Some called it “The little box that changed everything.”
That tiny box made its debut just a few weeks after 9/11.
In September 2014, just before its 13th birthday, the iPod Classic was no more.
I’m not sure how long other digital music players will last, but I do know one thing.
Podcasts are here to stay, and one of the reasons may surprise you:
This year, about half of all the cars will be digitally connected. By 2025 that’s going to be one hundred percent. (source)
Connected cars are music to the ears of the audio streaming industry. Over forty percent of all radio listening takes place in cars. (source)
Car-based listeners love to listen for long stretches of time, if only to survive their daily commute. They are the ideal captive audience for podcasters. Especially because we’re living in the age of on-demand everything. Just as millions and millions are using Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, people want to stream their audio as well.
NOT FOR ME
I’ll be honest with you. With a home studio, I have the best commute in the world, and I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article, than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.
Done. On to the next one.
Am I going to listen to a forty-minute podcast to possibly pick up a few useful ideas?
No thank you.
But there’s another reason why most podcasts are not my cup of tea.
I have no patience for mediocrity, half-ass efforts, or for untalented amateurs playing radio.
On occasion I will listen to shows like This American Life, Fresh Air, or RadioLab. All these programs are professionally produced, and they make doing the dishes or yard work much more pleasant. But I really can’t stand podcasts that take way too long to get to the point.
Podcasts are often mentioned as glorious examples of content marketing. That’s a strategy to attract and engage an audience by means of storytelling. The ultimate goal is to influence behavior.
But what if there’s no content worth marketing? Then podcasters are just filling dead air. For what purpose? And why do I find so many shows so utterly annoying?
I usually blame it on the self-absorbed host who often doubles as the producer and sound engineer. A deadly combination. The typical podcast jock loves to hear him- or herself talk.
After a ten to fifteen minute introduction where the presenter shares the most boring details about his private life, we might get an idea of what the show is all about.
By that time they’ve completely lost me.
Some shows bring in guests, for one purpose only: to give the host something to play off of. Or – even worse – to confirm the presenter’s bias. How can you tell?
For one, the host doesn’t listen. Why should he? It’s his show, so he does most of the talking. And when he doesn’t, he feels the need to constantly interrupt. His questions are closed, and without a critical producer, they lack originality and depth.
What makes it even more painful to listen to, is the fact that many amateur podcasters think they’re funny. They’re so funny that they laugh at their own jokes.
Because no one else does.
Podcasters will often present their opinions as facts. Facts that no one is ever going to check or challenge. There is no editor-in-chief to make sure that the stories told stand up to scrutiny.
Why not? Because no one cares.
In one ear. Out the other.
At least the printed word has some appearance of authority. It’s in black and white, and it has staying power. People can come back to it. Check the facts. Look at the sources, and leave comments. That’s why I prefer blogging.
ARE YOU A PODCASTER?
If you’re thinking of hosting a podcast and you want me to listen to you, you have to do me a few favors, okay?
Don’t make the show about you. If you want to please yourself, try masturbation. I’ve heard some good things about it.
If you want people to tune in, make it about your listeners. Find out what’s relevant to them. What are they talking about? What problems do they have? Give them a reason to spend twenty to thirty minutes in your company. And unless you’re really, really good, don’t make it any longer.
I have a life.
And don’t do it just for my sake. Do it to appeal to a new audience.
A recent article in Mind/Shift talked about the increasing popularity of podcasts in high school. Teachers are using shows such as Serial and This American Life to teach learning through listening, and kids love it! Asked about Serial, One of the teachers is quoted as saying:
“Narrator Sarah Koenig’s quick shifts in tone and perspectives — we spend three minutes with a lawyer, say, then with a former classmate and then a detective — is especially appealing to teenagers who bore easily.”
But there’s more you can do to make your podcast more appealing.
I don’t need to know that the dog ate your breakfast, or that your daughter dyed her hair purple. Get to the point quickly. No endless sign-on music. No bombastic introductions.
Be real. Be authentic. Be you.
Secondly, if you feel the need to give me advice, at least make it entertaining. Don’t preach. If I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. If I need a lecture, I’ll subscribe to iTunes U.
WHAT TURNS ME ON
Do you know what I find very entertaining, and even slightly sexy?
A unique point of view.
These things are hard to find in the mainstream media. Everything is dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. That’s the target group the advertisers are aiming for.
With podcasts you don’t have to lower yourself to that level because you don’t do this for the money. You have no shareholders to please. Instead, you have the freedom to produce content that matters.
I’d love to hear guests on your show, as long as you realize that they know way more about a subject than you do. So, give them space to talk. Listen carefully. Use their answers as the basis for your next questions. Don’t just go down your list. You might miss the most interesting aspects of their story.
If you only ask questions about what you think you know, you might as well interview yourself. Make it about your guests. And get this:
An interview is not a discussion between equals. It is not a debate. You are simply a facilitator. Create some intimacy, instead of confrontation. Help people open up.
When you truly connect with your guests, you will connect with your audience.
My rant is almost over, but not quite.
Please use quality equipment. We live in the digital age, and we can hear the difference between a crappy microphone and a good one. And be sure to edit your show. Better still, let someone else edit it. No one likes to cut into his own flesh.
Give us the best you have to offer. That alone will make you stand out from the competition.
And finally, listen to your listeners, especially when they tell you things you don’t like to hear. If you don’t listen to them, why should they listen to you?
In a way, listeners are like your clients. They expect value, and they want to be heard.
Now for some good news, and a bit of bad news.
The iPod may eventually go away, but podcasts are here to stay. If anything, they’re getting more popular.
It’s never been easier to produce a podcast, but because so many people are doing it, it’s never been harder to create content people like to listen to. More and more podcasts are professionally produced by an entire team. It’s like a radio show, but cheaper.
So, if you’re a podcaster, I have one final word of advice:
Up your game!
Make me want to listen to you.
And one day, I just might.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS As you can see from the number of comments, this story caused quite a stir. Click here to read my reaction.
photo credit: Kafelog Vs. Nua via photopin (license)
Mike Harrison says
Don’t get me started.
That is all.
Paul Strikwerda says
I promise to not get you started, Mike. One rant is enough for the day, but I do know how you feel.
Howard Ellison says
BBC Radio Four and the World Service based in UK set the bar for intelligent talk radio, scripted or spontaneous.
Pods, less resourced, are inevitably wishy washy or out to plug a product. Or can someone can point us to heartwarming exceptions?
Paul Strikwerda says
Howard, you make a good point. As always, the Brits lead the way, although I’m a big fan of the American show RadioLab. As an ex-radio guy, I so appreciate the production value of this show.
The problem with Podcasts is the shameless marketing and usage of the medium to sell shit. Record something, anything, and put it out. People will listen, or they wont. It’s not a business model, it’s a medium.
Paul Strikwerda says
@ picard102 A medium is a blank canvas, and we can choose how to use it. But just as with blogging, some people use podcasts to make a living. Not all of it is bad, but most of what I’ve heard isn’t very good.
Jason Moffatt says
Haha, being a voice over professional you must cringe all the time. Sounds like being a guitar virtuoso and having to sit through a middle school band. Good luck with that. 🙂
Jay S. Fleischman says
Lots of shows lack the polish of professional radio (including mine). But lots of shows aren’t designed for production value – they exist for information or entertainment (sometimes both).
A fan of Minecraft doesn’t care about the rough edges, he or she wants the news about the game. That’s directly to your point about creating a show for the audience; substance over form in all respects.
There’s a place for TAL and RadioLab, but in those situations the podcast is nothing more than time-shifted radio. A valuable use of technology, but not the same thing as the show targeted to a small audience that gathers around a specialized topic.
Evo Terra says
Not surprisingly, this has set off a bit of a shit-storm within the podcasting community. Which puzzles me, but doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been involved with podcasting for 10 years, and the vast majority I’ve interacted with are more interested in taking up pitchforks and torches when someone dares insult their art than actually take the time to listen and learn.
