Discovering Great Podcasts with Arielle Nissenblatt of EarBuds Podcast Collective

SoundHER is a monthly interview series where the ladies of Sounder have candid conversations with influential women in podcasting about their journey to success. Read on for industry tips, poignant POVs, and a few laughs.

Arielle Nissenblatt has spent a lot of time in a car. Her first job could have her traveling up to eight hours a day. Next, life brought her to a city where commuting 13 miles took over an hour and a half. Some people may have found these circumstances frustrating, but our SoundHER has a knack for optimizing her time. She became obsessed with highway and interstate facts. She memorized directions and even began collecting license plates. She also started cueing up podcasts.

It’s been four years since Arielle welcomed podcasts into her life, and she’s been in the industry ever since. From marketing to editing, she’s done just about every audio-related job in the book. Today you can find her running the EarBuds Podcast Collective newsletter, working Community Management over at SquadCast, co-creating the Outlier Podcast Festival, and co-hosting Counter Programming with Shira and Arielle.

Today, Arielle is here to talk about her journey in this young industry, how to discover great content, how to market your podcast on a budget, and advice for anyone interested in an audio career. When she’s not writing or listening, you can find her playing soccer, rollerblading, or taking long walks. In fact, when she “grows up,” Arielle aspires to be a tour guide, and has even led a 15.8 mile tour the length of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles! Let’s dig into her podcasting story.

What you’ll find in this SoundHER interview:

  1. A Snapshot of Arielle Nissenblatt’s Podcasting Journey
  2. The EarBuds Podcast Collective Origin Story
  3. Demanding Diversity In Podcast Spaces
  4. Top 3 Tips To Discover Great Podcasts (Forever!)
  5. Smart Ways To Organize Your Listening Habits
  6. Easy Ways To Market Your Podcast
  7. Advice About Getting Into The Podcast Industry

A Snapshot of Arielle Nissenblatt’s Podcasting Story

LARELL SCARDELLI: Great to chat, Arielle! Tell us, how long have you been in the podcasting industry? 

ARIELLE NISSENBLATT: I started in the podcast space four years ago when I started the newsletter, EarBuds Podcast Collective, on February 13, 2017. At the time, I didn’t consider myself part of the podcast space. I was just trying to write a newsletter. But that’s when I started to think about podcasts and podcasting in a critical way.

During these four years, I have had numerous jobs all over the industry—production, and curation, and marketing, and speaking. Some of those have continued throughout. I’ve dipped my toe into the marketing world, and then left. Now I’m in it in a more serious way with event planning.

LS: I’d love to learn more about your newsletter, EarBuds Podcast Collective. What inspired you to start it?

AN: My first job out of college was in Mississippi at a Jewish nonprofit called the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. We were partnered with different synagogues throughout the South as consultants for their Hebrew schools. If they were less than eight hours away, we’d drive to them. That’s how I got started listening to podcasts. 

LS: I’m sure so many people can relate to being stuck in a car with nothing to do. What did you listen to first?

AN: I listened to the entire back catalogues of This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radiolab, The Memory Palace— the typical podcasts that people recommend if you’re just getting started in podcasts.

I encountered more car time when I moved to Los Angeles. I was working in the city, but living in the valley, and my commute was an hour and a half each way because of traffic to go, I don’t know, 13 miles, or something ridiculous like that.

I was really upset about it at first. I felt like I was wasting my time. And then I was like, “wait a minute, I can completely optimize the time that I’m spending sitting in this car if I’m listening to podcasts that are about things that I want to learn about!”

LS: Podcasts have a way of fitting into passive moments in the day. What surprised you the most about listening?

I was amazed that I was learning so much through audio, because growing up, I was taught that I was a kinesthetic learner. You know, you move around, you learn. I thought I was stuck in that. Turns out I also am an auditory learner, and I was really taking in a lot of information by way of podcasts.

LS: How did you find your next listens?

So, I was listening to those typical five podcasts, but I thought, “how can I find podcasts that will continue to amaze me and astound me and bring me stories of new people that I’ve never heard of and new perspectives?” 

