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Battling imposter syndrome and how podcasts break down barriers

Ahead of the 2023 Audio Production Awards, we spoke to Chloe Straw, managing director of Audio UK, which runs the APAs. As well as giving an insight into how the awards work, Chloe spoke about battling imposter syndrome, how awards can help podcasters to promote their shows – without them necessarily having to end up a winner – and offered some interesting insights on diversity and community.

This month's guest: Chloe Straw

Chloe is the Managing Director of AudioUK and a consultant, specialising in collaboration and change. She has many years’ experience in the audio industry, working for businesses including Somethin’ Else and We Are Grape, for clients including Spotify, Audible and the BBC.

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How do the Audio Production Awards help podcasters to promote their shows?

There is still a lot of imposter syndrome, I find, when people enter awards, and this is something we need to work really hard as an industry to overcome to ensure all are getting a chance to enter – and feel that they should enter – and see the value of it. Once people have entered, they get a lot of promo, particularly if they get nominated or win: really nice assets, photos, email signature graphics and so on, which we are told really help with podcast and producer promotion and help to open more doors and further opportunities.  

Some success stories from the scheme have been Andrew Gold, with his podcast On The Edge, who won Bronze for the Best Lifestyle & Society Producer award last year. Producer Sylvie Carlos was also nominated for that category and again for this year. We’ve seen the uptake of the Pay What You Can scheme [which offers discounted entry rates and tickets for those under financial constraints] almost double this year and 9 nominations made the shortlist, such as Natasha Miller with her new podcast Bitter/Sweet. We have new talent categories such as Best New Voice and Best New Producer, which are often a launchpad for the nominees and winners. [For example] Axel Kacoutié won Silver in 2019 for the Best New Producer award and has since gone on to win Gold for Best Factual Producer and Best Sound Design Producer last year for the podcast Decode, which is the kind of inspiring progression that we like to see.

How do you ensure that indie podcasters have a chance against shows with much bigger resources behind them?

This is really important and something we have worked hard on over the last few years. As the categories can be so broad (believe me you don’t want to sit through a three-hour-long ceremony with 50 categories, so we try to limit the amount we have), we have spoken a lot about how to ensure different producers/shows are judged fairly in regard to the resources they have access to. This can be financial but also education, training, and so on. 

With this in mind, we work with EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] consultant Yassine Senghor to provide unconscious bias training to all judges – they have a document to read and a video to watch. Last year, we also introduced the Chair of Judges position. A key part of this is for the chair to brief into the head judges and ask them to bear in mind as part of their judging discussions the circumstances that the different entries are made in – so access to money, training, education, barriers around protected characteristic and so on. Joby Waldman, from Reduced Listening, is this year’s chair and has done an excellent job, our thanks go out to him: Reduced Listening won Production Company of the Year at the 2022 APAs. 

How have podcasts helped to drive diversity in the audio industry?

I think that radio was traditionally perceived as an industry that had quite a high barrier to entry, though community and hospital radio did a lot to break that down. Podcasts are brilliant because they can be made anywhere, you don’t need a studio, and you can get them out there relatively easily. Radio felt generally like it was made for a majority audience (again with caveats), whereas the beauty of podcasts is that they can serve specific interests really well – I recently listened to an entire series all about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) – fascinating, I tell you! You can see some of the amazing communities that have come together around specific podcasts, who may not have wanted to listen to audio before because it did not speak to them about their interests. 

The APAs’ Pay What You Can scheme is helping to give more people access to the awards but what else is being done in the industry, and what more needs to be done?

We’re really proud of the Pay What You Can scheme. We launched it three years ago, and Amazon Music and Wondery joined us last year to help promote [it] and reach out even more with the scheme. It has grown every year. 

There are a lot of great organisations who are doing key work to make the industry more accessible. To name a few, there is: Multitrack and their fellowship programme, Content is Queen, and UKAN (who won the AudioUK Award at last year’s APAs). There is also the Creative Mentor Network, who run mentoring programmes in the creative industries; Global have the Global Academy, who we work with on awards night; BBC Sounds have their Audio Lab. There’s also the Entry Level Audio Network and All Hear, which are both great resources for sharing opportunities and advice for people starting off in the industry. And finally, Morely Radio, a community radio station and podcast production house, helps students of any age to develop technical and industry skills and often run residency opportunities for new talent. I

I would like to see even more investment from those with money – [such as] broadcasters, brands and platforms, particularly those who are not involved already. It can often be the grassroots organisations who drive a lot of the work, without a lot of resource, and it is really hard work.

Howe important is it that podcasters – especially indies/freelancers – find networks to be a part of?

This is one of the nice things about the podcast community, that it is a community. There is of course work to be done, but I often hear that we are much ‘nicer’ than our TV counterparts and I choose to believe this. There are some brilliant communities within the podcast industry [including] UKAN, Content is Queen, Multitrack and others such as the International Women’s Podcast Awards, which are run by the excellent Naomi Mellor. There are absolutely loads more as well.

What can we expect from the awards show on the night?

A really fun night! We always get good feedback – accessible, open, friendly. We’re thrilled that our hosts for the evening are Pod Save the UK presenters, comedian Nish Kumar and journalist Coco Khan. There’s the drinks reception, award show and after-party, but this year we are also introducing a pre-awards mixer, in collaboration with the Entry Level Audio Network, for people who might be new to the industry or coming by themselves. Guests can sign up to the pre-awards mixer via the Eventbrite page here. General tickets are now on sale too and can be purchased from our Event page here

What sort of background do the judges have and what do they look for when judging the shows?

We work really hard to recruit judges who have a wide range of lived experiences and represent all areas of the industry – this includes geographical, economical, across radio/podcasts/audiobooks, age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Each year we ensure we are reaching further and expanding our judging network across the industry. We ask judges to fill in voluntary diversity monitoring forms after the judging is done – this is to ensure that we hold ourselves accountable as the organisation running the awards to make sure we represent people from across a range of different experiences and backgrounds.

When the judges judge the shows, each category has three criteria that it is marked against (these vary per category), but this only forms part of the judging, a lot of it is discussion within the judging groups, guided by our expert head judges, and includes consideration of the circumstances in which the entries were made – financial pressures, as well as other barriers that people face when entering and progressing in the industry.

We are incredibly grateful to all our judges – they give up their time and expertise for free, which is something that not everyone can afford to do, and something we are very mindful of.

In what way has the rise of podcasts changed the audio landscape from the perspective of the APAs (having previously been the Radio Production Awards)?

Podcasts have been hugely transformative for the audio landscape as a whole, and this has been reflected in the awards, as it has been throughout the industry. The awards are now even more competitive, as there is more choice of content to enter, and we have introduced some new categories to reflect the way that podcasts have added to and changed the audio industry. We have worked really hard to spread the word to make sure that everyone in the industry knows the awards are for them. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that we have a real focus on the awards being for those who make the content, something I am really proud of and makes us different from other awards. 

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