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God Is In The Details
What Anna Wintour can teach us about why details matter, regardless of what you produce, plus thoughts on Millennial listeners to public radio…and, we’re hiring!
Welcome to Dispatch #49 of The Audio Insurgent. I have hinted a few times that the 50th dispatch of The Audio Insurgent would mark a turning point–and that’s kind of on track–though I may be able to share some things by Dispatch #51. Still in the works, we’ll see.
For today, I have a collection of items (with some subtle but kinda obvious threads connecting them) that I want to share and clear the decks for next time, #50, which will be tied to some thoughts I’ve had since visiting the annual public radio programmers and content gathering in Philadelphia last month. I can already tell now that #50 is going to be a bit of a humdinger. Look for that next week.
Plus, Magnificent Noise is hiring! Although they are temporary positions, they are both fun projects and just might help some really talented people find a bridge as they look for a longer-term gig.
So let’s get moving…
[TODAY’S FIRST THING: JOBY JOBS AT MAG NOISE] We don’t hire much at Magnificent Noise. We keep a tight circle of staff and contractors who are trained in the way we like to work. But we also like bringing in new people. Both of these jobs are temporary (5 months each) but pay fairly and are fun projects. Both jobs require more production experience than you often see for Associate Producer positions, so while we encourage everyone to apply, please don’t apply unless you meet the qualifications.
Associate Producer: Season 2 of Immaterial (Temporary five-month engagement, 30-40 hours per week, benefits eligible). Will join our production team of Mag Noise staff along with staff from our partner, The Metropolitan Museum of Art to produce episodes for the second season of our acclaimed show Immaterial. Can be remote, but a strong bias towards people in the New York region.
Associate Producer: If/Then (Temporary five-month engagement, 20 hours per week). Will join our production team of Mag Noise staff along with staff from our partner, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, to produce episodes for a new podcast entitled If/Then. Can be remote, but a strong bias towards people in the Bay Area.
Details in both links. Please share widely. These will only stay open for a week.
[TODAY’S SECOND THING: MILLENNIALS AND PUBLIC RADIO] This past summer I did some work on understanding the values and attributes that attract public radio’s current Millennial listeners and givers. I’ve written before about the importance of public radio shifting its focus towards Millennial listeners, who are not only the service’s next generation of core listeners, but, surprisingly, since 2016 have been the largest demographic cohort in public radio’s current audience. (Yet when this largest group of listeners is asked why they don’t listen more, they don't cite podcasts, social media, or other competitors… they say they don’t listen more because public radio “sounds like it is talking to someone else.”)
That work wrapped up last month with a presentation at the annual public radio programmers and content gathering in Philadelphia. We learned a ton of very surprising (and honestly exciting) things about public radio’s Millennial audience and the words they use to describe public radio’s value to them and their communities.
Current published an overview here. You can sign up here to follow along with the project and receive a copy of my PowerPoint deck from PRPD. I believe there is a webinar coming to repeat the session I gave at the conference. When that happens, I’ll post info here.
I think the work has value to anyone who wants to serve news and information programming to Millennials, even far beyond public radio.
[TODAY’S THIRD THING: ME AS PODCAST GUEST…AND HOST] These past few weeks I recorded two episodes of Podcast 360 from The Podcast Academy. The show’s concept is pretty clever. In every episode, a founder of a podcast industry company interviews another founder. The following week, the second founder takes over the host chair and interviews yet another founder of a podcast industry company. Kind of like an on-going baton passing or something like that.
Like all episodes in the series, our episode starts with me sharing “two truths and a lie” before we spoke about the podcast industry. Mine are pretty tough.
This episode is also an example of why sticking to a rigid format isn’t always the right call. Their format starts with the “two truths and a lie,” then Martina asks me three questions and I answer them with a 60-second cap. Then at the end we expand on one of the areas for a few more minutes. All fine… except Martina and I went down a really interesting rabbit hole at the end and had a very deep conversation about maternity leave, of all things, that surprised me and where I said things I’d never thought through or said before, but I felt very strongly about. (As a company, Magnificent Noise had SIX babies born to staff in our first three years, so we know a lot about maternity leave and welcoming back new moms.) But, because it wasn’t part of the format, they ended up sharing none of this exchange, arguably the best part.
[TODAY’S FOURTH THING: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD, BETTER, AND BEST] My friend Saleem Reshamwala sent me something last week that is so incredibly clever, and every creator who has ever been hired to do creative work will feel very seen by this.
