I’ve been talking to a bunch of different podcasters I’ve known for a few years now, and there’s seems to be a common theme among many- including myself- of having lost some of the energy and direction that got them to where they are now.

A few years ago, having your own show, producing podcast or video for the ‘net was cutting edge, new and different. Now, in half of my eleven year old’s classes, they will be expected to produce a podcast as part of their science, history and literature projects. While I feel like my background will be incredibly helpful to my kids who are already Podcamp veterans, I can imagine for many parents, this is like being dumped into a brave new world, where their kids are doing things they barely ever heard of themselves. Podcasting is now clearly no longer fringe, but mainstream.

The airwaves are getting crowded, not only with more people, but with more professionals entering the pace as well. This seems like the perfect time for those with more experience to shine and to use their skills to take projects to the next level, whether it’s for themselves or for others. This seems like the perfect time to cash in, so to speak, to leverage your demonstrable skills and to do this stuff professionally. Yet I have heard more than once “I’m doing this for the love of it, it’s my passion” juxtaposed with the “I am not getting as much attention/money that I’d like, and this has become a hassle, it’s no longer fun.” Heck, I’ve felt that way.

Are we entering into a time where longevity is on the verge of really paying off, (coming out of Seth Godin’s Dip) but many people are deciding to give up and falling off the curve? Is this the time of differentiation between the tenacious and those who have just run their course? Or has this whole era of independent media jumped the shark? If everyone can use the tools, if everyone is special, does that mean no one is?

As media channels continue to fragment, the bulk of attention no longer has a recognized center of gravity. Podshow, now Mevio, is no longer the center of the podcasting universe. The New Media Expo has joined forces with BlogWorld. People ask me if we’re ever going to change the name of Podcamp since it’s not just about podcasting any more. What’s happened to the tight knit group of independent producers, and what’s caused them to change their pathway which once seemed so clear and full of energy?

I am not sure there’s any one answer to these questions. I do think that production of digital audio and video is more mainstream and is no longer all that fringe. Apple’s increased market share in computers alone puts easy to use tools in more and more homes. What was scarce is now abundant. What has become scarce is the experience to make those tools sing, and that’s where our value may lie.

People who have honed their editing skills now have marketable talents they can sell to businesses and others, especially since we’ve passed the early days when crappy sounding audio was acceptable. There’s an expectation that everyone can have a broadcast studio in their homes, but those of us who can show them higher production standards, and how to take the DIY standard to the next level could have a comfortable marketplace available.

The challenge is that the people who have done this for several years are starting to burn out. The projects no longer seem new, they seem like work. Because they seem like work without a lot of compensation, the fun is gone, and we start to move on to other projects that have that sense of adventure added in again. We’ve grown and changed and taken on new things, developed new passions, and found once again, it’s time for a change and a challenge.

The reason some people started podcasting has been lost in what seems like a project with no end, no meaningful conclusion, no boundaries. Unlike TV seasons, there’s no set production schedule, and there’s no one who will let you know when it’s time to pull the plug, either. And what does it say to all you’ve done if you cancel your own show? Is it admitting failure? Is it putting a chapter of your own life to bed? Is it giving up?

I know I got into podcasting as a way of expressing my own voice. I wanted to be heard and to help others at the same time. I still do. Now that I am producing programs for others, teaching and consulting, there’s simply less time to do what was an all consuming, weekly schedule of production. While I am experimenting with a less regular production schedule, putting up shows as time allows, I know this isn’t what it once was when it was a weekly show. I don’t want to give it up, but I really love all the other opportunities I’ve had for growth and for helping others understand digital media and how it can help their businesses.

Podcasting isn’t new anymore.  It has become the tool we all knew it was, and it’s a tool we’re putting in the hands of everyone, as our semi-rural school district is showing its students.  This takes away some of the magical allure podcasting once had, and it makes all of us reconsider how we use this tool as not the focus of a project, but just as a piece of a larger picture of our lives, who we are and what we do.

Being a podcaster isn’t really a job description anymore.  It’s only a part of an overall communications strategy, a piece of a larger puzzle of finding our voices and our purpose, and getting others to listen and find value in what we have to say.  This is why Podcamp, and Podcamp Philly in particular, strives to include classes on social media, marketing, search engine optimization and more, as well as how to use these tools in different industries, for nonprofits, and more. It’s not about just picking one channel. You have to have a bigger vision or purpose than just podcasting in order to keep the project on track- there has to be a reason to use each tool, and integrating many tools into a larger whole – blogging, and print and video and audio- using each tool as is most appropriate, to tell our story, to communicate your message and to engage others and gain their most valuable possession- their attention.

What do you think?  How do you maintain energy on a project that is open-ended?  When do you give it up?  And when is it time to decide whether or not to “cash in” and use your skills to help others just starting out?  What happens when what maks you special seems commonplace a few years down the line?  How do you keep things fresh for yourself?

Inquiring minds want to know!