Podcasting Conversations About Art

My BFA Thesis | Submitted on May 7, 2020 | Edited by Kat Sinclair

For my Independent Study Seminar, I am interested in hosting and producing a podcast that centers around artists and artistic projects. In addition to a written study, I am also submitting an exemplary podcast episode (link here) with the intention of supporting my proposal with veritable evidence. The episode in question features Alysa Pires, a Toronto-based choreographer and a Choreographic Associate for the National Ballet of Canada. The title of the podcast, (Art)versations, is a play on the words “art” and “conversations”. With that in mind, my podcast provides a casual listening experience that is also informative and easy to digest. Each episode, I will invite guest artists of any and all mediums of art to speak with me about their current endeavours, with each episode ideally spanning forty-five minutes to an hour in length. By providing artists with a platform to share their unique perspectives, the listeners of the podcast can hear about and begin to understand the creative process behind a piece of art. The current popularity of podcasts is intriguing to me, and I think conversing about art is an appropriate match for the long-form medium of podcasting. Although listening to podcasts is a relatively new method of consuming media, there is an accessibility and an intimacy that secures podcasts as a poignant staple in the world of media.

With the invention of the iPod in 2001 (Clark 2), users had the ability to conveniently transport their entire library of songs wherever they desired (Bull 344). Portability and accessibility reached a new height, and media was suddenly being consumed in an entirely different way. While radio stations were the preceding source of listening entertainment, the iPod planted the idea that listeners could choose when they want to hear a specific song (Berry, “Will the iPod Kill the Radio Star?” 147). No longer were listeners required to tune into a radio station’s scheduled line-up of music – if a listener felt the urge to hear Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”, they could play, pause, rewind, fast-forward or repeat the song as many times as they wanted. This change in media consumption gave the listener more freedom to cater their personal playlist to their own palette (Bull 347). As time went on, and newer models were introduced, Apple released an application called Apple Podcasts. The term “podcast” is a combination of the product name “iPod” merged with the function of “broadcasting” a channel to the public, which was previously coined by the medium of radio (Murray 198). Since 2004, when Mark Curry first established the word “podcast”, the popularity of podcasts has exponentially grown and continues to find mainstream appearances (McClung and Johnson 83). Why are more and more listeners flocking to podcasts and turning away from the beloved and reliable radio? This is due to the intimacy and non-commercialization that podcasting can offer listeners (Meserko 21). Most streaming services, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts, allow free downloading for every episode (Sullivan 1-2). Even though many podcasts rely on sponsored advertisements to make a profit, the listener can fast-forward through commercials and seamlessly avoid interruptions in their listening experience (Meserko 23). Contrary to conventional radio and television, many podcasts are produced and distributed by a singular company or in some cases, a small team of creators. This advances the concept of self-made production, wherein a creator does not have to bound themself with a large production company for their work to be publicized (Berry, “Part of the Establishment” 662). Therefore, anyone and everyone has the capability to start their own podcast from the comfort of their homes, consequently deeming podcasting as a place for realistic and personalized content (Meserko 22). Further, there is a conversational aspect to podcasts that creates an atmosphere of white noise. Whether a listener turns on a podcast while doing chores, commuting, or solving a puzzle, the audial environment is leisurely digestible (Peoples and Tilley 47). Audiences will happily download and listen to a two-hour podcast where the host talks about one topic the entire time because the listener knows they can come in and out of actively listening (Meserko 24). Should the listener begin to drift away from truly engaging with the podcast, all is not lost. The improvisation and informality that come with podcasts make audiences choose this form of media instead of radio (Berry, “Will the iPod Kill the Radio Star?” 145). Podcasts are made for the people, made by the people and they are consumed at any rate of absorption that the listener desires, and this is why I think discussion about art works well as a podcast. 

Typically, art conversations run over a long period of time in the form of an interview, a Question and Answer event, or a panel discussion. Simply put, talking about art requires time. My podcast creates a platform for conversation about artistic projects in their most vulnerable states, which also requires time. Above all, I want the artist to feel comfortable opening up about their failures and/or successes. I have experimented with recording podcasts episodes of different lengths, even playing with quick, ten-minute episodes. However, I concluded that a forty-five minute to an hour time span is an appropriate amount of time for the guest artist to reflect on their perspective in a relaxed and honest manner. For instance, the conversation I had with Alysa Pires is informative, but still maintains a level of casualness that matches well with podcast audiences. Alysa and I began to have spontaneous thoughts that took us off our original topic, and this off-the-cuff style of speaking with someone is akin to why podcasts have become so popular (Meserko 24; Szeto 418). Furthermore, by keeping the podcast mostly unedited, listeners can feel as though they are a part of the conversation as it goes on. Audiences tune into podcasts that are drawn out because it invites the sensation of genuine communication (Sharon and John 343). With (Art)versations, I plan to invite this same feeling while informing my listeners with the inside scoop from the guest artist. 

