Michael B. Duff

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Archive for the ‘Podcasts’ Category

Kevin Smith uses podcasts, Twitter to prosper in the age of niche marketing

I’ve never really been a Kevin Smith fan.

Kevin Smith is a director, responsible for some of the most influential films from my youth. “Clerks“,”Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy,” “Dogma” – his Jay and Silent Bob characters are cultural icons, but I never really drank the Kool-Aid.

Smith is a stoner icon, and while I’m cheerfully libertarian on paper, I’m incredibly conservative in my private life. I was born a 50-year-old man, so now that I’m 40, I feel like I’m finally growing into my age.

So yeah, I’m not his target audience, but I’ve heard Kevin on a couple podcasts lately, and I can’t help but admire his honesty.

Kevin Smith has no illusions about who he is or what he’s here for. He makes no apologies and wears no masks. He’s been incredibly forthright about his successes and failures, and he doesn’t hide from his mistakes.

He wears his mistakes like NASCAR racing endorsements, plastered in plain sight, as if he’s daring the world to notice them.

I admire this because Smith is not your standard bulletproof celebrity, divinely aloof from all criticism. He’s naturally touchy and oversensitive, but he confronts critics head-on, effectively leading with his chin.

He’s got one of the most popular Twitter feeds on the Internet – 1.8 million followers at the moment – and he posts to it constantly, presiding over an army of rabid fans.

Smith made news last year when a major airline declared him “too fat to fly” and forced him off a plane after he was (comfortably) in place with his seatbelt on.

Smith told the story on Marc Maron’s podcast back in January. He got bumped from the plane and begged the airline management for help. When they were condescending and unhelpful, he basically said, “This is your last chance to do the right thing. If I walk away now, in 30 minutes you’re gonna come looking for me.”

Smith was already a “Twitter millionaire” by that time, and he decided to put his fans to good use. He began tweeting like a madman from the airport waiting area, liberally copying messages to the airline’s public relations address.

Thirty minutes later, the manager tracked him down and offered him anything in the airline’s power to give, if he would just stop tweeting.

Don’t you wish you had 1 million Twitter followers?

A cautionary tale about customer service in the Internet age, but there’s a bigger point here, too. When the entertainment press turned on Smith for “bullying” the airline, he realized that a man with a million Twitter followers doesn’t really need the entertainment press anymore.

These days Kevin Smith is truly a “citizen of the Internet.” He’s on tour now, promoting his film “Red State,” but the core of his business is the close relationship he’s built with his fans.

He’s never going to make a Michael Bay blockbuster, but he’s not trying to. I think Kevin Smith is the first of many artists who are going to triumph in the age of niche marketing.

Kevin Smith isn’t making films for “everybody.” He’s found a core audience of fans who love his work and they generate enough revenue to keep him working. In 20 years the whole industry will be like this.

We’ll always have blockbusters, but increasingly, the Internet and alternative media will allow artists to create things cheaply and distribute them directly, bypassing traditional gatekeepers — forcing distributors to come chasing after them.

You don’t need a contract. You don’t need an agent. Just start throwing stuff on YouTube and see what sticks. You won’t get rich overnight, but you’ll be working. You’ll be making art for people who “get you” and that audience will grow every day.

Kevin Smith is exactly the kind of artist who will succeed in the new model. He’s brash with critics and humble with fans. He’s working on a personal level, telling stories that come from his life. He’s a one-man marketing machine who engages with his fans on a level that would terrify a traditional director.

But there’s one more thing that makes Kevin Smith special. Since 1994, he’s been working with Jason Mewes, a self-confessed drug addict who’s using the power of podcasts and public confession to stay sober.

Mewes works with Smith on the podcast “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old,” where he regales the audience with hilarious (and harrowing) tales of drug abuse and recovery. Oversharing as rehab? Not a treatment for the shy or faint of heart, but it’s working, and when you’re playing on the edge like this, results are all that matter.

I’ll never be a Kevin Smith fan, but I think he’s a good person, and the Internet rewards people who tell the truth and play it straight. I think Kevin Smith has stumbled onto a business model for the new millennium, and that a thousand directors will follow in his wake.

Written by Not Jaffo

May 24, 2011 at 05:24

Posted in Movies, Podcasts, Twitter

Meet Scott Johnson, the Orson Welles of Podcasting

Scott Johnson (Podcaster)So, how do I describe Scott Johnson to people who aren’t already listening to his podcasts?

Is he the Nick Denton of podcasting? The Henry Ford of podcasting? I think history will remember him as the Orson Welles of podcasting. Right now Scott is in his Mercury Theatre phase – testing the waters, inventing new techniques, trying a hundred little experiments as he refines his style and learns what audiences want.

Even now Scott produces more podcasts in a week than most people have time to listen to. With strong support from advertisers, FrogPants Studios has been Scott’s full-time job since 2009. The FrogPants network produces podcasts on a wide range of geek-friendly topics — from The Instance, a show about the World of Warcraft to Coverville, a music podcast dedicated to weird and wonderful covers of popular songs, FrogPants Studios produces shows on a dozen niche topics, all done in a format that sounds like your favorite morning show.

