By Richard Davies
How Do We Fix It?
Over 1,000 attendees paid $500 each, plus hotel and airfare, for an earnest and, at times, joyous lovefest. Think Woodstock minus the sex, mud and rock ‘n’ roll. This conference was a pep rally, support group, and two-day college course on the do’s and don’ts of digital audio.
“Podcasters enjoy being together. They want to learn from the best in the industry,” says Jared Easley, co-founder of Podcast Movement.
Most of the people who came here were either wannabe podcasters, or newbies like me, looking to learn all they can about their chosen passion. They are their own program directors, show hosts, engineers and sales team. Most of us here haven’t made a dime from our shows … yet.
But hope springs eternal. It’s been a heck of a year for this chaotic, young online industry since the first, and much smaller, Podcast Movement conference that was held last summer.
Only weeks ago in late June, President Obama appeared in-person for an episode of “WTF With Marc Maron,” a popular podcast recorded in the comedian’s garage at his house in Los Angeles.
Since rolling out last fall, the hit show “Serial” has been downloaded an astonishing 94 million times, and helped to put this resurgent industry on the map. Its runaway success sparked a wave of mainstream media coverage in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, “Saturday Night Live,” and many other places. A playful video segment on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last fall featured Ira Glass of “This American Life,” and a woman in her late-80s, describing how easy it was to listen to a podcast.
Marketers and tech firms are taking note of podcasting’s recent growth. Some companies sponsored booths and took part in Q&A sessions at Podcast Movement.
Many programmers, marketers, equipment vendors and automobile manufacturers have beefed up their investments. Audible (owned by Amazon) is jumping into podcasting, and Apple embedded a purple podcast into the iOS operating system on iPhones and iPads.
“I do it because I love it,” declared actress and comedian Aisha Tyler, well-known for hosting “Whose Line Is It Anyway” on ABC. In a speech that was frequently interrupted by laughter, cheers and applause, Tyler spoke of her own success and struggles in making “Girl on Guy,” the four-year-old weekly podcast, where she interviews her favorite male celebrity friends. “It is the purest expression of what I do,” she said.
Another keynoter was Lew Mongello, author, host and producer of the “WDW Radio Show” podcast. He urged podcasters “to be passionate, persistent and patient about what you are doing.”
The audience can hear the passion in your voice, Mongello told me. “Worrying about your microphone, your plug-ins and your software is secondary to finding your voice and finding your audience.”
Entrepreneur and podcaster Pat Flynn launched the conference on Saturday morning with a rally cry to the troops. “Podcasting is getting so big right now, but a lot of things sound the same,” he said. “I want you to go home and innovate and reach higher…think bigger.”
There are said to be roughly 300,000 podcasts in production today in the United States. From self-help to sales shows, comedy to current affairs, they include an astonishing range of subjects, formats and production standards.
“For someone who’s interested in learning, or having a laugh because life is challenging, I think podcasting is an amazing blessing,” says conference organizer Jared Easley. “There are so many good and talented people who are putting so much time and energy into content.”
But will they make money? That was the uneasy question hanging over this event. There are only a small number of podcasts that give their creators anything like a comfortable living.
In contrast to broadcasting conferences and conventions, this one was a mix of entrepreneurs who are using audio to build their brands, hobbyists, and professionals who’ve migrated from commercial and public radio.
Richard Davies is the co-host and creator of the new weekly current affairs podcast, How Do We Fix It? He spent 29 years as a news correspondent at ABC News Radio, and now runs DaviesContent, a digital audio startup.