And I thought, “if I have my five favorite podcasts, my friends also have their five favorite podcasts, and their friends have more and more and more and more.” That was the impetus behind starting the newsletter— wanting new, exciting shows to listen to optimize my time in the car.

EarBuds Podcast Collective Origin Story

LS: I’m shocked so many of your friends listened to podcasts back in 2017! 

AN: I think what helped is that a lot of the friends that I called on at the time were in the same job as me, in Jackson, Mississippi. We all listened to podcasts so they had recommendations to share.

LS: How did recommendations from friends translate into the EarBuds Podcast Collective newsletter you have today?

When I started, I had no idea about email service providers. I started a survey monkey, actually, and sent it to a bunch of friends and was like, “Hi, if you want to be part of this podcast collective thing I’m doing, just fill out your information here and I’ll add you to the Gmail email.”

And so every Sunday for the first five weeks, I would send out a BCC to Gmail, just being like, “here are the five podcasts that you’re going to check out this week, let me know what you think.” Once I accidentally only cc’d everybody and it was a whole mess. 

My friend was like, “you should try Mail Chimp,” and I was like, “you are correct.” I learned Mail Chimp. If you go to the beginning of my archive for Mail Chimp, they were so ugly! I had no idea about formatting. But, you know, people were interested in this idea. So it grew over time.

LS: What does the newsletter feature?

AN: Each week we send a theme that contains five podcast episodes on that theme, and each week is curated by a different person. Anyone can curate a list. (You don’t have to be a podcaster, you don’t have to be a professional in any way, you can just be a person who really loves a certain subject.)

LS: How are these themes chosen?

AN: You know, there’s a few ways to look at it. You could be a professor who is really into marine biology and you’re specializing in beluga whales. So you’re going to go out and find five podcast episodes on beluga whales.

Or it could be like, your name is Joanne, and you live in Cedar Rapids and you’ve been really into meditation lately. You’re going to go find five podcasts on meditation as your curated list.

I also allow creators who are podcasters to include one of their own podcasts. So sometimes people will use it as an opportunity to get a little promotion for their podcasts while also shouting out four other podcasts that they enjoy.

LS: Who’s able to curate a list?

AN:  We have a form on the website where anybody can input their information, why they chose that theme, the five episodes that they’re choosing, and a short description of each one. At the bottom of each newsletter that I send out, I have that same form that anybody can click on and curate.

On the back end, we receive the form, figure out where on the calendar that list makes sense, and then reach out when your list has been chosen. We tag curators on social media and provide some sample posts.

LS: Does the newsletter feature anything else?

AN: In the past five months, we’ve started to include a section at the end of the newsletter called “Podcast Spotlight” and that’s an entire podcast recommendation that specifically differs from the theme of the week so that just in case you have no interest in the theme, you can always check out the “Podcast Spotlight.”

Another thing that’s emerged that’s been really great is our archive, which dates back to 2017. If you want to learn about, I don’t know, architecture, we’ve probably done a list or two on architecture.

LS: I see you also have an accompanying podcast?

AN: Yes! Feedback with EarBuds is the podcast that goes along with EarBuds Podcast Collective. It just returned for season two, and it’s got some changes so it’s definitely worth checking out for podcast recommendations every week! We now include an interview with a podcaster, an enthusiastic listener, or a podcast company representative. We ask them about what got them into podcasts and what they’ve been listening to lately.

Demanding Diversity In Podcast Spaces

LS: How has your newsletter process changed over the years?

AN: Today, we reserve the right to say no. A mistake that I made early on was not having a requirement for the number of women and people of color that I wanted represented in each list. Now the requirement is that three out of five of each episode chosen has to be either created by or hosted by a person of color and/or a woman or non-binary person.

Early on, I had somebody curate a list called Mancasts, “Podcasts by Men for Men,” and I don’t know why, but I let it go because it was 2017 and I was like 23. And it was terrible. I hated it. But we learn. We live and we learn.