Perhaps one day, enough who give a shit about producing quality content will exist to drown out the noise of those still amazed they figured out how to make the microphone work.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast as an example of a top-notch podcast, both in terms of content and production values. The episodes are long and in-depth, so you have to love history to enjoy it.
Howard Ellison says
Following Jason’s note, I just had to look up Shitcast. And yes, it exists. Bottom end of market perhaps.
Rick Lance Studio says
So Paul… what will be the theme of your podcast?
Howard Ellison says
..sorry, Jason, it was Picard 102’s term. Can’t delete here.
Peter Bishop says
Hey Paul… as usual you’ve poked the bear and are now waiting for it to blearily open and eye to see what’s going on. One of the problems here is that “podcasting” is such a wide and all-encompassing medium. At the top-end you get the re-transmission of high-quality radio. Like Howard, I was brought up on the BBC, and I’m delighted that they podcast a lot of their output. Then you’ve got legitimate, professional podcasters who focus on quality and are supported by an ad model (TWiT network etc.) … Then we start the slippery slope downwards and end up with the vanity publishing by some kid with a USB mic, nothing to say, a hideous voice and zero production quality. There are many stops on the way down that slope (I’m on that slope somewhere with the rest of the Voiceover Cafe crew).
But… let us not forget, with the bad, there is also the good. Podcasting is a democratic medium where anyone can do it and everyone can fail if they’re no good. Where’s the downside to that? If they keep going, they’re not eating up valuable radio slots and frequencies… bring it on and let the cream rise to the top.
Damning podcasting outright is like damning radio because of Glenn Beck or Howard Stern… when it’s the same medium that brought us the likes of Edward R. Morrow, Melvyn Bragg and BBC Radio Dramas.
(Yes, I know you’re not damning outright… but it’s more fun this way.)
Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message.” We,, maybe it was when it started, but now the medium is simply a delivery device… good is good, and crap is crap regardless of the medium. Podcasting has come of age and is a legitimate distribution system. Companies like Ford and IBM will advertise there to niche audiences… and talking of niche audiences… without podcasting how would I deliver my important content to my community of left-handed widget-washers?
Is tis thing on?
I spent 4 years doing a podcast where I basically said the same sort of thing. On more than one occasion, the pot was definitely calling the kettle black, but on the whole we demanded that podcasting be better than the Fart-Monster and Dave talk Comic books and “whatever” show.
There are however, 100s of amazing shows out there that stick to their task and improve over time. There is a common flaw that I think you might be ecountering: comfort level.
I reviewed a show once that was ostensibly about manga. After 20 minutes of inside jokes and hemming and hawing over what the dog did, I finally heard about some manga, for 30 seconds. When my review came out sounding like your article here, the hosts sent me an email that basically said “that’s what our audience likes.”
A LOT of shows start to get comfortable with their audience. The regular feedback that is expected in podcasts, especially the smaller closet/garage based shows, makes the show producers feel like they know the audience and vice versa. When you talk about your dog and then get 3 tweets about the dog from listeners, it makes some people believe that this “living room” approach is a success. You’re right however, to point out that the rest of us don’t give a care. Hopefully, more podcasters will read this article than listened to my show and actually try and narrow down and focus on their topic.
Or…they can do whatever they like as long as they’re having fun and don’t expect anyone to listen. That is always an option.
Howard Ellison says
Hello Peter. I cannot imagine why I missed out on VOC – loads of great stuff there, voicework and beyond. And glad to be reminded that the medium of pod also makes available pure gold broadcasts that could otherwise vanish into the ether. Mr Bragg’s brainy chats are a keen example.
Oh, and then there’s Live 365, Babs, Music India and so on for less mainstream genres of music. No dumbing down there.
Kent Ingram says
Cool article, Paul! It kind of hits home, in a way. I’m part of a group of very creative people who are using my studio to create podcast comedy shows. I’m one of the actors, as well as being a part-time sound engineer. This article is something we need to keep in mind, as we’re producing these gigs. Thanks for touching a very positive nerve, sir!
Jeff Brown says
Excellent article Paul. My favorite line:
“An interview is not a discussion between equals. It is not a debate. You are simply a facilitator. Create some intimacy, instead of confrontation. Help people open up.”
“Give us the best you have to offer. That alone will make you stand out from the competition.”
In working with coaching clients (in the podcast space), I preach these two things all the time.
Thanks for taking the time to write such a challenging and well-thought-out piece.
Kitzie Stern says
I thought I’d chime in as I’ve been producing a podcast for the last 6-years. The New World Kirtan podcast perfectly fits Jay’s description as ‘a show targeted to a small audience that gathers around a specialized topic.’
The topic in my case is kirtan music, which is a way to meditate by singing Sanskrit chants to Western music — it sounds weird but it works beautifully to quiet the mind whether you’re singing or just listening. If you do yoga you’ve probably heard kirtan. We present a 60-minute show most weeks based on a theme, with a brief (3-5 minute) introduction & the rest music or an artist interview. We’re also hired to do live video/audio streaming of kirtan/yoga festivals — I’m writing this post in the airport on my way to Atlanta for a festival. Many people tell me they’ve been with the show since the beginning — they like hearing the ‘story’ of what’s going on in my life. I keep it brief, but it’s an important part of connecting with listeners, and many tell me they feel like they know me. This year we’re finally solvent with several sponsors — we had 40 thousand downloads last quarter, and will exceed that number this quarter. It has been a ride, but I love what the podcast has brought to my life.
But I listen to several other podcasts & I totally get what you’re saying. Some hosts are funny, some are dreadful, some I put up with because of the guests.
Cracks me up that now it’s the ‘golden age’ of podcasting. That’s a lot of change in 6-years — when I started no one knew what a podcast was. I don’t have to explain it anymore.
Paul Strikwerda says
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all your remarks! A colleague-podcaster also sent me a thread of comments from her podcasting community. As expected, not everyone was happy with what I had to say. Some objected to the tone of my story. Others to the content. Some didn’t like either of them. A number of podcasters shared my observations, and welcomed my suggestions.
To my critics I’d like to say this: I am not on a personal crusade to get you off my lawn. I work as a voice talent, and although all of us use microphones from time to time, we cater to different audiences. I don’t feel in any way threatened by what you do. Fear was not the motivator behind this article.
I will admit that I was painting with pretty broad strokes. As Peter Bishop pointed out, “podcasting” is such a wide and all-encompassing medium. One cannot compare a professional BBC production to amateur podcasts. Well, I obviously was’t writing about the redistribution of radio shows, or about a successful production such as “Serial.” I was rather talking about every Tom, Dick or Harry trying to play radio and not being very good at it.
Speaking of radio, that’s where I spent 25 years of my life. I’ve been involved in almost every aspect of broadcasting, and I have taught interview and media trainings in Europe where I used to live. That doesn’t make me the ultimate podcasting expert, but it gives me a unique professional perspective.
I totally get that part of the charm of a particular podcast may lie in its quirkiness. Both the host and his/her audience are in the know, and they get all the inside jokes. Even the ones that aren’t funny. If it works for you and your listeners, keep on doing what you’re doing!
But if you’re not reaching the audience you’re hoping to reach, perhaps some of my observations and suggestions may resonate with you. If you want your show to appeal to a wider audience, it has to be more than an ego trip. And even though this may be your hobby, your audio has to be of broadcast quality.
If it deserves to be done, it deserves to be done right!
Dave Courvoisier says
I couldn’t agree more. I drive back and forth to the TV station twice a day, which is about an hour’s time total. I drive in silence…it’s often the only quiet time in my day. So there’s that.
But you’ve also captured perfectly the REAL reason I don’t care for podcasting… they’re full of bloviating, self-important hosts who get to the point about 10-12 minutes into the recording. You’re right, I can scan a written article for the salient points much faster than enduring someone who likes to hear themselves talk.
