How Podcasts Can Become Avenues For Free Speech With Tracy Hazzard

The Most Important Conversations | Tracy Hazzard | Free Speecha

With a huge number of podcasts out there these days, the most important conversations might be buried and never heard. With the complicated monetization rules and the ever-changing algorithms, free speech could be suppressed, and those who are discussing what matters most may be hidden away. Chad Lefevre and September Dohrmann attempt to change the rules with Tracy Hazzard, CEO of Podetize. Together, they discuss what can be done to make the podcasting scene focus less on monetization and algorithms, but more on social change, transformation, and civil discourse. Tracy shares various strategies to make podcasts more impactful and what it takes to create deeper connections between hosts and their listeners.

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How Podcasts Can Become Avenues For Free Speech With Tracy Hazzard

Welcome to another episode of the show. September, how are you doing?

Fantastic. I am super excited about this conversation.

We have joining us the wonderful Tracy Hazzard. She’s the CEO of Podetize. Podetize is the largest podcast production company. Is that what it is, technically?

Yeah. Technically, we’re the largest production company, but when you think of production, we’re talking about post-production, like everything you do after we hit record. It’s technically that. The next largest is iHeart, and they only have about 350 shows. We have well over 1,000.

We’re excited to chat with you. It aligns with the brand of the show and our commitment to fostering and facilitating the most important conversations that humanity needs to be having. Podcasting as a platform is really all about facilitating. Some conversations aren’t that important, but they’re there, and the most important ones are probably buried in there. There are so many podcasts. There are so many people who see podcasting as a way to get their voice out into the world and start to have an impact.

The Most Important Conversations | Tracy Hazzard | Free Speecha

I want to talk a little bit about podcasting inside of a bigger conversation called free speech and the trajectory that we are headed to in terms of where free speech is at. Free speech is not something that is common in every country around the world. It is something that’s important in the Western democracies. It’s a tenant and a hallmark of those societies, but it’s also something that is desperately sought out.

I also want to explore a little bit about people around the world who aren’t in a Western democracy and they want to get their voice out. Is podcasting an option for them or are they really restricted? We can dabble into that a little bit. Let’s talk about this for a second. I remember back when podcasting first started. It would’ve been somewhere in 2008 or 2009, somewhere in there. It was the very early stage of podcasting. It has changed a lot over the years.

There are some people in there we consider to be OG podcasters in 2005 or 2006. They started out in conjunction with the iPod. Do you remember those?

Yeah.

They started out with that, but you would have to go and download their RSS feed and add it to your device. It was a lot more difficult. You’re right. About 2008 or so, we started to see much more mainstream what we consider to be podcasts.

It was when the Apple iPhone came out that I won’t say it caught on, but people started to go, “This is a viable medium. This is a viable platform.”

They’re like, “What’s this little app for? What’s a podcast?”

Would you say that we’re still in the early days of podcasting, even though that was several years ago? Is it early in the sense of the growth cycle?

People ask me that all the time. We’re in what I would say the trough of disillusionment if you want to follow the tech curves of everything that’s going on. We have such a high what we call pod fade rate in the industry. You start a podcast and get really excited about it. You record about 10 or 11 episodes. This is the known number. You go, “That was a lot harder than I thought it was.” You’re then like, “It’s a little busy,” and you don’t record the next one. You say, “I’ll catch up in two weeks,” and you don’t.

You pod fade and you didn’t tell your audience you were done. It happens somewhere between about 11 and 23 episodes. That is the most common breaking point. Fifty-six percent of all the 3 million-plus podcasts out there never make it beyond 25 episodes. That is a huge portion of the market that tries it but doesn’t make it. If you really want to look at the people who are in that active world working on their podcasts, producing hundreds of episodes, and going beyond that, it’s a small pond. You can do well to get your voice heard. It seems like you’re in a giant community of three million shows that are aged and out there.

56% of more than three million podcasts out there today never make it beyond 25 episodes.

There are roughly 3 million. That’s what we’re talking about.

There are 3 million individual shows, not episodes. It’s the individual shows. In episodes, there’s somewhere around 50 million. That’s the rough estimate. My numbers say it’s slightly higher than that, but the industry generally talks about them being about 50 million.

In terms of media then, this is still very early days. I can’t remember the number, but it’s something like every hour, there are so many billion videos posted on YouTube.

That’s not the case. Every month, there are only about 20,000 new podcasts that launch and 56% of them will quit quickly. You’re really talking about not that many that are launching every month. That’s still underserved. The thing that catches my eye about it is that it’s not that costly to start a podcast. In fact, it’s less costly than it is to have a camera, do video, and have to think about the creative process. It’s easier, and yet, there are still fewer people doing it.

