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Igniting a Podcast Movement: An Interview with Dan Franks

Dan Franks started listening to podcasts the same way many of us do — while stuck in traffic. At the time, he was an accountant, and it helped him escape those early days of monotonous tasks at work. It was 2009. A few years later, Franks and one of his co-workers decided to host their podcast.

“I was first a fan listener then turned co-host,” says Franks. “We listened to the same shows and had the same interests. One thing led to another, and we decided to start one ourselves,” he says of his financial-focused podcast for small businesses.

Despite being analytical from his CPA background, Franks saw his creative side grow.

“I’m a big believer that the only way to get good at something is to start out bad at something. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones that’s born with a natural gift,” he says.

Once they started recording and editing their podcast, however, Franks quickly realized that it was anything but easy. “The best way to learn lessons is to go through the hard times. Every podcast has gone through it, like forgetting to hit record. You make that mistake once, you learn from it, and hopefully, you don’t make it again.”

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Those lessons should be shared, he thought. He saw an opportunity to create a hub for podcasters to collaborate, network, and provide a sense of community in an industry that can quickly feel lonely.

“My friends and I were individually going to different conferences, gatherings, and meetups where they had a few sessions for podcasters, but they weren’t podcasting-only events. We were all sitting around the table talking and said, 'wouldn’t it be cool if there was something like this, a big gathering just for podcasters,'” he says.

The Podcast Movement conference, held in Orlando this year, has grown to more than 3,000 attendees since its inception in 2013. Now in its sixth year, the event will host people from more than 30 countries and all 50 states.

The journey from the initial idea to bring podcasters together to founding one of the biggest podcasting conferences was a long one. But, lucky for Franks he had a community behind him helping him to make it possible. Last year, he quit his decade-long accounting career to go full-time at the conference.

How the Movement took off

In 2014, the inaugural Podcast Movement took place in Dallas, TX — all funded by over 200 people on Kickstarter. Nearly 600 indie podcasters showed up to network and share knowledge about the emerging industry.

“When we first came up with the idea, it was purely intended to be a creator event. We were independent podcasters ourselves. We didn't have a network of team members.” That sense of community and camaraderie is what Franks attributes for getting Podcast Movement off the ground. “We had the feeling that we weren’t the only ones that thought it would be a cool thing. We knew early on that it was something that the industry did need,” he says.

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The conference’s growth was organic, but it also mirrored the industry itself. Attendees’ demographics started diversifying as well — what started as an indie only podcasts event started attracting more public radio, broadcast commercial radio, and corporations year over year.

“Six years ago, a lot of people in radio didn’t care about podcasts. They knew they existed, but had no interest in them. Fast forward to now, we constantly hear about radio groups investing in podcasts,” Franks says.

“It’s just an evolution of what’s happening in the space, and then those new people are now coming to the conference. I think the more listeners come around, the better it's going to be for everyone involved regardless of what those income streams are.”

It’s true — a new Edison Research report found that more than one-third of the population had listened to podcasts in the last month, that’s 90 million monthly listeners, and that growth in listeners hasn’t slowed down.

Not only are listeners on the rise, advertising revenue in podcasting surpassed $500 million in 2018. I fact, media giants like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and ABC News have also joined in on the trend, introducing their own news-focused podcasts.

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Franks believes that diversity in size and industry is what makes Podcast Movement stand out as a media conference. For example, a buttoned-up executive once come up to Franks to share that they just had a great conversation with someone about their gardening podcast.

“That's what makes our event very unique compared to any other media conferences — it’s a giant melting pot of all of these different groups. There are different educational components, but at the end of the day, the networking events, keynote, and parties are open to everyone,” Frank says.

The making of a podcast

While his financial podcast only lasted two years before he shifted his focus to the conference, it gave Franks the experience he needed to hone his production and editing skills. Surprisingly, Franks also had the opportunity to educate himself on the ins and outs of production and entertainment during his 20’s while he traveled the world as a professional wrestler. When booking speakers and putting together the conference, all of that knowledge came in handy.

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Many people in media speak of the low barrier of entry as a negative feature of podcasting, however, Franks sees it as a positive. “Podcasting has drawn creators to it because I think it's a little easier and less intimidating than starting a Youtube show. You’re not being seen, just heard. That fear of self-consciousness can be a little lower for podcasting than other creative mediums.”