It’s a Webby Award-winning documentary project called “One, Ten, One Hundred” where the creative video agency, Sandwich Video, made three versions of a commercial for a fake product, called Soapbox. The first version cost $1,000 to make, the second cost $10k to make, and the third version cost $100k to make. They show all three videos and the difference is, as you would expect, immediately clear to anyone. The $1k video, shot on an iPhone, has handmade graphics, is a bit blown out, mostly filmed outdoors or in natural light, and includes straight screen captures. The $100k is beautifully shot, custom graphics, and utilizes professional actors across a number of scenes. It makes a terrific point about what money buys in creative production. It buys time, it buys details.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I had a conversation with a potential client who wanted the $100k product, but only wanted to pay $1k for it. Because it was possible to make something for $1k, why can’t we just make a $1k version of the $100k thing?!?
If I had those dollars for each of these conversations, I could afford to make a $100k video promoting The Audio Insurgent.
[TODAY’S LAST THING: WHAT ANNA WINTOUR CAN TEACH US ABOUT PODCASTING] There are very few things about me that would strike someone as “old school”... except my love of print newspapers. I know the time is short (reading the Sunday New York Times feels like a digest of everything I’ve read online the previous week), but I plan to enjoy printed newspapers as long as I can. My favorite is actually the weekend edition of the Financial Times (yes, the salmon colored one). It contains some really provocative looks back at the week, great feature writing, and explains finance and business from expert interpreters and analysts. They also have the best book review section of any major news outlet, hands down.
As I was flipping through a few Saturdays ago, I came across a regular feature “Lunch with the FT,” where some notable someone has lunch with an FT writer and talks about…whatever. That week’s subject was Anna Wintour, generally someone I don’t give a lot of thought about. I would have skipped over it, except for the title, “God is in the details.” (Paywall, most likely, sorry.) The article itself wasn’t terribly revealing, but did include this passage when talking about Wintour’s work:
Delegation is not among Wintour’s managerial talents. She is notorious for controlling every last detail of the Met Gala down to the table placements and ingredients on the menu. How has she reconciled that with her expanding duties? “God is in the details,” she replies. “But I am not a creative person. I can’t draw, I can’t sketch, I can’t make anything. I just have to make sure things are being done right.”
I find that framing so fascinating. She sees herself not as a lead creator, but the lead in making sure every detail serves the creative vision. She articulates a vision for the creative work and makes sure everything sticks to that vision. And she’s right–God is in the details. Excellence comes from not having the cleverest idea, but the best execution of ideas of all shapes and sizes.
I think providing this type of thought and attention to detail has become quite lost in the podcast world. A number of years ago, a number of podcast companies (such as Gimlet, for example), built their brand on their ability to care about details–and carry that concern through multiple titles. But for the industry as a whole, that love of fussing over detail got consumed by the interest in scaling and rapid growth–no one had the time to care about the details. Then, as the economy sputtered, forcing podcasting into a period of recalibration, no one had the money to care about the details.
But those who ultimately build the next generation of signature podcast companies and networks will be those who emphasize taste and attention to detail over scale and adherence to a (broken) business model, regardless of the genre or style of work they create. Oddly, the business will work, both creatively and financially, in direct correlation with that passion for getting everything right.
In the podcast appearance I linked to above, Martina asked me about the pursuit of excellence and asked how anyone is able to afford to make exquisite work. I took a bit of exception to the implication that “exquisite work” means labor intensive and costly. Even quick turn-around podcasts can be exquisite. All it takes is for the person working on it to say, “For the limited time I have to work on this, I’m committed to making this the best it can be” and not leaving any loose thread hanging because it is just “good enough.”
I am still surprised, almost every week, to encounter major podcasts and networks where it is clear that no one is listening to how the finished product is presented to its listeners: repetitive ad or promo inserts, mismatched levels, sloppy or missed edits, incorrect audio segments. I say this, and in full disclosure, I have been guilty from time to time of all of these myself. But more often, I make my staff crazy by just taking the time to listen through to something one last time before it publishes, and saying “I know we all want to be done with this and move on, but this section could be a little tighter or neater.”
I love the freedom that comes with not having to have the best idea all the time. And I also love being the person who is thinking honestly about what will delight the listener. I often say to creators that it is hard to expect a listener to care about something if you don’t care. It is hard to imagine how someone is supposed to “love” your work when you don’t put “love” into it.
It’s all in the details. That is where greatness lives.
[COULD WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, PLEASE?]
Listening to: Strange Disciple by Nation of Language (really liked their last album, not immediately sure about this one but figuring it out)
Okay, that’s it for today.
If this was forwarded to you or you read this online, would you mind subscribing?
Make great things. I’ll be listening.