A Newbie-Friendly Guide To Podcasts

Newbie's Guide of Podcasts Cover v4

Podcasts are an awesome way of consuming information and entertainment. Like an IV stuck to your arm, podcasts provide the rawest and freshest content straight to your ears for your listening pleasure. Admittedly, for the last two years, I’ve grown to be more dependent on the format. I’ve substituted my sound trips with binges of Hello, From The Magic Tavern, Podcast Beyond or The Read. Reading books, unfortunately, replaced with listening to 99% Invisible, Radiolab and The Allusionist. It’s just a convenient way of consuming content.

Interestingly, podcasts are proving to be a viable medium in the US. In an article posted by AdWeek last week, “nearly one in five Americans in the 18-49 demographic listen to podcasts at least once a month”. It’s not surprising, therefore, that most media outlets have started their own podcast channels; the likes of CNN, Time, WWEThe New Yorker having established channels while MTV recently joining the game. Also from last week, famed author, Malcolm Gladwell, announced that his next project will be a podcast; joining the slew of celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Marc Maron and Stone Cold Steve Austin also making waves as podcasters.  The aforementioned AdWeek article also included a recently conducted study pointing out that people are more receptive to ads in podcasts. It’s a good indication for the medium that brands are becoming more and more interested in investing in it.

However, podcasts and podcasting have yet to take off in the Philippines. Our Awesome Planet listed 2014 as the year of the podcast for the Philippines but has yet to materialize. On the content creator side, the local podcast scene is currently filled by independent podcasters; the likes of Podcast.ph, Good Times With Mo, New Media Factory, and Becky Nights topping the iTunes charts. None of the three major media outlets, have yet to fully utilize the medium. Rappler, so far, is the only major media outlet creating content for podcasts. While on the listener side, just based on podcast plays on soundcloud, consuming podcasts haven’t been as ubiquitous as the medium is in America. For a country with almost half of its population having internet access, it saddens me to think that an informative and entertaining medium such as the podcast is underutilized in the Philippines.

Which brings me to my point: I’d like to convince you, dear reader, to start listening to podcasts. It is such a promising medium that it would be a waste for you not to at least try listening to one. Take this read as my pitch.

What are podcasts?

I won’t go into the origins of the term because it’s fuzzy but a podcast, basically, is a newsletter service in audio or video format for your phone, tablet or computer. Subscribing to a podcast channel ensures you to receive the freshest episodes as soon as it’s uploaded by the creator. It’s similar to how you’re instantly notified when a person you follow shares or posts something on Facebook or Twitter.

Typically, podcast channels upload episodes on a certain schedule; most on a weekly basis, while a few upload bi-weekly.

Podcasts can be streamed online or downloaded to your device. Personally, I prefer using podcast apps (like Overcast, Podcast Addict or Apple’s Podcasts app) on my phone where I can search and subscribe to channels, directly download episodes, and then listen to them anytime anywhere. Recently, audio streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud have opened their platforms to podcast channels making streaming much more accessible.

Though it might be an unfamiliar term to us Filipinos, consuming podcasts aren’t any different from how we consume mainstream content online.

Image source: relatably.com


What makes podcasts different from other media?

Podcasts are insanely cheap to produce. All you really need are a mic, computer, recording/editing software and a steady internet connection and you’re set. In addition, podcasts don’t have a governing body that regulates and evaluates content like an FCC, MTRCB or ESRB. Hence, it’s not surprising that podcasting is a more robust medium than traditional media. And because of this basic difference, stems podcast’s additional advantages over other media:

  • Freedom in content: Podcasts provide unrivaled scope and depth in its content. Anyone can make a podcast on just any topic. It can be as broad as daily world news, politics or pop culture to single-topic podcasts about Tom Hanks, WWE wrestling or Game of Thrones.
  • Freedom in format:  There’s no prescribed format for podcasts. Sure most  use the proven roundtable discussion approach but some of the truly entertaining podcasts are those that play around with its format. For starters, there’s the serious journalistic approach made famous by podcasts such as This American Life, Radiolab and Serial that try to weave a story to a specific topic. There’s also the fictional storytelling podcasts such as Welcome To Nightvale, Thrilling Adventure Hour and The Black Tapes Podcast. For more unique formats, Hello, From The Magic Tavern mixes storytelling, world-building with improvised comedy. My Dad Wrote A Porno playfully lambastes an erotica book written by the elderly father of one of the hosts. Basically, any audio recording can be considered a podcast.
  • Low buy-in: almost all podcasts channels are free giving you a plethora for your access. Podcasters earn from advertisements and listener donations rather than putting up paywalls. All you need as a consumer is a device that can play audio files and an internet connection

There’s something in the direct and open nature of a podcast that makes it an intimate medium to consume. Having no regulatory bodies to censor work, the podcast feels like an unfiltered transmission of information from the creator to the consumer. It’s a celebration of free discourse in the digital age.