I started out as an Instance fan and have recently branched out, following Scott’s projects as he started The Creep, a podcast about Starcraft II, and The Morning Stream, a true morning show format where Scott and his co-host Brian Ibbott riff about politics, news and pop culture.

Of all these projects, The Morning Stream is Scott’s baby now.

“I feel like everything that I have done over the years has led up to The Morning Stream,” Scott said. “I am SOOO happy with [that] show so far, and it’s only a couple of months old. It just feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work, trial and error, and experience with this stuff for the last 5 or 6 years. It is something that I wish I would have done sooner, and the listeners seem to agree.”

Scott casts such a wide net, producing so many podcasts on so many topics, it’s hard to describe them all. If you’re looking for something fun and free to load on your iPod, Google “frog pants” and check out Scott’s master list of podcasts.

I subscribed to the FrogPants Ultra Feed and found a couple hidden gems – a couple great podcasts that don’t get as much attention as Scott’s big three. I particularly enjoyed the FourCast, basically a group of geeks predicting the future – not just riffing about what the next iPad will look like, but a discussion about what the human race will look like, once technology gives us the power to redefine what “human” means.

Heavy stuff, but still handled with humor and wit, perfect for fans of Alastair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks.

I’ve noticed a pattern in these podcasts. Scott acts as moderator and provocateur, throwing out questions when things get slow, but slipping quietly into the background when his guests are on a roll. I think it’s that producer mentality, that lack of ego that has allowed Scott to succeed when so many others have faded.

I saw it first on The Instance, when Scott brought in Randy Jordan to provide some much-needed crunch and attention to detail. Scott became the jester to Randy’s straight man, keeping the tone light while Randy dug into the nuts and bolts of the game. Their chemistry took the show to a whole new level, turning it into one of the indispensable geek podcasts, even for people who are tired of the game.

Randy recently left the podcast, citing a conflict of interest with his mysterious new dream job. It could have been the end of the show, but Scott brought in a couple of fast-talking guild mates and turned the whole thing around.

Scott is rocking the house with his new co-hosts Turpster and Dills and the tone of the show has completely changed. Nothing could replace the chemistry of Scott and Randy, so they didn’t try.

The Instance is a completely new show now, and I was struck by how quickly Scott himself was able to switch gears. He doesn’t have to be the funniest guy in the room anymore, so he’s content to step back and let the others take center stage.

It’s this quality more than anything else that makes me take Scott seriously. It’s the same quality that put Nick Denton on top of a worldwide blog empire – the same quality that all great producers and directors have. These guys provide the creative juice and push things forward, but ultimately it’s not “about” them. It’s about finding the best talent for the job and getting out of their way.

Scott was modest when I asked him about it. I don’t think he spends a lot of time thinking about his role in all this. When I asked him to share his advice for new podcasters, he made it sound easy.

Scott said, “Simple: Start making shows, don’t worry about selling shirts the first day, be consistent, and do it because you love it. All of that will add up to greater things later.”

Written by Not Jaffo

March 16, 2011 at 20:02

Posted in Podcasts

Duff: iPod not just for music anymore

Duff: iPod not just for music anymore

Internet marketers love to make up words. Imagine going back to the ’80s and telling investors that our biggest companies would eventually have names like “Google” and “Yahoo.” But as new words go, “podcast” is one of the best.

The problem with new words is that they can scare off people who don’t realize how ordinary the technology is. Podcast sounds fancy when you hear it the first time, but a podcast is actually just an ordinary mp3 file, like any other music file you would play on your computer.

Podcast software checks a publisher’s server every so often to see if a new file is available. If it finds one, it automatically downloads the podcast to your hard drive. Then, depending on how you have it configured, the software can update your portable music player the next time you plug it in.

iTunes isn’t the only way to download podcasts, but it’s probably the easiest.

If you’re not ready to make the leap to iTunes, most podcasts can be downloaded manually and played with any kind of audio software.
Michael Duff

The real advantage of iTunes is the podcast directory you can access from the Apple store. Don’t worry, 95 percent of podcasts are free, and iTunes will warn you if something costs money.

Most podcasts are devoted to geek stuff – books like Harry Potter and games like World of Warcraft — but if you’re willing to poke around a bit, you can find podcasts on just about anything. A quick search of the iTunes music store turns up half a dozen podcasts about knitting and hundreds of podcasts about religion.

The newest version of iTunes introduces iTunes University, a collection of educational podcasts, including full academic lectures from Berkeley and Stanford. I personally recommend “Historical Jesus” and “Physics for Future Presidents.” You can also find some real gems at NPR.org.

NPR offers dozens of programs that we don’t get on our local station, and they’re all available as free podcasts. My favorite is a game show called “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” It’s a current events news quiz that is much, much funnier than it sounds.

So please, don’t let buzzwords scare you away from new things. Podcasts aren’t just for yuppies and college students. There’s a world full of information out there, and the iPod’s not just for music anymore.

Written by Not Jaffo

June 15, 2007 at 15:16

Posted in Apple, Columns, Podcasts

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