We have a studio with fancy microphones and an audio engineer, but there are plenty of people who record on a €50 Zoom recorder
On the plus side, the financial outlay isn’t considerable: the equipment is relatively cheap; advertising is largely through word-of-mouth and recording can be done in a bedroom if needs be. “As a medium, I also love how accessible it is for people to create,” says Shawna Scott of the Our Sexual History podcast.
“At HeadStuff [the podcasting platform she is part of] we have a studio with fancy microphones and an audio engineer, but there are plenty of people who record on a €50 Zoom recorder.”
Shawna is also the owner of Sex Siopa — a health and design-focused online store selling sex toys. She didn’t design the podcast as a promotional tool, but it certainly helps raise brand awareness. “Even if I don’t get a huge bump in sales when I release an episode,” she says, “I still find it super beneficial and personally fulfilling.”
Fellow podcaster Rex Ryan agrees. “If you’re doing stuff that costs time and energy — and you won’t make money — you have to constantly ask ‘why?’” he says.
The first episode of his Let’s Have Rex podcast, which was financed through crowd-funding, went live last month. His content is compelling and the early feedback is promising, but the actor and writer has made peace with the fact that few podcasts become financially lucrative.
Rex says his main influences are fellow interview-driven podcasters Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss — “perhaps if I could get Ferriss’s craft and organisation, mixed with a bit of Rogan’s madness, I could be on to something semi-decent”.
Yet it’s hard not to compare his style to his late father, Gerry Ryan. Just like his dad, he has the ability to talk about something as inconsequential as toothpaste and still make you feel like you are being let in on a best-kept secret.
Rex is well aware that he is entering a saturated market. “I really thought, ‘Why the hell should people bother listening, bar my mum and my mates?’,” he laughs. The answer that he eventually arrived at was honesty — searing honesty. It’s a wise move. Whereas traditional radio broadcasters give little glimpses of their personal lives, the best podcasters know that listeners are more likely to resonate with full soul X-rays.
“You have to be honest, too. You have to give of yourself,” says comedian Jarlath Regan.
“I’m personally not a fan of interviews where one person asks questions and the other person is forced to answer,” he continues. “I always tell a bit of my story to encourage the other person to talk and to share with them and the listeners how I’m arriving at the point of asking this question, and where this question comes from.”
This brings us neatly to the other key difference between traditional talk radio and podcasting. By and large, podcasters have no interest in ‘gotcha’ journalism.
Sam Harris of the Waking Up podcast recently explained that he gives interviewees the opportunity to say ‘off the record’ after they say something they would prefer to take back, and Jarlath says he is happy to give his guests the final edit.
All of these factors help to build authenticity, integrity and, fundamentally, trust. It’s a deeper level of engagement and, in its purest form, it’s cathartic — for both the host and the listeners.
Jarlath says he was in a “pretty dark place” when he first started podcasting.
“I probably didn’t know what was going to happen to us living abroad. I was struggling, you know? I took a shot at this thing and it worked out and, over the course of these interviews, I’ve probably softened a bit. I think I’ve grown in confidence, too.”
It was much the same for fellow comedian Marc Maron. He says podcasting saved him from being “broke, defeated and careerless”. Nowadays he talks about the medium with almost religious enthusiasm.
The podcasting landscape has changed significantly in recent years. Revenue models have become more creative; independent producers are competing with established media organisations and, as with any boom, some analysts are wondering if the bubble is about to burst.
Yet those who bemoan the corporatisation of the industry tend to forget that no amount of money or resources can compensate for the key ingredient: passion. Jarlath puts it best: “You need to love it from day one when you’re getting paid nothing. Otherwise, you’re dead in the water.”