So you want to get into podcasting?
It seems like everyone wants to have a podcast these days, but few are actually aware of how much work and time producing a podcast actually entails. And once you complete a few episodes, simply uploading them to Soundcloud won’t garner much attention because there are just so many. So how does one do podcasting right?
That’s where WERK IT comes in, the only all-women podcasting festival set to take place October 3rd-5th with live tapings from the people who know how to do it properly, like Anna Sale of Death, Sex, and Money.
Before Anna joins the stage with 2 Dope Queens, Niecy Nash, and Alia Shawkat at The Theatre at downtown LA’s Ace Hotel, we got to sit down with her to give us a quick crash course in her formula for podcast production success.
You went from politics to podcasting, can you explain that transition a little bit?
t was a politics reporter for many years, and I realized that I was getting burned out by covering candidates. What I really liked doing was talking to voters. I really liked the conversations I would have with people about what was happening in their lives, and I was getting increasingly frustrated with the sort of disconnect between what I was hearing from voters and then what campaigns and candidates were talking about.
So after I covered the 2012 presidential race and the 2013 mayor’s race in New York City, around that time there was a contest at WNYC–where I work now–for anyone in the building to submit new show ideas. It seemed like this incredible invitation to consider: If I could make my dream show, what would it be? It really grew out of my experiences covering politics because I said, “I want to do a show about the things that are actually happening in our lives, the things that we’re really worrying about, but not talking about openly.” And that was the beginnings of the idea for Death, Sex, and Money.
Amazing, so you ended up winning the contest and that’s how you started working with WNYC?
I was a politics reporter for WNYC, but I transitioned into inventing the show which was awesome.
So you transitioned from a reporter to having your own show? How did you originally come to work with WNYC?
I started working in public radio in West Virginia, where I’m originally from, and then I worked in Connecticut, and then I moved to New York City and was working in WNYC’s newsroom covering politics.
What are some of your duties as managing editor?
Well, it’s sort of just making the show. I work with a great team of producers and together we figure out what we’re excited about and the people we want to talk to, then we schedule interviews, and then we do all the piecing together of the episodes: editing, working with engineers on scoring–doing everything from beginning to end to get an episode up.
Basically you touch all facets of the production.
Yeah. I think what’s been exciting for me, is not only starting the show, but being a host and learning how to be a host–and also being a woman host, realizing how different podcasting is from what I was doing in radio. So much of our show is trying to constantly strengthen and build the relationship with our listeners.
With podcasting it’s really a community that you’re building so everything grows from that. We’re always thinking, “What would surprise our audience now? What is something our listeners are telling us they want to hear more about?” You have total creative free reign because you don’t have any of the constraints of radio so you really can just sort of invent what you’re doing as you do it.
With podcasting, it’s really a community that you’re building so everything grows from that.
People tend to misconstrue how intimate a relationship needs to be with podcast listeners. They aren’t just casually tuning in, it’s more intentional. Listeners need to specifically seek out your program.
Exactly. They have to choose to press “play” so you have to give them a reason to do that.
Can you walk through your creative process for each episode? Does it vary?
We do a couple of different kinds of episodes. We have celebrity guests on our show and so for those episodes, I consume all of their work. I read what they’ve written, what they’ve said about their lives, and then I try to figure it out: “What’s a moment in their life that I’m curious about that I want to hear them say more about?”
Often what I find interesting with celebrities is trying to get concrete details about the mundane details of their lives like, “How does child care work?” Or if they’ve talked about having a drug problem in the past, “What was the first time they did drugs like?” Just trying to get very specific details.
We have an episode coming out this week that’s an interview with a woman who is an admitted shoplifter and we’re just talking to her about how she started shop-lifting, what she gets out of it, and how it fits in with her family’s budget.
The third kind of episode we do, is we’ll ask our listeners these very broad questions. Things like: “Tell us a story about cheating in your relationships” or, “Tell us a story about how student loans are affecting your lives.” It’s been really incredible to see what people have been willing to share with us. So we’ll do these episodes where we sort of stitch together dozens of stories that people have submitted to try to get at some deeper dynamic. Like: What is it about cheating that is so particularly hurtful? How do cheaters describe why they do it? How do people who were betrayed describe how it affects their ability to trust? That kind of thing.
