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Podcasts Servant of Pod with Nick Quah
Making Music for Podcasts

Composers Ramtin Arablouei of NPR and Gimlet’s Haley Shaw join Nick to talk about scoring podcasts, their favorite podcast music, and how they got where they are in this relatively new field. And to go over the week’s big news stories, Nick calls up Caroline Crampton, Hot Pod’s UK writer.

Anthems / Stitcher for sale? / Serial / The Daily / Run To Your Mama / Snap Judgement / S-Town / Drop Electric / Ted Radio Hour / Throughline / Mogul / The Ballad of Billy Balls / The Habitat / 10 Things That Scare Me / Moonface

SERVANT OF POD WITH NICK QUAH
Episode 4 Transcript: Making Music for Podcasts
Servant of Pod: Making Music for PodcastsSeason 1, Episode 4

Ramtin Arablouei

I think as long as I remember since I was a kid, I loved soundtracks. I loved the way that music interacted with stories.

Nick Quah

Music is an important tool for any movie or television show. The same is true for podcasts.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

I think I've seen people sort of turn what we thought of as podcast scoring on its head in ways I'm really excited about.

Nick Quah

From LAist Studios. This is Servant Of Pod. I'm Nick Quah. Today, making music for podcasts. We talked to two composers to take us behind some of the podcast themes and music choices they love.

Nick Quah

Music does a lot for any form of storytelling. It sets the tone conveys character elevates emotions. In many ways podcast scoring is still an emergent art; and it's becoming more important by today. I remember the first podcast is stood out to me for its use of music, Snap Judgment. The show's tagline is storytelling with a beat. And listen, they really mean it. [music]

Glynn Washington

My name is Glynn Washington and my humble task, is making radio GREAT, again, and again. And you're listening to Snap Judgement.

Nick Quah

And to this day, I still think the best use of music and a podcast is S-Town, whose scoring effectively conjures the fuel of its rural Alabama setting. [music]

Nick Quah

On this episode, I talk to people who represent a new wave of music composers who primarily work in podcasts. Ramtin Arablouei is a musician and producer. These days, he's also a music composer behind many of NPR's popular podcasts. His journey to NPR is almost accidental. A few years ago, he was playing with his band Drop Electric in the local DC club, when NPR's Bob Boilen, the dean of All Things Considered approached him after his set. He wanted to feature the band in an episode of the show. That exposure got him a manager and calls from labels. Eventually, he crossed paths with NPR again This time, they asked if you could help out with an episode of TED Radio Hour, with Guy Raz.

Ramtin Arablouei

We did that, it was a really good experience. And then he tells me afterwards, like, "Hey, I'm gonna work with you again, I've just really loved the way you think this was such a good experience." And I didn't think anything of it because people say things like that all the time, right? It doesn't come to fruition. Fast forward again, another six months, I randomly get a text from Guy being like, "Hey, can we talk? I have a project I want to work with you on." So I'm like, okay, whatever. He's like, I'm working on this new idea for a business podcast at NPR. I want you to come in and produce it. And I was like, I haven't ever done that before. I mean, the only journalistic experience I had was I worked on like my college newspaper. And he was like, don't worry about it. Just come in and I'll help you, and we'll teach you, and we'll work on it together. Just give me like three or four weeks. I was kind of hesitant to even give him that because I was going out to LA and hustling and trying to get, you know, soundtrack gigs or sound design gigs. And so I agreed, because I liked him, and I wanted to try it, I thought it would be a fun like experiment. So I go and three/four week project turns out to become how I built this, where I had to basically produce it and write the music for it and all of that, and it ends up becoming a hit show.

Nick Quah

Over the next few years, Ramtin would composed music for nearly every NPR podcast, including five theme songs.

Ramtin Arablouei

Honestly, I don't know how to explain it, it just happened really suddenly. And it just was one gig to the next. And the next thing you know—t's like one of those things, you climb to the top of a mountain and you look back down, you're like, whoa, I did all that stuff. But I didn't even really take note of it while I was doing it.

