Marya Muloba has been in the creative industry for close to 20 years.
Her story oscillates between a state of felicity fuelled by the prospect of living the lifestyle she wanted as a creative, and that of gloom when she recalls how difficult it is to just be an artiste.
A few years ago, she and her business partner, Sammy Njuguna, got a job to shoot a documentary.
“It was an exciting gig,” she says, “and we were eager to get to work.”
But there was a challenge. They did not have the necessary equipment. Ms Muloba, already hardened by the struggles she had overcome as a singer, suggested that they seek a studio partner to work with. It turned out to be a disaster. Their partners were unable to release the content to them until they paid an extra amount of money.
On that day, Mr Njuguna decided that they were going to own their studio. A few weeks ago they launched DGi Brandem on Nairobi’s Baricho Road. The multimillion-shillings investment has two music recording studios, an editing suite, video and photography rooms, a band rehearsal space, and a make-up studio.
“We are a one-stop-shop for creators, musicians, models, graphic designers…,” Ms Muloba says.
But it is the podcasting studio that is appealing. Christened the Podcast Room, the walls are covered with red velvet to make it soundproof, has three microphones and cozy seats. Recording a podcast here would not feel like having a real-life conversation.
“We invested in the podcast room because audio is the future. Content creators and consumers are moving to audio not only because it’s affordable but also practical,” she says.
“We want to take the hustle out of creating. All a creative has to do is show up with their content and create,” she says, adding that they charge Sh2,500 per hour.
Aware that the next phase of growth in audio is podcasting, it is no surprise that investors are pouring money where the ears are. Spotify, a Swedish audio and media services provider, bought Anchor a few years ago, a podcast creation platform for $140 million and Gimlet for $200 million.
In Kenya, podcasting is still relatively new. Spotting an incredible growth potential, local investors are betting on podcasting.
The investments in audio production have come at a time when Kenyan podcasts are gaining popularity.
Amani Maranga is one of the podcasters who has earned a cult following of men who want to listen to topics ranging from job loss, alcohol, love to fatherhood.
“You know what Amani if you had a podcast, I’d listen to it.” This statement from a friend is what launched Mr Maranga into the world of podcasting.
Two words describe his podcast, Living Truthfully, which averages 3,500 listens per episode: vulnerable and authentic.
“Podcasting began as a way to express myself after going through a particularly dark period in my life,” he says. “One day in December 2018, using my phone and headphones, I recorded my first podcast via the Anchor platform, and uploaded it for whoever would hear it.”
The second episode where he shared a man’s experience going through divorce won him over completely. The episode got 22,000 listeners with feedback centering on his truth and vulnerability as a man.
“It was totally unexpected but very promising, setting me firmly on this path,” he says.
Miles away in the US, is a Kenyan Intensive Care Unit nurse, Wambui Ndung’u. She is the founder of Spilled Words, a podcast started as a creative outlet. On Spilled Words, the 27-year-old tells stories of pain, hardships, regret, and success in less than 15 minutes.
“Stories are a balm to the soul, the foundation of who we are. Being a storyteller, podcasting was a natural choice. It felt like a happy medium that would allow me to achieve my goals,” Ms Ndung’u says.
Mr Maranga and Ms Ndung’u represent thousands of content creators turning to podcast to create and distribute content globally.
When Mr Maranga dipped his foot into the industry, there were less than 20 podcasts in Kenya. Today, there are at least 500, with new entries resulting from the pandemic.
No one knows this better than Lee Kanyottu of Big City Studios. He has been a podcast producer for almost 10 years. His portfolio includes industry names like Sean Cardovillis and Jeff Koinange. At his studio in Nairobi’s Westlands, content creators record podcasts which he edits for distribution.
So far, he has produced 12 podcasts. The producer knows that podcasting is here to stay as big companies globally invest heavily. Locally, Big Media is also embracing podcasting as valuable content.
What is driving the popularity of podcasts as avenues to learn, earn, inspire, and be inspired? Podcasting has a myriad of advantages for creators and consumers.
Podcasting has the lowest barrier to entry. You just need a phone, headphones, a good voice, content, and a quiet space to make a podcast. It is also an inexpensive way of producing content as costs associated with personnel, equipment (lighting, editing), location, wardrobe, and makeup are significantly low. Additionally, distribution is relatively easy.
“Most podcast hosts (platforms where podcasts are uploaded) are free. All you need is an e-mail address and your content,” Ms Ndung’u adds.
Popular hosts globally are Anchor, Spotify, Google and Apple podcasts, and Castbox. Locally, we have Nation Audio and Afripods.
“For the audience, podcasts allow them to experience media in a new way, educate and entertain. They are easy to access; affordable as they use few data bundles and support on-demand content,” says Mr Maranga. In terms of media, radio is still the most accessible form of entertainment because it is affordable and versatile.
Podcasting is the future of radio. With the growth of content on-demand, viewers can choose when, where and how they want to interact with media. They can listen to content anytime, control what they want to listen to, and use media controls like play, pause, rewind and fast-forward. The audience is no longer at the mercy of the producers.
“The goal is not just to have a podcast. It’s to create a platform that fuels you, grows you and transcends to your listeners,” Ms Ndung’u shares.
Her voice is peaceful and soothing to the ear; her stories, engaging.
Secondly, podcasts are non-intrusive. You can listen to it while cooking, running, or doing laundry unlike video. Audio is also the second-best way to learn after reading because it engages the mind.
Technology has enabled the creation of realistic audio production, transforming listening into an experience.
“The growth of the digital industry has provided enormous opportunity to share with the world,” Ms Maloba says.
Podcast producers earn revenue in three ways. By providing podcast producer or editor services; through recording commissioned podcast series, and through podcast consultancy and training.
Mr Kanyottu has worked with non-governmental organisations and companies to create customised podcasts on thematic issues.
“Podcasting is a marketing and communication tool valuable in building one’s brand,” he adds.
Having high-quality podcasts and professionalism cannot be overemphasised.
“In podcasting, poor audio is unforgiving and will hurt you and your brand,” Mr Kanyottu adds.
Is there a handsome return on investments for local podcasters? Ms Ndung’u’s Spilled Words does not earn her money but “this is a personal choice.”
For Mr Maranga, he has received considerable interest from advertisers that have earned him some income. He also invites his Living Truthfully audience to support his podcast production. He has invested in a mini-studio, which cost a little over Sh100,000.
In the future, Mr Maranga is working to build a culture of podcasting for African stories.
The question he is determined to answer is, “We have plenty to share and an audience eager to listen. How can we create value?”