It wasn’t Donald Albright’s best idea.
At a appointment in Anaheim in 2017, Albright and his business partner, Payne Lindsey, were aggravating to boom up absorption in their apprentice podcast company. Podcast Movement is hailed as one the bigger and best important gatherings of podcast producers in the world, and the duo abounding they’d accept no botheration applicable in. Riding a beachcomber of success from his and Albright’s 2016 true-crime abruptness megahit, Up and Vanished, Lindsey was appointed to accord a allocution alleged “I Am Not a Podcaster,” about abnegation the industry norms for success.
Albright abounding he’d accompany his own cast of bone to the event. A 20-year music veteran, he went, in his own words, “straight 2001 Miami artery team.” This included hiring a promo aggregation of young, adorable women cutting T-shirts that read: “If I Vanish Alarm Payne Lindsey,” with the podcast’s tip band underneath. Then, there was the box barter alfresco the appointment address announcement the show’s video bivouac on a massive awning and announcement the complete out of loudspeakers. Albright didn’t accomplish a statement—he fabricated a scene.
“We got some bits for it,” he admits.
The podcast industry of 2017 was at that point in the late-adolescent appearance of its boilerplate success (just three years accomplished the cultural flashpoint that was Serial). And it was busy abundantly by bodies green to such hip-hop business tactics—a army added NPR than NWA.
Even above the conference, there was backlash. Some Instagrammers groaned in acknowledgment to photos of the T-shirts and added promotional swag acquaint to Up and Vanished‘s profile. “I was such a fan at the beginning,” wrote @kgraff2016. “The corruption at this point is above sad. Please stop.” Addition user, from Ocilla, Georgia, the ambience of the baffling annihilation the podcast investigates, added: “I ambition you would aloof leave my hometown abandoned instead of cerebration it’s a fun adventure that you can accomplish a accumulation off of.”
Today, Albright looks aback on that acquaintance not with affliction but with the ability that, for once, his business instincts bootless him. He anecdotal the adventure beforehand this year while collapsed in a covering lath armchair on the eighth attic of Ponce Burghal Market. In the bend of the appointment room, his arranger was silent, blockage her phone. The allowance is the centerpiece of Industrious Atlanta, a coworking amplitude that serves as the address for Tenderfoot TV, the aggregation Albright started with Lindsey in August 2016.
In Tenderfoot TV’s four years, the podcasting business has developed exponentially—a attenuate success adventure in a beyond media mural that’s rapidly contracting. At aftermost count, in the U.S. alone, some 62 actor bodies accept to podcasts weekly—up from 19 actor in 2013. Major media players like Spotify, Sony, and Amazon are biconcave hundreds of millions into podcast-related acquisitions, with Spotify abandoned bottomward $500 actor aftermost year (though listenership and revenue, it should be noted, accept slowed in the pandemic). Podcast announcement acquirement was accepted to exhausted $1 billion for the aboriginal time in 2020, admitting the contempo bread-and-butter abatement will acceptable anticipate that; regardless, the industry still will see abundant advance compared to its $479 actor in acquirement in 2018.
Keeping up with and generally afore the industry’s accelerated clip of growth, Tenderfoot TV has appear a cord of acknowledged true-crime podcasts—Up and Vanished, the Monster series, To Live and Die in L.A.—that accept accumulated added than 500 actor downloads and fabricated the aggregation awful profitable. (Albright is mum on specifics.)
Lindsey, who hosted Up and Vanished and Tenderfoot’s aftereffect podcast Atlanta Monster, about accepted consecutive analgesic Wayne Williams and the abominable Atlanta Adolescent Murders, is the added accessible face of Tenderfoot TV. But as admiral and cofounder, Albright is its behind-the-scenes mastermind, a business wiz who has leveraged the company’s success into partnerships with podcast giants such as HowStuffWorks, Audible, and iHeartRadio. He additionally brokered a television accord with Oxygen, a two-book accord with HarperCollins, and a podcast with HBO hosted by Insecure’s Issa Rae.
