When Ayesha Barmania decided they wanted to start a podcast, they found a surprising lack of information about how, exactly, to do it. Despite the rising popularity of the new medium, few services existed to support new podcasters, and to answer some of the basic questions.
What makes a good podcast? How do you tell stories well in an audio medium? How do you edit audio and make something that sounds good? How do you get it on iTunes? And what exactly is an RSS feed?
Barmania came to podcasting with a leg up: they had journalism experience from working at Trent University’s Arthur. They also had radio storytelling experience, first at Trent Radio and then, through the Gzowski Internship, by spending a summer working at CBC Radio.
But even so, “it required a lot of Google. It was a lot of work, and I felt like I could give it back and make the process easier for other people.”
And so, Barmania started a new organization: Peterborough Independent Podcasters (PIP), to bring together the local podcasting community and help train the next generation of podcasters. Over a year later, PIP is a registered non-profit with a board of directors and an ever-growing paid membership.
PIP offers one-on-one mentoring to budding podcasters, as well as a range of skills workshops. They help people find their passion and their topic, and they teach the basics of audio storytelling, recording and editing audio, and the technical aspects of publishing podcasts to the internet.
But frequently, the most important skill to teach is basic confidence. “A lot of people, especially women and people of colour that I’ve reached out to, lack confidence in what they’re saying,” says Barmania. The internet can provide wonderful opportunities for groups that are normally excluded from the media landscape to stake their claim and tell their story—but Barmania also notes that, “if you’re putting yourself out there, you’re exposing yourself to a lot of trolls and hateful people who will send you their opinions. Even if it’s not forthcoming, there’s a fear of that happening that can wear away at the confidence of minority people.”
A number of podcasts have come out of this venture. Perhaps the most successful has been Muses & Stuff (which this magazine profiled in August 2017), where co-hosts and self-proclaimed groupies Chanty Lemieux and Lynx O’Leary profile the women behind rock idols. It has gained international listeners and was nominated for a TO WebFest Award.
Other shows include the Kawartha Small Business Podcast, where Lindsay-based entrepreneur Brian Rump profiles small businesses and entrepreneurs in the area; Soundproof, featuring audio documentaries from local filmmaker and artist Lester Alfonso; and Curator’s Corner, a podcast from local performing arts organization Public Energy.
One of the more exciting podcasts from PIP has been Peterborough Currents, hosted by Barmania and Will Pearson (a frequent Electric City Magazine contributor), featuring audio documentaries from various creators about Peterborough, its people, and its politics. “We wanted to make it into a collaborative thing,” says Barmania. “From PIP’s perspective, it offers a great resource for mentorship opportunities, for people who don’t want to dive right in with their own shows.”
Peterborough Currents just completed a five-episode pilot season, and will return in February, with a new, longer format, and episodes centred around different themes, starting with a look at housing in Peterborough
PIP has a number of plans for growth in 2018. They’ll be starting a new speaker series, PtboTalks, where they’ll bring in out-of-town and local speakers for a day of “TED-style” talks about art, journalism, and media. They’ve begun partnering with local organizations to record local events—such as the Electric City Culture Council’s A Space For Us cultural incubator, which they released in podcast form last June. And they’re continuing to host more workshops, including the popular “Podcasting 101,” as well as intermediate and advanced skills training.
PIP is also forging more partnerships, making use of Sadleir House’s media lab, working with Trent Radio on developing podcasts, and using Artspace’s media lab and tool library. “Now that we exist,” says Barmania, “a lot of people have been like, ‘Cool! Use our stuff, please!’ If I was in Toronto, PIP would just get swallowed up and I don’t think it would get noticed. In Peterborough, it’s easy to meet people to get stuff to happen. People get in touch out of the blue. Making partnerships that can make something like the speaker series happen is possible. It’s awesome.”
Ayesha’s Advice for New Podcasters
I asked Ayesha Barmania what they think is important for people who want to start a podcast to know. Here’s what they told me.
On finding your topic…
Listen critically, listen hard to something you enjoy—whether that’s CBC Radio, music, a TV show. Listen for what you find interesting, and develop your listening skills to find what could make for interesting audio. Think about your own life, and what you’re passionate about. And try to make that.
Narrative is one of the most essential things—even if it’s winding, or you have multiple different narratives, something that will keep people’s attention from beginning to end is really helpful…. Don’t jump to the punchline before you’ve done all the leadup to it. Be confident that you have their attention, and lay out the story in whatever way it needs to be.
On audio quality…
Focus on your content, because listeners are generally very forgiving of poor audio if you have interesting content—that’s why phone-in shows are still popular. Most smartphones have pretty good microphones that you could make a serviceable podcast out of. And then, once you get to a point where you want to up your game, you can start investing more.
People lack confidence, I’d say. It seems like an exotic medium, and people don’t know what it takes to make something worthwhile in podcasting. My advice generally is don’t worry about it. Try to do something you find interesting, and as long as you’re entertaining yourself, the other stuff is secondary.
Check out live versions of many of Peterborough Independent Podcasters’ podcasts at the Podcast Cabaret on January 18 at Sadleir House (more info).