The StartUp podcast mini-series is about exactly that – the documentation of a business idea into a business reality. The former producer for “This American Life,” co-founder of the series “Planet Money,” Alex Blumberg, decided he wanted to create his own podcast company – while doing this he created “StartUp” which give listeners “the most honest and transparent account [he] can make of something that happens every day in this country, but we hardly ever see first hand – starting a business.” As a result, Blumberg is now the CEO of Gimlet Media, “a network of high-quality, narrative podcasts.”
It’s a podcast about starting a podcast business – there isn’t a tremendous amount of natural sound that can be added for texture in the recording, however, to compensate Blumberg adds his own music to signal the listener when a transition occurs in the episode – i.e. the beginning, the “commercial break” when he introduces his sponsors, and the end. It’s simple and effective. Occasionally we’ll hear the honk of a car on a busy Los Angeles street, or his crying baby, but for the most part notable nat sound doesn’t play a large role.
Regarding the script – it’s top notch work. Blumberg keeps his sentences short, succinct, and conversational and he makes sure the sound bites he uses are the same. As a listener, we never have difficulty understanding what is being said, nor are we confused about the series of events that occur in the specific episode. Being that the entire purpose of the podcast is transparency, as Blumberg states at the beginning of each episode, I would say he definitely fulfills this promise. Even when the transitional music begins to play that indicates he’s about to introduce his sponsors, Blumberg states, “This is my special ad music. This music signals that this is the part of the podcast where someone else is paying me to say something.”
Blumberg’s use of transparency can also be heard through his variety of sound bites, which arguably drive most of the episodes – sometimes it’s intimate conversations between him and his wife, him and his business partner, him and serious investors, occasionally it’s just him voicing concerns in the early morning hours (which he of course, shares the time with listeners). The variety is what makes the podcast successful – it borders on reality television for the ear, but there is more trust in its authenticity being that the podcast is both produced and hosted by a journalist and not an attention starved socialite or a greedy entertainment network.
This leads to Startup’s singular issue – Blumberg’s “personality.” Self-deprecating, sardonic humor can be funny and using sound bites that reflect the amount of emotion invested in the creation of a business can be endearing, but Blumberg used each a bit too much. At times he sounded whiney, rehearsed – not all the conversations that were shared between him and his wife felt authentic (mostly it sounded like she was very aware of the recorder). The podcast is about the trials and tribulations that occur during a “startup” – at times it seemed Blumberg was overly concerned with playing a role than telling a story.