Infamously known for its macabre themes and raw take on true crime cases, people around the globe are drawn to this show. Perhaps it's morbid curiosity that drives listeners to hit the play button, not knowing what gory details await on the other side. Let’s dive into just how an autopsy technician and a hairdresser found success in the world of murder. Grab a fresh pair of underwear and take a seat - it’s about to get spooky.
When Ashleigh Kelley and Alaina Urquhart first started recording Morbid: A True Crime Podcast in 2018, they never could have imagined just how popular this show would become not only in the true crime space, but in the podcasting realm in its entirety.
Today, Morbid ranks as Apple Podcast’s #4 most popular podcast in the United States. The show has over 400 episodes and on average publishes new content every two days. Boasting a solid 4.5/5 star rating and over 80k reviews, Morbid has set the tone for all other podcasts following suit in the true crime genre.
Episode one starts with a doozy of a case as the hosts cover the Golden State Killer, a man whose identity eluded detectives for over four decades, eventually being caught through modern DNA matching technology.
Comparing episode one of Morbid to their most recent episode, there’s a clear shift in conversational flow. At the beginning, while episode one is still fun and entertaining, the hosts speak like they’re having a serial killer conversation over coffee. New episodes sound more organized and tastefully scripted while still feeling like the listener is sitting in on a creepy conversation between two weird, but cool, friends. It helps that Ashleigh and Alaina are childhood best friends so their dynamic is totally natural and comes off as such.
The allure of true crime doesn’t discriminate, but evidence shows that a majority of its audience is dominated by women. This begs the question, why exactly do women love a genre where they make up a majority of its victims, especially when the stories are so brutal? Why is it that grisly details of stalking and killing have these listeners on the hook?
In a 2019 study titled, “Undisclosed Information - Serial is My Favorite Murder: Examining Motivations in the True Crime Podcast Audience” by Boling and Hull, their research suggests that females make up 73% of the true crime podcast audience. 73%!
This is a significantly high number and should make a difference in how true crime cases are approached in modern media.
If you ask women who love true crime why they can’t get enough, you might be surprised to learn many see themselves reflected in the victims, fueled by the urge to learn what went wrong in those cases and what they can do to be better protected.
Another theory commonly mentioned in these circles as to why women love true crime, is because the stories are validating. It shows survivors of violence that they aren’t alone and that the harassment many experience on the daily is very real and very concerning. Essentially, true crime empowers women to learn from other’s mistakes and equips them with the tools necessary to protect their vulnerabilities.
*** We want to preface this section by stating that you are allowed to do and say whatever you want on your own podcast. These are simply common audience complaints we’ve noticed through our own research.***
Now that you know the true crime audience, it’s important to understand the criticisms Morbid, and other true crime podcasts, receive regularly.
Tip: If you’re starting a podcast, take a look at reviews of other podcasts in the same category. Take note of listener likes and dislikes and see firsthand what makes that show successful with its associated demographic. From there, you know right away what to avoid before you ever make the same mistakes. It’s like free advice from the pros!
To script or not to script?
Covering true crime cases requires a lot of research, attention to detail, and a well-written script. Otherwise, the audience can quickly tell if the hosts aren’t well informed about the subject.
A script is essential for covering all of the facts and ensuring that things like dates or names are accurate. When simple details like dates and names are incorrect, it automatically discredits the host’s research.
The format of your podcast can also influence how the audience will interpret the tone. For example, Morbid is set up like a conversation between two friends and loosely follows an episode script outline. This works for their audience because the hosts don’t have to strictly stick to the script but can use it to guide the conversation with accuracy.
Other shows like Crimes of Passion are completely scripted and take on a more serious tone than that of Morbid. Afterall, Morbid is one of America’s top Comedy podcasts according to Apple Podcasts whereas Crimes of Passion falls under the Society & Culture genre. Since Crimes of Passion is clearly scripted, the audience doesn’t seem to mind if the hosts sound like they’re reading facts from a sheet.
Adversely, some Morbid listeners get upset when the content sounds too scripted and not conversational enough, per the usual tone. This is why it’s important to decide on a specific podcasting format and stick with it.
