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Podcasts we love

The Adventure Zone

Griffin, Travis, and Justin McElroy (also of My Brother, My Brother and Me) play Dungeons & Dragons with their dad, Clint.

The podcast is on its fourth campaign, the third helmed by Griffin, the youngest brother.

The Adventure Zone (TAZ to its friends) started life as a bonus episode of MBMBaM, and has now become a wildly successful podcast in its own right, spawning live shows, fan art, a graphic novel, and even – in a snake-eating-its-own-tail sort of way – its own board game.

Going back through the archives of any podcast is a pain in the bum, but it’s worth it. You don’t need to start from episode 1, as there’s an “episode 1.5” that takes the original character-rolling discussions and picks up the pace a little.

But if starting from 2014 feels intimidating, scroll back a little to the beginning of the current season, Ethersea,.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    It took me two goes to get into TAZ. I gave it a shot some time in 2017 and couldn’t get past the first couple of episodes, then decided to give it another go in 2019 and blitzed through them at lightning speed.

    By the time I’d finished, they were partway into Amnesty,, their second major campaign. I’d enjoyed this second season but found myself drifting off and not identifying with all the characters quite so much as with the first campaign, retroactively named Balance.

    2020’s Graduation saw Griffin’s brother Travis take the wheel for an arc that had some fun elements, but I think suffered from feeling a little too much like a chance for Travis to do lots of different voices.

    Griffin struck a balance (no pun intended) with non-player-characters that might have come innately to him, but which served the game well. It also lacked much actual DnD content, and the heart that was present in the first two seasons.

    That said, Justin is always a highlight as he brings wonderful characters to the table. His Firbolg was hilarious but also full of heart.

    There’s no way to say it without being condescending. Travis gave it a good shot.

    After a fairly short break, TAZ returned with Ethersea, and with Griffin back at the wheel. As I’d felt TAZ had gone off the boil and I don’t really like stories set in and around water – just like some people don’t like fantasy or sci-fi – I initially gave it a miss, but then mainlined episodes on a long train journey.

    Ethersea is proving to be a return to form, with big bold characters, lots of jokes, and plenty of action. Griffin has also pretty much perfected the cliffhanger as an art form.

Back to Work

While Back to Work is nominally about productivity, the conversations range from films to smart home devices. It’s a podcast for people who sweat the details, but don’t have hours to spend philosophising.

Merlin Mann is an expert in working more effectively. What makes him tolerable to listen to is that he doesn’t refer to himself as an expert, and knows how much of a rabbit-hole or, in his parlance “rat king” the world of #productivity can be.

In its earlier years, the podcast focused more on what might be considered traditional topics of conversation around productivity. After over a decade of output, it’s become one of many in which Merlin gets to discuss what’s on his mind that week.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    I was aware of Back to Work for years before I started regularly listening in 2017. I find Merlin to be a wonderful podcaster, and am delighted that over the years he’s essentially made podcasting his full-time job.

    One of the things I appreciate most about the show is that it’s about fully considering things. It’s absolutely a show for people who get told “you’re overthinking this” but who know that other people are in fact not thinking deeply enough. But it stops short of navel-gazing and becoming a discourse on talking about thinking.

    As a listener, I appreciate that the show is filling fewer ad slots as I find the ads to be long and rambling, and took up too much of the show. The ad reads can often be entertaining but it doesn’t matter how charming someone is, you can only hear about how to “build it beautiful” so many times.

    That said, I want the show to succeed because I appreciate the perspective of both hosts. Thanks Dan and Merlin, bok bok! 🐔

Between Two Mics

Zach Moreno and Rock Felder are the cofounders of remote recording app SquadCast. On their weekly show, they feature interviews with prominent people in the podcasting industry, members of the SquadCast team, and podcasters using the platform.

They also have regular conversations just between the co-founders, which gives them space to talk about the product roadmap and some of the considerations they make, that help shape what is arguably the dominant remote recording platform.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    Zach and Rock are just the right amount of charming and slightly-awkward that make this company podcast a good listen.

    As a former product developer, I enjoy diving into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to produce something that touches tens of thousands of people.

    As a podcast producer, I love to hear other podcasters’ philosophies and takes on what it means to make good podcasts.

    As a podcast coach and educator, I’m just waiting for my invite. My DMs are open, lads. 😉

The Bugle

Andy Zaltzman’s long-running comedy news show is starting to become its own little empire, and not before its time.

