You Will Create the Next Great Indie Art Form

Serial’s been exalted, overhyped, defended, buried, and burned. But listen carefully and you can hear the beginning of a podcast revolution.

By Stewart Butterfield

Illustration by Ana Benaroya

Audio is an interesting medium to me: Your eyes are free to do something else, and you could be physically doing something else — you could be walking, you could be commuting, or you could be playing a video game. I just always liked radio when I was a kid: I used to listen to AM stations from thousands of miles away at night; I could listen to San Francisco stations in Victoria, British Columbia. Now time-shifting allows a natural outlet for people’s creativity, and there’s just so much good shit.

I like Serial just like everyone else, but there’s a Radiotopia show called Love + Radio, and another one called The Truth. They’re both mostly unstructured, sometimes introducing real people and sometimes fictional, and neither of them come with any narrative framing before you start. Someone just starts talking and it takes you several minutes to piece together what the context is, who’s talking to who, whether this is a natural interview or a recording of a phone conversation, and then you finally start to get it.

Think about the indie game phenomenon, or the individual YouTube stars, and independent film. I think, for radio, there’s a bigger set of possibilities for people to express themselves because its mono-modal, and because it’s simpler and easier to produce. One person can create a really fantastic radio show, whereas one person cannot really create a fantastic video game.

Stewart Butterfield is the CEO of Slack. — As told to Bobbie Johnson