Depending on the podcast’s genre, sharing personal opinions about a subject is fine as long as the host informs the audience they’re stating their opinion, not a fact. This is especially true for Morbid.
Many of the lowest ratings from listeners criticize the hosts for oversharing their personal opinions and forming their own bias. Keep in mind that while true crime indeed requires facts, the occasional lighthearted opinion can brighten the mood and break up the tension when discussing heavier topics.
The golden rule we always tell our clients is this - unless your podcast is based on politics, keep politics off the table!
Audiences across the board are quick to write negative comments the moment a political opinion is shared that has nothing to do with the story. Sometimes, however, politics can be included depending on the context. If a certain law or political climate has any influence over an important aspect of a true crime story, it’s worth sharing in a neutral way.
Here’s an example of when politics are an integral part of a murder case.
When the Golden State Killer was finally identified after four decades of heartache and fear, it was a major relief for families of the victims. DNA evidence was collected from the crime scenes but was never linked to anyone in particular, even though investigators suspected it belonged to the elusive killer. In 2018, a popular DNA testing service allowed law enforcement to access private user information to create a genetic family tree of suspects who shared DNA with the killer. From there, authorities were able to narrow a suspect through eyewitness accounts.
The manner in which police obtained DNA matches is still up for ethical debate. This case poses questions like should there be laws about sharing private genetic information given to these websites in confidence? Should these companies be able to decide on their own what information they can or can’t give to law enforcement? How will this affect future cases and general user privacy? Will this case teach killers how to be more careful?
Political information like above, helps the audience get a better grasp on the reality of the case and its effect on society. If a host shares their personal stance on politics and it has nothing to do with the progression of the story, it’s best to just leave it alone.
When covering such a nuanced genre, such as true crime, you must be well researched. It’s your duty as a host to verify the information you plan on sharing with the masses when covering these topics in depth. Again, this all depends on the style, tone, and flow of your show.
If you have a short-form storytelling podcast, it’s okay to briefly examine the details, as is expected from the show’s style. On the other hand, if your show is more like Morbid where the listeners expect the nitty gritty details, the host must heavily research the topic and explore key points with as much detail as possible.
Listener reviews from all genres tell us that when hosts aren’t prepared or are obviously uneducated about important story points, they’re sure to come off as amateur and incredible. To avoid this, you need to become the authority on whatever topic you’re presenting.
This entails spending time verifying facts, looking through multiple sources and not just depending solely on one article or one person in particular for all the information on a topic. This might sound overwhelming, but we promise it’s easy and worthwhile.
Simply start with a web search for your chosen topic and find an article that gives a good overview. (Regardless of what your eighth grade English teacher taught you, it’s okay to look at Wikipedia for starting points and potential topic guidance.)
From there, find the key components of the topic that are clearly important and worth digging into a bit more. Dive into those points and make sure they’re verifiable across multiple sources. We suggest researching through news articles, documentaries, and even books on the subject to get as much credible information as possible. Next, format it all in a way that’s digestible for your audience so you not only keep their attention span, but come off as credible.
Morbid has received many negative reviews that claim the hosts forget important case details, don’t dive in depth enough, or get case facts wrong, which is a big no-no in the world of true crime. This category is one that demands accuracy across all stories. Think about it, true crime coverage is the retelling of people’s lives and more often than not, their final moments, so it’s crucial for hosts to do their research well in advance.
What sets Morbid aside, however, is the hosts are quick to fix their mistakes and are open about what facts they get wrong on their podcast. This is one of the best practices for podcasts to build loyalty and rapport with their listeners. By addressing mistakes and making things right, the audience will pick up on your willingness as a host to report the truth. Acknowledging what you did wrong and publicly correcting mistakes builds credibility.
As mentioned above, looking at what other podcasts get right and applying the same practices to your show in its infancy is a great way to garner listener loyalty from the start.
Keep in mind that you aren’t going to be everyone’s favorite no matter how hard you try to cater to your listeners. People are bound to get upset if they don’t agree with something on the show and that’s okay. Let’s repeat that. It’s okay if the one star reviewers don’t always agree with you.
