April 04, 2015

Hot Pod: how you folks doin'?

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is Issue Twenty, circa April 4, 2015.

As per usual, remember to click display images. And if you’re so inclined, do hit me up with comments, suggestions, concerns, questions, and/or news tips at nwquah@gmail.com or on Twitter at @nwquah. And do recommend this little newsletter to a friend who loves podcasts!

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Also, I'm back! How y'all doin'? 


"Roxanne Gay Loves Fast and the Furious (and so can you!)As far as I'm concerned, there are two kinds of people. People who truly, madly, deeply love the Fast and the Furious movies, and the ones who just don't. And the latter, well, I just don't get. What's not to love about a deeply improbable and sociologically complex mindless action movie franchise, which happens to be the most diverse action movie franchise in Hollywood history? (I mean, anything that has a yellow man being a physical and sexual quantity, I'll gladly throw all my money at). Sideshow's Sean Rameswaram knows this. Editor of The Butterphilosopher-author, and living cultural force Roxanne Gay knows this. And that's why this Sideshow episode, which features the F&F franchise and Rameswaram riffing with Gay, is just the best, best, best, best, best thing. Ugggh. I'm foaming at the mouth.

Real talk: there is very little in the soulless universe that gives me more pleasure stuffing my ears full of people talking, thinking, arguing, hating on, struggling with, and emoting to stuff that I unabashedly, mindlessly love. I saw the latest installment in the franchise last night, and I still vibrate — TREMBLE — with joy, adrenaline, love. And rest of this week will be nothing more than a cruel, deafening haze, a fever dream, in pursuit of more Diesel-related podcasts. My ear balls, they are on their knees.

If you, fair Hot Pod reader, know of more F&F-related podcast content, please. Send it to me. Email me. Tweet me. LinkedIn me. I don't care what it is. I don't care if it's just you screaming "VIN DIESEL VIN DIESEL" endlessly into your iPhone. Give me dat.

"What The Kids Are Into." The music podcast — either about music or of music — is a fairly well-trodden genre, and rightly so. It's subject matter native to the form, and what else can you expect to come out in abundant amounts from audiophiles? Anyway, this podcast, "Dad Rock", comes out from USA Today, and it's surprisingly good. Congenial, comfortable, and entertaining, it occupies the same conversational tone and space that, say, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton hits on NPR's "All Songs Considered." But the major difference, which is interesting, is that the hosts, Jim Lenahan and Patrick Foster, make explicit what's implicit in something like All Songs Considered: the dad-ness. The oldness. The ageness. The sage-ness. Which is great, because once you get past the initial humor of it, it's just oodles of fun if you can vibe to it.

This episode, in particular, is the epitome of dad-idity. Co-host Lenahan brings on his two young kids, and they talk about, well, songs kids are into these days. It's great, if not a little shaggy. 

"Living the Dream." So, I'm not the most bullish on fictional podcasts (audio dramas, radio plays, sonic theater, whatever you want to call it). I can't quite put my finger down on why, but I think there are two broad parts to this. The first is that, speaking frankly, I have a fairly strong personal bias against the very literal feeling of performativity that comes out of theater folks, particularly but not exclusively in the cadence of their speech, that's infinitely amplified in a radio play — which is when it's being mainlined into your ear. I just can't connect to that... artifice, to call it something, in any emotionally meaningful way. This leads to the second part: maybe radio plays exist to satisfy another region of the aural taste palette, but a region that I, as a very specific individual listener, am just not looking to cultivate when I listen to podcasts. I tend to look for a viscerality, an acuteness sense of reality, a means to feel part of the larger world around me. And I totally get that this is a very specific impulse, and that it's not fair to the very talented audio producers who do make radio plays.

But that's not to say I'm completely uninterested in the form. I have heard radio plays that I've really liked in the past. KCRW's The Organist had a really interesting segment, written by Jesse Ball and performed by Greta Gerwig and Whip Hubley, called "A Funeral For Everyone I Knew", that worked on a couple of levels for me, specifically Gerwig's very flow-y performance. I am a passing fan of Welcome to Night Vale, which I tend to appreciate more for its context than its content, but has moved me in the past. And the spoken performances in This American Life, in which an author reads out her or his' own work of fiction, have also been worthwhile listens for me.

