Overheard at the Outlier Podcast Festival | SLC: Audience, Monetization, Networks
The Sundance Film Festival brought some of the biggest names in film to Park City, Utah, at the end of January. Down the road in Salt Lake City, the Outlier Podcast Festival brought some of the biggest names in podcasting together for two days of workshops, panels, and, above all, networking.
The event was held at the Pod Mill, a podcast studio and production company located in the City Creek Center. Outlier Co-Founder Arielle Nissenblatt emceed the event, and Pod Mill owner Spencer Wright provided logistics and technical support throughout the weekend.
The festivities began Jan. 24 with a keynote from Fatima Zaidi, Co-Founder and CEO of Quill, a marketplace that connects podcasters and freelancers. Zaidi challenged the notion that there are too many podcasts, noting that there are millions of blogs, websites, and YouTube channels and only about 850,000 podcasts.
To stand out from the crowd, she said, podcasters need to let their personalities shine through. This applies to solo podcasters and those working on behalf of a company or other organization.
“Make it your own and make it personal,” Zaidi said. “People don’t connect with carefully crafted scripts.”
Zaidi also touched on the need for diversity in podcasting, saying that the industry’s talent needs to look more like the listeners they serve, particularly in urban areas.
“Our podcasts need to sound like cities like Dubai, Shanghai, and Los Angeles,” Zaidi said.
In June, Quill will host the Listen In conference for podcasters who create shows on behalf of businesses or other organizations.
After Zaidi’s presentation, it was time for the EarBuds Pitch Competition, which has quickly become a tradition at Outlier events. Five prospective and early-stage podcasters took the floor to pitch their ideas for shows to a panel of judges that included Skye Pillsbury of the Inside Podcasting newsletter and Spencer Wright from The Pod Mill.
After hearing pitches on podcasts about everything from mental health to typewriter poetry, the judges chose Marcos Villagran, a barber in St. George, Utah, who plans to create a podcast called Beyond the Buzz where he captures the conversations that happen in the barber’s chair. The winner received a Hail PR40 Microphone, a Scarlett 2i2 interface from Focusrite, and much more.
To close out the evening, Alison Burns and Lulu Picart took the stage for a live recording of their show 10K Dollar Day, which they describe as an “imaginary luxury travel comedy podcast.”
Each episode features Burns and Picart answering the question, “What would you do if you had $10,000?” Both hosts have a background in acting and comedy, which comes through as they describe how they would spend the money.
In the episode recorded at Outlier, Burns chose $10,000 in Salt Lake City and Picart chose to spend it in Hanoi, Vietnam. They described zipline tours, animal painted wine glasses, and much more.
Each episode of 10K Dollar Day also gives listeners the opportunity to donate to a charity in the cities mentioned in the show. Burns chose Candy Cane Corner in Salt Lake City and Picart chose Blue Dragon in Hanoi.
Podcasting legend Evo Terra kicked off the second day of the festival Jan. 25 by asking the audience to consider whether podcasting was their “thing” or their “think.” He used his own family to explain what he means.
“My brother David is a pilot. It’s his thing and he’s always wanted to do it,” Terra said. “For me, on the other hand, podcasting is my think. It’s not singular and it’s one part of my career.”
You want your doctor to have medicine be their “thing,” or what they are most passionate about, while the same does not have to be true for most podcasters. A podcast can be something they do as one part of a business or other activities.
Terra said the question could also be framed as “Are you a podcaster or do you have a podcast?”
People who are podcasters are considered experts in the industry and usually wear multiple hats within it. On the other hand, people who have a podcast are subject matter experts or thought leaders in a particular field and might not engage as much with the podcasting community as a whole.
Terra considers himself to be a podcaster because he’s created more than a dozen of his own shows while also producing podcasts for others and consulting on industry trends. He said
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which side you come down on because both sides need each other,” Terra said.
Picking up on the theme from Zaidi’s keynote, several of the themes at Outlier SLC covered diversity in podcasting and how to increase the number of women and people of color in the industry.
“I’m not just the black woman in the room,” said Patricia Q. Jenkins, founder of The Podcast Maven. “Representation in the world relates to how we see ourselves. We have the opportunity to be represented out there.”
Branden Ushio, host of The Fandom Podcast, pointed out that the podcasting world is not immune from cultural stereotypes, even though individual podcasters speak for themselves on their shows.
“The way we’re treated influences the directions we go, but we all have different points of view,” Ushio said. “I’m not definitively speaking for Japanese men.”
Another theme at the event was the growth of independent podcast networks. Rae Palermo of Megaphone provided an overview of the company’s services for independent networks, and Wright shared the success he’s had building a network of podcasts in Salt Lake City.
Palermo said forming an independent network is a way for shows to work together for mutual benefit and see each other as collaborators, not competitors. If done well, the results can be massive.
“There’s a knitting network that does half a million downloads across its shows, Palermo said. “Networks are an open window right now for niche podcasts. “Audiences are hungry for the content, but they don’t know where to go to find it.”
Speaking of niche audiences, keynote speaker Jamin Brazil shared his success with monetizing the Happy Market Research podcast. His audience is smaller than what advertisers typically look for, but he speaks directly to a niche group of professionals who can directly benefit from his advertisers’ products and services.
Brazil also shared his insights on why listener surveys are critical to making any podcast better. All the class principles of market research apply to podcasting.
“Surveys are a way to understand what your users want,” Brazil said. “It’s not about you talking; it’s about you listening.”
The festival concluded with a keynote from Marine Powers, host of The Washington Post’s Post Reports. Powers discussed how to have a political podcast that sounds human — something that’s not easy to do in a media world filled with pundits carefully-crafted messages from politicians.
Powers shared several clips from the show and described how she balances asking tough questions with being personal and vulnerable during interviews.
This balance played out last summer when she interviewed former presidential candidate Seth Moulton at the Iowa State Fair. She asked Moulton about why his campaign continued even as he failed to gain traction among voters.
“You’re there to be real about what’s happening in the world,” Powers said. “They have lots of people in their lives to make them feel good. People deserve more than platitudes.”
Throughout the weekend, the festival provided an opportunity for podcasters and industry professionals in an intimate setting. The next Outlier Podcast Festivals will be held May 15–16th in Columbus and September 18–19th in North Adams, Massachusetts.