What I miss the most is the company of people who are imperfect. Not dangerous, just imperfect. People who are wide open, blunt, and in some cases, maybe even too brash, but fuck it, that’s who they are. I miss the people who often said “what if” and led me down dark alleys at night…
We have made three major cultural mistakes in Canada. We’ve elevated conceptual art in our schools, and in our museums (where the artist’s concept of a piece is more important than the finished piece itself). We’ve created an unbalanced expectation that our youth…
I took an Uber to a local store today to buy myself a new microscope. An Eritrean man, we started talking about culture and immigration. “You speak Tigrinya, right?”. A huge smile appeared on his face. “You know that?!”, he said. Of course. I’ve known people from all over the world, including Eritrea. I remember what people tell me and I store that in my little ‘bank of stories’ inside my head…
Now that I’m teaching classes in Digital Culture, it’s made me reflect on how my own approach with technology has changed over the years. So, I thought I’d write a personal essay about it.
Unlike most of my other posts that reflect on a personal topic, this time, I’m not going to start with the past. I wanted to start with how I interact with digital culture, right now. I have several Twitter accounts, several Instagram accounts, and many, many websites. I have one (or more) Facebook accounts – I don’t remember how many. I livestream, I’m exploring TikTok, and I have a multitude of YouTube channels. All that to say, I’m all over the web, and I’m constantly exploring what’s out there.
A cybersecurity professional once told me: if you want to beat them at privacy, don’t hide – overwhelm them with data. And that’s what I’ve done over the years, not on purpose, but because I have changed. My interests have evolved, my knowledge has changed, and my competencies have expanded. Who am I online, today? So many things!
There was a time when I bowed to the pressure that our technologies impose on us. Reply to all comments. Argue with strangers. Have one website for everything. Be private online. Don’t share with people you don’t know. Over the past decade, there have been SO many unwritten rules, and far more new social rules about how to engage online, that I too have succumbed to the peer pressure from time to time.
Something changed in 2018, when I lost the ability to walk for almost a year. My priorities changed. My interaction with technology changed, and how I manage my own accounts, and my digital presence evolved, as well. I became far less concerned with what people thought of me, and more interested in the beauty of sharing – at my own pace. In other words, I came to see the virtual world as just that: virtual. It’s something that I control, for pleasure, for sharing, for communication purposes.
Today, I have Twitter accounts that haven’t been updated in weeks or months. I check my messages only once in a while. I update my websites when I feel like it. Oftentimes, I post and ghost, and that gives me great pleasure. Why? Because you never owe anyone a reply. How you interact with technology is partly determined by you. I say “partly” because there are other factors that make technology independence difficult.
And that, to me, has become the biggest cultural shift we’ve experienced in the last ten years: this obsession with the web. This “always online” culture bothers me. This obsession over online content, who publishes what, who can say what, how it’s allowed to be said, bothers me. Back when I was in school, you weren’t allowed to quote ANY website. It was expected that anything published on the web – because it didn’t have any oversight in place – was just rubbish. Any references for an academic paper had to come from a legit source, and most legit sources were not online. Back then, we understood that anyone could write anything on the web. It seems we’ve lost touch of that.
On the flip side, this loss of oversight has benefited us greatly. As the web expanded, and as Internet access became more widespread, the guardians of knowledge had no choice but to acquiesce to a barrage of new information, and new data. When anyone could write anything, then anyone could also question anything. Did we get history right? Were we holding back some voices? Were we setting up too many artificial barriers for jobs? When anyone could write anything, then anyone could be anything they wanted to be.
I am who I am today because I took that to heart. I became who I wanted to be because early on, I recognized that I didn’t need permission (nor a piece of paper) to prove that I was competent. Forgive me for saying this, but whenever an institution warns against “fakeness” on the Internet, it often prompts me to question their motives. Too often, I have seen authors of certificate programs deride self-made workers, in favour of selling more programs. You see this a lot in the marketing world, and in technology. There are certificates for everything these days.
The question shouldn’t be “who’s the more valid expert”, because these days, there are many different ways to become an expert. Instead, the question should be “how do you prefer to learn”? What’s your timeline for learning? What can you afford? Do you just want a job, or do you want to be exposed to different perspectives? Do you want to just get it over with, or do you want mentors? Because there are some fields that simply do not require formal education to prove one’s competency. And I currently teach in a program that could be replaced by autodidactism.
And the Internet, the Web, and mobile technologies have all allowed us to absolutely thrive on our own. For every article about how horrible Twitter discourse is these days, there’s never an article about how fortunate we are to have the tools to start a new business for free. We don’t talk about how easy it is today for artists to collaborate, to discover new techniques, to find new audiences. We don’t talk at great length about how easy it is now to not get lost in the streets, or to find products online you can afford, or to find a pet sitter at the last minute.
