When you introduce yourself as a "Podcaster" people make certain assumptions about what you do. This is hardly unusual - we all have preconceptions. Labels are a way of summarising a lot of information. But any time we compress information like this we lose the detail and, at some point, that label can start to feel innaccurate.
A few of the preconceptions I've encountered recently have made me realise that I'm not really a "Podcaster", I'm someone who produces work that's available as a podcast. It's not quite the same thing.
Here's why this label doesn't work for me:
1: People don't actually know what a podcast is
When podcasters use the term they usually mean an audio show in any format which is available on Apple Podcasts. Some podcasts also post their episodes as videos. Some post episodes behind a paywall, for example on Audible or Luminary.
To be more than simply pieces of audio a podcast should be an ongoing series, building rapport with an audience and returning to familiar themes and in-jokes - creating a community. It should be something you subscribe to and, hopefully, can't wait for the next installment, whether it's story-based, interview or documentary or other.
The thing is, the general public often aren't aware that this is what those on the inside consider to be a podcast. In layman terms many other things count as podcasts. Any recorded interview for example, especially as part of a series. This is regardless of whether audio or video or whether it's available in their podcast app. To the person in the street a single episode is also described as a podcast, there isn't always the expectation of returning.
This is my problem - to the layman when I say "I'm a podcaster" they think that means I interview people. That's what a podcast is to them, two or more people talking.
There are loads of great shows that do this. Many of them are also great "Podcasts" - but it's not what I do.
2: Podcasting is a byword for building your brand
Lots of you will have seen the memes that go around. "Check out my new podcast!"
Podcasting has become, for many people and brands, an extended form of social media. It's a place to share longer conversations that won't fit in an Instagram post. Some of these are great and they give a real chance to broaden the range of different voices in our media culture.
The flip side is that they're often secondary to other things. You're making a podcast to support other work or build brand image, not primarily because you want to make a great piece of audio. The two obviously aren't mutually exclusive, but it means the bar is often set quite low on ambition for what audio can be.
As a result these shows are almost exclusively interview based, and this is what leads to one of the assumptions above, that a podcast is an interview with a "Guest". It's a simple formula and with a good host and guests it works well. People like this kind of content, but that's what is - content. Again, it's not what I do.
3: Making great audio isn't the same as making a great podcast
This seems self evident when you examine it, but I think it often gets overlooked.
You can be a great photographer without being a hit on Instagram. Equally you can be a hit on Instagram without being a great photographer.
You can be a great YouTuber without being a great videographer. You can also make great videos without being big on YouTube.
I think we're more prepared to see these channels for what they are - channels. They are a way to get your work to an audience. Lots of people are good at playing the game with Social Media. They understand the algorithms, or are good at getting people to share or like their work. Boundaries and parameters are really useful when you're creating something, it gives it structure and builds expectation for an audience. Playing with that structure and expectation is what makes for great art, but when the structure becomes about how the material is delivered, rather than how it is experienced, we should ask "Is this the right way?"
To make a good podcast you want people to engage, to share it and to look forward to the next episode. We love to look at the easy parameters: How many people downloaded this? How many likes did I get? Did people comment? Many of them are good for showing engagement, but they don't always show how deeply they cared about what you made.
Did they see the world a little differently afterwards? Did they seek out something they wouldn't have before? Did they learn something new?
When we get too focussed on the other proxies we can start to lose our sense of adventure. Adventure is all about taking a risk. It might not always work out, but when it does the impact can be enormous. That impact might just be for a few people, and it's difficult to measure, but it shouldn't be forgotten.
Making great audio can go hand in hand with making a great podcast, but they don't have to mean the same thing. Both are valid on their own.
4: I love stories
Loads of good podcasts tell great stories. Sometimes they have awesome interviewees who tell them well, sometimes they're structured for impact and sometimes a brilliant interviewer coaxes a powerful story out of a hesitant interviewee.
I get a real buzz from a well told story - whether making, reading, listening or watching it. It's the same feeling I get in the best moments when I'm climbing. Totally immersed in what I'm doing with a euphoric exit from the tale and a sense of well-being that stays with me.
This is the key reason that I don't want to call myself a podcaster. The audio, the promotion, the audience, the interviews are all the secondary things for me. The magic is in the story - and that's what I want to get from it: To listen to and help to tell great stories.
So what am I?
That does lead me to a new problem. What do I call myself? "Storyteller" feels a bit cheap, my stories are told through interviews with others, it feels like I'm taking credit that's not due. "Journalist" seems to broad to describe what I'm making. "Audio Documentary Maker" is one hell of a mouthful. "Producer" feels a little cold.
Suggestions in the box, please!