5 Takeaways from Werk It! (a Woman's Podcasting Festival) that Will Make You Rethink Podcasting
On October 3-5, WNYC Studios hosted Werk It! A Women's Podcast Festival, now in its 3rd year. The 3-day festival taking place in sunny Los Angeles, California welcomed 600 women throughout the U.S. and at least two other countries (shout out to Canada and Australia). Eager to learn from experienced podcasters, here are my 5 biggest takeaways.
1. Podcasting is exploding in a major way and big business has noticed.
With nearly 400,000 (!) podcasts currently on Apple Podcasts and listenership up 40% from 2015, it's no wonder that media companies are aggressively pursuing this medium. Panels were comprised of some of the most notable media companies in the industry including WNYC, NPR, Gimlet, Vox, Pineapple Street Media, PRX, and Crooked Media, dishing on everything from branding, launching, editing, pitching, monetization, and scoring. The room was filled with hands gliding furiously across lined pages of notebooks and cameras snapping pics of information nuggets on presentations projected overhead. Everyone is working to deliver the best content to new and existing sets of ears. It's easy to get lost in the sauce.
2. Hi, Goliath, nice to meet you. I'm David.
The room was filled with some big names and as an independent podcaster (something I never thought to call myself until I was at the Festival), the feelings of imposter syndrome definitely sprouted up a few (dozen) times. When I learned that only 1% of shows have more than 50K downloads, I caught myself saying. "I only have 16 weekly episodes of YOU WANNA DO WHAT?!" or peppering conversations with extra information like, this is a passion project, perhaps as a way to compensate for not having a team. Or, indirectly apologizing for my full-time job that prevents me from fully dedicating 100% of my workdays to podcasting. To be clear, no one made me feel this way, it is my internal struggle of working a corporate gig while pursuing this passion that creates this cocktail of emotion. I WANT to be like them, speaking on a panel as a creative entrepreneur that's kicking butt and affecting change.
3. It can be intimidating; prepare to doubt yourself.
By the final day of the festival, I had experienced various states of excitement, anxiety, joy and...doubt. There are women out here producing fantastic shows about topics ranging from women in television, black cinema, trauma, race, immigration, social reform, and more. Many work with teams to produce high quality content through storytelling, reporting, interviewing and scoring. My podcast is just me, although I will soon be releasing episodes where I interview others, and I model it after some of my favorite shows; podcasts that are intimate and perhaps considered "easier" to produce since they don't have to sift through hours of tape or audio to create a complete story. They are usually one or two people at a mic sharing their life with listeners. In the midst of hearing about others' podcasts, I began doubting my own. A chance encounter placed me in a elevator with two high-profile members of the industry repping, NPR and Pineapple Street Media. I used this time to ask them the question ruminating for 2 days, "what if my show isn't polished and sophisticated? Is there still a place for me?" In unison, they replied, "yes! of course!" and encouraged me to make the show I want to make because if I didn't, any other show wouldn't sound like me. It was the message I needed to hear.
4. Be as simple or complex as you want, but if the show doesn't sound good, you're toast.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, I was particularly struck by the presenters' use of sound and music in their shows. As a newbie in the space producing a weekly show as a one-woman army (like many of us), I can't imagine adding, editing and mixing the amount of music and effects I heard over the course of 3 days, on my own. However, It wasn't just the use of sound that elevated these podcasts into the next tier for me, it was how beautifully and thoughtfully mixed the finished product sounded. Admittedly, many of these samples have the luxury of professional teams assisting in the creation, but there were also independent women podcasters pitching their shows that weaved audio and sound into their episodes in remarkable ways. Props to them! However, the MOST important takeaway of all is to create a show that sounds GOOD. Invest in the proper microphone(s) and headphones, spend the extra time editing and mixing properly, and if you add music or effects, use it to complement your work and be mindful it doesn't distract from your message. Personally, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to score my show only to return to a key question, "what do I want MY show to be?" The only right way to produce a show is for it to feel true to you.
5. Connecting with professionals, creatives and peers IRL is cool! I need to do more of it.
As a gift to myself for completing my first Spartan Race, I used a week of vacation time from my 9-to-5 job to attend Werk It. I didn't know what to expect flying solo from NYC to Los Angeles and while I consider myself an extrovert, I am actually more introverted than I would like to admit. However, 3 days of chatting and connecting with women podcasters, editors, reporters and media professionals was more rewarding than I could have imagined. The collective energy and collaboration in the room listening to women share their stories, processes, and lessons was motivating and unifying. As Denise Bennett, one of the producers of the festival put it, "If this is not the start of World Domination, I don't know what is." Amen to that!
So, while I am a proud member of several wonderful Facebook and Twitter podcasting communities, (I got to hug Berry from Podcasts in Color, a podcasting advocate whom I met on Twitter months ago), I encourage everyone to find ways to connect with folks locally or if you can swing it, attend a reputable conference. It's so worth it!
I am so grateful to have attended the festival and met terrific women along the way. My podcast, YOU WANNA DO WHAT?!, takes the question, "what do you wanna be when you grow up?" and flips it on its head, week after week, by nudging people to try new things. I exited the final event of Werk It!, a live-taping of 2 Dope Queens, feeling inspired and certain that I'm ready for life as a creative entrepreneur. It only took me 30+ years and 3 days in Los Angeles (plus a hug from cool AF, Lena Waithe) to figure it out...but I figured it out.
Head over to WNYC Studios Facebook page to catch replays of workshops and events during the festival.
Where should we send the nudge you need to try new things?
Who's Monica? I am a self-proclaimed multi-potentialiate (just a fancy word for someone who has many interests), I used to think something must be wrong with me when people would encourage me to follow my passion but I couldn't settle on ONE thing. Why choose between travel, photography, sports, music, fitness and culture when instead I could create a podcast about all of it?
Fun has no age limit or expiration date. Don't believe me...just listen.