A lot of people think they want to do a podcast because they’re like an armchair psychologist, armchair philosopher, armchair political scientist, or whatever. There’s one thing that every single person on planet Earth has, an opinion. Unfortunately, very few of them are informed. Anyone can have an opinion. A lot of people with opinions think, “I should have my own show. I should have my own podcast.” They start up, but to your point, the logistics of it, they quickly realize that their opinions probably don’t even run that deep. They start to run out of things to talk about. 

The Most Important Conversations | Tracy Hazzard | Free Speecha

That’s the problem. The shows that we see that really have more longevity tend to be conversation shows or interview shows. They are the ones where I can have a conversation with other people. I cannot run on my own steam all the time with that. The exception to that is people who have communities where there are a lot of questions and a lot of services that you can provide to those communities. You could run on that.

The Most Important Conversations | Tracy Hazzard | Free Speecha

My partner or my husband and I run our company together, but we also run a coaching call every single week. We turn that coaching call into a podcast, but we’re doing it in service of our audience. It’s our view of what’s going on. It’s answering deep questions, concerns and current issues that they have. That is still running in a dialogue. You’re only hearing one side of it.

Has there been any research on the impact of, and if not, there should be, podcasting? We bring it into this conversation we wanted to have about freedom of speech, free speech. This is a platform. Podcasting is a platform where you really can develop your own tribe, to use Seth Godin’s concept of tribes, around your message and your voice. It seems to me that anyone can whip out a tweet. Is it called an X or is it still a tweet? I don’t even know how to refer to it.

It’s still a tweet.

Anyone can get out and say, “This is what I think.” To do a podcast requires a lot more thought, planning, and that kind of stuff. What’s your view on it in terms of the role that podcasting has in terms of freedom of speech and free speech?

It’s not a push media, meaning that there is no algorithm on any of the apps, the listening apps, or the places where you would choose to listen. There is no push in there. Spotify is a slight example because they do give you their shows. They put them at the top, but you still have to select them. It’s not like Instagram, where it’s pushing it into your feed or X, where it’s giving you all of what other people are saying. You do not have stuff pushed at you in podcasting. You’re choosing to listen. There is a lot less censorship and other things going on there.

That being said, it’s not like it’s completely uncensored. I say that because if your goal is to monetize through advertisement and you opt into any of those advertising programs, they’ll block your episodes. They’ll block your show if it doesn’t meet brand integrity or if it has any of those brand blocker words on it. They know and they will block it. You will not make money that way. You may still have a show, but you have to do more work on your end because you have to make money somehow. You have to make it in your community. You have to do it on your own.

If your goal for your podcast is to monetize through advertisements, many listening apps may block your episodes if they don’t meet brand identity.

You are allowed to say whatever you want and publish that. No one can stop your RSS feed from being published out there, but Apple, Spotify, or any of the apps can choose not to put it on their end if they’re putting it in an advertisement mix. They can choose to do that. They can choose to not publish you on their platform. It’s not completely uncensored, but it happens very rarely. That’s what I can say to you.

I have shows in all kinds of industries and fields. Some people might think of their topics very unsavory, but they are all published on the platform. It is because they know that those listeners are making a choice. It’s not being pushed out. The only way you can really get in trouble is if you fail to mark explicit because people do listen to their podcasts in the car. If they hear something that they don’t want their kids in the backseat, they report you and you’re off like that. That can get you unlisted, but there are very few things that can.

You can have a show about whatever you want. You cannot title it whatever you want, though. There are guidelines and restrictions. They can’t put a swear word in the title. My first show is called WTFFF?!, which was not a swear word, but my mom didn’t know that for a year after I published the show. It was about fuse, filament, and fabrication, which is the geeky term for 3D printing. You have to come up with a play on something.

Jon Stewart came up with this idea of the marketplace of ideas. More than ever, especially coming out of the COVID years that we’ve come out of and what that unearth in terms of stuff that people had stuffed down in their being and in their lives, we’re repressing. Suddenly, all of this is coming out. We’re seeing all of this play on the world stage. People are suddenly valuing freedom of speech. There’s a real fine line between freedom of speech and what I call responsible speech. This is not something that a lot of people are really talking about.

People want to have freedom of speech. They want to be able to say whatever the hell they want. I understand that and agree with that, but I agree with it to a point because what happens when it’s a bald-faced lie? It’s made up. Podcasting is another platform where people can get up there and start a podcast and it could be full of lies.

What do we do about this? It’s causing tribes of people to isolate themselves from other tribes. Confirmation bias is running wild. People are trapped in what they think they’re right about. You can see the dysfunction and division that it is causing in society. This is more of a free-speech conversation. What do we do about this? Where is the line between responsible speech and free speech in your view?

