Are you the producer?

What do you call someone who makes a podcast? A podcaster?

It isn’t quite as simple as that. As has been pointed out by this piece over at Bello Collective, people who work in radio and on-demand audio tend have a lot of different job titles — producer, editor, sound designer, etc — and there’s a lot of confusion about what they all mean in different contexts, especially once you factor in the broad spectrum between amateur and professional. (I can’t be the only person to have listened to the This American Life credits and wondered why there is only one “senior producer” and how that job is different to that of all the other people in the list of those who “produced today’s show”.)

Editor, for instance, can mean someone who helps to shape the narrative arc of an episode by working with scripts and transcribed interviews, or it can mean the person who actually makes the cuts in the audio files and digitally slots the whole thing together. The producer could be the person who manages the logistics of the show, booking guests, scouting recording locations and hiring equipment, or it could be a catch-all term for a solo operator, where one individual does everything from interviewing to mixing to marketing. Lots of legacy media organisations now have “audio producers” working in their newsrooms, and although these people are theoretically part of big teams, they might be expected to turn out multiple podcasts single-handed, as none of their colleagues have audio expertise.

I’ve found this to be a problem myself. At one place I work regularly, I’m called the “head of podcasts”. Somewhere else, I’m credited as producer. Once, it was “editorial support” that I provided. On another occasion, I was the “editor” while someone else was the “recorder”. The work didn’t really vary that much from place to place, but the way it was described and the status it was accorded really did.

And that is the reason all of this matters: status. I’ve had lots of conversations over the past few years with people (often younger people, who were quick to adapt to the audio boom and acquire the skills it demanded) who do what are undeniably complex, demanding jobs turning raw recordings into polished podcasts — usually in non-traditional broadcast or media organisations. Over and over again, they would look glum and say something like “it’s as if they think the episode pops out fully formed the second they stop speaking”.

That’s why it’s important to know what work the “producer” actually does. There’s a lot of money in podcasting now (duh), and the industry is growing. Celebrity-fronted shows are big business. And if there’s no easy way to refer to the roles of those who make it all happen, it’s much easier to minimise that work, or compensate it inadequately, or ignore it altogether.

A small live in person update: I’m leading a course/workshop on “writing for podcasts” at City Lit college in London on 9 and 10 August — there’s more information here if you’re interested in coming along.