International Podcast Day is here — but the real reason to celebrate? More ladies are front and centre on the mic.
Sept. 30 marks International Podcast Day, honouring a decade-plus of "audioblogging," and wow, how podcasts have changed. Up until a major audio storytelling renaissance started in 2014 with Serial's viral, high school homicide narrative hosted by the silken-voiced Sarah Koenig, women have been vastly underrepresented on the airwaves. But that's all changing. Paula Szuchman, vice-president of on-demand content at WNYC Studios and the producer of theWerk It 2017 Podcast Festival (three days dedicated to bolstering women's voices) notes that in 2013, only 20 per cent of the iTunes top 100 podcasts were hosted by females. Today, that number stands at 33 per cent.
Count me among the growing ranks. This year I bought a microphone, took a few audio editing courses, and parlayed my dozen years working as a beauty editor in magazines into a podcast called Breaking Beauty, which I host alongside fellow beauty journalist Carlene Higgins (formerly of Flare magazine). In this narrative podcast, we dive into the backstories of beauty brand founders (many of whom are female), like our next episode featuring Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier, to find out how they broke into the business with their million-dollar idea, revealing their struggles and successes. We saw a huge white space where barely any beauty podcasts existed, and decided to bring the subject we knew best to life with the power of voice.
That intimacy of being right in the listener's ear creates a cocooned storytelling environment, sans the trolls of social media platforms. "Podcasts feel like a very safe space for women on the internet," says Jenna Weiss-Berman, co-founder, Pineapple Street Media. "We produce Lena Dunham's show Women of the Hour and she gets tons of hate on Twitter typically. But the people who listen to her podcast — we've almost never gotten a negative comment from somebody who actually listens to it." Podcasts also allow hosts to remain faceless, so age and ethnicity are removed from the experience. I personally appreciate the fact that I don't have to put on a full face of makeup to be able to dish about the latest, craziest lipstick.
The toughest barrier in podcasting, as I've discovered, is having your podcast discovered.
Though I do need to pay a great deal of attention to how my voice sounds. Weiss-Berman agrees: good sound quality is hugely important. "You can't just open your computer and speak into GarageBand. It's a good idea to invest in both a digital recorder and a microphone," she says (the Zoom H4N Pro Recorder for in studio and the Rode NTG2 Condenser Shotgun Microphone for in the field are her recommendations, though I personally use a Blue Yeti for sit-down interviews and my iPhone when I'm on the fly). Combined, you're looking at around $500, so the barrier to entry is still quite low compared to more visually driven platforms.
But the toughest barrier in podcasting, as I've discovered, is having your podcast discovered. I asked Weiss-Berman about this, when I started to wonder whether the sheer number of hours I was putting into podcast production — about 25 hours per episode — would ever get noticed among the 400,000 shows currently in Apple Podcasts. "In-kind promotion is the best way to reach new listeners when you don't have a big marketing budget," she says. "Be a guest host on other shows and invite others to do the same on your show."
Consider this my first foray into the #ladypodsquad network, with a list of my personal favourite fellow female podcasters, their best start-up advice and which of their episodes you really can't miss:
Show: Off The Vine Host: Kaitlyn Bristowe This Alberta-born, Nashville-based reality TV star's show is all about #realtalk. "I always loved the idea of reaching hundreds of thousands of people, making them laugh, while being home in my sweats with a glass of wine." Advice for budding podcasters: "Make mistakes, say um a lot, lose your place in your notes, and maybe even swear. People love raw and relatable." Episode you can't miss: "Monica Ten-Kate, the Medium. She made Shawn believe in afterlife. Powerful stuff."
Show: Venturing Out on CBC Host: Arlene Dickinson As Canada's pre-eminent female entrepreneur and OG Dragon's Den member, Dickinson gets candid with everyone from Jann Arden to Diply's Kirstine Stewart. Advice for budding podcasters: "Make sure you don't try and sound like someone you aren't. It's your voice and your thinking. Everyone learns better with storytelling." Episode you can't miss: "Listen to them all! And then tell me what else you'd love to hear about and from whom. I'm always looking for feedback."
Show: Canadian True Crime Host: Kristi Lee One of the only true crime podcasts that dives deep into Canadian cases. Since launching this spring, Lee has almost 45,000 downloads per episode. Advice for budding podcasters: "Don't tease your podcast launch until you have at least one episode that you're happy with. Otherwise it's a lot of pressure and you may feel rushed and put out something you might not be totally happy with." Episode you can't miss: "Based on audience feedback, it would be The Murder of Tim Bosma trilogy."
Show: Terrible, Thanks for Asking (TTFA) Host: Nora McInerny This podcast, hosted by the honest-to-the-bone young widow McInerny (who will moderate at the Werk It Festival Oct. 3-5) gives you all the feels: grief, loss, yet somehow, laughs. Advice for budding podcasters: "Don't let perfect get in the way of progress. If you have an idea you love, find a way to make it happen. If you're waiting for an invitation to pursue this interest, here it is." Episode you can't miss: "Oh, they're ALL my favourites but this episode with actor Harris Wittels' mother and sister lives up to its episode name in every way."
More female-hosted recommending listening
Call Your Girlfriend with hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who recently chatted politics and how to make coin with Hillary Clinton.
Sooo Many White Guys with Phoebe Robinson, who created the podcast when she grew tired of playing the token black woman in a sea of white-dude comedians.
Rookie Podcast, an extension of the website created by young writer and editor Tavi Gevinson, who discusses body positivity, creative pursuits, and the teenage experience with millennial powerhouses like Lorde.
Never Before with Janet Mock, conversations with Hollywood A-lists and politicians alike hosted by the journalist and LGBT advocate Janet Mock (Herchat with democratic senator and all-around-boss Maxine Waters is a must.)
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this blog stated that Kristi Lee's podcast has had almost 45,000 downloads since it launched, however, she has had almost 45,000 downloads per episode. Also, Paula Szuchman is the producer of the Werk It festival, not the chair as previously stated. This version has been corrected.