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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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  • by Zachary Masoud - January 12, 2006, 11:55 am

    Back in the day, people laid out their thoughts in things called diaries. Yes, at the end of the day they would spend some 15 minutes in their room and would jot all of their notes and views and emotions in this little book which was only visible to their eyes. However, then technology was introduced and people started doing blogs. Blogs are messages which you post on the internet where you basically explain your life and the way your feeling and just in general, express yourself so that other people could get to basically know you. Now however, we have some even new: podcasts.
    So what is a podcast if you aren’t familiar with them yet? People basically record themselves talking and expressing themselves. They give their opinions on different topics and give other people the chance to see their views on all kinds of things: entertainment, love, politics, etc. Now, people are starting to make these things really fun and quite entertaining. They are making people know them for their views on a certain topic. Some people will post podcasts where they give their views on movies, other people will post podcasts about their political views, etc. Podcasts, this will one of the big things this year, until something new of course is developed next year…

  • by Carolyn Lavallee - January 13, 2006, 12:36 pm

    I would have to admit that I have mixed feelings about podcasting. I agree its great to get other peoples opinions. Sometimes, it can help us with descisions we have to make in our own lives. The internet is such a usefull tool. You can just about do anything from the comfort of your own living room with the internet. Even buy carts of baby diapers! But I have a soft spot for the personal touch. After all, in reality there are many other ways to get someones opinion about an issue. What concerns me ais that with all the advances in technology, pretty soon the internet is going to completely take over. I believe there will be a day where journalism will come to an end. Where daily news updates are broadcasted to the whole city on a giant screen as opposed to a stack of papers fresh off the press. Where writers are no longer going to make encyclopedias and documentaries will cease to exist. I know what your thinking….this will never happen, because not everyone can afford a computer. Well for those who can’t afford a computer or do have one but don’t have the internet, you can pretty much get internet access anywhere now. Im not even talking about schools, librairies or government facilities, Im talking about the local mall near my house that has about 5 or 6 computers installed for free web use. Besides lets face it, computers are just like televisions. 6 years ago I didnt have a computer, they were too expensive. Now I would have to guess about 1 out of 3 ( if not 2) houses have internet. And in another 10 years, just about everyone will have the net. It will be no more expensive then having cable television. Im not a big fan of all the changes going on in the world. Like grocers being replaced in the grocery stores by electronic counters or banks closing so early because of 24hour access to instanbank machines. In all fairness though, I do enjoy Podcasting and hearing other people’s opinions. So I guess Im impartial when it comes to Podcasting.

  • by Lisa Gratton - January 16, 2006, 7:35 pm

    Everything today is becoming more and more accessible, if you have an idea, and want to express it well this is one way to do it. I enjoy a few podcast’s, some from California, other’s from London, and some from home. It’s a different way of bringing people who have the same interest together. And it’s fun, you can discover new bands or learn something interesting or keep track of the recent news.
    Though there’s one little problem with Podcast’s, I find that it lacks in organisation, it’s hard to find something to match your interest’s or something local. And it’s happens often someone starts a project though it doesn’t follow through. And it’s a shame sometimes.
    This might just be the start of something bigger and better.

  • by Dawn Manhertz - January 17, 2006, 3:57 pm

    Well, Sorry Smith, but I’m afraid that before reading this article, I was one of those people that you referred to early in the article who, I believe you described as: ”…you really have to be living in a hole to be that oblivious to what’s going on.”
    And in response, I’ve not been living in a whole, I’ve been doing very much the opposite thank you very much…but I must admit, that I do not have my own PC with Internet access at the ready, so I guess if that’s what you would describe as out of touch, then, I guess I = Guilty as charged.
    All this podcasting business does seem interesting though. I might just get into once I do have the time to devote to it.
    The very analogous description you gave to the whole idea seems, confusing at best. Perhaps I’ll find a better description of the concept on-line, or better yet, in the New American Oxford Dictionary; as you mentionned it has been added to the edited reference book, right?
    All right, well I can’t think of anything more to say about that.

  • by Mark St Pierre - January 17, 2006, 4:00 pm

    Thanks for clueing me in on some of the more MTL-area podcasts, although truth to be told, I’m still a little unclear on the concept. Are podcasts live broadcasts devoid of talking heads – just music?…is there text involved? Suffice to say, I’m REALLY new to all this but being a die-hard music fan – especially of indie stuff – I fully intend to immerse myself in this new medium!

  • by Eric Wilson - January 31, 2006, 10:48 am

    I really don’t think Podcasting will catch on. It’s cool that it gives people a forum for their ideas, but we already have that on the internet.
    I think it is great that it is an option, but we are already a society who is being overwhelmed with information. There is the internet, satellite radio, cable tv, satellite tv, super digital tv, mp3′s, mp4′s, DVD’s, VCD’s, etc… etc…
    And when I am on the bus going to work, I would rather hear my favorite “Coldplay” tune then listen to some cyber geak talk about how great George Bush is…

  • by Pedro Eggers - January 31, 2006, 6:14 pm

    I’m old school. I may write a lot and use the computer substantially but in my heart and mind technology is just a tool to me, not an extension of reality or myself. Technology keeps innovating new ways to connect us to the world and extending our perspective of personal space. I can take technology or leave it. Podcasting is neat and all but how about old fashioned human contact? I can read about you or I can discover you one piece at a time in reality by actually making an effort. The digital wasteland is full of endless chatter but real connection and growth still requires more than the click of a mouse.

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