I arrive in Islington a little past 9. It’s later than I wanted, but the train was delayed. The massive number of people rising with me to the streets is familiar, for London – a place I try not to get too familiar with. During the short walk from the tube station to the venue, I take out my headphones to take in the world around me. I’ve already listened to three podcast episodes this morning: The Unmade Podcast, The Triforce Podcast, and This Is Love. Despite this, I can’t help but feel like I am not the target audience of this event.
This is confirmed as I enter the Business Design Centre I am struck first by the scale, then by the realisation that the dozens of stalls are not podcasters, but mostly people who want to make money off podcasters. Businesspeople.
Perhaps I don’t look like a modular soundproofing material consumer
Rumours of complementary refreshments are quickly dispelled as I pay £4.50 for the smallest mocha ever sold. I have an hour until the first presentation I plan to attend, so I start my rounds.
A man at Studio Bricks, a company that makes modular soundproofing material, glances at me for a long time before engaging in conversation. Perhaps I don’t look like a modular soundproofing material consumer. He tells me it’s as easy to put together as IKEA furniture. I ask how the electricity gets in without letting the sound in/out. He assures me the cabling is all internal and soundproofed as well. He tells me there’s even a fan inside. I ask him if it’s a silent fan. He says it’s pretty quiet.
I climb some stairs and an American man asks me if I want 10,000 followers on Instagram. He seems baffled by how long I contemplate. “So more people read your stuff”, he prompts. Yeah, go on then. He gets my debit card details and gives me a book entitled The 10,000 Follower Blueprint, which is free so long as I remember to unsubscribe from his programme within 14 days. I unsubscribe as I walk away.
I go to walk past a man who smiles at me from behind an empty desk. He asks what I do. I fumble the response. It will be another hour of people asking until I settle on the answer “I write about podcasts”.
The man offers to show me something. The desk is not empty, I realise. The thing on it is simply flat. He pops up a large grey and orange cube. A foldable, portable, storeable, durable, affordable (£299 on Kickstarter) soundproof podcast studio. It is called VoxBox. I don’t ask him how the electricity can get in but not the sound because I can see the small hole in the side of the box where the cables run through. Still, when I stick my head in the box, it muffles the bustling hall nicely. He says he is very grateful for any attention I can give the brand.
I get lost upstairs and have to double-back on myself, trying not to make eye-contact as I decide to write-off that floor and head back down.
Safely on the main convention floor, I approach a stall emblazoned with the words “The Ambies”. I open my mouth to ask a question but I am interrupted by a gentle yet firm “I have to scan you first”. My press pass has a QR code and a barcode. I have been scanned once before, by the man selling modular sound insulation, but he asked first and it was for the explicit purpose of emailing me more information about their product. I wonder what information I will be receiving from The Ambies.
In an immoral departure from my capacity as a student journalist, I approach the Shure booth to get some advice about my personal podcasting setup. The man there is lovely. A terrible salesman, assuring me my Rode microphone is a great choice, but he gives me valuable advice about everything from mic technique to EQ.
I begin walking round the hall in a more systematic way. I note that the booths don’t actually line the walls, instead leaving a walkway around the outer edge that is not technically part of the event. This is because this building is in fact lined with more permanent business locations. I feel bad for the people who I can see working in these shops and offices, which are inexplicably open despite the irrelevant chaos occurring on their doorstep.
The woman at the Alitu stall and I have a lovely conversation complaining about Spotify. They are a relatively small company and their editing software is simple but their hosting service seems well-featured. Unfortunately, a subscription model based on time does not suit my sporadic upload schedule. I tell myself and the woman that I will remember the name, and that if I ever decide to invest actual money in my own podcasting, I will definitely consider them.
The man at Bleach Studios tells me they are based in North London but he assures me they can travel to the Midlands. I am confused by this travelling studio concept, but he mostly wants to talk about music. I learn I need to learn to look more impressed when people name-drop Dolby Atmos.
The woman at Music Radio Creative reacts well to my delight that they are not a subscription model. They are a stock audio repository who you can also outsource editing to. I am most intrigued by their relatively affordable custom jingle-making service.
Two young women sit chatting at a stall brandished with big pink balloons and stickers reading “CURLY”. They make podcasts for brands. They are lovely, and answer all my questions about why anyone would make podcasts for brands. They recently finished working on a collaboration between Nike and Elle. They seem to enjoy it.
