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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

The 10th Annual Podcast Awards – THIS IS NOT A TEST #15 (transcript)

Published April 4, 2015

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I hope you liked the big, fancy two part Mat Gleason interview shows. Or maybe I should say I hope you didn’t like them too much, because now you’re stuck with me again. But it’s good to have you to myself. I’m selfish and jealous and I don’t like anyone else talking to you. It’s just you and me, right? Yeah.

Carol had her solo show opening a couple weeks ago and it was quite the soiree. The show looks great and a lot of people were there for the opening in Venice on a Saturday night, which was impressive, because no one wants to drive to Venice in Saturday night traffic. But the show is still up and you can still go see it. I’ll put a link to the gallery on the site if you’re in Los Angeles – or you’re going to be in Los Angeles – and you want to go check it out. You should. It’s the only art show in town where you can sit in a lawn chain inside a tent in a dark room and watch an awesome animated film made by Carol Es. Okay – Carol and Jonathan Nesmith and Susan Holloway, yes, but it’s a Carol Es film and a Carol Es show. So get over there. The gallery is right next to the boardwalk, so you can see the art and then go get a tan or body surf or buy some sunglasses.

I’m off to Las Vegas in about a week, to go to something called the New Media Expo. It used to be called Blog World, then I guess blogs became passe, so they changed the name. This year it’s piggybacking on the NAB show, which is the National Association of Broadcasters show, a huge thing that’s been going on every year for – I don’t know, forever. What they’re doing is morphing the New Media Expo into a broadcaster’s thing, which I understand, since the focus of NMX has been shifting toward podcasters, and I suppose they figure podcasting is broadcasting. It isn’t, but they both end in casting, so – close enough, right?

At least it isn’t turning in to mommy world, which I thought it might a couple of years ago. A lot of people are obsessed with being parents, you know, as if they just discovered parenthood, and a lot of them want to tell you about it with blogs and podcasts, and when they do that they seem to think they should be paid. That they should monetize that blog or that podcast. Make money mommies! That’s the shit side of all of this social media stuff. The get rich quick people and the people who talk endlessly about building their audience so they can MAKE MONEY. EARN EARN EARN. Shovel in those pennies, GET RICH. They are like the modern day work-from-home envelope stuffers or the Amway gnats buzzing in your ear at the family Christmas party.

I learned a lot of cool stuff at New Media Expo in the past five years. Interesting things about how to exploit Google+ and how to work Amazon if you publish downloadable ebooks there. Not to mention lots of things about Twitter and Facebook and social media in general. It’s been a pretty cool conference, but the schedule this year is kind of…uninspiring. None of the business related sessions – or, the business track – which is kind of what I’m sent to thing for every year – seem relevant to anything I’m doing. The business track – every group of similar topics at these conferences are organized into tracks because they can’t just call them topics.

I think I’ll talk about that next week – why we name things the way we do. Let me write that down. Usually I tell you at the end of this what’s going to happen next week, but I’m telling you now. Mark it on your calendar. And if you only listen to the last two minutes of this to hear what the next one is going to be about – well, joke’s on you today. Anyway, I think that by putting themselves in the shadow of the big Broadcasters show – and by trying to emulate the broadcasters show – they’re kind of losing their way, which is a shame. But it’s just a conference, not something important like nuclear medicine or fashion.

This sounds like it’s going to be boring, doesn’t it? You don’t care about conferences and trade shows. I know. I don’t either. Maybe that’s why you already skipped to the end to see what the next one is about. But hang in there with me. We’ll get to something at some point. I promise. Have I ever steered you wrong? Of course not. Okay.

Have you ever been to a conference or trade show? You know there are about 400,000 of them. There’s a trade show for electronic signs, insurance sales, wooden pencils, processed meats – if it’s a thing there’s a trade show for it. It’s a world I never really knew anything about until I invented a new job for myself at the company I work for and moved over to the marketing department. The first conference I went to was called Hosting Con which is for people who work in the web hosting industry. See what I mean? You had no idea that existed, and neither does anyone else who doesn’t work in the industry.

