Who’s behind the Independent Podcast Awards?

Nov 03rd

The first Independent Podcast Awards took place earlier this week, in Kings Place London. The new event ‘seeks to celebrate the truly independent talent of UK-based podcasters who don’t have the financial backing of brands to support them’ and were launched by whynow Media in conjunction with the Verbal Diorama podcast – itself an indie.

But who are the people behind the IPAs? Our new freelance writer, Francesca Turauskis, was part of this year’s advisory board. She sat down before the ceremony with award Founders Emma Turner and Em McGowan, and asked them to give us some insight into the people and processes behind these awards.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

FT: What was the origin of the awards?

EM McGOWAN: I’ve been an indie podcaster for several years and I’d put myself forward for various awards because I genuinely thought, “well, I should just give it a go. There’s no harm in it”. And obviously every single time I heard nothing. When you look at some of the bigger podcast awards, it’s very rare that you will see an independent podcast in the shortlist. But I was starting to hear conversations from other podcasters who were questioning, what do we need to do to stand out?

I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an award ceremony that focused on those independent podcasts? And so I actually talked to Simon [Brew – head of Publishing at whynow] and it was through him the discussions with whynow started. And I can’t even remember when that was, 18 months ago, probably even longer ago now.

FT: And how do Simon and you know each other?

EM: I’m a writer for Film Stories, and we’ve known each other for longer than Simon cares to admit!

FT: And so that was the link into whynow’s office. Emma, when you first heard about the Independent Podcast Awards, what was the draw?

EMMA TURNER: I was working at whynow as a freelancer, but the CEO [Gabriel Jagger] wanted to start an events division, so my remit was to create some events from scratch. I went to him with a couple of proposals, one being the Independent Podcast Awards, and he actually said, first of all, “why would you do that?” – I’m being very honest here – and I was like “whynow is all about celebrating independent talent, arts and cultural talent that probably wouldn’t get covered anywhere else.” Naturally the Independent Podcast Awards fits in really well with that. As with most events there was a big discussion about the practicalities before I was given the go-ahead, but we got there!

FT: And so then the next steps would be thinking about an advisory board?

ET: Yeah – Em’s a podcaster. I’m an event person, but there’s a whole part of the [podcast] industry that we didn’t completely know. So it was trying to get people that have that knowledge base and context as well.

EM: Me and Emma as two cis-het white women, there’s obviously certain things that we can point to and say, “that is something that speaks to us personally.” But I think it was really important to both of us that we had a very diverse number of voices, because everyone’s experience with podcasting is very different. We didn’t want it to be a place that seems to highlight and support one group of people –

ET: Middle-aged White guys…

EM: Because there are, let’s be honest here, a lot of middle-aged white guys and just white guys in general in podcasting. And that is a stone cold fact. And when it comes to being recognised, it does seem like there are the same kind of shows that continually get recognised. We obviously don’t want to put shade on anyone, we believe that there’s room for everyone in this space. And I know what’s important to me, and Emma knows what’s important to her, but as a podcaster of colour or as an LGBTQ podcaster, what is it that you are looking for in this situation? We didn’t want to make something that only suited us. That was really important.

FT: Do you think that you hit those points you were aiming for, in the advisory board and the entries?

ET: I would say more so in the entries. I think we could be more diverse on the board. But it was really pleasing that the shortlist does seem to be such a range of people and subjects and people from different backgrounds, communities. It does seem like we have done quite well. And again, I’m sure we could do better, but for a first year, I think we have done pretty well.

FT: With the award categories, did you have a good idea of what you wanted from the start? And did the categories change at all?

EM: We had a reasonably good idea of the categories that we wanted. Then they evolved as the event evolved, because I think we quickly realised that maybe we should have thought of some other things.

ET: We actually added in a few categories. A couple of people got in touch and said, “oh, would you think about adding in a children’s category?” So we straight away added in ‘Children & Young Adults’. And then once we closed for entries, the ‘Educational’ category had something like 50 entries, which is amazing, but that is a lot of listening [for judges]. And also it cuts down on how many can be shortlisted and how many winners you can have, which sort of goes against what we were trying to achieve in representing lots of different areas of the industry. So we added ‘History’, ‘Self-improvement’ and ‘Sexuality & Relationships’ to try and give more people the opportunity to be showcased.