I also had somebody curate a list and it was “best interview podcasts.” And only one of the podcasts was hosted by a woman, and somebody replied immediately. I knew that there would be pushback, because I think that week I just didn’t have time to go out and find another episode AND I also felt weird changing this guy’s pick. Whereas now I reserve all the rights to do that.

But immediately I got a reply being like, “surely all the best interview podcasts are not hosted by men?” And I was like, “I know, I agree with you. I fucked up.”

LS: When I’m reading your content today, it comes through that you’re very cognizant of the diversity you’re posting. 

AN: Thanks. Now I’m super intentional about what goes out. I send this out to a lot of people, and because of that, people are watching to see what goes out from EarBuds and I have a responsibility there and that’s something that I’ve learned and now I take very seriously.

LS: How do you think your message, your requirements, and your dedication to diversity has impacted your brand?

AN: Word of mouth gets around that you can curate a list for EarBuds, but they have this requirement: three out of five recommendations are people of color and/or women. Because of that, I think we weed out people who disagree with requirements like that.

I’ve had only a few people push back on me and say, “I’d really like to put this person in my list” and I say, “unfortunately, I can’t, I’m going to have to take editorial power there and add a woman and/or a person of color.” That’s happened a few times, and I’m very happy for those people to unsubscribe if it’s not the place for them.

LS: It really is less about monitoring and more about creating a dedicated community which, little by little, drips out into the community at large that we need to continue to represent women and people of color in this space.

AN: I think it’s super important for us to know where we stand, and to give opportunities as well.

But I’ve also seen the opposite where men who purport themselves to be really great champions of women and people of color in the space still don’t back off from panels when they easily could. So it’s interesting to see that a lot of the time, the intention is there, but the actual practice of it is not always.

I think even just putting it out there and saying, “hey, I’m going to step down and here are three people who I think would be great” is a way to advocate for diversity.

Top 3 Tips To Discover Great Content Forever

LS: Let’s talk about discovery. Because your newsletter is, in many ways, solving for a discovery issue many new listeners face.

AN: I kind of have a problem with the idea of there being a discoverability problem. I think the only reason that there’s a “discoverability problem” is because there’s so much content, and a lot of it is complete shit only some of it is good. 

It’s really about knowing how to weed through and find the ones that are good. EarBuds does that, Bello Collective does that, Find that Pod is another newsletter that does that, Podcast Review does that.

LS: So what’s your advice for new listeners looking for podcasts?

AN: My biggest advice when it comes to podcast discoverability is to sign up for curated newsletters. I think we as publication creators, people who make podcasts newsletters, need to educate that this is a way to have curated content sent to you.

Once you start listening to three podcasts that you love, you’ll never have to look for another podcast again because they will most likely recommend other podcasts you’re going to love in their ads. That’s how you’ll get on a path of finding great content forever.

LS: So sign up for curated newsletters, and you mentioned Google phrases and keywords. How does that plug you into the great-content-forever highway?

AN: Google podcasts on meditation for women. What’s going to come up is Katie Krimitsos’ Podcast Meditation Network for Women. From there, she’ll probably recommend other podcasts that are about meditation. And she won’t recommend podcasts that are shitty. She’s going to recommend good ones that have a lot of backlog for you to go through, because it would hurt her credibility to recommend something that’s not great.

A good way to figure out if a podcast has credibility is if other people are recommending it, whether it’s on shows or people have written blog posts about it, or are people talking about it on social media.

LS: Interesting. So what I’m hearing is that it’s okay to start listening to the big podcasters, because from there, you also will get to learn about smaller, but still quality, podcasts. I guess I always hear shade being thrown at the big-names, but people have to get plugged into podcasting somehow.

AN: I think so. I always want to root for the underdog. I think that the problem is underdog and indie is often synonymous with like bad, you know, but there are underdogs that are good. We just need to be able to find them.

Smart Ways To Organize Your Listening Habits

LS: I’d love to hear about how you organize your daily listening.

AN: I’ve always used Castbox to find and listen to podcasts. They have a huge podcast directory (just like Apple Podcasts) and make it easy to search for keywords. I worked for them for a while also, but I originally found Castbox at Podcast Movement in 2017. I was very new, it was just a few months after I started my newsletter.

