With the current cost of living crisis and the uncertain economic future of the country, there’s no doubt that many people in the UK are going through a tough financial period. While podcasting continues to be a labour of love for many, there are significant costs that go into creating - and growing - a podcast.
It's entirely possible to start a podcast using free tools and existing equipment, but the work and resources needed to scale a podcast into a self-sustaining brand can be prohibitively expensive. The number of full-time podcasters dropped by 6% last year, according to the Muck Rack State of Podcasting Survey 2022, and nearly 70% of the respondents said that they were only podcasting part-time, balancing that with their other sources of revenue.
With over four million active podcasts estimated to be running, the podcasting market can be very competitive when it comes to funding and for independents, most of the investments going into creating them are likely coming straight out of the creators’ pockets without the support of wider organisations. However, there are a number of ways that creators can fund the growth of their podcast without commercial investment.
Find out what grants and development programmes are available
As podcasting continues to prove itself as a powerful medium for storytelling, more funding opportunities including competitions and development programmes are becoming available to all types of podcasters, especially ones from underrepresented backgrounds and ones that are focused on building growth in local communities.
There are varying types of grants and support programmes that podcasters can apply to. There are one-off donations such as the Audio Content Fund, which went to support the production of original radio and audio programmes, the Podcasting, Seriously awards fund which can help financially support BIPOC, Trans, and Queer audio creators in applying for schemes such as the British Podcast Awards, and the Content is Queen micro-grant programme supported by Audible, which awarded creators with up to £5,000 to fund their podcast as well as an opportunity to pitch to Audible for further commissioning and development.
Another option is applying to development programmes that not only provide audio creators with the funding and resources needed to create a podcast, but also the mentorship and guidance to support them from formulating the idea to launching the podcast. A few examples are Acast’s podcast incubator programme which recently launched in Ireland after a successful debut in England last year, the Free Turn and Screen Yorkshire audio drama development fund for scripted podcast writers in the North of England, and City University’s bursary scheme, which helps financially support a student from an underrepresented background applying to the Podcasting MA course with a £5,000 bursary.
Another key initiative is the BBC Sounds Audio Lab programme - a podcast development programme designed to amplify the next generation of podcasters and audio creators, which led to one of its alumni Tommy Dixon winning Best Podcast at this year’s UK Audio & Radio Industry Awards.
“I had a look at what was going on around the industry and whilst there's some great opportunities, they're quite limited beyond seed funding,” BBC Audio Lab commissioning editor Khaliq Meer told PodPod. “That initial period of training for emerging creative, for me, was what was important of the BBC making the most of what we’ve got to offer, and we could only do that by having the creators spend time with us.”
“With Audio Lab, even though we don't guarantee jobs, the best thing to do for them is something meaningful where they are supported, mentored, and have access to training to develop not just the idea, but their skills over a longer period of time.”
Make sure that your idea is clear and authentic
Although there are a number of grant programmes available for podcasters to apply to, the amount of funding available is limited. A number of companies that previously provided backing for these projects have started to cut costs due to recent economic challenges brought on by the cost-of-living crisis and an unstable political climate.
The Audio Content Fund was supported by the UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) with a three-year grant in 2019 worth £3.7 million to support independently-produced content on commercial and also community radio. However it officially finished distributing the funds in March this year and has not received any further funding since.
Tim Wilson, AudioUK’s lead on policy and communications and a director of the Audio Content Fund, says that the organisation is continuing to have conversations with the government about the future of the fund, as well as reaching out to other organisations that have funding to either continue the scheme or create something similar.
“It was a very powerful vehicle to get important messages and high-quality content through to this audience which is different and diverse,” said Wilson. “I think it was something that really enthused people in the arts and creative space… it also widened the understanding of audio as a new way of communicating in a way that some creative organisations hadn't been doing before.”
With limited opportunities to apply for funding, the space can get competitive for podcasters, so it’s also important to know the best ways to stand out to commissioners when applying for funding. During a talk on how to pitch podcasts to commissioners at this year’s Radio Days Europe conference, podcaster and BBC Sounds commissioner Leanne Alie, who previously won Moment of the Year for her documentary podcast series Coiled at the British Podcast Awards 2022, emphasised the importance of keeping your ideas authentic. She encouraged podcasters to think outside of the box when it comes to applying for commissions - advice which also applies to grant programmes.
“I think it's really important to make content that you think is authentic,” she said, “and not just what the commissioner wants.”
Having a solid and original podcast idea that fulfils an underserved audience or genre is also crucial, and Meer also echoes Alie’s advice on the importance of authenticity.
“There's some things that aren't up for debate and non-negotiable, like authentic lived experiences, fresh perspectives. We're keen on untold stories, but the authenticity and the passion; you can't negotiate that,” he says. “Commissioners spend a lot of time… listening to people talk about what they want to achieve and therefore I think commissioners have an ear for working out what's legitimate and want to encourage, develop, and create better entry points for talent to come through.”
If you want the committees responsible for allocating these funds to take your podcast seriously, it’s not only important to spend time on the idea you’re pitching for a grant or commission, it’s also important to flesh out the brand around it. Wilson says that you’re never too small to think of yourself as a business, and that the earlier you start doing that, the more grant committees will start to take you seriously.
“I think it's a really important discipline, because creative people are first and foremost creative, but I don't think that's mutually exclusive with being a good business owner,” said Wilson; “I think they can do the business side as well, but the earlier they start to think that way, the more they're going to be in a good position to take advantage of any funding that comes along.”