Updated: August 12, 2021 1:39:19 pm
“I was hooked to the idea of a platform where I could publish on my own, without an agency coordinator or advertiser telling me how to modulate my content. I knew what my listeners would like and I had the liberty to publish it,” said Nidhi Basu, a voice actor of 12 years and the woman behind ‘Kissa Kahani’, a Spotify-exclusive podcast on Hindi literature.
“That was the high that got me into podcasts – my own choice of stories!” she said passionately in a virtual interaction with reporters.
Influencers Deeksha and Kritika Khurana, the voices behind yet another Spotify-exclusive podcast ‘What’s Up Sisters’, too, recognise the autonomy the platform gives them. What began as a way to present a “raw, uncut” version of their lives to their millions of followers on different social media platforms soon became a space for discussions usually considered ‘taboo’ for women.
Talking about subjects centred on women faces a double hurdle in audio and video spaces – a strong sense of “taboo”, plus the under-representation of women in the field. It is the second factor that Spotify says it is aiming to address.
Finding an audience for the ‘unspeakables’
Khurana recounted that their parents had been skeptical of two girls wanting to share their lives on the internet with strangers, and only became comfortable with it over time. “We also share things that people don’t find acceptable coming out of a girl’s mouth. We talk about relationships, sex and female pleasure, still largely no-go territories in conversations,” she said.
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However, support from their listeners, 80 per cent of whom are women, encouraged the duo to continue sharing their experiences, in episodes like ‘Social Media: Inside and Out’ or ‘Boy Drama.’ “When we started talking about it, we saw people engaging in discussions in the comments section. We were initially very scared of talking about sex and masturbation but a lot of the girls who were listening to us said it made them feel more confident about themselves,” Khurana stated.
Poonguzhali Sundaram, a Tamil youngster behind the podcast, ‘Yours Positively’, covering mental health and self-development, echoed this thought.
Growing up in a semi-urban space, Sundaram felt that women’s mental health was often neglected. She noted that since men conventionally go out to work while women are relegated to domestic spaces, they often face questions like “you’re sitting at home, so what mental health issue are you having?”
Her podcast attempts to change this perception, and Sundaram said Spotify’s support has made her content accessible to different audiences.
Addressing the gender gap through ‘AmplifiHer’
Speaking to indianexpress.com, a Spotify spokesperson said that upon surveying markets across the globe, the audio and music streaming platform recognised a gender gap in the industry, prompting them to launch the ‘AmplifiHer’ program.
“If you look at the music chart or the podcast chart, it’s predominantly male. It’s a function of the society we live in. Look at Bollywood for example, most of the movies are male protagonist-centric, so inevitably you will have more male singers who will keep showing up on the charts,” the spokesperson said.
“We wanted to experiment through 2021 to see if we can start to change the narrative. Let’s talk about women and amplify their voices,” she added.
A recent study by US-based USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in collaboration with Spotify, found that women are under-represented in the audio industry.
“Women were 21.6 per cent of all artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts across the past nine years and represented only 20.2 per cent of artists on the chart in 2020. The 2020 percentage reflects the reality that there has been no meaningful and sustained increase in the percentage of women artists in nearly a decade,” the report said.
The spokesperson elaborated that the streaming app spoke to several women creators, who also stated that under-representation and not discrimination was the major problem for women in the audio industry.
Sundaram, for instance, stated that when she started out in the podcast industry in 2017-18, she had come across several women creators but, “now, they aren’t as active or they stopped because they did not get the right support.”
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Spotify’s AmplifiHer program is multi-faceted. It includes an advocacy group of 12 women creators across the industry and gives them a platform to share their journeys. It also collaborates with a global program called Equal, which puts the spotlight on a woman creator every month. AmplifiHer also focuses on another global program, Sound Up, which provides training to anyone who’s interested in making a podcast.
“India has had the second-highest number of applications for Sound Up across global markets, of which 10 names are shortlisted,” the streaming app spokesperson explained. Those selected are trained by Riya Mukherjee and Mae Thomas, both of whom have decades of experience in the audio industry.
The right time to start
Spotify’s push for inclusivity comes at a time when the podcast industry is booming. The 2020 KPMG report for the media and entertainment industry stated that the consumption of podcasts increased by 29.3 per cent through the Covid-19 pandemic. “India is already the third-largest podcast listening market and it is expected to be valued at INR 176.2 million by 2023,” the report stated.
In recent times, women-led podcasts such as Mae Thomas’ Maed in India, Surbhi Bagga’s Overthink Tank, or Swati Rawat’s Vision Nari have found immense popularity.
The Spotify spokesperson, too, confirmed that Covid-19 has ushered in more creators and listeners on the app. The hours spent listening to a podcast on the platform have also increased.
“There’s a growing demand for content around mental well-being or about learning a new skill,” the spokesperson told indianexpress.com, adding that “more regional content has been popping up on the chart with the onset of the pandemic.”
Sundaram, who publishes only Tamil content, saw a dramatic rise in listeners, who would send her messages requesting content around positivity. “The podcast was a good companion for those coping with mental health issues and being alone,” she said.
Basu, who had grown up with radio, said she had expected her listeners to be much older, but found that 50-60 per cent of her audience comprised 18-34-year-olds. “This tells us about a generation of youngsters who are video-saturated. They have grown up with video, where the visuals are so fast that they don’t connect with the content. These youngsters are shifting to audio, a more intense medium.”
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