Tawsif Akkas walks us through his journey in the world of digital content, and his predictions for the future of podcasts in Bangladesh
With the world coming to a standstill fairly early this year, it seemed like progress of any kind would also come to a halt. This pandemic has seen a fall in people's motivation in many ways; but on the flip side, we've witnessed a boom in content creation and creators, in whatever form that may be. More bloggers, more Instagram influencers, and so many more trends -- the internet, as always, never fails to keep us engaged and entertained.
But there's more to the internet than we give it credit for. It's a place that we can reap long-term benefits from. Aiming to explore more of the internet's (and his own) potential, Tawsif Akkas has dived right into more of his passion projects in digital content creation, especially with his podcast.
All you need to know about podcasts:
Podcasts have been all the hype across the globe in recent years, and are slowly gaining popularity in Bangladesh too. But what is a podcast?
A series of digital audio files, podcasts usually come in episodes, with the host(s) exploring specific topics in depth. The discussions may range from anything from politics to sports to current events. The downloadable audio format allows the audience to have access to informative, educational, or even just entertaining content, on the go -- it's a convenient and integrated platform for relevant digital content.
Recently having wrapped up the first installment of his podcast, State of the Creators, Tawsif didn't let even a pandemic deter his creative process.
Let's start with an introduction. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your creative content.
I don’t mean to sound introspective with the very first question, but I am at a crossroads of my life to truly define who I am and what I do. Right now I wear a lot of hats -- but to sum it up, I am a marketing and business consultant currently based in Australia and a digital content creator. I create everything from podcasts to mini documentaries to music videos.
I guess the most cliched way to sum it all up is that I tell stories, and I help others tell theirs.
When and how did you begin creating content? What kind of content do you mainly focus on?
On a personal level, I have always been creating “things” since I was a kid -- just that there was no blanket term to categorize these things as content. I remember designing football jerseys on Microsoft Paint, creating parodies of popular songs as a joke, and later making simple home video edits to share with family. On a serious level, it started when I co-founded Plaantik in 2011, because in the early days of Facebook there was a need to keep creating original content to build a community. From graphic design to videos to editing audios, almost all the skills I have today, I owe it to the early days of Plaantik, when I had to learn it all from scratch to create original work.
Describe your relationship with podcasts. Who do you listen to/take inspiration from?
My first exposure to podcasts also comes from the early days of Plaantik, when as founders, we would listen to football podcasts by Telegraph and Guardian in 2011. Since then I have been listening to a variety of podcasts, but it’s only over the last 3-4 years that I have been listening to podcasts daily. One of the reasons for that is, globally, podcasts have taken off and there are plenty of amazing new shows everywhere. Some of the ones ones I regularly listen to are Vox’s ‘Today, Explained’, Spotify’s ‘Dissect’, 99% Invisible, Gimlet’s ‘Startup’, Matt D’Avella’s ‘Group Up Show’ -- honestly, there’s an abundance of podcasts to listen to these days, which is amazing.
Do you think Bangladesh is finally catching up with the rest of the world in terms of the popularity of podcasts? What took so long, in your opinion?
Yes and no. In a way, with Plaantik, we ended up creating one of the very first podcasts in the country, if not the first, with our own podcast series back in 2012. With that, what we saw back then was an amazing response with our niche crowd, but it was never possible to go mainstream. Now that globally podcasts are becoming a buzzword, it is rubbing off on the Bangladeshi audience, so that’s why now we are seeing a rise in podcast creators. However, I don’t think people still understand what a podcast truly is. Over quarantine, I saw many people, including popular YouTubers, host “podcasts” which in essence were recorded Zoom calls. Podcasts are primarily an audio format content for on demand streaming.
Having said that, though, I feel Bangladesh is the perfect place for podcasts. Audio formats are easier to stream, less strenuous on mobile data, and perfect for consuming as passive content -- for example, you can be stuck in traffic for hours and simultaneously be listening to podcasts. It is also why radio shows are so popular in the country. For podcasts to really catch on, what needs to be done is for big companies invested in the media world to look at the massive opportunities that exist, and take a leap, because this opens up so many potential doors. It’s podcasts today, but it could be Bangla audiobooks that can reach all across the country -- and the world. This year alone, I have seen a big rise in Bangladeshi podcasters. For example, YouTuber Asif Bin Azad (who was also a guest in Season 1 of my podcast) has lately focused solely on his podcast journey, and I love his podcasts where he dives deep with personal insights and experiences.
How can listening to more podcasts benefit the audience? How do you think more people can be influenced to start listening?
I feel podcasts can be one of the most intimate forms of media consumption. When listening to a podcast, you allow the creator to literally peek into your brain. And most podcasts are long form content -- so it’s generally for people who want to dive deeper into a certain topic as opposed to a quick fix for learning something. For me, listening to podcasts has provoked thoughts unlike anything else, and I have gotten many creative ideas simply through listening to others discuss certain topics. I think once someone goes down this path, they can expect to get similar benefits.
