If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re a fan of podcasts. That means you have most likely read or heard or seen the work of Caroline Crampton, an incredibly hard-working multi-tasker who has built a career by being everywhere in podcasting. “I do have a lot of different podcasting things that I do, which is a bit unusual,” she says. That is an understatement.
First there’s her podcast, Shedunnit, which every other week offers a guided tour of the golden age of detective fiction, with regular appearances by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and the other so-called Queens of Crime. Crampton’s perceptive and thorough analysis of the subject is rounded out by interviews with notable experts in the field, making for an absolutely enjoyable listen for even the casual mystery fan.
Crampton is one of the preeminent podcast critics around (though she is probably too humble to admit it) with the experience, know-how, and knowledge that comes with her extensive multi-tasking, multi-hyphenate resume.
Then there’s The Listener, the daily (daily!) podcast recommendation newsletter she populates with listening suggestions. She contributes to the podcast industry newsletter Hot Pod, offering her insights into the ever-growing and constantly evolving world of podcasting, like her shrewd analysis of those inconsequential quests that are the basis for shows like Dead Eyes and Missing Richard Simmons and even Reply All’s “Case of the Missing Hit.” And she appears on other podcasts, including a recent appearance on Meddling Adults where Crampton, an expert in detective novels, gloriously failed to solve a Scooby Doo mystery. She works as a freelance producer making shows for others and occasionally finds time to write book reviews and such. Heck, she’s even written for Timber! On top of all that, she manages to read an incredible number of detective novels, keep up on academic research about said novels, scroll through podcast industry reports, and listen to what she calls an “endless queue of podcasts” at “normal speed.” Between all that, she even carved out time to write a book, The Way to the Sea, a history of the Thames estuaries that is also a memoir of sorts. She’s the podcasting version of the 2011 Sarah Jessica Parker film, I Don’t Know How She Does It.
So what is her secret to successfully completing so many projects? Hard deadlines. “I absolutely need a deadline,” she says, with a laugh. While Crampton is always juggling deadlines, she’s a stickler for meeting them and she believes that dependability has helped her connect with a very loyal audience. In her experience as an avid (and expert) listener, she realized that shows with a wonky or random release schedule would disappear from her listening rotation. “If the shows fall off for a week or two, sometimes I don’t come back for a month, because I get too busy with other stuff,” she says. Applying that knowledge to her role as a podcast creator, she believes in avidly sticking to a regular release schedule. “My experience with [this show] and the pop culture podcast that I used to host, I found that just saying you’ll do something and then doing it seemed to me to be the most reliable way of building a loyal audience for a podcast,” Crampton explains. “So I decided I would do an episode every other Wednesday and with a very small number of exceptions, I have. And that’s worked really well.”
Of course, if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that sticking to the most carefully laid plans and release schedules isn’t always possible, but if you’re looking to build an audience, consistency is key. “If things get overwhelming, I would take the [episode release schedule] down to once a month or something,” Crampton adds. “But I would still keep it on a very regular, regular schedule.”
That of course means a lot of hard work, something Crampton is not afraid of. Crampton got her start in podcasting the way most of us do. “I was a listener-only for a very long time,” she explains. She first started listening around 2008 at university, subscribing to the long-running satirical news podcast, The Bugle. After graduating, she found work at the London magazine, New Statesman, and launched a culture-and-politics podcast to help mark their centenary. That led to her producing and co-hosting a pop culture show, also for New Statesmen, called SRSLY where she honed her skills on the mic and the behind-the-scenes; skills she put to good use launching Shedunnit in 2018. “I was really craving doing something where I could just make all the decisions, and nobody else would be able to say anything about it, because there wouldn’t be anybody else involved,” she says.
While the idea of truly working for herself was inspiring, so was the work Karina Longworth was doing on her podcast, You Must Remember This. “She demonstrated to me that you can just be one person and make something really good, if you know a lot about it, and you’re willing to put a lot of work into the writing,” Crampton says. “She showed that you don’t have to be an investigative reporter telling people stuff that no one’s ever heard before for it to be good listening.” Crampton’s work on Shedunnit has shown this to be true, with an ardent fan base of listeners, many of whom become paying members of the show’s book club, delving into beloved detective stories and finding new themes and topics to discuss.
Of course, Shedunnit is just a small portion of Crampton’s work. At New Statesman, she started doing some podcast criticism, slowly building that into a column that was one of the first to look beyond the podcast news cycle toward bigger trends. “While there were definitely people doing reviews, and doing them really well, there weren’t a lot of people being more discursive about it,” she says. “There were very few people saying, ‘Why are we suddenly seeing a cluster of this kind of podcast now?’ or something like that. And that was just automatically the kind of patterns that I felt drawn to.” After leaving the Statesman, Crampton started a Substack newsletter that was eventually acquired by Nick Quah’s Hot Pod. (Crampton is now the lone regular contributor.) It was a savvy choice for Quah, giving him an instant international presence and giving his own newsletter the weight of Crampton’s considerable expertise in both production and criticism. Now, Crampton is one of the preeminent podcast critics around (though she is probably too humble to admit it) with the experience, know-how, and knowledge that comes with her extensive multi-tasking, multi-hyphenate resume.
Such a title requires listening to a lot of podcasts, and Crampton has developed a few clever tricks to choose the best new shows out of the millions of podcasts currently in existence. “I have this big RSS reader of podcast feeds, where anytime I see a podcast that looks like it might be promising, I will stick it in there, so I don’t lose it,” she explains. She also uses a website called Listen Notes, which allows users to create a custom RSS feed, which Crampton considers very helpful.
She also likes to see what is happening in other countries, such as peeking, say, at the top hundred podcasts in Pakistan, a cool idea that has become slightly harder due to changes on the desktop version of Apple Podcasts desktop app. Crampton also [Ed note: look, it’s nearly impossible to write about Crampton’s expansive work without using “also” a lot, so just go with it] has support from her colleague at The Listener, Lindelani Mbatha, who is based in South Africa and serves as the international editor. “He sends me anything good that he finds,” she says. “And that’s really, really helpful, because he just has a completely different media diet and perspective to me, so he finds things that I would never find, even in my best attempts to kind of overcome the algorithm and see things that Spotify doesn’t want to recommend to me.”
She does take suggestions from show creators, but if you want her to pay attention to your show, keep your pitch short and sweet. “You would not believe the number of people who are not polite and not succinct in their approaches—and that’s not helpful,” she notes too kindly. Thanks to her advanced listening skills, she generally knows what shows she is likely to end up recommending before she even listens. “I try to only add things to that queue that I’m like 80 percent sure at some point are going to be recommendable,” she says. It’s a skill she has honed over years of listening to shows and covering trends, and at this point she is keenly attuned to what she will enjoy listening to, such as her recent recommendation—“Why Is That Giant Beaver Holding a Cookie?”—whose title poses a question to which every sensible person would like an answer. As soon as she’s done listening to a podcast episode, she starts writing her recommendation. “I try to write things up when I’ve just heard them, because that’s when you write the best recommendations because it’s freshest,” she says.
Crampton says she is very grateful to be able to do what she loves in so many capacities. “I still sort of believe in luck,” Crampton says. “But I also believe in— I don’t know who said it originally—the harder you work, the more luck you get. I’m in the lucky position that I kind of enjoy everything I do, but I’ve worked hard to get to the point where that’s the case.”
Editor’s note: As of publication, this is the most recent episode of Shedunnit, and Caroline says, “It has my husband in it too so it is a little bit more about ‘me’ than usual.”