I had planned on writing this post later next week, but given the guffawing over this New York Times article, which asks a very fair question about the state of podcasting, I figured screw it.
The article — which you should read right now — starts with two twenty-something millennials in New York who start a podcast with a typical kind-of-original-but-kind-of-not idea. Their objective, of course, is to promote their “brand.” They want money and fame — and they want it fast. After six episodes they’re not exactly drowning in Benjamins, so they decide to call it quits.
Wow. A whole six episodes and still no six figure book deal. What is the world coming to? Madness.
I’ve seen some takes from the Twitteratti that these two lapsed podcasters are an unfair representation of the industry. I couldn’t disagree more. When I worked in campus radio, I was responsible for green lighting all talk shows and podcasts. I’d say well over half of the volunteers who wanted to start new podcasts were exactly like the two young women in the story. They made it clear to me quite explicitly that they had little to no interest in audio journalism, production, or even the subject of the podcast. Their goal was campus-wide, and eventually world-wide, fame. Podcasting just happened to be the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to get there.
Needless to say, about 90 per cent of these podcasts didn’t make it past four episodes. That’s something I really don’t blame myself for.
“I didn’t realize how hard and time-consuming this is!” I’ve heard it countless times.
Normal cost of a 15-minute long story at a major storytelling podcast:
– 2 months
– 6 pre-interviews, 3 interviews, 7 hours of tape
– 10 drafts
– 2-4 edits, each 1 to 4-hours long with 2-5 editors in the room each time.
– 2 days of mixing/scoring
Don’t Lowball Us https://t.co/TiaKu8XEot
— Stephanie Foo (@imontheradio) July 18, 2019
Podcasting is neither fast nor easy, and it’s certainly not a fast and easy route to fame and riches. When I started my first truly independent podcast, Micro, I was asked pretty frequently how long it would be before it made me famous, or when I was going to start making serious doe. I could only laugh. Here I was, excited to finally have a hobby outside of work, and if anything it seemed to come with more career pressure than my actual career. I can’t imagine that fishing is the same. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to make a monetized podcast at some point. It’s just not going to be one in which almost every episode has just seconds of breathing room on it’s self-imposed five minute time limit.
Podcasting is cheap. I’d say that’s the number one reason there are so many of them. You can buy decent equipment and software at a very affordable price. I’m aware that a lot of new podcasts still sound like shit in spite of this, but I’d say that’s more because of a lack familiarity with audio production than anything else.
Here’s a breakdown of my costs:
Mic stand: $15
Audio interface: $200
Audio mixing software: $200
So roughly $1000, which includes a top-of-the-line microphone that’s more of a luxury. That sounds like a lot, but for a life-long hobby it’s nothing. Recording equipment is incredibly durable so it’s basically all overhead.
Podcasting is a bubble, but it’s a bubble that’s never going to burst. Why? Because no matter how many there are, people just don’t have a whole lot tied up in them financially. It’s not like having a mortgage. I’m 99.9 per cent sure my podcast won’t bankrupt me.
Still, I’m just as frustrated as a lot of the commentators in the Times article. Almost every day I feel like a new public figure launches a podcast, but that’s not my issue. My main issue is that they’re all podcasts of the exact same type. They’re all one-on-one interview podcasts. I understand why people are so tempted to do this. Interviewing interesting people about their interesting expertise is really fun. It’s also the easiest type of podcast to produce, since it involves little to no production effort. You send an email, agree on a time, and hit record. That’s it.
I didn’t want to completely exclude this from my own podcast, which is why some episodes are straight — albeit very short — interviews. But at the same time as a listener I’m starting to run out of options with respect to those complex, well-produced storytelling podcasts like Radiolab and Rough Translation. All this is to say that there’s too much of one type and not nearly enough of the other.
Anyway, I haven’t released an episode of my own podcast for about two months. Trust me, if I were gunning for fame and fortune I wouldn’t be this lazy. But I’m working on a new episode so check your feeds soon!