I haven’t made a new podcast episode since August. It’s not just that I’m being lazy, although that’s sometimes true. Instead, I’m evaluating whether podcasting is a good investment of my time right now.
What I have to say here is mostly about me, so it might not be valuable for many others. Read on only if you’re a creator yourself or if you’re curious what’s going on in my creative world. For others, it might be too much “inside baseball.”
I’d been wanting to try podcasting for close to 15 years, so it was a big deal when I launched my first weekly show in January. For about three months, I did a show each week and I learned a lot. But the arrival of the pandemic and the public crisis it created seemed to make my content out of place for the public mood.
So I pivoted by ending the first season and launching another show, one that would give me wider latitude to cover broader topics. I made seven episodes before I put things on hold to think about what I’m doing.
And the truth is that I’m debating what things to focus on right now — and I wonder whether podcasting will ever be more than ego satisfaction for me. At least anytime soon.
I want to be among the best at anything I attempt to do, at least if it’s something I make for an audience, as opposed to something I make purely for myself. And here’s how I see what I’ve done so far in podcasting.
I’m not terrible at it. I’m also not naturally talented enough — or technically proficient enough — right out of the gate that I can consistently make something I’m proud of. I’ve been doing something at the level of a student — sometimes high school and sometimes college. But it’s nowhere close to professional. It’s nowhere close to being good enough to attract the sort of audience that would make it worth the investment of time required.
I’m not just being too hard on myself. I’m just being honest with my evaluation.
It would be a lot simpler to do some sort of interview show, and I suspect I would be more entertaining that way. I’m a good interviewer — especially since I had long experience drawing things out of people for newspaper features — but I haven’t been interested in doing that sort of show.
I wanted to do a scripted show, because that’s the sort of thing that allows a creator to control the message and carefully craft a message. It’s also a lot more difficult to do well. If I worked at it long enough, I think I could become good at it. I would get better with recording and editing technique. I would get better at my performance. I would get better at writing for a radio-type audience.
But I’m questioning whether the investment of time and resources would create something that could attract an audience to make it worth the investment. And I’m questioning whether I could be using the time and resources for other creative projects that would more easily meet my goal of creating good art.
Most podcasts are purely ego gratification for their creators. If you’re making something simply because you enjoy making the work — and you don’t care whether it’s good enough or whether there’s a sufficient audience for it — there’s nothing wrong with that.
When the typical person goes to one of these art evenings with friends — the ones at which people sit around drinking wine and painting some generic art that everybody is copying — he or she is doing it simply to have fun with friends. There’s no thought of making real art or of influencing the world through creating something new and original. There’s no intention of finding a market for the work.
My intention for my work isn’t like that. I have no interest in making something generic. I have no desire to just satisfy my ego and have something to hang on my metaphorical wall. I want to make things that express what I need to say — in ways that connect with a larger audience and give me some commercial success.
If you want to make art — real art of the sort that influences people — you have to avoid ego trips and you also have to avoid propaganda. What does that mean?
If I make a podcast that isn’t good enough by my own standards — and which isn’t heard by more than a few hundred people — it’s basically just an ego trip that lets me brag to people that I have a podcast. It lets me point to something with pride, as long as I ignore the fact that it’s not good enough and it’s reaching a tiny audience.
On the other hand, if I make something that’s nothing but heavy-handed preaching for political or social ideas — in ways that simply “preach to the choir” of those who already agree — that’s propaganda. Advertising and marketing are propaganda in their own ways, but at least everybody understands that you’re representing a viewpoint because you’re being paid to do so.
Most work of this sort is terrible. The disgusting thing is that the people who already agree with such propaganda tell you it’s great, because they love seeing work that agrees with them. Almost every work made to promote political or religious positions is ultimately like this.
(I’d like to deal more with political and religious propaganda and explain why it’s a waste of money and creative talent, but I don’t have room here. I need to come back to that, because understanding that is important to understanding why I’m not interested in making creative works of that sort, even the ones I might tend to agree with.)
I am extremely confident of the ideas I’d like to promote at this point in my life. I’m aware that the ideas I want to explore make me a heretic for most of mainstream culture. But I don’t want to be a street-corner preacher, screaming at an audience that would rather heckle him. I’d like to make art that allows some people to be entertained but find themselves feeling something they didn’t feel before — and quietly thinking, “I’d never thought of it that way before.”
Maybe I’ll decide it’s worth the time and investment to become a first-class audio producer and performer. So I might be back to producing new episodes of my two experimental shows. I might figure out a way to be good enough at it that I can attract an audience and influence culture.
Or I might not.
I’ve been thinking seriously about several potential film projects lately. If I get serious about pursuing those, it just might be that I need to focus entirely on film. Right now, my thoughts are on a fairly easy short film, then a considerably more difficult short film and then a feature that I’ve been wanting to make for years.
Pursuing that path is a very tall order. Not only would it be a lot of work — while I continue to make a living doing things I don’t want to do — but I’d have to stretch myself creatively and solve a lot of time-consuming problems. If I do that, I don’t have time for ego projects, so I might not have time for podcasts anytime soon.
Everything in life is a tradeoff — and it might be that making podcasts isn’t a good enough use of my time, at least for the resulting work I’m making.
I noticed a few days ago that my primary podcast app on my iPhone has marked my latest podcast as “inactive.” Since it’s been 90 days or so since my last episode, I decided it would be worth explaining to you what’s going on (and why).
For the few who care enough about my work to keep up with its future direction, that’s what is really going on. Podcasting might be in my future and it might not. But making some form of art is definitely coming. I assume it will be film, but I’m trying to let it evolve naturally.
I want to make good art. I don’t want to make propaganda and I don’t want to make something just for my own ego. Making good art — by my own definitions — is difficult and time-consuming. But life is way too short to waste it on gratifying my own ego.
I’ll let you know more when I figure it all out.