I used to think that digital culture was just an extension of real-world culture, but it’s more than that. It has created a culture of comfort, to the point where we’ve forgotten how hard it was to live without it. Just the other day, I was bitching about having to switch to my work computer to work on a document I had saved locally, instead of saving it through Google Docs (where it’s available on any Internet-connected computer).
I bought a pair of Facebook’s new smart glasses the other day. I’m almost scared to use them. I’ve never been scared of technology before. I’ve always found it exciting. But these things scare me, because I can’t help but think of ways in which they could be abused. Am I growing old? Am I having trouble adapting?
My relationship with digital culture has changed so much over the years, and thankfully, I haven’t found it too hard to keep learning and adapting to how it’s been changing. But, I do wonder what it would take for me to say “nope, this is where I draw the line”. Mass surveillance is already here. You have a camera pointed at you in almost every store you go into, and at almost any street corner in most urban centers. There is little we can do to opt out – and I think that’s what troubles me the most about the future.
As I said earlier, I’ve enjoyed managing my online presence differently these days. I enjoy not updating my networks every day, and not replying to every comment. I enjoy being able to choose when I post a selfie, and which selfie I decide to post is up to me. But, when technology grows so much to the point that I can’t opt out of how it wants me to use it, then I start to disconnect. And that’s actually one of the many reasons why I’m moving to the middle of nowhere next year. I want to be able to use technology, turn it off, and go out in the real world without it tracking my every move.
I consider myself a child of the Internet, one of its first early adopters. My entire career was forged from its flames, my independence carved from its offerings. I’m not sure what I would be today had this digital revolution not happened. And if one were to ask me if I’m proud to share my knowledge of this stuff with others, I would say, “yes”, without hesitation. But it will always come with a caveat: “yes, but YOU will have to decide how you want to use it”. I think that as professionals, it’s our job to let tomorrow’s digital and tech creators know that they have agency over this technology. They can control their relationship to it. I’m against indoctrination of any kind, and as a mentor now, all I can do is offer up my love and passion for what is, and what it could be, and let others decide how they want to use it.
I’m originally from Northern Ontario, a bastion of union representation, and blue collar workers. In every federal election, it was expected you’d vote orange. The North had always been an NDP stronghold, because the NDP was known to be the “working man’s party”, until they changed their agenda. When they veered away from the working class, they also lost their guaranteed votes in the North. Not that it really matters. There isn’t a political party in Canada that absolutely needs the northern vote to win.
I learned about this recently: see that red line in the picture below? 50% of Canadians live below that red line. If you’ve ever wondered why Canadian political parties are so city-centric (and Ontario/Quebec-centric), well now you know.
So, you might be wondering then: why the heck would a francophone minority, a lesbian, a science communicator, a professor, and a believer in climate change vote Conservative?! Let me explain…
In March 2021, 54% of Conservative delegates voted against an official acknowledgement that climate change is real. When I read that headline, I immediately went over to the Conservative Party’s website, and I joined the party. Why? Because to not recognize climate change is ABSURD. As I researched this further, I learned that most party members don’t become delegates, and most members don’t bother to vote. A small percentage of the party makes the policies because they’re the most engaged. (I imagine it’s like this for the other Canadian parties, too.)
I’m a firm believer in a strong opposition. We need healthy checks and balances, and in my opinion, we can’t have our biggest opposition stray this far away from Science. I wasn’t about to let the Cons get behind an agenda full of quackery. I haven’t told anyone that I’m a Conservative party member, but I’m telling you now, because I think it’s important to share my reasoning.
Fast forward a few months, and the Liberals introduce Bill-C10, an overhaul of the Broadcasting Act. If you haven’t heard about it, do your own research. Essentially, it would cripple independent creators, and give preferential treatment to establishment organizations (including the unions). The problem is, New Media belongs to everyone, and there are more independent content creators than there are unionized ones. As indies, we’ve kept up with the times, we’ve created the innovations, we’ve taken all the risks. Meanwhile, the institutions that lag far behind are asking for handouts, and more legislation to protect their interests. As independents, we compete on a global scale. I’m not a Canadian content creator – I’m a global one. My financial support comes from Americans, Europeans, Australians, and a small percentage of Canadians. You can’t simply draw borders around the Internet. It doesn’t work that way.
The Bill also allows for censorship on all online platforms. It would allow the CRTC to regulate user-generated content. And this is where I draw the line.
The Internet enjoyed a period of being like the Wild Wild West, where you could say anything, upload anything, access almost anything. Sure, most of the content was white, and male, but that was also a reflection of what happened in the 80’s. In the mid-80s, young boys were gifted computers at Christmas, while the girls continued to get dolls. There was a clear separation between what was a boy’s gift, and what was a girl’s gift. Naturally, when the Internet was introduced, young boys took to it like moths to a flame. (The history of women in computer programming is a fascinating one. I highly recommend this book in order to understand how, prior to the 80’s, there were far more women in programming than there are now.)
