I Love Podcasting But It’s Eating My Life
Last summer I started a new job. There were some great things about it, for instance that it was endlessly interesting, offered something new every week, and allowed me to interact with people I’d long been following and admiring from afar.
The downsides were that it was full-time and paid a monthly salary of exactly U.S. $0. To be precise, it paid a salary of minus a couple hundred U.S. dollars, since there were some expenses to actually doing this job.
I know what you’re wondering. Did I become a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador? (Technically that job pays one dollar per year.) Did I become one of those volunteer ladies who gives tours at historical sites, in full period costume, and says “watch your head in the low doorways; people were shorter back then!”? No, but close. I started a podcast.
Saying you started a podcast in 2020 is like saying you tried ayahuasca in 2016 or joined Facebook in 2009. There is no appropriate response other than “duh, you Basic. Who didn’t?” The only thing that’s a bigger cliché than starting a podcast in 2020 is getting a puppy in 2020, which I also did.
In my defense, I’d been searching for a puppy since well before the pandemic hit and had been wanting to launch a podcast for as long as podcasts have been around. Before that, I aspired to host a talk radio show. Before that — decades before — I’m pretty sure there was a moment when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I (approximately age seven) said “a talk show host, like Dick Cavett.” Thank goodness someone took me aside and said, somberly, “get your head out of the clouds; you need to do something more practical, like become an essayist.”
But last year, in the fourth month of the pandemic, I launched The Unspeakable. Format-wise, the show is pretty simple; just me talking with interesting people about interesting subjects, usually subjects that have been denied their due complexity and therefore rendered, fairly or not, “taboo.” In keeping with the nuance theme I’ve come back to frequently over the last few years — stand by for coffee mugs that say “Nuanced AF” — I make a big point of only bringing in guests who are going to offer balanced, thoughtful perspectives and speak from a place of both expertise and curiosity. No ideologues or social media panderers. No one on solely to shill for their latest project, either.
So far, the venture has been a success — at least in a quiet, boutiquey, I loved that band before anyone heard of them kind of way. Reviews are enthusiastic, downloads are robust, and publicists deluge me with pitches for me completely inappropriate guests. Best of all, listeners seem to be digging my fusty, hopelessly unTikTok-y vibe — at least the listener who wrote and said “you’re like Rachel Maddow and Terry Gross but more in a Dick Cavett/Walter Lippmann kind of way.” What more could you ask for? (Lippman, a legendary political thinker who was most active during the first half the of the twentieth century, never hosted a talk show. He did, however, make famous statements like, “every truly civilized and enlightened man is conservative and liberal and progressive,” which is the kind of thing I might say on Twitter and then wish I hadn’t.)
Anyway . . . such esteemed company! What more could you want? Well, at least 20 more hours in the week, for starters. The thing about full-time unpaid jobs is that usually you can only do them if you also do continue to do your full-time paid job — or in my case assortment of freelance gigs that, altogether, require more hours than most full-time jobs and don’t even offer benefits. (Lesson from last week, kids: do something other than writing.) Since starting the podcast, I’ve worked every single weekend and been up late in front of the computer just about every night of the week. I realize that’s not saying much, since the pandemic means there’s nowhere to go on evenings and weekends anyway. But between this new project, my regular ongoing projects, and getting in my recommended daily allowance of Twitter doom scrolling (four hours, unless you supplement with cable news watching, which can have gastrointestinal effects) I wouldn’t have time for socializing even if there was still such a thing still existed.
And then there’s the dog factor. You know what Rachel Maddow, Terry Gross and Dick Cavett presumably never had to worry about? Dogs barking in the middle of their interviews.
As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I have a very young, very enormous dog named Hugo. Getting ready for a podcast interview doesn’t just mean reading up on guests, preparing questions, and praying that the guests don’t sound like they’re speaking through a walkie talkie (when you’re recording remotely, this is always a crapshoot). It means ensuring that Hugo is sufficiently tired during recording sessions. When I started the podcast, he was five months old and had a taste for electronics. During one interview, he chewed the ethernet cable and brought the whole connection crashing down. During another, my computer abruptly shut down because he’d apparently devoured the power cord while it was plugged into the wall. (In case you’re wondering, he was also a vocal opponent of crate training, which is to say he became extremely vocal upon being confined to a crate.)
These days, we have a routine. If I can’t schedule an interview so it starts soon after Hugo has a long excursion, I keep a bag of bully sticks close at hand. Hugo is wise to this, of course. Unless he’s exhausted and passed out on the floor like a rug (he is roughly the length of the living room rug) he’ll see me put on the headphones and then stand next to my desk waiting for his giant, vile smelling pacifier, which he will take into he next room and devour within ten minutes, at which point he’ll return for another. (Bully sticks are absurdly expensive, by the way, which makes sense if you know what they actually are.) As a result, a 10am podcast interview means an 8:30 to 9:30am dog walk. This is how the pros do it, folks.
Well, no, this is how the amateurs do it. And since only a tiny fraction of the estimated 1,750,000 podcasts out there actually make money, most of us are amateurs. I set up a Patreon page for The Unspeakable (no, that’s not a hint and I’d never use this sacred space to solicit donations, never!) but I’m a long way from being able to sell Nuanced AF coffee mugs. Not that I’d ever do something an unnuanced as that. On the other hand, Hugo is threatening to start his own podcast: Know Your Bully Stick. He’s already got sponsors lined up, all of them bully stick manufacturers. That’s how the pros do it.