Shorter print version - full report

A podcasting renaissance

PODCASTING is back! Speaking at the July LFB meeting was Lily Ames (@LilyAmes), who earns a living podcasting. She set up the UK Audio Network email list for those working in audio - podcasting in particular. The podcasting industry has become "huge... this year it's exploded," reports Lily.

Lily Ames; Photo: Matt Salusbury

Lily Ames (right) takes a question from the audience after Francesca Marchese (left) introduced her

The New York Times podcast The Daily is the newspaper group's biggest single revenue stream. Now 85 per cent of advertising agencies have podcast in their strategy. Netflix has just announced a stream of podcasts of directors' commentary to join its existing podcasting strands.

University departments are entering podcasting, observed LFB Chair Pennie Quinton. They see podcasts as an effective way of sharing the impact of their research to generate more funding.

Lily worked for Canadian broadcaster CBC until a "huge round of cuts". Making use of her British passport, she came to London. While North America has a strong culture of email discussion, none existed when Lily arrived in London. "Frank conversations about money" for audio work were particularly lacking.

So from "my own need to get paid and to grow the industry," Lily set up UK Audio Network. It's "not just for freelances": it's also "for commissioners, big outlets like Audible and Spotify," together in one email network. It now has over 1000 people.

UK Audio Network rules include no pitching, please. It tries really hard to get commissioning editors to be clear about how to pitch to them, says Lily. If people offer just £75 for a job, other list users will tell them, "you shouldn't do that."

Much of the work coming the way of freelances at short notice via UK Audio Network is along these lines: "Is anybody available to do a tape synch at London Fields tomorrow?" Tape synch is the "unsexiest" category of audio work - "interview one guest, just hold the recorder".

There are so many tape-synch gigs because podcasting is "very story-driven": interviewees tell their stories in their homes or wherever they feel comfortable, not in a studio. Lily says you can survive on tape synch gigs - but that's not a career.

Voice-activated speakers in the home, such as Amazon's Alexa, will change audio and podcast work significantly, although it's still hard to say how. Some are already asking whether journalists can play a rôle in providing content for distribution in the home via a smart speaker.

And what about training? Lily recommends approaching someone who's already producing podcasts and collaborating with them. The Transom website for podcasters includes a podcast on podcasting.

UK Audio Network's recent rates card shows typical day rates are around £150. There's more money to be had in consulting, finding a big client whose hand needs holding through the whole podcasting process - a university or a household name gallery, for example.