In the 90’s the corporate world hadn’t caught up yet, so there wasn’t the kind of social engineering that we see today. There was a ton of innovation, we tried things, we coded our own websites, and for a while, there was true anonymity in some online forums. I think this wilder period in history ended in 1997, when Microsoft bought Hotmail. And that triggered the age of acquisition of all the little tech companies, until we had just a few left to control the entire infrastructure. It’s funny because the Liberals don’t even need to pass this bill. Twitter and YouTube are already doing all the censorship (one has to wonder: is this at the behest of the US gov’t, or is the US gov’t now at the mercy of these tech giants?).
Nonetheless, the Liberals pushed and pushed for it. Thank goodness, it was temporarily halted by the Senate. Read Senator David Adams Richards’ amazing speech here. Here are a few excerpts:
I never finished university, never joined PEN International or The Writers’ Union of Canada. I was invited to one PEN International conference where people — mainly tenured academics from Toronto — sat on stage and shouted at each other about who should be allowed to write what about whom. They were the authoritative, cultural decision makers of Canada, many who had never written a book. I see them somewhat today in the angst over this bill.
There is a book in the centre of one of my bookshelves, surrounded by other books. Some of the books it is surrounded by have had an interesting history. They were banned in many countries for long periods of time: Dostoyevsky’s Demons, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle. In the centre of them is this book, which sits unobtrusively and inconspicuously for months at a time, without anyone noticing it: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler — himself the banal and venal master of book burning. But if I begin with him, as venal as he was, where would I end?
Some years ago, I was at a dinner with some very important, famous people. One academic mentioned that he had given his entire life for Canadian literature. Others there applauded him for doing so.
When I was writing my fourth novel, we sold our 20-year-old car to pay the rent; and my wife, to keep us alive, was selling Amway door-to-door in the middle of winter. I believe she gave her life for Canadian literature as well, but she didn’t get to that dinner.
For that reason, in her honour, I will always and forever stand against any bill that subjects freedom of expression to the doldrums of governmental oversight, and I implore others to do the same. I don’t think this bill needs amendments; I think, however, it needs a stake through the heart.
As you may already know, I have a problem with authority. I’m not a fan of cultural institutions acting as gatekeepers. I’m especially not a fan of anyone telling me what content I can or cannot consume. I’m baffled by people who support this – is this really want you want, this uniformity of thought?
I have one rule when it comes to power: don’t support any extension of power that your enemies might have access to, later. We live in a beautifully liberal society right now, so why create an opportunity for a less than desirable outcome when these kinds of mechanisms get into the hands of not-so-liberal rulers? If you think it can’t happen, read a history book.
The Conservative Party is the only party in Canada that doesn’t support this bill. My, how times have changed.
So, that was the first nudge for me.
The other nudge came in the form of support for a two-tier medical system. The publicly funded medical system in Canada is in really bad shape. It will mostly keep you alive. But, if you suffer from any chronic condition whatsoever, you’re in for a rough ride. If you need a specialist, you’re in for a long wait. And if you need an MRI, well, you’re waiting even longer. I’ve used the private system in Quebec, and I’m about to sign up for a private side Family Doctor, soon. But, in some provinces, there is NO access to private care. PEI, where I’m moving to next year, doesn’t have access to private options. Meanwhile, many of its residents are going to Moncton, Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa to pay for accelerated care. Some might call that unfair, but to a person who’s suffering from debilitating pain, it’s an act of desperation. We need greater access to a two tier system UNTIL we can fix the public side of things. You can’t ask people who are suffering to wait until the public system is fixed, just so they can be morally pious to your cause.
I just voted Conservative for the first time in my life, not because I’m a new fangirl of the party, but because their current agenda aligns best with my vision of a better Canada. And like any mature, skeptical adult, I know that all politicians lie. It bothers me that Erin O’Toole dreamed of being Prime Minister when he was in high school. Just for that, I don’t trust him. But, this is what we’ve done. We’ve made it so that career politicians are favoured over hesitant leaders with good ideas. Every single modern party leader has a deep thirst for power.
To be honest, I’ve actually never been so detached from politics than in the past five years. Everything is political these days. The fact that I’m writing an article about who I voted for feels a bit wrong. It feels like I’m participating in the circus. But, I hope you understand that I did this for a reason – I was ashamed. And to me, the minute we feel shame about something, it means that that ‘thing’ has become no longer socially acceptable. In this case, I don’t think that voting Conservative should invoke shame. If anything, it invokes a great amount of concern for what’s become of our two most liberal parties, the NPD and the Liberals, that a gay liberal chick from the North just voted Blue for the first time in her life. If that’s not a wake up call, I don’t know what is.
Recently, I signed a contract to work as an Associate Professor in Digital Culture, for one year. The contract is with a new French university (l’UFO) in Ontario, Canada. I thought I’d write a little something about the experience, because it’s a role I never thought would be available to me, as a university dropout.
