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Inside Podcasting

Inside Podcasting (Aug 21st, 2019)

Dear Readers, 

The second episode of Inside Podcasting is live! In it, Everything is Alive creator Ian Chillag and I discuss:

  • What it's like when Terry Gross drops an F-bomb;
  • How he casts people to play the part of inanimate objects;
  • How he prepared (or not) for a scene with a pregnancy test;
  • What it's like to be part of the Radiotopia network;
  • The actual work of making podcasts;
  • The concept of "podcast flavor." 

Today's newsletter includes a few more updates/insights/quotes from Podcast Movement and an excerpt from my interview with Ian. Enjoy!

Skye

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An excerpt from Ear Hustle's keynote at Podcast Movement last week.

Ear Hustle "brings you the hidden stories of life inside prison, told and produced from the perspective of those who live it." This has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Ear Hustle executive producer Julie Shapiro: Did you know what a podcast was [before making the show]?

Co-producer Earlonne Woods: No I didn’t. I don’t think anyone in [prison] knew what it was.

In 2016 co-producers Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods entered their show into Radiotopia's Podquest podcast contest

EW: When we entered we were like, hmmm, are we gonna win?

NP: We were competing with people who really knew what they were doing!

EW: Hey, we knew what we was doing! [laughter]

NP: [San Quentin Prison Public Information Officer Lt.] Sam Robinson later told us that he let us apply because he didn’t think we would win. [laughter] 

[Writer's note: After the keynote, Nigel told me that Sam now loves the show.]

Out of 1537 entries, Ear Hustle won the competition. During this keynote, the team played a clip of their entry. 

JS: What do you think when you hear [what you submitted to the competition] now?

EW: Winner! [laughter]

NP: I hear all the faults, but also the things I love about Ear Hustle.

JS: It was a small team back then.

NP: Printing something, it could take us an hour to do that. You're no one’s priority. You just have to stay in the moment and keep your cool. 

JS: There were also times when the prison was on lockdown.

NP: Or inmates would get transferred and you couldn't finish the interview.

JS: What are some of your favorite episodes?

EW: "Going home." [applause]

NP: We assumed when Earlonne got released it would be easier but it’s more complicated. It’s much easier to track people down on the inside. No one calls 20 minutes before and says, oh we have to cancel.

JS: What next for Ear Hustle?

EW: We’re headed to Italy, we’re going to other prisons, and women’s prisons.

** Want more Ear Hustle? Check out this August 12 piece from SF Chronicle. **

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Excerpt from keynote conversation with Guy Raz and Reza Aslan at Podcast Movement 2019.

Guy hosts multiple shows including NPR's How I Built This, Wow in the World, and Luminary's Wisdom from the Top. Reza will soon host a new show on Luminary. This has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Guy Raz: I’m a big believer in luck. I left the newsroom at NPR, I was a news anchor and I didn’t want to do the news anymore. I didn’t feel I was making a contribution; my horizon was kind of limited. When I left, we got lucky. We rode the wave that Serial had pushed out. I didn’t have a vision — I thought I was going into exile when I left news. 

Reza Aslan: Was NPR aware of how the landscape was shifting?

GR: Not really. Public radio is a different beast. We depend on listeners. But public radio was really well-placed. How I Built This was a project I’d thought about for a long time. Here was an opportunity to try it out. The stakes were lower.

GR: How did your new show come about?

RA: It's with Rainn Wilson [Dwight Schrute from The Office]. We’re interested in life’s big questions. Ridiculous questions that take us deep into the night. We thought — we should do this for an audience. And how can we get our hands on some of that sweet, sweet podcast cash!? [laughter] Podcasts are now the staging ground for new ideas...in Hollywood podcasts are now just referred to as IP play....In Hollywood, after you pitch a story, now they say: "go do this as a podcast and then come back to us." My path was different. I called the president a piece of s**t (in my defense, he is a piece of s**t), but then all these other opportunities went away from me — no more invitations from NPR, CNN, MSNBC [Aslan is a well-known author and occasional TV commentator]. We have a problem with gatekeepers in this business. Transitioning into podcasts, for me, was a way to break through those gatekeepers. Guy, you were trained as a journalist. You have ethical boundaries. You are civil. How much of that is who you are, and how much is golden handcuffs?

GR: I understand what happened with CNN, and how painful that was [for you]. For most listeners, whether it’s me or Sam Sanders, we represent NPR in their minds. You have to operate out of respect for that. That being said, the way we approach our shows is identical, when we do Wisdom From the Top, the rigor is identical to what I do on How I Built This. For example, if someone I interview says he left a company in 2012 and it turns out he left in 2011, we have to take that out. [Question from Skye: Did Guy just dodge the question? Write back and tell me what you think.]

