podcasters and broadcasters should meet others and learn the vocabulary of all the things you’re trying to do because it will open up so many doors! Start by looking at job postings but beware of the ‘kitchen sink’ producer postings detailing a catch-all list of responsibilities.
2. How can producers dealing with budget constraints still deliver a quality show?
Use Community Resources
TK: In most communities, there are podcast classes for the community through the library.
Here in NYC, we have the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We have BRIC in Brooklyn where, for a low cost, they will teach people how to be a community producer. You can take a five or six-week class where you’ll learn video, audio, and all kinds of editing for around $150. And you can access the equipment, free with the promise to them that you’ll produce things that will go back into their ecosystem. But it doesn’t mean you can’t use the equipment for your own thing as well.
Take a Class From a Producer
TK: Producers sometimes do classes. Find a producer that offers classes. I do a six-hour workshop called the “Podcasters Retreat” for small groups. It essentially covers what I taught in the Werk It Bootcamp plus five more modules. I give you as much as you can learn in six hours.
In the second half, we work on your specific projects so I try to keep them intimate so that we have time to go around the room. It really becomes a cohort of people jamming with each other, giving each other ideas.
At that point, we talk about their projects and they get excited because they have the basics to do a show treatment. That’s my favorite part of the class. Beyond that, I can’t stay with all of them, but I’ve given them enough to go into the world and they can at least find their own way.
Other Educational Resources
TK: Twitter is great for staying in the know. I follow all my colleagues and boost their posts. I started collecting Twitter lists of people who have identified as a POC or belonging to a minority community along with what they do. On my lists, everyone’s looking, and there’s always someone who can help someone else. On Twitter, if you just say what you need, someone will come and help you.
The Duke University Center for Documentary Studies is also a great resource.
3. How can independent producers get on the radar of a company looking for talent for existing or new shows?
Always Make Stuff
TK: Make things. Make clips. Make stories. Make a show for yourself. I got more out of my own stuff and showing people and “forcing” my way into the space by saying, “Here, I made a thing. I made another thing. And another.” I am relentless about this, and then I invite people to see it! I had no business making an audio drama but I made two. Try different things. Surprise people. Be consistent.
TK: I applied to StoryCorps and asked myself do I even know how to edit an hour-long conversation down to two minutes? Because that’s what StoryCorps is. So I started recording conversations and I practiced shrinking them down to one minute so that they would fit on social media. They turned out well but I got bored with it. By trying things you’ll also find out if you even like it. Do you have the stamina to even sit there and shrink something down to one or two minutes? Sometimes I’m in a situation where the interview was so good that it breaks my heart to cut it down. Do I want to be tortured like that every day as my job? No. I realized that and I didn’t get the job and that’s fine. Not everything is for everyone, but now I know that I could do it.
[For more opportunities, regularly check out our job board here.]
Collaboration and Consistency
TK: Don’t always work by yourself. By working on a side project with other producers you learn so much from learning others’ processes and styles. Get other points of view on your work. Go to meetups. If you don’t have the listeners or numbers, you can increase your visibility with consistency. The more you make, the more you do, the more people know that you are the same person that is behind the show or in front of the mic.
Read Next: When to Hire a Producer for Your Podcast
TK Dutes presented at Werk It Bootcamp, spoke on a panel on the main stage, as well as produced the “Hear to Slay Live” Podcast evening. You can connect with Keisha “TK” Dutes on LinkedIn and via social media: @Bondfireradio and @tastykeish on Twitter and Instagram. She is also a board member of AIR.
Madeline Wright is a writer, musician, hiker, and an avid reader based in Los Angeles. She enjoys injecting humor into her stories and learning new things to keep her brain happy. She produces A Mad Vox, a podcast that explores the art of tackling ambitious challenges, and encourages you to try amazing things to make your inner kid proud.