Derek Owusu talks about the parallels between the DIY cultures of podcasting and grime music
“Everyone has a podcast these days”. I hear this often and it echoes something similar I used to hear when grime was coming into being: “everyone is an MC these days”. The black working class is quick to innovate, build and develop, creating spaces for ourselves in industries that think twice before letting us in. And what, in hindsight, I see with grime, I now see with podcasting.
Back in the day, to become an MC all you needed was a decent mic (which you could rob from your music class), your bars, a computer, and audio recording software like Audition or Cubase, which could be downloaded easier than they can today. Recording was easy, and once you were done you’d have a little play around with the software, “mixdown” your “freestyle” or tune, make it accessible to LimeWire and then start sending it over MSN. Almost all early DIY grime tunes sounded like the MC was spitting ten metres away from the mic, their voice randomly becoming louder then quieter, the sound quality so poor that it often reflected the condition of the estates the tracks were being recorded in. But we became acclimatised to the quality the same way we got used to anything shabby. What really mattered was the energy and enthusiasm, it was the energy and enthusiasm that was absorbed. One MC could record five tracks in two hours and still get ratings off each one, as long it sounded like they had unlimited bars and kept losing and finding their breath. A new MC was born every weekend, some sick and some soft, some hard and some too weak for a violent pull up and radio station mosh. But either way, it was good for the scene. Good for the culture we were unaware we were building. Many MCs tapped out early, not believing in what could become while the ones who stuck around are now seen as pioneers and old school grime legends. With my musings on grime it’s easy for podcasting to slip into the narrative; the two, in my mind, being so similar. Comparing podcasting to MC’ing/grime may seem bizarre at first but the two things carry the same spirit–the spirit of “do it yourself if you want to be heard”—and are comparable in more ways than one.
With podcasting, like MC’ing, once the idea to start pops into your head, the next thought is one of equipment. You know you’ll need a recorder/mic, software, and a place to record. You ask the few podcasters you know for some help, but they’re not as open and helpful as you thought they would be. They’re tight-lipped, not wanting to give away their secrets, acting as MCs once did if you asked them where they recorded their tunes. So you Google, and after a few clicks here and there you find yourself on the Maplin Website, looking at the Zoom H1 recorder, the cheapest, quality audio recorder on the market. Once that’s in the basket it’s onto audio software. Typed into the search bar is “free audio software download”. Trying to download a few, you realise the majority are scams just trying to get your email address but eventually you successfully download “Audacity”, a decent and free recording program. Finally. Now where to record? Originally, you thought studio, but with your own recorder and software, realistically you can record anywhere. So, at home it is. You create a SoundCloud, read the podcasting information and RSS Feed info, choose a name, maybe create social media accounts, perhaps scout a co-host, and then, there it is, you’re ready. Now you can say everything you’ve wanted to say, scripted or unscripted, spill all the loose thoughts and feelings about things, random and relevant, that you’ve been holding in. Now you can give our voice to everyone. Now you’re a podcaster.
When grime was young, it wasn’t common for MCs to have a structure to the tunes they were putting out. Some had chorus’s, which were usually their most popular refrain put in-between 16 bars, but most were just two and a half minutes of nonstop energetic lyrics; nonstop bars. I feel modern podcasts are similar—energy fuelled conversations that are going nowhere, talk upon talk, that has no structure. Ideas for topics are made note of, but after that, it’s all freestyle. And, for me, those podcasts are the best ones. They’re the rawest and the most authentic. A topical podcast with sections and adverts is a decent listening experience but I’ve always been one to prefer the Forward Riddim before Bizzle gave it a chorus so it could find its way into the charts.
The internet helped grime become what it is today, and it’s also integral to podcasting. Sharing was so easy: Limewire to Aries, or you could just leave your PC on while your mate sent you file after file of grime. This is how the music travelled. We could express our minor opinions and tastes on MSN, usually in the form of a screen name with lyrics you liked or leaving a favourite song on pause so that it was constantly showing on your “Listening to” bar. This was before MySpace, of course, and Twitter. Social networking tools and podcasting are inseparable to me. Once uploaded to iTunes or SoundCloud, podcasts thrive with the help of community. Twitter acts as a playground for marketing, Instagram visual merchandising and Facebook a mixture of both. Comments, criticisms, unhelpful reproves and honest opinion flood the profiles of podcasters – and many of them take these on to improve their output. Even the worst MCs could up their game after enough people said they were dead. Saying something is shit is not always reason for retaliation, sometimes it sparks the necessary revaluation. But as with grime, I believe there are some things that the majority of listeners are unconcerned with, audio quality being the best example. With enough vim and personality injected into your podcast, anything becomes interesting and entertaining, fascinating and engaging. You could be talking about pies or arguing about Austen.
Podcasting is mirroring early grime and I think, like so many others do, it’s the new radio. Kind of. The signal is still being fine-tuned, a man leaning out of a window and fiddling with the aerial. But it’s clear that now is a perfect time to start podcasting. I’ve seen many podcasts drop off after releasing a few episodes, either because their growth wasn’t moving fast enough or it all became “long”. But look at grime. Look at a few of the long-standing podcasts, like 20Somethings and 3Shotsof Tequila, two of my favourites and two that have kept consistent and clearheaded. “Everyone has a podcast these days”, yeah, and we could do with a lot more.
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Derek Owusu is a writer, mentor and host on literature podcast, Mostly Lit. He discovered literature at the age of 23 while studying exercise science at university and soon after dedicated his life to reading and writing.
Main image: The Mostly Lit hosts
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