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Costa Rica-based podcast shares indie music, laughs

February 1, 2012

Costa Rica has more in common with Canada than one may think. That’s the belief of Corey Coates, who moved six years ago from a small town outside of Toronto to Piedades de Santa Ana, west of the Costa Rican capital. 

“Piedades is a suburb like my hometown in size and in the sense that the community feeling here is very strong,” Coates said.

Between appointments and commutes for his work at a downtown San José language school, Coates has settled into his Costa Rican life and made time to enjoy his longtime hobby. This hobby is formally known as Five Gallon Sound, a small-scale production business named for the amount of bright red paint it once took to paint a Canadian music studio. The focus of Five Gallon Sound is a weekly independent music podcast hosted by Coates and various friends. 

The Costa Rica-based podcast isn’t Coates’ first foray into entertainment. He worked in music production in Canada and had offers to expand his work, but headed to Costa Rica instead.

Now he can be found every Sunday afternoon barbecuing and brainstorming with friends before settling into a nook to broadcast the Five Gallon Podcast. 

“I started doing this for a very specific reason,” Coates said. “There are bands out there that blow my mind every day. I am blown away by how much creation there is.”

Tracks featured on the podcast mainly come from a selection of 1,500 tunes mass-distributed by South by Southwest, the annual music and film festival that attracts thousands of musicians to Austin, Texas. Other songs are used after gaining permission from artists directly.

“Ninety-nine percent of artists think it’s awesome and tell me to go for it,” Coates said. 

Featured artists range from woolly Canadian rock bands to dreamy singer-songwriters and an occasional homage to the Talking Heads. Neither Coates nor the artists earn money from tracks played on the show, but the Five Gallon Podcast helps build fan bases because listeners are exposed to new music for free, which Coates says he believes is best.

“I do this for fun and think people should be able to listen for free. It’s really organic. People stumble across it and tell their friends they should check it out, too,” Coates said. “It’s noncommercial in a commercial framework.”

The show has changed considerably since the first episode aired in 2006. What began as just a podcast has grown to include a blog, chat room and aftershow. Guest hosts and their sometimes zany commentary have also become on-air staples, whether live in the studio or connected via Skype from thousands of miles away.

Listenership is high in Canada and Costa Rica, but countries like Poland and Kuwait have also glimmered in the statistics. Although pleased with the success, Coates said he has stopped monitoring the statistics.

“I stopped looking because if you think there are 1,000 people listening, you’ll alter it. It becomes impure,” he said.

And while Coates hasn’t checked numbers, business developers from the Overseas Radio Network (ORN) have noticed the show’s following. In January, Five Gallon Sound began producing a weekly two-hour podcast as part of the ORN lineup. 

The ORN aims to network independent and expat podcasters around the world. This network will in turn be marketed as a tool for English speakers looking to travel, relocate or invest abroad. Coates’ new show, “This Week in Costa Rica,” launched Jan. 2.

He makes it clear that he enjoys his current roles in broadcasting because they allow for more flexibility than what he calls the “contrived model of creation” in much of the music business elsewhere. He does it for music’s sake, he said, and that’s what has kept the Five Gallon Podcast pushing its way through more than 100 episodes.

“People are getting on board because no one really knows where this is all going,” Coates said.

Listen to Coates’ podcast at www.fivegallonsound.com, Sundays at or near 5:30 p.m.; at www.thisweekincostarica.com, Mondays, 4-6 p.m.; or download the Five Gallon Podcast for free in the iTunes store.

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