Podcasters enjoy a degree of creative freedom unrivaled by nearly any other media platform. Since making your own show requires little more than an internet connection and some rudimentary recording equipment, and the medium allows creators to connect directly with their listeners, a charming DIY ethos permeates the still-burgeoning industry. House of Pod is a hub for creators in the often lonely field of podcasting to come together to develop ideas, share recording space, and build a fellowship of local showrunners. The company, which was co-founded in coordination with the non-profit Amped, is seeking to diversify the soundscape of the Denver podcasting scene with "From the Margins to the Center," a a new podcast incubator dedicated to developing new podcasts created by women of color —who've been historically underrepresented across all fields of media. Westword caught up with House of Pod's Catherine Jaffee and Paul Karolyi to discuss their goals for the incubator, and the advantages of working together.
Westword: Can you give us the origin story of the House of Pod?
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Catherine Jaffee: I lived on the borders of Turkey/Armenia/Iran on a National Geographic Explorer grant for much of my 20's. The easiest media to download at that time in the tech-remote territory where I lived was podcasts. This was from 2008-2015. I became obsessed. I started listening to help me feel less lonely, but the more that I listened, the more I also saw podcasting as an excellent medium for communities to tell their own stories and to be heard in ways that they hadn't been before. So when I returned to my home in Colorado (I was born here), I was bent on making podcasts professionally. That's when I learned that actually making a high quality podcast that people would want to listen to has quite a few challenges. From buying the right equipment, to mastering editing, to connecting with others who can help you, to producing podcasts... the whole thing can be lonely, and hard, and I realized that I needed a community and a space to make something that actually mattered. I started interviewing others about their experiences and visiting studios around the country, and it become clear that others were facing the same challenges. Over 50% of all US podcasts are made out of just two cities - New York and LA. Being from Colorado, I wanted to see our cities and communities join those ranks. So I set out to start House of Pod here. That's when I met Paul Karolyi, who had been leading Denver's Podcast Meetup group for a few years, and producing a number of podcasts in Denver for quite some time. Together, we started growing a space, a community, and a production company that could support new podcasters in finding their start, and serving existing podcasters in connecting with one another to grow their stories and capabilities.
How has the collective evolved over the course of its first year?
Paul Karolyi: House of Pod is not a collective. It's a company with a sister non-profit called Amped.
As for how it's evolved, the short answer is enormously. In the beginning we had big plans for all kinds of podcast-related services and other offerings. I remember early on Cat talking about a storytelling bar and coffee shop. We never found the right space for that. There's also the studio. Looking back on how it looked when we started, it's like night and day. We've invested a lot of time and money in improving our studio, while keeping it comfortable and approachable — all that technical equipment can be intimidating and we want people to see how easy it can be to make their voices heard! That really brings up the one thing that's been constant since the beginning. We still have the same basic goals we started with: build a podcasting community in Colorado and amplify underheard voices.
Jaffee: Paul is right. We're not a collective, but we have really evolved! What started as a focus on space and equipment has transformed into a one-stop-shop for all things podcasting. Plenty of places have studios - the library, other coworking spaces. But what House of Pod is and does that is so unique, is that we are a full service production company that teaches free classes and paid workshops on how to produce your own thing; we offer a la cart services like editing, hosting, sound design, original music composition, studio consultations...; and we produce full series for companies and individuals centered on their goals and their stories. We still have our space, and our studio is the most affordable high-end production space in Denver. It breaks down to $3.30/day to come and record (but you do have to reserve your spots beforehand). However, in our evolution we've added on all of these services and offerings based on the needs of podcasters. What started as a podcasting co-working space, has truly evolved into a center that is aiming to meet folks where they're at. We even started an educational non-profit Amped, that works in the community to teach podcasting and hold programs that unlock the medium for underrepresented voices. Some examples of work we've done on that front is an oral history project in the Five Points neighborhood, where we worked with Julie Rubsam, a long-time senior resident, to interview older neighbors about their stories of the neighborhood, including Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. We're particularly excited to be working with the non-profit now to launch From the Margins to the Center, our new podcast incubator that is first we know of its kind here in Colorado.
Describe the nature of your new podcasting incubator, From the Margins to the Center. What are your intentions and what are you offering to the people who apply?
Karolyi: Over the last few years, we've seen a number of really exciting developments in the local media — Denverite establishing a new alternative voice, CPR growing to fill some of the space left by the Post's contraction, the rise of the Sun. But still, I don't think it's controversial to say that our local media is broken. I consider myself part of it when I say that. We have failed for a long time to serve all aspects of our community. A big part of that is newsroom diversity. But that's not all. It's about going to neighborhoods that have been ignored. It's about giving people the tools they need to tell their own stories in a way that makes sense to them. There are a lot of reasons why this incubator is necessary, but that one is the most motivating for me.
Jaffee: Colorado's media scene is entering an exciting chapter. It's full of hard-working journalists who are innovating in the face of a changing news landscape. There are scrappy news startups (we're big fans of the Colorado Sun!), and everyone is wondering how to serve the Colorado community better. How we can play our part is equipping creators who have never been included before with the tools, space, resources, support, and guidance to tell the stories that no one else can tell at a quality level that everyone will pay attention to. We want to make a media company that helps produce content representative of the people who consume it. From the Margins to the Center is about to put our best resources into the hands of emerging producers. And we couldn't be more excited to hear what they make.
