First defined as “audioblogging,” the roots of “podcasting” goes as far back as the 1980’s, though the podcasts we know and love today first emerged in the early 2000’s. By 2004, people asked for more information about podcasts—what they were and how exactly they could create one. In fact, research indicates that, by 2005, “how to podcast” was searched over two million times.
Today, 21 percent of Americans 12 years or older report that they have listened to a podcast in the past month, which we can thank smartphones for.
Suffice to say, podcasts are becoming increasingly more popular in our culture and as this obsession with podcasts continues to flourish, people are clamoring for new ways to create and host their own podcasts.
And as with most things, there is now an app to help you do so.
Co-founders Ian Ownbey and Jacob Thornton are two engineers with one simple mission: make it easier to make a podcast. With this in mind, the ex-Twitter engineers set out to develop Bumpers, an iOS app that allows you to record, edit and share podcasts using only the smartphone in your pocket.
Ownbey and Thornton saw an opportunity to take a simple idea and create a platform to make a difficult task something that could easily be done on a smartphone.
“I tried to make a podcast with a friend of mine and was blown away with how difficult it was,” says Ownbey. “We spent so much time editing with the mechanics or learning Pro Tools and editing audio which was frustrating so we ended up not doing it.
Ownbey explains that his experience led him to create Bumpers.fm because he felt that not understanding Pro Tools or not having a background in audio engineering shouldn’t deter someone from starting a podcast. It should be something that’s enjoyable and easy for anyone to pick up, he thought, and it shouldn’t be inaccessible because it’s a solvable problem.
With funding from Spark Capital and Evan Williams, the Ownbey and Thornton have spent the past year developing the iOS app, which finally launched in the App Store just a couple months ago. Currently, the app has 7,000 users and approximately 200 episodes published weekly.
Ownbey says the response has been overly positive, citing receiving feedback via Twitter as his favorite aspect of the whole process. And with a team of only four people, what they’ve accomplished so far is really impressive.
I downloaded the Bumpers app to see just how easy it is. Though I’m not a podcaster myself, as a reporter I often use voice memos or an audio recorder when interviewing a subject and though both are pretty simple to use for just recording dialogue, dealing with the recordings later is what becomes a pain.
In Bumpers, you can easily add a “label” to indicate where a new topic begins in your recording. This makes it so much easier to go back to a piece and instantly know where a particular quote is, or where you started talking about a certain topic. This is what I was originally interested in when I heard about the app. Though Bumpers doesn’t plan to just be a standalone audio recording app, you could just use it that way if desired.
But, the more you record and listen to episodes, the more it becomes clear that there’s a lot you can do with the app.
To get started, you have to set up a Bumpers profile and are given the option to create a custom URL for your channel. If you publish a podcast, it will exist there so you can easily direct people to your web page. There is a subscribe button if people want to get a subscription to your show, and you can subscribe to others if you want to keep up with their podcasts. On your home screen, you can scroll through recently published and popular episode. Though it is a bit overwhelming and hard to navigate at the moment, the team is aware and hopes to give it a nicer flow soon.
Ownbey notes that most of their users share their podcasts on Twitter, so they made the episodes embeddable with in-app playing. You can also embed an episode to your website or on a medium post.
Recording is really simple—you just talk into your phone for however long you want. If you’re not sure what to talk about, the app even has a few prompts to guide you. And while you’re recording you don’t need to stop or worry if you start coughing or get interrupted. If you mess up, you can easily remove it from the track. Seriously, all you do is click on the track and remove it or add it back in.
The one thing I found unable to do is move a track from one place in the file to another. It seems the way around this would be to record what you want to move as a new audio file, save it, then import it into the place you want it to be. I’m assuming this will be resolved later, but it isn’t too difficult to just import a track in.
Editing will still take some time, but it’s really quite easy, especially if you’re just putting together a short episode. The app offers their own original music segues and musical loops to layer into your recordings. Though you cannot upload original music, you could simply record the music as a file in the app and then import it into your track. It’s a workaround, but if you really want something in there, that’s all you have to do.
Once you complete the episode, all you have to do next is give it a name, choose an image for the piece and then publish it. It doesn’t take very long for the episode to be posted and then you get a little pop up with a link to share your episode on Twitter or Facebook. And just like that, you have your own podcast show.
Ownbey says the interesting thing about Bumpers right now is that it’s not very show- oriented, as most mainstream podcasts are. Though people can organize themselves into a show if they prefer, the majority of users are simply recording one-offs when they have something they want to say, which Ownbey points out is something that’s impossible to do in the current podcast world.
“We’re closer to SoundCloud,” says Ownbey. “Not everyone is expected to create interesting content or even want to be creating. We want to let them if they do, but we also want it to be a good consumption experience.”
With these singular pieces, Ownbey projects that users might publish a few episodes a month that won’t be inter-connected. He notes that others do weekly shows with a consistent theme, such as one podcasts called “Lakers Nation.”
That’s what’s neat about Bumpers though: the podcasts can be as long or short as you want. And they can be about anything really. Though there aren’t any hour-long shows on the app yet, it is possible; though Ownbey says the majority of shows are shorter than 10 minutes or around 20 minutes long.
As for being a standalone field recorder, Ownbey says there are things they would need to do to make it better if that’s what people were going to use it for. However, he hopes it doesn’t come to that, stating ideally people will publish the content they record, as their goal isn’t to get people to build a library to infinity. But, he notes that the recordings are important to people and they take those aspects of the app seriously because it’ll be a great tool for recording audio regardless of how someone decides to use it.
It’s a good question, and is half of the thesis Ownbey and Thornton set out to prove. Ownbey says they still have a long way to go, but that he thinks they are proving that it is possible to solve the problem of podcasts being difficult to make; and that people are interested in making and listening to this type of content.
The current podcast ecosystem requires consumption in a very specific manner, which Ownbey points out was designed to be similar to radios and blogs, hence the original term “audio blogging.” But, people like to consume podcasts in different ways: some search for the people or shows they already know and like, others will only listen to a specific type of content and some constantly look for new recommendations from friends and family.
Right now, the majority of people using Bumpers find the app organically from word of mouth. Most people are using it to record one-offs or talk about sports and pop culture, but the interest seems to be growing and it’s only a matter of time before more people start recording.
As for what Ownbey hopes to see in the future, he thinks the idea of getting live updates from journalists in the field or hearing their published field notes would be really great and interesting to a lot of people.
Looking ahead, there is a future for Bumpers to grow in, especially because people are constantly looking for new ways to create and express their opinions. Maybe Bumpers will become the next platform for nobody’s to gain a following and become the kind of influencers we see on Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube.