How Matt Deegan built his audio-focused newsletter

Welcome to the latest edition of Creator Collab House. I’m your host, Simon Owens. For those who don’t know me, I write a media industry newsletter you should definitely check out.

Today’s featured creator is Matt Deegan, the writer behind Matt on Audio, a newsletter about podcasts, radio, and audio streaming. I’ll start by asking him a few basic questions, but my main goal is for you, the audience, to ask him questions of your own. Matt is an expert on everything from the audio industry to running a successful newsletter.

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Ok, let’s turn it over to Matt…

What's the origin story of the newsletter?

I’ve written about radio since around 2004 in a blog. The quantity (and quality!) of the posts has varied over that time, particularly as I’ve been busier in my day job - running audio businesses. The one thing that I became ‘famous for’ on my blog, that had continued pretty much uninterrupted, was a quarterly post about RAJAR - the release of our UK radio ratings. I would get a lot of attention for these because it’s relevant for a lot of people who work in the radio sector, and there’s very little other discussion about the data.

With the rise of Substack, I thought it might be a good opportunity to reboot my writing and with a newsletter format, something that would force me to write regularly.

My work life’s evolved to all forms of audio - radio, streaming, podcasts - so it made sense to create something that reflects all of that. I think all of these sectors share so much, whilst the three industries surprisingly rarely cross-over.

I was also interested in learning how to launch a property like this. The first edition went up at the end of June last year.

I’m aware there are some excellent news digests out there, including Podnews, that I would never be able to keep up with, I felt that if there’s any value I can add, it’s with analysis. The format I’ve settled on is one that takes a big topic, usually with a news hook, and then I explain, or try to anyway, the relevance of this new information. I’m aware that my readers often have expertise in a single area in the audio space, but there’s a lot of desire to learn about the other ones.

What have you found to be some of the most effective growth strategies for getting new subscribers?

Like all media endeavours, finding an audience and encouraging them to sample your work is the challenge. I was fortunate in that my Twitter has built up over time to have mainly audio followers, so that gets regular links to the weekly posts. The other destination that’s worked well is LinkedIn’s newsfeed.

I’ve not been a huge LinkedIn user (other than sending/accepting contact requests) but the volume of content on there’s really growing. There’s also always people who like to use the information that you post to help reinforce elements of their own personal brand. And who am I to stop them if they’re helping the newsletter grow!

I’ve also found that as my audience has grown there’s been more interest from other publications to link to, or use whole articles on their websites. Finding these syndication opportunities is a great way to break out of my own sphere of influence.

The pieces that do well online are usually the ones where I’m a bit tougher on someone. I try to be fair in what I write, and I’m not creating clickbait, but when I have a sharper personal opinion those tend to do well.

The other thing Substack’s analytics teach me is which editions get forwarded and who by. People certainly love it when you talk about their company positively, or their competitors less favourably!

Can you walk us through your workflow each week for creating new content?

It normally takes me around 90 minutes to write a piece for the newsletter, and I usually do it on a Monday evening. There’s usually a point in the day when it hits me that I’ve got to write something which generally fills me with dread!

Topic-wise there’s usually something that’s caught my attention in the week. My sources are the things that I enjoy reading like RadioToday, Podnews or Music Business Worldwide plus a few hundred feeds I keep an eye on in Feedly alongside what I see pop up on Twitter. Quite often there’s a subject that I’m keen to write about, say Patreon subscriptions, but I only write about it when there’s a news hook to get into it.

My partner is my proof-reader and whilst she's in media too, has very little interest in audio - so she's good at telling me if something doesn't make sense or is a bit 'in'.

Can you walk us through the business model?

My audio career has always combined consultancy and advice alongside creating my own audio projects. With the consultancy side, many of the leads come from people and organisations reaching out because they’ve seen me speak, or have read what I’ve written.

I still think it’s relatively early days for the newsletter, but the readers span senior people at major broadcasters over the world, all the main streaming platforms as well as publishers and technologists. If I keep writing stuff that people find valuable then I’m rewarded with space in their inbox. The opportunity is then to turn that into paid work. The subscriber list is also a great personal rolodex. There are people there who I’ve never spoken to, but if I reach out, it’s their relationship with the newsletter that will likely get them to reply.

Depending on the take-up of the newsletter I think there’s the opportunity to start a paid subscription offer that provides additional updates for subscriber’s teams both in email but also in in-person form.

I think over the next 18 months we’re really going to see the rise of the personal content subscription. Substack has shown how writers who control (and grow) their audiences can become successful publishers in their own right.

Twitter will likely combine the acquisition of the similar-to-Substack Revue with providing subscriber-only tweets via Super Followers and subscriber-only Spaces. It’ll create a freemium content ecosystem that will suit many people (particularly if you have lots of Twitter followers). Facebook seems to be building something similar around Pages too.

Anyone who has deep connection with audiences, or provides real insight, will likely do well from these products. Just 1,000 people spending £7.99 would make a decent income for a creator.

What are some of your recent articles that you're particularly proud of?

I think I provide value when I give some context around news or an industry change that people are unlikely to get from more generalist publications. I took at look at Bauer’s radio acquisitions in Ireland and how that fits in with the sector and there was a lot of interest in the potential for Apple to provide a subscription audio project. Personally I also like coverage some adjacent media and looking at how it could influence audio. Here’s a piece about YouTubers starting food delivery services.

Who are some other indie writers/creators that you absolutely love?

James Cridland is a friend and colleague and whilst his commercial writing comes primarily through Podnews, I enjoy his occasional Medium posts that can be audio-specific or (back in the before times) talking about the minutiae of his international travel! 

In UK radio, one of the few regular bloggers is Adam Bowie who has a good insight into the sector. For international audio research Tom Webster writes a witty weekly newsletter. I also enjoy reading Bruce Daisley’s newsletter, Make Work Better. Bruce ran Twitter in Europe and had been on his own journey leaning about how employees interact with their workplace, it’s led him to become an expert - and it’s a subject I knew very little about before. 

It’s not particularly indie, but I also enjoy Joe Adlian’s Vulture newsletter about TV streaming - Buffering. There’s a lot of similarities with the audio sector.

Want to ask Matt questions of your own?

Go ahead and leave your questions in the comments section and he’ll dive in and answer them.

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