“I was addicted to the idea of a platform where I could publish myself, without an agency coordinator or advertiser telling me how to mod my content. I knew what my listeners would like and I had the freedom to publish it, ”said Nidhi Basu, 12-year-old voice actor and the woman behind“ Kissa Kahani, ”a Spotify-exclusive podcast on Hindi literature.
“It 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 another Spotify-exclusive podcast, “What’s Up Sisters,” also recognize the empowerment the platform gives them. What started out as a way to present a “raw, uncut” version of their lives to their millions of followers on various social media platforms quickly became a discussion area generally considered “taboo” for women.
Talking about women-centered topics comes up against a double obstacle in the audio and video spaces – a strong sense of “taboo”, plus the under-representation of women in the field. This is the second factor Spotify says it wants to address.
Find an audience for the “unnameable”
Khurana said their parents were skeptical that two daughters would want to share their internet life with strangers, and only felt comfortable doing it over time. “We also share things that people don’t find acceptable that come out of a girl’s mouth. We are talking about relationships, sex and female pleasure, territories still largely forbidden in conversations, ”she said.
However, the support of their listeners, 80% 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 first started talking about it, we saw people engaging in discussions in the comments section. At first we were very scared to talk about sex and masturbation, but a lot of the girls listening to us said it made them feel more confident, ”Khurana said.
Poonguzhali Sundaram, a young Tamil behind the “Yours Positively” podcast covering mental health and personal development, echoed this thought.
Growing up in a semi-urban space, Sundaram felt that women’s mental health was often overlooked. She noted that since men traditionally go out to work while women are relegated to domestic spaces, they are often faced with questions such as “you are sitting at home, so what mental health issue do you have?” “
His podcast is trying to change that perception, and Sundaram said Spotify’s support has made their content accessible to different audiences.
Bridging the Gender Gap with “AmplifiHer”
Speaking to indianexpress.com, a spokesperson for Spotify said that by investigating markets around the world, the audio and music streaming platform recognized a gender gap in the industry, prompting them to to launch the “AmplifiHer” program.
“If you look at the music charts or the podcast charts, it’s predominantly male. It is a function of the society in which we live. Look at Bollywood for example, most movies focus on male protagonists, so inevitably you will have more male singers who will continue to appear on the charts, ”the spokesperson said.
“We wanted to experiment until 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 the United States-based USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in collaboration with Spotify, found that women are under-represented in the audio industry.
“Women made up 21.6% of all artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts over the past nine years and made up only 20.2% of artists on the chart in 2020. The percentage for 2020 reflects the reality that there has been no sustained increase in the percentage of female artists in nearly a decade, ”the report says.
The spokesperson explained that the streaming app is aimed at several female creators, who also said that under-representation and not discrimination is the major issue for women in the audio industry.
Sundaram, for example, said that when she started in the podcast industry in 2017-18, she met several female creators but, “now they’re not as active anymore or they’ve quit because they don’t. didn’t have the right support. “
Spotify’s AmplifiHer program is manifold. It includes an advocacy group of 12 creative women in the industry and gives them a platform to share their journeys. She also collaborates with a global program called Equal, which spotlights a creative woman every month. AmplifiHer is also focusing on another global program, Sound Up, which provides training for anyone interested in starting a podcast.
“India had the second highest number of apps for Sound Up in global markets, with 10 names shortlisted,” said the spokesperson for the streaming app. 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 inclusiveness comes at a time when the podcast industry is booming. KPMG’s 2020 report for the media and entertainment industry said podcast consumption increased 29.3% thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. “India is already the third largest podcast listening market and is expected to be valued at INR 176.2 million by 2023,” the report said.
In recent times, female-led podcasts such as Maed by Mae Thomas in India, Ourezink Tank by Surbhi Bagga or Vision Nari by Swati Rawat have found immense popularity.
The Spotify spokesperson also confirmed that Covid-19 has introduced more creators and listeners to the app. Hours spent listening to a podcast on the platform have also increased.
“There is a growing demand for content on mental wellness or learning a new skill,” the spokesperson told indianexpress.com, adding that “more regional content has appeared on the chart with the onset of the pandemic “.
Sundaram, which posts only Tamil content, has seen a dramatic increase in listeners, who would send it messages asking for content around positivity. “The podcast was a great companion for those facing mental health issues who are alone,” she said.
Basu, who grew up with radio, said she expected her listeners to be much older, but found that 50-60% of her audience was 18-34 years old. “It tells us about a generation of young people saturated with video. They grew up with video, where the visuals are so fast that they don’t connect with the content. These young people are turning to audio, a more intense medium.