This article was created based on an interview where we talk almost one hour in Spanish, and later I translated it. If you don’t have enough time, you can check out the main topics in the following table of contents.
Martina Castro beginnings
Q: What do you consider yourself?
I definitely consider myself American because I was born and raised here. But I always had a long-distance love affair with Uruguay, because it’s where both of my parents were born. Also, since I was 6 months old I have been on a plane to Uruguay every year of my life. So, it’s not for nothing that I feel that connection with Uruguay.
Q: Did you study journalism? Or a related career?
I couldn’t study journalism because I was studying at a liberal arts college that didn’t allow me to study anything considered a trade. Their philosophy is to prepare you for any career. It’s a particular style of education from the United States.
Q: When did you start interacting with audio and journalism?
Actually, I’ve always been involved with singing. I would say that I come from the world of music, which is closely related to audio, and therefore, to the radio. The interest in journalism began when I was in college, and in my second year, I met my mentor, Doug Mitchell, who worked at NPR (National Public Radio).
When I met him, he was looking for someone to write a blog about what it is like to be young and enter the world of media. It ended up being the first blog in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program.
Then I applied for an internship at NPR that I didn’t get the first time, but did get the second time I applied. It was the summer after I graduated from college. It all started there.
I became more and more involved in radio journalism in the style of public radio in the United States. What is known in the world of podcasts as “audio storytelling” is born in the dedication that NPR has to tell stories using all possible resources to create environments designed exclusively for audio. The key is thinking and doing from the point of telling a story that is really born in that medium, not that it is an adaptation to the medium. That was where I learned about audio.
How to produce a narrative podcast. Tips from National Public Radio
Q: It’s much more than sitting in front of a microphone and speaking, but it is thought from pre-production, a script, and development exclusively in audio.
Exactly. Even getting sound recordings as footage to create realistic scenes. And it was also interesting in NPR that they had the luxury of having enough resources to always have a team working on each story. So I went out as a producer with a journalist. She focused on asking questions during the interviews and having me focused on the audio. I always put on my headphones and recorded everything. That dedication to the quality was so intense that it was my responsibility to stop everyone if there was any sound that interrupted the interview or if something happened with the audio that would impede the quality.
The sound quality was everything.
There I learned certain techniques and strategies to make it sound good, so that one can totally immerse oneself in what was happening in the audio of the stories. I also could observe how the best in the industry did it.
When I returned from recording scenes or interviews, I had to choose the best parts of everything we recorded. And then, while the journalist wrote the script, they asked me, “Choose that moment where they said this and when they said that.” Then we entered a production room with the editor to finish the assembly. And also, to avoid mistakes, we always read everything out loud, and while the journalist was reading aloud, I played the audios.
I learned a lot by observing that editing process and the care they gave to the stories. They thought a lot about where the story should start, and they said, “Well here I get a little lost,” “Here we need to replace the track,” “We need more ambient sound.” The key was how to write for the ear, and not thinking that someone could read it.
Like all those things that one might learn in the classroom, I learned it by doing it at NPR in those early years.
Q: This process that NPR led, sounds like the model of the narrative podcast that we know today.
Totally. It’s not for nothing that some of the most popular podcasts are produced by NPR. They are the experts and they have perfected it. But this happens when one has the resources. Sometimes one has to do everything alone.
I think podcasts are born in that self-determination of saying “I am going to make a podcast. I have a $ 100 microphone and I’m going to upload it to the internet.” That spirit of independence is the basis of everything we know now as podcasts. Recently, other forms, formats, and genres have emerged. In fact, there is a lot of controversy and discussion about how the world of podcasting is evolving, but I respect that initial entrepreneurial spirit very much and I hope it stays, even if there are production companies like mine who make things with multinational companies all over the world.
Why she built a Podcast Production Company
Q: Tell me how changing from being employed to creating Adonde Media, your own podcast production company?
I worked for 4 and a half years at NPR, and then I went to KALW, a member station of the NPR network in San Francisco, CA. I’ve always been a producer, but I started doing other things there, like my own reports. I was managing editor and led various teams. I also helped establish systems and grow the news department we had at KALW. I was there six years and around 2011 I ended up being a partner in Radio Ambulante. That’s when it occurred to me for the first time to get into the world of podcasts. I’ve always wanted to create something, and not be working on something that someone else created. I had finally come to have enough knowledge of what I was doing to be able to do it and I definitely would not have done it alone.
The idea happened thanks to having a team with whom to do it with and my co-founders had a brilliant idea and I said: “I have to be part of this.”
It was the idea of creating a podcast in the style of This American Life, which is a podcast of narrative journalism but in Spanish. We did not understand why there was no such thing and we thought it had to exist.
I spent 5 years producing that podcast. I was the main producer of those years and I dedicated myself to do all the sound design and directing the live shows we had. Little by little, we grew up to become part of NPR. Now it is the first podcast in Spanish of narrative journalism at NPR.
