Do you remember the first time you heard about something that changed your life? I remember the first time I heard about podcasting.
A streaming music platform had hosted an event to launch a slew of new programming. As a former radio jockey, I was on the panel. Everybody was talking about the new wave of content for a new generation. Everyone in the room was on an audio high.
One of the shows launching at this time was on the Aarushi murder case, and this is when I heard a reference: “This is trying to be India’s version of Serial.”
The audio revolution
If you haven’t heard Serial, get the headphones on now. Sarah Koenig’s breakthrough podcast with over 350 million downloads to date is a blockbuster and an earworm. The podcast tells the story of a Pakistani jock, Adnan, who was sent to jail in America for allegedly murdering his Korean girlfriend. Serial set a new bar both in podcasting and investigative journalism. The rich research, the subject experts triangulating GPS data (revolutionary for its time), and the raw phone conversations of interviews with friends, officers, and more, made compelling storytelling.
Serial was the gateway drug to my podcast addiction. I then heard Life/After, which was a fascinating fiction show about a person living on through AI after their death. When I was listening to it, I was on holiday in Lapland with my friend Madhu Mantena, the film producer. What started as a courtesy listen on his part ended up inspiring him to make an entire film, though he did not end up making one. Audio plays in the theatre of the mind. Except without any limit to the screen size.As listeners, we are spoilt for choice. There’s a world of ideas and voices just a listen away.
It was then that I realised that this was the dawn of a new era of content: democratisation of produced audio, where people listened to what they wanted, when and where they wanted, unhindered by the threat of being seen. Motivation, sexuality, history, comedy, food, reviews, psychology, voyeurism, economics, all find their space. And the nerdier or kinkier, the better. Sample these: My Dad Wrote a Porno, Song Exploder (especially the episode on the Game of Thrones theme music), Reply All (the case of the missing hit will have you jumping by the end of the episode), Invisibilia (my favourite episode is called The Last Song), and Startup (by Alex Blumberg, the founder of Gimlet Media).
Spoilt for choice
In India, IVM has led the podcast wave, making legendary shows like Cyrus Says by Cyrus Broacha and Advertising is Dead by Varun Duggirala, content head of Glitch. Having started shows such as The Seen and The Unseen by journalist Amit Verma and Maed in India, they have even seen some shows branch out into their own. Small boutique production houses now make their own shows. And audio platform giants are also investing, with hosts like Zakir Khan, Sunny Leone, Ranveer Singh, Gaurav Kapur, Neelesh Mishra and even Amitabh Bachchan.
Bollywood stars have also dived in. What Koffee with Karan is to Bollywood gossip-starved TV viewers, NoFilterNeha is to podcasting. “There is a lowering of the guard when there is no camera in your face,” Kalki, the host of My Indian Life with Kalki, told me. While she is the talent for the show, she has a team of researchers and a production team.
But many podcasters believe in DIY. Anshu Mor’s Stupid No Mor deliciously combines humour with seriousness. His podcast was distributed on Anchor, an app owned by Spotify, which allows end-to-end production of your podcast. Saavn has launched Yourcast, which is similar.
From chat shows like NoFilterNeha and DIY Stupid No Mor to simple interviews by Ranveer Allahbadia, podcasts offers a plethora of options
Podcast treatment is also varied, from heavily-produced audio sensory dramas like Rakesh Tiwari’s Qissa Sheheron Ka (a lyrical delight), to the simpler interview podcasts by Ranveer Allahbadia, Joe Rogan and more.
As listeners, we are spoilt for choice. There’s a world of ideas and voices just a listen away. My bets are on the left-of-field ideas. The raw and the vulnerable voices. If there has ever been a conflict somewhere, internal or external, a podcast has spoken about it.
What can we learn about ourselves and the world around us if we quiet down and listen? Tune in to the new content revolution, which is a silent earful.