You’re not standing on a soapbox on the corner. You have a microphone in front of you, and you have a broadcast distribution system. You have the responsibilities of a broadcaster. Whether you like it or not, that’s true. September, you and I know this wonderful attorney named Maria Speth. Maria has come on to talk about the issues with podcasting, defamation, and slander. You are still liable for what you say if you harm someone in that process. Free speech doesn’t mean you can yell, “Fire,” in a crowded theater. You cannot do that on your podcast, either. You cannot cause harm to someone. You have to be responsible, and most podcasters do not understand that. They think this is a license to say whatever they want because it’s their show. 

You’ll quickly find if you’re in any kind of monetization model that is not true. There are so many people who get their funding shut down so fast that they will not have an audience anymore. They will not have a show anymore. They do not really own their show. I’m a big proponent of you being independent and owning your show, but that means you have to own it responsibly because you have a business to run. You have a life to run. It’s no different than you could alienate an entire neighborhood or your entire client based on what you say. You have to be responsible for what you’re saying on there.

It’s unsustainable long-term. I personally have done this. I have recorded over 3,000 episodes for the 7 podcasts I’ve been involved in over the years. It’s hard to not be real, to not be authentically you, and to constantly keep up with your lies. It’s not easy to do that. People know that. That’s the real difference that I love.

I am a big AI proponent. You know that because we know each other well enough for that. I’m a big AI proponent, but I do not think AI will work in podcasting because we sense a deeper level of emotional connection with people that cannot be simulated. We’ve done a lot of studies on our platform. I know that when we do an AI commercial, and we’ve done this side by side with the real human voice doing the commercial, the conversion rate is well below what you would expect. It doesn’t work because there’s no energy of the ask. The call to action doesn’t convert because it’s an AI saying it. It doesn’t mean that the AI doesn’t sound similar. You cannot tell the difference, but the human ear can. We have a BS meter. We know when someone’s not telling the truth.

This is the first sense that any human being has. It’s the hearing sense. We’re in the womb and we’re hearing things. We can’t see anything, but we’re hearing. It’s also the last sense that goes when you’re dying. It’s the last one that shuts off. For people in comas or in hospice or things, their eyesight and other functions are shutting down, but the ears are still there. There’s something special about sound and the way that our brain relates to it that, to your point, distinguishes whether this is a true human voice or not. It’s hard to quantify that. I have one other quick question before we move on to some other topics. Are podcasts regulated by the FCC?

They are. They are not regulated in quite the same way. You’d have to report them. They’re not monitored the way that television and all of that is. We don’t have the seven swear words that you’re not supposed to say. There’s no list. If you don’t mark your show as explicit, Apple will shut you down because they’re being monitored by the FCC. They’re the ones who are having to deal with the issues when reporting happens. It is only on a reporting basis. If somebody hears you and they dislike what you say, then they report you.

Podcasting is the modern version of talk radio.

There’s not much difference there except that it’s on demand. It’s ready when you are to listen.

It is great. September, you look like you have a thought.

It’s interesting. The conversation is directed through the lens of the creator, but it’s taken me through the lens of the listener in the game of telephone. Tracy, you can correct where my assumptions are off, but I would assume that the people who are more committed to their podcast are going to be more integrity in what they’re sharing and saying.

The Most Important Conversations | Tracy Hazzard | Free Speecha

As Chad said, we all have opinions. Some of them are uneducated or uninformed. To pay attention as a listener and pay attention to some of the red flags to know whether this is legitimate content. Look at how much stuff we learn on TikTok, but look at how uninformed we are through a lot of the content on TikTok, too. As a listener, it’s bringing up a lot of you looking for things to educate yourself on. You’re looking for conversations that you are interested in. You want to add more to your knowledge bank.

If you are not in conscious consideration of how to ask questions that your listener wants to hear, how to get guests that your listener wants to hear, or how to talk about topics that your listener wants to hear, you don’t have a sustainable show. It’s nothing without the other side of it. If it’s just me speaking on a mic with no one listening, that’s out into the void. That’s not the purpose of it. You want to have this dance that goes back and forth between you and the listener.

A lot of podcast listeners don’t communicate with their hosts, so it’s not an immediate gratification model like TikTok is. That’s where podcasters early on fail. Podcast listeners know how many podcasters quit. They know it because they’re sifting through all these shows all the time and they’re like, “I really like this show.”

It’s then nothing. It’s so disappointing.

I don’t watch any TV show until it hits at least three seasons because it’s a waste of my time. I’m going to binge on it. I have a show called The Binge Factor. I specialize in binge-listening. We figure out what the show’s binge factor is. That’s what I’m looking for. For a show to be truly binge-able and worth the listener’s time, they will not give it credence until it has over 25 episodes because they’ve been burned so much. Once you hit over 25 episodes, it’s like magic.

