“In the future everybody will have a podcast for fifteen episodes.”
- Andy Warhol
At least I think Warhol said that. I’m sure I read it on Facebook…
I took my first run at podcasting in 2007, back when it was about as mainstream as CB radio and had fewer listeners. I’d written and directed a movie about the challenges facing Canada’s forests in the 21st Century, and I saw podcasts as a way to carry on the conversation outside of the theatre.
I had a blast. It was like having my own radio show without any team to help me out or, you know, any form of payment. Okay, it was like having a mainstream radio show in 2017.
I contacted friends in radio-land, asked them to recommend a recorder and started interviewing cool people about environmental issues.
I already worked as a journalist so interviewing cool people wasn’t new to me, but choosing the people I wanted to talk to and not having to convince an editor they were worth covering was a treat. And since this was my show I only talked to people I really wanted to meet.
With the exception of BC’s Minister of Forests pretty much everyone I approached for an interview was happy to spare an hour—or two—to talk. I discovered that people -- even famous people -- liked being interviewed for podcasts because podcast interviews are long enough to allow them to explore ideas, share stories and not worry about reducing complex concepts to cute sound bites.
So… I interviewed people. I imported the interviews into Garage Band on my Mac—which was easy enough that, um, I could use it. I added an intro and a bit of music and I was done. The Tyee agreed to host the series and—this was the best part—someone there knew how to upload it to iTunes and was game to pick up the hosting fee for storing the audio file online.
The best interviews were collected into a book: The Green Chain: Nothing is Ever ClearCut - and I suspect the podcast reached more people than the movie had. I not only hit it off with some of my guests, but partnered with one of them—Tzeporah Berman—to write a book together.
Cut to 2017. I’m working on another movie and a book about killer whales and, in my research, I’m discovering how close the Southern Resident orcas are to extinction. I want to find out how to save the orcas… the oceans… our planet… Time to launch a podcast.
Since I want to talk about whales I really wanted to call the podcast PODcast, but I’m warned this would be pretty much invisible on Google. I opt for “Skaana” - in memory of Skaana (the orca who inspired Greenpeace), in tribute to the name Haida artist Bill Reid gave to his amazing sculpture of an orca outside the Vancouver Aquarium and to acknowledge that North America’s First Nations have generally had a much saner handle on what orcas are all about than almost anyone else on the planet.
Once again I approached some of my eco-heroes for interviews and I’ve already interviewed several people who I’d happily pay to watch speak. And today I don’t have to explain what a podcast is.
I’ve got friends with non-interview podcasts who review books or riff on pop culture and, thanks to the magic algorithms of iTunes, everything gets out there and can - theoretically - find its tribe. Not long after launching Skaana it was ranked number four in Natural Sciences - behind NPR, Howstuffworks and some dude named DeGrasse Tyson. Maybe now that we’re on this blog we’ll power past those three.
In 2017, podcasts are ubiquitous. (Thank you Serial.) I’m subscribed to two dozen of them. People buy ads on podcasts. Podcasts are even monetized. Sort of.
I’ve done a fair bit of research and, with very few exceptions — Canadaland, CBC and um the other two shows produced by Canadaland — ads aren’t much of a thing and the main way Canadian podcasts like mine make any money is through Patreon. If you don’t know about Patreon check it out now, because not only should you be supporting some of the artists you like, but you may want to consider finding funds (and fans) to develop your own work.
Like all crowd-funding sites, Patreon also works as a way to gauge interest in an idea. I decided I would only launch Skaana if I had enough Patreon patrons to cover my basic costs—like hosting the audio, supporting a dedicated site and springing for online services like “Buffer” that allow me to spread the word about what we’re up to. Now, thanks to support from friends, family, fans—and even a few businesses—we’re closing in on our next target (which would allow us to spring for transcripts every episode). I don’t know if we’ll ever make enough money to hit my goal of doing two podcasts a month—nevermind make enough for this gig to make financial sense—but I do know I’m getting to talk to people who inspire me and share stories that are worth sharing. And I know that some of those stories will be turning up in whatever I write next.
Mark Leiren-Young, who has a background in pretty much everything — journalism, television, comedy, theatre and film — is without a doubt one of the most talented, multi-disciplinary voices in Canada. – National Post
Mark’s latest book, The Killer Whale Who Changed the World was just released in paperback and as an audio book. His short documentary, The Hundred-Year-Old Whale, premieres at Planet in Focus in Toronto in October. His award-winning new play, Bar Mitzvah Boy, premieres with Pacific Theatre in March, 2018.