Kicking off the Google Podcasts creator program

Fourteen podcasters representing five countries and three continents converged at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston at the end of January. Chosen from thousands of applications from over 100 countries, the first-ever cohort of the Google Podcasts creator program kicked off their 20-week training journey with what we call “bootcamp.” It lived up to the name.

Bootcamp in action: (From top left) Aida Holly-Nambi (AfroQueer), Ramsey Tesdell, Patrick Epino and Paola Mardo (Long Distance), Michael Aquino (Timestorm), Aseloka Smith (The Colored Girl Beautiful) and Maeve Frances (AfroQueer).

Welcome to Bootcamp: A week of hard work, insightful talks, and lots and lots of feedback

Over the five days, the teams drilled down on the fundamentals of human-centered design, an approach core to our training program that prioritizes understanding their listeners (more on that below), brainstorming and moving quickly to test ideas and learn from feedback. They exercised some new problem-solving muscles, made Herculean efforts at eating all of the yummy food we ordered and mastered a New England classic, candlepin bowling. We don’t call this first week “bootcamp” for nothing.

We were joined by Ramsey Tesdell of the Arabic podcast network Sowt and Paula Scarpin of the Rio de Janeiro-based Rádio Piauí, who participated in the training and shared insights into the burgeoning podcasting scenes in the Middle East and Brazil, respectively.

Ramsey Tesdell and Paula Scarpin

Later in the week, a series of special guests dropped by to share their expertise and welcome our teams into the larger podcasting community. Zack Reneau-Wedeen, Product Manager for Google Podcasts, shared the origins of the creator program as well as some sneak previews of what’s in store for the Google Podcasts app in 2019. Jenna Weiss-Berman, co-founder of Pineapple Street Media and a co-chair of the program’s advisory team, spoke about the business realities of running a podcasting studio and gave insights into the creative decisions behind shows she’s worked on — from Buzzfeed’s Another Round to Pineapple Street’s Missing Richard Simmons. On Thursday night, the teams joined the larger Boston-area audio community at a talk on using music in podcasts with Noam Hassenfeld, a reporter and producer for Vox.com’s Today, Explained.

Jenna Weiss-Berman gives feedback at the Creative Review.

On Friday morning, each team gave presentations on their show concepts to a panel of podcasting and marketing experts representing PRX, RadioPublic, Vox.com and Pineapple Street Media. The panelists gave the teams feedback in what we call a Creative Review. It’s the first of four the teams will participate in throughout the training program.

In case you were wondering: Every. Single. Team. Rocked it.

Team Timestorm — Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino — present at the Creative Review.

The beginnings of an international podcasting community

At PRX, we think it’s important to acknowledge that podcasting can be a lonely business for independent creators. That’s especially true for those who hail from places where the podcast ecosystem doesn’t yet exist–where “podcasting” is far from a household name. Our aim is to encourage a strong bond among the participants in the creator program that we hope will continue beyond the 20 weeks of training.

Early signs show this is already happening. Camaraderie formed from the outset when we split everyone up into new teams for the first two and a half days of training. Throughout the week, we saw the participants connect over shared learnings and frustrations in their creation processes. And they found plenty of ways to lift each other up, such as by highlighting each other’s work on their social media feeds (#podcreator).

Paola Mardo (Long Distance), Melissa Tsuei (Who Taught You how to Drive?!), Martín Cruz (Las Raras) and Selly Thiam (AfroQueer)

This focus on community also extends to their audiences. We believe that if a podcast is designed for everyone, it’s really designed for no one. And so we encouraged each team to identify their distinct listeners — whether they’re part of the Filipino diaspora, the queer African community and its allies, children and families looking to learn about their Puerto Rican heritage, the Spanish-speaking community in Latin America and the U.S., black women wanting to examine modern beauty standards, or drivers dealing with road rage.

We then encouraged them to ask a fundamental question:

What unique need can we identify, and how can we use our podcast to meet that need in a meaningful way?

This is the challenge that will drive their work for the next 20 weeks.

What’s next for the creators?

We owe our teams a huge round of applause for overcoming jet lag, braving single-digit temperatures (sub-zero for those using Celsius) and for their seemingly indefatigable energy and enthusiasm in the face of every challenge we threw their way.

Feedback from Friday’s Creative Review in hand (think piles of Post-its), we sent everyone home to begin conducting empathy interviews with members of their intended audience. Along the way, we’ll be helping them out with check-ins and webinars. We look forward to seeing their early insights when they present on their progress next month. And on June 19, at our final showcase in Boston (save the date!), we’re excited to see how these insights will shape and inform their creations.

(From left to right) Dania Ramos, Kerry Donahue, Tezarah Wilkins, Aseloka Smith, Melissa Tsuei, Michael Aquino, Maeve Frances, Aida Holly-Nambi, Catalina May, Martín Cruz, Paola Mardo, Selly Thiam, Patrick Epino, Stephanie Kuo, Shaneez Tyndall, Lindsay Abrams, Ramsey Tesdell, Paula Scarpin and Mark Pagán.

Photo credits: Chris McIntosh, Beth Chambers, Shaneez Tyndall