So let’s back this up a little. If you’ve never been to a conference or a trade show, let me explain what it is. People from all over the country – or even all over the world – fly to a big city and sit around in hotel ballrooms or convention center rooms and listen to other people talk. Then there’s another big room where vendors have booths set up to try to convince you, the innocent convention goer, to buy their shit or their service for your company. That’s ostensibly what a conference or trade show is.

But what it really is is a bunch of people going on a vacation to get drunk and hang around. Sure, they’ll sit through most of the conference or seminars or panels or sales pitches, and they’ll take enough notes to bring back to the office to justify the trip, but otherwise they’re more concerned with what’s happening at night. The parties and “mixers” and booze and booze and booze and maybe one of those girls from the vendors booths will be there… And there’s loud music and people talking really loudly so they can be heard over the loud music and there’s more booze. That’s why most people go to the things. I figured that out pretty early on, when at the first Hosting Con I went to I sat behind a guy in one of the sessions who was shopping for shirts on his laptop during the talk. Everyone has a laptop open in these things, and half of them are on Twitter or reading email or shopping for shirts.

I was kind of surprised when I saw that and I thought, “Why the hell would you come all the way to god-forsaken San Diego and attend this thing and sit in this room and just shop for shirts? Who would do that?” Well, a lot of people. I’m sure some of the people at these things have to go to them. It’s part of their job. The trade shows especially. I imagine it’s a lot of people just clocking frequent flier miles and marking time until the next stop. But at something like the New Media Expo, a lot of people are there on their own dime. A lot of the attendees are paying out of their own pockets to go there and learn how to be sensational, but you see the same thing there. People just dicking around and not listening, because really, they are there for the parties and to network. Now I should make it clear that I have nothing against booze, booze and more booze. You know, full disclosure.

But all of this, the whole world of conferences and trade shows, is very alien to me. It’s only recently that I’ve worked for a company that would pay for such things and actually encourages me to go to them, so it’s really kind of eye opening to jump into that world as an outsider. As it turns out, a lot of companies spend a lot of money sending people around the country to these things. It’s an accepted business cost and no one questions it. It’s a little economy of its own, and I’ll bet if conferences and trade shows stopped tomorrow, Las Vegas would revert back to desert within a couple of years. They’d blow up all the empty buildings – just because they love to blow shit up in Las Vegas – and everyone would get on planes and leave. Then the last person left there would blow up the airport.

So much of the money that’s spent in business is just pissed away on nothing. There’s a strange thing that happens when you start making millions of dollars – you have to spend a lot of it. Now, you might think, “Well, why not just let it pile up in the bank?” but that’s contrary to the laws of business and taxation and commerce and humanity, apparently. So someone sits at their desk somewhere – actually, thousands of people are sitting at desks somewhere – and someone walks in and says, “Your 2015 budget is $800,000.” So the person at the desk starts figuring out how to spend that money, because if they don’t, if there’s $100,000 left over at the end of the year, next year they’re only going to get $700,000 to spend, and no one wants that to happen. I mean, how’s that going to look to your boss? If you can’t spend all the money you’re not doing your job!

When I say a lot of that money is pissed away, I say that because I’ve seen it with my own innocent eyes. You have an advertising budget, so you advertise. Is the advertising effective? Does it result in more sales? Who knows, man! The only time anyone stops to figure that out is if the shit hits the fan and suddenly your advertising budget is cut and you have to start justifying all that spending or you’re going to be cut too. Then you’ll see people start to really look at where that money is going and what it’s doing. But for the most part, when times are good, the most difficult part of a lot of marketing jobs is figuring out how to spend all the money. And these conferences and trade shows – every last one of them – are no different. They’re an impressive and ridiculous absolute waste of money for everyone involved.

For everything I’ve gleaned from the New Media Expo over the past years – and like I said, I’ve gleaned a lot – I wonder how much of it I could have learned just reading on the Internet. Don’t take the flight to Las Vegas, don’t pay for a hotel and a conference pass and room service and that bottle of bourbon – which is a legitimate medical expense when I’m in Las Vegas – just stay home and all of that money could be saved. But it’s there, the budget, so I think, “What the hell, I’ll go to Las Vegas for four or five or six days, check out the conference and come home.” Who doesn’t like to get away for a while, hang around a bunch of strangers all day, then go eat a sandwich from a silver tray on your bed while you watch Fast and Furious 17 on the big screen TV? It’s seductive, that kind of thing. The expense account and the per diem and the silver tray. Even if you start to think that what you’re doing is pointless, there’s still some kind of draw there.

