When I started looking into industry leaders one of the first things I knew I would want to look into were the people who were different: the ones who were doing big things in the world of podcasting despite being a minority voice or a niche creator. Women in the world of podcasting are becoming more commonplace – shows with female hosts have become more and more popular, with shows like Serial, The Bright Sessions, and Wine and Crime leading the way – but women as the norm for top podcasts is still a ways off. But that doesn’t mean that women haven’t been in podcasting and making waves for a while, as Elsie Escobar, our latest industry leader, can attest to.
Back in 2005 (which is basically the dawn of time in podcasting years), Elsie discovered podcasts by listening to educational shows put out by Harvard and she was blown away by the fact that there was this medium offering free access to classes that would normally cost so much money. In order to learn more about podcasting, she started putting out her own show, Elsie’s Yoga Class. “‘I could make my own show. I can do whatever I want, and nobody can tell me what I can and cannot do.’” Elsie explained. “I found it to be incredibly freeing.” She had entered the mythical land of podcasters, what she described as “the coolest kids ever.”
Elsie loved getting to be a part of this world: back at the beginning of podcasting, there weren’t millions of podcasters: the people creating content were a tight-knit community just trying to be heard. Her enthusiasm and the fact that she was one of the only women in podcasting at the time earned Elsie some recognition and in 2007 she was hired by Libsyn as part of their Podcast Relations team headed by VP of Podcaster Relations Rob Walch. Eventually, she would end up running their podcasting community and being an ambassador for their brand.
Now Elsie works closely with all of Libsyn’s creators to encourage independent podcasters to put out their best possible content, inform them on everything they need to know to achieve their goals and create relationships that help them navigate the industry effectively. She loves supporting independent podcasters because she believes that podcasting is all about giving a voice to people who may not have originally had one. Of course, being in the world of podcasting for this long means that Elsie has seen a lot of change in those independent podcasters: “Back then we did it all. We did all the things. We helped each other out. We went into it because we had a voice and all our shows were very much unique, they were very cutting edge…” Of course, today things are a little different.
When Elsie started podcasting, being heard and experimenting with a new artistic medium was why creators were making shows. Today, she sees more and more people starting up podcasts because they want to achieve something else: “They’re looking for exposure, they’re looking for expansion, they’re looking for brand-awareness.” Achieving that goal often means a more formulaic approach to creating, and Elsie misses the days of weird experimentation and creativity. No matter what may have been lost or transformed over the years, Elsie sees a bright future for podcasting, on a few conditions.
Elsie knows the podcast medium is here to stay, but we are long past the days of validating the medium. Now, we have to start looking at where podcasting could go, but in order to get there Elsie thinks we will need to see a shift: we have to move from a visual culture to an auditory one. Elsie thinks that “podcasting will only grow if we really concentrate on growing a culture of listening.” That means freeing podcasts from relegation to places like cars and runs (where you literally cannot watch television) and making them a major competitor in how the majority of people consume information and entertainment.
If that shift happens, Elsie sees podcasting stepping into spaces that really need it. Podcasting is full of professionals and educators and experts who are making their services available for free and if more people had access to those services more and more problems could be fixed on an individual level. Elsie would love to see podcast listening stations in libraries and podcasts used as teaching tools in schools from elementary to college; people would learn that this is a medium full of answers to their questions and would utilize it accordingly.
There’s no promise that Elsie’s vision will come true, but there’s also nothing saying that it can’t happen. Podcasting has consistently shown its ability to grow and develop over time and there are no signs of it stopping. Dozens of forms of media have changed the world over the centuries, who’s to say podcasts won’t be next?
This piece on Elsie Escobar continues our new Industry Leaders series. We want to talk about the people who are pushing podcasting forward and hear what they think may be coming to podcasting as a whole. If you have suggestions for an interview or questions about the content, feel free to email me at [email protected]