Tech'ed Up

The Future of Podcasting • Jordan Newman (Spotify)

February 08, 2024 Niki Christoff
Tech'ed Up
The Future of Podcasting • Jordan Newman (Spotify)
Show Notes Transcript

Spotify’s Head of Content Partnerships, Jordan Newman, joins Niki remotely to celebrate Tech’ed Up going weekly and to share podcasting tips and tricks. This episode is a great listen for anyone who has thought they might want to join the ever-growing community of podcasters. Jordan also offers his take on what he thinks the impact of AI will be on the industry.

“...podcasting is one of the few mediums that we have left that is really focused on long-form versus short-form.” -Jordan Newman

[music plays] 

Niki: I'm Niki Christoff and welcome to Tech’ed Up. Today is a little bit of a meta episode. I'm talking with Jordan Newman, who is the Head of Content Partnerships at Spotify, which means he works on podcasts. 

A lot of our listeners ask me how they should start a podcast and what they should be doing. And I thought it'd be helpful to hear straight from the horse's mouth. 

Jordan Newman, welcome to Tech’ed Up. Thank you so much for taking the time. 

Jordan: Thanks so much for having me here. I'm so excited to be with you today. 

Niki: And you're calling in from LA, right? 

Jordan: I am at the Spotify LA office at Pod City. We have a number of podcast studios here, and I'm in Studio One. 

Niki: Okay, nice. So, we know each other from back in the day at Google. I think we started working together in 2008 on the communications team. [Jordan: Yup. It's been a while] [chuckles] It's been a really long time. 

And then I think we hadn't talked in about 10 years. And I reached out to you maybe two years ago because I was thinking about starting a podcast. And thanks to the magic of LinkedIn, I knew you worked on podcast partnerships and content partnerships at Spotify. And you were really generous at sitting down and talking me through some things I should think about before I got started. 

And I can't tell you how many people ask me for tips and tricks and recommendations on how to do this, and I only know what I've learned, kind of stumbling around, but I thought it'd be great to have you come on and answer those questions for people. 

Jordan: Absolutely, I think, y’know, starting a podcast is very easy, but starting a podcast and doing it well can be really challenging. I get questions all the time about really how to do it, right? And so, I've got a ton of tips and tricks that I am super excited to share with you.

Niki: Yeah, I think when we got started talking, we discussed the amount of work that goes into a podcast. I mean, it kind of depends how many different things you do. 

Do you do video? Do you edit it? [Jordan: Sure] Do you just wing it? Do you have guests? But I think a lot of people start it thinking it's going to be easier than it is. And it's actually can be really challenging. So, help us understand from a first principles.

If someone's thinking about starting a podcast, what's the first thing you might ask them or tell them to do?

Jordan: Yeah, listen, it is deceptively difficult to start a podcast and do it really well. I think one of the most important things about a podcast is being consistent. Releasing content every single week is really important.

I also think that podcasting is one of the few mediums that we have left that is really focused on long-form versus short-form. And so, all that is to say that it actually takes quite a lot of work on a weekly basis to put a podcast together, to come up with the content that you want to have, week after week to edit that content, and make sure that you're sticking with it.

And so, really, the first question I have for anyone thinking about starting a podcast is, “Are you committed to doing this?” Because while it's very easy to start the podcast, it's very difficult to keep it going. 

Niki: Yeah, I think there's a concept. Is it pod fade? 

Jordan: There is a concept called pod fade. I think people start and y’know, we see lots of examples of podcasters that have overnight success. They have a viral episode. They get an amazing guest and all of a sudden they shoot up in the charts. And that does happen from time to time but what is far more common is for podcasts to grow slowly over time and not to grow, sort of, by themselves or automatically, but because of the creator of that podcast is putting in a ton of time and effort to really grow that show.

And so, if you want to be successful in this medium, you have to put in the time and you have to make sure that you are in it for the long run, because that's really what it's going to take in order to see the kind of success that you're hoping for. 

Niki: I think when we first talked, one of the things we discussed was exactly what you just said, which is weekly content.

And I'll be honest, when I started, I thought I could do it weekly, but I'd also just started my consulting firm, [Jordan: Sure} which is [chuckling] my job. [Jordan: Sure] And so, after doing that for a while, I felt overwhelmed. And so, I started doing it biweekly and I lost a bunch of listeners  [Jordan: Yeah] because I think when people get it every week, they're used to it.

But if they miss a week, they're just not as, it's not as sticky.