I realize others’ viewpoints may differ, and for them there is a miasma of podcasting offerings… they can have it.
Well done, sir!
Paul Strikwerda says
Dave, I love the idea of driving in silence. It is so easy to clutter the mind with noise from the moment we wake up, to the moment we close our eyes. Everyone needs time to process. Without it, we drive ourselves crazy, with or without a car.
Time is precious. We all have the same amount of time, each and every day. How we spend it is our choice. I think it’s wise to mentally prepare for things to come, and to clear the mind after a busy day.
Arthur Diner says
Don’t make your podcast all about you says the blogger who’s blog is all about him.
Also us podcasters LOVE getting feedback from our listeners and making the shows more about the listeners but trying to get listener feedback is like pulling teeth, even when you have healthy download numbers.
I don’t know what podcasts you’re listening to (or why weirdly he assumes all podcasters to be male) but maybe you need to listen to a wider variety.
Also why are you, a guy who seemingly has no time for podcasts, writing about podcasts?
You even say that the professional ones aren’t really your thing a lot of the time (just occasionally washing dishes) so maybe he isn’t the person to be writing about podcasts??!!
Also podcasts can be as much about forming a community, like social media, as they are producing a show that is meant to be entertainment for all. I understand what you’re saying about producing professional content that you may want to listen to (and believe you me I try my very best) but this whole article just seems to be a personal rant about you and your tastes with a little obvious observation at the end of it (about ease of production/a flooded market etc.) to make the article seem to be about something.
I would suggest if you don’t like podcasts, you don’t listen to them. As for your observations on our creative outlet/past-time/attempts at entertainment, they are things we have all thought about, talked about, realise and are doing our best with.
Thanks though for your input. We all needed this kind of positive support!
Paul Strikwerda says
@Arthur Diner (or is it Jon Cross?) Thanks for taking the time to read my story, and thank you for your comments. Your remarks give me the opportunity to clear a few things up.
I would never write about a topic if I felt I didn’t know anything about it. I used to be a more avid consumer of podcasts, but as I wrote in this article, I have no time or tolerance for most of them. I lead a busy life, and I prefer to absorb written information. Before I wrote this story I took another trip to “podcastland,” and sampled some of what’s on offer.
When I saw your response, I started listening to your latest podcast: “The Ladies of Horror with Ellie Church, Genoveva Rossi, Ryli Morgan, and Tristan Risk.” It’s a one hour and forty-seven minute show. After seventy seconds of sign-on music, you finally greeted the listeners.
Two commercials later, your first guest was introduced at 5:13. It was a prime example of “Get To The Point Please.” I briefly ventured over to YouTube where you hosted a one hour and thirty-minute hangout. It started with profanity. That’s another thing I’m allergic to, and you lost me right there.
So, if all of this is not my cup of tea, why write about it?
The reason is simple. As you can see from the responses to this story, some of my readers are podcasters. Quite a few voice-over colleagues have tried their hand at podcasting, or they host a weekly show. Many voice-overs have a background in radio, and are interested in podcasting. In other words: I write about what is relevant to my readers, and about what interests me personally.
Is my opinion just a “matter of taste,” and nothing more than a “personal rant?” By definition, a blog doesn’t have to be well-balanced and objective. I’ll be the first to tell my readers that I often write informed opinion pieces that are highly subjective. And that’s precisely why people seem to enjoy them.
Here’s the thing, though. If my opinions were based on ignorance and hot air, I would not have over 30K subscribers. As you can tell from the comments, even some of your colleagues felt that my observations and tips have merit. You see, I don’t rant for the sake of ranting. There’s a reason why I ask people to “up their game.”
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and it deserves to be shared with a wide audience. That’s what I write about.
I share with a wide range of freelancers how they can up their game, and how they can reach new clients. Yes, I do talk about my life from time to time, because this is my blog, and my experience and perspective is what makes it unique. My philosophy is: “If I can do it, YOU can do it.”
Note that the emphasis is on YOU.
When I talk about personal experience, it is not an ego trip but a metaphor.
And I use my real name.
Jon 'Arthur Diner' Cross says
Firstly, as you decided to make it personal, I can use whatever name I choose and I find it odd that because I used an online name, associated jokingly with the name of my podcast, that you somehow felt this was reason to belittle or somehow shame me. If you were the sort of person who listened to one of the 3 shows I do (and many do) or visit the multiple blogs I write for a variety of amateur and professional publications you’d realise I am not hiding and my name, personality and life is out there for the taking. (probably against one of your confusing rules)
“Be you! but don’t talk about you!”
Secondly to your dissection of my ‘A Real Horror Show’ podcast that I do for professional outlet Diabolique Horror Magazine. You seem to take umbrage at the length of the show, the length of theme music, the fact that there are adverts and the length of the introduction. All things, by the way, that professional podcasts the world over have. If you had listened further you would have found a fascinating, intelligent and empowering interview with 4 of the brightest female lights in indie-big time horror films. It was such an in-depth and involved interview that it needed an introduction and some context for the listener. This isn’t ‘getting to the point’, rambling or ego time for me, the point, the context and the introduction starts the moment the theme music finishes. It’s just not a point YOU seem interested in and that’s fine YOU don’t have to be. I just find your nitpicking, high-horse critique a little counter productive at this point. If, indeed, your goal is to be this wonderful benevolent soul dispensing wisdom and advice to the masses.
As for you going to my YouTube channel and finding the single google hangout that I did specifically for fun for friends and members of my successful Facebook group, bypassing 77 videos in the top playlist labeled clearly ‘The After Movie Diner Podcast’ then all I can say is sorry and that is in no way indicative of my output, just a fun thing we all did on a Saturday afternoon once.
I have thought about this all day and it comes down to a very simple thing. You and I have two very different ideas/ideals of what creativity should be.
You seem highly obsessed with telling everyone about your numbers and your professional voice work etc. like it somehow a) validates your opinion and b) makes you better than people. Neither of which it does.
I think there are two main types of people (as long as we’re generalising for a moment). On the one hand you have the people who want a short, specific, polished, sanitised, professional product that gets lots of high download numbers and is simply people attempting to do what the big media conglomerates produce, unimaginatively, every day. This is all fine and in keeping with a sort of corporate, greedy, entitled, successful ideal that marketing companies live for. It’s also, obvious, old-fashioned and the way everything has been being done for years now. It’s nothing new.
It is, however, successful and perfect for mass, busy consumption. I have worked in corporations and sales and sat in marketing meetings where this mindset is on full display over and over again. If your goal is numbers and an enormous sense of your own importance then this is definitely the method for you.
On the other side there are the people who want to make their shows the way they want to make them, who don’t really care about numbers, who are scrappy and long and want to play with the form. They want to make it personal or they want to make it different.
These are the same type of creative people who have invented every popular musical form (Blues, Rock n Roll, Garage, Grunge, Hip Hop etc.) for the last 100 years, except, weirdly enough, pop music, which is very very corporate and awful (to those people). These are the people who make B Movies, Exploitation movies, Indie movies. These are the authors who define radical, experimental American literature from Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway to Hunter S Thompson and beyond.
I, by the way, in no way intend to assert that what I do on my show or some other guys in a basement, or wherever, do on their show is in anyway as good as or to be written alongside any of the names listed above. I am merely illustrating that good creativity and innovation does not come from following the rules. In my humble opinion.
That’s it, neither way is wrong and the internet is big enough for everyone. I don’t disagree with what this post is trying to do or say in its entirety per se, I would just like it if you a) recognised that this entire article is about your personal taste and not really a handy guide for regular podcasters and b) were just a little less full of yourself, despite your thousands of readers and many many professional engagements.
I personally want to make a professional sounding, high quality product but I want to do it my way. If I want theme music, a song, a comedy sketch, an interview segment, a conversation that flows naturally, tangents, that all goes on as long or as short as I want, doing it as creatively as I can and if I get 2 downloads I feel like Elvis then that’s fine to.
