The Bello Collective is one of the best places to find shows worth listening to and find out how to create those shows. The goal of the collective is to bring people who love audio together. Ashley Lusk, co-editor at the Bello Collective, talked to us about finding great content and building a community around it.
Pocket Casts: Tell us a little about the Bello Collective and its goal.
Ashley Lusk: The Bello Collective is an independent newsletter and publication about audio storytelling and the podcast industry. When we first began in 2016, podcasting was still this underground medium that not many people knew about. We started the newsletter as a way to connect with others who also loved podcasts, and to introduce more people to the medium; we also wanted to be a discovery tool to help people find podcasts outside of the usual places. The Bello in Bello Collective comes from the idea of a "bellow"—a loud roar, or "bellows" a machine you use to stoke a fire. We wanted to make noise about podcasts.
These days, we have grown beyond a discovery tool to providing resources for independent producers, offering a critical view of the industry, and documenting conversations with interesting creators.
PC: How do you choose which shows to highlight and keep finding undiscovered content?
Ashley: We have an amazing community of writers who contribute to our newsletter. They all have different genres they enjoy, and that helps keep our reviews wide-ranging and interesting. For example, Elena Fernández Collins keeps a keen eye on the audio fiction genre. Calen Cross enjoys history podcasts. Erik Jones is often exploring podcasts that teach the listener something new. And we challenge ourselves and our writers to look for new and different voices all the time. This year, as a community, we're focusing on recommending shows by creators of color, and we're always looking for writers who can talk about the industry from diverse perspectives.
PC: The Bello Collective creates a list of the best 100 podcasts of the year each year. Can you tell me a little about how that is constructed and your efforts around diversity?
Ashley: So, we're actually very intentional about not choosing the "best" podcasts because what someone enjoys is very subjective. Instead, the Bello staff writers and a cohort of critics from outside the Bello community choose pieces of audio that were memorable or outstanding among everything else we heard that year.
We have very few rules about what someone can contribute to the list, but one is that we try not to feature a show more than once. That means sometimes contributors have to decide among themselves which episode of a particular show will make the cut.
Beyond that, we strive each year to make the list more diverse than the last—more independent podcasts, a better balance of genders, geographic diversity, etc. In 2017, we wrote about our process for tracking the contributions and the resulting statistics for that year's list. We do those same calculations every year and share them with our community with the goal of bringing our readers an even more diverse selection of podcasts than the year before.
PC: What community has the Bello Collective built and what part do you think community plays in podcast discovery?
Ashley: We know that the number one way most people find podcasts is through a friend—podcasting is a very "word of mouth" medium. If you check out a new podcast, it's because a friend told you about an episode you need to hear, or the buzz from a few people has mounted your curiosity. But if everyone in your community listens to the same five podcasts, or the same network of podcasts, you're missing out on so many things! That's where the Bello Collective comes in—we introduce you to off-the-beaten path podcasts and then you become the one injecting something new into your circles and widening the discovery opportunities for everyone.
Inside the Bello Collective, we have an active Slack community for our contributors and members, who are both listeners and makers. The channel is 100% off-the-record all the time, and I'm not kidding when I say it is one of the happiest and most productive corners of the internet for me. It's a place where people who are deeply passionate about this medium come to share what we've enjoyed or what has made us curious, and to discuss when things didn't work and why. I think we all have a reverence for what goes into making good audio, so when we approach it with a critical eye, it's with the intent of moving the industry forward. I can't think of anywhere else like that in our industry right now.
PC: Do you think podcast communities can sustain independent producers?
Ashley: I suspect that for a while, independent producers will need to get support from a variety of sources. A producer can make a really technically ambitious show, with original reporting and amazing sound design. But that show is usually really expensive to make, and maybe it only reaches a few thousand people, a small percentage of whom support it financially. It's going to be awhile (or maybe never) before the producer makes their investment back. Depending on listeners for all of your financial support is risky, so if it's possible, it's good to find more stable sources of income (advertising, sponsors, grants) to supplement your work. Diversify, diversify, diversify.
PC: What are you listening to now and what have you loved for a long time?
Ashley: This is a great question, Darian. Right now, I'm still on a listening high from California Love, which felt like it came to us at the exact right moment. Same goes for Home Cooking with Hrishikesh Hirway and Samin Nosrat—I could listen to Samin's giggle all day long. I’m fascinated by the ways This American Life has remained relevant. Here Be Monsters is in its seventh season and keeps getting better.
PC: Did I miss anything or would you like to add anything?
Ashley: If you love a show, find a way to support it. Even if it's just leaving a review in Apple Podcasts or sending a note to the creators. If you can spare it, a couple of dollars a month goes a long way for independent creators.
And diversify your queue—there is so much out there that you'll miss if you're just checking out the shows on the front pages of your podcast app. Surprise yourself with something new.