Jordan: We've done a lot of research on this and I think one of the most successful and frankly one of the most unique and special things about podcast is that as a host you have this opportunity to really form this parasocial relationship with your audience.

You are speaking to them in the most intimate way possible. You're in their ear, and they start to form that relationship with you. If you have a podcast that comes out weekly, you have the opportunity to plug into one of, y’know, to a habit. You can, y’ know, if you're a listener, you listen while you're folding your laundry every single week, you listen every time you're commuting into the office on Tuesdays or maybe Thursdays or whatever it may be.

And once you form that habit, you stick with that habit. And so, the problem with releasing content biweekly or irregularly is you weren't really plugging into that habit or giving yourself every opportunity to build that parasocial relationship with your audience. And so, while it is a ton of work and takes a lot of time to be consistent and to, and to put out as much content as you need to, we really do recommend here that you focus on releasing weekly, and regularly.

Niki: Well, I will say we're starting to go weekly again because  [Jordan: I love it!!] yeah, [chuckling] we're doing it. I knew that it was the, the right thing to do as far as building an audience. I just got overwhelmed, but at least I kept going. And now I'm at a point where I get it and it is, y’know, 70 plus episodes in that I finally get the process. I have enough of a team to help me with the process  [Jordan: Sure] and so it's become more doable. So, it is going to go weekly because I know that's a best practice. 

Jordan: It really is. It's a lot of work, but I promise you it is worth it. It will pay off for sure. 

Niki: When we started talking, we also discussed audience reach.

And I was originally going to do sort of focus the entire thing just on Washington and Silicon Valley, which was you mentioned you're like, “You're already doing tech, which is not going to be a huge category. You're not doing sports or entertainment, so it's already going to be narrow. And if you narrow it even more just to policy issues, it's going to get really small, really fast.”

And so, that was one piece of advice you had was thinking about the audience. Is that something you still think about two years later? 

Jordan: I think so. I mean, there are more podcasts now than ever before. And so, for anyone starting a podcast, there's always this balance between trying to find a niche that you can really speak to and fully own and find your audience versus becoming so narrow that you can't incentivize new listeners or viewers to come on in.

And that can be a hard balance for podcasters to find, which is one of the reasons why particularly early on in the life cycle of a podcast, I really encourage folks to experiment with different content, different guests. Really trying to understand what's going to stick most with the audience.

But I think for anyone that is starting a podcast, one of the first things you really want to think about is who is your audience, who is the person that you hope is listening to your podcast, and what are the kinds of topics that they want to hear from you about. I think having a really clear and concrete understanding of that audience is, is definitely the first step and hopefully the North Star as you're thinking about the creative development of your show.

Niki: Right. What do they want to listen to? 

And I think another thing as a podcast host is: “What's fun for you?” [Jordan: Totally!] because it is so much work that you want to show up and actually enjoy it. For me. I love dragging former friends and colleagues [chuckling] on the show like you because their rapport with them. It's an easy conversation.

It's, I look forward to catching up. And so, it makes it really pleasant. It's harder if it's a cold call, formal interaction where I don't know the person as well. I do a lot more prep and it's more effortful. So, I try to pack the guest list with people I'm friends with.

Jordan: I think people, I think your listeners can tell when you're having fun. And in fact, a lot of times I encourage people to find a co-host who is a friend who they want to go on this journey with because it can be kind of lonely and sometimes doing it with a friend and having someone come in that you really like and have sort of a natural chemistry with can be a really helpful way to make sure that you stick with it.

Niki: Yeah, I think that's right. It's sort of like an accountability person, too! And it gives you a break on the weeks [Jordan: Totally] that you know - 

Jordan: there's a lot of work [cross talk] and so being able to split that sometimes can be a really helpful way to stay on top of everything. 

Niki: And most people doing podcasts, it's not their full-time job or their day job, or they may not even be making money from it.

So it is true that, y’know, I have a main job. So, in weeks where those are heavy, it's heavier, heavier lift.

Jordan: That's exactly right. I think, you know, unless you're one of the very top podcasts, chances are you're also splitting your time doing something else. And so, it can be hard to prioritize podcasting.

It's a lot of work, but I think there's a lot of return, too. 

Niki: There's a ton of return! So, let's talk about that. [Jordan: Sure]

What are you seeing as far as trends? Like, why do people start podcasts do you think? And then what do they get out of it? I mean, I can even speak to what I get out of it, but what do you,  [Jordan: Yeah] what do you think people when they come to you guys, when they come to, to Spotify, what are they looking for?