Not only does discussion about art match nicely with long-form content, but it also invites audiences into the behind-the-scenes experience of how the artist created the work. Artists may go through countless rounds of creating, analyzing, practicing, and abandoning their works throughout their creative processes, and I think audiences would be interested in hearing about these idiosyncratic experiences, especially if the artist has a pre-existing fan base. The discussion around how a piece of art is created is just as interesting as the art itself. While the finished product is what an audience may be looking for, there is merit to revealing the pathways that led the artist to the endpoint. Moreover, listeners can comprehend where the artist found the inspiration behind a piece of art, generating an intimate relationship between the artist and the consumer. Oftentimes, audiences can interpret art in a completely different way than the artist initially intended, and this is where general meaning and intention can become blurred. Although an artist may produce something that is open to interpretation, I think it is still valid to understand where an artist drew their inspiration from and how the art came to be. (Art)versations gives insight into the complex decisions and expressive choices that an artist of any form will go through during the creative process. If an artist chose to collaborate with other artists, as many do, I further suppose that audiences would be fascinated to hear about the compromises and teamwork that encompassed the project. There might be an emotional story of a long day at the studio or a tale about overcoming creative blocks, and only the artist themselves can share these stories. I think it is inspiring and alluring to catch an artist mid-way through a project. What is working? What is not working? 

In the example podcast of my conversation with Alysa Pires, she opened up about her process of adapting Macbeth into a full-length ballet with Ballet Kelowna. Aside from her choreographer’s note in the production’s program, Alysa would most likely not get the opportunity to explain certain artistic liberties to her audience. She spoke on my podcast about how choreographing on a small cast of dancers meant that some characters in William Shakepeare’s original play had to be removed from her version. Had she not mentioned this, the audience may be confused and distracted by the choices she made when the show opens. With the platform to speak about her distinctive perspective, Alysa was able to stand by what she is working on and provide background knowledge to her audience. 

In addition, my podcast creates a space for artists to admit their mistakes and/or achievements and in turn, gather a sense of anticipation before the unveiling of the final work. Promoting a project before its release date can help widen the audience reach, and my podcast is one way to achieve that. (Art)versations is a platform for marketing upcoming projects, as well as where and how a potential audience member can interact with the project. For example, I can offer artists the chance to spread the word about a fundraiser they are holding, and after hearing about the creative process that the artist is presently going through, listeners might be persuaded to donate to the project even though it is not complete. Before the piece of work is available for the public, donors will be content to know exactly how their contribution is helping.

To conclude, podcasting is a form of media that excites me to combine my passion for discussing art with my desire to promote upcoming projects. The podcast format allows for listeners to download accessible episodes for consumption whenever they choose while providing a soundtrack for the monotonous tasks of everyday life. Listeners feel transported to a new location where people are engaging in elongated conversation. Due to the fact that many artistic conversations work well in an extended period of time, the creative process of an artist is sophisticated and is a worthy topic of discussion. My podcast offers artists the chance to talk about their experiences in a casual, informative, and unedited way. (Art)versations is a self-produced project that I hope to expand in the future with a team of researchers, audio engineers, and marketing developers to improve the quality of the podcast.

Until then – it is just me, my guest, and a story to tell. 

Works Cited

Berry, Richard. “Part of the Establishment: Reflecting on 10 Years of Podcasting as an Audio Medium.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 22, no. 6, Aug. 2016, pp. 661-671., SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/1354856516632105.

—. “Will the iPod Kill the Radio Star? Profiling Podcasting as Radio.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 12, no. 2, May 2006, pp. 143-162., SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/1354856506066522.

Bull, Michael. “No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening”, Leisure Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, Oct. 2005, pp. 343-355., Routledge, doi:10.1080/0261436052000330447.

Clark, Nick. “First the iPod, then the iPhone. so is Apple about to Launch iSlate?” The Independent, Dec 28, 2009, pp. 2. ProQuest, Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/309999521?accountid=13631.

McClung, Steven, and Kristine Johnson. “Examining the Motives of Podcast Users.” Journal of Radio & Audio Media, vol. 17, no. 1, 2010, pp. 82-95., Taylor & Francis Group, doi:10.1080/19376521003719391.

Meserko, Vince M. “Standing Upright: Podcasting, Performance, and Alternative Comedy.” Studies in American Humor, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 20-40., JSTOR, doi:10.5325/studamerhumor.1.1.0020.

Murray, Simone. “Servicing ‘self-Scheduling Consumers’: Public Broadcasters and Audio Podcasting.” Global Media and Communication, vol. 5, no. 2, Aug. 2009, pp. 197-219., SAGE Publications, doi: 10.1177/1742766509341610.

Peoples, Brock, and Carol Tilley. “Podcasts as an Emerging Information Resource.” College & Undergraduate Libraries, vol. 18, no. 1, 2011, pp. 44-57., Taylor & Francis Group, doi:10.1080/10691316.2010.550529.

Sharon, Tzlil, and Nicholas A. John. “Imagining an Ideal Podcast Listener.” Popular Communication: Podcasting and the Public Sphere, vol. 17, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 333-347, Routledge, doi:10.1080/15405702.2019.1610175.

Sullivan, John L. “The Platforms of Podcasting: Past and Present.” Social Media + Society, vol. 5, no. 4, Oct-Dec. 2019, pp. 1-12., SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/2056305119880002.

Szeto, Kimmy. “Digital Spoken Words Demystified: The Nuts and Bolts of do-it-Yourself Podcasting.” Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, vol. 23, no. 4, Oct. 2011, pp. 417-419, Taylor & Francis Group, doi:10.1080/1941126X.2011.627819. 

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