Q: How did you support the project in those 5 years?
We had followed the model of making it grow alone to see if with increasing the audience we could earn money with advertising. But that never worked.
It was always thanks to foundations that we could continue working. In addition, many people dedicated to full-time without having full-time pay. All this was before the industry boom. It was during a time when nobody really made money making podcasts.
Q: What do you mean by foundations?
There are nonprofit organizations in the United States that give money to nonprofit projects. We established ourselves as a non-profit, and we won different grants. That helped us a lot. We also made alliances that helped us grow our audience because we never had a marketing budget. For example, we had an alliance with BBC Mundo. They closed their radio department the same year we launched the podcast. We offered to put our show on the BBC Mundo website as their Spanish audio content and in return, our audience grew. We would also produce some episodes in collaboration with other very important English-language podcasts such as Radio Lab and This American Life. That gave us several growth spurts with our audience in the United States.
Q: Radio Ambulante is still working?
I left just as an agreement was being signed with NPR. Being a sustainable project and having reached an agreement with NPR, I thought it was time to do other things. In addition, I was living in Uruguay at that time, because I had won a Fulbright grant* to teach storytelling at the University of Montevideo. Based on that class, with the students we made a documentary series about the returnees to Uruguay.
* The Fulbright Program is one of several United States Cultural Exchange Programs whose goal is to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.
At that time I wanted to start other projects in the region and I didn’t see anything that was close to what we were doing with Radio Ambulante in the United States. Five years after launching the Radio Ambulante podcast, I didn’t think it was very healthy that we didn’t have much competition, and I said, “I have a lot to give to this market: from my contacts to all my knowledge.” There began the idea of creating Adonde Media.
I moved to Chile and applied to the StartUp Chile program, which is an incubator for technology ventures. I applied for a specific program that they have for women entrepreneurs and they accepted me. Thanks to that, I launched Adonde Media, a podcast production company focused on new audiences.
Q: What type of audiences and markets does Adonde Media focus on?
I always thought Adonde Media would serve to expand the supply of podcasts in Spanish, not only in Latin America, but also in the United States. I consider the United States part of the Latin American market having more than 40 million native Spanish-speakers living in the country.
On one hand, I wanted to give jobs to producers and professionalize the podcast industry in Latin America. On the other hand, I wanted to increase the offering of high-quality podcasts in Spanish by applying everything that I had learned in the US market.
Podcasts have been around for more than 10 years, but there was a brutal change when the quality increased in 2014 and when it began to professionalize.
Now, what does not exist in Latin America, which does exist in the United States, is the NPR public radio network. That is the foundation on which the podcast industry we have today was built. There is no such network in Latin America that has fostered such successful projects as This American Life, which was the pioneer of what we know today as a narrative podcast. It is not for nothing that it was born in WBEZ Chicago, part of the NPR network. By not having that base and that network, we are at a great disadvantage in Latin America.
So I also dedicated myself to building a community: podcasteros.com, which is a community of podcast producers in Spanish. The idea was not only to share knowledge and training, but also to unite to do things together, and drive the industry forward.
Adonde Media was born with the thought of professionalizing podcasts in Spanish from Latin America.
The big impulse was seeing that there were no production companies focusing on languages other than English. I began to realize that nobody was really thinking about podcasts outside the United States. Not only in other languages, but globally. And I thought, “How strange, because it as a digital medium, by its nature it is a medium that can be designed globally from day one.” So we rapidly evolved as producers to think globally about the podcast medium. And that shot us a lot of strategies. We said, “We are going to think about possible audiences who do not speak English. Let’s think about the limitations of distribution technology. We’re going to think about how we’re going to get to new formats, and really expand the type of content we’re doing.”
With this, I began to choose our clients, because I knew that I had to work with global companies that already understood the concept, as I did not want to have to explain the value of global audiences to them. Thanks to our first client, Duolingo*, the strategy was a perfect fit. We started with the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, and it went very well. Soon we began to think in other languages and we produced it in French, which was strategically ideal for the second podcast. We did very well with that podcast as well.
* Duolingo is a platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam.
Also, I met the TED team to help them start their first podcast that was not in English. We also worked with Vice News, who were also about to start their first podcast with all-Spanish content about Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Luckily we have always been at the forefront working with clients who are pushing the podcast medium and trying to reach new audiences and almost always go into their first project with that spirit. Now I can say that this is what I love most about Adonde Media.
At the time I created and founded it, I was wanting to contribute value where I saw that there were a lot of opportunities and I had a lot to give, but also to be able to choose my own projects. I like the challenge of running a company and having a double role, that of producer and CEO at the same time.
Q: Do you find many differences in the roles of producing and running the company?