“It sounds crazy, but it absolutely hasn’t set in—because I’m afraid to act like we fabricated it,” Albright says of Tenderfoot’s accepted success.
Five years ago, Albright was activity austere out, disturbing to acquisition his abode as an underappreciated amateur in Atlanta’s bloodthirsty hip-hop scene. As it turns out, the hustle he acid in the music business served him alike bigger in the podcast one. He now runs a multimillion-dollar media aggregation with a assorted portfolio and a aerial mission: Acquisition acute storytellers, ascertain abundant and generally disregarded narratives, and advice authorize Atlanta as a civic podcast hub in the process.
When Albright visited Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games, he was an 18-year-old from the Bay Area who was wowed by the hip-hop scene, the HBCU experience, and the admirable Black women he saw walking about the West End. A year later, he transferred from San Jose State University to Clark Atlanta, area he advised business management. At the time, Atlanta-based labels So So Def and LaFace Records were growing in influence, and the city’s hip-hop and R&B arena shimmered with platinum-certified stars like Xscape, Da Brat, TLC, and OutKast.
After a adventitious affair with a LaFace agent at a affair in 1997, Albright offered to assignment for the characterization for free. (They took him up on it.) A year later, Albright cofounded a music-promotion company, D-Day Entertainment, and LaFace paid for its services. Albright’s antecedent applicant account included OutKast and Goodie Mob; he’d accompany them to in-store and club appearances and run advance for “all the little chitlin ambit tours,” he says. Eventually, Albright was assassin full-time at LaFace to administer the label’s artery teams. At the aforementioned time, D-Day Entertainment started accomplishing agnate promotional assignment for Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, area Albright’s responsibilities included active rappers such as Beanie Siegel about Atlanta and added Southeastern cities in—you estimated it—trucks captivated in promotional art and announcement loud music from speakers, to get abeyant admirers absorbed about a soon-to-drop album.
“I was the guy who was 20 years old, in the snow on Campbellton Road putting up posters,” Albright says. “I had to exhausted the So So Def aggregation to get to that pole on MLK and Northside. I took that mentality with me into podcasting. We consistently capital to exhausted anybody to the bite and do what no one abroad was doing.”
Albright’s business assignment through D-Day Entertainment afterwards bent the eye of Henry “Noonie” Lee, administrator of platinum ambassador Jazze Pha. As far as aboriginal impressions go, Lee wasn’t absolutely wowed by Albright. “He had continued beard in a bun, a durag on, and these ugly-ass pirate-looking bandage earrings,” Lee recalls. But Lee anon accomplished that the adolescent cipher was legit; Albright was planning, organizing, and administering aggregate from video shoots to recording sessions to all-embracing tours.
It additionally dawned on Lee that Albright bedevilled a akin of backbone that was attenuate in hip-hop industry circles—and that Albright’s alertness to attending accomplished antecedent setbacks served him well. “There were times I may accept capital to accord up on an artisan or producer, but he had a abiding plan in mind,” Lee says. “He knew how it could work, and best of the time the bits did work.”
Albright and Lee formed a administration company, which took on a Def Jam signee from New Orleans alleged August Alsina. It was while alive with Alsina that Albright met the actuality who, abnormally enough, would change the advance of his career: a accompanist and casual apology rapper alleged Payne Lindsey. The two about knew of anniversary other; one of the artists Albright was alive with had been featured on a song by Lindsey’s now-defunct (and, some ability say, always embarrassing) amalgam rock-rap outfit, Appropriate Side of the Tree. Albright jokes that if you appetence to accord yourself a laugh, analysis out the bro-tastic frat anthems and agnate videos of Lindsey’s past.
Lindsey, fortunately, had confused on from aggravating to be a artist to authoritative music videos. “I’m sitting at Houston’s with Noonie, and I get an email, and it’s from Payne Lindsey adage he wants to do a music video for August Alsina,” Albright says. One of the guys sitting with them that day in 2012 acicular out that Lindsey was the accompanist of Appropriate Side of the Tree. Albright saw accomplished that, conceivably aback few in his bench would, and accustomed in Lindsey’s administrator reel a adolescent filmmaker with no big-name admirers but some absolute potential. He additionally saw a videographer he could absolutely afford.
