Busting The Myth Of Podcast Exceptionalism
Making a podcast is a lot of things. Hard. Rewarding. Fun. But there’s one thing making a podcast is not: Exceptional. The sooner you come to grips with that harsh reality, the better for your podcast.
Podcasting is not special. As evidenced by the 1 million shows listed in Apple Podcasts, it’s no great feat to make a podcast. For the vast majority of valid shows available, heroic efforts were not required.
It’s getting easier every day to make a podcast. Yet the act is shrouded in a sea of exceptionalism. Not from the general public or a pool of would-be-listeners. No, the shroud of exceptionalism I’m speaking of comes from within the podcasting community.
Podcasting has always had a strong sense of community among creators. For every podcaster who views other podcasters as competition, I can find a dozen who view other podcasters as comrades in arms. Or pick a less-militaristic metaphor if you like. The point is, we tend to be a supportive bunch.
Keep Podcasting Easy!
Also, it’s important for me to point out that I’m all-in with anyone who wants to start a podcast. I’m happy there’s a wealth of cheap and free options that enable curious people to explore our medium by making their own show. I’m glad that everyone has a microphone in their pocket. And I’m glad that there are practically unlimited “how to get started podcasting on the cheap” resources available.
So we’re clear: I'm not suggesting that it be made harder to create a podcast. I’m not suggesting that we institute gatekeepers who determine who can and who cannot have a podcast.
I'm just saying (and I hate sentences that start with that phrase) that the act of having a podcast is not exceptional.
Creative Endeavors Are Rarely Exceptional
Podcasting isn’t the only creative art where that harsh statement applies. I'm a published author with five books to my credit. Before I wrote my first one book I assumed writing a book must be a difficult thing. In fact, if found writing a book was a difficult thing. requiring time, energy, and effort to hammer out the words.
But in hindsight, it was just putting words on paper. Or pressing keys so that words appeared on screen, I suppose. As any other published author will confess to you, it’s often hard, scary, and frustrating to write a book. But writing the book -- the first draft, especially -- wasn't anything exceptional.
I’m also a washed-up musician who’s written a dozen songs and appeared on half-a-dozen professionally recorded and produced albums. There were lots of parts of the music process that are hard, for sure. It takes a lot of perseverance and sacrifice to put out a self-funded album. But it doesn’t take exceptionalism.
The same goes for photographers, artists, and every other creative person out there. None of those creative pursuits require exceptionalism.
Creative pursuits also do not require community, but community sure is helpful when you’re just getting started and doubting yourself. A lot. Luckily for those who need it, there are podcast-specific support communities and community-minded people all over the internet. I think it’s great that these communities exist, because I know that many people need encouragement early on. They need other people to celebrate wins with them. They need a safe space where they can get (mostly) nonjudgmental assistance.
Social Distance That High-Five, Podcaster
But there’s a dark underbelly in all that collective high-fiving. It’s easy to assume that since all these nice people in this community are gushing with praise that every new person who listens to your podcast will also be amazed at your exceptional output.
They won’t. Because, chances are, your podcast is not exceptional.
It's great that you're exploring a creative pursuit. It’s great that you’re having fun as you create your content. It's great that the effort, pain, and, suffering you went through during the process feels rewarding to you.
But that doesn't make your podcast exceptional. It just makes it important to you.
And maybe that's all that it needs to be?
If the hard work required was rewarding to you and fun... isn’t that enough? Does it need it to be exceptional to anybody else but you?
This big kumbaya hug we’ve developed in the podcasting community -- of which I've been a part of and encouraged -- is vexing. I’m concerned that we’re confusing worthy-of-effort with worthy-of-praise. And I don’t think I’m alone with these concerns. I think that even the biggest cheerleaders who encourage new podcasters are secretly worried that they’re encouraging bad behavior. I think they react with dismay when, after getting lavish praise for an early effort, the newbie podcaster wants to move immediately to promotion and monetization.
Perhaps that’s why I’m circumspect with praise. I’m OK with encouraging people to create something. But I can’t evaluate that creation on its merits. The creator gets to define success criteria, not me. And once the podcast goes out to the world. It’s judged by those who discover it, people who will likely be a lot less forgiving.
Sturgeon's law applies in all things, and no one likes to discover that their baby is ugly.
But who’s to say what constitutes a beautiful baby? Again, you decide. If you find podcasting hard, rewarding, and fun for you; keep podcasting. There’s plenty of room.
Just remember that making a podcast is nothing special. Hundreds of thousands of people have done it.
After That Buzzkill, I Have The Audacity To Ask For Your Help?
I know this article was a little harsh. But sometimes harsh things need to be said. No, I don’t think you should send this episode to a brand new podcaster just because you didn’t like their first episode. That’s just mean. But I do hope that you’ll share Podcast Pontifications with that new person so they can keep the future of podcasting in mind.
And if you like the harsh dose of reality I bring from time to time to the program, throw me a little support over at BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra.
Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday. I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.