Should I consume audio or video podcasts?

Podcasts are usually audio-only but some creators also release a video version of an episode, like Mo Twister with his Good Times With Mo Podcast or Kinda Funny with their Playstation podcast. Video podcasts are preferred by some consumers  but I don’t find any value add in also watching the hosts talk around a table. Personally, I prefer audio podcasts as it frees me up to do other stuff like commuting, travelling, or playing video games.

And truth be told, it’s a better activity partner than listening to music. Instead of looping your Spotify playlists for an hour stuck in traffic, why not listen to a discussion about On The Wings Of Love? Music is a good activity partner when you need motivation, like doing exercise or pumping up for an interview; but for lax and dull moments, podcasts are a better option.

How can I listen to podcasts?

Like I said, subscribing and listening to a podcast follows the same process of following a person on social media:

How To Follow A Podcast v2

Of course, you still need to download the podcast app first. iPhones already have the Podcasts app pre-installed; although I’d advise you to still download the Overcast app for a better user experience. For Android phone users, the one I can recommend is the Podcast Addict app. It’s simple enough to use but still offers a wide-variety of options to tweak it to your liking.

Each of the apps I’ve mentioned also includes a podcast recommendations feature so you can check the top podcasts for each general interest like arts, comedy and sports and recreation. This is a convenient way of searching for podcasts when you’re unsure yet on what to listen to.

What podcasts should I listen to?

There are so many podcasts in the internet that a newbie might find it confusing to pick what to listen to. Here’s a list of the podcasts I can vouch to be top quality:

For all your pop-culture needs:

  • Channel 33: Formerly known as the Grantland Pop Culture Podcast feed, Channel 33 serves multiple podcast shows in one channel. Each week, you’re sure to get podcasts on pop culture, wrestling, tech AND the all important recap podcast for The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Channel 33’s style of podcasting is casual, light and organic making it an easy listen.
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour: A weekly pop-culture podcast from NPR. If you’re looking for a calm, organized yet in-depth discussion on the latest TV shows, films, music and pop culture trends, this is the show for you.

When you’re in need of a good story:

  • Hello, From The Magic Tavern: A podcast in the fictional land of Foon. Arnie interviews the different creatures and personalities of Foon with the help of his co-hosts Eusidore the blue wizard and Chunt the talking badger. What makes HFTMT different is that it tries to tell a continuous narrative even though every detail is actually improvised. Each succeeding episode builds on the improvised lore from the previous episodes making Foon such a messed up and magical place. Subscribe to this podcast when you just want some quality improvised comedy.
  • The Black Tapes Podcast: Horror’s a tricky genre to accomplish using just audio. Without any visuals, listeners have to rely heavily on the narration and their imagination to provide the scares. The Black Tapes Podcast is horror done right. More The Blair Witch Project than Gabi Ng Lagim in quality and execution; join Alex Reagan as she tries to uncover the secrets behind paranormal skeptic, Richard Strand’s, black tapes. Listen to this podcast if you need a creepy atmospheric scare.
  • Modern Love: Straight from the pages of The New York Times,  Modern Love (the podcast) asks celebrities to read out submitted essays about love and loss from the Modern Love (the newspaper column).
  • Serial: The podcast that reinvigorated the True Crime genre in pop culture, Serial focuses on a case each season. Its sensational first season introduced us to the cold case of Adnan Syed while the second season tried to prod further the high profile case of Bowe Bergdahl. The show’s host, Sarah Koenig, a veteran journalist, masterfully weaves a story  toeach episode that can mesmerize listeners even without video.

A substitute to your sound trip:

  • All Songs Considered: One of the longest-running podcasts in the world, All Songs Considered serves fresh music every week; from unsigned bands to your established artists.
  • Song Exploder: Each episode of Song Exploder explores the creative process behind a song, breaking down the stories of each of its ingredients. The pod also covers a range of songs from mainstream and indie artists.

Other links you might want to check for other recommendations:

A Newbie-Friendly Guide To Podcasts

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