Nick Quah

Alright, so let's start talking about how you approach scoring a podcast or making a podcast theme. I imagine that like there's some sort of functional work that goes into what a theme is supposed to do. It's supposed to like set the tone, supposed to ease you into what the show is supposed to be. When you kind of sit down and you think through for example, like TED Radio Hour. What are you doing, or what are you looking for?

Ramtin Arablouei

You know, I get the most out of having a conversation with the creators. I ask people what their favorite music is what shows they really like? I tell them what I like. And we kind of have a dialogue. And then eventually, usually I try to get to actually talk about specifically what the theme is we're trying to do for their show, because I view this work as collaborative, but also, ultimately, when you're writing music for a podcast that someone else is making, or a film or any experience I've had—you're serving their vision, right? You're serving what they're trying to achieve. So for that reason, it's really important to get to know the people making it so TED Radio Hour, for example, you know, that show is about wonder. It's about like posing big questions. In that sense. I really thought that the music should have an orchestral sound, it should have a kind of a wondrous, something that would make you just like ask big questions and think big. What makes sense they're some kind of like driving orchestral rhythm. [music]

Ramtin Arablouei

But the other thing is, you know it's a radio show and a podcast, and so in a radio show format that music has to just like reel you in. You have to know that I when I'm hearing this it's TED Radio Hour coming. The same way you feel like when you hear the opening hit of Radiolab; when you hear the kind of voices and the cascading sound effects you know, okay I'm getting ready to to like have a Radiolab experience. And I think that music has to have a certain novelty to it. It can't sound packaged or can sound like a lot of other things. It has to have that sense of like originality, but also that pop right at the start.

Nick Quah

Nowadays, Ramtim co-hosts his own NPR podcast called Through Line with Rund Abdelfatah, and of course, he wrote the theme for that too. I asked him to walk me through the process.

Ramtin Arablouei

When we were creating the show—when Rund and I were creating the show, we knew that the show is all about looking at history through a current events lens. So we look at things that are happening. So we knew that for a lot of episodes, we wanted to have some kind of montage at the beginning—so instead of sitting there and explaining, this is what's happening in the world, right now, we just have a montage of news clips kind of do that work. So we don't spend a ton of time talking at the top. And so, we needed music that was driving that had rhythm that could—a montage could sit over and work. So that was the first thing I knew I needed like rhythm and you need to beat. The second thing was the tone of the show is serious. It's not like a lot of NPR's content is— has whimsicalness to it. And I think that's the case in general and podcasting and like, you know, we didn't want to make you necessarily laugh about what's happening and like, the relationship between Hong Kong and China, because it's like mostly not funny. It starts ambient and mysterious and it builds. So it goes—if you listen to the show usually the the cascading montages are cut to that rhythm. We wanted to create something that had that same effect where you knew like okay, this is I'm listening to Through Lline so it's gonna have a certain vibe and I'm expecting a certain storytelling style and mood. That was the goal there. [music] I'm a huge hip hop head. So anytime I can fit a boom-bap-beat into something, I do it. [laughter] I love hip-hop, so in that case, it felt like a good place for it.

Nick Quah

So let's shift over and talk about a couple of themes you didn't work on but you have some appreciation for. Let's start with let's start with Mogul.

Brandon Jenkins

I'm Brandon Jenkins and this is Mogul.

Nick Quah

So Mogul is a Gimlet Media show, it's a sort of a documentary series. It changes to season to season, it kind of profiles different sort of personalities and individuals and figures in the sort of music and hip-hop world. What about that theme is interesting to you?