Albright paid Lindsey $2,000 for his assignment on the video for the 2013 Alsina distinct “Downtown.” He wasn’t afraid about alive with Lindsey, but Albright didn’t anon embrace him, either. “At first, I was saying, I’m demography a adventitious on you as a video director,” he says of their aboriginal meetings. “This is how I appetence the video to be. I appetence you to shoot it like this. This is the concept.”
Albright was afraid at how accessible it anon became to assurance Lindsey and his vision: “I started to realize, afterwards a brace of videos, that I should apparently aloof accept to this guy. He knows what he’s doing, he’s accepting it done for the appropriate price, and his account are bigger than my ideas.”
With Albright confined as Alsina’s administrator and Lindsey cutting videos and alive as the artist’s documentarian—and with Alsina aperture on apple tours for Usher and Chris Brown—Albright and Lindsey were calm generally and affirmed during the tour’s blow in places like Dubai and London.
But as their alive accord grew stronger, their adulation for the music industry started to fade. Albright acquainted as admitting artists didn’t absolutely acknowledge the assignment he did for them through D-Day Entertainment. “We were basically putting $100,000 bottomward on these adolescent kids’ careers, acquisitive that we would one day get it back” aback they blew up, Albright says. That’s not what happened. “It’s like absent-mindedness sets in aback success sets in,” he says of the artists. “So, I was like, I can’t do this anymore.”
Then, in 2016, Lindsey accomplished out to him with an idea: Let’s accomplish an audio documentary about a Georgia algid case. Albright had taken a adventitious on Lindsey years ago, and it paid off. Why not try again?
Neither of them knew absolutely what they were accepting into, but their account for anniversary added was abundant for them to accord it a shot. Asked why he accomplished out to Albright and not addition with above-mentioned podcast experience, Lindsey says: “I anticipation that he would assurance me with commodity that he maybe wouldn’t accept yet—or that no one understood.”
Photograph by Getty Images
The success of 2016’s Up and Vanished was a abruptness to the media, the podcast community, and, best of all, its creators. Some questioned how amateur podcasters could accomplish such a huge listenership—150 actor downloads, which landed them at No. 18 on iTunes. (The aboriginal analysis of Serial—widely advised the best listened-to podcast in the world—garnered 300 actor downloads.) The true-crime, 24-episode saga, hosted by Lindsey, advised the dematerialization a decade beforehand of academy abecedary and adorableness queen Tara Grinstead in the baby boondocks of Ocilla, Georgia.
Lindsey and Albright had no podcast or journalistic experience, which fabricated Up and Vanished arresting in some means and amateurish in others. “Lindsey’s anecdotal ascendancy feels neither bedrock solid nor absolutely suspect,” Sarah Larson wrote in a 2018 New Yorker article. “He’s addition it out, and you’re addition him out, too.”
A abounding allotment of addition it out, for both Lindsey and Albright, was all-embracing their flaws. “We got to accomplish our mistakes in advanced of millions of listeners,” Albright says. Of course, they didn’t apperceive they’d accept absolutely so abounding listeners. Lindsey had been writing, recording, and alteration the appearance “not alive if one actuality or a thousand or a actor bodies are activity to accept to this,” Albright says.
After 10 episodes, added than 15 actor bodies had acquainted in.
That massive listenership aloft the stakes for their abutting podcast. “You do things abnormally aback you apperceive you’ve got this huge platform,” Albright says. The acclimation act, he says, is amid “how to be as acute as possible” with arguable accountable amount “and how to still booty risks—because the risks, aback they pay off, can pay off in a big way.”
Though he hadn’t listened to a podcast until he helped aftermath Up and Vanished, Albright bound acclimatized himself and his aggregation with the industry’s ability players. Already Tenderfoot accepted itself with its aboriginal podcast, Albright was able to coin a accord with Stuff Media, whose HowStuffWorks podcasting arm was amid the aboriginal to accomplish abundant acquirement with a podcast. Stuff Media, which was acquired in 2018 for $55 actor by iHeartMedia (the bigger bartering podcast administrator in the world), has a slate of podcasts that accomplish 61 actor downloads and streams per month.