I can’t tell you how many coaching clients I’ve said this to. It is like, “When you hit over 25 episodes, I guarantee you your audience is going to reach out. Your show is great. There’s something good here.” It would be like 26 and they’d get their first message. They’d be like, “You were right. I can’t believe it. How did this start happening?” I was like, “This is because you’ve got the show that is going to appeal to those kinds of listeners who are desperate for information. They’re really out there looking for your show, but they’re waiting for you to prove that you’re committed to them.”

For a podcast to be truly bingeable, you have to hit over 25 episodes.

I would agree. Since disappointment runs so deep, and I never noticed that I did this until you said it, I would check to see, “This has an interesting title. The subject of the podcast sounds super interesting. Let me see how many episodes they have.” If there are only three, there’s not a complete conversation there. 

It’s never going to be a complete conversation. It’s like a little dip your toe in the water. They didn’t do it. It is the title. This is the one thing that most people don’t realize. A lot of the shows out there are the me show, like The Tracy Show, The Chad Show, or The September Show. You name it after yourself. This is a whole branding group out there coaching people to do this. It’s the biggest mistake in podcasting ever because no listener wants to choose The Tracy Show unless they know me. If my role in doing this was to get new listeners or expand my audience to new people, I would have to work ten times harder to get you to know who I am.

However, if my show is called The Binge Factor and you’re like, “That’s a cool concept. I’d like to read some more about that,” and you read some more about that and the first couple of sentences are all about you, the listener, and telling you what you’re going to get by listening to this show and not about the host. It’s not a vanity piece. It has a listener focus. That’s the biggest mistake we see. I can tell from the way a show is set up whether or not they’ll make it past 25 episodes. The title and the description that they put in are the two biggest indicators that they will fail before they’ve even started.

There are a lot of different podcasts, 3 million of them, that seem to be little silos unto themselves. If an audience finds them great and they can subscribe to them and listen, is there any way for the podcaster community of 3 million podcasters to start to connect to each other and start to see themselves as part of a larger conversation? In other words, there are other podcasts out there, for example, that the show would love to chat with them, talk with them and see whether they align with our value systems or things like that in terms of what we’re trying to produce in the world. What do we do? Is there anything like that?

That has been my biggest mission over time here. It’s part of what I look for. Even though my company’s called Podetize and it’s a combination of podcast and monetize, I don’t want them monetizing through advertisements. In fact, we monetize very little of our shows through advertisements. We want to monetize through community and other things. Part of that is having to figure out how to grow that and how we do that better. I’ve always been on a mission to do that.

In 2023, we launched a new endeavor called Podcasters United. Podcasters United is a nonprofit. Its sole purpose is to promote the podcast because the listening apps do a terrible job. The listening apps are the worst discovery model ever. They’re the oldest algorithms I’ve ever seen. They’re not getting any better. Nothing about the way that they work is better because they’re geared towards the music industry. All of them came out of that. The music industry was always controlled by the record labels. If they didn’t pay for it, it didn’t get pushed out. In podcasting, nobody’s paying for pushout, and they don’t even have a system to do that. Even if you had money, you couldn’t push out your show. It doesn’t work that way. How can we do this better?

Listening apps do a terrible job of supporting podcasts. They are the worst discovery model ever with the oldest algorithms only geared towards the music industry.

Over the years of being in this industry and being a leader in this industry, what I’ve discovered is that podcasters are so generous with telling each other what they’ve tried and what they do. They’re so willing to share their knowledge with each other and share their audiences. The average listener listens to seven or more shows in their starred list or their favorites list of podcasts. They’re always willing to listen to more.

If I’m trying to learn something about real estate investing, I’m going to listen to seven different shows on real estate investing for a period of time. It’s not that I don’t have loyalty to one of those hosts, I probably do, but if they recommend somebody else or bring somebody else on as a guest, that’s the most likely shift in authority I’ll take. We want to incorporate that.

Those are some things we’re doing through Podcasters United. We’re creating a United We Pod Podcast, which is a promotional discovery podcast of its own. Interestingly enough, we decided we had to go outside of the podcasting ecosystem and into YouTube to create the discovery model for it. We’re going to use YouTube. Once we refine it over on YouTube, we’re going to move it into TikTok because we think it will work in the YouTube shorts and TikTok as well. We’re going to do one and then the other. Our goal is to get great shows discovered. If you’re searching for a show in health and wellness, we’re going to give you the best of the best.

The other thing is that we’ve developed partnerships with companies out there because it’s so hard. Podcasters are scraping by. They’re not making a lot of money on their show. It’s usually a drain. It is typically supported by their businesses if they’ve got a business going on for it, but they don’t have the budget to advertise. We found ways to tap into free advertising, and that has been a big a-ha. We’ve been doing a year-long beta test to make sure it would work. 

