Caleb Masters is a podcast producer and writer who specializes in helping organizations tell their stories through podcasting. He has worked on numerous podcast programs since 2012, hosting and producing more than 500 episodes for his various clients. You can follow his work at @cmasterstalk.
AM: What was your journey into podcasting as a hobby and now as a profession?
CALEB: My interest in podcasts started in 2009 when I discovered many of my favorite pop culture writers hosted programs where they discussed the news in film, television and video games of the previous week. Compared to the podcasts we have today, these programs were very simple, but the notion of having an internet radio talk show dedicated to my interests was exciting.
In 2012, I decided listening to podcasts was no longer enough. I launched a movie review podcast with my friends in college where we gathered around a laptop and talked about entertainment news and streaming movies. After that, I was hooked on making podcasts.
AM: Discuss how podcasting has evolved from its humble beginnings to become a booming industry.
CALEB: Smartphones, plus the shift to our on-demand content culture, changed the game for podcasting. Podcasting largely started as hobbyists sitting around their laptops or USB microphones talking about their passions, business interests or work. There wasn’t big money in the game (yet) and production value was lower.
The distribution method for early podcasts was convoluted and time-consuming – podcast listeners had to download the file onto iTunes, plug their iPod or mp3 player into their computer and then manually transfer the file. A tedious process coupled with lower production value acted as a huge barrier of entry for mainstream consumers.
This boom for podcasts we’re still riding in 2019 can largely be attributed to This American Life’s launch of their spin-off show Serial from Sarah Koenig in 2014. By the time the show arrived with a surprise launch, smartphones made it easy to download and binge the show. It was essential listening to anyone who wanted to be a relevant part of the cultural phenomenon.
Today, Edison Research estimates that 67 million Americans age 12 and older listen to podcasts each month which makes the media very attractive to advertisers and storytellers who are excited to share in this new media space.
AM: Is podcasting or the consumption of podcasts its own community? Why or why not?
CALEB: Yes and yes. The most successful podcasts transcend the episode and become the centerpiece for an entire community and subculture of fans online.
One example of successful podcast community building is the independent production company and podcast network Kinda Funny. Through podcasts, YouTube videos and live streaming, Kinda Funny built a community of almost 11,000 financially contributing fans who support the success of two separate ongoing Patreon campaigns with monthly pledges ranging from $1 to $1,000.
Kinda Funny’s co-founder and CEO Greg Miller stated in an interview that “Kinda Funny isn’t building something in secret. We’re building it with you and for you.” That’s the kind of community building podcasting can be responsible for.
AM: Talk as a consumer of podcasts: what speaks to you the most about it? What do you think the average podcast consumer values?
CALEB: The reason I love podcasts is the same reason why I love film. Podcasts open people up to world views, perspectives, stories and ideas they would have never encountered in their own lives. The ability to exchange stories with people from all over the world allows individuals to learn more about the common needs and challenges we all have in common.
Podcasting also presents brands and marketers with the rich opportunity to communicate their story brand, value proposition and message directly. There are always at least one of four main values listeners are looking for: a great story, entertainment, insight and community.
A great story can transcend listener preference or culture. It does not matter if a podcast is scripted, improvised or an interview, listeners want to identify and contextualize it in their own life’s story. This makes podcasts the perfect place to relate a story brand to the target demographic’s interests. Think of a podcast as direct 1-on-1 time with your most valued consumer. In early 2018, Mastercard began experimenting with the media in a collaboration with Gimlet Media for Future Favors the Bold, a show about the future of money. McDonald’s even worked with Gizmodo and Onion Labs for a parody series The Sauce, to help present the fast food chain’s perspective on their infamous 2017 Szechuan sauce PR disaster. These podcasts were not concerned with selling listeners a product or service as much as they were sharing their culture and values with listeners.
No matter the subject or context, the podcast must entertaining. What makes a talk entertaining? That will vary depending on the target audience. When making a podcast, it is critical to consider what sort of potential entertainment value for a show, no matter its format. But, listeners don’t just want to be entertained, but they want to listen to insights about their interests from experts in the field. Recruiting well known and highly qualified influencers can be a great way to quickly establish a tone and build an audience of highly engaged listeners to your podcast. By inviting influencers with a fanbase, their audience is also consuming your content and learning that your brand has values that align with their own.
And as I elaborated above, the community and social engagement piece of engaging with the content outside of just the listening experience is crucial to the relationship and trust between the hosts, the brand and the listeners.
AM: Anything else you’d like to add on the subject?
Brands need to tell an entertaining and unforgettable story in order to communicate values and build their own subculture via podcasting. Fans aren’t just consuming the podcast, they are active participants personally invested in the success of the brand and online community.
People are wired to love great stories. Podcasting is just another method of telling them and bringing people together in the process.