Build your audience like a punk band
NOFX's journey to punk stardom parallels the struggle of today's indie podcasters
I’ve been listening to NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories on Audible. It’s the story of NOFX as read by the band members with occasional dips into archival tape of live shows and parties.
Those guys were TERRIBLE. Parts of the story nearly made me gag they’re so gross. Casually racist, misogynistic, and crude, sometimes they make you laugh, and sometimes they make you angry. The story isn’t an apology, but it’s not not an apology. They’re grownup punks recollecting their lives with a mixture of pride and regret.
I’m not a NOFX fan, but I did have a few punk-adjacent years in the mid 90’s where I moshed to Fugazi, shouted the lyrics to Green Day, and drunkenly ignored the bands on stage—probably NOFX—at Warped Tour.
Should you listen? No. Not unless you’ve actually strutted in a mosh pit. This isn’t an audiobook for poseurs.
So why talk about it here to an audience of podcasters? Because while the bad behavior is the headline, the story is about NOFX making something with love. Doing it with no audience for seven years, and never giving up.
We’ve been doing Timber for less than two years, and I’ve already wanted to give up more than once. I’ve never been booed or had glass bottles thrown at me over what I said in a newsletter.
But I can still relate. The band would hop in their shitty van and drive from venue to venue around the United States and play for 40 people, and, if they were lukcy, get $100 at the end of the night. They were once paid $13 a piece to not play.
We’ve marched up and down the internet shouting about our great podcast feedback and hosting services to equally small audiences.
But NOFX kept playing. They wrote songs, they supported each other, and yes, they partied like no one you have ever ever known.
In the various groups of podcasters that I spend time with these days, there is a lot of hopelessness. Indie podcasters are getting the shaft. The industry only cares about big budget shows. Spotify is ruining everything.
They’re not wrong. Rose Eveleth this week decided to take a break from her show and in a message to her fans she said, “Making it work as an indie podcaster has only gotten harder since I started Flash Forward." Later adding, “I didn’t get into podcasting to get rich, but I know that the show could be so much better if we had either a little bit more time, or a little bit more money to play with.”
And podcasters that have been in the game since before the audio industry was a frothy sea of investment and Hollywood deals are sometimes bitter. Some of their peers like Roman Mars and Hrishikesh Hirway have vaulted into the new monied realm of podcasting while they’ve been overlooked.
Conveniently for the theme of this newsletter, NOFX and the punk scene had a similar reckoning. Green Day’s 1994 release, Dookie, set the world on fire and made kids in Kansas want to listen to PUNK MUSIC. Suddenly A&R people from Warner, EMI, Sony, and BMG, were dining punk bands in swank LA restaurants and offering fat stacks.
NOFX was courted by the big label Hollywood Music and amazingly didn’t board the money train. They already had loyal fans, and they feared that a sudden jump in profile could be followed by an unrecoverable fall. “You can’t play a stadium and then play a 500 seater the next year. It’s humiliating. But if you play a 1000 seater and then go down to a 500 seater, no one really notices, and going downhill has always been part of my plan,” says NOFX lead singer, Fat Mike.
So, indie podcaster, we’re currently in the post Green Day punk scene of podcasting. The lesson is, in today’s podcasting froth, there will be venture money wasted on bad pods and people that crash and burn. You won’t be one of them.
If you’re in it for the love of making stories, and not because you thought podcasting would be a quick way to market yourself or make some dosh, then hang in there and keep working.
Side note: What I love about this analogy to punk and NOFX in particular is that it’s not about talent! NOFX sucked. They eventually became professional musicians, but they’ll be the first to admit they weren’t super talented even when their audience started growing. They *were* authentic and their music was a true reflection of their point of view.
If you’re patient, if you bring heart to your craft, and you are your authentic self in what you create, you will build an audience. As the waves of the industry break around you, you may have to experiment with different ways to ask for support from your audience (subscriptions, kickstarters, ads, merch, books, threats), but here’s the thing:
I cannot imagine a world where people with taste, talent, and heart have no way to survive and create. Collectively we will fight such an outcome and keep creating. People will keep listening, and we will find a way to support the storytellers we love.
I’ve bet the future of Timber—my future—on this belief, and we’re in the same struggle as you. We don’t succeed if we don’t get people reading our articles, subscribing to our newsletter, being moved to try our hosting solution, and joining our community. We need 1000 true fans. You need 1000 true fans.
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I hope we both can do it with less suckage and in fewer years that NOFX, but I’m beyond inspired that they stuck with it and built a life of wealth and happiness out of sheer will. Punk as fuck.
Thanks for reading. 🖤🤘🏻
ps. It’s getting to the end of the year. We’re deep into awards season. You need to support your fellow BIPOC, Queer and Trans podcasters who are making great audio. Here’s the link: https://www.podcastingseriously.com/fund. Just donate, and follow Juleyka Lantigua Williams on Twitter to stay up to date with the fund.
LWC Studios launched the The Podcasting, Seriously Awards Fund to support independent BIPOC, Queer and Trans audio producers in submitting their work to media/journalism awards.
Basically they pay the submission fees (which, before I started Timber, I didn’t even imagine that you would have to pay to win an award, but that’s another story) for these indie podcasters.