Why the Podcasting Industry Creates Podfade: II. The Creative
In part two of everything that’s wrong with how we think about podfade, I’ll be focusing on something more concrete, yet oft-overlooked in this vexing podcast industry-wide conversation: The Creative. You can find part one here.
The Qualified Podcaster
If you’ve read part one of this series, you know now that I believe that people should try podcasting… if they want to. And then disqualify themselves. That’s as great for the industry as it is for your mailing list. This article deals with the podcasters that self-qualified. Podcasters with potential or, rather, qualified podcasters.
The current conversation…
The status quo podfade discussion laughably doesn’t consider the core feature of podcasting — creativity. Nor do our amateur or professional statisticians. Yet, there is critical nuance here to harness for the good of the industry.
Podfade assumes humans can create consistently and consistently sustain creativity. This is flawed logic. Creativity and creatives don’t work this way at any level. And the hamster wheel of content creation is a creativity killer.
Need a quick and dirty course on creativity? What is Creativity from Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken via California State University, Northridge is that.
The “3Cs” of podcasting — it’s too rigid
If you want to ensure podfade is not forcing qualified podcasters out of this industry, it’s time to stop focusing on content, consistency, and community (aka the 3Cs of podcasting). I know that sounds counterintuitive. (But challenging widely held beliefs is kind of my thing.)
As a marginalized gender in this diverse field, there’s one thing me and my podfriends consistently (ha) encounter: Rigidity of thought. And when it comes to those 3Cs… perhaps if there was equity of thought and the ability to influence the conversation… but there isn’t.
Industry leaders currently put their emphasis on consistency first. Then community. We talk about content little… and by content, I mean the creative work… the art and the rules of designing compelling podcasts.
(At the time of this writing, Little Boxes is playing on my television… and this song could be the anthem of podcasting today.)
New Media is sexier than the rules of design
I suspect we don’t talk about creativity and designing content because the majority of podcasters, including you leaders, are self-taught in this area. And the ‘new’ part of new media is sexier. Even I am seduced by the idea that we are still creating this industry. And I’ll happily tell you that my work is used in communications departments of universities. I mean, that’s so cool.
BUT, unlike many in the industry at the top (or near top), my background was in design and storytelling. And I found myself quite surprised that out of all the things being taught by successful podcasters, storytelling wasn’t one of them.
Let’s be honest: Content-forward education doesn’t sell tickets. It isn’t sexy. Consistency and Community are a popular draw that translate into real cash in hand. So, content-focused education created by podcast-teachers never deliver the promised deep-dive.
In 2020, I decided to apply for a fellowship that focused on story. Because every conference, every webinar, every article, and every book did not help me put the audio story-telling pieces together. And as someone who has told stories since childhood in every other medium, audio is the hardest.
Audio is a visual medium
… says a very small group of mostly ignored podcasters. But it’s true. We create the visuals in the listeners’ minds.
Once you’ve wrapped your head around that thought, you realize that the sheer amount of creativity that it takes to make the spoken word visual is immense. It’s daunting. It’s mysterious. And there are few “Creativity in Podcasting 101” resources.
Yet, as someone who’s studied story in podcasting, what I’ve learned is that once you unlock the audio-is-visual mystery, the other 2Cs become easier. Add in a keen awareness as to how you function as a creative and suddenly you find yourself in demand in this space on a new level.
…and it’s lucrative.
Creators are hungry for this conversation…
Do we even know how to discern quality content from not ?No. And few are teaching it.
I authored an article about Cold Opens (aka teasers) not too long ago. It was a practical how-to aimed to take podcasters from simply coveting and copying other successful, mainstream podcasts to creating them with intention. The response was overwhelming.
Not because I am a sort of genius. It was because there is a void in podcasting that creators are hungry for us to fill. They are struggling with the very basics of creating content… and creativity.
There are tried and true rules for audio storytelling developed back in the old radio days. These rules are based on oral storytelling traditions… or simply storytelling, whose rules were developed thousands of years ago.
There’s a way to write for audio. A way to illuminate the spoken word so it comes alive. Where is this content?