Let’s start with the fact that I am “Franco-Ontarienne”. For those who aren’t familiar, that means that I was born and raised in Ontario, but within a French-speaking family, and within a French community. In Ontario, Franco-Ontarians are a minority. To outsiders, we’re often mistaken as Quebeckers. To Quebeckers, we don’t exist. Quebec is the ruling French province in Canada. The Quebecois preside over French culture, French education, and French cuisine. Franco-Ontarians, Acadians, and Franco-westerners are often an after-thought in the minds of most Canadians. In fact, most Canadians don’t understand why we have two official languages, outside of Quebec. So, trust me when I say it: we’ve had to fight to have our French culture recognized for decades on end.
Unlike Quebec, and outside of federal laws, we don’t use legislation to protect our culture. We do it through our communities, through our Churches, and through our schools. I wasn’t allowed to speak English in the home when I was a child. I learned most of my early English words through Sesame Street (and since Sesame Street was an American program, I also learned a bit of Spanish). The Franco-Ontarian experience is lost on most young adults who leave home after high school. They escape to larger cities, and they leave their mother tongue, and their Mom’s tourtiere recipe, behind.
I’m telling you all of this so that you know where I’m coming from. I’ve been a minority my whole life. First, as a lesbian. Secondly, as a Franco-Ontarian. And thirdly, as a university drop-out. When I was younger, I held on to these identities. I protected them. I yelled them in the streets, I wore their flags, and I created organizations around them. Now, everything’s a blur. Even the most well-meaning of communities will fuck you over, eventually. I’m not a person of communities anymore. I’m an independent with identity badges that I wear, but only as happenstance. The whole of my being isn’t defined by identity descriptors anymore.
I went to French schools my entire life. I attended two French post-secondary institutions, one of which screwed me over so hard, I rejected Franco-Ontarian culture for an entire decade after that experience. One of the main problems with minority communities trying to build new institutions is the lack of attention to quality. “Just be grateful you have this.” Nevermind the fact that nepotism and incompetence tend to run rampant in the Franco-Ontarian community. If there’s a buck to be made, there’s a Quebec consultant looking for a way in to shake up our culture. It’s not that outsiders aren’t welcome, and can’t provide a fresh perspective. It’s just that we’re tired of being told that our French isn’t French enough. Ma langue n’est pas pleine d’anglicismes. Ma langue, c’est un patois. It’s a language that has evolved through many generations of French-speaking peoples that left Quebec to settle the North. It’s agricultural, it’s practical, it’s in some ways, very blue collar. So, in the eyes of many puritans, my language is ‘dirty’. C’est un français “manqué”.
So, when I was invited to teach at the new French language university, I looked at my partner (who knows all about my history with Franco institutions), and I said, “Yes, but I will not be like them”. “Them”, the ones that said ‘just be grateful’ when we lacked resources. “Them”, the ones that pushed puritanism down our throats. “Them”, the ones that made me reject the Franco community for most of my adult life.
I’m going to be competent, I’m going to be caring, I’m going to motivate, excite, and care about these students. I will never say to a student, “just be grateful”. I’m the one who’s grateful. I’m happy to share everything I’ve learned throughout the years. I’m happy to share my expertise. I’m happy to give.
I wasn’t supposed to be a professor. This is just a bonus in my life, a fork in the road that I thought would be blocked for good. As a tech professional, I chose to work in English precisely because my options were more limited. English in the language of commerce, and trust me, I would never dissuade a Franco student from choosing to work in the English world after graduation. What I will do is give them the competencies to compete in whatever language they choose to work with, later on. It should never be ‘one or the other’. It should be universal – what you learn in French can be applied in English, and vice-versa. Schooling has a language, but Education doesn’t. And education continues long after graduation.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. I’ve never published, I’ve no credentials. Personally and professionally, I’ve never cared about these things because they’re a poor measure of someone’s character. Knowledge can be memorized, and recited. Some might argue I’m hard to work with because I haven’t been properly indoctrinated. There’s some truth to that. But I also know a few rebels with PhDs. In the end, it comes down to whether or not we want more of the same. I find sameness boring, and exhausting.
If this professorship works out, then great. If it doesn’t work out, great. When you start to look at life with a stoic lens, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. I accept the challenge. And I look forward to it. As an 80’s kid coding in BASIC, chatting with strangers on Bulletin Board Systems, defeating the Pac Man games on my Atari, there’s no way I’d have imagined that one day, I’d be teaching digital culture to university students.
I hope they’re prepared for the memes.
There will be so many memes.
Here’s what I’ve learned over time: your idea doesn’t matter. There are plenty of people with good ideas. There are very few people who can actually properly execute those ideas. It’s the execution that matters the most.
There. That’s it. That’s the golden rule.
Of course, it’s simplified. An even truer fact is that most good ideas don’t leave people’s heads. Most people let their ideas ruminate for far too long. They linger on the unknowns, the specifics, the hows and the whys. They think of all of the things that could go wrong. They judge their idea for months instead of just trying it and testing it. They come up with the costliest way of doing it, instead of looking for the cheapest way to make it happen. They make assumptions instead of doing research. They think their idea is the best in the world, but they never even bother to bring it to life. People will find all kinds of excuses to not even try.