As a rundown of what will be offered: From the Margins to the Center is a four-week program that includes 28+ instructional hours of podcasting education for eight women of color interested in taking an original idea and turning it into a podcast series. We're matching them with leading national podcast producers as mentors from around the country. We are flying in the CEO of Lantigua Williams & Co, a production company that focuses on putting the voices of people of color front and center, we offer drop-in sessions, workshops, and unlimited access to the studio, and we are debuting the final products from the workshop at Colorado's first podcast festival which we are hosting in July at our space. Even if you can't participate in the program itself, we're going to be holding all kinds of free events around for the public, so folks should subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date what's happening during the months of June and July at House of Pod.
We're still seeking sponsorships, both to fund the first season of the most promising graduate from the program, and to help support the year-round memberships of participants so they can keep recording in our space. So hopefully, the program will keep giving back long after it's officially "over."
What are your ultimate goals for the women who participate in the incubator program?
Karolyi: I hope they all make kickass podcasts that take the world by storm. It's not a stretch to think one of these shows will be a hit. There is a huge demand for this kind of content right now, and based on the applications I've seen already, we're going to have an incredibly talented group of creators.
Jaffee: The ultimate success for us would be if after this program, there's an infusion of new incredible shows produced by women of color, that inspire others to tell their stories, and disrupt the landscape of podcasting regionally for the better. Some of the stories we're reading in the applications already have so much potential. I truly believe a rising star is in their midsts.
What's your opinion of the state of the Colorado podcast scene in general? Are the any developments you'd like to see happen or trends you wish would fade away?
Jaffee: Colorado has a very exciting podcasting scene that is become more and more connected every day. My favorite trend is how much we are starting to communicate and collaborate. There are groups meeting in our space every Tuesday, groups meeting outside of our space in bars across Colorado in Longmont and Fort Collins, and we're all sharing notes and giving feedback on our stories. These are people who are into it because they love the medium and believe in its power, and they are getting better and more creative every week. The change is audible. I also love seeing storytellers shift to sound and find their stride. One of our partners, Sapiens.org is a digital magazine that makes anthropology more accessible to people everywhere. We work with them to turn their content into podcast episodes, and it's been a total hit. The resulting podcast SAPIENS was top three for science podcasts in the US four weeks running last fall, and made it to the front page of New and Noteworthy on the iTunes store. Right next to us was Wild Thing, another anthropology-leaning podcast by Laura Krantz and Foxtupus Productions. I was so proud to see two Colorado podcasts right at the top of the store. And there is certainly room for more.
I think a trend I wish would fade away, are the people who don't care about radio or podcasts at all, but want to do it just because they think it will make them money. This doesn't worry me too much. Podcasting is not as lucrative out of the gate as people think. This is hard work. And to be successful, you need to be dedicated and you need to care. What's so remarkable about podcasts is their ability to connect intimately and directly with listeners. An audience can tell if you don't really get it. Earnest passion and dedication is rewarded.
Karolyi: It's really exciting to see it grow. In the past couple years, we've seen our first big hit with Wild Thing. We've seen our local NPR affiliate start investing in podcasts with Purplish, The Taxman, and a couple other shows we've heard are coming soon. The only trend I'd like to see go away is the trend of podcasters making their thing at home, alone, and feeling isolated. Hopefully House of Pod has helped reverse that one.
What are the advantages of producing a podcast with the support of a network like House of Pod?
Karolyi: At House of Pod, you have a community of fellow creators to fall back on. You have peers who will listen to and critique your show. You have top-of-the-line recording equipment to achieve the sound quality listeners are more and more coming to expect. And you have us, experienced radio and podcast producers who can help you develop your concept, make those high-quality recordings, get the most out of your interviews, advise you on how to write for audio, and help you find your audience. There's a lot of different aspects of the creation process, and independent creators have to wear a lot of hats. We're here to help with the parts you're less confident with.
Jaffee: We are invested in your success. A big win for us is if your podcast takes off and we were there to help - whether it was with your intro or outro, finding you an excellent host, sound designing the zombie noises in the background of your segment on apocalypse preppers, or helping you sensitively and artfully tell the story of a lost loved one. We bring a community of creators together to make your stronger any way we can, and we're staying on top of breaking news in our industry so we know how to guide you in something that is changing and evolving every single day.
How do interested participants sign up to participate?
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Karolyi: They can read up on the incubator at WeAreAmped. Anyone interested in joining House of Pod should email me or come by to one of our free Tuesday night events. You can find those at our meetup group.
Finally, are there any local podcasts you want to recommend to Westword readers? Feel free to self-promote.
Karolyi: There's the aforementioned Wild Thing, Purplish, and The Taxman. My friend J.D. Lopez has been documenting the local comedy scene for years, so if that's of interest listeners couldn't do better than subscribing to his show Left Hand Right Brain. Our former member Nick Firchau makes an excellent podcast about fatherhood called Paternal. He's got one of the best taglines I've ever heard: "Paternal is a show for anyone who's ever been a father or wondered about dad." I'll also throw in Out There, which is a bit of a stretch to call local since the host Willow Belden is based in Wyoming, but I think it has a lot of appeal for local audiences.
Jaffee: SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human tries to answer one question about what it means to be human, and we're coming out with our second season this July. It's unbelievably fun to make, so I hope it's also fun to listen to. Paul doesn't plug himself, but Changing Denver is truly a great show, it's a Colorado staple, and I'm a big fan. I also love, That's What She Did, Podcasts in Color, Girls Gone Wod, Bumping Uglies, and Singleling. All of these shows have recorded with us at some point in our history and I couldn't be more grateful. Brand new shows to keep an eye out for are the Void, and some exciting new developments at House of Pod which I can't mention quite yet, but they're on the way.