I’m not usually one for making predictions, but here goes nothing.
For those of you living under a rock, let me inform you that the recent This American Life podcast spinoff Serial has exploded into public popularity, prompting parodies from SNL, Funny Or Die, and has even reached the supermarket-tabloid corner of the internet known as buzzfeed (omgwhyisthattextsobigitsliketheythinkicantreadsmallthings).
Confession: I actually haven’t listened to it except for one episode Rachel played for me on our 16 hour drive to Nashville with the puppy (woof). It’s okay I guess. It has that great This American Life deadpan reporting kind of style, though the fact that I was listening to this report on a decades old murder case is kind of odd, but I’ve never been one for crime dramas or murder mysteries. It’s just not my thing.
But that’s beside the point. Serial is a Podcast. Serial is actually one of the most successful podcasts ever, which isn’t saying much, but I believe it is a critical harbinger of the podcast renaissance. Yep I said it. Podcasting will explode in 2015, and here is why I think so:
Podcasts are perfect for consuming on the go.
When you’re in the car, on a jog, shoveling snow, or doing…basically anything besides sitting, you can’t look down at a screen. But you can use your ear-holes to listen to music. But music is boring! I want people to tell me stuff about things! Well if you want to listen to people talking instead of people singing, the podcast might be for you. While you’re at the gym, instead of listening to the latest Bieber, you can learn about early 20th century battle tactics or ponder life’s bigger questions. Whatever your interest, there’s a podcast for you.
The number of quality, thought-provoking podcasts is skyrocketing.
I used to use the podcast app on my phone for This American Life and sermons from my home church. Other than a couple radio shows that pioneered on-demand podcast consumption, the indie podcast scene was paltry. Nowadays not only are podcast comedy giants like Adam Carrolla and Marc Maron dominating, I have noticed an increase in quality podcasting in very niché circles. The Liturgists started one about God and everything (read their manifesto to see what I’m talking about). Not-a-historian-just-a-civilian Dan Carlin followed his acclaimed Hardcore History with a more contemporary-issues podcast Common Sense, a couple pastors have podcast here, and CIVA has an art-and-church podcast that I want to check out.
Podcasts are a media not (yet) dominated by advertising.
Unless you are Mail-Kimp(?), you haven’t yet figured out how to leverage the power of the podcast for widespread cultural attention. I like this. I also like that advertising on podcasts is not annoying like hulu ads, youtube ads, or the most flagrant offender, those Spotify ads that you can’t turn down and are wake-up-your-neighbors loud. Podcasts ads are even better than radio ads, because they are often integrated right into the show. The best example of this is Mike Pesca’s The Gist, wherein I will often laugh more during the ads than the actual episode. I’m not sure if stamps.com gives Mike a script to read, or if he writes it himself, but it’s always brilliant, and makes me actually think about why I’m not yet using their services. For some reason, when the host of the show is talking about why he actually believes the product advertised will make your life better, it makes the advertisement seem honest and authentic, which we need more of in advertising IMHO.
I should also point out here that despite the bump from Apple Inc., podcasting is not tied to any particular platform. Sure, many listeners fire up the podcast app on the iPhone and download from the iTunes database, but podcasting is inherently open. RSS feeds are the way to go, and any app can import a
Podcasts are inherently on-demand.
As our culture moves away from traditional packaged cable TV subscriptions and toward on-demand and streaming services, the Podcast has beat them all to the table. They were always on-demand. On my phone, I subscribe to a dozen podcasts, and whenever I want, I launch the app to see a couple new episodes there waiting for me to feast my ears on the latest news, cultural analysis, comedy, or Minecraft chatter. I don’t need to set my DVR, I don’t even need a computer. It’s all in my pocket, all the time. Once I listen to it, it is automatically deleted when new episodes come in. Perfect.
There’s a podcast for everything, and if not, you can make one!
I’m sorry Steve Jobs is not around to see it. I bet when the iPod was unveiled in 2004, and Podcast Studio features implemented into GarageBand 3, Jobs had this podcasting renaissance in mind: the empowerment of the geek. If you love minecraft and have a couple friends (I realize some of my readers might find that statement oxymoronic), you can get together and talk about your latest creations. If you collect coins or vintage toothpicks, you can tell the world about your latest acquisitions.
As the medium gains traction, you’ll start to see new podcasts pop up for any hobby, academic interest, or sports team you can think of. And anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can make their own. This low barrier for entry means that I can make a podcast where I discuss philosophy while playing with my puppy (this was a legit idea I had a few months ago), or discuss worship leading with other worship leaders (and they don’t even have to be in the same room), or discuss the transcendent beauty of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and the future of church music with friends, colleagues, and professors. And I’d carve out a little corner of the Podcast-verse where like-minded enthusiasts can listen, call (and by call I mean Skype) in, add their ideas, and bask in the future-ness of the medium. If I find time to do it, I’ll be sure to post it here!
So there you have it! And in case you are one for buzzfeed style click-bait lists, here are:
4 Podcasts you must listen to right now:
We’ll start off on the practical side. Parenting! Voted the #1 parenting podcast for people without children (they mention having many child-less fans in their latest episode), this hilarious husband/wife podcasting duo share stories about parenting wins and fails (mostly fails) that make you realize that you just make this parenting stuff up as you go.
Do you like history? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if you like history or not – you will love this podcast. Dan Carlin is one of the few people I know who can talk for 4 and a half hours straight and keep me on the edge of my seat the entire time. As a self professed “civilian” (“not a historian”), Dan Carlin can make educated guesses about the reasons behind certain key decisions throughout the course of history that have shaped the world in which we live today. Dan also raises some of the most thoughtful questions and is scary good at helping you understand history in context. You begin an episode thinking “how could someone possibly commit such heinous acts against humans” (as history goes), to by the end thinking “that’s pretty bad, but I now see how each event and action brought us closer and closer to the kind of world that not only allowed but desired such heinous acts. If that doesn’t make sense, just carve out 4h30m and listen to “Prophets of Doom” start to finish and you’ll see what I mean.
Up there on my list of favorite people to talk to at a cocktail party is Slate podcaster Mike Pesca. Mike has a voluminous vocabulary, a love of lexicon, a warmth for wordplay.Without Pesca, how would I know that an Antentwig carries 3 weeks to the fortnights 2. Where would I get my love for flag design fulfilled without the vexillology corner. When can I be his lobstar? Listen to this spiel segment to get a taste of his ridiculous repartee.Or better yet, this intro where Mike talks about Lobster.He can make any topic interesting, and finds meaning and humor in the most mundane cultural irrelevancies, or the most pressing current events. Here’s how they describe the show:
“The show is designed to be the perfect companion for your evening routine, whether you’re commuting home, making dinner, working out at the gym, or getting ready for an evening out. In about 20 to 25 minutes, we’ll arm you with the information you need about the day’s most interesting stories, and shed light on some stories that haven’t made it into your social media streams yet.”
I can’t get enough of Mike Pesca, and whenever the new episode appears on my phone, I can’t wait to find a 28 minute chunk of time to listen.
If you’re a fan of l’Abri lectures, and like your Christianity blended with your secular culture, then the Liturgist podcast is up your alley. Fueled by the energy and passion of Michael Gungor (of the band), Mike McHargue, and Lissa Paino, their topics thus far range from movie reviews, theology/bible, art and creativity, and the church. Though they are just a few episodes in on their first year of podcasting, the how-God-relates-to-_____ format is working for them. I can’t see what they come up with next!
So what are you waiting for? Download your favorite podcast app and pop those earbuds in!