Ramtin Arablouei

I like it because it was surprising. When you're listening to a show about hip-hop—particularly because the show always has some kind of cold open before you get to the theme. You're not necessarily expecting like an essentially kind of a drum and bass theme song. And what I like about it is it's driving, it's very much like propelling you into the story which I love. I love how he says "You're listening to Mogul" and boom, you hear the the drumbeat come in and you're in it. I love that in general, about themes. When it feels like rhythmically, it's really working with the show. The predictable move was to have like, a boom-bap-beat or a trap-beat and have it be like okay, this is a hip-hop shows which you're listening to. But that's not necessarily—that doesn't trigger hip-hop from me, and I love that and that's such like a gutsy move by the composer and by the producers of the show to go that direction, and I just respect the hell out of it.

Nick Quah

There you go. One more pick here, and it's from the folks over at The Ballad Of Billy Balls, which is a spinoff from the crime time folks. [music] This one's a little different because it comes from a pre-existing song. It's Light Asylum by Dark Allies.

Ramtin Arablouei

Yeah.

Nick Quah

I really dig it within the context of the episode. It's a lift off kind of feeling was kind of watching one. Could you walk me through what spoke to you about this choice?

Ramtin Arablouei

So what I like that it you know, it's the one example of like something that they picked that already existed—when doing a theme even if you're writing a theme song—I think the role of the producers, or the people making the show is as important as the composer because they really drive the intentionality of the theme. And in this case, it's so well selected because it's a lift off for the show. But you know, when it hits like you're, you're going in and the shows really intense, and the song is really intense. And I love that feeling of like, grabbing you and like keeping you in that space for as long as you're gonna listen. And then the other thing I like is that there's lyrics, there's vocals, which is generally like, not something you do when a theme song, right? The way they use it in the show actually highlights—like when they do these little breaks, and these kind of little posts—and in each one, you hear a little bit more of the lyrics. And I just love that move. [laughter] Again, I think that's gutsy. And then it also really fits the like vibe and the time of the show, right? It has a very much like a goth, synth-goth, kind of post punk feel, which is the kind of vibe of the whole show. In some cases like asymmetry is good, but in some cases when they really nail the symmetry of the theme song with the content, that also feels amazing. Just makes you feel like alright, now I'm about to get into a really serious and intense story. Which is what they do you know, episode after episode.

Nick Quah

What would you say are the rules for a theme song?

Ramtin Arablouei

Um, I think generally, people don't expect to hear lyrics or vocals, that's one thing like in a theme. The other thing is generally, theme songs propel you into a show, versus necessarily grounded. And The Ballad of Billy Balls is a good example. It's a lift off into the content of the show, same thing with the Mogul theme. But in some cases, like a ground you into the content versus necessarily lifting you off into it. So that's kind of a rule that I think can be broken—that's really fun to break. Another one is generally theme songs have percussion in them, but generally that when people want a theme song, they want something that's like driving. That that's seems like a kind of unspoken rule, if you kind of survey all the theme songs out there, they always end up having some sort of percussion. That's a rule that I think could be broken more. The other thing is people generally don't want themes like to be dark, and that goes back to the shying away from darkness in podcasting. It's just been a format that's been dominated so long by that sense. It's acceptable, for example, for HBO to have a show like The Leftovers, and then also have a show like Betty, this new show that they have, which is really good and very bright and happy. Those live on the same network and I love both. Whereas I think in podcasting, there's much more of a propensity towards brightness towards like a whimsicalness; towards like, being sarcastic about things or like not being too genuine or sincere. And I think that's a, something that'd be corrected over time as more and more people get into the game and everything, you know, kind of gets better and better and gets more and more advanced. That's another rule that I like, hopefully want to break in the future was some theme song. I'll make something that's just very dark and brooding to fit something that's dark and brooding.

Nick Quah

Ramtin, it's fantastic to talk to you. I really, really appreciate this. [music]

Ramtin Arablouei

Likewise, man.

Nick Quah

Music composition is still a field very much dominated by men. But Haley Shaw didn't let that stop her, we will speak to her in a minute. [music]

Nick Quah

Sound familiar? Earlier in the show Ramtin Arablouei told us how much he loved the theme song from the Gimlet podcast, Mogul. And as it turned out, for this next part, we had booked the very same woman behind that theme. Haley Shaw who also composes music under the name So Wylie. I had to tell her.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Oh! Wow, that's amazing! Oh my god.