The man at the Hal Leonard Europe booth said it was not my job to provide my remote co-hosts with recommendations for affordable microphones, so opted not to tell me any. I’m not sure whose job it is if not mine, but he seems sure it’s not his either. Fair enough.
I have finished my initial loop, so I head back to the entrance by cutting through the middle, passing a large area labelled “editaudio”. I express confusion at the name, which suggests they providing an editing service, but their area contains a small sound-proofed recording studio. The woman is smiley as she explains that they are indeed an audio editing company, but that they take a recording booth to every event they go to, let attendees go in and record things, and then make a podcast about it. I tell her I think that’s just about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard and immediately go in to participate. The booth contains nothing but headphones, a microphone, and a paper list of stock questions to inspire you. I hear my own voice clearly in my ears as I answer the question about what I’m proud of by plugging the Podcasts section of The Boar. The podcast they make is called editaudio: On The Road, and I make sure to subscribe before walking away.
It sounds like everything I want The Boar’s Podcasts section to be
I begin a second loop, visiting the stalls that looked too busy or too boring the first time round. Clipgen seems like a very transparent small business. They take your podcast and make short clips of the good bits for you to post on social media. I ask how it works with audio-only podcasts (I am a traditionalist). They show me an example, with a podcast logo and a dynamic waveform animation under it (everybody at this event calls it an audiogram, but that is something different). It looks pretty cool, but they cost £4.99 each. They reassure me they are moving towards a subscription model, but I tell them that, for me, that’s even worse. They seem intrigued and ask me genuine questions about what their service would have to look like in order to cater to me. I explain that they should not worry too much, as I am not their real cliental. They talk to me anyway, asking for input on whether I would us a free version of their service if the output came with a watermark. I feel bad saying no. The watermark is just so ugly. That is sort of the point, we agree. They are nice guys, and they requested to follow me back on Instagram.
I get very excited talking to the woman at Pod Bible magazine. To my shame, I had not heard about it before, but it sounds like everything I want The Boar’s Podcasts section to be. I have subscribed and plan to contact them soon. We joke about how people always assume we make podcasts because people don’t credit writing about podcasts the way they do writing about film or television or music. I say it is validating that a podcast convention is so well-attended. She agrees.
The man at the Vortex stall is very excited to show me the Call Me software, where people can remotely dial-in via web browser. I tell him I currently have to guide remote co-hosts/guests through installing Audacity, set their own recording going, and then use a separate software to video call then. He is right that his product meets my needs exactly, but it is far too expensive and I have a panel to get to, so I have to leave him wanting.
My assumptions were nearly all wrong
I am awkward as I approach the TBI (The Big Idea) stall, unsure which of the two people there to address. They take it in their stride as they double-team me. They are lovely people. I ask what they do and they tell me, then I explain that that isn’t really relevant to me but we talk some more anyway. They are big musical theatre fans as well.
I walk towards the Podopolo stand almost reluctantly. I have made assumptions about their service and how unsuitable it is for me, but the man looks lonely and I am running out of stalls to visit. I am glad I went, because my assumptions were nearly all wrong. They can connect podcasts with advertisers, yes, but it is not their sole function. They are a podcast player. They say if I sign up with them, I will earn £2 for every additional person I can convince to download their app. I am a 10+ year user of Podcast Addict, and have no desire to change this, but I tell him that sounds pretty cool. I ask if they offer podcast hosting. He explains that they don’t currently but that it is being worked on and should be released very soon. I then sceptically enquire as to whether that would be included in the free plan. He assures me that is will be. I am surprised, and instantly enthusiastic, which makes the man very happy. To be able to host podcasts for free with small businesses rather than Spotify is something I long thought a pipe dream.
The man at the Podpod stall is very nice. They write about podcasts and have one themselves, the same as me. I really respect what they’re trying to do over there. I sign up for their newsletter. I think this will be a good source of pitch ideas for the Podcasts section at The Boar.
The panels are over for the day and so, having extracted all I can from the convention floor, I head to the door. Podcasters Ki & Dee serenade me out with a song about how disappointing sex with men is. It’s funny. I add their podcast to the long list of shows I mean to get to and, on the train back to Coventry, I make a small dent in it.