You recently made a career shift into podcasting – in fact it was the core focus of your Executive MBA thesis. Tell us a little about your career until now and what drove this decision to change.
I used to be a radio producer. I worked in radio for 25 years in a big broadcasting business. Quitting that corporate existence and doing everything now by myself has been a very big change. In ways, you could look at it as the same – I was doing radio before and now it’s podcasting – just on another platform. But going out there on my own instead of being embedded in this corporate environment, that’s been the biggest change. It’s life-changing and it’s empowering as a creative. Podcasting as an independent producer, you can do whatever you want on your own terms. You’re not bound by schedules, so you can do whatever you want in terms of length. This gives you a lot of freedom to get creative.
You spoke to a lot of podcast listeners in the development of your thesis. How does their connection to podcasts compare to the listener relationship in radio?
One thing that you do lose in podcasting is the sense of ‘now-ness’ because you’re not recording live. I actually studied this as part of my thesis, looking into how the listeners’ experiences differ and even asked them to measure this ‘now-ness’ feeling. Actually, the results were quite the opposite to what you might expect. On-demand audiences, compared to traditional live-streaming audiences, create their own sense of ‘now-ness’; that works around their time. They have it there in their pocket whenever they choose and there are so many choices of topics and subscriptions. When I spoke to listeners, they talked about intimacy and the fact that you usually listen to podcasts on your own with focus, whereas with radio, it can be something you have on in the background like wallpaper. The listening experience with podcasts is so much more intense.
Podcasting is in its infancy and as you mentioned, it’s a largely independent industry. Do you see a more corporate future for podcasts and what do you think are the commercial opportunities for brands and businesses?
It really depends on where you are in the world. In the US, there’s already a big, solid market for podcasting content. But in a country like Denmark where I’m from, it’s a very immature market. We’re getting to the point where people and brands are picking it up casually and just saying, “Hey, I have one too!” But there’s not much competition yet, whether it’s good or bad. I think that what will happen, as we’ve seen in the States, is that people will realize that it’s not enough just to ‘have’ one. You need to have good quality, professional people to work on it and good stories to tell.
And what are the challenges in the way of this becoming a more professional industry across different countries?
There are still countries where we don’t see adequate WiFi access for the listenership to take off. I looked at the industry in countries like Guatemala and they’re not even there yet in terms of telling stories – it’s still just music programs. In a small country like Denmark, we also have the challenge of language which is a huge obstacle to growing a podcast’s audience. Five or six million Danish speakers is maybe not enough. It’s not the kind of medium that translates to text or subtitles so it very much hinges on the language. It’s been interesting for me studying in Berlin with people from all over the world who are testing me, asking me, “Why not do it in English?” My instinctive reaction was “No way!” My English isn’t perfect and I have this really strong accent. But my American classmates tell me they love it. There are podcasts out there with presenters speaking English as a second language and it doesn’t seem to be a problem – quite the opposite. Maybe it’s just something that we should learn to embrace.
What projects have you been working on since your career-shift into podcasting?
I’ve been working on my own podcast which has been a very inward-looking journey, right into my belly button! I’ve been trying to find my own voice again – it’s even called after my own name, ‘Dorte Palle’. It’s been strange and sometimes a little horrible listening back to your own work, but I think that’s part of the process. I’ve been really putting my own stories and start-up mentality out there – what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. It’s exposing. It’s a challenge but I meet a lot of podcasters in the same situation. They write to me and tell me that they’re so glad that I’m sharing my mistakes and vulnerability. That gives me the courage to share even more. I’m also doing some more professional commercial work, creating content for big channels and small businesses. A lot of literature agencies are publishing podcasts right now with authors and poets. It’s been a mix of corporate and personal projects, as well as some things that are just for fun. I’m also consulting with a lot of producers who want to take up podcasting, so I’ve been teaching a lot which I’ve never tried before. It’s quite fun. I love it so much that after six months, I started the Nordic Podcast Academy. Because I like to teach, but more so, I like to lead. We get professionals of all levels who are interested in taking podcasting seriously. They get to practice on state-of-the-art equipment and learn from international sound engineers, innovators and story-tellers.
Podcast fans have a great sense of community, almost like music or comic book fans. What have you learned about this?
I think that connection between the host and the listener is very important – that bond. It’s not necessarily something that people expect from radio anymore. This was the kind of thing I wanted to investigate in my thesis, and I actually conducted a little experiment where I tracked down some of my listeners from my radio days 20 years ago. When I spoke to them and they described the feeling of listening to me back then, it really made me emotional. These were listeners that I’d never met and they described me as being like this ‘friend’. But it’s a para-social relationship. It’s one way. I don’t know them but they got the feeling that they knew me and vice versa. That was a really interesting field to dig into during the thesis. With social media, now, there’s a chance to sort of talk both ways. But actually I’m not a social media user at all. I believe in great story-telling and in authenticity and I think if you create really good content and you’re truly yourself, then you don’t need to use social media as well to create this community. The community will come to you.