And if they do try, they still manage to hijack their own project in so many ways. Most people will not move beyond their first failure. Humans have this curious tendency to get in the way of their own progress. Usually, that’s because they’ve never dealt with the underlying issues that stunt their growth, whether that’s lack of confidence, sadness, or in some cases, their own circle of friends. I hate to say it, but your friends might be encouraging you to fail. Take a closer look. Sometimes, people’s habits get in the way. They get sucked into the never-ending news cycle online. They’re hooked to social media. They’re drawn to gossip, they eat poorly, they sleep poorly, they say “yes” to everyone for everything. Their underlying lack of discipline makes it impossible for them to make free time to work on their ideas.
Once you learn how, and when, to say “no”, it becomes your greatest superpower in your life.
There’s a reason I haven’t mentioned fear yet. Fear, in my opinion, is best managed through exposure. As in, if you’re scared to fail, or scared to succeed, the only way to beat that is to start doing. Fear of doing is like fear of spiders. The more you read about spiders, the more you watch videos of them, the more you see them in real life, the more your fear gets replaced by curiosity, or nonchalance. Fear happens to everyone, even the ones that don’t seem scared at all. I still get scared. I’m always scared. But then, I think of the flip side. If I succumb to fear, I’ll have to do something else that I really hate doing. So, fuck fear. It’s just getting in the way.
All of this is obvious stuff that just gets rehashed in every single self-help book out there. And yet, people don’t seem to get a good grasp of what it takes to get things done. A part of me even wonders if it’s personality-based. As in, it all depends on how your brain is wired. It also depends on your surroundings, including your friends and family, your spouse, your time on social media. It’s rarely just one or the other – lack of doing appears to be multifactorial. You have to find the best way that works for you.
Here’s what I do know about execution though: it never has to be perfect. But, it almost always has to be better than “good enough”. And your first iterations will always suck. I had a client once who thought that they needed to present a perfectly polished social media presence. To which I replied, “you’re not even on there yet – let people get to know who you are, and iterate from there”. Polished is for later. But, I would also argue that if your project is a team effort, don’t skimp out on the team. Get polished people involved, and a list of priorities established right away. Make the baseline GREAT, not “good enough”, and definitely not broken.
In the software industry, there’s this belief that ‘first to market’ is the only thing that matters. What most start-ups don’t realize is that sure, you might get first to market, but your idea is most likely easy to copy. And unless you’re first to market AND your product is awesome and easy to use, your first client might be your only client, in the long run. It won’t be enough to sustain you if you stick with “good enough”, or worse, broken. I’ve seen companies go bankrupt with amazing ideas, and very poor execution. “Yeah, but it works!” is such a common mistake. It doesn’t matter if it works if everyone hates using it. A beautiful UI also doesn’t make up for a lack of innovation or functionality. The two always go hand in hand in a product that’s well executed, even if it’s just an MVP.
Same thing in the arts – I’ve seen great playwrights give their scripts to terribly managed theatre companies that fucked it all up, and the plays were a bust. If you have a good idea, keep it close, and only put it in the hands of the right people.
One of the best things I did later in my career as a fine art photographer was to only work with the best. “I want to work with you!” – I got emails like this almost every day for a few years. I kid you not, it was such a regular occurrence that I had to start filtering my messages to ignore any unsolicited emails. Instead, I sought the best, and sent them a portfolio that they couldn’t resist. My messages were never declined, and I got to work with everyone I contacted, even the famous ones.
There’s a known saying in the industry that once you start rejecting mediocrity, you start to get higher quality work. You start to produce higher quality work, too. The more you surround yourself with people who are dependable and can execute well, the better position you’ll be in to bring your own ideas to life. And in the world of work, I think most people don’t even care what product they work on, as long as the execution is sharp, and beautiful. Clients, customers, employees, contractors are all attracted to projects that do more than just innovate. They’re attracted to projects that work smoothly, that plan each step to reach certain benchmarks, that value quality. In the arts, boy is it ever nice to work on a project that cares about quality!
I find myself writing these things sometimes, knowing that it doesn’t make a difference. That’s never been the purpose. Instead, it’s articles like these that I refer people to when they ask me “how did you manage to do it?”. I surrounded myself by the best, I came up with ideas and immediately executed them, most of them were failures, and I just tried new stuff all the time. And, I devised a killer portfolio to make up for my lack of credentials. The latter is an article for another time. But, now you know – a great idea isn’t a great idea until it’s proven to be great. And it’ll never be great if you just aim for “good enough”, in the long term.
We have made three major cultural mistakes in Canada. We’ve elevated conceptual art in our schools, and in our museums (where the artist’s concept of a piece is more important than the finished piece itself). We’ve created an unbalanced expectation that our youth should value emotions, and thoughts, more than doing, and following through. And we’ve allowed our cities to become too expensive for artists to live in, play, and bring new art to life. All of these conditions have helped create an arts sector that is stale, unimaginative, and safe. And, we’ve reinforced it with political pressure, bureaucracy, and cultural apathy. Nobody gives a shit if the artists are starving.