What we’re doing is getting views of a podcast as a little sample audio and the visual of their cover art and we’re getting that displayed on relevant apps. If it’s a finance podcast show, it’s an app that tracks your stock. You know how they run commercials in there because you’re using the free version of it. A little commercial for this podcast would come up, and it’d be paid for by somebody else. You don’t have to pay for it.

These are the ways that we’ve been trying to discover other ways. The most important one is something we call pod for pod or pod share, which is another way to think about it. It is where, typically, I go on your show, and you come on my show. That’s how we increase the exchange, but that’s a lot of work when maybe you’re not a right fit for my show. Maybe my show is not going to be a great audience builder for you, but we would like to make an announcement and a shout-out to each other.

We’ve created a way to drop in a ten-minute podcast preview each week into your feed so that you can capture some shows and then they’re going to do the same thing. You’re in a pod of 52 shows. You’ll be on 51 different ones, and 51 different ones will be on yours. That’s how it will work. It’s a cool model. We are really looking forward to that. That will roll out all in 2024. We are rolling everybody into the pods. Discovery is the biggest problem. You’re right about that.

Coming back to AI, this is where AI is going to really simplify this. As is typical with AI, I can see so many benefits and disbenefits. One of the questions that comes to my mind is coming back to the free speech conversation versus responsible speech. Ideally, we’d like to have free, responsible speech, but it seems that people are choosing one or the other.

Here’s the thing. If I’m running a podcast and I have a certain worldview, that worldview could be made up. It’s not even intentionally made up. It could be made up because I believe that. To stay non-controversial for a second, if I have a podcast on unicorns, then I’m convinced unicorns are real and there are others. We’ll even say Flat Earthers because they have become a little passé. There’s a community around this.

That seems fairly benign. If you believe the $arth is flat or you believe in unicorns, so what? There are other topics out there in the world that are dealing with life and death, war and peace, and social justice issues. Many people fall into these conspiratorial traps because of the way the algorithms and social media work. We have all seen the social dilemma. This is a conversation that’s been going on for a good five years. My thinking coming back to AI is AI could really be a powerful tool, assuming that it advances to the point where it’s no longer making errors. We’re finding that some of the AI models are making stuff up sometimes. It’s not even grounded in reality.

We don’t want a hallucinating AI regulating podcasts, which is where I was going with this. AI can be a very powerful tool to start to create a context for responsible free speech. In other words, you can’t make stuff up. The problem is that podcasts are silos. If I want to belong to a group that is making stuff up, I’m not going to report them because I believe in what they’re putting out there. I’m fully buying in.

Here’s the difference. In Instagram or TikTok, when you play something there and you comment on it, you’re going to get more of that. Podcasting is not good in terms of listening experience. It’s not going to serve me up anything else, even if I’m in your community. That person hosting that show has to tell me what else they might want me to listen to or recommend for me. It won’t happen automatically through the app. That’s why nothing is being pushed to you in the algorithms at this time.

I’m afraid it could go wrong. I agree with you on there. I look at what we are doing, and we’ve been doing this for quite some time on the AI side. We are going to have the largest indexed model of podcast content out there. You could build a search engine with us. What we’ve done that’s different than everything else is we’ve ranked it by authoritativeness. In other words, because you produced a 90-minute show, that means you can cram more ads in. That’s why Joe Rogan’s show is 90 minutes to 2 hours. They can cram more ads in.

Didn’t he used to do 7 or 8 hours or something?

He could go forever. It was all a vehicle for the advertising. The more minutes you did, the more money you made off of YouTube on ads. The more they would run on it, you’d make more money. If you could get your audience to stick around, you could do this. The only way you could get them to stick around is to be controversial. That’s the model of what was working over there, but that doesn’t work that way in podcasting.

You can say your show is about political science, but it might be about political science theory. It shouldn’t get lumped into something that is a shock-jock-style show and then blocked. That’s the way the algorithms are. The either say, “Everybody in this category is good,” or, “Everybody in this category is bad,” because they don’t have any relevant information on what’s said on the show.

That’s what we’ve done. We’ve given it an authority based on our own internal ranking system, which is that same system where I can tell whether or not a show will succeed. We built an algorithm off of that, and we’re continually refining it with more data. If you record more shows, you get more relevant content in there. Your topic basis is starting to broaden. You’re not just talking about AI. You’re talking about quantum computing or adding all these things. If you’re deepening the depth of your knowledge base, your authority is going up as well.

We’re talking about where we’re getting granular with our AI on a topic and content basis, having nothing to do with the power of the celebrity involved in it. Where can I get the best bit of information that is going to give me the best answers? Where do other people think that’s valuable at the end of the day? I’m going to get the answers that way. Some of it might be old.