Anyway, I'm spending more time exploring this genre because I'd rather be an informed hater than an uninformed speculator. This story, "Living the Dream" from Radiotopia's The Truth podcast, has stood to me as being particularly interesting because it feels like the cleanest embodiment of the logic that's behind a good swathe of fictional podcast pieces I've heard in the past. I can't quite articulate fully, but there seems to be a dominant arc to these things — situation, set-up, turn, build-up, punchline — that makes them feel structurally akin to jokes. When I expressed this to a friend, she asked: "Did you take an English class in college?" No, I said, I did not. Because, she continues to explain, that's the basic structure of a short story. Oh. I don't read that many short stories. "Do all short stories feel the same?" I asked her, naively. 

The early ones do, she replied.


Dylan Love, a gangly man of brotherly proportions and reporter at The Daily Dot, writes in with this plug that I've never actually tested, but will soon:
Hot damn and hell yeah. People need to listen to ‘Drunk Ex-Pastors.’ It’s about religion, sure, but it’s about everything else too.

These two guys in Washington state—Jason Stellman and Christian Kingery—tell stories about their experiences in and out of the church that reek of oversharing, but it’s delightful oversharing that I so far can’t get enough of. Also they drink a bunch of booze during every episode.

Thinking with any sort of religious/metaphysical bent is too easily pigeonholed as wacko fundamentalism, but these guys turn that notion on its ear. They are just as likely to talk about the fruits of the spirit as they are to make glad reference to Washington's recreational marijuana laws. They’re cool dudes.

Those who attend a church will benefit from the non-God talk. Those who don’t will benefit from hearing two disillusioned former pastors talk about what it’s like. Episode #25 makes a perfect onboarding for new listeners.

profiled these guys in depth for the Daily Dot.

Also, I haven't checked in on craft podcasts for a while, but Christina Loff, who works at something called Creative Live, wrote in plugging her blog post that rounds up a couple of her craft podcast picks. Check it out here.


Podcast as texts. So, here's something interesting that's been popping up in my stream: podcasts being written up as articles. The most prominent example of this is whatever set-up Gimlet's Reply All has going on with the digital media curation site Digg, in which Reply All episodes are hyped by what are essentially textual teasers. (Here's one example, based on their most recent episode with Jon Ronson, and here's another one, based on the episode guest-produced by the great Jonathan Goldstein). They look like similar to show-notes that commonly accompany podcast episodes, albeit souped up and portrayed as full articles that stitch together the raw material used in the reporting of a given episode.

Another example in recent days: Quartz's write-up of an episode of Gastropod, a podcast about food (!!), about the role of cheese in Western Civilization. This adaptation is played as a more straight-forward blog post, but sub-headers and traditional bylines and everything. 

I like this a lot. I've always loved re-adaptations of stories for other mediums, because if it's a good story, repackaging it in a bunch of different ways gives the story more legs (or sets of legs) and more opportunities for different segments of audiences to engage with it. We already see a form of this in podcasting: for example, Snap Judgment produces whole stories based on completed book or magazine articles, and, as mentioned up in the "Listens" sections, This American Life records readings of short fiction. 

In those situations, it's a trans-media movement that benefits the book or the magazine article. But what's being hinted at there, with Gastropod and Reply-All, is movement that benefits the podcast — and thus the podcasters. This multimedia-ness is very interesting, and it plays into this larger idea of distributed content being the future of.... digital media, content, whatever the fucking buzzword is these days. I hope it continues to become a legitimate thing

Another observation: Digg appears to be well positioned to handle those trans/multi-media transfers. Just sayin'.

The second comedy boomVulture has a lovely profile on how the internet play into where the American comedy industry is these days — and it orients podcasting within the core pillar holding up all of this. It quotes the CEO of Midroll (a "digital podcasting company"), Adam Sachs, himself serving money quote: "many comedians could survive today with the revenue from their podcasts alone." Interesting.

Anyway, related reading: this New Yorker's 2013 piece on how podcasts "conquered" comedy. Plugged it once, and hell, I'll plug it again.

NPR's Podcasting Strategy. Fascinating write-up by Poynter here, and it contains sketches of a bunch of the core moves that NPR pulled to tighten, refine, and strengthen its podcasting game. These include: trimming out the fat, building out a directory, rapid experimentation. Also worth paying attention to: an audience development tactic that, to no small extent, relies on the influence of Ira Glass, which of course isn't sustainable, but should be goosed for as long he reigns the space (and oh does he reign the space). 

