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How the creator-fan relationship differs in music vs podcasting
For so many of us, audio is (quite literally) a soundtrack to our lives. From our favorite songs that keep a party going, to the podcasts that narrate our commute to work, to the voice notes we record and send to friends when we need to tell a story just right, and everything in between, these sounds put their own unique stamp on our life experiences. However, in the evolved world of audio we live in today, that is where the commonalities end.
Having spent over two decades in the audio industry - in radio at the Global Radio Group in London, then in music with Spotify and now podcasting at Acast, and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean - I am well aware of the impact audio as a whole has on the creator economy, advertising campaigns, and audience engagement alike. What has surprised me, though, is the fork in the road the different audio industries have taken when it comes to fan relationships and monetization.
Maybe this is why I was so struck by a recent post from my industry peer Mark Mulligan of MIDiA, in which he suggests that music streaming is at a very delicate point in its evolution. “Streaming is buckling under its own weight” he argues, examining how the current royalty and remuneration system for musicians is failing to adapt to the changing music landscape. This, he says, is thanks in large part to the shift from active listening to passive consumption facilitated by algorithms.
As Mark puts it, “passive playlist programming has squeezed out fan relationships,” and as AI makes more headway into music creation, the industry needs to focus on addressing the problems of consumption and explore new avenues to shape an industry once “centered around fandom, identity, creativity, and exceptionalism.”
And here we have come to our fork in Audio Road.
If music is being watered down by algorithms, and the musician-fan relationships eroded along with earning potential, there’s a place where fandom and exceptionalism are thriving: podcasting.
Why and how?
Firstly, podcasting is a two-way street. Creators can speak - literally - directly with their audience and cultivate a real sense of community. A regular release schedule offers opportunity for feedback and discussion, on social, through email and more, allowing podcasters to shape their content around their listeners and establish a loyal following that transcends the transactional nature of music streaming. In digital audio, this communal nature of podcasting sets it apart from music streaming, where listeners often passively consume songs without a similar opportunity for connection or indeed influence on output. I can stream Elton John all day, everyday while I work, but I'm pretty powerless when it comes to persuading him to continue to tour. But as a fan of Peter Crouch, stirring up a conversation on the show’s Facebook page with other kindred spirits living in the NYC area and keen for a live recording in the States might get us somewhere
Then, while music streaming struggles to distribute royalties fairly, podcasting offers a unique opportunity for creators to monetize their fandom as part of the creator economy, on their own terms. Pre-recorded ads and host-read sponsorship once remained the preserve of the bigger shows - which was certainly the case when Acast first started many years ago. But that has changed and the democratization of podcast advertising has advanced massively. A few years ago, Acast pioneered programmatic advertising in the space, which transacts on a bid-based buying system and was a crucial step in creating more paths to monetization to more podcasters.
Today, advertisers of all sizes, everywhere, can engage with podcasts of any genre or budget thanks to ecosystems like Acast’s self-serve ad platform. As a result, more ad dollars have started to flow to the longtail of creators. In fact, since launching in 2014, Acast has paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars directly into the pockets of our creators – and we’re only just getting started.
On top of that, a whole host of platforms are enabling podcasters to earn revenue directly from fans - through mechanisms like subscriptions for early access, bonus content and more, alongside merch, live tours, books and so on.
Real Human Connection
We’re living in a world currently navigating how to engage with AI. Virtual artists now a thing - no humans needed to put out an album, sing a track or appear in a video. But podcasting stands as a testament to the enduring power of human connection. AI-hosted podcasts aren’t cutting it. And while AI-driven algorithms may dominate lean-back consumption, podcasting thrives on lean-in engagement, where listeners actively seek out meaningful conversations and authentic voices. I’ll admit that the rise of generative AI may present challenges if we don’t monitor and regulate its use in podcasting, but the inherently human aspects of podcasting—empathy, humor, and genuine conversation—provide a strong counterbalance to the potential threat of AI-generated content.
Ripe for Brands
Last but not least, an audience that seeks out and actively leans into audio content is incredibly powerful for brands. At Acast, we believe the relationship between podcaster and listener is of such vital importance because of what that bond allows advertisers to do. It’s why the podcast host-read became so famous. And it creates a virtuous circle: podcaster builds foundational relationship with listener, advertiser is able to capitalize on that relationship, revenue flows to the podcaster to continue to develop even more and deeper listenership.
What I’m not saying is that musicians are failing to build authentic, meaningful relationships with fans. Look at the hysteria around tickets for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour for one. But what I am saying is that podcasting has the unique opportunity to allow creators to monetize that meaning, in a significant way. And in turn, brands are able to capitalize on that authentic connection in a way that’s right for them, the podcaster and the listener. Now that’s powerful.
Start your podcast ad campaign with host-read sponsorships or pre-recorded ads in minutes with our easy-to-use self-serve platform.