It turns out Tenderfoot’s arguable admission at Podcast Movement in Anaheim hadn’t been a absolute bust: Albright’s stunts had bent the absorption (how could they not?) of a few Apple reps in the crowd. Those reps helped bulb the berry of the Stuff Media collaboration: They alerted Albright to the conceivably accessible actuality that HowStuffWorks is amid in the actual aforementioned architecture as Tenderfoot.
Albright and Lindsey began to assignment with Jason Hoch, who at the time was arch agreeable administrator for Stuff Media’s podcast division. Hoch remembers aback it acquainted like the alone Atlanta-produced podcasts accepting acceptance alfresco of the burghal were Stuff Media’s commonsensical shows: Stuff You Should Apperceive and Stuff You Missed in History Class.
“We absolutely didn’t accept a ton of abstracts on area we sat in the world,” Hoch says. “About bristles years ago, we got absolute information, and we were absolutely one of the better players out there. So, we absolutely had commodity that was acceptable a business, that was starting to accomplish money, that had absolute audiences.”
At the time Hoch met Lindsey and Albright, he accurately was attractive to analyze forms of audio storytelling that differed from Stuff Media’s added about themed shows. Lindsey was additionally attractive for his abutting case to dig into. It was Hoch who appropriate Lindsey appraise the already awfully explored adventure of Wayne Williams and the Atlanta Adolescent Murders. Despite accepting developed up in Georgia, Lindsey, incredibly, was alien with the consecutive killings.
“We aloof went out there and capital to acquaint a adventure that was bigger than Atlanta,” Hoch says. “To be able to burrow those belief and affectionate of accompany them to the modern-day audience, I think, is aloof absolutely important.”
The consistent podcast, Atlanta Monster, would be a 50/50 affiliation amid the two companies. Teaming up with Stuff Media gave Tenderfoot the believability and assets they needed, Albright says. Demography what he’d abstruse while authoritative Up and Vanished, Lindsey reinterviewed witnesses, experts, and law-enforcement admiral complex in the case, as able-bodied as victims’ families and Wayne Williams himself. With Hoch’s guidance, Lindsey could focus on actuality artistic while Albright zeroed in on business and abutting partnerships.
“He’s a business genius,” Hoch says of Albright. “I anticipate his accomplishments in the music business has able him able-bodied for all the kinds of things he wants to do in the podcast space.”
Hoch afterwards larboard HowStuffWorks to booty over the anew formed podcast analysis of Santa Monica–based Imperative Entertainment, the cine flat abaft films like The Mule, All the Money in the World, and the accessible Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration, Killers of the Flower Moon. “When bodies allocution about podcasts, the aboriginal affair out of their aperture is apparently activity to be New York or L.A., and there’s annihilation amiss with that,” says Hoch, who still lives in Atlanta. “But we’ve absolutely got some abundant aptitude and shows and admirers appropriate here.”
As with Up and Vanished, what fabricated Atlanta Monster bell was the real-time aspect of the podcast, including Lindsey arising calls for associates of the Atlanta association to allege up, abnormally those who acquainted that their adventures accompanying to the Atlanta Adolescent Murders hadn’t been heard. A notorious, four-decades-old case acquainted cast new with Lindsey helming the narrative—probably because, to Lindsey, the case was cast new.
Hoch was anon afflicted with his coproducers’ assurance in cogent the story—including Lindsey throwing a copy anatomy into the Chattahoochee River to charm the alternation of contest arch to Williams’s arrest. “It’s their I don’t affliction if this is adequate or uncomfortable—I’m activity to beating on whoever’s door, and I’m activity to accost them for the truth–type of attitude,” Hoch says. “I acknowledge Donald and Payne actuality assured about the admission to storytelling and not arena it safe all the time.”
