Before 2004, hardly anyone had heard of a podcast. Seventeen years later, they’re borderline inescapable.
With topics varying from true crime (“Serial”) to long-form interviews (“WTF with Marc Maron”) and practically everything in between, these episodic, recorded offerings have remained a cultural constant while other trends have faded into obscurity.
“It’s a perfect medium to take in while you’re commuting and doing other things,” says Brevard-based musician and podcaster Travis Book. “It’s a way to digest and play with concepts and ideas in a semipassive way, which is perfect for Americans.”
Arguably the ultimate democratic technology, podcasts continue to attract creators from around the world who use it in traditional ways, as well as others who are taking advantage of recent developments that appear poised to keep the medium relevant for decades to come.
Xpress spoke with Book and fellow local creator Johanna Hagarty about their adventures and experiences in this crowded field and what they and the industry have planned for the future.
‘Happy Hour’ distillation
The bassist for the progressive bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters, Book launched his musical variety show, “The Travis Book Happy Hour,” in June 2020 to stay creatively active and engaged with industry peers during the early tour-free days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, he had no intentions of expanding the series into a podcast. Instead, the initial 90-minute Facebook Live stream featured a new musical guest each episode. Book would subsequently upload each show to YouTube, where he was content to leave things.
But by December, he had a revelation: The 90-minute show was ideally suited for condensing into a 40-minute audio companion, composed of its best musical moments and a distillation of the interview portion.
“In that shorter form, it’s got all the elements and is jampacked with good stuff,” Book says.
Once he committed to the podcast, he says he “couldn’t be stopped” and was up at 4 a.m. each day working on episodes. Book notes that he usually doesn’t enjoy dealing with technical aspects of music or fiddling with editing software like Pro Tools. (“I always have the smallest pedal board of all the guys in the band” he says.) And yet, in learning editing techniques, he feels that he’s found another artistic pursuit.
“The editorial choices I make and even the little editing bits — the way that I fade between segments or the musical interludes that I use, even just the way that I mix the audio — all of that contributes to the general feel of the podcast,” he says. “These are real subtle things, but it’s these little stylistic differences that are what really makes each podcast unique and distinctive.”
Rather than listening to music and interview podcasts for inspiration, the bike-racing enthusiast has taken many of his stylistic cues from cycling podcasts. By funneling this guidance into the “Happy Hour” editing process, Book has seen his communication style improve and is less likely to repeat elements that hamper clarity on subsequent shows.
Through it all, he’s also learned plenty about selecting guests who will rise to the occasion of what he feels is essentially improvisation, as well as the art of interviewing.
“It’s so dynamic, and it’s happening in real time. And especially when it’s happening in a live setting, you learn to be an active and attentive interviewer and lead things in the right direction — not cut off ideas but really allow the right things to blossom,” he says. “That is a really difficult skill, and now I’m so much more appreciative of great interviews when I see them.”
Launching a podcast is an adventure in and of itself, but once it’s established, finding a dedicated audience becomes the next great challenge. And while thousands of shows await discovery on popular “podcatcher” services, such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify, new platforms have arisen in the past year that offer a level of listener interaction previously unavailable in this milieu, including Clubhouse.
Hagarty, an Asheville-based entrepreneurial coach, debuted “The Johanna Patrice Hagarty Show” via online radio station Biz Radio Asheville last November. Each week, she explores the intersections of art and entrepreneurialism with different guests, then takes the audio from the radio show and turns it into a podcast.
This spring, Hagarty heard about Clubhouse through her coaching work and requested a membership invitation through one of her professional Facebook groups. At the time, the app was in beta testing and only available on iPhone. (It went public in late July and is now also available via Android.)
From there, she navigated the numerous “rooms” that users can join to listen to various speakers; an additional feature also allows audience members the opportunity to verbally contribute a question or comment. While she quickly exited a room devoted to late-night dating, where she says people were “ridiculous and just yelling,” she found one with author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra giving a talk and has since listened to Oprah Winfrey and other appealing celebrities and influencers.
“The level of professionals and high-ranking people in all different entrepreneurial industries just floored me,” Hagarty says.
As she’s grown increasingly comfortable with Clubhouse, Hagarty has begun hosting events and joining public and private clubs. Her favorite thus far is “The Power of Art,” which is described as “a collective of over 81,000 artists, community organizers and change agents.”
“When you find the right rooms and you find the right connections, you are working with worldwide potentials,” Hagarty says. “But if you don’t know how to get involved in the clubs and you don’t find the clubs that relate to you, then you might not find it to be supervaluable.”
Now that she’s well versed in the platform’s capabilities, she’s also considering using it to livestream her podcast, which would permit for a post-show Q&A with listeners. Clubhouse also lets hosts play prerecorded content, which would allow her to schedule the podcast for listening at a set time each week.
Similar options are available on Stereo, which broadcasts live discussions between two or more hosts and empowers listeners to record messages that creators can preview via transcription and choose to play on-air. Twitter Spaces also offers a live interactive model, but is more ephemeral and, unlike Stereo, does not result in an automatically recorded file. In contrast, Stereo hosts can download said file, edit and post to the podcatcher of their choosing.
Clubhouse currently lacks an in-app recording feature, and while additional tools and resources make recording possible, doing so will result in a low-quality audio file. But regardless of what platform podcasters decide is best for them, Hagarty is confident that the medium is here to stay.
“It’s about connection,” she says. “Hearing that voice, hearing that conversation, hearing that rawness and process — very rarely are podcasts completely polished. That authenticity is something I don’t think is ever going to go away.”