Luckily I get a lot more than 2 downloads, have had the opportunity to interview MY idols of the silver screen, have turned my various podcasts and website into a myriad of jobs, made money, made friends, sold musical albums etc.
You name it I’ve done it and I don’t follow one of these rules…
Let’s abandon rules and do it our way, life’s too short. Is my opinion and feeling. Right or wrong.
This is also the last I will say on the matter and wish you and everyone here, in very sincere terms, much success and happiness in the future. Thanks for the great discussion.
Paul Strikwerda says
Jon ‘Arthur Diner” Cross, let’s get something out of the way first. It was never my intention to “belittle or somehow shame” you because you chose to use an online persona to leave a comment on my blog.
In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, his (or her) audience would be able to see who was talking. They could hold that person accountable. On this blog, I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind some fictional character. That’s what trolls do.
You cannot fault me for “making this personal.” This is a blog. It is my blog, and not a network or newspaper dedicated to giving fair and balanced accounts of what’s happening in the world.
You clearly didn’t like that I commented on just two of the many things you have produced in the past, and I get that. I think that most people will understand that this was not an assessment of your entire body of work. I merely used what I heard to illustrate my point of view.
You certainly come across as someone who is passionate about what he does, and as someone who believes that his shows deserve to be heard. Unfortunately, I neither have the time nor the patience to get past the first five minutes of “A Real Horror Show.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, and you are losing listeners that might otherwise be very interested in the rest of your show.
Now, is this as you say, some counter productive “nitpicking, high-horse critique “from “a wonderful benevolent soul dispensing wisdom and advice to the masses?”
Your sarcasm wasn’t lost on me, and I’ll leave it to my readers to determine if you managed to lift yourself up by putting someone else down.
More importantly, when you’re competing for the attention of an audience that can choose between a wide variety of content on any given day, you need a strong hook to draw them in. There’s a reason why talented, creative people spend a lot of time crafting headlines, landing pages, and promos. Is that only a matter of personal taste, or could there be more to it?
Of course you can continue to ignore this, because you want to do your own thing. Unless you need to please outside sponsors, you’re not accountable to anyone. That gives you tremendous freedom, but it also makes you vulnerable.
You don’t have to raise the bar if you don’t set one.
In the past I have taught young artists how to market themselves. Many of them felt they didn’t need to hear what I had to say. “My work speaks for itself,” they told me. “If people like it, they’ll come to me and buy it. If not, that’s their loss.”
A year later the same people complained that they hadn’t sold a thing because no one came to their studio. It was a shame, because there were some really talented kids in my class. They had yet to learn that promoting their work was not the same as selling out to the establishment.
I remember getting an invitation to an opening from one of my fiercest critics. His exhibition turned out to be a great success. That night he walked up to me and said:
“You know I don’t paint to please the masses, but it’s such a thrill to be able to share my work with so many people. It took a lot of hard work to get them through the door, but it seems to have paid off!”
Jon, we are different people with different ambitions. You’re fine with getting 2 downloads and feeling like Elvis, and I’m happy that you’re getting more than 2 downloads. I realize that numbers only tell a small part of the story.
I write for the music, not for the applause. But like my art student, I am thrilled that I can share my music with so many people. Not because I am so full of my self, but because thanks to my writing, my life is full of others.
I am also a professional voiceover artist who worked in commercial radio for a couple decades. I started podcasting when many others did, around 2007. I still do one regular podcast of audio description and one irregular podcast that would be considered “amateur,” although technically both are. My performances in them are completely different, though in both I like to think I sound like a human being talking to other human beings.
One common mistake “amateurs” make initially in podcasting is to, as you put it, play radio. What many learn very quickly is not to sell themselves that short. Many countries, the UK high among them, have long traditions of public radio which actually strive to fulfill a national mandate to inform and educate. Especially in the U.S., that tradition has been obscure, and so podcasting has been a great opportunity for sources like NPR and PRI which are woefully under-supported. Commercial radio in society’s consciousness has always been a very different matter. I think we have all experienced enough of it from both sides of the speakers to know what I mean (all of my career was spent there). One of the people who essentially (and arguably) founded podcasting, Adam Curry, was likely the first of a long line of people with radio in their blood who saw in this new strange medium a remarkable potential for freedom of expression we hadn’t had since maybe college, if ever. As with music distribution, a playing field had been levelled, allowing people to say and play what they pleased (copyright pending). This meant anything as long as they could stick an audio file in an RSS feed. ANYTHING. To me, that initially meant sharing sounds and description of the country I loved and adopted. Also, using profanity. 🙂 Later, it meant exposing another kind of narrative form to people who hadn’t known it existed. Other radio people went off in all directions, while others still used it as a way-station to the next gig – which is totally fair. It’s all fair. That’s the point.
Because one thing podcasting can allow for people, whether they are people with radio in our blood, or just people with blood, is AUTHENTICITY. This can be expressed just by talking, or by combining other audio media, or whatever. I cannot begin to count the stories I have heard from people all over the world, from all different experiences and social strata, because the only thing they had in common was an idea, passion and the courage to press “record”. Even with all its commercial success, that’s pretty much how WTF with Marc Maron started, and it’s still somewhere in the heart of what he does. But more importantly, it’s what maybe tens of thousands of people simply feel they can do. Some can just blow off steam with unapologetic self-indulgence and have something out there. More than you think find to their surprise that their authenticity actually resonates with people thousands of miles away, who on a whim gave a podcast a chance. That’s what happened to me when I heard two media professors in the UK chatting on their daily bus ride home from work. A few months later, I rode on that bus with them, and soon after, I started my own podcast.
Do we need to listen to them all? Of course not. Can they make sure their levels are loud enough without clipping, try to point the mic to the corner of their mouths and have some water nearby so they don’t make clicking noises all the time? Sure. Are some of them boring? To me, of course. To others, others will be. Do many of them need to get over themselves and stop “playing radio” because “radio” for real isn’t really always that much more fantastic than what they might have on their minds? Damn right. Do they eventually need to consider what an audience might want from them? Sometimes. But not if what an audience wants is for the podcaster to not consider that too much.
And should anyone, ANYONE who is thinking of starting a podcast, professional or amateur – ANYONE who has an idea, a lot of passion and an ability to put an audio file in an RSS feed – listen to someone who spends very little time listening to podcasts?
p.s. I’m using an email address I seldom use, because I’m not subscribing to anything without consent.
Paul Strikwerda says
Valerie, this blog does not require you to subscribe to anything without your consent. Those who do subscribe, can opt out any time. Their information will never be sold or used for other commercial purposes.
I don’t know who you are or what podcasts you have produced, and I usually don’t respond to those who choose to remain anonymous. I sign every blog post with my name. You can google me, and you can dig into the archive of blog posts to get a glimpse of what I am about.
As I said to “Arthur” or “Jon,” just because I’m not listening to many podcasts in this phase of my life, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I am writing about. I’ve been producing and presenting content for radio for 25 years, and I have spent countless hours listening to all kinds of podcasts.
As a voice-over, I also contribute to podcasts. I have trained people in interview techniques, and I help freelancers in the media build their business. That doesn’t make me the ultimate podcasting authority, but it tells you something about my experience and expertise.
Sometimes advice from outsiders can be more valuable, because they have nothing to lose or gain. They come with an open mind, and a fresh perspective.
My readers do not have to listen to me, or take any of my suggestions to heart. That goes for every single piece I write. It’s like one of those Vegas buffets. You can choose to skip it altogether, or only put on your plate what appeals to you.
Some of what I said was well received, and other things were the subject of ridicule and sarcasm. The most important thing is this: It got people talking.
If my story has inspired a few people to up their game, great! Those that weren’t as open to my suggestions can just keep on doing what they’re doing.