GR: Why Luminary?

RA: There was a time when cable started and people were like, wait I have to pay for TV? This is ridiculous. No one thinks that way anymore. I understand that it's a shift — but if this is a business...right now the payoff is so small. Unless it’s a passion project, you want to feel like your time is worth something. Rainn and me realized that if we were going to stop everything else and create thirty of these episodes, we felt we should be compensated for it.

GR: [Luminary] is very pro-creator...They’ve shown that there is serious interest in what we’re doing. We are going to have Netflix and an HBO, and an NBC — now we will have all the options. It’ll be good for us. [Skye note: I think he means for the industry as a whole.] And it has been a gift, to have the freedom and time to do a show that we’re really proud of.

RA: What's your advice for podcasters?

GR: People have 14 hours in the day. Most of that time is spent working, commuting, kids. You are asking people to give you one hour of their day. If you are asking people for that time, you have to deliver something that they can walk away from, saying it was worth my time, it improved my day. 

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Additional Podcast Movement recapping:

  • ABC Audio Studios' Kellie Riordan put together a fabulous Twitter thread of pictures that convey what she learned at the event. It's an informative and enjoyable scroll (one of Kellie's pics below). 
  • Artist and "budding voice actor" Erin M. Speckley compiled a Google doc that includes links to numerous live tweet streams, primarily (or maybe entirely) from the Audio Fiction track. The list includes streams from critics and creators including Elena Fernández Collins, Wil Williams, T.H. Ponders, Gavin Gaddis and Tau Zaman. It's organized by panel and author. It's a treasure trove of great content and according to her Twitter, she plans to continue updating it.
  • Evo Terra released a day-by-day series of short episodes about the event, as part of his Podcast Pontifications podcast. The installments are numbered 211 through 211E. 
  • Across the board, I heard good things about Amy Woods' session on repurposing your podcast content. Here's a link to her website, which offers useful information on this topic. 
  • Attendees share their favorite things in this official Podcast Movement video. It delivers the feels.
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Excerpt from my interview with Everything is Alive creator Ian Chillag.

Listen to the full episode here. 

Ian: I went and started volunteering at WHYY in Philadelphia where I worked on a show called Been There Done That, which was a public radio show aimed directly at baby boomers — as if every public radio show was not aimed directly at baby boomers.  I was 21, 22 years old producing segments like The Colonoscopy Special.

Skye: The what?  I’m sorry?

Ian: The Colonoscopy Special, which was a live recording of a colonoscopy.

Skye: Oh.  Wow. What was that?

Ian: Mostly it was a lot of – moaning was the main sound that came across.

Skye: What a strange job for you to have in your early 20s.

Ian: Yeah.  Totally.  It was great though.  I mean, it was great because the producer I worked with was really open to me trying weird things. Also, maybe because I wasn’t the audience, and the audience wasn’t that big, I didn’t feel like there were consequences for doing weird things. It didn’t really feel to me like anybody was ever going to hear it. It was a good place to explore, I guess.

Skye: Take risks.

Ian: Yeah.  Just sort of – it feels like finger painting.

Skye: I like that metaphor.

Ian: Yeah.  I think that’s what it felt like. Being at WHYY – for some reason Danny Miller, the executive producer of Fresh Air – there was a job opened up and he asked me if I wanted to apply for it. I don’t know what he saw in me. I was probably a pretty obnoxious young producer. But, I got that job. That was wonderful. My time there was really great.

Skye: Can I ask you – because, and I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but I’m such a – I mean, Terry’s a hero of mine.  What was it like to work with her?

Ian: She’s the best.  

Skye: I knew you were going to say that.

Ian: I think sometimes people want there to be a dark side.

Skye: Oh no. I don’t. I want her to be perfect.

Ian: I can tell you there’s no dark side. I can tell you the one thing – being a fan of hers for as long as I was before I started working there. You never hear her curse on the radio. The first time you hear an F-bomb come out of Terry Gross’ mouth in Terry Gross’ voice – it’s like as bizarre as if your cat said it. It’s like – that doesn’t belong there.

Skye: Yeah. I can see that.

Ian: She and Danny were both – and everybody there, really – were just so generous. It was a really great place to be, and a great place to learn.

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This newsletter was written and curated by podcast junkie and recovered publicist, Skye Pillsbury. Over the years, Skye has crafted digital media strategies for brands like Yahoo! and Microsoft and worked regularly with media outlets such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone and NPR. Skye was famous for 49 minutes when she and her son were featured in an episode of Gimlet Media’s Heavyweight podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SkyePillsbury.

Editor: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).

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