Nick Quah

He loves that scoring for that show.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Oh, that's so sick. I'm so glad to hear that. Yeah, I, I feel like because our field is sort of niche, the compliments from other people doing what I'm doing or like the highest compliments, you know? I take those very seriously. [laughs]

Nick Quah

Can you briefly list all the shows that you've worked on at Gimlet?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Sure. Oh my god, it would probably take quite a while. [laughter] So the main shows I've worked on at Gimlet are Mogul, which I'm currently working on now. I worked on The Habitat, I worked on The Horror Of Dolores Roach. I've dabbled in music for The Journal, which came out recently, this past year and is a daily show with the Wall Street Journal. Chompers, the daily tooth-brushing show, [laughter] did the theme song for that? It's tough because if I list all the shows I've mixed on it's probably all of them.

Nick Quah

Yeah. So so you have a hand on directly shaping the Gimlet sound?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Sure. Thanks! [laughter] Yeah, I hope so. I mean, at this point, it's like, YES, [laughter] just by way of being there for long enough.

Nick Quah

So I just want to make sure that I get the definitions down because I think there's a sort of lack of fluency around what music scoring means versus sound design, particularly as it relates to podcasts and radio shows. How would you sort of differentiate between what sound design is and what scoring is?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yeah, this is an interesting question that I think is the biggest gray area in our field versus fields like television or film that are so much more mature, in a sense. Sound Design, I believe is like the largest umbrella for what we do, which is like a combination of writing music for a show, shaping the sound of the show. So does it have immersive sound design, like with ambient room tone sort of things? Or does it have sound design that you record, like foley, like sound effects that you source from libraries. Or is there no music like that decision is sound designed to me as well. But also, sound design is a more specific thing, right that we know of; taking and sourcing sound effects from libraries and putting it into a show to enrich the sound of the show. That's like sort of a more specific definition of sound design. But, in my opinion kind of falls under the larger definition that people tend to use to mean music, mixing and sound design.

Nick Quah

And do you feel like there's still relatively few people doing this work?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

I would definitely say it's grown. When I started I'm not sure I knew of like that many, especially full-time positions in the field doing specifically this. I think a lot of people in podcasting have had to be scrappy, at the start especially and do six jobs at once. And when I first got into this field, like that was part of like the jack-of-all-trades nature was part of what got me the job in the first place, you know. And that wasn't true in other fields, in other fields you have to become an expert in one tiny slice, you know, to make your mark; and in this field, I felt that due to the nature of it, you know, it was an asset to understand sound design, but also be a good mixing engineer, but also be, you know, a composer and understand music editing and kind of be able to do many things, wear many hats.

Nick Quah

A start up amongst startups. [laughter]

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Exactly. [laughter]

Nick Quah

So I'm curious, like on a more personal level, what draws you to music composition and scoring?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

That's actually a really great question, because I've never even really asked that of myself. I think, you know, I started playing instruments when I was really young, and my mom is actually a violin teacher. And so music has always been a really big part of my family. And so it's always just been kind of a part of who I am—playing music at least. And then I started composing really young as well. I think I was in fourth grade when I first wrote like a little piano piece. So creating music and sort of communicating with other people through that music, but also through the creation of that music is really important to me. And I think that's why I've been drawn to writing for narrative. And and also producing because I want to help other people sort of reach their vision. It's not quite as exciting to me to just write alone, or create something alone. I really like the communication aspect of composing.