Jordan: It really depends. We see such a range of podcasts now, everything from true crime to health and wellness. And so, y’know, everyone's coming to podcasting with a different aim, but I would say one of the commonalities is I think people recognize that in this world of social and short-form video platforms and, y’know, and sort of quick bite content, podcasting remains one of the few mediums where you can just go really, really deep.

And I think people recognize that there's some conversations and some, some topics that really lend themselves to going deep. And there's audiences out there that really want to hear specifics. And so, y’know, in some ways, I think of podcasting very much as like a niche medium as well. 

There is truly a podcast out there for everyone.

And as a creator, you have the opportunity to dive really deep on topics of interest. There's some topics that I think really are best discussed in the podcast format. So, y’know, that said, I think a lot of other people come to podcasting to really engage with an existing audience that they have to really go deep with them, but also to find new listeners to and grow your audience as well.

I think it's the same reason people come to, y’know, any digital platform or any social platform, the ability to, y’know, put yourself out there and attract new audiences as well. So, I would say everybody comes for a different reason, but I think, but I think, by and large, they're all coming to sort of grow their footprint and find, find their community and build that community.

Niki: Yeah. When I, when I started this, I think one of the, I think you actually are to blame for the reason I actually started a podcast in the end because you gave me a metric and I can't recall what it is, but a couple of years ago, about how many women podcasters there were who were podcast hosts.And how many of those are just doing murder and dating advice. [chuckles] 

And I thought, “Oh, no! Now I'm now I have to start a podcast that's on tech and business because, y’know, I got to do my part. I can't hear that statistic and not get started.” So, that was, I think, the final nail in my podcast coffin. 

Jordan: And y’know what I would say in the past couple of years, I do feel like there's it's been great to see so many great female podcasters come speaking about all different types of content.

Y’know, I think, I think we've seen just the proliferation of this medium over the past couple of years into topics that we never thought podcasting would touch and it's been really awesome to see that. So, that's been a lot of fun for sure. 

Niki: Yeah. So, I think actually to talk about the reward so, I don't just like discuss it [chuckling] as a really difficult endeavor and hobby.

One of the biggest rewards - I started this partly to make a point, which is like classic me professionally and two, to force myself to keep current on events. So, at the time, crypto was in a huge hype cycle. It was incredibly complicated. I tried to find podcasts I could listen to, to learn it and they were 500 [Jordan: Yup], y’know, 500 episodes in and analyzing the anti-fragility of decentralization.

I'm like, “I don't know what this is.” So, my first few guests were just breaking down crypto as a one-on-one. And so, what I've one of the benefits I get is I learn new things but the bigger benefit is people come on the show who I either know and haven't seen in a while, or I've never met. [Jordan: sure] They're in my industry, so they're always in tech.

And so, my network stays really fresh because I'm a consultant now; I'm not at a big company, so it keeps my relationships really, really fresh and new. And I am constantly making connections through those connections. So, it's ended up being not just a virtual community builder, but for me, an in-real-life community builder that I didn't expect, that's not why I went into it, but it's been incredibly useful.

Jordan: I love to hear that. And I think, y’know, while there are more podcasts now than ever before, there's also still a limited number of podcasts and I feel like this industry is still small and it's very much a community. Y’know, one of the questions I often get is like, “What is the best way to grow my podcast?”

And I would say the answer is cross-promote with other podcasts [Niki: mm-hmm] hat are in the same field, the same topic. And I think that's what I love about this industry. People are so willing to lend a helping hand to cross-promote to explore new relationships. And it really does feel sort of very collegial despite the fact that, like I said, there's more podcasts than ever before.

But I think as an industry goes, it's, it's a really warm one. Where folks are really willing to lean in and help each other. 

Niki: Yeah, that has definitely been my experience. A number of our guests have their own podcasts. And I was actually at a cocktail party last year, and someone came up to me from Hamilton Place Strategies, which is another consulting firm. And they're like, “Oh yeah, you do that crypto podcast.” And I thought, “Oh, that's not the only thing I do, but it is a thing I do.” [Jordan: chuckles] And then I came on, went on their show, and we've ended up working together as partners since then.  [Jordan: I love that!] 

Yeah, it was, it was, they were incredibly generous and we got to bond over this work that we do on the side.

Jordan: And I'm excited that we've launched a couple of tools on our platform to make it easier to cross from between podcasts. We have a tool called host recommendations where you as a creator can point to another podcast on the platform or, or, y’know, a song or a playlist as well. But I think we've seen a lot of podcasters show each other love by pointing to other podcasts that they like, which is fun.

