Tuning In To Podcasts

Independent recording artist Eric Cire sold 1,000 units of his debut album, “ericcire.com,” in one month, thanks in part to a new audio technology trend — podcasting. Podcasts are homemade MP3 recordings that allow anyone with the available technology to transfer audio programs to listeners with an Apple iPod or other portable MP3 players. The boom in MP3 players is spurring thousands of amateur shows that are being produced in basements, back offices, and dormitories.

The name podcast is a play on the word “broadcast” combined with the “pod” that refers to Apple’s phenomenally popular digital music player. Former MTV host Adam Curry created podcasting about a year ago. In essence, podcasting shares the same benefits as TiVo and other digital video players. Podcast subscribers can download and listen to the Web audio content when and where they choose, pause and rewind to listen again, all without interruption because most podcasts are commercial free. There are also no FCC regulations.

“I’m doing extremely well on the independent front,” says Cire, 27, of Atlanta. “I had no major money or push behind this album. Without podcasting, it would not have gotten the exposure it did.” Five years ago, Cire left Detroit to embark on a music career in Atlanta. He caught a couple breaks along the way, including writing and producing the single, “Could’ve Been You” on the first Barbershop movie soundtrack in 2002. By summer 2004, Cire was ready to unleash his own R&B sound. He released the single “Love Vowels” on regional commercial and satellite radio. The buzz eventually led to a podcast interview posted on www.urbansoulnation.com.

Cire says the Internet has enabled him instant access to his fans and has allowed him to circumvent the traditional major-label recording process that he says shut him out because he did not fit the image of a popular recording star. Since the added exposure, Cire has gained an investor who is supporting the marketing and promotional efforts of his current album and soon-to-be-released follow up.

UrbanSoulNation.com founder Joseph Johnson started the Website three years ago as a hobby to share his expansive MP3 collection. With the growing popularity of podcasts, Johnson has managed to turn his site — one of only a few black-operated podcasts — into a leading Web portal and online community. The site offers regularly produced podcast shows ranging in variety from news and current affairs to social commentary to entertainment. Podcasts are automatically delivered to subscribers, who sync their MP3 players to their computers, go online, and access the feeds they want.

“There are very few black people doing this,” says Johnson, 33, of Silver Spring, Maryland, “These are authentic, homespun programs that are not pre-packaged corporate products or gimmicks. Blacks are on the Internet and using computers and we need to be producing content for us. With podcasts, the consumer is in control and has access to information that’s not available through mainstream media.”

Amateurs are not the only ones launching podcasts. Larger corporations such as General Motors and WNYC New York Public Radio