How Discord unites podcasters, creators, and isolated students

May 27, 2021

Illustration by Deborah Han

Discord, a social media platform for online communities, is creating a new way to create podcasts through servers—invite-only groups where people message and voice-chat about specific topics.

As the pandemic drove an increased desire for community, Discord allowed over 140 million socially distant people to come together from around the world. Students and young adults especially have turned to online spaces like Discord servers, causing spikes in social media use. And while podcast listenership took a dip at the start of the pandemic with fewer people commuting to work, Discord’s unique format has given podcasting new life.

One such example is Corner Store Radio (CSR), a podcast founded by one user, Jayden— the “store owner”— who joined the platform in 2017. The show’s premise lets server members share advice, interests, and other personal narratives. “I’ve always wanted to have a podcast to give people things to relate to. I also just enjoy hearing strangers’ stories because I think that everyone has something to share,” Jayden wrote in an email to the Voice, but requested not to share his last name.

Discord is convenient for recording, especially during the pandemic when meeting in a studio isn’t an option, according to Jayden. “Discord is a great way to build a community. It’s popular and I haven’t seen any other platforms that allow for such a community to be built,” he said.

The idea is that listeners join the server through an invitation link, apply for an interview about a topic and wait to get access to the Corner Store Regular role, where they become a “customer” or interviewee. There are a few predefined topics customers can choose from, but otherwise it’s up to them and creators to decide together.

The recording takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Users join to share their stories about self-image, gender pronouns, spirituality, and confidence. The rules are simple and include nothing inappropriate (swearing is allowed, though), nothing political, no repetitive self-promotion, and no hate.

For Michael Alvarenga, a Discord user who hosts a podcast called “Me and You,” podcasting is about creating a place for teenagers to “relate and learn from others.” He also uses the experience to learn how to build a community, advertise, and become an entrepreneur.

“I want my podcast to help, inspire, and entertain everyone to be their very best,” Michael said of the show where, as the blurb reads, users “talk about life as a normal conversation.”

Nicholas Garbaty (CCT ’23), a masters student at Georgetown, said he uses Discord to remotely keep in touch with his friends from high school and college. “There’s capacity for video chatting, sure, but Discord thrives through its audio channels and text channels which can be customized based on the community’s needs and how much everyone wants to interact,” Garbaty said.

He thinks the platform’s popularity can be extended beyond the pandemic. “Discord can be a great resource for Georgetown students,” Garbaty continued. “One of the toughest things about the pandemic is how hard it’s been to socialize and get to know other students in our cohort. Discord is meant as a social platform, and it gets around the Zoom fatigue that comes from online classes because of how casual the environment is.”

Garbaty also said that Discord has helped “cement the idea” that community-building is necessary for collaborative environments, especially online. “I think Discord has helped remove some of the stigma around online interactions and made me think about how we can further implement this type of technology to better improve online work, education, and social environments.”

During the pandemic, podcasting has required adaptation to new technologies and building pillow fort studios as hosts and creators try to produce their shows from home. “I learned by doing my research,” Alvarenga wrote about how he began his podcast. “I have a server so why not use it.”

Jade Darmawangsa, the YouTuber and CEO of X8 Media from San Luis Obispo, California, uses Discord to connect with her CRE8 community, an online “community of content creators that are trying to build brands and long-term businesses.”

“The idea came when I decided I didn’t like the comment section on social media,” Darmawangsa said. “You can’t meet other people easily.”

Discord offers the chance for her to meet her fans, supporters, and community members—and for her supporters to meet each other. Darmawangsa also sees the future for content creators being about direct connection where CRE8 members build beyond their sphere of influence. “For me it’s Discord,” she added.

As young people and social media platforms change the way we interact with technology and the Internet, podcasts like Corner Store Radio and servers like CRE8 are places that give students at Georgetown and beyond a voice online and help them connect in times of isolation.

Like Garbaty, whose favorite part of Discord is sharing memes with his friends, Jayden also told the Voice that he’s learning that everyone has something to add and wants to keep growing the CSR community. And throughout it all, he wants to keep his podcast casual and “just have fun with it.”

And while the pandemic may be nearing something of an end in the United States, new habits will not disappear right away, offering the chance to continue building digital communities that started online—and finding ways to translate them into the real world.

“I see the future of social media being peer-to-peer,” Darmawangsa said. “It’s like let’s build a community that talks to each other. If your fans can’t talk to each other, it’s not a community.”

Nicholas Budler
Nicholas is a writer from the Communication, Culture, and Technology master's program interested in digital communications, emerging technology, and online communities. He's a slow cyclist, huge turtleneck fan, and avid MEL Magazine reader. He's currently replaying Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic despite being a real adult.

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