Niki: So, those are some of the tips and tricks: Weekly, regular content. Think about your audience in a really, sort of, holistic way before you get started. Try different things. Experiment. 

What are you seeing as far as trends? What's changed even in the last two years since we talked to each other?

Jordan: There's a couple of trends that we've seen that have just been really big in the last couple of years. I would say the first one is we're just seeing more and more podcast add video or even start with video from the get go.

I think that video can be a really great tool to further engage your audience. There are some people that want the option to watch and listen as well. And so, our product does a really great job of allowing people to switch between an audio only experience and an audio plus video experience. 

I think we've seen a lot of podcast discovery happen on social platforms, which is fantastic. I would say most, sort of, sophisticated podcasters know that they have to take clips from their podcast episode and cut them for all the different social platforms, and that that's really one of the best ways to really find new audiences. And so, we've loved to see that as well.

And then, maybe just the third trend that we're seeing is just more and more podcasts than ever before, which I think is so fantastic. I think it's great to see people really embracing this medium. 

I think even more so now, particularly as we add video, there is sort of this existential question of “What is a podcast?” We're sort of starting to see it blend with other digital mediums, which I think, ultimately, is a really good thing. 

And it doesn't really matter what a podcast is so long as people are listening to it or watching it and feel like they're getting, y’know, getting a lot of joy. 

Niki: I agree. I never got into podcasts until the pandemic. And then I was in my house all day long and I started to listen to it was actually a BBC podcast that I love that almost no one else has listened to, but it's called Real Dictators. [Jordan: chuckles] And I just love that podcast. And I started listening and it went really deep into dictators. And so, I think I probably listened to 40 hours [chuckling] about it during COVID. [Jordan: Wow!]

And then I thought, I really enjoy, like you said, the voice, y’know, it's so intimate and I could really pay attention to it while folding laundry. [Jordan: Sure] But I do know that a lot of people like the video aspect. And I know you said this, most sophisticated podcasters, and again, I'm getting to this point.

We're starting to take video just for clips for social media, [Jordan: Sure] because that is how people discover content. It's not word of mouth, really. It's, it's where they're, where they are, which is online. 

Jordan: I think there are still fantastic podcasts that are audio-only and don't need to add video. And there are other podcasts where adding video adds another element that, that can really improve the experience for listeners or viewers, as it were.

And there are some podcasts that are starting to add video for some episodes and not for others. And I think that's fine, too. 

Y’know, I would say people need to experiment and see what works. Y’know, we have a lot of analytics that we offer to creators really help them understand how their content is performing, how their audience is listening or watching to really give those tools to to our creators to really help understand how to improve their podcast.

Niki: One more trend I want to talk about before we wrap up is AI. [Jordan: Yes] I'm sure you guys are using it. Everyone's using it. It's 2024. 

How is Spotify using AI and how do you think it will impact the coming maybe year of technology in this in this arena? 

Jordan: Yeah, it's definitely top of mind. We did a pilot last year that was a lot of fun where we took some of our podcasts and we used AI to translate them into other languages from English, but we translated them using the host's actual voice. We did it with some big podcasts like the Bill Simmons’ podcast, and Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. And so, we actually allowed listeners in other languages to hear those podcasts in the host's voice, which was just so much fun.

I think that's a kind of thing that we're really excited about. How can AI help take this medium and expose it to more people by doing translation and doing it in a way that preserves the magic that you get from a host actually speaking to their audience, the comedy, the humor, the intimacy from that parasocial relationship.

I'm also personally really excited about how AI can really help with the production workflow for podcasts. I mentioned earlier, having a podcast is just so much work. It takes a lot. A huge part of that is editing your podcast and cutting clips for social. I think there are some really exciting AI companies out there who will be able to really help make that an easier process.

And then, maybe like the third and, and, and one that is so core to Spotify is, y’know, particularly on the music side, our recommendations are so key to our success. And I think that being able to tap into AI, not just on the music side, but on the podcast side to really help with those recommendations to get the right podcast in front of the right user is just going to be, y’know, a really, a really successful and, hopefully, bountiful effort for us. 

Niki: I definitely think that's true. If you could recommend with as much specificity, a podcast that someone would like, cuz sometimes I find myself searching through them and it's easy to look through the charts on Spotify, [Jordan: sure] but not, y’know, what's popular on the charts isn't always [Jordan: Totally] kind of what resonates.

