Home-grown, DIY podcasters are increasing thanks to lockdown and free time at hand

The best spot to record his podcast, says Arabind Chandrasekhar, is his car. A couple of weeks ago, the Kochi entrepreneur was also recording from his kitchen, at midnight.

In Bengaluru, independent filmmaker Padmalatha Ravi, who lives near a busy traffic signal, has on occasion, resorted to recording her podcast by placing the mic inside a cupboard — “the acoustics are good,” she says.

Arabind and Padmalatha are part of a growing tribe of podcasters who started during lockdown.

Although Deepika Arun from Chennai has run Kadhai Osai, since April 2019, on which she reads Tamil works, she noticed an increase in listeners in March. By mid-March she started reading Sivagamiyin Sabatham by Kalki Krishnamurthy. “It is a 1,000-page book with 200 chapters; my reading concludes in early November. I read a chapter a day and we thought by the time I finish everything would be okay. The feedback from people is that listening to this was a relief during lockdown,” she says.

She started another podcast for children in April, Chittukuruvi, with her six-year old daughter. This was her way of expressing her love for the Tamil language while engaging children through stories, puzzles and tongue twisters.

Taking the plunge

“We see a hike of around 40% in content creation and consumption in the last six-seven months. Early on into lockdown, there was a spike in the domain which has stayed. Content is being created from tier 2 – tier 3 cities, and not only metros,” says Shubhangi Sahal, head of Content, Hubhopper Studio, a podcasting tool.

Noteworthy is the demand for regional content. “Hindi and ‘Hinglish’ are heavily consumed at the moment. There was a pattern — listeners would come for a TED Talk or an Oprah Winfrey show, but eventually gravitate towards Premchand ki Kahaniyan and other Indian content,” she says.

Arabind Chandrasekhar  

Arabind’s Podcasts by Arabind Chandrasekhar is in his mother tongue — Malayalam. He tried YouTube first, but the number of people required to make a video discouraged him. “All you need here is a smartphone, a decent microphone, editing software to record, edit and upload. If I want to add songs like I did for my SPB tribute then I get help,” he says.

His three genres are — nostalgia, special days and conversations. “A Malayali’s interest is varied, much like teashop discussions. They span from politics to films and everything in between,” he says. He has been an avid consumer of podcasts, preferring the audio format to the video. Lockdown presented him the perfect opportunity to try the idea he had been toying with for a while.

Reneshia Mahesh

Reneshia Mahesh  

Voiceover artist Reneshia Mahesh from Kerala got curious about the medium after listening to actor Kalki Koechlin’s Kalki Presents: My Indian Life for BBC. “I developed an interest, but there was nothing of the sort in Malayalam then. My voice is my ‘career’, so when I found time on my hands, I bought a mic and started. This is perfect for those who don’t want to ‘show’ their faces,” she says. She launched Ennoduoppam in Malayalam, in June.

Help is at hand for amateurs in the form of free apps that get a podcast ready and share it across platforms. . Most of these home-grown podcasters don’t have an idea of the exact figures, but they peg it between 1,000 to a few lakh ‘listens’.

Getting better

Choosing a genre helps; according to Shubhangi — motivational, spiritual/devotional, storytelling and personal finance are popular subjects. For example, development research and communication professional Nirupama V from Bengaluru and Archana Atmakuri, a research analyst in Singapore, run What’s Next? In Social Sciences. The feed, launched on July, is academic, targeted at non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students to highlight opportunities social sciences offer. Into their fifth episode, they have planned a 15-episode package of content. Each episode is a two-week process, co-ordinated over Zoom calls and WhatsApp between the two friends from college.

Padmalatha Ravi

Padmalatha Ravi  

Padmalatha has uploaded seven episodes on her podcast (Curious Cat and Other Stories) since she started in August. She has not picked a genre. “Not having a genre is a bad idea according to those in the business. I have been told that if I want to get on ‘lists’ of podcasts to listen to, I need to find one,” she says, adding that she is veering toward mental health, art and feminism, where her work and interests intersect.

The enthusiastic feedback Arabind and Deepika have been getting proves that there is demand for content in regional languages. “A listener in Tanzania told me that my podcast makes them feel connected with Tamil,” says Deepika. Likewise Arabind, “I have had messages from Malayalis in the United Kingdom, for example, who told me that time — half an hour so — the couple spends listening to my podcast on their drive to work makes them feel connected to home.”

Podcaster is the new YouTuber

Can the hobby also be lucrative? Nirupama is upfront, “We are doing it for the content; we don’t want to make money.” However, Shubhangi says, “Advertisers are buying into the idea that podcasts are also a means of advertising like other mediums.” The figures could range from a few thousand rupees to lakhs, depending on the podcast and its reach.

When Deepika started podcasting, she had two digit figures of listeners per day, today she gets 2,500 listens per day. To be a successful podcaster consistency is the key. The percentage of abandoned podcasts is also considerable. This is a slow game, the audience is different and you have to build up your podcast. Shubhangi adds, “Creators get impatient that it [gaining ‘listens’] is taking long. There is no instant gratification here, it takes time.”

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