I kind of showed up and bopped around the expo hall trying to make some friends and get some swag. I went up to every table and kind of judged each product based on the swag that they gave away. And Castbox gave away this really cool ring that goes on the back of your phone to help you hold it.

LS: So how much do you listen to on a weekly basis?

AN: I wake up every morning and I listen to The Daily, I then go to Up First, I then go to The Daily Zeitgeist, and then sometimes I top it all off with What a Day, the Crooked Media show. And then sometimes I’ll go to the Punch Bowl News, which is a short politics daily morning show.

If I have time in the middle of the day, maybe I’m going for a walk, maybe I’m doing some dishes, I’ll listen to something that came out on that day or catch up on something that came out the previous day that I wasn’t able to listen to. Or if I hear of something that I must binge, say it’s a six-episode-something on some sort of crime that happened, or a series on OJ Simpson, I’ll do that in the afternoon.

And then at night, I try to do the afternoon/nighttime daily podcasts like Vox’s Today Explained. I then go to Consider This from NPR, and that’s really what I’ve been doing lately. Yeah, lots of time spent listening to podcasts. 

LS: Okay, wow, how many hours is that?

AN: It’s a lot, but I do it on 1.5 to 1.8 speed depending on the podcast. So it’s doable. I think it’s like five hours a day normal-speed, but it’s actually like four.

Easy Ways To Market Your Podcast

LS: Podcasting is still relatively young, and you’ve been part of it for some time. What’s your favorite aspect of the industry?

AN: Everybody is so down to collaborate, and I talk about this a lot. It’s even in our recent rebrand. Our first logo said EarBuds and then the side was two little headphones that had like smiley faces on them, they looked like hands, like buds or friends. For the second iteration, I wanted to kind of continue playing off the idea that headphones can be friends, buds, whatever, that whole thing. The justification for that, in the end, was that podcasting is such a collaborative medium.

LS: I couldn’t agree more. How can podcasters use that spirit to their advantage?

AN: One of the biggest things you can do is collaborate with other people, whether that’s cross promotions, or feed drops, or having somebody on your show talk about their show, and vice versa. One of the biggest ways to succeed is through cross promotion.

I think because of that, it extends to other things in the podcast space, like cross marketing, and just in general people being willing to help each other and get a coffee together and talk about this project, that project, how can we work together? How can we partner? That leads into word of mouth, which is extremely strong and it’ll continue to be.

LS: I like how authentic cross-promotion is, especially between podcasters.

AN: It should be authentic. On Twitter, for instance, there’s so much self-promotion. Every time somebody tweets, “Just discovered podcasts, anybody have anything that you think I should listen to?” So many people drop their link and offer no context as to why someone should listen.

So there’s a lot of blind reaching out and not being collaborative. Avoid that. I have made an effort since 2017 to offer something in return if I’m asking to get a coffee with somebody, or for a shoutout on this app or on this blog. I mean, if it’s not going to be money, it’s going to be something, and I think that’s super important. 

LS: What else can a podcaster do to market themselves?

AN: Another way for folks to get their podcasts promoted is by working with podcast apps to promote their content.

For example, Spotify has a creators program where you can apply to be featured, they also have the ability for you to customize your page. Apple, same thing, and they have the ability to create personalized QR codes that you can use in all of your branding. Sounder has their weekly PodLight feature. Podcasts Business Journal has their “Why I Podcast” section. You can apply to be on the Hot 200 in Podcast Magazine.

Everybody’s got something, that if you know where to look, or if you’re taught where to look, you can apply to be featured and this is not a thing that many people are doing.

Pro Tips For Working In The Podcast Industry

LS: What are your two biggest tips for women who want to work in podcasting?

AN: One of the number one things that I did when I first got into the podcast space was get involved with Facebook groups, and one of those groups was She Podcasts. That’s really where I found a lot of information.