We’re getting the content conversation all wrong
That’s simply one aspect of this work. Truly, we need an expansive, honest conversation about creativity, content and creation BEFORE community and consistency. Because what we’re telling podcasters isn’t working: Keep running on that hamster wheel of producing quality content and your downloads will increase.
How do you create quality content? Yeah. Good luck with that.
Creativity ebbs and flows. Good content should not.
F*ck Consistency. I’ll take quality over it any day of the week. Fight me.
The consistency conversation cited in a billion podcast how-tos doesn’t reflect the cycles of creativity (or real life, for that matter). Nor does it mirror how the big, corporate production houses create content. Unless it’s a daily news podcast, you have a production cadence where the cycles of creativity are built-in — with a team of creatives, it’s a must.
No one in the highest echelons of podcasting has ever spouted the trope that releasing more episodes each month will grow a show. Not one. They are too focused on creating, iterating, and publishing exceptional stories within a narrow set of parameters.
Corporate operations aren’t telling you how they both deal with creative cycles AND consistency because, duh, it’s assumed indie producers know how to harness and exploit talent. That’s the job. They’re giving the indie podcasting community a lot of credit by not diving into this conversation.
It’s a fundamental difference between the two sectors of podcasting. And one I straddle. There’s a lot to be said about that, but I’ll save that for another article.
Podcasting does have rules. Quit telling people it doesn’t.
Or guardrails. Or rather, a set of constructs that help people create, distribute and grow something special.
Here’s something funny: Constriction breeds creativity. So, while we’re busy telling fledgling podcasters there are no rules (which is only partly true), we’re actually hampering creativity. I’m guilty of this, too.
The only thing that absolute freedom brings in creativity is paralysis. Because where do you begin? How do you know what’s right? What is good and what is bad?
It doesn’t only breed podfade, it’s part of the root cause of never starting a podcast.
My favorite clients are the ones who started a podcast without ever interacting with the podcasting community. They don’t get the no rules trope — in fact, they start their show by copying another podcast and assume that podcast is using a set of rules. Then they deconstruct those rules to use themselves.
And they decide to create X number of episodes for their story, podfade criteria be damned.
And the rules are factored into the podfade debate. This stat reflects that.
“…of the two million podcasts out there, 8% have 10+ shows and a new episode in the past week.”
–stat from Podnews via Amplifi Media
Not every story requires more than ten episodes to be told.
Corporate creators don’t often create shows that have no end like the indie side of the industry does. (They will buy established, long-running shows) Shows need a launch date, a production cadence, and a defined number of episodes in the contract. And that number ranges from 6 to 8 per season. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on how much story there is to tell, how far a show’s budget will stretch, and who the stakeholders are.
There’s always a little wiggle room: I advocated for an extra episode of How Magicians Think because I didn’t want to cut Steven Levitt’s phenomenal interview. Yet, it didn’t fit within the other stories we were telling. It was more of an end cap on the series. I had enough content from other sources to build the story around him… and it worked.
So, duh. Of course, you won’t see a new episode of How Magicians Think this week. Or any week after its final episode. It was purposefully designed as an on-demand, limited series.
Dudes, this is not rocket science. The bias toward long-running, long-form content in podcasting is a big problem. After all, if episode length should always be as long as it needs to be, why are shows held to a vastly different standard?
Why aren’t shows viewed as a cohesive body of work with a beginning, middle, and end?
And how can we do anything but encourage true podfade with any other approach? I have so many questions, but for the sake of brevity…
My questions for podcasting’s industry leaders:
Is podfade a real problem? Or is it our industry being hypocritical around content creation due to our fundamental misunderstanding of creativity and storytelling?
After all, we’re scrappy and mostly self-taught. Might we have missed critical lessons in this less techy, less new, and less sexy, but critical piece of podcasting?
And are these creative fundamentals holding us back from being a grown-up industry that’s taken seriously?
(Stayed tuned for part 3 of this series, hopefully coming next week. But you know, I have a full-time job in podcasting with release dates coming, sooo…)