Nick Quah

What do you think makes good music composition? What do you look for? What does what does the process look like in your mind? How do you sit down and think through a piece for a narrative?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

This is sort of an answer in two parts, maybe. The first part being, what I like to do for my own music. But the second part being sort of as a listener, what I like to hear. So for me, like I always start every project with trying to work with the show-runner or work with the material or glean from what I'm hearing. What is the identity of this project? What's its overall character? And I'm thinking like macro here. And then the second question is, how should the intended audience like feel about the project as a whole? So like, how does this come off to people? And then like, what is the effect of my music within the overall work? So am I trying to cause a ruckus? Like, am I trying to do something bombastic here? Or is it meant to be subtle and like what serves the narrative the most? So that's sort of where I start for me, especially in podcasting. I think, with music that I hear in shows like as a listener, just casually, I really like big swings. And I think sometimes if you're trying to do something new and something sort of innovative and it's a big swing, and it's sort of like a whole idea, like you go all in, I really appreciate that even if it doesn't work. Hmm. You know, I mean, even if it doesn't end up working, it's nice to hear people trying things out, musically.

Nick Quah

Okay, let's start with one of your picks here. Actually let's start with yours. So you sort of picked out a flurry, which is a track from The Habitat, which you scored. [music]

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yes. [music]

Nick Quah

Let's play that. [music]

Nick Quah

So, for context here, The Habitat is an audio documentary that follows basically the plight of a group of scientists that, I guess quarantine in preparation for—or In simulation of a Mars colony situation, is that the accurate describe show?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yes. Yeah. So they are quarantined in a dome in Hawaii, in sort of pursuit of finding out what it would be like to live on Mars.

Nick Quah

So let's talk about that track. So I'm not quite sure what I'm hearing, I'm hearing a bunch of digital sounds; I think it feels like the effect that you're trying to create. It's kind of a rising crescendo, not super dramatic, maybe a little ominous. What was the sort of major emotions you were thinking about when you putting that track together?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

So the idea for the overall score was this meeting of these big space ideas like unfamiliar territory and expanse; things that feel unfamiliar. And then, the human element of the story, which is like six humans living very close together very sort of intimately. And so you know, I wanted to create a human side of the score as well. So using acoustic instruments but then treating them in a way that feels very digital, sort of meeting the human and this unfamiliar aspects of the story. So with this, what you're hearing is a lot of sort of close miked, intimate acoustic instruments treated in weird digital ways that like couldn't actually be played in person. And like human sounds, like literally human sounds. For instance, in this track, there's a whistle that's put through like a delay and a hugely long reverb. And there are a bunch of cellos that are put through an arpeggiator because, you know, we're trying to meet these two ideas of warm analog kinetic and unfamiliar expansive space. And as you said, the crescendo is definitely purposeful. I wanted this to feel like a wedge because there's so much energy building up to this moment or they close the door, and I was inspired by something that one of the crew members says in tape during the episode.

[ CLIP: The Habitat ]

Haley: Hi guys!

Crew member: Wave goodbye. And then we enter [silence] and then, well then it's silent.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

We closed the door and then it's silent. And so I wanted this to feel sort of like a drop off moment at the end of this cue.

Nick Quah

So let's move on to the next pick that you had, 10 Things That Scare Me. [music] So it sounds like a very traditional, or conventional theme almost. There's like a hook, it's a kind of like a like a rhythm and a loop. What draws you to the theme?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

What I like about this theme is that, like the crux of this show is you know, it's created around people reading through a list of 10 things that scare them. And so it's like a list format with embellishments or stories surrounding bits of the list along the way. But that means that they have so many different recording settings. And so a lot of the tape is like foam tape or super rough or people are recording themselves, etc. And the theme kind of, to me, like what sets it apart is that it matches the style of the tape and the show itself. You know, it has these elements of like hard cuts, and it speaks to how the sound design is in the rest of the show. Another reason I wanted to talk about this theme is because from listening to many of these, like in a row, there's like a little Sonic easter egg in the very start of every episode that like has to do with something that happens later in the episode. So, it'll be like a baby cry or something sound from later in the episode and they plop it in at the start. It's tough to notice, and I if there's almost like no reason to do this other than if you like, listen closely, and it's like a little treat.

Nick Quah

That's crazy! I love to show it. Listen, I really listened to it a bunch, and I don't think I've ever noticed.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

It'll be like [verbal sounds] WHAM, [singing] you know? Like, it's like, it's it's in there. So if you go back and listen to it's like, pretty cool.

