Dublin will host its first podcast festival next month — signalling that this once niche, DIY industry has transitioned into the mainstream here. KATIE BYRNE talks to some of the growing number of Irish podcasters about how to make it in an already satura
Podcasting, in case you haven’t noticed, is the new black. Depending on who you listen to, it’s also the new blogging, the new talk radio and, as one writer, musing on the medium’s tranquillising quality, recently put it: the “new Xanax”.
Media pundits have forecast the podcasting boom since the inception of the digital medium, yet it’s only in the last few years that episodic audio has become the new normal.
The success of Serial was the tipping point. In 2014, the true-crime podcast broke the iTunes record to become the fastest podcast to be downloaded more than five million times (their follow-up, S Town ,seta new record when it was downloaded more than 10 million times in the first four days).
It’s the type of audience engagement that was previously reserved for TV dramas, so it’s no surprise that Serial is currently being adapted for television.
Interview-driven podcasts have also upped the ante considerably. In 2015, Marc Maron interviewed Barack Obama for his WTF podcast. It was a defining moment for a DIY industry, not least because there was a sniper on the roof across the street and a tent full of Secret Service agents in his driveway as he chatted to the then-US president in his garage.
Podcasting, once a niche, hobbyist industry has transitioned into a mainstream movement with a dedicated, engaged audience — and Ireland is no longer playing catch-up.
Last month, Alan Bennett, the founder of Irish online magazine and podcast platform HeadStuff, announced the first ever Dublin Podcast Festival.
The event, which takes place across various venues in September, will host heavy-hitters like Brian Reed of S Town, Scroobius Pip and the trio behind My Dad Wrote a Porno, while homegrown talent will include Jarlath Regan of the award-winning An Irishman Abroad, Suzanne Kane and PJ Gallagher of Dubland, and Alison Spittle.
Like any other festival, the event has its headliners, but there won’t be rider requests or diva-like demands. The podcasting community, says Bennett, is “generous and communal” and everyone he has approached has been accommodating, irrespective of their position on the iTunes chart.
Dave and Cathy Corkery, the married Cork couple behind the award-winning Cinemile podcast, agree that podcasting is more welcoming than other industries.
Cinemile, which records Dave and Cathy’s chatter as they walk home from their weekly visit to their local cinema in London, won Best New Podcast at the 2017 British Podcast Awards, and the couple got to meet many of their favourite podcasters during the ceremony.
“We met Edith Bowman and Scroobius Pip, and they were so generous and supportive,” says Cathy. “It’s very different to TV where people are very competitive and protective of their jobs.”
Dave and Cathy were podcasting for a year before they started to build up an audience. They both work in media so they knew from the outset that podcasters have to be patient, consistent and prepared to persevere without a pay cheque.
Yet not all newcomers realise just how long it takes to gain momentum. Fin Dwyer, the historian behind the popular Irish History Podcast, says many greenhorns think there’s a “magic button” for producing a viral podcast, but they soon learn otherwise.
“Someone like Tommy Tiernan can do it,” he says, “but [an unknown] would want to be really lucky to be getting an audience size of more than a thousand in a year.”
Dwyer started producing the podcast — “when very few people knew what a podcast was” — in 2009. Today, he brings out an episode every two weeks and he can now expect 10,000 downloads after 10 days, and 20,000 downloads after 45 days.
For context, a podcast episode needs to be downloaded 10,000 times in 45 days before an advertiser will even consider coming on board.
“My podcast is in the top 5pc,” he
An unknown would want to be really lucky to be getting an audience size of more than a thousand in a year
says, “but that doesn’t mean it’s amazing. It means that most podcasts get 120 downloads in 45 days — that’s the average.”
Fin can now make a living out of the podcast, but he still compares it to being in a band. “Most bands probably never get a gig. If they do get a gig, very few play in front of 100 people. And how many bands get to play a stadium gig?
“If you approach it with the idea of making money, you won’t make any,” he adds. “So you should approach it as a really enjoyable thing to do, or a great way to gain confidence.”
Others simply approach it as a pastime. Cinemile now has adver -tisers on board, which “more than covers” their expenses. However, Cathy has worked out that they would need to review four films a day to make it financially feasible. They won’t be leaving their day jobs which, Dave adds, is perfectly fine. “It was only meant to be a hobby.” The revenue model for podcasts consists of advertising on a CPM basis (‘cost per mille’, or the rate per 1,000 listens); listener donations, loyalty schemes and paywalls (some Second Captains listeners opt to pay €5 a month through the Patreon platform) and cross-selling. Heavyweights like Joe Rogan and Freakonomics can earn tens of thousands per episode but, for most podcasters, it’s a labour of love.