Hannah McGregor’s life is saturated with podcasts. “I teach podcasting, I study podcasting, I write articles about podcasting and I make podcasts. I listen to maybe a dozen unique podcasts on a weekly basis. They really structure my life.” It seems only natural, then, that McGregor, an Assistant Professor of Publishing at SFU and host of podcasts Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda, would also be on the Programming Committee of the first-ever Vancouver Podcast Festival.
This November 8-10th, VanPodFest (presented by DOXA, The Documentary Media Society) invites podcast fans and creators alike to come together for a weekend of panels, live podcasts, and master classes, all focused around the creation and consumption of podcasts. Under the theme of “True Crime, True Justice” (listen up, Murderinos), there are local independent podcasts, professional CBC-produced shows, and some out-of-town special guests, and much of it is completely free.
The gratis nature of much of the programming reflects the low-barrier nature of podcasts that has played a significant part in their popularity. McGregor admits that when she and Marcelle Kosman started Witch, Please—a Harry Potter podcast that now has over 18,000 subscribers— in 2015, neither of them had any idea what they were doing. “That got me, as a media scholar by training, really interested in […] the incredibly low barrier to entry of this medium that’s still, relatively speaking, in its infancy,” McGregor says. The youth of the podcasting medium means there is still a lot of room for innovation and creativity, and its recent smartphone-facilitated boom has meant podcasts are easier both to create and consume.
That Vancouver has never before had a podcast festival is surprising, given the local prevalence and popularity of the form. McGregor postulates that a festival of this kind would first require a “critical mass of people who just think of themselves as podcast listeners, or as podcasters, or as part of a culture.” The culture is certainly there, it just hasn’t coalesced. “I literally just think it needed someone to come along and be like, “you should start a podcast festival, right?” That’s exactly what happened when the Andrea’s Gin and Warner of feminist pop-culture podcast Pop This! and DOXA’s Joseph Clark approached McGregor to join the Organizing Committee. As Chair of DOXA's Board, Gin saw the proposed VanPodFest as a natural fit under DOXA’s purview: as a “documentary film festival, [DOXA is] interested in non-fiction new media storytelling with a focus on social justice […] and requires a lot of the same skills and enables a lot of the same conversations, so I think there was a lot of natural synergy,” McGregor says.
The festival offers a range of events not often seen in an inaugural year, evidencing a consideration and experience from its organizing committee of the Vancouver podcasting climate. Panels and live shows at the Vancouver Public Library are all free entry, and include live podcasts of local shows like Rap Gods and Books on the Radio, panels on topics like Politics and Podcasting, and even a mini Harry Potter podfest featuring local and international Potter podcasts. Masterclasses at the CBC cover topics like interviewing, sound design, and fiction, and the ticketed events—held at the Rio Theatre all weekend—host big international names like Karina Longworth with You Must Remember This and Helen Zaltzman with The Allusionist, as well as one-off shows from local favourites.
With their mix of professional, amateur, international, and local podcasters, the first VanPodFest is seeking to bring the diverse pockets of Vancouver podcasting to one place and start building connections. Of her impression of the Vancouver podcasting community as it stands, McGregor notes, it’s “primarily, super fragmented.” “There are certainly networks and communities that cluster around spots,” she says, “the professionals around CBC, the students around Campus Radio, the amateur podcast makers around places like the VPL, and then probably a ton of people that we don’t even know about yet who are making them in their basements. I think what we’re all hoping is that we’ll start to find out more about who’s out there, who’s doing really interesting work that we just don’t know about yet […] the ability to start to see that emerge as a community is one really exciting possibility.”
The opportunity for mutual learning among attendees is another: “There’s a ton you can learn by listening widely, for sure, but you also learn a lot by talking to the people who make the stuff,” McGregor points out. “When I get to actually see and speak with people who are more experienced, or who come from really different perspectives in their podcasting than I do, I learn a ton of new stuff about the medium.”
That—and all that the VanPodFest has to offer—is an experience that can’t be gotten from an app and a set of ear buds. “I know Vancouverites, and I know it’s so tempting to stay home where it’s warm,” McGregor grants, “but everything is going to be so good. Just come!”
The Vancouver Podcast Festival runs November 8-10th at various venues around town. Find tickets, schedules and more info at vanpodfest.ca, and check out our festival picks here.