Valerie Hunter says
I wasn’t really thinking I was being anonymous, but just didn’t have much interest in promoting myself while saying what I wanted to say, which I thought was more important than my CV. Amateur podcasters can be like that, silly creatures. Well, if anyone else can get something out of it, that’s good. I guess we can agree to disagree that a post with the tone of “You know what bugs me? This! Stop sucking!” can be considered constructive criticism. But good job on getting the attention. Also it was a fellow poster here who gave me the heads-up about a possible automatic opt-in subscription thing, so I could have been led astray. Can’t be too careful. 🙂
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for clarifying that, Valerie. I’m not sure responding to a blog equals self-promotion. I guess it may depend on what the respondent has to say.
Some commentators make a point of leaving a link to their website and/or products after every comment they submit, without adding anything of substance to the discussion. That’s a practice I do not encourage.
Some of my commentators use Gravatar cards. If you move your cursor over their profile picture, you get a short bio. I like that a lot. That way, I know who I am dealing with, and my readers know it too. No one wants to read an entire CV.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but my blog post about podcasting wasn’t just a litany of complaints. I gave concrete suggestions on how to make a podcast better. Some have embraced those suggestions. Others have ridiculed them.
You wrote: “Good job on getting the attention.” Do I detect a slight undertone of sarcasm in your remark?
I don’t know where that’s coming from, and why you think I deserved that comment.
One of the great joys of my life is the fact that I get to connect with many people from all over over the world who care to read this blog every week. The ideas and tips I share on these pages are my way of giving back to my community.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I live for the music, and not for the applause.
Ted Mcaleer says
Your true gift Paul is to look at something, analyse it for it’s common denominators as they apply to you (and most of us) and then explain it all in an impossible not to understand way. Thank you!
Paul Strikwerda says
Hey Ted, you should be my marketing manager! Thanks for perfectly summarizing what I often try to do on this blog.
Sally Blake says
Dear Paul, Another interesting subject this week. I don’t know how you always do it week after week. You certainly got a lot of feedback as well. Luckily I don’t have to commute so I don’t know much about this subject but I do know that good audio is always important. Thanks Paul and have a great weekend.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you so much, Sally. I find the world I live in to be infinitely interesting, and I hope never to run out of topics to blog about.
Matthew Wayne Selznick says
For perspective: I released my first podcast in October of 2004, so not only is this not my first rodeo, most of the horses and bulls are grandchildren of the ones we rode back in the day. 😉
I’m also a Parsec Award-nominated dramatic reader and voice artist, although I’m pretty sure my list of credits (even combining gratis and for-pay work) is far shorter than yours, Paul.
I sure wish your comments were threaded, because it would make it much, much easier to reply to specific comments from specific people… you’re using WordPress, and if your theme is worth it’s salt it supports it, so in the spirit of taking your own advice, please consider your users and adopt more friendly commenting.
Given the nature of linear comments, I’ll restrict myself to your post, not what others have written so far.
Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to comment.
I submit that much of the irritation podcasters have expressed (and I’ve urged many of them to express that here, where the discussion is, rather than in their own walled gardens) is because much of what you’ve described — and described in the spirit of attempting to be helpful, I’m sure — is not a bug. It’s a feature.
You wrote, “Don’t make the show about you. Make it about your listeners.”
Some shows exist so that listeners can learn more about the host. In those cases, a podcast is rather like a mailing list from an author, or a musician, but in audio form, and with (often) better opportunities for two-way, albeit time-shifted, interaction.
You wrote, “I don’t need to know that the dog ate your breakfast, or that your daughter dyed her hair purple. Get to the point quickly. No endless sign-on music. No bombastic introductions.”
With all due respect, Paul, that’s about you and your taste, not valid advice for podcasters. Don’t make it about you. 😉
The audience is the only meaningful arbiter of value. Folks who aren’t part of the audience (folks who un-select themselves according to personal taste) don’t have much of a voice when it comes to how a creator should express themselves.
If the audience appreciates personal details from the host’s life, sign-on music, and bombastic introductions… the show is for them. It’s not for people who don’t like that kind of stuff.
You wrote, “Be real. Be authentic. Be you.”
I agree with this 100%. It’s one of the core tenants of the DIY ethic.
What’s a podcaster to do when being real, being authentic, and being themselves is counter to your other advice?
In my opinion: ignore all the other advice.
You wrote, “Give us the best you have to offer. That alone will make you stand out from the competition.”
With regard to the first sentence, I have similar advice to creators: “If you don’t have the funds, invest your heart.”
My first podcast was recorded directly into the mic jack of my computer using a fifteen dollar headset mic purchased at the local office supply store. Because that was what I could afford.
Despite technical limitations (and, indeed, a derth of skill), through that show I connected with, and helped bring larger audiences to, independent creators from all over the world. It made a difference.
I gave the best I had to offer, and the audience responded. Quality equipment and editing skill is not a perquisite for podcasting, nor should it be.
But what is and is not “the best” is not up to the listener to judge. It’s entirely the responsibility of the creator.
Someone’s best might not sound like it to you. Again, you’re not the audience for that show, and that’s okay.
As for the competition: you’re perhaps assuming that podcasters are competing with one another, explicitly or implicitly.
Naturally, there is a sort of Darwinian competition for time that exists — there’s only so much time to listen to podcasts, so folks will select the ones they prefer.
And I’m sure there’s active (usually quite friendly) competition between podcast hosts in some niches.
But for many, many podcast producers, it’s not about comparing themselves to other podcasts. And that’s okay.
You wrote, “Make me want to listen to you.”
Why? If you’re the right listener for a particular podcast, you’ll listen. If not, there are lots of other folks who will.
Rather, it’s on you to find podcasts you enjoy, if, indeed, you want to partake in the medium, which, it seems, you really don’t. And that’s fine. I went for many years barely listening to podcasts. Even today, I usually only listen when I’m on my twice-monthly commute to visit my elderly mother. 🙂
Naturally, I listen to the shows I like. The shows I don’t like do just fine — in some cases, astoundingly well — without me and others like me.
In my opinion, the goal in any creative endeavor that’s community supported, like podcasting, should never be to achieve the biggest audience.
The goal should be to find the right audience — the audience that responds to your creation in the way you intend.
Podcasting is not mass media — it’s not radio. Even if radio broadcasts are repurposed as podcasts, and even if many podcasters craft their shows to emulate radio… heck, even if it’s the intention of some podcasters to use their shows as a springboard into radio…
Podcasting is not radio. The rules of radio don’t apply.
That’s a feature. Not a bug.
Thanks again! My own podcast — featuring no bumpers, no intro music, and minimal editing, with the occasional in-depth interview — is The DIY Endeavors Podcast. If you’re into that sort of thing. 😉
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Matthew, thank you so much for sharing your insights as an experienced podcaster. As soon as I saw your suggestion about threaded comments, I found a WordPress plugin that wasn’t guaranteed to work with the latest updates. Luckily it did. Problem fixed!
I also want to thank you for directing fellow-podcasters to this site. Jon Cross, the same guy you interviewed on your last podcast, followed your suggestion, and he posted some comments.
Let me address some of your feedback.
Most blogs and podcasts have something in common. Readers and listeners will learn something about the author and/or host. It’s inevitable, but I hope it’s not an aim in and of itself. A podcast should be more than a pedestal.
In my broadcasting career I have interviewed thousands of people. Very few were interesting enough to listen to, for more than an hour. The ones that were, were far too busy to record a weekly podcast. Their focus was on others, and not on themselves.
Asking podcasters to get to the point quickly may be a personal request, but it also has to do with respect for other people’s time. Besides, I think it is a smart thing to do.
The reason why the landing page of a website is the most important page, is because that’s where people decide whether or not to stay on that site. 55% of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a website. If people are that impatient, why would they listen to over a minute of sign-on music before the show gets going?
Whether you like it or not, we live in a microwave society where impatient people lead busy lives. If I wanted to hear music, I would put on Classic FM. Not a podcast.
You wrote: “The audience is the only meaningful arbiter of value. Folks who aren’t part of the audience (folks who un-select themselves according to personal taste) don’t have much of a voice when it comes to how a creator should express themselves.”
