Interview with Ray Ortega, Host of Podcasters' Roundtable
January 26, 2016
Ray Ortega is the host of The Podcasters' Studio and co-host of Podcasters' Roundtable, two shows that focus on podcasting. He launched his first podcast in 2007 and has been an active member of the community ever since. I asked him about what he's learned over the years.
1. Tell us about your history with podcasting.
I started listening to podcasts in 2005 after finding them in the iTunes store while looking for music. The fact that anyone could produce audio or video and make it freely available to the world was a very exciting realization and that lead me to creating my own video podcast in 2007 called Produce Picker Podcast. My main goal was to learn how to podcast by just jumping in and producing my own show.
Once I started podcasting, I was hooked. I went to meet up groups about podcasting, I consumed anything I could find about producing podcasts, I went to Podcamps, and was pretty much consumed by the medium 24/7. I was always thinking about podcasting.
In 2009, that love for podcasting lead me to create a new, audio-only show called The Podcasters' Studio. It was time for me to start sharing the knowledge and experience I was gathering so that I could help others start a hobby I loved so much.
Around this same time, because I was so engrossed in podcasting, giving talks, meeting other podcasters, helping others on Twitter, and still producing my own show, I was able to turn my hobby into a career. I was hired by a Washington D.C.-based non-profit to help produce their already successful and growing podcast network. That's when I went from hobbyist to professional and my life was forever changed.
I still produce multiple podcasts about podcasting - no more Produce Picker Podcast, but I still do lots of how-to videos at youtube.com/thepodcastersstudio.
2. What is Podcasters' Roundtable?
Podcasters' Roundtable is a podcast about podcasting, recorded live as video and turned into an audio-only podcast. The goal is to teach podcasting through discussion; less of the "how-to" and more of the "why."
The inclusion of other, new podcasters (someone who has not previously participated) from every niche, is the other goal I have for the show. It's important to me to get the experiences, opinions, and perspectives of the largest variety of podcasters possible. And while not truly possible, I'd love to include every podcaster who exists and who wants to be on the show.
Podcasting, while being a new medium, is not new. We - podcasters - have been around for more than eleven years. Because we have over a decade of experience in this space, spread out over hundreds of thousands of shows, everyone who podcasts has an amazing wealth of experience and insight to share with other podcasters. And because not everyone has a show about "how-to podcast," I try to make Podcasters' Roundtable a platform where they can share that wealth of knowledge with other podcasters new or experienced. In turn, it lets the listener choose which opinions, tips, and ideas are best for their own show and hopefully this helps them produce an even better podcast.
The nice side effect of hosting a show that includes all types of podcasters is that many new relationships are formed between people appearing on the show, being exposed to other podcasters from other genres and between those who join in to watch live and chat. Simply put, you'll meet new people!
3. Based on your years hosting Podcasters' Roundtable, what are the most important things somebody should consider before launching a podcast?
When it comes to advice about starting a podcast, one thing never changes: you should love the topic you are about to start a podcast about. At the very least, you should have a considerable investment in the content. Maybe it's a show about your business or a topic you have little or no experience with but want to learn.
You need a reason to care about the longevity of the show. Maybe producing a podcast has become part of your job or you're helping your kids enjoy a new hobby. Whatever the reason, you should be invested in your show for reasons that matter to you personally. It's hard to dedicate the necessary number of hours needed to produce a quality podcast if you're not motivated by the topic you are talking about.
Even if you love the topic, podcasting is hard work and at some point you are going to have to do some serious research to keep a show going for the long haul. It's your personal investment in the topic that will allow you to not "podfade" (a.k.a stop podcasting).
The stats are high when it comes to shows that don't make it past ten episodes. It's harder work than you think. And in a lot of cases, you won't be making a livable wage from your podcast. When you love the topic you are podcasting about, those two critical hurdles (hard work with little to no monetary return) won't be insurmountable barriers.
4. What's the most surprising thing you've learned while hosting the Roundtable?
That working with your "competitors" is probably the single best thing you can do. From the very first Roundtable, I invited my two podcasting friends, Dave Jackson from The School of Podcasting and Daniel J. Lewis from The Audacity to Podcast, to co-host the Roundtable with me. I'm quite sure this has been the single largest driver of subscribers for the podcast.
While we all have shows about how-to podcast, we all have audiences that are interested in the content that is presented on the Roundtable. Conventional "old media" wisdom would probably say that you don't want to share your audience like that. But podcasting is time-shifted content and we are in less competition for the audience's time. Even beyond that, viewers and listeners of the Roundtable are not just people who like the content, they're a community. We exist to support each other and geek out over our common love of podcasting. By sharing and introducing your audience to more of the same content that you know they'd love, you are building a stronger community, not sending people away to your "competition." As a result your audience thanks you with their respect and the sharing of your content.
5. How have you seen podcasting evolve in the time that you've been doing it?
Podcasting feels like it has been through countless evolutions in its relatively short life. It went from being mostly tech shows hosted by "geeks in a basement" to now, with everyone wanting to start their own show. From MP3 players you had to plug in and sync with your computer to apps on smartphones: just press play. One of my favorite evolutions to witness is seeing podcasts go from almost exclusively hobby ventures to a legitimate career path. I love seeing people get to do what they truly love for a living. There have been so many changes, but what remains the same is a slow but steady growth with more people discovering podcasts every day, all around the world.
Podcasting has become, at least in my eyes, as important as TV, radio, movies or any other form of traditional media. It's here to stay, whether it's big business or a hobby, there's room for everyone who wants to start a show and I look forward to helping as many of those people as possible.