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What Is a Microcast, and Why Do You Need One? (Guest Column)

One of the biggest stories in technology and music is the proliferation of smart speakers — there are an estimated 100 million of them in homes at the moment, and the No. 1 use for these devices is listening to music. Along with automotive voice devices, smart speakers are proliferating even faster than smartphones did a decade ago. Ownership grew 78% just last year, and the technology is expected to be in 75% of households by the end of 2020, according to Inside Radio. Every mobile phone is voice-enabled. Anyone with a smart speaker and a 6-year old can see a future in which voice interfaces will supplement — and in some cases replace — screen interfaces.

Concurrently, one of the biggest stories in content is the maturation of podcasting and the adoption of podcasts into the streaming services. Podcasts were heard in over 60 million households last year. Spotify’s recent announcement that users can integrate podcasts into their playlists is a big leap forward to reach listeners with audio content.

As these trends converge, there is a huge opportunity for the music and entertainment industries who have rosters of talent available that know how to tell engaging stories, and people who want to hear what they have to say.

Between smart speakers, podcast platforms, and DSPs, potential audiences for podcasts number in the tens of millions: That’s a massive addressable audience. But there is still a huge question that the industry needs to confront: How will fans connect with artists when there is no screen to look at — no lyrics, Instagram posts, or album covers? Conversely, how do artists talk with their fans, create community, and maintain a daily or weekly connection in a Voice environment?

Enter the Microcast. It’s a mini-podcast designed for distribution across multiple media, including smart speakers, podcast apps, and now, even Spotify playlists. Its length (7-10 minutes) and its content are uniquely optimized for use on all of these platforms, distinguishing it from ordinary Voice skills and podcasts.

My company, PopCult Worldwide, specializes in delivering these short-form contextual content pieces for recording artists, and we found a great partner to showcase the format with the multi-talented K.Flay and her label Interscope.

Every week, K.Flay, aided by her producer, my partner, Dennis Scheyer, releases one of these 7-10 minute gems under the title “what am i doing here.” The subject matter varies, from interviews with other artists to musings on how airports turn us all into animals to canned goods (really!). She records wherever she happens to be, and sends it to Dennis. Then every Wednesday, there is a new release exclusively on Alexa and Google Home. Viewers say “Open K.Flay show” and hear K.Flay talk to them each week. It’s available on YouTube a week later, and we will be releasing the series as a conventional podcast later this year.

The Microcast is a perfect medium for frequent communications: It’s short, multiplatform, relatively inexpensive to produce and easily works into how fans want to listen. It’s great for musicians, but actors or musicians could conceivably use it build attention around a current project, film or album — extending their reach onto an audio platform where the visual content won’t translate.

Having spent over a decade in digital marketing, the idea of a marketing tool that had all the above attributes and also could generate revenue was a holy grail. Well, it’s time to saddle up and chase that grail, because artists have followings that podcasters are eager to help you monetize.

Lars Murray, a former executive at Pandora and Sony Music, is co-founder of PopCult WorldWide and Voxally. 

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