Organizing a Digital Podcast Festival in Only a Month

Amira Valliani talks about the inspiration and motivation behind Podapalooza, a digital podcast festival benefitting COVID-19 relief.

On April 25th and 26th, podcast lovers from around the world were invited to Podapalooza, an online podcast festival inspired by events like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. Podapalooza featured listening parties with podcast creators, Q&As, panels, live podcast episodes, and a special cocktail hour and story slam night. Attendees were encouraged to pay what they could, with proceeds of tickets going to GiveDirectly, an organization that donates cash relief to those affected by COVID-19.

Podapalooza was an exciting, experimental, energetic whirlwind of an event featuring voices from different parts of the podcast community, like Eric Molinsky discussing the origins of Imaginary Worlds or Alan Yang sharing his thoughts about optimism on The Mash-Up Americans. Some even included Spotify playlists of podcasts to amp up their discussions, like this fiction playlist curated by podcast critic and actor Elena Fernández Collins for their panel with other fiction podcasters:

Afterwards, we sat down with festival organizer Amira Valliani of Glow, a podcast subscription manager and support service, to talk about how she and her team brought Podapalooza together in just a few short weeks — and what fellow podcasters could learn from their process when planning digital live events.

Spotify for Podcasters: How did you come up with the idea for Podapalooza?

We're a Seattle-based company, so we started working from home a week or two before a lot of the rest of the country. We did a couple of these ideation sessions, and in them, one of the ideas was Podapalooza. That was what was presented, as like, "What if we had a podcast festival?"

People were torn because on one hand, we thought, "Could we pull something like that off? That seems really ambitious." And someone else said, "Honestly, someone should do this, and why not us?"

I texted a few friends. I texted Juleyka Lantigua Williams [of Lantigua Williams & Co.], I texted the ladies from Wondery Media, and I sort of floated this idea, and the response was super positive. So we came back on Monday and we said, "You know, people seem to like this. They seem to be interested."

Amira Valliani, Photo by David Zager
Amira Valliani, Photo by David Zager

What advice do you have for podcasters who might be thinking of doing a live event online?

I think the key is figuring out what you want out of the event and then working backwards from there. We really wanted to give the host a chance to shine, and then also maybe provide some spillover from event to event so people could really learn about new podcasters in the process and get excited about [other similar podcasts].

One type of event in the lineup was a listening party, during which a creator would play an episode of their podcast and talk about it with the audience. What do you think makes for an exciting listening party?

What [Sean Howard of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and David Cummings and the NoSleep team] chose to do is play the very first version of their episode, pause in the middle of it, and laugh at themselves and tackle what they were thinking. It was just a chance for listeners to laugh with the podcasters, honestly, and be like, "Wow, I can't believe we did that. What were we thinking there? Here's what's changed." A listening party is really exciting when you have a chance to go back in time with listeners, bring them on the journey with you, and have the chance to do something a little different.

What do you think it is about podcasters that makes creators want to jump on a charity event like this — one that was planned so quickly during such a difficult time in the world?

I think it's the spirit that we all have to figure this out. There's no answers here, so everyone's willing to give together and be a part of this. In podcasting, it was always an open ecosystem. It was always like everyone's putting their stuff out there and trying to figure out what does and doesn't work. Everyone's trying to figure out the rules, and people sort of know that their success is often tied to the fact that they cooperate with others and are willing to give to others. So I don't think it's any coincidence that the people who are often "the most successful podcasters" are also people who are super active in the community, who are really willing to dole out their advice and collaborate with others.

— Wil Williams