This weekend sees the UK’s first podcast festival exclusively celebrating the power of diversity and how new media has allowed people of colour in the UK to reclaim their voices. Shout Out Live! The Festival is a celebration of how far the podcast industry in the UK has come, as well as being a showcase of talented individuals who represent the overarching experience of all people of colour. This is the first festival of its kind in the UK and the ShoutOut Network will be making this an international celebration by including The Friend Zone and Another Round as well as UK based podcasts. It will be the ultimate display of the Black experience through podcasts. In anticipation of this milestone and no doubt historic event, we invited the network’s CEO, Imriel Morgan to write about her journey into podcasting and life as a Black female CEO in a budding new industry.
My journey into podcasting was relatively short. In less than a year I went from never listening to a podcast to becoming a full blown podcasting addict. I remember towards the end of 2014 a colleague recommended that I listen to Serial and I spent the next 72 hours fully immersed in the murder of a Hae Min Lee and desperately trying to figure out whether Adnan Syed did it. I imagine it being the OJ trial of the podcast world. After searching for something to fill the huge void Serial left, I stumbled onto the African American favourites The Read hosted by Crissle and Kid Fury. Their honest, raw, uncensored approach blew my mind. It redefined what it meant to be black, a woman, and to have an opinion. I was obsessed. I remember checking the dates of major celebrity breaking news (e.g. Kim and Kanye’s wedding) and finding the corresponding episode to see what they had to say about it at the time. Running parallel to my audio revelation was Efe- my partner and the Founder of the ShoutOut Network buying recording equipment. He was trying to start a podcast network.
The more I listened to The Read the more I sought out Black voices, and I was succeeding. I fell in love with MmHmm Girl and how well the hosts Babs and Lola’s content was distinct to the Bay Area in San Francisco. Eventually, I started yearning for podcasts that told my story. I googled ‘Black British podcasts’, and nothing came up. My inability to discover shows that reflected my experience as a Black British woman was the catalyst for pursuing the idea.
I met Satia when I was 18. She attended the same University as my boyfriend at the time. After University we both lived abroad (in separate countries) and we’d continue our friendship over Facebook. I noticed that she had strong opinions and wasn’t ashamed to share them. We bonded over our love for black people, culture, hair care and TV shows. When I thought about starting a podcast, I immediately thought of Satia. It was important for me to find someone that was able to debate and challenge my opinions without it ending in a fight. In February 2015, I can recall being in Waitrose during lunch and I called Satia (who was in Madrid) and said ‘Efe wants to start this podcast network, and I’m thinking of doing it, do you want to start a podcast with me?’ She reluctantly agreed, and months of half-hearted planning later we finally settled on the name ‘Melanin Millennials’, we contacted an artist to get the artwork done, and we began recording in my office.
Satia and I we were very clear on why we were creating this podcast. We knew we were making it for women that looked and felt like us. We felt that content geared at black people in the UK tends to follow a single narrative (council estates, poverty and violence) and we simply couldn’t relate. Our podcast caters to educated black women that want to be entertained with a side of critical thinking. We didn’t want the show to follow the narrative that Millennials just bitch and complain. Instead, we wanted to explore how the problem can be minimised, resolved or avoided altogether. We launched with three episodes in December 2015 and almost immediately received messages of support from Black British women. We didn’t realise how much people needed what we were creating.
Blogger, Writer and Director Danielle Dash was one of our first fans and biggest champions. The support we received from women of colour was overwhelming, only because we didn’t know they existed. The article Emma Dabiri wrote about black women being invisible in Britain, springs to mind. We used that article as a springboard to develop the episodes and debates we had on-air. The reality was outside of a few great web series, beauty bloggers and YouTubers, there weren’t many of us visibly sharing our socio-political views for the wider public to dissect and enjoy.
Early in 2016, an Acast employee told us that we were one of five black British podcasts. Around that time we knew of Blacticulate, Tea and Biscuits, 20 Something, Halfcast and Ground Ego. One year on and we’re approaching close to 100 black British podcasts. Melanin Millennials was the first black British podcast to enter a mainstream publication and our successes and wins inspired many to take to the mic. Many of whom applied to the ShoutOut Network.
I’ve sat on panels and had interviews where they ask me how we do what we do? My answer is frustration and lack. I’m a black woman frustrated with how society ignores, mistreats or underestimates us. The act of sharing a story, vision or methodology inevitably attracts like-minded individuals. We let people create what they want without fear or judgement. The ShoutOut Network grew rapidly, and diversity of our content deservedly generates a lot of attention. The issue we have is that people buy into the illusion that we are financially successful and don’t need support. The reality is Efe, and I are personally financing the network, and we are still fighting to get access to some platforms and spaces within the media and creative industries. We found out quite quickly that despite the fact we’re fulfilling a need, it was hard to find people that see the benefits of targeting a predominantly BAME audience.
Internally, ShoutOut has faced tumultuous times, we’ve tried to formalise elements that were previously informal and these changes stirred up a lot of questions, uncertainty and to some extent distrust. More podcasts popped up and listeners had more choices. I faced the challenge of trying to kerb the crabs in a barrel mindset that was starting to poison our company culture. I burnt out shortly afterwards and the whole network nearly burnt out with me.
As a female CEO, I battle the demon Imposter Syndrome almost daily. I am unable to wholly accept the praise and accolades that have been bestowed upon me. Over the course of the year, I have faced a barrage of comments and questions, which have left me feeling undermined and doubting my ability. I’ve walked into meetings or had emails directed to Efe instead of me. It’s a surreal experience and has left me wanting to quit a few times. I remember one vivid (albeit extreme) example of what I’m talking about. I wrote a podcast list highlighting black British podcasts, it was sitting in my drafts from August 2016 but I finally hit publish in November. An older black man attacked the post because his favourite show was not included. He wrote a number of vile sexist and misogynistic tweets criticising my writing ability and journalistic skills as a woman, before one of the guys on the network stepped in and told him to stop and apologise. He directed his apology to the guy and not to me.
It’s not all terrible news though. We’ve had some massive wins as black British podcasters. Efe and I spent months trying to convince people to do a podcast. We used Melanin Millennials as the template of what we wanted to create and hoped it would attract others. Now we’re firmly in 2017, and there are approximately 100 podcasts in our demographic. In the meantime, we want to celebrate how far we’ve come with ShoutOut Live! The Festival. Many of the podcasts on the lineup haven’t received credit for the hard work they’ve put in, and we want to show that we not only acknowledge their work but we appreciate how difficult it is to stay consistent as a black creative.
Black British podcasting is still in its infancy most shows follow the same format or style. We don’t see the innovation within podcasting reflected in Black British content yet, and it is something that keeps me up at night. My goal isn’t to monopolise the space, but instead to push the limits of our creativity, one podcast at a time.
Shout Out Live! The Festival takes place this Saturday 5th August 2017 at the Institute of Education, Bedford Way. Get your tickets right here.