Angsty young adults have been making art about their lives for generations. Whether it’s poetry, garage band jam sessions, or student films, a need to make sense of the world has always been at the core of work produced by teens and twentysomethings. Now, in addition to passing around mixtapes or curating Instagram photos, Millennials are promoting and producing podcasts.
The growing interest led the Public Radio Exchange to open the Allston Podcast Garage in early August. PRX charges $1 per minute of recording time to use their studios to produce high-quality audio work. It’s also a space to share ideas. At its Podcasting 101 event Wednesday night, the theme was embracing a podcasting community largely made up of college students and recent grads.
Megan Tan, 25, who created the “Millennial” podcast in her Portland, Maine, closet in January 2015, spoke at the Garage to a standing-room-only crowd of young audiophiles, all with their own dreams of making it big in podcasting.
“At one point I looked around and everyone my age was making a podcast, so I was like ‘OK, this is what you do,’” Tan said. “I was fueled partially by this feeling of competition. I thought, ‘It’s a very Millennial thing to do. Why wouldn’t someone already create this?’ ”
In the same way indie bands hope to get signed to a record label, Tan got her big break when PRX podcast newtork Radiotopia started distributing her “Millennial” episodes.
As a nonprofit, Radiotopia is funded primarily by grants and by Kickstarter donations. Podcasters in the network retain all rights to their own work and maintain all creative control. Meanwhile, PRX provides podcast sponsors and retains a portion of the funding from those sponsors.
What Tan created has surpassed her expectations. “Millennial” is an autobiographical series following Tan as she navigates life after college graduation. Her successes, failures, and fights with her boyfriend are captured on tape and made available to download. But the episodes don’t feel like voyeurism or a small town “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Tan’s struggles are accessible, and her uncertainties comfortingly familiar.
“People like feeling like something real is happening in front of them,” Tan said. “They’re connected to it because there’s just so much noise in the world right now and there’s so much [expletive] that when people feel something real, that’s contagious. You want to continue to feel that way.”
It’s no surprise that Tan’s revelations about her coming of age would work as a podcast. According to media research company Edison Research, 38 percent of all podcast listeners are between 18 and 34 years old, the group also referred to as Millennials. But Millennials aren’t just passive consumers, Tan pointed out. They’re helping to shape an industry that’s just as young as they are.
Of course, the public perception of Millennials isn’t always so kind. When Tan’s show was picked up by Radiotopia, they debated changing the name to reach a broader audience. Tan didn’t go for it.
“I like the term Millennial. People think it’s this awful dirty word and I can’t help but think ‘what’s everybody’s problem?’” she said. “I like that people come in [to “Millennial”] with this bias and then they have to change their perspectives.”
PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman was one of those biased listeners. She said she kept her distance from the podcast at first because she thought she wasn’t the target audience and wouldn’t be able to relate.
“Then I listened to them and I thought, now this is content that actually matters . . . the fact that she is in her twenties doesn’t mean that it’s any less universal,” Hoffman said. “Things like changing career paths, balancing risk, learning new things. That’s all stuff that affects people in their twenties and in their fifties.”
Hoffman says giving people access to podcast technology and networking opportunities at a low cost feeds creativity and gives debt-laden college students the opportunity to contribute.
“We work with some of the most successful people in public radio podcasting and those folks are all pioneers, they’ve paved the way,” she said. “The next generation of makers is really what we are interested in. They have their own stories to tell and they have their new fans to connect with. They broaden the definition of media in a really different way and that’s what I’m excited about.”