As a tech consultant, podcaster, and science communicator, I call myself an artist, first. That’s what’s in my blood. That’s the brain, and the heart of who I am. I made the decision not to make a living as an artist in Canada, because it allows me complete freedom to create. If you can fund your failures (and not make them dependent on some outside source that gets to decide how and when you can fail), then you will become a better artist. If you can’t fund your own failures, then switch to a cheaper artform. It really is that simple.
I think the greatest mistake that artists make is becoming dependent on a system that wants to shape them, limit them, and force them to produce at times when they should be playing. Conversely, an artist is also completely fucked if they have free reign to do anything they want. It’s actually a good thing when creativity is framed inside a loosely defined box, whether those lines are delineated by a disciplined artist, or by an outside source. Rare are the third parties that actually know how to construct a framework that allows an artist to thrive.
Do you know why I keep talking about failing? Because THAT’s what advances an artist’s craft. That’s what germinates new ideas. It is absurd to me that within the arts community, failure isn’t celebrated. In fact, the community tends to chastise artists who don’t fit in (which then creates an obsession about “fitting in”, which isn’t healthy for artists, at all). Instead, we should all be applauding an artist who takes chances. We should be in awe of the artist who strays from the pack. We should be having a party every time an artist gets in trouble, falls down, and gets back up. Most artists don’t play because they stop at “well, that sucks”. Yeah, it fucking sucks, because you just started. It sucks because you don’t know what you’re doing. It sucks because you’ve only spent a weekend on it.
We’re also obsessed with linear progression. As in, once you’ve started something, you HAVE to finish it. Nope. You can start something, stop, start something new, stop, go back to the first thing you’ve started, or start a new thing again. Art-making almost requires you to shut out everything you know about rules, “shoulds”, and “shouldn’ts”. Art-making requires you to be a child, again. A child doesn’t self-flagellate for every mistake they make. They don’t stop and ask why they should play with something. They’re not scared to share their opinions, until we train that out of them. An artist should always emulate a child, playing, discovering, exploring. It’s the only way to get back to the thing that makes you an artist in the first place.
We have to get out of our heads. We have to get out of the digital landscape, and back into nature, where things are raw, uncensored, and not governed by man. I watched a chipmunk try to get seeds from a large squirrel the other day. The chipmunk was thin and weary, because the squirrel wouldn’t let him near the most plentiful source of food. I watched him try different angles, hide behind tall grasses, try to sneak past and scrape at any remains. It would have made for a great musical! We can learn, and be inspired by nature. We’re too self-centered at the moment, completely preoccupied with human problems, and human desires. The art sucks. I don’t want to see another play about an “ism”.
There’s a collective depression affecting artists today, a year and a half into a worldwide pandemic. If you think you weren’t valued before the shit hits the fan, just wait until during, and after. And the thing I don’t understand is why we haven’t created MORE public spaces for artists, at a time when we need artists the most. I want roaming parades, and quartets at every street corner. I want visual art stapled to every hydro pole. I want big massive installations in every park. I want poets with microphones on rooftops. We have no idea how to treat a sick society. The virus is only 1/10th of what ails us right now.
An artist has to act. An artist has to fail. And when you’re living in the horror story of a plague, you have to act more. What we’ve learned from terrible events in history is that people need hope, and optimism to survive. You’ve been thrust into a milieu where happiness is rebellious, and virtue is tied to how miserable you are. Artists are rebellious by nature, so be rebellious. Do the opposite of what they expect you to do. Thrive. Do. Make. They don’t own you. You don’t depend on them. You might have convinced yourself that you do. But, you don’t. Nobody owns artists. And art-making doesn’t need to be tied to financial recompense. Find other ways to make money. If “artist” is your first title, then be that. It is who you are, and it is who you’ll always be.
I think about it a lot, what I want my life to be like after 50. I picked that age randomly, as a way to give myself enough time to get what I’m after. When I was younger, I imagined what life would be like, but I didn’t always chase after it. Now, I live a life that’s more pragmatic. Everything I do these days has a practical reason for it. It doesn’t mean I’ve left whimsy behind, it just means that as I got older, I realized that some things need to be planned. If you want something, you have to structure your life in such a way that invites that “thing” into your life.
I knew ten years ago that I never wanted to work in an office building ever again. I’ve managed to make that happen, and I’ve been working from home for over a decade. I knew I wanted to be with a woman who had her shit together, wasn’t knee-deep into politics, and appreciated nature and city life as equally as I did. I met her, and I love her more and more each and every single day.
