I had a request from a journalist to give some thoughts on “podcasting”. As I mention below, I’m still a bit lamed-out by the actual term “podcasting”, but if it helps people learn about cool audio online, then I can live with it. It’s no worse than “blog” anyhow.
I figured my email response to the journalist might be of some interest to others (and I can show what I actually wrote in case I’m misrepresented – though I’m sure it will be fine). Here, then, is what I wrote:
Question: What in your opinion makes a successful podcast?
Before you can determine what makes a successful podcast, I think you have to define what success is to you, the producer. For some, success may be measure by the most obvious and straightforward means: number of listeners. For others, though, success may come in reaching a small group effectively. For a few, success may even be defined by simply producing something that you are happy with – talking can be quite therapeutic.
For myself, I feel satisfied when I hear from a few people that have truly enjoyed a piece of music I’ve played. Even if I were only to hear back from a couple of people, knowing that someone has found some new music that they love is what motivates me to produce the show.
Question: Which are your favorites?
I actually only listen to a few “podcasts”:
There’s a really geeky show produced by four guys from Wolverhampton in the U.K. called LugRadio (http://www.lugradio.org). It’s a panel talk show about Linux and the surrounding technology and culture. The guys that do the show are huge geeks, are quite funny, and actually do a better job of discussion Linux and open-source technology-related issues that most in the mainstream press. Their British accents make everything they say sound just a little bit smarter and funnier too.
While not limited to one specific host or topic, the IT Conversations site hosts conference keynotes and interviews with people from around the technology industry. The original host (he has since branched out and there are shows by many hosts on the site), Doug Kaye, does a great interview and they have some strong keynote presentations by important thinkers in the IT world.
Hosted by the maintainers of the technology/culture news site, Digg.com, this is a short weekly podcast that covers some of the most popular tech news stories of the week. That said, I listen mostly because the hosts are fun and entertaining.
A dude named Adam, who follows much the same format as my own Acts of Volition Radio – he plays music he loves and tells us about it. Like my own stuff, it’s rough and unscripted. Every once and a while, he tells a story about a song that makes you hear it in a new light and it’s totally worth the listen.
I would love to hear more people produce shows like Acts of Volition Radio and MathCaddy Radio, where they play the music they really love. That is the best way to find new music. It’s not coming from marketing firms, radio stations, or record companies. Instead, it’s music that someone loved enough to want to tell us about it.
Question: When do you listen, and with what technology?
I mostly listen when I’m at home on my old 1970s tube-powered Pioneer stereo, hooked up to my laptop. I don’t actually have an iPod or other portable music player. I also don’t use any of the podcast-downloading applications. Instead, I mostly just download the shows I want to hear at listening-time directly from the websites. With high-speed internet, it only takes a few minutes to download most shows.
The subscription and automatic download model that defines “podcasting” is intriguing, and I can see it being powerful if you have a commute or walk everyday that you want new material automatically on your player for. So far, at least, I don’t listen to shows that are produced daily and don’t have a portable player – so just downloading the shows manually and listening to them from my laptop is easy enough.
Question: Will podcasting last?
I’m still a bit weirded-out by the term “podcasting”. I just sounds kinda dumb to me. When the weblog/blogging phenomenon started to take off, I left the same way about the word “blog”. I still say “weblog” when I can (it sounds a bit less goofy), but I’ve pretty much given up on that since the term “blog” has become so ubiquitous. I think I’ll have to give in and start saying “podcasting” eventually too – but for now, I still find the term too goofy to say with a straight face.
I’m not sure if the term “podcasting” will last, or if the current technology of RSS enclosures to distribute audio files will last. It seems to be doing well, but could always be supplanted by some newer and better technology.
I do think that individuals producing audio and publishing it online will last. It was thought that television would kill radio but radio still plays an important role. I think this stems from some inherent strengths of the audio-only medium. Producing audio-only (as opposed to audio and video) significantly lowers the barrier to entry. You can make a great radio show with a decent mic and a laptop. While video is getting cheaper and easier (and will be an important medium online), it is still much easier to sound cool than it is to look cool.
I suspect that like the original hype around weblogs, the initial media interest might wear off, and many who got involved to see what the buzz was about might lose interested. However, like with weblogs, great writers will keep writing and people will continue to produce great interview, shows, and music.
I was actually producing and publishing Acts of Volition Radio before the term/technology “podcasting” came along – so if the term and technology turn out to be a passing fad, I’ll likely still be sharing music I love with whomever will listen.
A few general notes:
Licensing is a problem. I wrote SOCAN, the organization that manages music licensing in Canada for radio and television when I first began my show. I would be willing to pay a reasonable licensing fee. However, at the time, I was told that this new medium hadn’t quite been figured out. They suggested I save up some of my “revenue” (or “operating expenses” in the case of non-commercial radio) for whenever they actually do figure out what to change. I don’t have any revenue, and my “operating expenses” as trivial.
Rather than wait for the music industry to figure out how to make money off this new format, I’ve decided to go ahead and sell music for them. I’ve gotten dozens of email from people who have told me that after hearing an artist on Acts of Volition Radio, then purchased the CD. If anything, I consider what I’m doing to be to the benefit of the artists. I’m doing their advertising for them!
I suppose if I were to be asked (or threatened) by record companies or music industry organizations, I would comply with their request. However, rather than just stop, I think I would seek out musicians and record companies that understand the value of this new medium and promote their music instead.
Before I started producing Acts of Volition Radio, like most people, I would share great songs, albums, and artists with friends. With the show, I have effectively opened-up that sharing process to anyone who cares to listen.
The bottom line for me is that I love music. When you hear a song that really connects with you, it is a powerful feeling. When you know someone else has had a similar connection with that same song, it becomes a connection between people. I think this is part of what can make live music such a powerful experience. I want other people to feel what I feel when I listen to great music – this is why I produce the show.
When I hear from a listener that they have found some great new music through my show, I know that we have shared a common experience. It’s really about using music to connect with people.
I’ post an update if any of my stuff is used in the piece when it gets published.