Comedian Andy Zaltzman is joined each week by a guest or two, to discuss the week’s events. In its first incarnation (while it was still part of the Times), Andy was joined by John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight and formerly The Daily Show.

It hit a rough patch while Oliver was at its busiest, so he eventually left the show and it was rebooted into its current format, which has seen guest appearances by UK household names like Nish Kumar, Al Murray, and Stewart Lee.

It’s also brought people like Alice Cooper, Anuvab Pal, and Nato Green to more ears. And the list continues.

The show had a brief stint at Radiotopia, but it wasn’t a natural fit for the show. Now though, since going independent and fan-funded, the podcast has turned into a mini network in its own right.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    The style of humour on display – especially from Zaltzman – is quite particular, and won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It can sometimes be a little Cheshire-cattish, and you have to be prepared for tortured puns. But it’s not a show that takes itself in the slightest-bit seriously.

    Listeners seldom seem to enjoy live recordings of podcasts that are usually made in a studio, but I find that the Bugle’s live outings pack energy and, because they’ve always had someone in the virtual booth who knows audio – a veteran audio producer in Chris “Fuck You Chris” Skinner – we’re never subjected to an episode that sounds like it’s been recorded from an audience member’s Samsung Galaxy.

I Hear Things

Tom Webster of Edison Research (the company behind reports like Infinite Dial, Share of Ear, and the Podcast Consumer Tracker) shares his perspective on the podcast industry.

Tom not only has a grasp of the industry as a whole – including its future – but also understands the nuts and bolts that go into producing a piece of podcast audio.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    Tom’s delivery is easy to listen to. He’s great at writing the way he speaks, so his delivery of the written word is completely natural. There’s a lightness to Tom’s writing and delivery that makes the medicine go down easier (if hearing about research into listener numbers and demographics is like medicine to you).

    I’m only sad there aren’t more frequent episodes and that I started listening sooner. I appreciate hearing a different take from the usual “it’s all about the download numbers” approach. And he’s helping me move away from the rigid concept of what the word “podcast” means.

Dithering

Independent tech pundits Ben Thompson and John Gruber share their take on current events – and occasionally sport, which is s shame – in twice-weekly 15 minute episodes.

This format means there’s absolutely no fluff. No intro, no outro, just a quick hit of informative, enlightening or otherwise entertaining discussion, then out.

Dithering is a private podcast. It’s available in all podcast players that support RSS, and each subscriber gets their own private feed. Subscriptions are $5 a month.

  1. Mark’s thoughts
    1 month, 2 weeks ago

    John can often be laconic, as listeners to the Talk Show will know, so in this short format, it’s good to have Ben there to keep things moving a little more quickly.

    I like the hosts’ back-and-forth, and appreciate their take on tech. I don’t know that I always agree with everything they say, but they’re usually always well-considered, and are excellent at pointing out where they made a mistake in a previous episode. That includes calling the other out on mistakes they’ve made but haven’t yet copped to.

    I have two issues with the show. Firstly they do occasionally drift into sport which isn’t of relevance to the paying audience. This would be fine, but we only get 15 minutes per episode, and we don’t need half the show being taken up by discussions on “batting averages” or what have you.

    My second issue is that $5 a month for three episodes a week – as it was originally billed – seemed like a fair exchange to spend some time with a couple of smart guys with sensible perspectives. But in 2021 they reduced the output to 2 a week and kept the price the same, effectively inflating the price by 50%. That stung.

And 2 more podcasts

Buzzcast

Bussrpout co-founder Kevin Finn, head of marketing Alban Brooke, and head of content Travis Albritton break down podcasting news, share tips, and share updates on their hosting platform.

The format is lighthearted, well-edited, and informative. There are occasional interview episodes with people in the industry that have valuable insight. It’s a generously-made podcast, with little in the way of advertising, but which delivers useful discussions in an often playful way.

Feedback with EarBuds

Arielle Nissenblatt’s Earbuds Podcast Collective newsletter has been an industry mainstay for the last few years. Feedback adds an audio dimension, with Arielle delivering the week’s podcast recommendations as picked by the guest curator, along with a podcast she’s spotlighting that week.

Each episode also features an interview. Sometimes this is with the guest curator, which allows them both to talk through the recommendations. More often – at least historically – the conversations are with follow podcasters or people within the industry that can lend a helpful perspective.

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