He also believes that podcasting is not just for creative people. As a self-proclaimed analytical person, he sees the value of being both. He explains that while analytical people may do more research on the best hosting platform or best equipment to use, creative people may jump right in.

“Sometimes saying let's just push record and see what happens is not necessarily a bad thing,” he says. “Fail forward. If you're one of the lucky few that are left and right brain, it might be the best of both worlds.”

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Topics don’t need to be quirky either. There’s a big space in podcasting for small business owners to supplement their business blogs with podcast audio to attract more clients. Franks did it himself during his accounting days. “It’s a good way to build authority,” he says.

“You don’t have the creative desire, but you have some other motivators — building your company or brand. Podcasting is a way a lot of people are successfully doing that,” he says. The versatility of podcasting as an industry is “why it has grown the way it has.” For example, the crossover between expressing yourself and establishing yourself as an expert in your field — whether you’re discussing the Real Housewives or budgeting.

Prioritize accessibility

As the industry grows exponentially, the gap between audiences is growing wider. Accessibility should be top of mind for those interested in being inclusive and serving the needs of all podcast listeners.

For example, a transcript of the audio can make your content accessible to those who are hearing impaired or use screen readers. It can also welcome those whose first language is not English but are interested in what you have to say. You can also transform your audio into a visual or video product.

Franks sees this as a content strategy too — “I’m a big proponent of repurposing content, creating one piece of content and then getting it into as many different forms as possible if you’re creating a podcast as the original product, certainly [create] transcripts.”

“This isn’t only helping accessibility and those who may have a handicap, but helping you grow your show and your audience, which is super important,” he says.

Embrace the podcasters around you

At the core of the Podcast Movement are the independent podcasters the conference was started by and for. Podcasting can be a lonely job, and often frustrations mount if you can’t discuss the issues you have with growth or consistent content with others who get it. That’s why the team behind Podcast Movement created a Facebook group (nearly 25,000 strong) for podcasters around the world to meet each other and discuss ongoing pain points in the industry.

“We try to encourage everyone to get in there and meet each other online. Being a part of those conversations with other podcasters, it helps you feel less alone,” he says.

He suggests creators reach out to other podcasters in their niche. He also suggests learning from them by asking about their trajectory, what they’ve learned about growing their audience, what content issues they’ve dealt with, and how they’ve become successful.

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“That’s the biggest thing, finding that community. Whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter, find those online communities. Even though you record the podcast sitting in your office or attic or basement, by yourself talking to a computer screen, you’re really not alone,” Franks says.

Even though you record the podcast sitting in your office or attic or basement, by yourself talking to a computer screen, you’re really not alone,” Franks says.

It’s not only important to build that community with other podcasters, but with your listeners as well. If you’re trying to start your podcast, he says that your fandom is the most crucial piece of the puzzle, no matter the size.

“When it comes down to it, it has nothing to do with the size of your audience. But it has everything to do with the passion, the support and the fandom that you build amongst your listeners,” Franks says.

Franks hasn’t forgotten the hustle so many podcasters are dealing with. For Franks, his daughter has helped him optimize his workflow and become effective, getting his work done in between nap times and bedtimes. Prioritizing his work and how to spend his time between creating and family is how he attempts to find balance.

That same prioritizing is something he sees in those podcasters that record at night or on the weekends. “There’s a lot of people that are on Patreon and are thinking about getting into podcasting. Most people are doing podcasting for fun, during whatever downtime they have. That’s super relatable.”

“You’re replacing that downtime with the pursuit of that creative freedom,” he says.

The future of the podcast industry

Earlier this year, Spotify acquired podcast company Gimlet Media in a $200 million deal — one of the many high profile deals in the industry.

Franks sees these types of acquisitions happening more frequently as more radio networks, online music platforms, and significant investment funds help grow the industry. But with more prominent players entering the game, Franks says that he continues to hear independent creators express fear that they will cease to exist because they’re not associated with one of the big corporate groups.

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He remains optimistic about the growth as the podcast industry is still in its early days since approximately half of Americans have never listened to a podcast. There’s room to grow, he says. “The way I look at all of that stuff is that's just growing space more. There's still a large number of people that have never listened to a podcast. I don't see [large companies entering the space] doing anything in terms of being harmful to what podcasting is right now.

“I think it has a huge upside in terms of exposing new people to podcasts. It’s making it easier by lowering the barrier of entry for listeners. There’s big growth ahead.”