It seems that podcasts split themselves into two sides: “amateur” and “professional.” But are these really the right labels? How should this affect how you podcast?
These words have many connotations, and they may not be the right labels for what we do. I'll dig into these and suggest what I think are more appropriate terms.
I think the label “amateur” is often misapplied. At an Apple event on September 1, 2010, the late Steve Jobs famously lumped podcasts under the label of “amateur hour.” For some podcasts, we have to be honest and admit that it is an entirely accurate label.
The dictionary definitions for “amateur” (Dictionary.com, Merriam–Webster) do account for activities engaged in for pleasure rather than any form of profit. But the definitions also include words like, “inexperienced,” “unskilled,” and “lacking in competence.”
I have encountered many amateur podcasts. The hosts were poor communicators, had no skills with their tools, and the whole experience felt degrading. These podcasts clearly lacked any quality in the four cornerstones of a great podcast: content, presentation, production, and promotion. Sometimes, the podcasts might actually have good audio quality, but the rest of the production was still unbearable.
The harsh reality is that truly amateur podcasts like that will probably never earn a large following or reach any kind of success. These are the kinds of podcasts that give the industry a bad reputation to some people.
Advice: don't be an “amateur” podcaster
Does this mean you have to turn your podcast into a business? No. Do you have to spend a lot of money to fix things? Probably not. Can you continue podcasting just for the fun and relaxation of it? Yes!
But don't embrace the label “amateur” or use it as an excuse. I'll suggest something better below.
On the opposite side of “amateur” is “professional.” These are the people who have large audiences, gain lots of attention, and sometimes earn lots of money.
The dictionary definitions for “professional” (Dictionary.com, Merriam–Webster) primarily focus on things pursued as a profession. But a small part of the definition also covers things done in an expert way.
When I talk about sounding or looking professional, I don't mean that you have to pursue podcasting as part of a business. But I think that you should sound as though you're an expert on your topic. You might be surprised how professional people can sound about anything: baseball cards, old cars, Beanie Babies, movies, and more. You can also look and sound professional in how you handle the whole production of your show, which goes beyond what podcasting gear you use.
Advice: seek to be “professional” in everything
You may think calling yourself a “professional” is a bit too serious, and that's okay. But you're an expert in something; embrace that! Also, host and produce your show in a way that seem professional, even if you're just talking about hobbies.
Podcasting doesn't have to be about making money or pursuing a profession. It can simply be about the things you and others love. But I do recommend that you seek to present yourself (or your guest) as an expert on the matter and always pursue professionalism in what you do.
I think “hobbyist” is a more appropriate label than “amateur.” Whether you podcast about traditional hobbies, or you talk as a hobby about serious things, you could be a hobbyist podcaster.
Again, let's consider the dictionary definitions for “hobby” (Dictionary.com, Merriam–Webster): something you pursue for relaxation and not as your main occupation. There's nothing in the definitions that limit a hobby to being done poorly. In fact, think of the hobbyists you know and you'll often see more skill and attention to detail in their relaxation activity than in their own job!
You podcast about this topic because you love it. You may have no plans to make any money. After all, you find this relaxing and may even consider the costs as investments in your pleasure. If you're reaching those simple goals, then you're successful!
But you're also so good at this hobby, that people see you as an authority or expert. That happens when you pursue your hobby in a serious way and it shows. You can be professional about a hobby.
These kinds of podcasts often generate the strongest communities because everyone usually has the same goals—to just enjoy the topic.
Don't call yourself an amateur; call yourself a hobbyist and pursue that expertly! This is a label more about your perspective than your results.
What about the podcasters who use podcasting as part of their business or do seek to monetize their craft? I think these would best be called Entrepreneurs.
Not every entrepreneur is professional about their “business.” Using podcasting to grow a business certainly takes initiative and risks! But it also doesn't mean that it's a full-time endeavor.
Just like you can pursue a hobby professionally, you can also pursue business amateurly.
You can also turn a hobby into a business. Just like with “hobbyist,” I think that the “entrepreneur” label is about the perspective you have on your actions, not the results you get.
How should you define yourself?
Like everything in podcasting, I think it's really up to you to label yourself and set your own goals. Be a hobbyist and embrace it! Or be an entrepreneur and embrace that! But the one thing I think is most important is to earn respect by how you pursue your activities, and I recommend that be with class, not with inexperience or lack or skill. In the podcasting space, where you literally have a voice, press forward with professionalism but always remember your purpose.
Thus, what are you? An amateur? A professional/expert? A hobbyist? An entrepreneur? Comment below!
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