Yesterday morning I listened to Myke Hurley and Casey Liss on their brand new show
Bionic Bonanza The Casey and Myke Variety Power Hour Analog(ue). The show is ostensibly about the human side of tech podcasts, and therefore, it is kind of experimental. Myke had Casey on as a guest on a similarly themed episode of CMD+Space many months ago. Strangely, I have elements that I find I can now identify with more directly — it’s like their launch experiences are analogous to my own. Huh.
Casey discusses the fear, and uncertainty he had about the launch of Neutral, the show that propelled him from a relatively unknown, to a slightly more well-known unknown. Casey talked about fears that surrounded that launch. When he kept checking his phone while he was with his wife, Erin. He couldn’t believe it.
similarly analogously, relayed the story behind his announcement that he was leaving the 5by5 Podcast Network. He was filled with abject terror. What would people think of the move he was making? Would people be upset with him? Would people be happy for him? Each second, each minute that passed built more tension for him because he received no immediate feedback.
Dan and I had recorded a bunch of
Skype calls podcasts that we never released. Some of them, Dan and I just outright trashed. We had no real concept originally, a different configuration of hosts until timing became uncertain, and we had tried to start the show in different ways. At the conclusion of a short freelance project, I was feeling tapped out, creatively unfulfilled, and I wanted to actually do it for real this time. We had something that was mostly useable. We managed to speak to one another in a fashion that we could stomach listening back to. Dan still edited out some stray conversation threads, and trimmed some of the start and end. The result sounds pretty natural, and I do understand the desire to just put up raw audio, that it is more pure, and truthful, but a little primping never hurt anyone.
The problem was that while Dan was editing, I was terrified about two things. Firstly, I was scared that he was putting in effort in to editing something that we wouldn’t like when we listened back, a total waste. Secondly, I was petrified about what to do if it was good. I never had a scenario in which it was mind-blowing, but I thought good-enough was a possibility.
When Dan sent me the file, I knew it was good enough. Not like in a settling for it kind of way, but in a “I would put my name on this” kind of way. I can’t call it pride exactly, but I had a firm enough opinion that Dan and I were worth listening to this one time. If we didn’t release it, then we’d never know if we were worth listening to a second time.
Dan and I fussed over a few tiny things, then Dan made the website with Squarespace. We had no idea what to call it though. We never got far enough to give what we were doing a name because we never had confidence. We bounced ideas around for a few hours. Obviously, we had a VFX nerd bent to it, but we also talked about movies and Dan’s opinions on iOS note-taking apps (LOL). In the end, the VFX-ness won out and we called it “Defocused”.
Dan and I bounced ideas off one another for the album art, the logo. Dan wanted to use a colorful test pattern, and I wanted to use a 3D rendering of 3D text with a very tight depth-of-field effect from the “O”. Dan put the two together and hazed out the background, and that was the show art. Simple, and pretty literal.
It was all set. There were no more excuses.
Dan and I were faced with the interesting problem of not knowing when to launch it. Time mattered. Ideally, we’d try to stick to whatever day and time we started off with. It has been said that consistency is hugely important for blogs, podcasts, web comics, etc. People want to know when their episode will be there.
However, I was also terrified of launching in broad daylight. I was worried we’d either get totally crushed in the Eastern Time Zone Daily Tweet Deluge, or we’d be totally unnoticed. Naturally, we launched in the middle of the night. I had been releasing a few, blog posts around that time, and it felt kind of safe. Dan and I thought the late hour would give us a chance to get some slow feedback, and to tweet about it some more during the day if things seemed positive.
I couldn’t sleep. I was in bed, my iPhone in my hand, refreshing and refreshing Twitter, and my earbuds in, listening to the episode for the second or third time to make sure there wasn’t a reason to pull it. I’d go to Tweetbot, then back to Twitter, and then I’d go find the show’s account and see if it had mentions. Now that I had launched it, I found that I was in the same situation as Myke and Casey — That moment of paralysis that seems to last forever when you don’t know if you did something you will regret.