In that 3D print podcast, we did 650 episodes. I still get emailed all the time. We probably have about 10,000 new listeners to that show every single month even though we haven’t recorded a brand new episode since 2020. That’s because it’s still some of the best information on what’s out there. There’s also a lot of outdated information in it. I try to keep up with it and say, “This platform no longer exists. This 3D printer no longer exists.” I try to subtitle them so people know that, but it’s hard to keep up.

Who is championing in the podcast world? I am thinking about it as a powerful tool for social change and transformational change. Anyone who’s on social media and spends a lot of time on it, whether you believe it or not, they have fundamentally changed their brain in the sense that they’re looking for the next hit. It’s an addiction thing. They’re scrolling the feed as fast as possible. You’ve got this eight-second attention span thing. Podcasts aren’t eight seconds. You have to have a longer attention span to engage with it. There’s a more meaningful conversation to be had.

If you are a listener of a podcast, where do you go after listening to it and saying, “I want to continue this conversation I heard on this podcast, but I want to participate in it now,” where potentially could the hosts go and the guests, the listeners, and we could have dialogue? I don’t think it’s on any of the existing social platforms.

Until one of the listening apps that already has the power, and in this case, it’s got to be Apple. Apple has 60% of the market share. Spotify came in and made a big splash. They spent tons of money and only captured a few percent more than they had before. They’re still in about 10%. It’s still not enough listeners out there on the Spotify platform for them to do much there. If Apple decided to do that, it would work.

I distribute every single one of my clients onto 25 different listening apps even though some of them have fractions. You might get one listener. They’re so afraid not to capture whatever listeners are out there because they have no way of doing that. Here’s the real problem. Apple will not let me make any direct contact with my listeners. I have no idea who that person is. That’s why people lots of people say they’d rather have a YouTube channel because at least on YouTube, you can see who is watching. In podcasting, that doesn’t exist.

I am very curious about what’s going on with YouTube and Google. Google Podcasts is disappearing. As we speak, it will be gone within 30 or 45 days. It is moving to YouTube Music. They’re probably going to rebrand. I can’t imagine they’re going to keep calling it Music when it’s got podcasts on it, too. They’re not audio-only. You cannot have an audio-only show. You have to have a video show in order to even get listed over there. 

They’re changing the model of what’s going on in podcasting and adopting this video-casting model. In my client base, at least 65% of them are doing video in addition to their audio. We are moving into that world. I’m curious as to whether or not they’re going to be able to enrich that conversation process. Unless I can drive you off my show and into my community, there is no place for me to directly do that through any listening app. They are blocking me from doing that.

Even my company, which is the hosting and distribution, keeps all the statistics for every show on our platform that we distribute to Apple and Spotify. We don’t know who they are. We know where in the world they are. We know the basic type of device they have, but it’s very basic information. We don’t even have demographic information passed back. That’s going to change in the next decade. It has to change.

They created it to sell the iPod and then the phone and get more people to use their phone for longer periods of time, but they didn’t want to do anything with it. They didn’t understand how to do anything with it. I really hope they don’t figure it out because that’s going to keep the independentness of podcasting thriving. If I can still get 60% of my listeners on a platform that doesn’t care what I put out there, then I can stay independent, say what I need to say, grow my audience, and build my business. It’s not going to get messed up by some crazy algorithm where they’re making money off of my content.

I really wish there was a way to interact with a podcast audience. It’s like you’re speaking in an echo chamber. You’re hearing yourself. Not to facilitate discourse, but I don’t believe X, Facebook, or Instagram facilitates true discourse. They facilitate rage. They facilitate the next hit that my brain needs to feel like I’m being validated for my opinion and confirmation bias. They facilitate all that very well, but there’s no meaningful discourse or conversation that’s going on there.

Early on, we thought that maybe Clubhouse would do that or maybe some of those models of that live audio would do that. The problem is you have to show up live. That isn’t the way people consume podcasts. I call it the 2:00 AM principle. I consume podcasts at 2:00 AM when I’m stressed out about my teenage daughter’s doing this crazy thing. I’m like, “What do I do about it?” I go find the best family advice podcast I can and listen to it. I’m pretending I’m not an insomniac at this moment in time because she’s stressing me out. That’s the 2:00 AM principle.

There is a part of it where you’re doing something really private. There are some fabulous podcasts out there that are doing so many things in self-help and spirituality. It’s hitting you at a deep need and time. Probably one of the biggest segments of shows we have is we support addiction podcasts. They have a hard time growing their audience because people don’t necessarily want to share. They’re not ready to come forward about their own addictions yet. They’re not going to share, “I listened to this podcast and it changed my life.” They’re not ready for that yet. How can they really get to the people who need them?

