This is the fifth piece in our special series on podcasting, which shares insights into the dynamics of this booming audio phenomenon. This month, we hear from Toronto-based Pacific Content producer and arts and life reporter Aparita Bhandari. She tells us about discovering the power of podcasting, her early challenges getting started and how she gave life to her love of stories.
TORONTO — Two months into the pandemic in Canada, the enormity of it suddenly struck me one night. From the start, in March 2020, I had understood that our lives would be changed. However, I thought it would take maybe six months, or at the very most, until the end of the year, for things to return to normal — whatever normal meant.
But that evening, as I lay awake, I realized that while I might be fine in my bubble and my life in Toronto would continue with some sort of routine, other aspects of it would be drastically different. For example, I was not sure when I would next travel to New Delhi, where I grew up.
My late-night musings ended up serving as inspiration for my Hindi language fiction podcast, “Darmiyaan.” It follows two former high school flames who reconnect on the streets of New Delhi as they rediscover old haunts and catch up with their present lives.
The six-part limited series is both a love letter to my former hometown and my reaction to the constant conversation around diversity and representation in the podcast industry and the media ecosystem at large.
Starting the journey
The journey to making “Darmiyaan” was not straightforward, and I am still figuring out what my next steps are when it comes to creating original content in podcasting.
Stories always fascinated me as a young child, and I initially thought I would go into academia. However, my mother worked as a journalist for a large part of her professional life in New Delhi in the late ’80s and ’90s, and my grandfather regularly contributed opinion pieces to Indian newspapers. So, the newspaper world was familiar to me, and I eventually found my way into a Toronto newsroom in 2001.
After several years of covering Toronto’s growing immigrant communities, I got a call from CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster. They wanted me to try out as an arts columnist. As I walked into the CBC newsroom, my heart plummeted. I saw people at their desks wearing headphones and editing audio files on their computers, a host in the recording studio with a red “On Air” light overhead and a studio technician fiddling with dials on the mixing desk.
“I don’t know how to do any of this,” I told Nick Davis, then senior producer of the Toronto morning show “Metro Morning” and the person who had reached out to me. “All you need to know is how to tell a story. We’ll teach you the rest,” he told me.
I learned how to make radio stories on the job and fell in love with the medium. There’s a timeless quality to a well-told radio story and the ability to truly experiment with the images that sound can create. I spent a decade making audio stories, starting out as an on-air commentator and eventually producing radio documentaries. I received frequent training and learned a lot by having conversations with peers and more experienced colleagues.
I first became aware of the power of podcasting because of “Serial” (2014). Since I have many friends in the tech world, I was already aware of podcasting as a medium of distribution via RSS feeds. But this podcast’s popularity alerted me to the possibilities of being able to create my own podcast. I was especially itching to create stories in my mother tongue, Hindi. Having my own podcast seemed like one way to scratch that itch.
Sure, we can create content, but how do we get people to listen?
First, however, I wanted to make sure that I could, in fact, create a podcast. The content part was easy. But I didn’t have the technical know-how to upload audio content, create an RSS feed or use a podcast host. Fortunately, I have family and friends in the technology sector who helped me out on that end.
In February 2018, I launched “Khabardaar!”, a Hindi language podcast about Bollywood and other Indian movies. It started as a weekly podcast, where my co-host, Baisakhi Roy, and I discuss Hindi and other language films from our socio-political lens of two South Asian women living in the diaspora. There were a lot of learning curves on the way. I had to wear several hats to produce an episode. Then came the challenge of spreading the word (a.k.a. audience development). This is especially difficult when you are trying to serve a very specific audience. “Khabardaar!” continues to be a passion project that I do on the side.
Getting people to listen
Besides offering me opportunities to attend film festivals and appear on panel discussions as an expert on films, “Khabardaar!” gave me the confidence to launch my Hindi fiction podcast, “Darmiyaan.” Once again, I wore several hats: writer, actor, director, producer, editor and mixer. I commissioned other experts to help with story editing, sound designing, illustrating and designing the website.
In my head, “Darmiyaan” is another proof-of-concept podcast, a demo-reel of sorts. It’s also been instructive in my continued efforts to understand the distribution and audience development part of the equation. Sure, we can create content, but how do we get people to listen? As my colleagues at Pacific Content, a leading Canadian podcast services company, say regularly: There’s no magic pill. Their dictum that you should build podcasts for audiences versus building audiences for podcasts makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, however, you just want to flex those creative muscles.
My advice for fledgling podcasters is simple: Figure out why you want to make a podcast and if you could sustain yourself and the podcast. You can possibly make a podcast out of passion and use it as a way to find projects — if you have the time and money to spare. Or, given the growth in the podcasting industry, you can gain some experience helping other people create their podcasts before starting your own. There are several paid opportunities available, with the remuneration depending on your talent and expertise.
As for me, I am dreaming up other Hindi fiction podcasts. Hopefully, they will come soon to wherever you get your podcasts.
Recording: Zoom H6
Mics: Shure SM58
Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 OHM
Distribution: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify.
I use a Zoom H6 to record my audio, plugging in a bunch of Shure SM58 mics via XLR cables. I edit my audio on Reaper. I manage the hosting and distribution of my podcast using some DIY technological methods my tech family and friends helped me set up. The same RSS feed populates podcast directories such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify.
The author is a podcast producer with Pacific Content and an arts and life reporter in Toronto. Her areas of interest and expertise lie in the intersections of gender, culture and ethnicity. Her work has appeared in a range of Canadian and international media. She’s also the producer of Hindi language podcasts KhabardaarPodcast.com and Darmiyaan.com