This week, we put down our headphones, closed up the studio and went to the fourth annual Werk It Festival in New York City. Well, actually, Flushing, Queens.
Attended by hundreds of women in podcasting, the conference used to be invitation-only but is now open to anyone who wants to learn more about podcasting. This year, it was held at the Knockdown Centre, a concert hall and DIY venue in Queens.
It’s a warm and supportive event that is trying to do right by women; there’s a breastfeeding spot for new moms. The schedule had sessions on everything from tech for beginners to pitching your podcast. It’s also a fast-paced schedule. We broke up the sessions between both of us and we were still running around trying to catch up with what was happening on each stage.
The food...was not good. The conference day is long - you check in at 8am and keep going until 5pm - so we hoped for more food options. They were good enough to have a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option every day, and it was all gluten free. But, like, bruh.
Whew, it is pricey. At four hundred dollars AMERICAN, it is not a cheap adventure. (It is also why, frankly, we’re bitter about the food). They do offer scholarships though. Add in flights, transportation within NYC, accommodations, live show tickets, and it can rack up in to a sizeable bill.
If you can get your job to send you, you should absolutely do that. If your job won’t, you gotta pull together a prayer to the credit card gods and any friends who have a spare couch you can sleep on.
Here’s the swag bag we got:
If you’re thinking about a podcast or trying to refine a podcast you’ve recently started, this conference is for you. You’re going to hear from some of the biggest names in podcasting - Phia Bennin (Reply All), Keisha TK Dutes (TK In The AM), Jenna Weiss-Berman (Pineapple Street), the team behind The Daily, the Buzzfeed PodSquad (pause for silence) - and you can talk to them, which is incredible. There were also reps from the big distributors like Spotify, Pandora, Himalaya, Apple and so on. If figuring out new spots to post your podcasts is the goal, you can definitely get a ton of information.
That’s the other thing: It’s a ton of information. You’ll want to take a lot of notes! School is in session.
If you’re a more established podcaster, the conference is a good opportunity to network. The Jobs Jobs Jobs session is what you’re waiting for: anyone who is hiring gets up on the stage and says what jobs their company or podcast has. It’s everything from indie podcasts with a little budget to NPR who has more roles to fill than they had time on stage to share.
Our favourite session was Having Kids with Nora McInerny (Terrible, Thanks for Asking) and Ami Spishock, an artist manager from Fort William Management. It was supposed to be about Being A Mom/Podcaster but it was really about Spilling All That Tea. We learned so so much.
Like, don’t sign away your podcast rights. Ask for the backend. Require your publisher or network to tell you how much money the show makes for them. Get a good accountant. Find out what a deal memo is. And yes, you can take a newborn to a podcast recording.
That’s the kind of candor we were hoping for throughout the conference and didn’t hear until the last hour of the second day. The conference was focused on demystifying podcasting and encouraging people to get into it if they’re not already, which is a good mission and one we totally love. But it came at the cost of being honest about the business of podcasting. As much as it’s an art, it is also a business and we felt lots of stuff went unsaid.
That lack of specificity and detail is not what women in podcasting need. We believe that transparency helps all of us. They did have a pay transparency wall where folks could share how much they’d made over the years, but few of the presenters on stage shared those details.
Pineapple Street’s Jenna Weiss-Berman did share how they decided what total dollar value they needed in order to quit their jobs and start a company. Once they signed $700K in contracts, they went independent.
There was a lot of talk of benchmarks without hearing what actual benchmarks might be.
We wanted to hear more of those stories. Numbers can be scary, but we have to be honest about them.
One Last Thing
Whenever there’s an event, I always remember that Oprah used to say, “love is in the details.”
And a bunch of details bothered us at Werk It.
There was no Wifi. Someone snuck us the password for the Knockdown Centre’s wifi but again, for that cost, we shouldn’t have to get ahold of the Secret Menu of Options. The screens were tough to see if you couldn’t get a seat or had to sit further back. On the main stage, you could barely hear if you were seated in the back half. The second stage didn’t have enough seats, so popular sessions saw attendees sitting on the floor where you couldn’t really see the screens or presenters.
Coat check cost $5 each day, per item (and lots of attendees brought luggage), which is not an insurmountable cost, but it might be!
It is one thing to be woman-centric but it is another thing entirely to be barrier-free. Everyone, including us, can do this better.