I was mulling over this terror when Myke tweeted that he listened to it and retweeted the show to the gajillion people that follow him.
Here I was, lying in bed, eyes wide, heart racing. Was Myke just being nice? He really liked it? What if he did like it, but only because he talks to us on Twitter? What if all those people that would see his retweet would go in to our episode expecting a Myke Hurley podcast? Neither Dan, nor I, are Myke-esque in any way.
Most importantly, what did this mean for the second episode? God, now we were really in the shit; we had to make more than one for sure.
Dan and I pelted each other with “OMG” messages of disbelief until I started to notice tweets trailing off. I fell asleep at some point then. I woke up a few hours later, and checked twitter in a panic. Then again. I basically have not had a solid night’s worth of sleep on any of the night’s we have launched an episode. This terror and uncertainty keeps waking me up. What if my server I host the file on goes down? No one can fix it but me. What if I lose people because of that?
This is a lot of stress for something that provides no commercial value to Dan, nor myself. We continue to do this because it is fun. The adrenaline hit of panic is fun in a demented way. After it all dies down, and you see those few tweets that someone liked a thing you did, you’re on a high. It’s like skydiving, or bungie jumping (I refuse to do either of those, they seem dangerous). Every time some hugely important podcast person says something to me, I am arrested with uncertainty, and gratitude.
There are different forms of feedback you can get over Twitter. Someone will favorite a thing, they will retweet a thing, they will reply back to you, and they can also follow you. I don’t formulate tweets specifically with any of those outcomes in mind. If I merely get a chuckle that I never know about, that’s fine. However, I live in abject terror of being followed by someone I respect. Someone that has my genuine respect will see everything I say. I see the follow notification, I get excited that they like me, and then I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that they will utterly regret their decision to follow me once they see my nonsense. That the quantum waveform will collapse, and the cat in the box will be dead. I guess I’m just a positive-thinkin’ kind of guy.
Podcasts don’t even give you that level of interaction. Sure, people will interact with the show account Dan runs, or they will message Dan and me directly, but that’s not really a guaranteed outcome. When I look at feeds, or file access rates, or any of that, I see that most listeners are made of dark matter. I can observe their effects, but I have no idea who they are, or what they like about the show. Where are you, silent listeners?
This is very similar to the gap Myke describes where there’s no feedback, the feeling that maybe no one cares, only in a certain way, I can see that they care enough to have subscribed and have not unsubscribed yet. It is strange to think of the enormous chasm between observation and interaction. Surely, I admit that I am vain enough to care what people I’ve never met think, and I’m sure I care enough about what a random, important listener might think.
An interesting dynamic came a few weeks ago with the launch of Overcast. The recommendation system linked to Twitter was a new and innovative approach to looking for podcasts to listen to. It’s also a great way to spy on the people you follow to see if anyone of them are recommending your show. (Sorry guys, I’m spying out of love.) That recommendation isn’t sent to the podcaster, it isn’t available on a leaderboard, it isn’t a graph widget, it isn’t an analytics package for purchase, it is just a small way to see if someone you follow likes you enough to think other people should check you out.
Hopefully, Dan and I will continue to improve at this, and it will start to feel very natural. Maybe I’ll get some more sleep when these go up Wednesdays. I’d like to keep receiving slow, steady, positive feedback. There’s no anxiety if everything’s easy-peasy.
There’s another part of me that wants to keep experiencing this adrenaline hit. To see a rapid expansion of listeners. To do new, unexpected things with the show. To have some cray-cray success that overfills my inbox with compliments.
That’s not a healthy, sustainable impulse, and maybe it’s a sin to secretly want that? Damn it, why couldn’t Casey and Myke have talked about that part?! Way to leave me high and dry here, fellas! I guess I’ll just have to tune in next week.