Podcasters of the world, unite: Spawn of the podcast

Spawn of the podcast

Julien Smith hatched the first Montreal podcast
Photo: Joseph Yarmush

New web media is rewriting the book on how media works

"People still ask me what a podcast is, which kind of blows my mind," says Julien Smith, whose In Over Your Head podcast was Montreal’s first. "Considering it was the word of the year in the New American Oxford Dictionary, and it’s been all over the news… you really have to be living in a hole to be that oblivious to what’s going on."

It is actually quite simple: Get an idea, create your own content, put it out there, and let people consume depending on their level of interest. In that way, it’s somewhat analogous to a traditional business model that says Conceptualize, Create and (Mass) Market, except within the world of podcasting, that last step concerned with making a wad of cash and buying the Benz is conspicuously absent because podcasting isn’t about money, nor are podcasters interested in keeping with tradition. Rather, their craft is representative of the natural (and necessary) evolution of technology and personal media. In a world steadily embracing a paradigm shift, they are the shifters, and as we move into a time where the Internet – and its peripheral technology – is finally making good on its promise to be the great democratizer, podcasting is but another articulation of this new tradition.

In 2002, Shift writer Clive Thompson wrote that the Internet had both "matured" and "come of age" after the Sept. 11 attacks, that it occupied a post on the front lines, letting us know what was happening, and would happen, in the aftermath of that tragic day. Today, independent from tragedy, podcasters and their ilk are affecting a dramatic change in the way we acquire and disperse media, giving ordinary citizens the kind of agency that has previously been the private property of the old guard of media oligarchies.

Today, we’re bearing witness to the dawn of a newer, more significant era in the history of media. For years, multimedia mega-corporations have had the market cornered, dictating what was and wasn’t permissible over "their" airwaves, regardless of the niche desires of their largely non-participatory audiences. As it was conceived, the Internet was a tool that facilitated a paradigm shift because it afforded everyone an active role. Now in its early adolescence, that role has grown into a casual responsibility, a way anyone can contribute to a future of hyper-personalized media.

Though some have suggested that podcasting is merely pirate radio for the 21st century, Smith disagrees. "It’s not pirate, and it’s not radio, but it is everything that pirate radio represents," says Smith, who assiduously asks permission for any copyrighted material he uses.

The vox populi, vox dei aspect of 21st century media is not lost on Smith, nor his friend Neil, a Chicago podcaster. "[The concept of podcasting] removes gatekeepers, the people who were the content providers. Before, if you wanted people to hear you, you had to find a publisher or broadcaster. [Most of the time] you had to compromise to get heard." Today, Smith adds, "you can get whatever you want in whatever context you want it – it’s so easy it’s almost ridiculous."

Not only do we get what we want, we create it as well, because podcasting’s anyone-can-do-it nature effectively circumvents the institutional impediments that have historically plagued citizen media. "Here there’s no barrier to entering," says Smith. "You’ve got a computer? You’re good. Go."


Five MTL-area podcasts of note – and where to find them

The Bob & AJ Show: bobandaj.com

Think traditional AM drive-talk without the "traditional." Two easygoing, beer-drinking Montreal-area guys letting it all hang out.

Vu d’Ici/(Seen From Here): mcturgeon.com

Indie rock and then some from a hip, web-savvy girl who calls the Plateau home.

[insert clever name]: blogs.meidia.ca/clevername

Alexandre Michel’s encyclopedic knowledge of music will impress six months from now when everyone else catches up to him.

Zeke’s Gallery Podcast: zekesgallery.blogspot.com

Commentary on Montreal’s art scene and recordings of all the readings and shows at Chris Hand’s venerable St-Laurent establishment.

In Over Your Head: inoveryourhead.net

The best underground hip-hop and indie rock you’ve never heard interspersed with offbeat, acerbic, Montreal-centric conversation that’s sure to educate those with genteel sensibilities to the myriad usages of the word "fuck."

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