I’ll admit that – I’ll cop to it. But I can tell you that I hate packing a suitcase and airports and security and flights and hotels and travel in general, and I really hate Las Vegas. I hate everything about it, top to bottom, side to side, kit and kaboodle – as the kids say. I hated it the first time I stepped into it, more than thirty years ago, and I still hate it today. Yet I find myself there every few years – or now lately, every year – there I am, navigating it and despising it. I suppose it was worse those thirty plus years ago. The raw desperation that you’d see in the old part of town, off the giant strip, before downtown got a face lift, could make you question whether humanity had made it out of the coal age or the industrial revolution. The old people and the destitute endlessly and lifelessly feeding giant KFC buckets of pennies into machines that mock them and eek out a little payback every few minutes. Not enough to get ahead – or to get even – just enough to keep the pennies flowing. That silent, resigned desperation. That’s a weird mixture, resignation and desperation. It doesn’t look good on anyone. That was my first taste of the place, and you know what they say about first impressions.

But even now, the people on the strip, spending their savings to have a good time, and they’re desperate too, desperate to enjoy themselves. Frantic and loud and drunk and ultimately hopeless, and when it’s all over they’ll go home and say, “Yeah…VEGAS!” and their friends will be envious because Las Vegas is so glamorous and far away. But everyone is just empty after visiting that place. It sucks you dry, and not because it’s in the desert. It just leeches the humanity out of you like a science fiction robot that needs to feed on human souls. I’m not sure what it means or what it says about us that we find a place so void of anything remotely human or interesting to be an appealing recreational destination. To me it’s like going to the Soylent Green factory, or Thunderdome.

At least at Disneyland or one of the Magic Mountains or Dollywood you can goof around and actually have some fun. I mean, you can, I can’t. But people can. They can get some thrills and some entertainment and buy some cheap trinkets and spend just as much money as they would in Las Vegas, but at least not feel quite as dirty when they get home. Yeah man, Las Vegas – never understood the allure. I understand the allure of old Vegas – the 50s and 60s Vegas, when it was a small, swanky joint full of characters and gangsters and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior were singing every night and everyone was dressed up and smashed on martinis. I understand the allure of that Las Vegas. But what is it now? It sure as hell ain’t that. It’s just an ugly overgrown frat party with lots of whores and buffets.

And I’m on my way to it! Ha – you see what a hypocrite I am? Well. Like I said, there’s some allure to getting away from the office – let’s face it, there’s a lot of allure to getting away from the office – and possibly learning something cool, or talking to somebody cool. And here I am podcasting after all, which I never thought I’d do, but for years the New Media Expo has been telling me I’m going to do it. I guess they were right after all. But we don’t have a podcast at work – we should, but we don’t. So now that New Media Expo has pretty much turned into the podcasting vacation week, this will probably be the last year I go. I’ve skipped the Podcast Awards the last couple years, but I’ll be there this year to see all the famous podcasters slap each other on the back. I don’t even know who they are, but I’ll see them there. Maybe you’ll be there. You’re here listening to a fringey podcast, maybe you’re into podcasts and you’ll find yourself in Las Vegas next week for the Podcast Awards. If you see me, say hello. Don’t be a stranger. I’ll buy you a drink. The company I work for will pay for it.

But yeah, okay, the podcasting awards. That’s what I really meant to talk about here, so let’s get to it. You’re listening to a podcast, so you get it. You’re savvy. You’re in the know. But how long have you really been listening to podcasts? They’ve been going on for 10 years now in one form or another. But 10 years ago you were probably on a dial up connection, so downloading a podcast or the latest Beyonce record might have seemed like an extravagant waste of your precious bandwidth. But now that we’re all connected to the giant pipe in the sky, a 20 or 30 megabyte download is nothing. It’s the future we’re living in, after all. And look at you, prancing around in it. Who’d have thought?