Nick Quah

Yeah, no, there's there's a way in which I think that shows seems like a collage. Like, it's you can paste a bunch of different things together.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yeah, I appreciate it. Because it's like, it's very high concept. And it's like it feels pasted together, but it also feels purposeful.

Nick Quah

Okay, so let's talk about the last track here. It comes from a show called Moonface, an independent audio drama from James Kim, who I think used to be your colleague.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yes, he's amazing. I worked with him briefly at Gimlet. And yeah, A plus dude.

Nick Quah

So this track or this sound comes from the last episode of the show. It's only six parts. And the context here is, it's basically you're gonna hear one of the characters read out a note with pulsing music behind it.

[ CLIP: Moonface ]

Male & Female voice: I grew up in a small village in South Korea. My father was farmer, and my mother sold vegetable and fruit at the market. [Male voice fades out] I had five siblings. We were poor. [sound] Every morning, my mother would walk me to school when I was little. I still remember those walk. How my mother would make me smile. The sound of the nocturne river right beside us.

Nick Quah

Maybe it's just sort of in my nature to be like a overly emotional Asian dude. But like that that stuff hits man.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

First of all, this whole thing sounds like an indie movie and gave me all of those feelings. And like, it's just such a beautiful story. He he just absolutely nailed it. I mean, yeah, I was so impressed by this. And I listened to the whole thing and like one day,

Nick Quah

What are the difficulties of implementing a scoring like that?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Well, it's really tough to put pieces of ambient music in a podcast format, without it necessarily feeling stagnant or not feel like there's movement. And, you know, in a sense, it matches, storytelling and the human voice in an intimate way. Like, it matches the medium well, but it's actually difficult to implement. I think the form of the piece allows us to sort of float through time in a way that's tough to do without narration in a podcast; and the music just gives this podcast such a reflective tone.

Nick Quah

I want to make a quick observation here. It's not there—I feel like there is a a thread, maybe sort of an aesthetic similarity between all the three picks that you've made.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Oh, interesting!

Nick Quah

They all have that sort of like drifting quality or that that light dreamscape kind of, we're not quite in a physical world kind of fuel to it. I'm curious as to like if that's Is that something that you feel like it's a it's a part of your signature style? If you have one, do you think?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

It's not conscious, but I think you're right. Especially with these picks, you know, it might speak even more to what types of things I glean as working well and in our field, right? Then maybe even just my own personal like style preferences, but I definitely I sense that, I sense that through line.

Nick Quah

Ironically, Throughline is the name of Ramtin's, podcast, the other person—

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Full circle!

Nick Quah

Okay, before wrapping up, I just gotta ask, what has your experience been working in a male dominated field?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yeah, I mean good question. I I definitely feel like everybody who's like not a white straight man is in need of more sort of industry support as composers because for hundreds of years, that's been who has been writing music. That being said, I've definitely seen so many women take to technology of late, and sort of become their own music producers and composing music is a very digital thing now. And so I think like the rise of consumer audio has helped a lot more people who weren't represented in the field, have access to things that allow them to learn and take control of their sound. And it is an exciting time and I've also seen like, social justice has become trendy for corporations for better or worse; a lot of times worse, but all So better so there's been like a sort of rise in people being passionate about finding these creative people who weren't represented before in the field for sure.

Nick Quah

Did you feel like you had adequate mentorship from women coming up the field?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

You know, Irene Trudel over at WNYC. She was kind of amazing for me. To like work with her and see her like in her job. She was recording soundcheck for a few years, or probably more than a few and just like she's the boss.

Nick Quah

Why was she amazing?

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

I was interning at Soundcheck as like a production intern, like not as an engineering intern and she extended my internship and took me on as an engineering intern and I like helped to record soundcheck with her for a few months there.

Nick Quah

It's always remarkable to me just how important mentors are.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Yeah.

Nick Quah

Especially if you're not the majority demographic.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Totally.

