Saturday, 7 April 2012

Comment on "In Defence of podcasts (even if they don't make money)"

This is a comment I made in the comment thread of this article:

So we’re talking here about comedy podcasts, pop culture podcasts, news podcasts, tech podcasts, educational podcasts, interview podcasts and music podcasts. This shows some of the range of what is out there.

Then you have 3 strands of content:

1. Podcasts made independently by people who are complete unknowns
2. Podcasts made independently by people who have an existing brand to draw audiences in
3. Podcasted versions of existing radio shows

In my view all of the above are great. Together they can form an on demand user created audio world. You get to choose your own radio station. And importantly you get to mix up “amateur” and “professional” content, both can, and should learn from each other, and both offer much to the listener. You have to seek out what you like which is actually one of the barriers not mentioned in this thread. Lots of people talk of not liking what is out there, but really they mean what they can find out there, since podcasts are not all long and not all anything. Sure it is an outlet for long form and free form audio. And I think audiences do desire long things and improvisational things. But that isn’t all that podcasting is.

One thing podcasting needs are filters. The tech stuff is getting better but people will still be overwhelmed by having to go through all the material on their own to find what works for them. Lots of people don’t want to have to search out shows they want them given to them by a reliable filter, such as a TV Channel. That is what is really great about the development of podcasting networks and of shows that review and recommend other podcasts, that stuff is important to mainstream audiences. And niche audiences too come to think of it.

In terms of the tech, app culture is helping to make podcasting more mainstream, now with apps like Stitcher Smart Radio there is less transferring and less hassle for you to programme your own stations. Smart phones are very mainstream and people have learned through them to download and use apps. They don’t consider that hard the way they do searching on iTunes. This means that it doesn’t matter that apple don’t really give a shit about the medium, we basically don’t (or won’t) need them anymore.

The genre that is missing from my list and from the discussion on this thread that will help take podcasting into the mainstream is drama. There are few great audio dramas or narrative serials out there, or at least none that I’ve managed to find yet, none with the same profile as the other genres. Most of podcasting has settled into conversations or documentaries. Even within comedy podcasting this is the case, although the sketch comedies do lead the way on this. Drama and serial narrative stories are genres that capture the public’s imagination. They also require more writing time, more performance development, more editing, and are generally a much harder beast to create to a high standard from an independent or DIY perspective. But they will come eventually I think.

Podcasting does offer new tones that you can’t find in other media. It is more intimate, more interactive, unmediated, due to how it is done and how it is consumed. That’s why free flowing conversation has become its strongest strand. This isn’t available in the same way anywhere, not even on talk radio where the pressures and structure is very different. Two people in a room is very different from two people in front of mics in a studio.

The potential DIY element of podcasting is something that feels fresh and new. It can take us into personal spaces, from the dressing rooms of the famous to the bedrooms of the unfamous, and to so many places in between, catching people in moments that are a world away from what you capture on TV or on most radio. The microphone can go anywhere and because podcasts can be fully independent often there is no one telling the podcaster where to take it and how to do it. They figure out their own rules on their own and so hit on different solutions to the ones we’re used to.

I make a podcast that tries to explore these elements of the form. It’s a series of conversations with people I know, from my closest friends and family, to someone I met once at a party. It’s tagline is “There are lots of shows about famous people this show is about the rest of us.”

Or search for it on iTunes or Stitcher under its name Getting Better Acquainted.

It’s one of a few independent audio shows that I work on. None of them make any money. I have a day job. They all cost lots of time and quite a bit of money to produce. But I love the form. I love the freedom. I love connecting directly with audiences. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t be able to do all of them more and better if I could figure out the monetization problem. But I’m happy to keep pondering that problem as I work on making great audio.

Getting rid of the barriers between creator and audience is a wonderful thing and something that both creators and audiences want. Not all the time sure. We still want lots of mystery out there too. But in a world where so much is mediated, where so much is impersonal, where we feel fragmented, having this direct link, cutting out all the middle people, is a powerful and exciting thing. And that is what podcasting has to offer.

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