When I started to put together a series on industry leaders, Cole and I talked about who we should try and interview. Cap Blackard was the first name to come up, not only because they have been a part of the industry for around a decade but also because Cap plays a huge role at two major podcast networks. If you haven’t heard of them, prepare to be amazed, because few people are doing as much as Cap, and even fewer are doing it all so well.
Since their move from radio to podcasting almost ten years ago, Cap has co-founded The Nerdy Show Network, become the Podcast Network Director for Consequence of Sound’s Consequence Podcast Network, served as host and showrunner for a myriad of podcast series, become a voice for the transgender and genderqueer in podcasting, and continued to work as a writer and Art Director at both networks and a multidisciplinary artist outside of podcasting. With all of that experience and knowledge, it’s no wonder that I learned a lot from my conversation with Cap. Here are the highlights:
Over the decade Cap has spent in podcasting, they’ve seen a lot of changes come through and each of those changes is still shaping the industry. The first major shift Cap has noticed is how monetization has become so accessible for creators. There are currently many ways to raise funds via fans, but advertising has also become more attainable than ever before. “The industry has matured in a way that can allow for us to easily acquire advertising without having to hustle on a one-to-one basis,” Cap explained. Creators are becoming experts at using custom and dynamic advertisements to optimize monetization and reach, but all of that comes at a cost.
Cap pointed out that podcasting, and most revolutionary mediums in the 21st century, began as a space for people who didn’t fit into regular boxes. They were “born by people being able to freely express themselves on the Internet.” That ability to freely express yourself revolves around the understanding that your audience also exists outside of the box and thus relates to you. But advertising depends entirely on aiming specific products at people in the corresponding boxes: “Boxes are the interest of advertisement.”
So, as monetization through advertising becomes the aim of more and more creators and thus the expectation of listeners, there is the need to aim content at people who will buy into the products being advertised. The commoditizing of listeners means placing them and creators in the boxes that podcasting originally existed to avoid. “It’s a double-edged sword that everyone should be plainly aware of because podcasts thrive on authenticity, but the medium’s continued viability will rely on working with or gaming the marginalizing nature of advertising,” Cap says.
Advertising isn’t the only thing that Cap sees changing the landscape of podcast content. Cap thinks that “The most important [trend], which is already well underway, is the importance of narrative and the resurgence of audio dramas.” Clearly certain audio dramas like Welcome to Nightvale, The Moth, and Dirty John have gained massive success by telling stories, but Cap isn’t just talking about fiction narratives.
Narrative has always been how people communicate most clearly and podcasting is in the unique position of being able to create narratives, be it talk programming, documentaries, or fiction, with as much emotional impact as most popular mediums and, in many cases, even more intimacy than film. Significantly, this is all accomplished with a drastically leaner team and budget than film or television – while being just as dynamic in many cases. Of course, a narrative show isn’t nearly as easy to write or produce as a few people just talking, but the historical significance of story in communicating facts and resonating with audiences means that investing time into cultivating stronger narratives is more than worth the extra work.
In closing, keep this in mind: Cap made sure to remind me that, in the end, “it’s hard to say how media will evolve .” But that also means the possibilities are endless. “Formats may come and go,” Cap explained. “But the oral tradition of storytelling isn’t going anywhere. Podcasting is pure, human storytelling and no matter how the winds blow, the fire at the heart of that tradition will continue to burn brightly.”
If you’re curious about Cap’s work and want to check out some of the exciting stuff they’re producing, here are a few of their favorite projects. Cap is currently most proud of the second series of The Call of Cthulhu Mystery Program: The Terrible Secret of Lot X, what they describe as “a Lovecraftian black comedy styled like a 1930s radio play. Series 2 follows Estelle Thorpe, a wealthy occultist, and her mismatched band of curiosity seekers as they get dangerously over their heads while investigating the eldritch underbelly of New England.” For those on the nerdy side of things, Cap says that the best episode of Nerdy Show is Oral History of Video Games and – for those looking for the more “creative and weird” – Nerdcasting the Multiverse Thanksgiving Special. Cap also edits and produces The Opus, a recently-launched collaboration between Consequence Podcast Network and Sony that examines legendary albums’ ever-changing legacy. Lastly, you can check out Cap’s visual work combining with a podcast on the documentary series Lightning Dogs, chronicling the development of an animated series they co-created, about a “pack of anthropomorphic dogs, trapped on a post-apocalyptic Earth, battling the evil Glampire.” As always, be sure to leave reviews and let Cap know what you think!
This piece on Cap Blackard continues our new Industry Leaders series. We want to talk about the people who are pushing podcasting forward and hear what they think may be coming to podcasting as a whole. If you have suggestions for an interview or questions about the content, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.