Something really happened

News | Published 01/06/2015 17:01

Hey, so, what do you know? Turns out we’re not particularly prolific bloggers. While we’ve certainly been busy, and radio and audio have been very much on the brain, it’s always felt somewhat more natural to let the work speak for itself – to some degree, anyway. It might even be that our other work exhausts our capacity for ‘updates’, or that the time it would require to fully explore, commit to and unfurl an idea or an argument here is too much; I can (and accordingly, will) only speak for myself in admitting that both of those things do figure.

It’s sort of a daft understatement to say that things have been, y’know, happening in the world/microcosm/bubble that is podcasting.

You’ve probably heard about much of it. Serial (and its eponymous ‘effect’), Gimlet/StartUp/Reply All etc, Radiotopia, all the to-and-fro poaches and hires (no dramatic fires…yet) between audio/media/content companies. The Great and Promised Renaissance of Audio Finally Going Mainstream, the accompanying scramble to commercialisation (hi Spotify!) and its natural counterarguments. The new shows, the stretch goals, the excitement in the air.

(If this actually sounds like made up garbage to you, though, subscribe to Nick Quah’s wonderful/oddball/meticulous Hot Pod tinyletter or check out Nieman Lab or just lay back and sip your drink and don’t sweat it, yeah?)

Suffice it to say, it’s a really interesting (and strange) time to be observing everything. It’s especially odd to be doing so all the way from Australia – where, yes, people are sort of taking podcasting more seriously, but where the stakes are…if not lower, at least very different. There’s less (basically no) money in it yet, audiences still feel nebulous and abstract (there are no real physical or cultural focal points for them to gather/talk) and while more people might be picking up the mic, we’re yet to hear a lot of innovation (at least in the ways that American entrepreneurship demands/fosters).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these questions that seem to be arising (or not). Is the entrepreneurial narrative becoming an essential part of helming a ‘sustainable’ podcast? Are producers/artists who choose to be independent of radio stations thus obliged to be (or pair with) business people? In what ways are podcasts entering the same spaces that were once exclusive to music, and how will the traditionally conflicting licensing/airplay models – for features: license for x plays only, fees for more; for music: play as much as possible to reach widest audience, sell merch/tickets, get royalties – clash or align? Would people buy audio stories like albums again? Are there actually more opportunities (and outlets) for playing with sound and voice in interesting and experimental ways, or is this just about the narrative, the hook, and storytelling?

While I have many thoughts on those things, I’m never sure if they’ve ever landed definitively in any one position. Except in brief fits and spasms, I think it’s fair to say we’ve never really considered we would make a regular income from what we do – whether because we’re shy of asking for money or have found it hard to imagine having that vast an audience.

I will say that while we obviously don’t have the mad concentration of interesting radio producers that cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco (or London, Paris etc etc) can boast, I’m proud of the people we can call neighbours here in Australia. I think – especially in Melbourne – there’s a small but healthy community of people who’re engaged with good things to listen to. It’s always a pleasure to catch up for drinks. Speaking of which, there’s some radio stuff going down at Emerging Writers’ Festival this Friday. See you there?

A handful of other things I’d like to share, briefly:

• We were thrilled to have the opportunity to license The Isolation Solitude Happiness Confinement Freedom Domain (just typed that from memory; who says it isn’t a catchy title?) for broadcast as part of Third Coast Festival’s Re:Sound National programme in The Tight Spaces Show. (We knew it was only a matter of time before Toby went global.)

• Check out (Stylus co-producer) Conor Gillies’ excellent and thought-provoking argument about the emergent economic trends in podcasting (and public radio in the US) in The Awl. While Gillies was kind enough to mention us (in a nice way…whew), this recommendation is sincere and independent of any backslapping/etc.

• Check out Mia Lindgren’s research publication, ‘‘This Australian Life’: the Americanisation of radio storytelling in Australia‘, in Australian Journalism Review.

• One day – one day – we’ll bring this website into the 21st century. Until then, sorry if you’re reading this on a smartphone.

• I’m working on some exciting new audio projects at my day (and, well, night) job at the Wheeler Centre. Very tired, very excited. You’ll hear more about this soon!

• Should we collapse our AM/FM distinctions into one big, mysterious pot of fact and falsehood? Or is that sort of thing sooo 2012?

• Was it wrong of me to ramble so? Seriously, we’d love to know what you think about any of the above.

Alright – I think I’ve exhausted my blogging quota for the next five years. If you bothered to read this far, thanks (and: you’re probably strange). Likewise, if you’re a Paper Radio listener – sincerest thanks for the time you spend with us. We wish we knew more about you, but whomever you are, it’s a privilege.

You’ll hear a couple more stories from us for sure over the next few weeks.

Antennae up,

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