Keep your filthy marketer mitts off of my podcasts

I really like podcasts. I listen to way too many. And I subscribe to way more than that. It’s a problem.

I’m spending a lot of downtime filling my head with other people’s thoughts instead of letting my head sort out my own thoughts.

This has been happening for almost ten years. That seems crazy, because it still feels like a new habit to me. But I’m still excited about it and I prefer listening to podcasts over watching TV. That seems like a big deal.

So naturally I’ve been getting a little nervous as marketing people have taken an interest. Some are trying to apply standards to it. Other companies are making moves to create proprietary formats in the name of better tracking for advertisers. And then there are dudes that look like villains in 80s high school movies who are running companies that are unafraid of using the words programmatic and advertising in the same sentence as podcasts.

Hate crime! Boo! Hiss!

Podcasting is great the way it is. Yes, it’ll eventually be spoiled by money and business and advertisers and big production budgets. But I like it just the way it is: small and weird and open and way-off the beaten-track.

If you can’t play to a small room, analytics can’t save you.

We have never been more easily tracked (think technology provided by the likes of Luth Research and the MANY others.) The wake of data that we leave behind as we work our way through the world has made it easy for large organizations to lump us all into larger buckets of ever-bigger data. Seeing patterns of behavior from that viewpoint makes it possible to incrementally change things to affect that behavior, one way or the other.

But for most of us, big data is much less important. What matters is creating value for small groups of people. If you can’t move a dozen people, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get to the point where big data will be helpful.

I’ve experienced this as a musician. Getting a room of 5-20 people to transform from individuals to an audience is incredibly difficult.

Emily Haines, the incredible talent that fronts the band Metric, put it really well in an interview (about fashion, of all things):

…the moments I’m most proud of are those first shows where we managed to get 15 people in a random bar to be committed to what’s happening with the music. I know it’s hard for people to imagine that would be the hardest shows we’ve ever played. I’ve played with Lou Reed, I’ve played to tens of thousands of people, I’ve played for the Queen, but nothing is harder than those moments when you have the conviction to play in front of those 15 people and own it.

If you can’t move a few people, it’s going to be hard to move thousands. It might be because of the Herd effect. It’s difficult for people to get on board with anything until they see other people doing it.

Nobody wants to be the first person on the dance floor. It’s not always easy to get a buffet line started. To be the first one to open a beer at a professional event.

But it’s also difficult to get yourself to fully commit in such an intimate setting. It can feel like stepping in front of a firing squad. Your feedback will be instantaneous, and it might be unfiltered. You might feel silly or self-conscious in a way that is much different than standing in front of a large crowd. If you’re in Texas, there might be beer bottles exploding against the chicken wire protecting the stage.

If you are bombing, you’re still committed. You have to finish whatever it is that you set out to do. That follow-through can be incredibly difficult. Especially when things start-off badly.

Learning to read a room is important. Learning to remain committed in the face of a room that may or may not be buying-in is critical. You might have to make adjustments as you are reading the room, but It’s ultimately staying committed that is going to get people to buy in.

It’s scary. People have a hard time doing it. But having the grit to put yourself back in that position again and again is how people learn to master a small room.

It’s how comedians learn to be great. It’s how musicians learn to be great. And it’s how creative people learn to be great.

If you can’t play to a small room, analytics aren’t going to save you.