Following that train of thought, there wouldn’t be any room for book-, music- and movie critics, would there? Sports commentators and political analysts could pack their bags, because the opinion of the masses is “the only thing that’s meaningful” when it comes to determining value.
I believe all of us have a right to express ourselves. Some opinions are more informed than others, but still. Even if I don’t like a particular cuisine, I can still write about it using my experience and expertise. An outside perspective can be very refreshing!
You referred to your first podcast, recorded directly into the mic jack of your computer because that was all you could afford. That was ten years ago. Technology has changed dramatically, and there is no excuse for delivering substandard audio anymore.
Audio editing software such as Audacity is free. USB microphones have become better and better, and certainly more affordable. If people in their heart of hearts feel that they MUST send their message into the world, why not do it properly? Why am I greeted with sarcasm for even suggesting that quality content deserves quality delivery?
Why is it wrong to suggest that people should edit their shows? You do it for your show, and you still end up with 90 minutes of audio. That’s the length of an average movie.
You wrote: “what is and is not “the best” is not up to the listener to judge. It’s entirely the responsibility of the creator.”
I think it’s both. Stephen Sondheim wrote a new song for the movie version of Into the Woods. That song was cut from the movie. It’s the editors/creators responsibility to bring out a product he or she can stand behind. The audience can and will make up their own minds whether or not the maker made the right choices.
When I wrote about “the competition,” I meant it in a very broad sense. People who create content compete for the limited time of those who consume content. And content could be anything.
Every day, people ask themselves: “Do I listen to a 90-minute podcast or should I tune into my local radio station? Shall I watch House of Cards, or pick a podcast?” Audio books are booming. Text to speech software will read the newspaper to you. Those are the types of content podcasters have to compete with. And if you want a slice of that pie -no matter how small- you better bring your A-game!
Why did I write “Make me want to listen to you?”
Because I am curious. I am open to new ideas and formats. I love learning about things that have nothing to do with my profession. I want to be entertained. I want to be challenged. I want to hear what other people have to say, because it may enrich my life.
Because I have so many options and so little time, I challenge podcasters to convince me that what they do is worthwhile listening to. I see that as part of their job.
Any fool can upload audio. It takes talent to find an audience!
In your comments you refer to the goal of a podcast. You say that it should never be to achieve the biggest audience. That may be true for you, but not for all podcasters, especially the ones that rely on sponsors.
And if you really love what you do, and you honestly believe that what you have to offer is valuable, why wouldn’t you want to increase your reach?
Podcasting may not be radio, but I think that many podcasters can learn a lot from a medium that has developed over many, many years. It takes time and effort to come up with a polished product. It’s not for everyone.
Some people like it the easy way, and hit “record.” I’m not going to stop them. As long as they don’t expect me to listen to them.
Matthew Wayne Selznick says
Thanks for adding a link to my show! I didn’t want to over-step, doing it myself.
You wrote that “a podcast should be more than a pedestal.”
Unless that’s the point of the podcast, and the listeners find value in hearing from the person on that pedestal.
Of course there’s still room for movie critics and other curators, because there is an audience for them.
My point is: if I were to say, “I never listen to movie critics, but that movie critic really should only review movies with budgets under $200,000 if he wants to be taken seriously,” said critic would probably ignore me and go on reviewing the movies he and his audience were interested in, in a way that was a reflection of his personality and that his audience found entertaining.
If someone in his audience said, “Hey, would you consider reviewing more micro-indie films,” he’d be wise to consider it, becuase that’s part of the dialogue with his community of listeners.
You’re right, of course, that the quality of equipment available at a reasonable price is much better now than ten years ago, and that free software like Audacity brings audio editing to anyone. But it’s not just a question of available equipment. It’s a question of learning the ins and outs of audio production, which (as you know) goes far beyond simply knowing how to use any piece of software.
That said, I don’t think the subjective quality of the presentation needs to match the subjective quality of the content before a creator express themselves in any medium.
It’s okay to learn and develop in public, especially when one is providing content for free to an audience that finds value in that content.
You asked “…if people feel them must deliver their message into the world, why not do it properly?”
My point is that there is no objective definition of “properly” in podcasting, save that you have an audio file that can be delivered via an RSS feed. Heck, technically, it doesn’t have to be an audio file. A podcast can be video, or even a PDF.
It’s possible you misunderstood the context when I wrote, “what is and is not ‘the best’ is not up to the listener to judge,” that was in reference to your suggestion, “why not give your best?”
You wrote, in reference to that, that the audience can, and will, make up their own minds.
Which is my point: the audience is the arbiter of value. If they don’t like something, they will stop being the audience. The creator of that thing can decide for themselves if changing to satisfy those folks is consistent with their goals.
Paul, I appreciate that you’re curious, want to be entertained, and so on. You can, and will, discover podcasts that mesh with your standards — they are out there, by the hundreds if not thousands.
There are community-driven ways for you to discover the podcasts in a wide variety of niches that are considered the best. The iTunes podcast directory is, after all, ranked according to downloads, ratings, and reviews… in other words, the audience determining the value of the offerings there.
Regarding the right audience and the largest audience — if you focus on finding the right audience, it may grow to be quite large, indeed, and those people will be committed, dedicated listeners, not casual ones. That’s exactly what a sponsor wants. A thousand converting listeners is worth much more than ten thousand apathetic ones.
Certainly, podcasters can learn a lot from radio — both in terms of what to do, and what not to do. And there’s room for those podcasters who want to emulate radio. And room for those that don’t. That, too, is part of my point.
Finally, as someone who’s deeply entrenched in the DIY creative community (podcasting, music, publishing, etc.) and sees the level of passion and commitment maintained by many DIY, independent creators, I have to say: don’t confuse the subjective appearance of a lack of polish for taking the easy way, or for representing laziness. Folk art is as valid as the Mona Lisa, y’know?
Just because they don’t appeal to the same audience, that doesn’t mean one has more value than the other.
Thanks, again, for the discussion.
Paul Strikwerda says
Matthew, I really enjoy reading your well-thought out comments. It is clear that you care about what you do, and that you care about the people you feature in your show. You don’t reduce your guests to soundbites, and I applaud that.
Here’s how I would respond to your latest comments.
People can burp into a microphone and call it a podcast. I’m pretty sure there will be an audience for that. But even with the best audio quality, a burp is still a burp. You can spend hours arguing that all of us have the right to produce that type of show, and I’m not going to contest that. I wrote my article to explain why I won’t be listening to those burps.
Now, you and I can start a new discussion about the definition of value. People attribute value to what’s important to them, and different things are important to different people for different reasons. We could also talk about production quality and minimum standards. And finally, we could discuss the importance of the host and the audience.
To me, it’s not enough to say: Just because it can be done, it should be done, and it doesn’t matter how or why. That sort of non-reasoning belongs in an ideocracy.
It’s not enough to say: Podcasts are fee, so it’s okay for podcasters to learn on the job, and sound like an amateur radio show. To me, that is a lazy cop-out. Cutting and pasting audio is not that hard to learn. Forcing yourself to listen to an interview you just conducted is a great way to spot mannerisms, and to be critical of your own performance. Not everything you record will be solid gold. I say: Cut the grease and leave the meat.
Sound quality is not subjective, by the way. You don’t need to be an experienced audio engineer to hear popping plosives, sibilance, ambient noise, bad microphone technique, flutter echoes, uneven sound levels etcetera. Avoiding those things is what I mean by doing it “properly.”
Why should podcasters care? Because they don’t live in a bubble. They live in the real world where people have legitimate expectations based on what they hear every day.
If you feel you have content that’s worth listening to, you don’t want your listeners to be distracted by crappy audio. You owe it to them, to your guests and to yourself, to send a clear signal. If you can’t do that, you should restrict yourself to shortwave radio because you don’t deserve to use digital media.