FT: There was talk in the advisory meetings about having specific categories for demographics like women’s podcasters. Why did you veer away from that in the end?

ET: We didn’t want to dilute it, but also by having a category just for women, it could be construed that women are not quite good enough to be in the other categories, therefore they need their own special one. The same with people of colour or different gender identity. If you are a really passionate sports podcaster, then you should win the sports category.

EM: We went back and forth on it a lot and I think we wanted to categorise them based on their own merit. I’m sure that if we come back for a second year, then we would look at that again to say, well, what did we have with the diversity? Did we have a good selection of female fronted podcasts, male fronted podcasts? [editors note: Em clarified via email they would check coverage in terms of inclusive categories for all gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities]

FT: And on the back of that – and I know you’ve addressed this before – why are there separate awards for Indie Pods? Is it because they aren’t good enough to win other awards?

ET: We absolutely don’t think that they’re not good enough. It is recognising the grassroots talent and bringing it up and getting it the recognition it deserves, which isn’t always easy up against people that have got years of media training and a big production team behind them, and all that kind of thing.

FT: You’ve already mentioned a couple of things that you might re-look at for next year, but is there anything you have learned through the process?

ET: One thing I definitely wouldn’t do next year is change venues two months before, and I wouldn’t have it on a Monday, especially not the Monday after my best Friend’s wedding…

EM: We’ve always said that we would have a debrief once everything’s passed. I think for next year it would be nice to let people know a bit earlier. I feel like if you are an indie podcaster, the money side is quite important, how much something costs is quite important. And I think if you’re given a bit more time. And maybe ramp up the excitement a little bit more. Now that we’ve had this year, people will know who we are. Hopefully.

ET: I’d change a few things about the judging process, but it’s the first year of doing something and you never quite know whether it’s going to take off or not. I think also for next year we would have a section on the website of what the judges will be looking for, to try and help people work out what they should be putting in and keep the entries concise for the judges as well.

FT: That’s good to hear. I think that is a very opaque process from the podcaster side.

ET: And learning how to write in an awards entry is quite a skill in itself. It’s probably slightly less so for this one because it’s more about what the podcast itself sounds like, but there are certain skills to writing that bit of wording to try and stand out from the crowd.

FT: And do you have any particular hopes for next year in terms of what you would like to see for either the podcasts that are applying or for the actual event that you would really like?

ET: Ask me again tomorrow!

EM: I feel like when it’s the first event, there will have been some podcasters out there who are a little bit apprehensive and thought, “yeah, we don’t know if we want to do it. We don’t know what it’s going to be like”. Hopefully next year they’ll look at the people who did win and go, “that’s what I want for my podcast next year”. And maybe that will equal more people entering, more diverse people entering.

ET: [Some big production houses] got in touch with me asking when we open for entries next year. I had to point out to them that they didn’t quite fit the criteria…

FT: Is there anything you want to add that we didn’t cover?

ET: I’ve launched a lot of events, but they’ve always had brand backing before. It is so hard to go from a standing start to get 300 entries. I was hoping for a hundred!

An insight to the 2023 judging criteria:

These are the five criteria that judges were asked to think about for each entry (this may change for 2024):

1. How does it serve the community it’s aimed at?

Think about the podcast’s audience, does the content hit the mark?

2. How is it different?

What does it do differently from other podcasts in the genre – does it stand out somehow?

3. Is it well researched?

Do the hosts know what they’re talking about? Have they read around their topic? If the show is an interview based one, do they understand their guest?

4. Listener Figures

What are the listener figures like? This isn’t to single out/penalise those with fewer downloads. It’s to help you think about whether some pods need more of a helping hand than others. And if the podcaster has provided info about how they’ve increased listeners or anything that makes them stand out, this is where you score them for that.

5. Does it leave you wanting more?

Having listened to the excerpts, do they leave you wanting more? Do you want to spend more time with the hosts? Does it entertain you even if it’s not a topic you’d normally choose to engage with?

Find out more about the Independent Podcast Awards and this year’s winners, head to their website.

Don’t forget to check out our article on 6 ways to make your audio event relevant and representative to help champion an industry you’d like to see.