8 things we learned at the Hot Docs Podcast Festival

Life lessons from a weekend of live podcasts

The Hot Docs documentary film festival has expanded their interest into the audio realm, and produced the first ever Hot Docs Podcast Festival this weekend, featuring live versions of tons of our favourite podcasts, including Criminal and Science Vs. Here are a few of the things we learned from this podcast-packed weekend.

Numbers aren't everything.

The festival kicked off with a panel called Making, Supporting and Marketing your show, which featured tons of excellent advice Dan Misener, J.P. Davidson, Katie Jensen and Hannah Sung. Misener wisely pointed out that numbers and downloads aren't the only way to measure the success of your podcast -- sometimes it's more about who you're connecting to than how many. "You have to ask yourself 'why are we doing this, and how do we measure that?'"

Why you'll never win a shell game.

At the Criminal live show, Phoebe Judge and her producer Lauren Spohrer presented six stories with live narration and mixing, as well as lovely visual illustrations. One of them was their most recent episode, The Shell Game, which takes place at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and tells the story of legendary con man Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, who developed a sleight-of-hand trick that makes a shell game impossible to win. After the story, Judge confessed that this is her favourite Criminal episode because she has recently started studying magic, and even demonstrated her own prowess at the shell game.

You can listen to The Shell Gamehere.

Don't throw away your old diaries

The inimitable Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids(which we featured on our "Money" episode here) sold out their biggest crowd yet, proving the appetite for embarrassing childhood writing remains unsated.

Take your time. Lots of time.

At the audience Q & A after the live episode of Under the Influence, Terry O'Reilly said that it takes him 15 hours every week to put together a 27:30 minute show -- not including the hours of research that go into each episode!

Follow your nose

In his conversation withSong Exploder host Hrisikesh Hirway, Reply All co-host PJ Vogt said that one way he likes to get interviewees to get specific about their stories is to ask "What did it smell like?" He uses this question to help unlock original memories.

Keep the mystery alive

We were sworn to secrecy about the content of Mystery Show, which, due to the recent news that Gimlet media dropped the show, was probably the most anticipated show of the festival. But it ultimately received mixed reviews after the audience was kept waiting for almost an hour, without explanation for the delay from host Starlee Kine. So when (if ever) does that elusive second season start? The mystery remains intact.

"Degrassi will outlive us all."

So said The Imposterhost Aliya Pabani after hosting a live deep-dive into the beloved television franchise for the festival's closing event. Toronto-based band The Germaphobes stood in for Zit Remedy, performing the iconic Degrassi theme song, as well as the fictional band's Everybody Wants Something. Stefan Brogren, who originated the role of Snake, read aloud from fan fiction written about his character, and Linda Schuyler, who created the show back in the 1980s, spoke about why she created a show where issues are dealt with in such a real way. "I think prior to Degrassi there was a sense that maybe we need to protect our young people," she said. "My feeling is we protect them the most when we are frank with them so they have the courage to make their own informed choices."

Schuyler went on to tell Pabani that she has no plans to end the show.

Listen to podcasts

Obviously the biggest takeaway from the weekend is that podcasts are great and you should listen to more of them. Wondering where to start? Here are a few suggestions from festival audience members:


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