I have a confession to make: I do not really understand why people listen to live podcasts. I understand why people make them — they’re a great source of revenue, because they enable you to charge people money to watch you do what you do anyway, ie talking into microphones and recording your show. Beyond securing a venue, the overheads are pretty low, so the profit for the podcaster will generally be pretty good. I haven’t been to many live recordings myself, for reasons we will get to in a second, but I can see how it would be a fun night out for the people in the room.
The part that baffles me is what happens afterwards, where the podcaster sticks the live recording of the show on their feed, either as a ‘bonus’ or in place of a regular episode. I’m generalising, I know, but the sound quality is usually poor, the balance between speakers and audience wrong, and because the show is less scripted and unedited, it’s often a frustrating listen. My heart sinks when I see a live show pop up in the feed of a podcast I love. Call me a curmudgeon, but I just don’t really understand why you would pay money to be in the room for a less good version of something you usually get for free.
But I am clearly in a minority on this one, because live podcasts are really popular. Just this week, the My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast announced a date at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats about 5,000 people (apparently, it’ll be the world’s biggest podcast gig to date). They’ve already sold out gigs all over the world, and I’m sure will do the same with this one.
Hypocrite that I am, I’ve even done a live episode myself — last year, my podcast SRSLY was part of the London Podcast Festival. I was convinced that nobody would listen to the show back, so we put all our energy into making it a good performance for the people in the room, with lots of questions and comments from the audience that we thought wouldn’t really translate if you were listening after the fact. Yet when we put it on our feed, it almost immediately became one of the most popular shows we released all year, despite the fact that the audience questions are quite muffled and we’re talking off the cuff (with em, like, yes, all our verbal tics out in full force).
So I am obviously missing something, and I would like to know what it is. Having thought about it a lot this week, I’ve come up with a few thoughts as to why people like live podcasts, despite their obvious flaws and limitations:
Being physically part of the usually intangible community around the podcast
People in the business talk a lot about podcasts’ unparalelled ability to assemble a loyal fanbase and keep it engaged. Usually, the only way to connect with other devotees is online, via social media or on the podcast itself, but at a live show, you can actually meet them. (In our case, it was just fun to see just how many young women with brown hair listen to our podcast. It is a lot.)
Experiencing the “congenial familiarity” of a podcast in person, rather than in your headphones
This interesting piece from NPR I think nails why listeners feel so connected to podcast hosts who they have never actually met:
“Listening to a favorite podcast — whether you do it over the course of years, months or hours — engenders a powerful sense of intimacy. You come to know the hosts' tastes, their tics, the phrases they overuse. As they unthinkingly dole out tiny, incremental parcels of information about their personal lives — a new baby here, a beloved pet's passing there — you realize one day that your brain has unthinkingly constructed exhaustive virtual dossiers on each of them.”
If Glen Weldon is right, and podcasts encourage you to indulge in imaginary friendships with their hosts, it makes sense that you would like to see them in person as well, and maybe take your friendship to the next (real) level by actually having a human interaction with them.
A live event is a unique experience
So this one doesn’t really explain why people like listening back to the live shows afterwards (although maybe it’s vicarious participation?), but I think we can safely borrow a trend from the music industry, where as early as 2009 live shows started outselling recorded albums. People will shell out for an experience that can’t be replicated again, which they can photograph and tweet about and tell their colleagues about afterwards. A live podcast is really fulfilling the same function, especially if (as I know is the case with some canny podcasters of my acquaintance) the content of the show is live-only, and never appears elsewhere or on the podcast’s feed. If you want to hear that particular episode, you have to buy a ticket to that show, or you’ll miss out.
So those are my theories as to why I’m wrong about live podcasts. If you listen to or make them and have thoughts, though, I would love to hear them — let me know on email@example.com or @c_crampton on Twitter — I’m very much still working out my thinking on this.
I’ll finish up with five links to podcast-related things around the web I’ve come across and which you might find interesting.
The BBC thinks podcasts are the future – but do listeners agree? (Daily Telegraph)
The Podcasting Boom Explained (Visual Capitalist)
Podcasting — the platform battle (Medium)
That’s all for today. I’ll be back next Tuesday with more — email me on firstname.lastname@example.org in the meantime if you have any thoughts about what you might like me to cover in future.