I’ve never really asked for much out of life. I’ve always just wanted a roof over my head, and the ability to pay my bills, and feed myself. I’ve been poor, very poor. I’ve been in the closet. I’ve been ridiculed, and embarassed. I’ve done a lot of things that I regret. For all of the wins I’ve had in life, I’ve had double the failures. I’ve fought for everything I’ve ever wanted. I didn’t have the credentials, I didn’t have the looks, and I didn’t have the experience. I fought fair and square. I’m tired of fighting. All I want now is a peaceful existence.
I’ve found myself drifting away from people who fight, people who run in circles, people who seek attention. It’s not my fight, and it’s not my problem. I don’t care if I fit in, and something tells me that most women in their 50’s can’t be arsed, either.
That’s my dream. To be surrounded by a group of men and women over 50, around a bonfire, laughing about all of the stupid things we’ve done in our youth. Things that would surely get us in trouble today. I want to be around people who are secure in their skin, who are interested in the natural world, the trees, the fish, the sky, and the moon. I want to breathe fresh air in the morning, and I want to see the stars at night.
I’m trying my best to engineer the kind of life I want to have when I’m 50. I want to live in the country, and I have no idea what I’ll be doing for work by then. I imagine something related to technology. Though if I’m honest with you, I’d love to be able to disconnect completely when I’m that age. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I like to stay flexible to what opportunities might come by then.
Sometimes, I think I’ll become a beekeeper. Other times, I dream of becoming a toy maker. I want a simpler life. I want to go fishing during the week. I want to do random things that make other people smile because I’m relaxed enough, and happy enough to make it happen.
I’ve been practicing the art of living in the moment, for the past few years. It helps to keep stress at bay. Stress is terrible. It’s just as bad as alcohol, or sugar. We don’t talk about that as often as we should. I’ve been living more for today, but it’s fun to dream. It’s fun to think about what life might be like when all the pieces fall into place. I’m engineering this life because I know I have some control over it. You can have any life you want. You’re never really stuck, and if you are, it’s temporary. There’s always a way around it, no matter what the issue is. There’s a substitute, a solution, or another option. Remember that, and you’ll be happier in life.
While I have a pretty good idea of what I want in the future, here’s a little secret: don’t try to plan it all out. Leave some room for surprises. Open up little doors during your journey, and take a peek inside. Try new things. You don’t have to commit. But, try things, scary things, absurd things, things that feel just out of reach. That’s how I got all the stuff I’ve got today. It’s not that things always went to plan. It’s that the things that I never expected would happen, happened. I got lucky.
Besides, luck only really happens to people who dare.
I was recently interviewed on a Twitch stream, where I was asked, a few times, about how I perceive failure. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, probably because I stopped worrying about failure many years ago. During the interview, I was trying to figure out if there was a catalyst, a moment that changed everything. Like most 20 and 30 year olds, I’d always worried about what people thought of me. Contrary to popular belief, I was extremely timid as a young adult. And while I’ve had many personal and physical challenges over the years, I think it’s an accumulation of life experience that just got me to the point where I stopped seeing failure as a hardship. Instead, failure became something to chase after.
Let me explain… If everything in life is comfortable, it likely means that nothing changes. Nothing’s hard, so nothing forces you to grow. Nothing challenges your thoughts, so you keep thinking the same way. Nothing brings you extreme pain, but nothing brings you extreme joy, either. To me, failure and fear are closely linked. To avoid fear means avoiding the possibility of failure. And by avoiding failure, to me, it would mean not learning anything new.
The possibility of failure is everywhere, in every activity. Riding a bike. Climbing a mountain. Taking an exam. Even something as simple as using a microscope for the first time. I have squished and accidentally killed many microscopic creatures by accident, and through ignorance. Because I didn’t know what I was doing. Failure teaches faster than any other method.
More than anything, I love a good battle. I love winning. I even love not winning, because I love the feeling of knowing that I tried something. I try new things all the time, and abandon them, laughing to myself, “well then, that wasn’t for me”! Is that a failure? I don’t know. Who cares? It was a discovery. That’s it.
I do love a good battle though. But, I also choose them wisely now. As I grow older, I want battles that have a purpose. I want battles that prove something to myself, not to anyone else. I want battles that make me feel more alive than ever before. I have no desire to be liked by other people. I don’t care if you like me – that’s not why I take on the challenges that I choose to take on. If you see me as selfish, I do not care.
I have something to prove to the child inside of me. I have something to prove to the older version of me that’s going to appreciate me taking care of my body. I want to do things for nature, for the trees that have no say, and the creatures that have no homes. I fight constantly for my own way of doing things. There are things I haven’t learned yet, let me learn them on my own time.
I found myself scouring through rocks near a construction site this weekend. I found fool’s gold, and quartz, and a 250 million year old fossil. I think that we forget that battles don’t always need to be violent and hard. The greatest ongoing battle in life is the one we fight every day, in remembering that there is beauty and mystery all around us. You have to fight constantly to remember that, to not get distracted, to not get pulled into the vortex of gossip, drama, and greed. Because no matter your circumstances, no matter your richness, if you can remember what the Earth feels like under your feet, if you’re excited to wiggle your toes in the dirt, you’ll be ok. Because you’ll have won the most challenging battle of all: the fight to remain curious, and hopeful, in the face of everything else you’re “supposed” to be.
