Audio Up, created by Jared Gutstadt, 43, in 2020, this week scored another big hit when it announced it was bringing horror and true crime legend Stephen King’s words to life in a podcast partnership with iHeart. It is the latest in a string of partnerships that has brought many big names to the medium, including several from music where Gutstadt is carving his company’s niche the deepest.
Podcast News Daily recently caught up with Gutstadt about his move from the jingle business to podcasting, and his plans for Audio Up.
PND: How did you end up in podcasting?
Jared Gutstadt: I made jingles for a living, and there’s nothing wrong with jingles, but I had a chip on my shoulder because I came from a very musical background. I was Dave Chapple’s editor. In the MTV world I was one of the most sought out editors for almost a decade. And because I was an indie rock band, it never paid the bills. Editing did. I merged the roles in Jingle Punks. It did really well and I started to make all these relationships with musicians like T. Bone Burnett and Poo Bear and I tried to make the record of my dreams. But not one label wanted to touch this record. I saw the “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” on the exact same day that iHeart called me and asked if I wanted to do soundtracks for podcasts. I said no, but I had a podcast idea. And that turned into me writing my own 75-page short story that became the framework to Bear and a Banjo.
PND: It really was groundbreaking, in that no one had tried to use a podcast to roll out a record before.
Jared Gutstadt: I looked around and I tried to figure out who had done stuff like this and no one had, because music licensing had become such a hurdle to license music for original storytelling. And musicians hadn’t caught up with the fact that this could be an incredible amplifier to tell their stories the same way music videos, websites or a blog tells a story. We were creating a brand-new lane for the music business.
PND: Do you see yourself in the music business or in podcast business?
Jared Gutstadt: We are a content business. Podcasts are the masters of the future. You’re seeing Joe Rogan and Call Her Daddy get money that typically would go toward artists. And why do artists get that kind of money? Because it’s valuable on a platform like Spotify or Apple. We’re in the same share-of-ear business.
PND: How big do you think the opportunity is for music-based podcasts?
Jared Gutstadt: This is where it’s going. We’re going to be a solid corner of the world of podcasting. But I do believe that with the rise of the smart home and smart speakers and radio on the internet, every single technology company whether it is Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or Google, will all have ways to distribute audio into your daily life. Each has different goals, but all of them are content, and we’re going to be in an incredible position as premium content makers, like an HBO for your ears.
PND: Yet you’re still a big radio fan.
Jared Gutstadt: Radio is quietly so important. I think it is still the biggest and most important medium.
PND: Do musicians get podcasting?
Jared Gutstadt: I’ve had to explain it to a lot of artists whose business is radio who don’t know podcasting. Machine Gun Kelly’s medium is radio, and to 24KGoldn and to Nelly, and the one thing that clicks and connects with them is when I merge the worlds of storytelling and music. Almost all of them have done unique things with TikTok, YouTube or Facebook to tell stories, and they get very excited.
PND: And they committed to making podcasts?
Jared Gutstadt: It just so happened when COVID hit that these people had time and inclination to do different things. COVID was the force-multiplier. That horrible event, which was devastating to all forms of media businesses and people personally, ended up setting the stage. Out of chaos sometimes comes opportunity and I started working on projects and as people said yes to things, we fired up seven to 12 podcasts. We didn’t pick our partners as much as they picked us.
PND: Any thoughts on putting shows behind a subscription paywall?
Jared Gutstadt: I want to figure out how to monetize everything that we do, but we want to make people fans of our content. So, we want as wide an audience as possible. If charging a toll to get into our content inhibits our ability to do that, then we’re not at this point interested in that.
PND: Audio Up works with all sorts of companies. Is there an advantage to being a free agent?
Jared Gutstadt: When I left Jingle Punks I was being offered overall deals from all the major studios. I was being offered publishing deals at all the major labels. And I had just come off a period where I had been under the thumb of my own exit – I exited a corporate entity that owned my business. One of my investors suggested I be a “rogue agent” and sell one project to every studio until I figure out what properties are working, and who is a good partner. And on the TV side sell projects to Netflix, Apple until I figure out where the sweet spot is. It’s still too early to tell.
PND: Do you see Audio Up eventually being part of a larger organization?
Jared Gutstadt: We’re on a trajectory that every media company needs to own a podcasting business. But we’re only a year old, and we have had 40 projects. Most of them are okay, some are exceptional. But if we were to sell it today we’d probably have a fairly good exit based on all the work that we’ve done. But in 18 to 24 months from now it will become more apparent as to our business utility for a Google, Amazon, or Spotify. A year from now I might be happy to have that conversation.
PND: MGM is one of your investors. They’re now Amazon- owned. How does that effect you?
Jared Gutstadt: We have a first-look deal [with MGM] and they have the ability to not pick up things. We have a fairly fluid and great relationship with MGM. They are probably our most effective partner on the media side because of how big they are. When they pass on a show, we can shop it wherever we want. Our projects could go anywhere. If they don’t want it, we just move on down the line.
PND: Is the IP more interesting or more profitable than the audio content?
Jared Gutstadt: It is the end game for us. We are more like a Pixar or a Tyler Perry Studios and are completely, vertically creative. We create all of our content and we own a whole lot of our IP instead of relying on other people bringing us their content. That doesn’t work for our model. We have to create all the music and soundtrack and story. It’s splitting hairs, but it’s a huge difference when it comes to the overall value of the business. Because when we create the next “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “A Star Is Born,” those ideas will be appealing to a Disney, Nickelodeon, or Google because they will be ready-made ideas that are bibles of content ready to go.
PND: As Audio Up gets bigger, is it hard to keep creatively fresh?
Jared Gutstadt: I am the biggest auditor of my own process. COVID was a prison of work for me, in a good way. The front half the day I catch up on emails, do calls, raise money for the business, get on the phone with my team, and in the afternoons I start thinking of new projects based on client opportunities. And then evenings are execution for me. This last week I was in Miami to work with a Reggaeton artist, in Nashville to work with a country artist, and now I’m back home working on a project adapting a book about the music of 1969. If I close my brain off to creativity to the times that I’m allowed to, I find that the rest of the time I take notes and when it’s time to do creative stuff I have a bunch of starter ideas. The work ethic comes from the fact that it’s not built yet, and I’m trying to prove something to myself.
PND: Do you see a genre that’s intriguing that Audio Up hasn’t yet touched?
Jared Gutstadt: Interactive over time will be something that we’re interested in. All I would say is much like the first wave of the internet, there are going to be opportunities for multilayered storytelling – especially with music. But we’re not yet in a place as a company yet where we can choose to do things that are extremely outside the box. We’re really just pulling the reins ever so slightly into our lane right now. There will be the ability to do more things like experimentation, technology, working with brands. I’m really optimistic that audio will be one of the biggest media shifts in our lifetime.
This interview has been edited and for length and clarity.