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How We Produced an Award Winning Podcast at Amaliah

by in Lifestyle on 20th July, 2020

Yes, this is one of those posts where I subtly remind you that we produce an award-winning podcast and hope you can also benefit from our learnings.

For those that don’t know about Amaliah;

Amaliah.com is dedicated to amplifying the voices of Muslim women. We have a digital footprint of over 3.2 million each month and a contributor community of over 300. Through articlesvideos, our award-winning podcasts, our social channels, events, brand partnerships, our work seeks to surface the many different voices and experiences within our communities.

Here is also a guide to all the podcasts we produce, including playlists for Two Sense, small talk, Lights On, Amaliah Works From Home, Amaliah Anthology, Nights In, Amaliah Live.

In 2019 we won gold at the Audible Audio Production Awards for best Grassroots podcast and this year our Lights On series was nominated for best sex and relationship podcast.

Audio Production Awards 2019

  1. Getting started

We knew amaliah.com needed to be extended into a new medium back in 2018 and we thought we would see what happens. Our editorial site had seen thousands of stories from women all around the world talking about relationships, fashion, politics, work, ambition and more.

We hired someone who we liked for their character, Sara, she had no skill set in production or podcasts. I am a firm believer in character over skill set and abilities. Good character goes far and it’s become the basis on which I do business at Amaliah.

  • We borrowed mics from Mr Harry Hitchens 
  • Mercurius Saad created some transitions and advice on editing software 
  • Huckletree let us use their VR room and we also took up 3 free slots at White City Pod 

Our first episode took about 3 attempts of recording and about 3 months to get it to where it was. 

We put it in front of the rest of the team, friends and trusted peers for feedback. We wanted to produce podcasts that replicated our contributor model on Amaliah, but the logistics of having guests would be the bottleneck to gaining momentum so Selina and I jumped on the mic.

However, true to our belief, inspired by Tobi Oredein at Black Ballad, that we as Muslim women should be able to speak about everything and anything rather than boxed into matters pertaining to identity (hijab, Ramadan, blah blah), we launched a series that was light-hearted but often meandered into meaningful conversations that’s impact became helping some our listeners feel seen.

We realised that just talking honestly as 3 Muslim women about everything from fast fashion and microaggressions to plant care and contraception filled a space that needed to see more voices like us. We called it Two Sense and found that our listeners loved it. The format was really important here, each week we brought a list of things we found underrated and overrated to discuss, defend and unpack, we’ve had topics like Nandos, the myth of power dressing and Contraception choices as well as Patriarchial readings of the Quran, the sinister nature of avocados farms and visualisation.  Our listeners have loved the feeling of just listening to friends talk and would engage in the topics on our socials too. 

  1. Who gets to be an expert?

One of the reasons for Amaliah is to amplify the voices of Muslim women. I realised that when watching media interviews on things like climate change or fast fashion it was almost a given that it wouldn’t be a Muslim woman. Power structures mean that white people’s voices are seen as default authority. So in somewhat of a contrast to our hour-long Two Sense episodes, we came up with small talk. A series about passing the mic to Muslim women who know their subject area. Hard-hitting questions to unpack a topic that would help a listener foray into a topic to then springboard off. 

Thank you to all of our guests for your time and generosity in sharing your knowledge with us including Hoda Katebi, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Angelica Lindsey-Ali, Muna Suleiman, Munadiah Aftab and Dr Azeezat Johnson!

The key to these episodes were research and questions, we would spend time going back and forth on content, wording, off-record prompts and alternative ways to ask something. The episodes were tight and the format very much was integral to the listening experience. These episodes have had over 20,000 listens and we find that they are evergreen in nature.

