[Harry: This is Part 3 of our ongoing series, Behind the Scenes. You can get caught up here withÂ Part 1 – Choosing the Labyrinth and Part 2 – What is Life Without Growing Pains? to get the full story.
I would not be doing what I'm doing right now if my brother didn't start a podcast with his best friend 4 years ago.
Every Saturday morning I would sit outside on my back deck with my dogs and coffee, and excitedly press play on That'll Play. I loved hearing my brother doing something creative and thoughtful that I could participate in just by being a listener. And I was an active listener.
I would text my brother before I listened, telling him I was going to “live tweet” it – and I always did. For some reason, even though I was a veteran podcast fan, it did not occur to me that I may be the only one listening at that exact moment; I was tweeting, and That'll Play was responding, and I was loving every second of it. They would talk about topics that were really representative of everything I knew to be a part of my brother's intellectual consciousness – mostly film, music, and technology – but they would involve their friends and acquaintances who were working in these fields in order bring a personal, human quality to the production. And it worked. And I wanted to be involved.
When I was asked to be a guest on the show, I literally reacted as if I was going to be on Meet the Press. The reality was that I was asked to talk about the entire first season of Lost, and in order to do that I needed to re-watch the season (I was already in the middle of it) and write a lot of notes…and then send them to my brother so that he could make more notes and compare them to his own. *Insert heavenly angelic voices here.*
When I talked to my brother about what originally compelled him to start the show, he explained that at the time he had been listening to Professor Blastoff every week for about a year, and he loved the combination of friends talking about topics that interested them with comedic elements thrown into it as well. Their format reminded him of the way he would approach a topic, and it was refreshing to be able to tune in each week to new episodes of show that replicated the kind of conversation he wanted to have. At the same time, he was working in a job that left little outlet for the creativity that had always propelled him since he was young. At some point he started to mention the idea to his friend John, who was also looking for something new to dive into, and the seeds of That'll Play were planted.
It didn't take long for the benefits of podcasting to be revealed. Matt admits that suddenly,
“Every week I knew I had something to look forward to that I created myself.”
Additionally, he was learning about an industry he didn't have much experience with before, and the rewards of this only continued to manifest. For example, maintaining their brand name was something he learned well from podcasting that was instrumental in helping him become more proficient in his career as a graphic designer. He was introduced to the web of social media and admits “learning how to manage that was something that was new,” and that it challenged him to focus his attention on branding.
Aside from the obvious pay-offs as a form of expression and intellectual discovery, Matt's life resonated as a result of starting his podcast. He credits everything from confidence and vocal improvement, to a new job and promotion to the dedication he had to have as a podcaster. When I started to reach out into the field and look for ways I could get involved, the first people I turned to were those I had made contact with through my brother's show — and that ended in 2015. When I told him I had made contact with Harry (founder of FullCast), I had to explain the web of people – who I only knew about through That'll Play – that had let me to that connection last October. I think he was surprised I had kept in contact with these people, because, after all, it wasn't even my podcast. But like I said, I was a dedicated listener. And it paid off.
Matt and John stopped doing their show after a little over a year because the planning and process became too much of a regular commitment, and I know that if my brother was going to continue to put something out like that, he was going to want it to be consistent and maintain high standards in content and production. So, as countless creatives discover, if you don't have the ability to commit whole-heartedly, then it's best to draw it to its conclusion.
This month, Harry celebrated his 4 year anniversary of starting Podcast Junkies. Towards the end of an emotional anniversary episode, in which he walked around his neighborhood, recording as he went, Harry admits,
“My life has been transformed by podcasting.”
On his walk, Harry reflected on the guests he's had over the years, the friends he's made, the topics he would never have gotten to discuss and, in some cases, would never have even known about if it weren't for his job as host of the most meta of of all things meta: a podcast about podcasters featuring podcasters. It was refreshing listening to him be so raw and really let the emotion of this moment in time wash over him. I imagine that as a podcast “authority,” someone like Harry can become almost indistinguishable from planning and structuring and scheduling. But the beauty in podcasting is so often found in the simple ways we choose to connect to our audience over and over again, re-defining our roles as hosts and transforming ourselves into real characters in people's lives.
When I think about how my own life has been transformed by podcasting I can't help but connect the dots in my past to form a picture of an introvert with a fire to be involved in something big.
I started listening to All Things Considered on iTunes probably 11 years ago, when I discovered that you could get podcasts on iTunes on your laptop. And they were free. I didn't have an iPod, so this was a big deal to someone who spent a good amount of time listening to stuff and drinking tea. From there I found All Songs Considered and various other NPR radio-turned-podcasts that were exciting avenues for consuming material, but it took me awhile to think about podcasts as a regular part of my day because I had to go out of my way to think about them and retrieve them. I would remember they existed and search for a bunch of topics and “subscribe” to whatever resulted, but I did not have a great track record of actually listening to them.
Fast forward a year or so and you find me watching Vlogbrothers with my 11th graders and obsessing over this method of information exchange that involves such carefully-crafted humor that is, at the same time, punched with spontaneity and genuine interest in the world and the way it works and doesn't work. In a huge, huge way, John and Hank Green talking to each other across America introduced me to a form of communication that could transcend the boundaries of journalism and radio…because it wasn't either. And in some way that experience shaped the way I consumed audio, despite the fact that it was a vlog on YouTube.
John Green in the latest Vlogbrothers video. The project-turned channel-turned movement just celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017.
Okay, I know it may sound like I have veered a bit in the wrong direction, but the chain of events that begins with the humor and intelligence of Vlogbrothers leads to an unearthing of the world of comedy podcasting. And when my brother had David Huntsberger on his show in 2015, that world exploded. I saw immediate connections between what he was doing on Professor Blastoff, what my brother was creating with That'll Play, and what John and Hank had been cultivating for more than 8 years already on YouTube.
There was a whole universe of people interested in opening dialogues and inviting talented friends and strangers together to form communities and make cool stuff. These were the communities that became the voices in in my car, in my kitchen, and on my laptop in the form of message boards and tweets. These were the communities that introduced an English teacher from Long Island, NY to the type of work she would love to be a part of, because podcasting combined everything she loved: the spoken word, intelligent comedy, intelligent conversation, an endlessly malleable format, and always room for spontaneity.
Now helping to produce up to 10 shows a week, and approaching the launch of my own first podcast, I can say that podcasting has given me a “green light beyond the green light” – the chance to construct something out of nothing, and to brand a community of friends around the things you love to talk about the most.
Now it's your turn: What podcasts have had an impact on you or have changed the way you think or respond to the world? If you host a podcast, how has the medium helped to mold your sense of creativity?
Listen to my original appearance onÂ That'll Play with Matt and John:Â