And I'm not even sure what the algorithm uses to know what music I like, but it, it obviously does.  [Jordan: Right] And so, if I could find those podcasts that I love, I, I would listen to more shows. If I found more that kind of fit with [Jordan: Yeah] I'm not even sure I can describe exactly what I like and listen to, but I'm sure there's a pattern to it. [Jordan: Totally] 

So, I think that I'm certain that people will find more shows. 

Jordan: And y’ know, it's hard, podcast episodes can be an hour, two hours, three hours. And so, when you're browsing for a podcast to listen to, it can be a big decision. It's usually a pretty high consideration effort. And I think that just means that it's that much more important to really make sure that we're putting the right podcast in front of the right person so that they can come to trust the recommendations that we have for them.

Niki: Yeah. And so, I'm sure that as, y’know, as someone who runs content partnerships and thinks about podcasts all day, you're not supposed to pick favorite podcasts, but do you have a couple that  [Jordan: I’m not!] You're not? [laughing] Okay. So, don't tell me your favorite podcasts, but are there any you might recommend to people?

Jordan: I can tell you about a couple that I've listened to that I really liked just recently.

I just listened to Armchair Experts interview with Jon Hamm. [Niki: oh!] That was a good one. I would highly recommend that. Call Her Daddy, another Spotify podcast, just interviewed Heidi Klum, which was fun. I would say my last true crime obsession, and I get them from time to time, is Scamanda, which is a true,  [Niki: Yes!] which maybe you've heard about, is, horrible, but also so addictive.

I love some of those limited series true crime shows and then maybe, [Niki: Yeah, so good!]  It's so, it's such a guilty pleasure, but I don't feel guilty at all. And I just. It's my job, I guess, so I have to do it. Someone has to do it. I'm glad it's me. And then maybe the last one is, I've been listening to a lot of Modern Wisdom, which is all about, sort of, wellness-

Niki: Oh, interesting! So, I haven't heard of the last one. The first two I have, but I don't listen to regularly. Scamanda, this is interesting, on a really kind of niche podcast that I listen to, they mentioned it and said they found it on TikTok. And so, it was TikTok  [chuckling] sending it to these, I mean, they're probably Gen Z hosts.

And then, I listened to their show and I would never have found it. And yeah, total guilty pleasure. 

Jordan: People are really discovering podcasts in new ways. And I think that's fantastic. I think it's great that people are discovering so long as they come onto Spotify to listen. 

Niki: Yeah, definitely. And so, I'll say two that I've listened to recently and regularly.

One is- so, I mostly listen, in addition to highly produced BBC scripted podcasts about dictators [Jordan: uh-huh], I pretty much exclusively listen to true crime, which I guess they're both true crime in their own way. [chuckling] But yeah, [Jordan: Totally]  [both chuckle] But, so, I listened to Red Handed, which is two British women.  [Jordan: So good!] And oh, it's so good! 

I learn so many random things from those hosts. It's not even necessarily the crime they're talking about, but their banter. They're so smart and witty.  [Jordan: Totally]  And so, I learn a ton from them. 

And then another one, when we're talking about how we find things, you have a series of video podcasts that are kind of a masterclass for podcasters [Jordan: I do], and I was listening to that to prepare for this episode in this conversation, and you chatted with a woman who is one of, or maybe both of the co-hosts of Sisters Who Kill, [cross-talk] which is about, yeah, I think they described it as black murderesses.

It's so good. It's hilarious. 

[cross talk] 

Jordan: I know. True crime is just one of those genres that perform so well in the podcast space. And I think it's just, it's such a perfect fit. And what I love about Sisters Who Kill is they took such a unique approach and really just find the most incredible stories to tell their audience about.

So, I highly recommend that one for sure. 

Niki: The stories are incredible, and again, the hosts are incredible.You begin to have this parasocial relationship with them [Jordan: totally]  because they're so funny. 

Jordan: I think that's what it really comes down to. There are a lot of podcasts, but having hosts that you really like, that you really connect with, that's going to be the difference between having some success and no success.

Niki: Yeah, this is super helpful. And again, Jordan, you were such a key part of my, kind of, getting out of my comfort zone and starting this and I'm so grateful to you. 

Jordan: I'm so glad to hear it. I'm so proud of all of the success that you've achieved. I think it's amazing. 

Like I said to you before, a lot of people come to me thinking about starting a podcast. Very few of them do it. Very few of them stick with it and very few of them are as successful as you've become. 

So, I couldn't be happier that you found success here. And if you ever want me to come back on, I'm just a call away. 

Niki: Oh, thank you so much, Jordan. I really appreciate it.