Amplifying Female Voices of Color Through the Power of Podcast

Podcasts are taking over. As it stands, one-third of Americans tune in, with 12 percent of listeners streaming 10 hours or more a week. Needless to say, it’s an exciting storytelling medium—and one that can have a major impact when it comes to representing diverse voices. And while women of color have been breaking ground in podcasting well ahead of the latest boom, there’s plenty more to be done, with a recent study showing that only 22 percent of podcasts are hosted by women, and even fewer when it comes to minority women.

In order to begin shifting that imbalance, Spotify hosted the first-ever Sound Up Bootcamp, a weeklong June intensive for aspiring female podcasters of color. The goal of the program was to bring more diverse voices into the podcast world—specifically voices belonging to women of color.

“Podcasting is more accessible to makers than most other media—production costs are lower, and the gatekeepers fewer,” says Rekha Murthy, a podcast and radio veteran with over 20 years of experience who co-taught the workshop. “More people are starting to take advantage of that opportunity. I’ve learned more about the experiences and perspectives of people of color through podcasting than anywhere else. I’ve come to a better understanding and appreciation of my own identities as a woman, and as a woman of color, thanks to podcasts. I’m sure some of that is because I intentionally seek out these voices. But also, they are there in ways I rarely find in, say, broadcast radio. There are also not enough.”

Sound Up Bootcamp featured daily sessions for 10 women of color who had been selected from over 18,000 applicants. Murthy and her colleague Graham Griffith led conversations on topics ranging from identifying an audience to honing a breakthrough message. Over the course of the week, attendees also learned from experts in the field about the art of podcast creation, from initial ideation to editing, producing, and marketing.

The women in attendance included Titi ShodiyaKristina OgilvieJanina JeffShonté DanielsAmanda BTiara DarnellIvy LeDoreen WangGabriela Quintana, and Sun H. At the end of the course, 3 of the women—Titi, Kristina, and Janina—were awarded up to $10,000 each to fund their proposed podcasts. You can read more about each of the winners, their backgrounds, and their groundbreaking ideas here.

Murthy is optimistic about the medium’s ability to reach women of color, and the palpable enthusiasm in the room of bootcamp participants—each with a unique and provocative story to tell—only fueled that belief.

“What excites me about podcasting is that it’s still new, and we have an opportunity to shape the field into something that looks and sounds more like our country and our world,” added Murthy. “I think we’ll also find that’s where success lies.”

Greg Herman, video and non-music programming manager at Spotify, agreed. “It all begins with the creators,” he said. “Once you begin writing podcasts for people outside of the standard male demographic, you naturally grow a wider audience. It really begins with getting your message out there.”

For many of the women in the workshop, personal inspiration came from some fresh voices already being broadcast in the podcast universe. Spotify’s Christina Choi, Senior Producer and Senior Partnerships Manager, shared a few favorites of her own with the group.

Code Switch features interesting stories from a diverse group of journalists,” she said. “Ear Hustle is a fantastic podcast produced by inmates at San Quentin State Prison telling stories about prison life. Nancy is hosted by two Asian American hosts about LGBTQ culture. 2 Dope Queens is a comedy podcast featuring two black female comedians talking about society and pop culture. And Another Round is currently off at the moment, but it was one of the first podcasts hosted by women of color.”

Other podcasts that came up in conversation as fuel for creativity included The Nod, which “gleefully explores all the beautiful, complicated dimensions of black life.” Good Muslim, Bad Muslim dives into “the good and the bad about the American Muslim female experience.” The Mash-up Americans is “your guide to hyphen-America.”

And while the list goes on, much of it has yet to be written. If the powerhouse women represented at Sound Up Bootcamp have anything to do with it, that chorus of voices is about to get a whole lot louder.