Take Dr Azeezat Johnson’s episode on ‘How do we resist and exist in white power structures’ it was recorded in January 2019 but then peaked again in light of George Floyd’s murder. Or, the ‘What’s Race and Religion Got to Do With Climate Change’ – an episode we recorded after 80% of our audience said they cared about climate change but only 17% felt included in the current climate change narratives. This episode again peaked in the weeks of XR protest. And finally ‘Why Islamophobia is not a phobia’ with Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan, unfortunately, a consistently relevant episode.

If I had one critique of small talk it would be that all our guests have decent social media profiles and we need to do more digging to find those that do the work but aren’t present on socials. 

  1. Lights On 

Of our small talk series, our conversation with Angelica Lindsey Ali was the most listened-to. In many ways, it sits outside the small talk brief but I just flipping loved Angelica after coming across her on Twitter and knew her 20+ years of experience needed to be on the podcast. 

From this, we decided to approach her for her own show in which she would take questions from the community on sex, relationships, body confidence and wellbeing. 

This was about creating a resource for Muslim women who had been fumbling around on the internet trying to navigate patriarchal Muslim forums to find the nuance in these subject matters.

Angelica is based in Arizona so we asked her to send voice notes after sifting through the hundreds of questions we crowdsourced from the Amaliah community, mainly Instagram. We also had the brilliantly talented Laxmi do the artwork, you can find her beautiful work here! This podcast was also nominated for the Best Sex and Relationships Podcast by the British Podcast Awards!

  1. Finding Bae

After a good run with Two Sense, I wanted to try and go deeper on a topic through the podcast. We worked on the Two Sense Special where we interviewed 11 Muslims on their search for finding love. This podcast was an absolute labour of love, it took us about 6 months to find and interview guests, create the story arc and format as well as interview our narrations. 

While we were really proud of the final episode and the community rallied around it, reflected both by the listener numbers (our most listened to podcast) as well as social media engagement, it was just too time-consuming and resource-heavy for us and we realised that podcasts like this were best left to being commissioned rather than produced in house!

  1. Events 

2019 saw the begging of our events strategy (thanks pandemic). And it was a no brainer to capture the audio from our events, some straight-up panels and talks.

But in Dec 2019 I wanted to hear from our community and thought what if we literally passed the mic and asked them to record live on the night. We left the mic rolling and people took a seat in the booth. People who didn’t know each other came together to record and talk about divorce, ambition, stereotypes and belief in God. 

This was a total experiment and I am so glad we did it! 

  1. Regularity

In lockdown, we started daily team standups at 10:30 am. Pre lockdown we had plans to launch a few new series but that came to a firm stop. But I felt inspired and sent an email to the team which had this part:

“I think it would be best to pause planning the new podcasts until we have more certainty on when we can go out and record. Is there also an opportunity to do an Amaliah the wfh edition?

Sara I know in our last meeting we had a chat about what you want to be doing, the next couple of months will feel very different and off-track for all of us as we figure out what we should be doing. However, I think this could also bring out something else, not sure what yet. Like imagine we do a dystopian “day 22 – narration style podcast that we put out every day”, I don’t know but I hope you get what I am trying to say! 

I really think we have an opportunity here to create interesting content and experiences in the constraints that we have atm! I also think people will be seeking it out.”

The WFH series became similar to the Two Sense of us just talking about how we were navigating lockdown and life.

The regularity of this did incredibly well for our listener stats, while the per episode listen was lower than our other episodes, the quantity of these made up for it on the overall stats. We also found that people would listen to a couple at a time, boosting listener numbers across the previous episodes. We started getting about 300 listens per episode of work from home and now about 1500.

  1. Full Circle 

In many ways we came full circle from wanting the podcast to be an extension of .com – Selina came up with the Amaliah audio anthology. Some of Amaliah’s favourite pieces, read by the authors themselves.

We are currently back to thinking about some new podcast series we want to launch so keep an eye out! If you are a commissioner, organisation or brand interested in working together then drop me an email at [email protected]

Nafisa Bakkar

Nafisa Bakkar

Co-founder and CEO at Amaliah Find me @nafisa_bakkar on IG and Twitter