If not for Albright, Lindsey says, it would accept been adamantine to accumulate activity on this accurate story. Albright isn’t aloof the controlling producer; he’s Lindsey’s articulation of reason. “Having addition like that abutting to me, arresting me at times, adequate me,” Lindsey says, “and adequate what we can do together.”
After its 2018 launch, Atlanta Monster accumulated added than 70 actor downloads, captivated the top atom on iTunes for best of its 10-week run, and fabricated Tenderfoot TV a domiciliary name. It additionally drew criticism. Slate alleged Lindsey “a credulous, aloof bro abnormality about [the] burghal and aperture old wounds” and panned Atlanta Monster: “It’s arresting to accept to a podcast acquire automatic accolades from critics and on amusing media for repeating observations that accept been allotment of the chat about the crimes from the actual beginning. Simply advertence that racism, absolute and structural, afflicted how the Atlanta adolescent murders were advised and covered is not enough. The Atlantans abashed and beggared by the adolescent murders of 1979–1981 deserve a absolute investigation.”
A year afterwards the aftermost adventure was released, Atlanta Ambassador Keisha Lance Bottoms appear that the Atlanta Badge Department would reexamine affirmation angry to the murders. Whether Atlanta Monster had any aftereffect on the mayor’s accommodation is debatable. Albright bristles at the association that other, then-upcoming projects absorption on the case—such as the additional analysis of Netflix’s Mindhunter and HBO’s docuseries Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children—might accept abiding the mayor.
“What I do apperceive is that afterwards alert to our podcast, [APD] accepted us admission to all those 60,000 files afore anyone else,” he says. “Before any of these documentaries, afore the columnist appointment that Ambassador Bottoms and the arch of badge had, we looked at those files.”
Emmy Award–winning television announcer Tony Harris has a career that spans 40 years, including six with CNN and three with Al Jazeera America. Afterwards the closing shut bottomward in 2016, Harris was attractive for a new challenge. A few years later, aback iHeartMedia approached his aggregation about hosting the new analysis of Tenderfoot’s Monster podcast, he knew it was aloof the befalling he was attractive for.
Albright capital a acclimatized announcer to booty an analytic adventure into the 2002 assassin shootings in the Washington D.C. area—and Harris, who’d been a account ballast in Baltimore at the time of the shootings, was attractive for a adventure on which he could absorb abounding time. He’d developed weary of the quick-hit advantage dictated by the Trump-dominated 2019 account cycle.
“So abundant of cable account is angry up in ‘panel television’ appropriate now,” Harris says. “How abounding bodies can sit about a lath to altercate the advertisement that the New York Times is doing? There are so abounding belief that are actuality larboard on the sidelines because cable account is bedeviled with Trump.”
To Harris, the ideal counterpoint to that abandoned account aeon was to use a new average like podcasting to arch generational gaps in journalism. “To accept a belvedere area old-head journalists like me and adolescent bodies who are advancing out of journalism schools get an befalling to apprentice how to aftermath deep-dive storytelling is exciting,” he says.
The 15-episode podcast Monster: DC Sniper, which debuted in January and ran through aboriginal April, was amid the best adult of the nine podcasts Tenderfoot has produced. That it bootless to accumulate as abounding downloads as Up and Vanished, Atlanta Monster, To Live and Die in L.A., and, narrowly, 2019’s Monster: The Zodiac Analgesic speaks not to its affection but to the accretion assimilation of the podcast market. (There were 27 percent added podcast episodes appear in 2019 than 2018.) Monster: D.C. Assassin additionally was the aftermost podcast Tenderfoot appear afore the accession of the COVID-19 pandemic, the furnishings of which on the podcast industry abide to be seen. But it still accustomed Tenderfoot to breach new ground.
With Monster: D.C. Sniper, Harris brought his journalistic full-blooded to the table, and Albright was able to admit his ability of podcasting to advice the self-proclaimed “old dog” apprentice new tricks. One example: Albright accomplished Harris on toning bottomward his anchorman articulation and award a added relatable and attenuate approach. But he still capital Harris to feel like he had control. “I try to accord every host the aforementioned artistic abandon that Payne had, because it’s activity to be their voice, their investigation, their case—and I appetence them to feel assured and adequate both in how they’re account their ads and how they allocution about these victims,” Albright says.
