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Hail and well met, listeners! Storytelling structure in audio drama

On a sticky night near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY, Third Coast brought five head honchos of the audio world together on one stage. To the delight of the audio nerds in the crowd (read: Brooklynites. Read: me), the moderator Johanna Zorn asked the panel what they wanted to see next in podcasting. Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg said he wanted to see fiction pieces that sounded less like the theater and more like television. The panel nodded their heads and agreed, and everyone drank an artisanal beer.

Alex, I love Reply All and Matt Lieber, but I gotta disagree with you. I want audio fiction that sounds less like a TV show and more like a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

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“Got podcasts?”

Think back to some of the most memorable ad campaigns of the past 20 years. What comes to mind? Maybe it’s “Got Milk?”, from the California Milk Processor Board, which ran from 1993 to 2014, and reportedly reached 90% awareness among American adults. Maybe it’s the more recent “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign by Apple, which showcased the spectacular photos of ordinary people. These efforts dramatically increased public awareness of their products — so much so that they became iconic cultural reference points.

Podcasts aren’t quite at the saturation level of, say, milk or iPhones (yet!). But as the industry grows and matures, it needs new ways to become part of the public conversation. What might it look like if publishers, networks, and creators were to join forces to develop a similarly catchy and widespread campaign, something arresting that couldn’t be ignored? What kind of awareness and interest could we generate?

The advertising of podcasts themselves is an emerging area that is currently small but steadily growing.  Here are 9+ ways that organizations of all sizes are using advertising to grow awareness for their work.

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Behind the scenes of the New York Times Podcast Club Facebook group

Phoebe Lett is a self-proclaimed podcast nerd. She tries to listen to two to three new podcasts every single day, keeping a list of them in a notebook. She jots down short reactions and summaries for each, and stars the ones that make her want to try another episode or recommend it to someone else.

Phoebe isn’t just a dedicated hobbyist; she’s one of three moderators of the recently-launched New York Times Podcast Club Facebook group. The Facebook group started a few months ago when Samantha Henig, the Times’s editorial director for audio, approached Phoebe about creating a virtual version of their in-real-life podcast club, one that would be open to the public and a place to foster conversation and connection among podcast enthusiasts of all types. But how to create a social media community that achieved the best of their weekly in-person gatherings?

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“I find it really enjoyable to learn about things that are mind boggling”

“I feel like podcasts are kind of personal, and I have yet to find someone else who listens to the same ones I do.”

Meet Nick Gottlieb, a 19-year-old student at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. When he’s not studying, Nick keeps his interests varied — he trades stocks, goes to the record store, paints, and devotes time to entrepreneurial endeavors. This is how Nick listens. 

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Cast2Car: A safer way to listen while driving

Like a lot of people, Jason Jeffries’s wife has a long commute, and she uses podcasts to pass the time on the road. But she doesn’t like messing with her phone when she drives, so Jason — a developer– decided to use the car’s USB port and some cobbled together code to put podcasts on a USB drive. His wife loved it:  it allowed her to use the car’s stereo to listen to pre-selected podcasts, and after the two of them used it for a road trip, Jason decided to turn it into an app. He named the app Cast2Car, and he uses to power it.

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The secret life of a podcast curator

By day, Sara Weber is a professional writer, covering technology and startups. By night, she’s the creator and author of Sara’s Podcast Newsletter, a collection of curated podcast recommendations and thoughtful takes on the on-demand audio industry with thousands of subscribers.

The newsletter, which has now been publishing for over two years, started the way many great personal projects do: in a moment of idleness. Sara, who lives in Munich but has dual U.S. and German citizenship, was visiting her dad in Ohio in 2015. It was winter and she wasn’t feeling well, and in her words, “There isn’t much to do when you’re sick and bored in Ohio, and it’s freezing outside.” She’d been listening to a lot of podcasts and friends had taken to asking her for recommendations. She sat in her bedroom and thought, why not put this in a newsletter rather than just sharing my thoughts with one person at a time?

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5 questions for Anna Sale

Anna Sale is the host of Death, Sex & Money — a podcast from WNYC Studios that uses personal experience to dive deep into the sorts of stories we generally ignore in polite company, from a prison guard who comes out as transgender to a man who discovers he is not his daughter’s biological dad. The show turned three this year. We caught up with Anna to hear more about the editorial process behind the show, how she likes living on the West Coast, and her alternative career.

Was the radio a big part of your childhood? What did you and your family listen to when you were growing up?

I definitely grew up in a public radio household; we always listened to West Virginia Public Radio. There’s a road where I grew up — it’s very curvy and takes you the back way up the hill we lived on, through forests and woods. I have this very vivid memory of driving home from youth symphony rehearsal with my dad up this long curvy road, listening to Terry Gross.

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What we’re listening to and reading

As you might imagine, at we don’t just spend our days building tools to make podcasts searchable and discoverable — we’re also all avid fans, listeners, and followers of all things in the audio space. Here is a selection of recent shows we’re listening to and articles we’re reading.

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An acoustic model, a language model, and a lexicon walk into a bar

When I tell people that I work with speech recognition, they sometimes ask, “Like Siri?” Or they tell me a phone call horror story with interactive voice response. (“Reservations.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” “RESERVATIONS!!”) But as one of my professors was fond of saying, “Speech recognition is just the preprocessing.” What does that mean? We must turn sounds into information and meaning.

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Come + Play hackathon final projects

Last month, we hosted Come and Play — an audio storytelling hackathon where artists, producers, developers, and designers came together at the Thoughtworks offices in San Francisco to find new and fun ways to tell stories with audio (the event was co-organized by and Buzzfeed, and sponsored by Stitcher and Detour).  

Today, we want to share the eight amaaaazing projects developed by the teams who participated. Broadly speaking, they fell into three categories — sharing/discovery, context/commentary, and audience participation. These projects will make you think about who gets to be a creator, the ways we use audio in our daily lives, the editorial role of the community, and more. (And if you want to start with a quick primer on what exactly a hackathon is, check out this conversation between two of the participants, Sonia Paul and Claire Mullen).

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