While Morbid receives many negative, or one star reviews, they still have a whopping 4.5 out of 5 star average from 80k+ reviews. To keep such a high rating out of thousands of comments is something to be celebrated. Let’s take a look at what Morbid does right and how you can learn from their expertise.
Fans of Morbid are here for one reason and one reason only - to immerse themselves in the world of the spooky. Most listeners love this podcast because they feel like they’re learning while among friends who hold a common belief that the scariest things aren’t ghosts and witches, but cruel humans lurking in the shadows of society.
First and foremost, the dynamic between Ashleigh and Alaina is a huge draw for listener ears. It’s rare to find hosts who have such a strong relationship that their dynamic is easily portrayed through the air. Having been friends since childhood, it makes sense that their conversations feel natural and in tune with each other.
Many positive reviews have a “where has this podcast been all my life” tone. For years, morbidly curious people have been desperate for somewhere to indulge in creepy stories, and Morbid does just that.
A general consensus among listeners is that Morbid provides a space for fans of the weird and eerie to feast on the unusual aspects of human nature. Coverage of the things no one wants to talk about, the things often swept under the rug, is what draws hungry minds to this podcast.
There are hours upon hours of true crime content from YouTube channels, podcasts, and shows on TV. With all this being widely available for public consumption, what makes Morbid stand out from the competition? Well, it all boils down to how Ashleigh and Alaina present the cases.
True crime cases have historically been covered like a news report: short, factual, and to the point. This leaves no room for empathy for the victims and surviving family. It doesn’t go over the trauma caused to communities both mentally and physically. This is where Morbid shines.
Ashleigh and Alaina have a knack for telling stories in a way that feels comfortable for the audience, even though extremely disturbing topics are discussed. Something that heavily contributes to this is their ability to humanize the victims.
So often the human aspect of true crime gets tossed to the side and victims are just another faceless silhouette. Sadly, killers are often memorialized by the public’s hyperfocus on the details of their crimes, leaving their victims voiceless and forgotten.
The hosts of Morbid operate through compassionate coverage. They humanize victims through repeating their names, talking about their lives before the main event of the story, and remembering their legacies left behind.
This sets Morbid apart from all the other true crime content out there. Some attempt to focus on the victim but ultimately end up relishing on the heinous offender, overshadowing the victim in every way. If you’re looking for a lighthearted take on this nightmare world, this is the podcast for you.
Something the show has been praised for is its never-ending content. People love Morbid because there’s something new to listen to multiple times a week. The hosts stay busy by releasing tons of new content including research that involves delving into the paranormal, gathering scary stories from listener submissions, and managing social media accounts all while hosting one of the world’s most popular podcasts.
Additionally, Morbid’s audio and editing quality is fantastic. The hosts are understood clearly without much interference and clips are thoughtfully strung together to continue the story. For those looking to start a podcast, don’t underestimate the value of a good recording setup because it makes all the difference in adding credibility to the show.
Listeners are quick to pick up on audio interferences like static, poor internet connection, or room echo so it’s important to pay attention to these details. (Here’s our guide to optimizing your recording space for quality audio.)
Morbid teaches us that the real terrors in life are people with bad intentions and by listening, we learn how to spot those hiding in the shadows. Rather than instilling fear in their listeners, Ashleigh and Alaina have expertly unlocked the secrets to addressing horror in a comedic, highly relatable way while humanizing the victims and giving a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.
If true crime isn’t your cup of tea, surely there’s still tidbits of gold to be learned from the Morbid crew, like relating to your audience, listener retention, and establishing your spot on the podcast charts.
When it comes down to the technicalities, Morbid is an industry leader in consistency and production value. Podcasters everywhere would be wise to think about what makes this show successful and in turn, apply similar principles to their own projects.
At the end of the day, bad reviews are something to take into consideration, but aren’t the script for how to go about producing your podcast. Ultimately you decide what does and doesn’t make the final cut and by taking note of what other shows succeed and fail in, you too can make your podcast something amazing.
Whether you’re a fan of the spooky weirdness or just someone looking for podcast guidance, we hope this deep dive has helped you understand what makes Morbid so great.