Nick Quah

Haley Shaw, thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate it.

Haley Shaw (So Wylie)

Thank you guys so much. This was so so nice.

Nick Quah

Haley Shaw, she's a composer, sound designer and audio engineer at Gimlet media.

Nick Quah

There's a little bit of news this week, and to help us walk through it we're going to talk with Caroline Crampton, who writes for Hot Pod for me, and she's based out in the U.K. Caroline, welcome to the show.

Caroline Crampton

Hi.

Nick Quah

All right, first piece of news this week. And this is a kind of a big one, if it's true. According to a report by The Information, which is a tech news publication. Stitcher, which is one of the bigger podcast specific companies in the space, is currently being shopped around by the parent company's Scripps. Details are pretty scant at the moment, but there's a little bit of talk in the piece that possible buyers could be Spotify or Sirius XM. Stitcher is kind of a classic company, does a little bit of everything. It does ad sales, it makes shows, it works with partners. It has an app, it's neither focused in any particular area. Nor is it big enough, it feels like it can compete with some of these bigger spend your competitors. And so this acquisition rumor, or just sort of selling off, rumor comes at a really interesting time for that company. And I'm curious Caroline as to what you make of this news.

Caroline Crampton

Well, I think it makes a lot of sense for Scripps, unless they are really keen to try and refashioned Stitcher into the kind of podcast company that might compete with Spotify. An easier way is just to sell it to somebody who does want to take that fight on really. There's also the possibility that there's actually some serious money to be made for them since they bought Midroll for what? 50 million dollars?

Nick Quah

50 million. Yeah.

Caroline Crampton

In 2015.

Nick Quah

Yeah, that was a that was way before there's this hot market that we have right now.

Caroline Crampton

Exactly. Right. So Spotify has massively inflated the market. for acquiring podcast companies, so they could easily double their money, let's say? And you know, who in this economy is going to turn that down?

Nick Quah

Yeah. And I suppose the challenging question is sort of like, you know, if you're in Stitcher's position, you either need a parent company that's willing to give you a ton of money to go after, or at least compete with the big spenders right now. That would be Spotify, but also companies like I Heart media that is only sort of focused on audio.

Caroline Crampton

So I reckon there's probably two types of acquisition that could happen. Either a much bigger audio player that wants something that Stitcher has. They might not want to duplicate their own operation with the app and everything. But there might be one or two elements, like for instance, the partnership with My Favorite Murder, that they're very keen to get hold of. That's one way it could happen. Another way would be a legacy media operation that doesn't currently have much of an audio outlet. Just wanting to sort of buy one out of the box and Stitcher could very easily be that for them.

Nick Quah

This might not be the most charitable way to read does but like Stitcher kind of feels like a starter kit, almost. If you're a deep pocketed legacy media company looking to jumpstart your entry that the space.

Caroline Crampton

Yeah, you could have in one stroke, you could have, you know, an app, a content pipeline, a talent network, a hugely popular deal with some really great creators in My Favorite Murder. You kind of have everything from zero to 10 in one go.

Nick Quah

Yeah, it kind of reminds me of what Entercom did when they bought both Cadence 13 and Pineapple Street at the same time. They have this sort of, you know, entryway into the market. I still don't have a clear sense of how Entercom has sort of progressed over the past year. So I'd be curious to see who ends up being the sort of acquire here—if of course, this report turns out to be true. I think it is. I've heard rumors about it for a while, for the record and for what it's worth Stitcher spokesperson told the information that they do not comment on rumors. So you know a non comment comment is also a comment I guess.

Caroline Crampton

There's also the option that it gets shopped around and there aren't any serious takers. I think that's also a possibility right now. We've seen some sort of acquisition moves in the last couple of months, but nothing, I suspect on the scale that Scripps might hope for for Stitcher.

