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A podcasting renaissance

PODCASTING is back! Speaking on podcasting in the July LFB meeting was Lily Ames (@LilyAmes), who earns a living doing podcasting and who set up the UK Audio Network, an email list for those who work in audio - podcasting in particular.

Lily Ames; Photo: Matt Salusbury

Lily Ames (right) takes a question from the audience after Francesca Marchese (left) introduced her

The podcasting industry has become "huge... bigger and bigger every year and this year it's exploded," reports Lily. The New York Times podcast The Daily is the biggest single revenue stream for the newspaper group. The Guardian has put a lot of money into its daily podcast and expects to get a lot of money back. Now 85 per cent of advertising agencies have podcast in their strategy.

The daily news ecosystem and true crime podcasts in particular "have exploded". There are now numerous podcasts that are partnerships with TV and film, there's a whole genre of Obsessed With... companion podcasts to TV shows. Netflix, which already has several strands to its podcast strategy, has just announced a stream of podcasts for directors' commentary. Another Netflix product is the £8-a-month subscription-model Luminary podcast stream.

University departments are going into podcasting, observed LFB Chair Pennie Quinton. Academics are training with former World Service folk in how to do podcasts, They see podcasts as an effective way of sharing the impact of their research with the wider community, which generates more funding for them.

Lily worked for Canadian broadcaster CBC until there was a "huge round of cuts... my cohort all got fired", so making use of her British passport (her family is British), she came to London where there is "more audio opportunity".

In London, we don't talk enough about money

While the huge audio scene in the US has a "listserv culture" of discussion on email lists that was "very strong... so strong that it benefitted Canada". No such network existed when Lily arrived in London. The audio scene was "very fractured," while "frank conversations about money" were particularly lacking here, she found.

"People were not making very much money" from podcasting and audio, she discovered. While London had "small, lively communities," there was no "one centralised place where you could talk about work". The UK audio scene was more more "siloed" - meaning there was much less "cross-disciplinary pollination" than there is in the US.

So from "my own need to get paid and to grow the industry," Lily set up UK Audio Network. But the venture is "not just for freelances": it is also "for commissioners, big outlets like Audible and Spotify," together in one email network. She began it as a Google group. Soon there was "such a need for these kinds of conversation" that people started to treat the network as a sort of union. If people offer just £75 for a job, others on the list will tell them "you shouldn't do that."

While the network allows you to promote yourself in general, its rules include no pitching, please. UK Audio Network tries really hard to get the commissioning editors to be clear about how to pitch to them, says Lily.

There are now "over 1000 people in the group" from "all over the English-speaking world". The biggest percentage of members is London freelances, followed by London podcast radio producers from the BBC as well as Spotify, Audible and others.

Story-driven work

Much of the work that comes the way of freelances at short notice via UK Audio Network posts is along these lines: "is anybody available to do a tape synch tomorrow at London Fields tomorrow?" Tape synch is "the unsexiest ever" category of audio work - "interview one guest, just hold the recorder". But it's this sort of everyday admin messages that keep the group going.

Podcasting is "very story-driven," with interviewees telling their stories in their homes or wherever they feel comfortable, rather than in a studio. That explains the number of last-minute tape-synch assignments. Lily says you can survive doing tape synch gigs - but that's not a career.

Siri, show me new business

Voice-activated speakers in the home, such as Amazon's Alexa, will change audio and podcast work significantly. Lily spoke of a recognition that people in audio will have to get ready for the changes to come from this. It's hard to say at this point just how voice-activated speakers will change audio work.

Some people are anticipating how listeners are going to interact with the smart speakers in their homes. Will they ask "Alexa, give me a news quiz," for example? Or "Alexa, I don't understand what happened today in the news, can you tell me story that helps me understand it"? The question people in audio are now asking themselves is: can journalists play a rôle in providing content for distribution in the home via a smart speaker?

Training? Lily recommends approaching someone who's already producing podcasting and collaborate with them. Also, check out Transom, a website for podcasters which includes a podcast on podcasting and "radio storytelling".

Basic kit? Investigate quality microphones that attach to phones. There are some "interesting" podcasting studios that start at £50 a day to use, catering to DIY podcasts. UK Audio Network has a resources page.

Pay? UK Audio Network recently did a rates card - taking the temperature of how much people get paid. Some typical day rates are around £150. The kind of work that brings in more money? Consulting, finding a big client whose hand needs holding through the whole podcasting process - a client like a university or a household name gallery, for example.