You're also interested in creating visual content. How would you describe your style?
For visual content, I am still testing the waters. I have always loved creating videos, whether they be video essays, mini documentaries or simple promos for a brand; but recently I have been doing bigger projects. For instance, I have helped produce music videos for the likes of Indalo and more recently for Farooque Bhai Project’s latest EP. I would stay my style is about primarily focusing on the story first -- I always look to evoke an emotion regardless of the medium. I start with that and structure the entire visuals around it -- so almost working backwards.
Tell us about State of the Creators. How did you think of this concept, and what made you start?
After almost a decade in the creative and media space, I began to notice a pattern that creatives and creators only get talked about for the end product of their work, but never for the process -- especially in Bangladesh. As someone involved in the space, I know how much work goes into creating something -- even something as simple as an Instagram caption can take a significant amount of thought process behind it. So I wanted to dive deeper into the minds of the creators: What makes them tick, how do they get past creative ruts, what motivates them, what scares them, what are their thoughts on culture, and so on. That’s how State of the Creators was born, as an attempt to have conversations which hopefully give the listeners something to think about when it comes to creating something worthwhile. As an attempt to start, I decided to sit down with some of my favourite creators in Season 1 based in Bangladesh, and for Season 2 I am focusing more on Australian creators. My aim is to go global with this in the near future. I also wanted to create a blueprint for future creators because I feel that the best way to learn is through people who are already doing it.
What's the production process like? How do you decide whom to interview?
The production process can be quite strenuous, because it is just me doing everything behind the scenes. I have had help from time to time from Tanzim Uddin, one of the co-founders from Togbog, for on-set directions -- but beyond that, it’s all me. The entire process starts from researching the guests first. And by research, I mean really intensive research: diving into their likes and dislikes, their previous work, their thought process, studying any other interviews they might have appeared on, and genuinely taking an interest in the topic at hand. One of my major goals with the podcast is to ensure that the guest is also left nourished intellectually after the conversation, and so I want to also give them an experience.
In terms of picking the guests to speak with, I wanted a variety of people from different fields. I also picked fields I had some knowledge in to ensure the episode doesn’t feel flat. Furthermore, I also look to ensure that it’s a conversation and not just a “one way Q/A”. Interviewing in itself is a skillset, but holding a conversation is an artform, and that is something I am learning to master.
How has the experience of interviewing creators from different fields been so far? What have you learned from it?
This is a great question. It’s been absolutely phenomenal having such deep conversations with so many amazing creators from a variety of fields. The biggest takeaway for me is that I have started picking up trends from many of these creators. For example they all mentioned, in some shape or form, how important time management was to them. Or how they thought of their audience before attempting to create their work. Once you repeat something for a prolonged time period, you start seeing patterns and that is something I am beginning to see with the guests I spoke with.
Your interviews are also on YouTube. Was that a conscious choice to reach a wider audience, or did you want to add a visual aspect to it anyway?
Again, great question. Yes, it was a conscious decision to involve video to the podcast. The reason is that Season 1 features all Bangladeshi creators, and my intended audience may still not be familiar with the concept of podcasts just yet. So instead of just forcefully feeding them a link with an audio file and saying: “Come listen to audio only right now!”, I introduced the idea of a podcast into a format that they are more comfortable with, with the long term aim of slowly converting the audience into listening to more podcasts. Additionally, I wanted to build my YouTube channel, and this felt like a good place to start.
What are your predictions for content creation in Bangladesh? What kind of content are you looking forward to seeing? What would you change?
I am personally super excited about the future of digital content and media in Bangladesh -- particularly in music and the world of YouTube. I feel like we are going through a mini revolution of sorts, where there are pockets of some amazing creators all just waiting to get big. I am personally looking for some amazing music -- both from Bangladeshis living in the country and abroad, and also more authentic YouTube content. I feel that’s one thing that’s missing -- work that feels authentic and genuine and helps provoke a thought. I enjoy TikToks and memes just as much as the next person, but I feel we are missing out on an opportunity to create work that transcends and nudges the internet culture to a place of enriching others’ lives beyond a 15 second clip or bottom texts. That’s the only thing I will change: Bring in more thought provoking content.
What can we expect from Tawsif Akkas in the future?
With Season 1 of State of the Creators ending, I am currently working on the production for Season 2 here in Australia -- so I am super excited for that. Other than that, I am working on a couple of mini documentaries, and building the media entities I am involved in. Also, I am looking to focus more on my personal YouTube channel, so there’s plenty to keep my hands full in the coming months.
Do you have any messages for our readers?
If you’d like to stay in touch, I am @tawsifakkas everywhere, and Tawsif Akkas on YouTube. Thanks for reading through, it means the world to me!