This year marked the five year anniversary of the podcast festival founded by Talib Jasir to be a safe space for Black independent podcasters and audio industry professionals to connect, collaborate and provide resources and insights to support this successful and growing community.
Against a backdrop of perfect fall weather and the majestic views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the stage was set for the 5th anniversary gathering of sponsors, speakers, attendees, family, and friends for the 2023 Afros & Audio Podcast Festival. In most cases, those titles can be interchangeable as attendees shared stories of meeting as strangers at previous events and becoming present-day business partners and lifelong friends. It wasn’t all good food, music, and drinks (although that was certainly appreciated!) – there was a distinct air of intention, purpose, and power at this year’s festival. 2024 is shaping up to be a Leap Year indeed, based on some of the sessions, discussions, and meet-ups I was privileged to attend. Read on for more.
The Data of It All
Black content creators are diving into their podcast metrics like never before to engage better with their listeners and develop targeted content for future episodes, social media messaging, and other marketing channels. To quote one of the festival speakers, Disctopia’s Patrick Hill stated, “If you’re not using podcast metrics, then you’re just counting.” While podcast performance metrics like downloads, listeners per episode, and top episodes certainly matter, the advanced metrics available to podcasters are where the magic happens. On a similar track, tech solutions that support independent content creators with things like transcribing episodes and creating social media posts were a large discussion item. Sessions were peppered with questions about the safety of newer apps and interfaces and the (ever-changing) considerations that need to be taken into account with the original content being created and shared.
Black content creators are eager to grow their current monetization tactics. As podcasters continue to feature episodes that analyze and examine the current environment and world events, it can sometimes mean walking away from monetization opportunities and brands that are not fully aligned with yours. Remaining authentic and maintaining high personal morals isn’t something creators are willing to sacrifice for a paycheck, making it more paramount than ever for them to identify alternate revenue streams to compensate for the loss.
While monetization remains a key topic amongst this group, more time was spent discussing additional revenue streams and opportunities. Several creators shared how they completed successful live episode events and tours in 2023 to tremendous individual results. The impact of selling out a venue can be a huge benefit and sign of credibility for a content creator. Many attendees also plan to implement a subscription platform to support their content outside of traditional advertising. A subscription's consistent financial support through direct engagement with its audience is another opportunity to solicit feedback on future podcast ideas.
One of the success stories that was shared in detail was the “Get Your Stitch Together…LIVE” case study, presented by Lisa Woolfork (host of Black Women Stitch's Stitch Please, on Simplecast), Naomi Johnson (Director of Special Projects for Black Women Stitch), and Latrice Sampson Richards (award-winning podcast producer). The women shared the specific strategies, tools, and logistics they used to develop, underwrite, and produce the live episode event. On the subject of attracting sponsors, Lisa dived into the research tools she utilized to create sponsorship decks that clearly defined the benefits to the brands she wanted to approach, making it easy for sponsors to say yes. The discussion gave tangible tips and real resources that other podcasters can consider as they explore their own future events and sponsor outreach.
Insights From Across the Pond
Our neighbors from the United Kingdom made the trip over to discuss podcast culture in the U.K. and some similarities and differences in how that culture impacts Black folk outside the U.S. The session was hosted by Bernard P. Achmpong (Head of Creative Development for Unedited) and Kelechi Okafor, a multi-faceted Baby Girl (IYKYK), recognized globally for her social commentary, comedy and debut book Edge of Here and award-winning independent and self-produced podcast Say Your Mind. They also shared their own podcasting journeys and a curated list of podcast shows to know in the U.K., many of which I have already downloaded and will be listening to in the coming weeks. Regarding networking and expanding our resources within the audio industry, we must extend that reach to our kinfolk globally.