Why are podcasts still so hard to make?

When I started bumpers.fm I wanted to call it Odeo. You can now download the app here.

A long time ago, my friend Jason and I made a podcast called Suschat. We recorded ourselves talking about current events for an hour, and then cut it down to five good minutes — we figured that was about as much good content anyone has in them in one go, and who has more than five minutes to spare anyway?

The first couple episodes of Suschat were fun to record, and our friends really liked them. But the editing process was grueling: even on a computer, cutting together audio is very similar to manipulating tape, and almost as tedious. Once you find a part you like, you have to find its exact edges, then isolate and paste it next to the last clip you cut out. You do this over and over and over again, listening for pace and continuity, listening to your own jokes on an endless loop.

My memory is basically four hours of just saying “what the fuck” as I sat there listening, relistening, cutting, relistening, cutting again, listening a final time, all for a 30 second clip.

Jason and I were continually blown away at how inefficient the process felt. “We know which part we want,” one of us would say.

“Why can’t we just say, ‘There, that one’?”

Years went by, and in a gap between employments Jason and I wanted to work on a couple of different projects together. We helped people take what would later be called a screenshort with OneShot. We always planned to try and solve “the podcast problem” after, but understood it wouldn’t be easy. Then Jason went off to the White House, and I decided to see if I could reinvent how people make podcasts.

I wanted to name it Odeo. It seemed funny until I told its origin story to a non-tech friend. “So there is this guy named Ev, and he created Twitter, but before that he created a podcast company called Odeo,” I explained. “And that company was a lot like this company, but then they decided the podcast thing wasn’t working out and so they changed it into Twitter.” He responded, “We get it, Ian, you work in tech.”

I scrapped the idea of adopting Odeo’s name, but still wanted to hear what Ev thought. He’d obviously thought about podcasts a lot, not to mention helped invent the modern age of media. I wondered what his thoughts were on aligning the two.

Ev illustrated the major problem with podcasts by drawing an imaginary graph on the table with his fingers. He explained to me that if you charted how hard it is to make something by how much impact it can have on you and graphed different media types it would look like this:

A book would be in the top right quadrant. Really difficult to make, taking years, but a single book can change your life. Tweets are in the bottom left. Super easy to make but unlikely for an individual one to have impact so you make up with volume. Instagrams are closer to tweets, and professional photographs are closer to the middle. Ok, but podcasts are in the top left quadrant. They are incredibly difficult to produce and distribute, and more often than not an individual episode isn’t going to change your life. So you can either try to make them more impactful which is difficult or make them easier to create while maintaining their impact.

I would later steal this language verbatim, using it as my pitch. I drew Ev’s invisible graph on hundreds of tables, arguing that to make podcasts viable you had to simplify production by making it easier and faster for an average consumer to create them.

And so I set out to make editing and producing a podcast easier. To make recording and editing no harder than just relistening to it once, and ideally even easier than that.

I played around with a lot of tech the next couple of months and learned a lot about speech recognition. Finally it dawned on me that if the app did the cutting in between phrases automatically then all the user would have to do is select the sentences they wanted to cut or keep.

My original UI wasn’t great

Jacob Thornton, one of my closest friends who worked with me at Twitter, happened to be visiting New York and sitting next to me when I finally got a rudimentary prototype working. “It actually sounds pretty good,” he said. We were both surprised.

Jacob and I talked about what I had been working on. We discussed watching Vine for hours and how I play Clash of Clans for longer periods than I’ve ever played a game on a desktop. What if — in the way VSCO and Instagram simplified photo editing — we could make an approachable audio creation experience on mobile? One that helped the user express their ideas on tape without an advanced degree in audio engineering?

“Well if you want to do that, you definitely can’t have it be in landscape like your prototype because no one is going to use that.”

“Maybe you should design it,” I joked. And then I didn’t shut up about it for the rest of the trip. He soon after became my cofounder and is the driving force behind both the style and usability of the app.

Now it’s a year later, and with investments from Kevin at Spark Capital, Micah at Founder Collective, Alex and Nick at Notation Capital, Ev, Abdur and Kristen, we are finally releasing Bumpers.

The first step is to record something. It can be a conversation, a rant, an interview, anything you want. You can save the recording for later or start editing it immediately, it’s totally up to you.

Based on our original experience with editing podcasts we realized that you always want to cut the audio up by phrases. Most of the energy spent in classic editing software was finding the perfect boundary on the edges of a phrase to cut on.

We make the phone do this work for you.

That way all that energy can go into picking what you want to be included in the final episode just by tapping to mute sections that you don’t want. Maybe you went on a tangent or you messed up what you were trying to say. Or more likely it just isn’t relevant to what you decided you wanted to say in the end.

Then you pick a cover image and publish it. We take care of the hosting, the embedding, tracking listens and letting people subscribe to you. We do everything so you can focus on the part that is most exciting: the content of the episodes.

Some of our friends have already make some great Bumpers, which I’ve embedded below. But today is special because Bumpers is finally available in the Apple App Store. While we still consider ourselves to be in the early stages of the product’s lifecycle, we want to let anyone and everyone get their hands on a new way to effortlessly create spoken audio content.