I would also make coffee dates with people, that has been huge for me. And like I mentioned, you don’t want to just “pick somebody’s brain,” because that is like asking them to do a free consulting session for you. So find a way to do that in a way that makes sense for both of you. Or join a mentorship program and know what you want from that mentorship program.

Subscribe to all the podcast newsletters out there, and that’s not just podcast recommendations newsletters, but also news, so Inside Podcasting, Podnews, PodMov, Podcasts Business Journal. Just know what’s going on in the industry that you want to have a big impact in.

It’s funny, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Why do I love the industry? It’s so fun to be in, I love going to podcast conferences, I try to be at every in-person one that there is. I’ve missed them a lot because it feels like going to summer camp— it’s just a good time.

LS: Any advice for people who like podcasts but aren’t sure where they fit yet?

AN: It’s okay not to niche down. Take me for example: I’m a general store of podcast knowledge. I wouldn’t say that I know one thing in particular, maybe marketing, over everything else, but for the most part, I can confidently say I’m familiar with each aspect of creating a podcast and marketing that podcast. 

I managed a podcast studio at a co-working space called Village Workspaces, from 2018 to 2019. Then I worked for Castbox from July 2019 to August 2020. During that time, I started working with Outlier Podcast Festival. I started the podcast that goes along with EarBuds Podcast Collective, Feedback with EarBuds, and I started the Counter Programming with Shira and Arielle. I also worked for Messy.fm, doing podcast consulting and helping people creating podcasts. And then in August 2020, I started working for SquadCast as the community manager, and that’s where I still am now.

I even completed a program called The Salt Institute, located at the Maine College of Art, where I learned everything I needed to know about Pro Tools, finding a story, whittling that story down into something that’s digestible for radio or for podcasts, interview techniques, how to use portable interview technique equipment, all that kind of stuff. So it was great. At the end I had a finished 10-minute feature piece on this guy named Sean who is a professional ring finder and metal detectorist. It’s okay to bounce around.

LS: What do you want your biggest contribution to the industry to be?

AN: I want more people to listen to podcasts. I want that question to the question, “oh, what’s a podcast? How do I find a podcast?” to be gone. I want everybody to just know. And I know that comes with education, but I want to be part of that education. I want to help people find podcasts, because, number one, it’s made me a smarter person. Number two, it just has opened my mind to so many more stories and more people and I want more people to be able to experience that. And I also want more women and people of color in podcasting.

LS: What’s your five year plan for EarBuds?

AN: I would like the FeedBack to feature an interview with the newsletter curator and some voices from the podcasts that are being curated that week. I would also like it to be a huge podcast that people must tune into because or else they would be missing out on critical podcast content!

The newsletter, I would like to be doing more live events and more podcast consulting and more podcast education. I also see integrations with companies like Podnews, where we would put the news in our podcasts and in our newsletter. 

LS: Any plugs for projects coming up? Where can people find you on social media?

AN: Counter Programming with Shira and Arielle returns on March 3, and we’re kicking off season two with a series on countertops. That is a podcast that I started with my friend at the beginning of the pandemic as a distraction-cast and each episode focuses on a different “count” or “counter.” So the idea is that it is counter programming to the grim COVID-19 situation. We’ve done counter productivity and countertenor (like the opera) and we had a countertenor on the show. This season, we’re covering recycled glass, laminate and quartz, and then we’re going into songs that have the word count or counter in the title, like Beyoncé’s Countdown and the Counting Crows in general. So that’s Counter Programming.

Signup for EarBuds Podcast Collective! We also have advertising packages. The newsletter is supported by sponsors and classified ads, so that information is on the website. Feedback with EarBuds just returned for season two.

SquadCast is this amazing company that I work for. We are a remote recording software and just released the ability to record and download video. I am now very much advocating for including video in your marketing for your podcast, whether that’s on social or on YouTube.

And you can find me personally on social media, I’m @ariellethisandthat (because my last name is Nissenblatt and it rhymes with this and that)!

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Thank you for joining this month’s edition of #soundHER! If you have any questions for Arielle or would like to be featured as Sounder’s next female voice, email us at support@sounder.fm or tag us on social using #soundHER.

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