Albright was able “to say to me in a actual auspicious way, Look, you got the chops to do it. So, let’s appearance you how to aerate your chops in this space, and in affectionate storytelling,” Harris says. “Not abounding bodies are accommodating to footfall up and accord you that affectionate of apprenticeship and assignment with you to that extent.”
That willingness, Harris says, will ultimately acquire alike greater rewards. “I anticipate it’s aloof the alpha for them,” he says of Tenderfoot. “I will additionally say this: They’re one of the teams that’s activity to accomplish Atlanta a absolute hub for podcasting.”
Back in the appointment allowance at Industrious, Albright’s buzz was buzzing. He was in the bosom of talks about abeyant projects with This Is Us brilliant Milo Ventimiglia, Insecure‘s Rae (that one afterwards got green-lit), and hip-hop announcer and radio vet Sway. Albright says he’s additionally had actual apart discussions with André 3000’s administrator about accomplishing something.
Creatively, Albright is in a groove. The Up and Vanished docuseries on Oxygen, hosted by Lindsey, premiered in February, with anniversary adventure featuring a altered missing-person case. In June, Albright and Lindsey launched new episodes of their 2019 fact-fiction amalgam show, Radio Rental, a accord with Rainn Wilson in which real-life abhorrence belief are anecdotal by a fabricated video-store clerk. Tenderfoot TV is alive on new podcasts with iHeartRadio, including one that address through mountains of archival actual on the activity of Martin Luther King Jr., and is ablution a agreeable affiliation with Amazon’s Audible.
Albright says there accept been offers to buy Tenderfoot TV, but they’re not actively aggravating to sell. “The end bold is buying and control—either accepting complete ascendancy or collective ascendancy but never to be alive for anyone,” he says. “If we’re a accomplice with an alone or if it’s a $100-million company, I appetence to be looked at as an equal, not as an employee.”
Of course, abounding of Tenderfoot’s admirable affairs accept been somewhat choleric by the pandemic. Field assembly has been cut back, and advertisers are abandonment buys until afterwards in the year and into 2021. As far as audience, Albright suspects there’s beneath of an appetence for belief about annihilation and commotion aback it feels like the apple is abutting an adventure of The Walking Dead. As of June, it seemed there was bound appetence for annihilation different to COVID-19, ancestral justice, and the presidential election. “We’re competing, not aloof with the accepted podcast market,” Albright says, “but with actual topical, news-related podcasts.”
Still, Tenderfoot’s nine-person agents charcoal intact; Albright says he doesn’t apprehend any layoffs or furloughs. They’re accepting discussions about award a new workspace—outside of a coworking environment—when the time comes to acknowledgment to an office, because they charge added space. On a claimed level, alive from home has been boxy on Albright, a ancestor of two, who has a babe with autism spectrum disorder.
Beyond his assignment with Tenderfoot, Albright is accidental as abundant as he can to the beyond podcast community. He was acutely affianced in the accumulation of the Podcast Academy, a civic alignment adherent to acquainted excellence, establishing best practices, and alms networking opportunities for podcasters. As a founding lath affiliate and vice-chairperson, Albright has been acute in bringing calm ambitious minds and podcast leaders in an accomplishment to actualize added opportunities for those with an absorption in the craft.
His captivation in the organization, whose lath of governors includes Apple’s all-around arch of podcasts and Spotify’s arch of studios and video, additionally gives him addition befalling to advertising his hometown on the civic stage. “Atlanta has the belief and the bodies here,” he says. “This is the artistic hub. It’s not aloof music, not aloof film, but podcasting as well.”
Albright’s music-scene mentor, Lee, has watched his abrupt ascent in the podcast realm—and marveled at the actuality that Albright is now a coach himself.
“I alarm him the Black Podfather,” Lee says. “It’s absorbing to apprehend him allocution about the podcast world, because he knew annihilation about it in 2016—and now, he’s allowance appearance it.”
This commodity appears in our August 2020 issue.
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