Bob Lefsetz on Podcasts
Below is a blog post from Bob Lefsetz. Bob is in the music business and I get his posts emailed directly to my inbox. He provides sharp insight and I recommend you consider doing the same. Plus, he loves podcasts. Enjoy
The Podcast Revolution
By: Bob Lefsetz
Why is it when major media is cropping its stories down to nothing, believing that's the only way to achieve virality, because America is dumb and has a short attention span, that podcasts are gaining traction and are generating the word of mouth traditional outlets crave?
There's the splash and then the regeneration. Podcasting was all over the news in 2005 and then it crashed. But suddenly, it's been reborn. As a long-form medium where those excluded from the traditional airwaves are making not only a home, but inroads.
It's San Francisco in '66. Seattle in '91. It's passionate people pursuing their dream with money in the background. And if you partake of the art, you know there's not enough time to listen to all the podcasts you want, you're addicted and can't stop talking about them.
There's the intimacy... In a world where you're constantly told you're inadequate and don't count, you feel close to podcasters, even if you never contact them. It's akin to FM radio back in the midsixties, it's a small club and you're thrilled to stay up all night listening.
There's the stories... Most podcasts cover stories that appear nowhere else.
There's the humanity... In this tech-dominated culture we love our smartphones, but we're looking for something a little more squishy, a little more gray than black and white. Podcasting is primarily about people, their backgrounds and flaws.
You can start with "Radiolab." Which happens to be going through an identity crisis.
Don't start with Adam Carolla. Although he got a lot of press, it was for all the wrong reasons. Carolla was a refugee from the system, doing his old act in a new place. The revolution is happening with those doing new acts in a new arena, their shows don't resemble anything on the traditional airwaves.
"Radiolab" started on NPR. And it's interesting that so many great podcasts are made by NPR refugees. But what makes "Radiolab" great is it's the last vestige of curiosity, with no limits. Remember being intrigued by something out of your wheelhouse? I hated science in school, but I love listening to "Radiolab." Unfortunately, it takes a long while to make a "Radiolab" podcast, so they keep adding shorter material that's not akin to the regular format which is ultimately disappointing. In podcasting, you must be true to yourself.
The next big star of podcasting is Alec Baldwin. Who interviews those who have something to say as opposed to those who have something to promote. Like David Remnick of the "New Yorker." Alec asks tough questions, you marvel at his intelligence and you lament the ending of an episode. But don't go on his show if you've got nothing to say. Paul Simon was execrable. We live in an era of honesty and transparency, and if you don't adhere to these precepts, stay away.
After you check out Alec, check out Bret Easton Ellis. Who's famous for edgy books but is so erudite and opinionated on his podcast you wish he'd be the one who interviewed the candidates. Then again, he doesn't really care about politics, Bret Easton Ellis cares about art. He's passionate about film. And he's all about splitting hairs and asking the difficult questions. Listening to Bret Easton Ellis's podcast, you'll discover what it's like to go to a liberal arts college.
Then there's Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond's "Dear Sugar." Amateurs giving advice to the lovelorn. But Strayed evidences incredible insight whilst revealing personal details most are afraid to shine light on, like the fact that her husband had an affair. This week's show was a killer. A woman wrote in asking if she should wait for her boyfriend to come back, after he experiments with men. Cheryl and Steve called Dan Savage, who has his own podcast. And Dan said... They write to Cheryl because she's nice and forgiving, but he had to be blunt, the woman's beloved was never coming back, he lied about his reason for leaving, he just wasn't that into the writer. Whew! You're lying in the dark listening to someone giving advice and you're reviewing every episode of your own life, which is the essence of great art. You think the past is set in stone, but the truth is your conception of it is malleable.
Then there's "Mystery Show," Starlee Kine's hour-long endeavor which is exactly what it says. However the mysteries are minimal, and she doesn't really solve them, but the journey along the way...the detours are the best part, just like life.
I found out about "Mystery Show" in a magazine or a newspaper... The same way I used to find out about bands, before everything became part of the industrial hype machine. You're on a treasure hunt. And when you uncover something satisfying you want to tell everybody you know about it.
Of course there's "Serial." Which got the press talking. And Marc Maron's WTF...which is successful because unlike Carolla, he's doing a show completely different from the one he did on the radio. Check out Maron's interview of Terry Gross...who reveals she was married before and dropped out of college to travel cross-country.
And now either you know what I'm talking about or have probably stopped reading.
This is how things begin in America. A hard core lives for it, then it slowly becomes winnowed down and commercialized. But right now, the podcasting world is unformed. And just because anybody can play, don't believe anybody can be successful. You need production, you've got to be riveting, we're building a whole new bevy of stars.
Because people want to go deep. They want to feel connected. They want to be stimulated. They want new and different and they want to talk about it.
Podcasts are the radio shows of yore, before there was TV, but they're on demand.
And you may not be listening now, but you will be.
P.S. Every iPhone has a podcasting app built in. It's purple and it's got a white mic in the middle, with radio waves emanating therefrom. Click on it and then in the lower right-hand corner of the app click on the magnifying glass to search. Search on the above podcasts, when you find one, subscribe. And click on the Feed to download past episodes from the cloud. As long as you keep listening, new episodes will download automatically.
P.P.S. I also recommend "Freakonomics Radio" and the above-referenced "Savage Lovecast."
P.P.P.S. You think you don't have time, but you do. That's the essence of today's world, we all want something to slow us down and pull us down the rabbit hole.
P.P.P.P.S. Ignore the hype, forget the me-too podcasts, a new art form is being created in front of our very eyes. Right now, monetization is not high, you cannot get rich, which means people are free to experiment, which makes listening more exciting.
P.P.P.P.P.S. Squarespace. Stamps.com. If you want to get traction for your product, advertise in new media, on the edge. I've never heard about Square Space anywhere else, but it sponsors a multitude of podcasts, and I feel good about the company, it's a pioneer.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. I want to be a pioneer. I want to be on the leading edge. And right now the action is in podcasts. The same way it was with music in the sixties and tech in the last few decades. But this time the emphasis is on art. And art is so much more satisfying than money.
"Here's The Thing With Alec Baldwin": http://www.wnyc.org/shows/heresthething/
"Bret Easton Ellis Podcast": http://podcastone.com/Bret-Easton-Ellis-Podcast
Cheryl Strayed/Steve Almond "Dear Sugar": http://www.wbur.org/series/dear-sugar
Starlee Kine "Mystery Show": https://gimletmedia.com/show/mystery-show/
"WTF With Marc Maron": http://www.wtfpod.com
WTF Episode 604 - Terry Gross: http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_604_-_terry_gross
"Freakonomics Radio": http://freakonomics.com/radio/
"Savage Lovecast": http://www.savagelovecast.com
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