What I Learned At On Air Fest

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(By Dave Jackson) The On Air Fest describes itself as “advancing the culture of audio. We bring together an expansive range of emerging and established voices to explore the creative possibilities of sound.”


I’ve attended many events that are designed for independent podcasters, like Podcast Movement and Podfest Expo, but on occasion I will got to a slightly different event where I get to see a whole new view of the podcast landscape. The On Air Fest was filled with professional podcasters. When you listen to a podcast and you hear the list of 19 people who helped create the episode — this is the event for those 19 people.

It actually took me a few introductions to find someone who actually spoke into a microphone. I was meeting producers, writers, and editors. In the indie world, an editor will cut out the “ums,” and “ya knows.” They will level out the volume, and remove the hiss. In the professional world the editor is the person on whose desk you dump hundreds of hours of recordings and they shape it into a story.

A Different Approach To Podcasting

There were great stories and strategies at the event that indies could incorporate. For example, at a networking breakfast Dan Pashman of Sporkful shared his nine-year history and introduced Kristen Meinzer from the By the Book podcast. This is a podcast where the two hosts read a self-help book and have to live by the book’s guidelines for two weeks.

Now they could’ve approached this like any other podcast. They could read the book, then sit together, press “record,” and talk about the book. Sounds like a plan right? Not quite.

Kristen has a very vast history as a host and producer, working for Panaoply, WNYC, and more. So what did they do on the podcast? They created a story arch for each book. One episode sets up the book and builds tension, and the next episode explains their findings and final thoughts. In other words, they injected a story into the experiments with the books.

Podcasting Budgets And Funding

Because of the focus on stories, almost every podcast I heard about uses seasons. I also heard phrases about “funding.” Such as “I’m working on season three, but we are still waiting on funding.” Speaking of funding….

Jenna Weiss-Berman from Pineapple Street media shared how she can make an entire season of a podcast using 5% of the budget for a TV pilot. According to my first Google search you can make a 30-minute TV pilot for $2 million. If that is accurate you are looking at $100,000 to create a season of episodes.

When I looked at shows by Pineapple Street, I saw seasons with 6-12 episodes, which means they are charging between $8,300 and $16,000 per episode.

Production Shedules

Dan Kaberski of the Missing Richard Simmons podcast explained how it took him a year to produce the Surviving Y2K podcast. Later, Jad Ubumrad from Radiolab explained how some episodes for Radiolab take two years to produce.

I also heard a panelist explain how they will do more “commercial” shows (with potential celebrities) to get a bigger audience and use the profits from those shows to finance some of the more social-related shows that may not have a platform. With this insight, some of these production houses remind me a bit of movie studios who make blockbusters and also finance smaller movies that may not have as wide a release.

All in all it was an interesting peak at another bubble of podcasting. Should an independant podcaster be intimidated by the large teams and budgets we are competing against? No. A few years ago my podcast School of Podcasting was nominated for a People’s Choice award against Reply All (from Gimlet). While they won the award, I was nominated. I am a team of one, and I was up for the same award up against a team of 19. For me, that’s already a win.

Dave Jackson is a Hall of Fame podcaster and consultant. He started the School of Podcasting in 2005 and potentially has helped more podcasters with their podcast than any other human on the planet. Find him at www.schoolofpodcasting.com.

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