Starting your own podcast without big tech surveillance is easy

If you want to launch a podcast you definitely don’t need to go anywhere near Apple, Spotify or Google.

I started a podcast during lock down to keep my mind busy. The podcast is a series of interviews with selected people within the tech world who were pushing back against the big tech monopolists especially for things like surveillance-based business models and climate change.

We don’t stream – find out more about the podcast

Given the subjects and guests and my general disdain for many of the tech monopolists, I couldn’t face surrendering all my efforts to crApple and Sh*tify and even further enhance their stranglehold over anything you listen to online.

There doesn’t seem to be many podcasters thinking this way and certainly no advice out there to avoid big tech when launching your own podcast. This post is designed to change that. I’ll now walk you through the major points to consider when launching your own big tech free podcast and what I did.

Hosting the podcast

If you search the web for information about starting a podcast the advice always begins with the needing podcast hosting service or a ‘media host’. You upload your audio files to this site with their speedy infrastructure which allows millions of simultaneous listeners streaming your show. These media hosts can then automatically submit you show feed to all the big tech cultural leaches like crApple, Sh*tify and Google sh*tcasts.

I guess you could do all that and it’s certainly presented as a necessity, but you don’t have to do any it. Standard web hosting will be fine in most cases. You probably aren’t going to get millions of listeners initially. I decided to only offer the audio files as downloads and not streamed on this blog (more later on that) to reduce any risk of a bandwidth bottleneck.

As for submitting your ‘show’ to all the different casting services – why the flip would you want to do that anyway? What exactly do they offer in return? At least the scumbags at YouTube host your video for you. All crApple and Sh*tify do is add your RSS feed to their platform and market your show as part of their offer. Nuts to that.

Streaming vs. downloading the episodes

When looking for a name for my podcast I hit on “We don’t stream” thinking at the time that it was the smartest name I ever heard. I worked on the basis that downloading an audio file once and then listening to it locally on your machine was far more environmentally friendly that streaming it from a distant server in Loudon County, Virginia. Having looked at different sources I discovered that is broadly true but not always conclusive and there are a ridiculous number of variables involved.

“…downloading music from streaming services for offline listening could cut down on the energy it takes to get a song from the cloud to your ears.”

Is streaming music dangerous to the environment? One researcher is sounding the alarm (Rolling Stone 2019)

The name also came from a sense of rebelliousness. My guests have all been very different people, but all seem the type of folk to sail against the wind without worrying about the consequences. Streaming is the obvious thing the norms do. We don’t do that.

Keeping the files as downloads also makes it easier to distribute. You don’t have to worry about any buffering when thousands log on to listen at the same time. The size of the files is also important. I made my audio files 96KB MP3s but if I were to start now, I would go to 64KB and maybe experiment with just how small I could make them.

After a while I plan to remove them entirely and leave only the transcripts in place.

There were some compromises I had to make on this though.

Podcast platforms and inevitable compromises to the master plan

My plan to the be (possibly) the first download only, surveillance free podcast on the web hit a snag. Many of my early listeners told me that they use podcast feed catchers to keep all their favourite shows in once place. The majority of these catchers, which are often phone apps, use the crApple podcasts database as their primary source, which I was not in. Sh*tify have their own database so if you use their app they have access to that. Even independent catchers like AnnaPod on Android and Overcast for iOS use the crApple database.

The catch was that you could submit your RSS feed to these apps outside of that but they had to be in the crApple feed format or it wouldn’t work properly. This was really annoying. If I did so it would also mean revealing the audio file locations on my server so it would be possible to stream the files within the catcher app.

In the end, I decided to bite the bullet and publish in the crApple format. It was a compromise but in the scheme of things not a massive one considering I wasn’t adding the show to any of the major platforms.

There is a lot of information about adding your podcast to the major platforms and this being what everyone should do. I could find no information anywhere on what I might be expected to miss out on if I didn’t bother. What was the lowest expectation for a show on Sh*tify? A few 3 second listens from people who found it in the search by accident? No idea. There is very little transparency around podcast platforms stats. Given my show is niche I would presume that I could expect no listens even if I did add them. I don’t think I’m missing much.

Supporting the artists

The likes of crApple and Sh*tify don’t respect the musicians that they host on their platforms so why would they respect podcasters? Sh*tify payments to musicians for their streams are so low they may as well be magic beans. The CEO of sh*tify having bled musicians so dry of cash that live performance is the only way they can make money, thinks nothing of telling musicians they need to get with the programme and make more tunes to make him richer. Tw@.

Why do the worlds podcasters give all their hard work over to these losers for free? I don’t see they get anything from it other than making those platforms bigger and more powerful.

Marketing the podcast

I had my Mastodon account to use and if I were to branch out, I might consider a surveillance free email newsletter tool in the future. Mastodon have proved quite useful as it’s the sort of place many of the target audience hang out.

I still have Twitter (sorry) so I have used that too.

James Mullarkey

I write about the web and digital, mediocre sporting performances and places I've been, for this blog and only this blog.