A multi-generational panel on podcasting. And boy, do I mean multi-generational. This week's Mediatwit's episode, from PBS Mediashift, features Panoply's Andy Bowers, BuzzFeed's Jenna Weiss-Berman, and PodShow's Aaron Burcell. (PodShow being one of the OG networks in the space). 

If you haven't gotten enough about people talking about podcasts and is it a boom and where is it going and where's my money, check it out.

Just dropping this here:

A lot is packed into this. I would unspool it, but I haven't had breakfast yet. I will, however, say this: never play down how important ESPN and comedy are to this space.

Internships: For all you college students in the Hot Pod crowd: Reply All is looking for a paid intern, and so is the Gist. I've been to both offices, and I tell ya: those handmade recording booths are great to sleep in when nobody's looking.

Remember that one time I asked y'all how you listened to podcasts? Well, the fine folks over at Audiosear.ch embarked on a similar data call, and you can check out their results here. Their n-size isn't particularly being, but hell, neither was mine. The findings are broadly consistent with mine, however: listening behavior seems to skew towards the more traditional methods of consumption, implying an extreme difficulty among newer podcasting solutions to cultivate stronger audiences.

Other podcast newsletters! A fair warning, dear readers: there may — not will, but may — come a time when I will no longer write these newsletters for some reason or another. Maybe things get too busy at work, or maybe the responsibilities of family and marriage become too acute, or maybe I finally move to California (who writes newsletters in California?), or maybe I finally get into podcasting myself and it feels too wrong to convert Hot Pod into a vessel of ~~marketing~~ and ~~commerce~~ — or maybe I just get bored with the whole thing. I mean, it doesn't look like any of those things will happen anytime soon (famous last words), but just in case, here are a few newsletters for you to develop a loving relationship with and keep on the back-burner, in case we ever break up:

Sam Greenspan's You Should Listen To Friday <--- actual radio producer, for 99% Invisible
Sara Weber's Adolescence is a Marketing Tool <--- actual journalist
The Podcast Broadcast <--- I don't actually subscribe to this, but I've been told people like it

Of course, there's also The Timbre, which isn't a newsletter, and those folks have been running pretty hard to make a good digital magazine site about podcasts. Check it out.

No third section this week! I had originally intended to write something about This American Life and, in particular, its recent segment called "Favorite," because it's about Malaysia (or a Malaysian experience), and I'm from Malaysia, and I tell ya, it's quite a remarkable thing to hear your experience, as an outsider, reflected on This American Life. And I have feelings.
But I've gotten a little rusty at writing these things at a weekly clip, so I'll do it next week.
Hey folks!

Great to see y'all again. Yeah so I wasn't really on vacation this past two weeks. Why should I? Vacations are painful. Flip flops hurt my feet. Sweatpants are too sweaty. Sightseeing hurts my eyes. Why hike when bears
. Sleeping takes too much time. Cruises take place over water, which is not good. Beaches take place by the water, which is also not good. 

But I did get a cheap massage, and that was good.

A couple of housekeeping things:
  • Hot Pod is back on its regular schedule, but it's going to be shorter from now on. I had a lot more.... free time, one could say, at my last job, and this is not so with this new one, and that's great. It'll probably also be great for Hot Pod, because, damn, those early newsletters were suuuper shaggy. So, here's to tightness.
  • I've gotten a bunch of emails over the past couple of weeks asking me if, given my new employment at BuzzFeed, whether there's some sort of conflict of interest here now that BuzzFeed has just launched its own podcasts. My answer to that is straightforward: Nah. I'm not involved at all with that part of the office — they sit over there, while I sit over here — and, as far as I'm concerned, there are no plans to get me involved and I have no current plans to do so. But I do take the point about bias in reviews, so here's my quick take: This newsletter is, by all means, not connected at all to BuzzFeed, and I take this newsletter pretty darn seriously. So, I'll review BF podcasts however the hell I want, unless it gets me fired. 
Another housekeeping thing: I was recently on the Financial Times's Alphacast podcast talking about podcasts. I haven't listened to it yet, and I don't think I will because hearing myself creeps me out way too much. But if you're interested, check it out.

Aight, I'm out.

Hot Pod was written by me, Nick Quah. Leah Koenig did the name. Hallie Bateman did the art. Nobody copy edits, because this literally isn't a thing.