Broadening My Listening in 2021

Broadening My Listening in 2021

In other words, not listening to any more celebrity podcasts.

As podcasting as an industry grows, it feels that each week sees yet another celebrity-driven podcast launching. I confess that I find it all just a bit reductive.

I won’t be a hypocrite and say that I don’t listen to any celebrity podcasts – I like a good interview as much as the next person. So yes, I listen to a few Adam Buxton episodes (dependent on guests), and the same with Craig Parkinson’s Two Shot Podcast.

But when someone, otherwise famous for being on TV, turns their hand to a podcast and especially if it becomes essentially an interview-format, I rapidly lose interest. There are loads of them already, and for the most part, I don’t see them adding anything new.

In particular, it feels like every comedian on the UK scene now has a podcast. I get it. They’ve not been able to tour for the last year, and appearance fees alone from Have I Got News For You or Mock The Week aren’t enough on their own to pay the bills. But if the format is just you and a mate shooting the breeze, then I’m probably not going to be listening.

If there’s at least some craft going on, then perhaps I’ll give your podcast a go, but life’s too short.

Am I being unfair about some actually quite good shows?

Almost certainly, yes.

But I’m more likely to try your podcast if I know you’ve got some kind of foundation in radio or audio – comedians who’ve presented or appeared on radio shows over a period of time will have perhaps understood what works and what doesn’t in an audio medium. That said, I appreciate that not every comedian has had the opportunity to get a six part Radio 4 sitcom to hone their skills.

And yes, if you’ve got an editor or producer who is ruthlessly chopping down your meandering 90 minute Zoom call with a mate into a punchy 20 minutes, and adding some other production elements, then all power to you. But you’re not filling me with excitement. That’s especially true if you can’t even record yourselves properly (It’s not hard, and it’s not expensive).

If you’ve just got a podcast simply because you’re famous, or perhaps are sixth in line to throne, then that’s probably not good enough for me, even if your co-host is an actor*! The same goes for ex-politicians, however popular, who are also having money thrown at them.

Counterintuitively, I should confess that I think in general celebrities getting into podcasts is helpful for growing the medium overall. Most people don’t listen to podcasts – at least, not regularly. And a large proportion of them may not even know how to actually access one. Your favourite celebrity suddenly having a podcast may be the thing that makes you finally get into the medium. With any luck you may even discover that there’s a world beyond your favourite celebrity’s work.

I suppose my main issue is that celebrity-driven podcasts suck quite a lot of oxygen out of the industry. There are some publications that seem as though, if there’s not a “name” attached, the podcast isn’t getting a mention. If you’re an independent creator, making something that doesn’t have an already-famous name attached, you’re much less likely to get get press and publicity. Indeed, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to send press releases and preview copies to the people who cover these things. Big groups tend to be much better at that. And to be clear, while some writers unquestionably go out of their way to find new podcasts themselves, you can be sure that they’re all being deluged with press releases offering previews of upcoming episodes and access to the “talent.”

Famous names do generate coverage – sometimes very high profile. Sadly the reality is that even if your celeb-free podcast drinks from the well of popular culture, and so has potentially wide appeal, and features speakers who really do know what they’re talking about, you just won’t do as well.

Am I being unduly snobbish? Perhaps.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and in the same way that I nearly completely avoid reality television and soaps, because there is probably something much better to watch on a streaming service (or on my 18%-free PVR), then there is something that’s probably better to listen to somewhere on my smartphone.

I don’t just mean shows that have a team of 30, been edited and produced to within an inch of their lives, and have come to fruition only after two years of development, but things that inform or entertain me in other ways.

2020 has been a year of consolidation in the podcast sector, with players like Spotify continuing to splash the cash and buy up companies and individuals alike. As I type, news has come through that Amazon is in serious talks to acquire perhaps the largest remaining podcasting indie, Wondery for a reported $300m.

Spotify and Amazon are in play with podcasts, while Google continues to make moves. And the sleeping giant that is Apple is beginning to stir, having launched its first daily news podcast.

But there are at least a million podcasts that don’t belong to these [putative?] behemoths. Even if you remove broadcasters from the picture.

There’s an awful lot of rubbish out there, of course. But there are plenty of other things to explore. There’s a lot you can do with audio. And there’s also a world beyond what most of us are spending most of our time listening to.

So my resolution for 2021 is to explore deeper, and go looking further for podcasts. I might even write about what I find…

* Since the press is often downright vile and even racists towards Harry and Meghan, I do feel a little bit bad referring to them here. However, my problem isn’t them personally, so much as the fame that comes with them. Also, I couldn’t care less about any aspect of the Royal Family.