These are some of the struggles. There’s some amount of podcasting that is private and it needs to stay that way, and there are those that need great conversation. Where are we going to move into that and where is that going to happen? That’s the next decade of change that will happen within podcasting. I don’t know if it’s going to happen through YouTube first and then force Apple to do something. Maybe it will.

I do want to caution. I want to say this and go back to this one thing you said. The Problem with Jon Stewart on Apple TV+, right at this time that we’re recording, he got ousted from his show because he wanted to cover the topic of China. Apple makes a lot of products in China. They pulled the plug and funding on the Apple TV+ show. This is the problem with allowing entertainment and that model to manage podcasting. It doesn’t allow this documentary discourse or the important things that need to be said.

One of the things that I want to hear so many times is that I want to be able to let the differing opinions be heard even if they’re not real. If this is my belief system and your belief system and they’re in conflict with each other, the only way to move through them is to hear them. If we can’t have any place where you can hear that and you only hear one side, then it’s never going to work. If we get money too much money in it, it ruins it.

I agree with that. We have to keep free speech. I’m trying to address thinking about how to get people out of the echo chambers they’re in. That’s the issue. It’s not an issue of whether someone has the right to believe what they want to believe and say what they want to say. It’s the fact that if I, because of the algorithms, find myself listening to that and it confirms some confirmation bias and I get some hit, then there’s no place where I am encouraged to go to have my view challenged. Your point of we want to have people have free speech so that we can have that dialogue or that conversation and work through it, where’s the working through if I’m listening in a silo? There is no working through.

That is it. I like to encourage my hosts to think of the working-through part as their guests. That’s really the most important part that I can influence in getting them to have a much more open model. I teach them to look for guests in a different model than anyone else does. I don’t want the biggest loudmouth in my industry to be the only guest on my show.

I try to get them to look at it from an algorithmic standpoint of growth because it can help the growth of your show. By doing that, I’m guiding them into this idea that diversity of thought is important without going outright and saying, “This is my mission to accomplish this with you.” I’m showing you how tactically it is to your advantage to do that. They find great discourse because of that, and it does expand their show. When they realize that, then they get that hit of, “I should do more of this.” That’s my way as a coach to try to push that and make that happen.

It is also built into the algorithm that I was talking to you about before of authority. Diversity and topic are also extremely important. It’s not because you’re deep in a niche of 3D printing that it means you’re not talking about filament, printers, and software. There has to be an expansion of the topic. If you only talk about one thing, then it’s not worth listening to multiple episodes.

Your podcast must have a diversity and expansion of topics. If you only talk about one thing in your show, it is not worth listening to for multiple episodes.

When we were coming up with the name that became The Most Important Conversations, what I thought was so interesting about that is it can mean anything to anyone. It’s like the Make America Great Again. First of all, it wasn’t original to Trump. I don’t know if people know that. Ronald Reagan said it and another president. I don’t know if it was Wilson or something like that said it way back when, so it’s been an old thing. It’s still a brilliant concept because, as far as the marketing slogan goes, everyone will agree. What does that mean to you? It could be something opposite and different than what it means to me.

That’s the point of what I was saying before about having the me show. That only says one side and one thing. When you have an open topic like that, yours is one of my favorite names. It’s one that I reiterate to people. There’s another one called Really Know Your Customer. I love the concept of it. Doesn’t that make you want to think, “I might think I know my customer, but do I really know my customer?” It invites you to think about those things. That’s a great title name and it does appeal to the majority of podcast listeners. What we do know in reviewing these is they’re investing their time heavily into listening. If they’re investing their time, this is not some dopamine hit. This is not some passing fancy. They have to really be getting value for them to come back again and again.

I can say, September, that our goal is to have guests on that challenge of different worldviews and different thinking. The whole point is to have the most important conversation. I like the way that you mentioned it, Tracy. Let’s have that marketplace of idea conversations as part of the format of how the show’s set up. It shouldn’t be people who agree with us.

If we’re going to lead the way to having the most important conversations humanity needs to have, they have to be tough ones. They have to be ones where we’re wrestling over topics. We may not agree, but we can show. This is one of the key things in terms of our objective. What does civil discourse look like? It’s gotten lost. We can be a demonstration of what civil discourse can look like. We don’t always have to agree, but we can cohabitate, live side by side, be neighbors, and constitute a society. This has gotten lost in social media. 

It gets lost in short form. Short-form content is part of that problem. It’s not just the algorithms there. It’s a combination of both. You cannot sustain an argument. You cannot sustain the thought for a long period of time, but I can drop a little thought bomb on you anytime or a little TikTok bomb there. 