Nick Quah

Yeah, I don't know, I kind of still feel like stitcher is like pretty valuable, even though in its current position, it's kind of hard to move forward. Like, I think somebody is going to pick them up. If only for this sort of intellectual property piece of it. Which brings us to the second story, canister teen we just talked about them. Being one of the companies that was bought by Entercom, which is a older radio conglomerate. They just recently announced the creation of a new division, it's called Cadence 13 Features. And according to the press release, C 13. features will use quote, a traditional Hollywood blockbuster movie creative approach to construct audio features at scale, which is a very P.R. jargony way to say it, essentially, it's a division to create a bunch of podcasts and programs that would essentially serve as an intellectual property-like pipeline machine. Of course, this is not anything new. We've seen similar plays, including this company called Q Code, which has this habit of making very sort of low rent fiction podcasts, and they kind of slap a Hollywood name on it, and maybe try to convert it to a television show. We also see this in a bunch of different ways. Endeavor Audio is a company or an entity that's doing something into space as well. So Caroline, when you hear this, when you sort of see this trend playing out, you know, what does it make you think like, I really want to listen to those shows. Well, how do you feel about this kind of trend in particular, as a consumer?

Caroline Crampton

As a consumer, I must admit, I'm pretty baffled by it. Because when I have enjoyed fiction podcasts, it's been mostly serialized stuff, you know, a story that builds over six or eight episodes, or even continuously as in something like Welcome to Night Vale, for instance. So I'm a bit baffled by the idea of a really long form one-off story. They're saying these could be standalone 90 to 120 minute shows. I can't see that fitting into my life. Everything that you do around enjoying a movie in your life, you know, you make certain foods, you sit with other people, you sit in a room. I can't necessarily see how you would translate that to the audio experience where it's mostly something you do by yourself. You listen while you're doing other stuff. But I guess like all these things, I'm waiting to be surprised.

Nick Quah

I don't know, I think the thing that bugs me the most about this is, on the one hand, like a very square, peg-round hole kind of situation. But it's also just, you know, it just feels like very uninspired. This notion of like, "movies for our ears." It's discounting of what's possible in this space, and maybe I'm elitist. I'm trying to sort of balance myself out. I think whether my preferences here are just a hoity-toity an overly "sophisticated" or something.

Caroline Crampton

Yeah, there's definitely a sense of that, which is why I say I'm like open to trying it. But I do think that the kind of language they're using around it is absolutely going to get a lot of people in the existing audio drama, podcast space, really, really furious. This whole idea that, you know, this new podcast studio has just invented the idea of making high quality audio fiction experiences is absolutely the kind of thing that gets people up in arms.

Nick Quah

Right? It's a very Columbus kind of thing.

Caroline Crampton

Exactly yeah, we've just discovered this new thing, except that what people here already. Yeah. Yeah.

Nick Quah

Alrighty, so usually we wrap up these segments with a podcast recommendation, what's yours for this week?

Caroline Crampton

So I would recommend a podcast called Anthems which comes from Broccoli Content, a U.K. podcast outfit that's backed by Sony. They call it an anthology series, they publish a daily first person monologue essentially all made by different contributors. The current season is on the theme of pride it being Pride Month. There's one in particular that I would recommend by—he's actually the BBC's LGBT correspondent—he first person ever to hold that role, guy called Ben Hunte. And his episode is called Champion, and it's all about his feelings growing up as a Black gay man looking for any kind of representational role models and how he got really into the sixth series of Big Brother U.K., where there was a contestant called Derek who was this outrageous right wing guy. He was really into fox hunting, but he was an out gay man who was also Black. And so how Ben kind of reconciled his own politics and seeing this guy on screen and how that helped him grow up.

Nick Quah

Caroline Crampton, she writes Hot Pod with me and she's based in the U.K. Caroline, thanks for joining us.

Caroline Crampton

Thanks for having me.

Nick Quah

Servant of Pod is written and hosted by me, Nick Quah. You can check out more episodes at LAist.com/servantofpod. Web Design by Andy Cheatwood and the digital marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio. Logo and Branding by Leo G., Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including:

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