Some of your colleagues have said that they really don’t care how many people listen to their shows. I’d like to ask them a question.
If that really were the case, why distribute your program on a public platform in the first place? Why not keep it to yourself?
I’m not buying the limited audience argument. Of course people care about reaching and building a community of listeners. That is why they have chosen the medium of a podcast. It’s the modern equivalent of a soapbox or bullhorn.
I don’t question people’s passion, Matthew. But passion alone is not enough. I know plenty of passionate amateur musicians who enjoy playing solo and together. But they would never record their performance and upload it for the entire world to hear. And that’s probably a good thing, because many of them stink (and they know it).
There’s a reason why Leonardo’s Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, and why my neighbor’s watercolor won’t even make it to the annual exhibit of the Kiwanis Club. The Mona Lisa is considered to be priceless, and my neighbor’s still life has no more value than the materials used.
Perhaps both painters were equally passionate about their work, but to compare the two doesn’t really serve the argument you’re making at all.
Have fun with your show. I admire what you have accomplished, and I’m happy you’re able to reach so many people.
I wish you the very best!
Matthew Wayne Selznick says
You wrote, “To me, it’s not enough to say: Just because it can be done, it should be done, and it doesn’t matter how or why. That sort of non-reasoning belongs in an ideocracy.”
I agree… except when it comes to creative expression (so long as that creative expression doesn’t hurt anyone).
You wrote, “It’s not enough to say: Podcasts are fee, so it’s okay for podcasters to learn on the job, and sound like an amateur radio show.”
Again: podcasting (inasmuch as it can be defined as a single thing with a single set of standards (it can’t)) is not radio, amateur or otherwise.
You wrote, “If you feel you have content that’s worth listening to, you don’t want your listeners to be distracted by crappy audio. You owe it to them, to your guests and to yourself, to send a clear signal. If you can’t do that, you should restrict yourself to shortwave radio because you don’t deserve to use digital media.”
There’s a lot to unpack there.
I’ve never encountered any podcasters who wanted to deliver crappy audio. Every day on various fora, I see questions from podcasters passionate about improving their sound.
The DIY ethic behind (much of) podcasting, shared by creators and (many) listeners alike, forgives an imperfect product if the content is compelling / entertaining.
By the same token, I can listen to some of Elvis Presley’s earliest recordings (from the back of a flatbed truck at a hootenanny, if memory serves) and get as much enjoyment from them as his silkiest productions from later years. Despite the static, the poor fidelity, the uneven levels… it’s deeply engaging.
It’s the same reason folks (used to?) collect bootleg concert recordings, or (modern equivalent) search YouTube for phone-camera concert footage of their favorite performers. They’re willing to look past the quality in order to have the experience.
I think the second sentence in the above quote demonstrates what I suspect is at the core of your position.
You wrote, “If you can’t do that, you should restrict yourself to shortwave radio because you don’t deserve to use digital media.”
That’s disappointing to read. It’s also diametrically opposite of my own position: Everyone has a right to the best possible channels of communication, because every voice has a right to speak.
That doesn’t guarantee that every voice will be heard, of course. But every voice deserve access to the same tools.
You know, your declaration sounds a great deal like the complaint made by many journalists when they talk about bloggers. Or publishers when they talk about independent authors. Or state-run newspapers in the face of samizdat.
I can never agree with that sentiment.
That difference probably makes further discussion between us on these topics moot, but I’ll tackle a few more things you wrote because hey, it’s Sunday and I’ve got a free schedule. 🙂
You wrote, “Some of your colleagues have said that they really don’t care how many people listen to their shows. I’d like to ask them a question. If that really were the case, why distribute your program on a public platform in the first place? Why not keep it to yourself?”
I won’t answer for them, but I’ll hazard a guess: because not caring how many people listen is not the same as not caring if anyone listens.
Regarding podcasting, you wrote, “It’s the modern equivalent of a soapbox or bullhorn.”
Please consider that you may gain perspective on this subject (and perhaps on why so many people reacted so viscerally to your post) if you broaden your definition.
Yes, some people podcast so they can have a soapbox or bullhorn. That’s one-way “broadcasting” with a speaker on one end with a point to make and passive listeners on the other end to absorb that point.
But that’s not the only reason people podcast. It’s not unreasonable to guess that it’s not even the reason most podcasters podcast.
For many, podcasting is an extension of community. It’s a form of social networking. It’s one-to-many and, through voicemail, comments, and other means, one-to-one.
Just because that community, in one instance or another, for one reason or another, doesn’t appeal to you, doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of people for which it does.
That’s, in part, what I mean when I say the right audience is more important than the largest audience. Note that’s not the same thing as saying one doesn’t want a large audience.
People want to feel connected, to find their tribe, whether it’s in the same town or in a distributed, time-shifted town that’s, thankfully, more accessible to people thanks to the digital media you would deny them for lack of technical expertise or aural quality.
It’s not “for the entire world to hear.” It’s for the people who want to hear it.
You wrote, “The Mona Lisa is considered to be priceless, and my neighbor’s still life has no more value than the materials used.”
Let’s extend the (admittedly imperfect) analogy:
The Mona Lisa and my neighbor’s still life are, let’s say, both rendered in oil paints on a piece of canvas stretched over a frame. In other words, both use the same media.
Personally, while I find it historically interesting, the Mona Lisa doesn’t do a thing for me. I would not “subscribe to that podcast.”
My neighbor’s still life has tremendous value to a particular audience who will “subscribe to that podcast.”
More importantly, my neighbor’s still life is equally valid as the Mona Lisa in terms of artistic expression, and if my neighbor can gather around themselves a community that appreciates and encourages that expression, what harm?
But based on your comment regarding those who do and do not deserve to use digital media… my neighbor shouldn’t be allowed to use oils on canvas. They’re restricted to crayons on butcher paper until they achieve some externally defined standard of quality.
What a pale, empty culture we would have if that were truly the case.
Paul Strikwerda says
Matthew, I do enjoy our exchange, but when I take a step back, I honestly don’t understand what’s happening here.
I dared to challenge podcasters to up their game.
I came up with specific examples of things that annoy me as a listener. As it turns out, I am not alone in my frustration. There are plenty of members of the podcasting community who share my assessment. Yet, some people in that same community have felt the need to ridicule me, and have even called me names.
I’m a big boy. I can take it. No one has to agree with me, but if the shoe fits, please try it on.
Of course I am attempting to understand where all this resistance is coming from. Some people might feel they’ve been attacked by an arrogant blogger. Others question my “authority” on this topic. Some just felt the need to be rude.
At the same time I can’t shake off the impression that many podcasters live in a bubble of their own making. They can do whatever they want under the guise of free speech and creativity. They don’t have to live up to any standards or scrutiny. No one is holding them accountable. It’s a pretty safe and easy place to be in. That’s the attraction of the medium, and also its Achilles heel.
As a discerning listener, and as someone who’s behind the mic every single day, I hear a lot of what could be perceived as excuses:
– Podcasting isn’t radio.
– The sound quality doesn’t matter as long as the content is okay.
– Who cares if only two or three people download this thing.
– I’m the host, and I have a right to do whatever I want. I don’t need to listen to my listeners.
– Every voice deserves to he heard. Even crap is an example of creative self-expression.
– As long as you’re passionate, it doesn’t really matter what you produce.
– If it’s not your cup of tea, don’t drink it!
To put it in more vulgar terms: I get the distinct impression that people are trying to shine sh*t. But of course they would argue that “sh*t” is in the ears of the beholder.
The bones I have to pick have nothing to do with the content itself, but rather with the way it is presented. To recap some of the main points of my article:
– I find that many podcasts are too long, and they could benefit from editing.
– Some shows are an exercise in narcissism.
– The sound quality of some shows leaves much to be desired for.
– With so much content to choose from in this digital age, podcasters need to up their game if they want to be heard.
I have argued my case, and I have added my comments. Some podcasters felt inspired by my challenge. Others were offended.