But even after 10 years they’re still kind of a fringey form of Internet entertainment. Which means one of two things: either podcasts are never going to be A REALLY BIG THING, or they are poised, patiently waiting to become the next big thing. I tend to think they are never going to be a REALLY BIG THING, and the numbers kind of bear that out. The most popular podcasts get millions of downloads, and the podcasting world makes a big deal out of that – and I suppose it is a big deal, in the scheme of things, entertainment-wise. But if you think about it, popular websites get more visitors in a day than a popular podcast gets in a month. More people go to 4CHAN or TMZ on a typical weekend than download Marc Maron’s WTF over an entire summer.

And podcasts are like any other form of entertainment – music, movies, books, websites – because the small handful at the top have millions of followers, but then after that the numbers drop off pretty dramatically, to hundreds of thousands – which is still a lot – to thousands then to hundreds. Then of course at the bottom you have the vast majority of podcasts, the ones that can count their listeners on their fingers. So a tiny, tiny top, a small middle and a big, vast, empty bottom. Like life. But I guess that’s one of the things that appealed to me in the first place. That podcasts aren’t hugely popular. There’s still room to breathe in there. They’re still intimate and semi-secret. The way the whole web used to be. The web was once intimate and secret, and when you came across something cool you’d think, “I could be the only person in the world looking at this right now.” And a lot of the time you were. Podcasting is still kind of like that. Like a little secret between you and me.

But even fringey, semi-secret things throw award ceremonies for themselves. That’s nothing new. It just seems like human nature, to award ourselves. The New Year’s Day Rose Parade here in Pasadena started out as just a dozen rich people putting flowers on their carriages and clip clopping up and down the street for 10 minutes, but they still gave an award to the carriage with the best decorations. So awards are unavoidable. Ever heard of the Webbys? Of course you haven’t, but it’s a website award ceremony and it’s been going on for 20 years. These days it’s kind of an award that you buy, but I think they still let people vote for winners. But at this point the whole thing seems kind of quaint and idiotic. Like giving an award to the best gas station or best Taco Bell. The web is just there, and everyone uses it for everything, and very little of it is excellent in any way anymore.

But I suppose podcasting is still small and weird enough to warrant some kind of vote and a bunch of awards. I don’t know. It seems pretty obvious – the shows with the most listeners will get the most votes. Kind of like if they handed out Grammys based on sales. Wait, they sort of do hand out Grammys based on sales. Anyway, it will be interesting to go see the podcasting awards and I’ll probably come back here and tell you what it was like. Or what it wasn’t like. But it’ll be Las Vegas man, so I’ll still be full of animosity for being there, and maybe I’ll have a story or two. Or I’ll just tell you what I had room service bring up every night, and what I watched on TV before I fell asleep. A glimpse inside my high voltage rock and roll lifestyle.

But I look forward to witnessing it and experiencing it because I always look forward to doing things I’ve never done before. And I am here podcasting after all. So I’ll be among my people, right? Riiiight. In all fairness, the people at New Media Expo are my people. they’re a bunch of geeks and misfits and weirdos. Internet types. Yeah, everyone uses the Internet, but everyone isn’t immersed in it and consumed by it. Everyone doesn’t make their living from it – even though it may seem that way sometimes. So being around a couple thousand people who are consumed with isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m always up for a visit to the island of misfit toys.

It just occurred to me that I’ll be in Las Vegas for almost a week so I don’t know how I’m going to put up a podcast that week. Maybe I’ll bring my recorder and do something while I’m there and try to cobble it together and get it up for you to hear. Maybe. But probably not. You wouldn’t want to hear that. It would be a mess. Or, you know, more of a mess than this is. “Hi i’m here with Bob Brendle, host of The Smurf Roundup, a weekly 3 hour podcast about all things Smurf. Bob, it’s a pleasure to meet you, what do you have on tap for some upcoming episodes?” “Well, next week I start a three-parter about the first girl Smurf, Smurfette, and her whole origin story and where I think she would be now…I’ve been working on a comprehensive Smurf family tree as you know, and I’ll be publishing that five or six years from now…”

No, no. You see, that isn’t going to work. Anyway, it’s time to go light the grill and put some hamburgers onto it, cook them, and eat them. Those are our plans over here. Meat. What are you doing today? Made you hungry, did I? Go get something to eat. Life is short. Adios.

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