So those three different kinds have very different processes, but at the end, what we’re trying to get is: we’re always looking for that moment of tape that you’re going to remember. Someone putting into words something that you haven’t thought of, but it’s something that you’ve felt in your gut, and you’re hearing something and it’s resonating in a way that you haven’t heard before. That’s what we’re going for.
Can you walk us through all the instrumental members of your team?
We’re a small team. There’s three of us who are full-time on the show: our senior producer Katie Bishop, our associate producer Anabel Bacon, and me. We work with a brilliant engineer who’s a sound designer and musician and he helps us mix the show. We have an editor named Emily Botein, who’s a genius and I love working with her.
We’re a very female-heavy show, there’s a lot of women working on the show and making the show, we’ve also had wonderful interns over the years. One thing that we try to really pay attention to when we’re making the show is: What are we hearing from our listeners? Because we want to make sure that it’s not just our points of view, as the show staff who are setting the priorities for the show. We try to be really thoughtful about doing things that are surprising and outside the realm of what I have experienced, for example, as a white mom who lives in California. I realize I have a very particular lens on the world and we’re always trying to find ways to mix that up.
This is such a seemingly simple concept. Why do you think no one came up with the idea to talk about the socially taboo before you?
Well, I don’t think I’m the first person. I think we have always in books, in poetry, in movies, in literature–this is what we grapple with. We grapple with relationships, we grapple with survival, career, and fear of failure–we grapple with our mortality.
To be honest, when I came up with the show idea, and the show name in particular, I was like, “This kind of sums up everything that I worry about, why isn’t there already this show?” I had the same question, but I thought, there’s something about saying, really clearly: Death, Sex, and Money. Yes, let’s just put it out there and that’s the frame of how we talk about things. We try to understand all the little dynamics of why these three topics can be vexing in our lives in so many different ways.
So I think at once, it’s particular to the moment in that podcasting creates the environment to have a more intimate body conversation than you can have on the radio because you don’t have to deal with restrictions of FCC and things like that. So in that way, I think it was particular to the moment in which we started this, but it’s also this timeless impulse of just trying to understand how other people have dealt with these three things so that we’re not just silently dealing with them in isolation.
You have five star ratings, why do you think that your podcast is so well received?
I’m really proud that people think we make a good show. I think we do make a good show, we spend a lot of time and energy. We want to make a show that feels different and we also want to make a show that feels like it’s an essential part of your life. We want you to feel like the show your companion that you can call up anytime and listen to an episode and find some sense of connection.
I think one thing that was really important when the show started, was one of our first episodes was about a moment when my life was completely in a state of uncertain shambles and it was about whether or not I was going to stay with my boyfriend at the time, I was in my early 30s, feeling freaked out by commitment, I was questioning whether I was going to be able to be a parent.
So early on, our show took the point of view that none of us has this figured out, so let’s figure it out together. And I think that sense of allowing uncertainty and vulnerability to be ok has been something that listeners have responded to. There’s a lot of shows that you can listen to where you’re hearing people tell you what to do, but with our show, we’re instead saying, “Yeah, this is hard! Let’s figure it out together as best we can.”
There are so many podcasts in the world. Is there a secret to making a #1 podcast?
A secret. I wish there were one secret. I think that’s what’s so exciting about right now in podcasting is there’s so many ways you can do this. I think the most essential thing is figuring out what you are trying to give to your listeners that is something different from every other podcast. There’s a competition for listeners now because there are so many podcasts, so I think it’s really important to think clearly about what you’re objective is. And at the same time, make a show that feels sincere and authentic to who you are because you have to establish a relationship with listeners.
You’re asking listeners to put you in their ears when they’re going about their lives–whether they’re on the treadmill or making dinner, or doing whatever–you’re asking to be integrated into their daily routines when there’s a lot of competition for attention. So you want to make sure that that relationship is your utmost priority. So it’s both thinking about what your listeners want, and making sure you’re being sincere and authentic so it doesn’t come off as fake.
I think that’s what’s so exciting about right now in podcasting is there’s so many ways you can do this.
Tickets are available for purchase here.