Totally, but it helps me when I am going to propose projects, because I think it is a strength of mine that I can speak with a lot of knowledge about what is going to happen on the production side, and not just selling something. I think that makes me stand out, but of course, I surround myself with people who know more about business so I can learn. I love that challenge because I always knew that even if you are an artist or want to put together the best podcast or documentary of your life, you will always have to find how to finance it. If you are not rich and you do not have your own money, to do the work I want to do, I have to be able to go out and find a market for that project.
How she connects the dots to discover her life’s purpose
Q: You told me that you started to study singing and you found on the radio, and especially in the audio, a place where you are connected. What is that purpose that keeps you connected to media?
I think it comes a little on the side that my family, especially my dad’s side, who, being from the countryside, have always been great storytellers. They sit and talk, and even their stories have a song-like quality to them. It’s like they have a rhythm, like they are themselves songs. They have everything from suspenseful moments, fast moments, ups and downs. Stories are a whole composition.
That world of how to tell a good story and how to make people laugh at the moment when you want them to laugh, and cry when you want them to, captivates me. That is something totally in the subconscious of my family. They couldn’t say, here at this time you have to do this to be able to tell the story. But I see it. I carry it in my blood, and that is something I have witnessed all my life. I love being able to study it, replicate it in a certain way, and use that to motivate people who educate themselves on different topics or who entertain themselves in a certain way with the content.
It’s a form of communication that has always excited me, and I am feeling it when I sing as well. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, I mean, there are no singers without their audience, so there is no story without someone to listen to it. In its essence there has to be an exchange. There has to be another person who is receiving what you are giving. And I love that too, like the podcast is not done without the other side that listens. There are people who like to talk and don’t care if you’re listening, but for me it’s not like that.
I create things, and I really put a lot of love, time, and creativity into it, because I’m always imagining the person on the other side who is receiving that.
So in all this, for me, this is when the world of singing joins the world of podcasting. It is that connection of a story that unites us.
Present and Future of Podcasting
Q: Based on this tour you’ve been doing in the podcasts worlds, how do you see the industry now?
Today it has changed so much that you cannot believe and I also feel that it is changing every month. Before, you felt the changes every year or every 6 months, but now every month is different, and I love that and it motivates me a lot. I have been living in New York for a year, and I see it a little more from here, but now we are talking about the world of podcasting everywhere and creating content in 3 or 6 different languages at the same time. People are starting to think globally and the Spanish-speaking market is being respected much more. There are many companies that want to enter and want to take advantage of it. They see an impressive opportunity and in the same Latin American markets, it has changed so much that it is divine to see it. There are newspapers getting in and television stations that are seeing opportunities there. Little by little it will get to what we saw in the United States. Now you say the word podcast and not necessarily people will look at you and say “and what is that?” There are more and more people who know the word and the medium.
There was a project in Uruguay that impresses me. It was in December 2018, a fiction podcast was sponsored by a bank and had a brilliant advertising campaign. I said, “How could it be that two years ago we talked in Uruguay about podcasts and nobody understood what you were talking about, and now a bank sponsors a podcast?” The change we have witnessed is incredible. So now I see a growing market, in 6 months we will see other things. The Washington Post announced a podcast in Spanish. Wondery* has already launched their Dr. Death podcast in neutral Spanish, Castilian Spanish, German, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Korean. We are seeing content adaptations and many requests to adapt content that already exists. That is something that people told me recently; that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was crazy. But it is already growing much faster than I imagined.
* Wondery is an American podcast network launched by Hernan Lopez
How to make your first steps as a media producer
Q: What advice would you give to a producer who wants to start in Podcasting?
For producers outside of the U.S, there are still not many opportunities to educate but I think training is essential. What will highlight you, now, is knowing, and having practice and experience. Work with people you admire and take all the workshops you can. That will help you a lot. But making things is always the best way to learn. If you have any ideas, get together with your friend and create a pilot. You don’t have to have a great podcast, but doing things is how you learn. Joining people who are doing it and having a community with whom to collaborate seems fundamental to me.
And also look for opportunities. At first, it will never be easy. There is not yet an industry where you could say, “I go to college, and then I apply for a professional job.” There are still not that many jobs in the podcast industry. There are very few producers that are making money, but that will change. Meanwhile one has to do things in their spare time and look for opportunities because your time is the most valuable resource you have. Maybe there is that professor at your university who is super popular and everyone wants to hear her talks. You can offer a free podcast.
The key is to go and offer it.
Or the same university, which invites people to speak, and they record those talks but they do nothing with them. Look for opportunities because there are many people with ideas and content that are not being used and being able to do it for free, one learns.
Build your own school. I did it through a job, which I had the great opportunity and luxury to learn next to the best journalists on the radio, but with your time you could start your own school in podcast, and that is what I suggest to the producers who want to enter podcasts at this time.