No matter where you stand as a podcaster, I encourage you to never stop learning. Get out of your bubble. Stay open to feedback, even if you don’t like what you hear. You might change your mind, or it might confirm the course you’re on.
Your fans will like whatever you do, no matter what. Their response can make you comfortable and complacent. It’s dangerous, so be aware of that.
If you really want to up your game, you need to set higher standards for yourself. Reach out to experts who can shorten your learning curve.
The ball is in your court!
Matthew Wayne Selznick says
Hi Paul! Your last comment was very general and didn’t really respond directly to anything I wrote, so this will be brief and, unless I see that you’re addressing what I’m writing specifically, probably my last comment. It’s been fun, though, and has helped me clarify things for myself.
Plus, I’m sensing some irritation in your tone, and while that could be solely my interpretation, it’s probably best to let this thread fade out, since I truly bear no ill will toward you and would rather not risk being interpreted as antagonizing.
Really, the best I can say at this point is a mirror of what you, yourself, wrote:
No matter where you stand as listener, I encourage you to never stop learning about the medium. Get out of your bubble. Stay open to feedback, even if you don’t like what you hear. You might change your mind, or it might confirm the course you’re on.
Paul Strikwerda says
Matthew, I felt my main message was getting lost in metaphors, and in examples that -in my view- weren’t that relevant to the topic. When a conversation drifts off, I feel it’s better to bring it back to its origins before it fades away.
I do get slightly uncomfortable when I sense that people are trying to polish turds under the banner of “anything goes,” and “artistic freedom.” My blog post was about self-absorbed chatterboxes filling the airwaves with endless noise (to put it bluntly). I didn’t write about commendable efforts to create community, meaning, beauty, and intelligent entertainment.
I respect your opinion, and I appreciate your contribution to this discussion very much!
Howard Ellison says
Good stuff arriving here! One example is Kitzie Stern’s kirtan podcast. Long-running but new to me, organised, and surrounded by rather interesting event videos.
As to the backroom operators: I remember a conversation with a colleague – a very nice man – who asked me firmly to marshal my thoughts before speaking.
That’s not a bad tip before turning on a mic and expecting people to listen. In fact it’s simple good manners, as they can’t signal back.
Remember the BBC maxim: never talk solo for more than 15 minutes?
Paul Strikwerda says
Being able to talk for about fifteen minutes and still be entertaining, is a rare gift. And even those who can, usually start off with something scripted. The real masters deliver that script in such a way that it almost sounds spontaneous, giving other people the impression that they too, could do it. That’s why so many try their hand at voice-overs, and fail miserably. And that’s why I stopped listening to so many podcasts.
J S Gilbert says
Thanks for another blog post, well done. The problem is that people do things because they can and/ or because they think they can.
I also tend to have little need or time for podcasts and I find that many things that take 15 minutes to get through, probably would have benefited greatly from being cut down to 7 minutes – or less.
One of my observations, and I wonder if it’s anybody else’s, is that I have yet to find anyone who describes themselves as a “storyteller”, actually able to tell a story.
And so we do because we can or somebody told us we can.
Paul Strikwerda says
As usual, you make some good points. One of my favorite sayings is:
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to.”
The problem is that you and I can’t stop people from putting out crap and posting it all over the web.
Our colleague Bob Souer calls himself a storyteller, but I’m not sure that’s what you mean. He’s a master at bringing scripts to life. I’m not sure how good he is as a performer, telling stories around the campfire.
J S Gilbert says
Well Paul, Perhaps I should say I have met very few people who call themselves “storytellers”, who can tell a story. And I mean that both in the traditional sense of weaving a story, or being engaging, as well as how one might tell a story as a narrator or voice actor. It is said there are some people who can hold an audience reading a phone book. How’s that for dating oneself; phone book. I can see the day, not too far off, when I’ll be talking about how they used to leave these 20 pound giant directories at the doorstep…
But, I think what I was really trying to say is that not everybody should be doing podcasts, just as not everybody should have a business page on Facebook or be sending out email newsletters.
We have become a society that often doesn’t stop to think about why we’re doing something, just that we can and we we will.
The bar keeps getting lowered and I just don’t think that’s a good thing. Your blog posts are often about challenging or inviting people to do better; to master skills and to work to a higher common denominator. I’d like to think that in a similar vein, I communicate that message as well.
I’m not sure if it does much good or not. I’m at the point where I am pretty certain that mass democratization of almost everything and “ease of entry”, whether perceived or real, is a very negative and detrimental thing.
It seems to me that the voice over world is a great culprit of this, as it may seem that anyone who has even thought of doing voice over has been approached by any one of the 100,000 or so podcasting, interviewing, all-things-voice-over world.
It makes it very hard to figure out what really is worth listening to. And when this accompanied by hiss, wow, flutter or the sounds of a washer dryer busily at work in the next room, it just makes it worse.
But, it does seem like almost every profession, vocation, hobby and pursuit is being talked to death, often by people who seem to know little about the subject(s) at hand and even less about how to talk into a microphone.
Paul Strikwerda says
Here’s the difference between doing voice-overs and doing podcasts. Anyone can talk into a microphone; get it ready for upload, and call it a podcast. There are no auditions, and no paying clients. It’s Amateur Hour all over again. If there’s no bar, it cannot be raised.
Should self-professed voice-overs wish to compete in the marketplace, they have to live up to minimum standards. Many don’t, and it will be their downfall. In fact, I’d advise people who’d like to pursue talking into microphones to try podcasting instead. There’s no pressure. There are no expectations. Anything goes.
Desmond Adams says
Paul… you nailed it! I’m a veteran radio broadcaster who’s been coached repeatedly on the very things you talk about in this post.
Podcasters are going to be competing more and more every day with professionals who’ve spent years learning how to make a connection with their audience.
The podcasters who refuse to listen to what you’re saying in this post, will be left in the dust. But that’s probably best. Thanks for the honest!
Ironically, I’m doing a presentation tomorrow night on this very issue, in front of a group of about 30 podcasters. I hope they listen and take notes.
Paul Strikwerda says
It seems the podcasting commentators are divided about my assessment of their playground, and I fully expected that. As a blogger I often get the “Who are you to judge us” treatment (also within my own community). Every week I stick my neck out, and I fully expect more than a few people to disagree with what I’m saying.
I want to be known as a thought-provoking blogger, and I welcome a diversity of opinions. When people react, it means they give a damn. I hope the podcasters present at your presentation will be open to what you have to say. Remember this, though:
It’s impossible to give eye openers to the willfully blind.
Steve MoneyPlanSOS Stewart says
I started reading your post and could feel my pulse quickening. Then I realized you weren’t yelling AT me (because I’m guilty of a few things in your “Marketing Content” section) and I was able to grasp onto the gravity of what you are saying.
With that said, I can’t argue with you. We (podcasters in general) do need to up our game. As you said: It has never been easier to start a podcast. But it sure is hard to make it worth the time when the payoff is often so little. “Sign up for our email list”, “Download this or that”, “Use our Amazon affiliate link”. Where is the payoff?
Right now there are bunch of people creating podcast episodes because it feels like their own personal radio show. The problem is they don’t have the professionals, the marketing, or the money behind them to make it huge.
But they do have blood, sweat, and tears. That’s how someone can create a valuable podcast worth listening to.
Or they could just be funny.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for reading my rant, Steve. It would take the British “blood, sweat, and tears” to withstand the Germans. I hope aspiring podcasters will have an easier and more exciting time to create a good show. One of the first things they need to ask themselves is this:
“For what purpose am I doing this? What’s the aim of the show?”
“How can this aim best be served?”
Next, it would really help to study successful podcasters who are at a place you want to be at in a few years. Find out what makes their show so appealing. Learn from what they’re doing, and make it your own.
Success is never random. It is planned in great detail, and usually a result of small steps over a long period of time.
dc goode says
Loved this Paul…perhaps we should do a podcast about it.