It’s idea warfare. That’s what we’ve got going on. We need peace talks.

Maybe podcasting will lead the way somewhere along the way. I don’t know, but I’m encouraged. When I hear the newest show that came on my platform or I listen to a show that I thought, “We have a show about guns on our platform?” and I was like, “Ugh.” I listened to the show and thought, “That is a responsible host. Good for him. I’m not going to block that on my platform. Why would I make that choice? That’s not who I’m about.” My goal is to really look at those active podcasters and figure out how to help them in any way I can because only 9% of all those 3 million shows out there are actively posting week over week. That’s so small.

We’re talking about 300,000 out of 3 million roughly.

That says to me that there are some really passionate people working hard there.

September, do you have any final thoughts or comments before we wrap up this episode?

My brain automatically goes to create a community around your conversation. It’s such an easy thing to do. It takes a team. There’s not a lot of moving parts to creating a community. It would be an additional revenue stream for somebody who wanted to consider that. I know that there are times when I listen to podcasts that I will go and look for social channels of them as well because I want to see what other conversations are taking place there. It would be really cool if somebody could create some sort of tool that we could use that allows it to be an intuitive community built around the conversation of your podcast.

September, I’m a bigger fan of making it a part of your recording strategy. This is something that I teach a lot of my clients and come up with this model for them because it’s a right fit for them. It’s really hard when you’re starting out and you don’t have your 25 episodes. You’re like, “How am I going to get it? I get three people to show up to my membership community and it’s not worthwhile.” If you can get them to tune in, record with you, and be there as a part of that early part of it, that is a different engagement level. They’re a part of the formation of the conversation.

For some of us, we feed better off the audience. I can do a solo show, but I don’t love it. I don’t love to talk into the microphone and the camera myself. I want to have a conversation with someone. I have a co-host, so at least even when we’re doing solo shows, it’s the two of us. I’m not alone. I feed off the energy of another person and make it a conversation instead of a one-way. That could be important for you.

Building that in from the beginning, making it free until your show has taken off, and then inviting people into that in the future, I’ve seen a lot of really great models that do that very well. When you’ve given them 25 episodes or more, you’ve earned the right to make an ask for them to participate with you later, but before that, you haven’t yet.

This has been fantastic. Thank you so much, Tracy, for taking the time to educate us on the direction of podcasts, where they’re going, and their relationship to free speech. What you’ve highlighted proves one of the things that we were saying in the very beginning. It’s still the early days. It’s still in the infancy of podcasting. To your point, if it’s only in the next ten years, we’re going to figure out how to start making some changes so there is more engagement, opportunities for cross-conversation, and communities that can be built around podcasts. Maybe it’s a new social media platform or an extension of one that already exists. Maybe it’s going to be Google or YouTube. I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s mine because I’m working on that.

Are you working on it?

I’m working on that.

Maybe it’s Podetize then. Someone’s got to do it. I don’t even call it dialogue. It’s like yelling at each other. There’s nothing to it. The podcasting world is so rich. To your point, if 300,000 shows are putting in the time and the effort to regularly facilitate a dialogue in a conversation around whatever their topic is, there should be a way for that audience to be known and to participate in that. That’s one thing that talk radio had going for it. It was built into the model that you’d have call-in shows. I know that some people do a crossover call-in show with podcasts where they record it and post it later. The idea that we could know our audience, engage with our audience, and facilitate more meaningful dialogue is the future of where we’re headed with this. It has to be.

It is a money conversation, to tap into that for a minute. Out of the whole podcasts of 3 million shows, less than 2% are ever monetized through an advertising model. There’s not a lot of money messing up podcasts at this point, but that’s also a reason why we don’t have more than 300,000 hosts able to afford to podcast. It’s a lot of time, a lot of effort, and not a lot of money for your exchange there.

My look at it is how we can monetize creator conversations in a way that keeps it from getting ugly in the monetization model. It keeps it, making it a social media platform. That is my sole focus with my company over the long-term. Every step we take is trying to figure that out. Maybe it’s a share economy model. Maybe it’s a creator economy model. There are a lot of things we’ve been working towards and testing out. We’ll see where it goes in the next two years.

This conversation has given me some ideas for things that we can do inside of TMIC to help facilitate these podcast conversations, where they go, and how we can keep that going with the audience as we build it up. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode. I’m sure we’ll have you back again. We’re working very closely together to really use the power of this platform to help facilitate and engage people in conversations we need to be having. It is meaningful conversations, not soundbites. We’re digging in and getting into the weeds of some things.

You are two of my favorite people to have a conversation with, Chad and September, so thank you for doing the show.

Thank you so much.

Thank you.

We look forward to having you again. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. We’ll see you on another episode of the show shortly.

 

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