Wouldn’t it be great if you could rack up 50,000 downloads a day from a podcast that you don’t need to plan for, or even speak into the mic?
Well, it turns out that one particular branch of ‘podcasters’ – and I use this term loosely – are doing just that: white noise podcasters.
According to a leaked internal Spotify document accessed by Bloomberg, these creators are costing the listening platform $38 million a year. In response, the document proposes removing all white noise content from the platform and banning any future uploads.
A Spotify spokesperson claims the proposal “did not come to fruition”. However, some white noise podcasters have reported episodes disappearing off the platform.
But why are white noise podcasts such a cash cow, and should you jump on the bandwagon?
What’s a white noise podcast?
Essentially, these are recordings of various types of sounds; this could be waves crashing, birds tweeting, or the hum of an old air conditioning unit. Sometimes, it’s just plain old static noises. Whatever sound the creator has recorded, they often piece them together on a loop, so one episode can easily be hours long. Saying that, a ‘good’ white noise podcast is one that doesn’t loop, but consists of one long continuous recording.
Studies have shown listening to white noise can be helpful in all types of different situations. It can help you focus (I’m listening to the sounds of the Amazonian rainforest as I type this), aid sleep, comfort unsettled babies, or drown out noisy neighbours. As someone who lives in a building full of partying students, I even splashed out on a white noise machine that I can run all night when I have to.
White noise recordings have been categorised by Spotify as podcasts – or specifically, as ‘talk’ content – to distinguish them from music. This means they get lumped together with podcasts, even though they have no talking in them.
How white noise podcasters make so much money
White noise content is mind-bogglingly popular. The Spotify document stated that they account for a whopping 3 million daily hours of podcast listening on the platform.
They’re so popular, in fact, that one recording – 12-hour Sound Machines – made it to number 15 in the overall podcast charts in 2022. This put it shoulder-to-shoulder with The New York Times’ The Daily.
Bloomerg’s Ashley Carmen has estimated that these podcasters are cashing in up to $19,000 a month from white noise content.
And how are they making so much money? It seems a few factors have come together to create this “perfect storm” for Spotify.
For one, white noise content is extremely popular.
Until now, white noise podcasts have been labelled as ‘talk’ content on Spotify.
Spotify proactively promotes ‘talk’ content over music because there’s more opportunity for ad insertion, and it’s all part of their new strategy to dominate the podcasting market.
White noise podcasts are hours long, so have plenty of opportunity for monetisation through programmatic ad insertion.
This content is about as evergreen as it gets. If someone finds a white noise recording they like, they might even listen to it multiple times a day, every day.
Thanks to all of the above, white noise podcast creators have been able to generate a fair whack. And they do this by creating and monetizing just a handful of recordings.
But of course, since Spotify realised how much money it’s been losing, it has switched strategy from actively promoting white noise podcasts to considering banning all future uploads.
What can podcasters learn from this?
You might be thinking that the big learning here is to jump on the white noise bandwagon. All you need to do is start publishing hours-long recordings of your shower running, and the cash will start flooding in, right?
But unfortunately, now that Spotify has caught onto things, that ship has most certainly sailed. If you’re a seasoned white noise podcaster, we’re sorry for your loss.
(For what it’s worth, ASMR podcasts are booming, and there’s plenty of demand for more Binaural Beats content, too!)
One big takeaway here is hardly a revelation – that major platforms like Spotify have the power to pull the rug from under the feet of creators whenever something doesn’t suit them.
And sure, Spotify told Bloomberg that the proposal was abandoned, but this Reddit thread suggests this isn’t entirely true. One creator also told Bloomberg that their white noise podcast disappeared for three weeks and cost them 50,000 downloads per day.
But there’s good news for podcasters…
There’s a positive to take from all this, though, and it’s that most podcasters have the power to make themselves irreplaceable. You can do this by creating truly unique content based on your own insights and experiences, and this safeguards you against the whims or trends of any one company.
Let’s face it, the vast majority of white noise podcasters likely weren’t swimming in Scrooge McDuck-style pools of Spotify gold recently. Some have found themselves in a ‘right place, right time’ position and they’ve done well from it. But the problem with this content is that, although white noise has a lot of big selling points, these don’t extend to its creators.
There are undoubtedly some brilliant sound designers making these shows in innovative ways, but anyone with a DAW (or a mic and a shower) can join in and – quite literally – contribute to the noise. If Spotify kicks you off for your white noise podcast, it’s going to be tough to take any of your audience with you. But if you’re that person they turn up to listen to every single week because you entertain, inspire, or motivate them, then your podcast is bulletproof.
Sure, Spotify, Apple, or anyone else can hurt your show. But they can never take it all away from you. And that’s part of the power of podcasting.
Katie Paterson is a content feature writer for The Podcast Host