Monday 10 February 2020

Jake Warren – Podcast creator lines up with the stars

Jake Warren (Social Policy 2013) finds himself in illustrious company. He will soon line up alongside the likes of Emma Barnett, Frank Skinner, Peter Crouch, Greg James and Zoe Ball at the Audio & Radio Industry Awards (ARIAS).

Jake's podcast, Conflicted, has been nominated for the Best Independent Podcast at this, the Oscars of UK radio and audio.

It is just the icing on the cake as far as Jake’s achievements go. He is the founder of multimedia story telling company, Message Heard, where he develops and produces successful podcasts. He also works with brands to help them to do the same.

The Leeds experience

Looking back on Jake’s time here, perhaps the writing was on the wall. Jake was one of the founding members of the Leeds Tab – the student news site – and there’s no doubt that this experience, amongst others, helped to shape his future in a creative industry.

“Leeds gave me the freedom to experiment with my own journalism and creative concepts,” Jake says. “I got involved with Leeds Student Radio and The Tab. I had the space to play with my own ideas. Leeds gave me the chance to tell the stories that were integral to my world.”

As with so many Leeds students, the good times extended beyond his studies. “It was a time when I made some wonderful friends – although even that is trumped by my indisputable highlight: the toasted chicken and sweet potato sandwich from Bakery 164 [the popular bakery on Woodhouse Lane].”

Life after Leeds

On graduating, Jake found work as a journalist and documentary maker for VICE, the BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian. “I knew I wanted to work in journalism and storytelling in some capacity. Post-university, my initial steps were to figure out exactly what that would look like.”

These steps led him to podcasts. In 2017, Jake founded podcast company, Message Heard. “I was drawn to them [podcasts]. They are an on demand, immersive way of storytelling without rules – you can be as experimental as you like. The barrier to entry is incredibly low but there is a high threshold on what is deemed great quality, and that challenge excited me.”

And if you’re wondering what that quality might sound like, Jake talked us through his three personal favourites: “I'd recommend Embedded (NPR), which takes a story from the news and goes deep. Also, Without Fail (Gimlet), which asks people who have pursued incredible things: What worked? What didn't? And why? And finally, The Catch and Kill Podcast (Ronan Farrow), which brings you stories from sources behind blockbuster news pieces.”

It is this enthusiasm for podcasts that helped Jake to spot a gap in the market, a gap he knew he could fill. “I felt that the UK was too reliant on US podcasting. Other than the cold analytical approach of the BBC, we were lacking our own vehicle to tell uniquely British stories – not in an insular sense but in a uniquely British tone, manner and style.”

The Special Ingredient

Finding his niche has already proven successful. Since its inception, Message Heard has become the first UK independent podcast company to feature on the homepage of Apple Podcasts, and they were the first to sell original content to Spotify. But Jake’s proudest moment was still to come. “Finding out one of our original shows, Conflicted, – which chronicles the life of Aimen Dean, an ex-Al Qaeda Jihadist turned MI6 double agent – had been nominated for an ARIAS for Best Independent Podcast was truly brilliant.”

Maybe there’s a special ingredient in those Bakery 164 toasted sandwiches, given he’s not the only Leeds alum nominated for an award. Jamie Morton (Cinema, Photography and Television 2008), James Cooper (History 2008) and Alice Levine (English 2008) have also been nominated for the Best Independent Podcast with their hit show, My Dad Wrote A Porno – which you’ll be able to read more about in the Leeds Alumni magazine, due out next month.

Steps to Success

 Jake’s road to success is one worth noting for any budding entrepreneur. “It all starts with an idea. They are a dime a dozen but you need to make sure you have your own unique angle, selling point or interpretation.

 “Then comes traction. You can take all kinds of steps to prove your business has legs, and that’ll stand you in better stead – just make sure you show and don’t tell!

 “Lastly, it’s the execution. What qualifies you to be able to drive your business to succeed? It may be you have figured out the one thing that no one else has ever considered, or you are doing it better than they do – find that gap in the market.”

 Jake has found his, and there’s no doubt it is working. The ARIAS take place at the London Palladium on 4th March. Needless to say, we’ll be following the results closely – toasted sandwich and all.