It’s 2021, and we’re still in lockdown. About this time last year, I remember seeing photos coming out of China. People panicking due to some strange flu going around. Meanwhile, nobody here was paying much attention to it, yet. By March, we started locking things down. It’s been almost a full year of this shit already, with no end in sight. Prior to COVID, being in Ottawa in the wintertime was already like living a mini-pandemic every year, anyway. There’s already not much to do here. When winter hits, it’s doubly tough. The real difference this year is that you can’t just buy a train ticket on a Friday night and say, “hey, there’s always Montreal!”.
You know what I miss the most about regular life? The chaos. I mean the real nitty-gritty, full of mistakes, nighttime chaos that can only happen when you’re around people who know how to have a good time. I miss the madness. I miss the kind of nights when you can’t even remember how you ended up sleeping on the floor, but there you are. And, I’m not even talking about being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I’ve had plenty of these nights sober. It’s amazing what the euphoria of a moment can do to you.
What I miss the most is the company of people who are imperfect. Not dangerous, just imperfect. People who are wide open, blunt, and in some cases, maybe even too brash, but fuck it, that’s who they are. I miss the people who often said “what if” and led me down dark alleys at night because they saw something ‘cool’ that turned out to be a dirty rag that looked like a pink poodle. I miss the stuff that wasn’t planned, didn’t have a purpose, and happened when you least expected it. I miss the artists, the explorers, the musicians, the fags, and the old bitches who kept up with the rest of us, in the name of art! I even miss the assholes who started fights but never followed through with it because, fuck it, let’s party. What can I say, we had a high tolerance for stupidity.
I saw an article the other day that proposed that maybe we’ll see another “Roaring 20’s” when this pandemic is all done and lockdowns are lifted. I LOL’ed. If you know a thing or two about the arts and history, you’d know that if you want a really great arts scene, you have to make room for chaos. You have to have cheap housing, cheap food, and plenty of spaces for artists to play in. You need studios in run-down buildings, and working class people writing novels on the side. You need a 1920’s Parisian culture that welcomes non-conformists, and ‘dangerous’ thinkers. The leftovers of the pandemic won’t be like the leftovers of war. There will be consumption, and parties, and concerts and events. But it’ll be nothing like the 20’s. These days, we’ve replaced puritanism with more puritanism. The kids aren’t even having sex anymore. Sadly, there’s no lost generation, this time around. If anything, I suspect that the next generation of brilliant artists won’t even be found in the cities. They’ll be creating on farmland, in forests, and in small communities. Chances are, they’ll be very lonely.
For a little sliver of time in my life, I lived in chaos, and it was wonderful. I’ve no regrets. I’d love to relive it, and I’m sure I have a few more chaotic weekends in me before I get too old for that shit. I think that living moments like that reinforces the idea that you really have to ‘live’ to have something to talk about, or to create about, in the moment. You have to experience something beyond normalcy, you have to shove yourself against boundaries and spit in their general direction to know anything about life. Nothing drives me more crazy than an artist living in comfort complaining about having it hard. Have you ever had to re-smoke the butt of your cigarettes just to get a bit of a rush ’cause you’re too broke to buy yourself a pack? Ever stood in line for food and get an earful from a priest, only to get handed a previously opened box of Kraft Dinner taped shut as your weekly allowance for food? You can’t live through the demise of other people. There are too many artist-philosophers these days living in fully furnished university residences. An MFA isn’t a true replacement for a life lived; it’s just an expensive ticket to conformity. And they think we’ll see another Roaring 20’s. *facepalm*
These days, I crave nature. I think a lot of us do. Trees don’t judge us, animals rip each other apart, insects die under a pile of snow. There is a dark chaos I seek in nature. It’s why I was so attracted to the microscopic world last year. Nothing is manufactured in a few drops of pond water. Everything is raw, the creatures are wild, the greens are vivid and sharp. Maybe a life lived doesn’t necessarily mean a life lived in despair. Maybe it just means a life full of exploration and exposure to the things that don’t always make much sense. It means being exposed to things that aren’t always pretty, or fair. I’m always looking for that. I’m always looking to get stumped. I’m looking for the adrenaline rush of the unexpected, the visceral shit that keeps you up at night, full of wonder. I love living through questions. It’s great stuff, but I have to admit, that if I could choose nature or people, I’d choose people. And I’m saying that as someone who’s planning to move out into nature for good, soon. But I will always choose people. Because chaos with people is more enriching than anything else. And we need moments where we just let go and see how our energies jive with other human beings. We need exposure to people who are different, and we need hardship for growth. I live for chaos, because it teaches me what’s beautiful about life.
Every January, I usually take the month off from the news, and from the Internet. I have usually spent my January time outside, or reading books printed on paper. This January, I haven’t even begun to read any of my new books. It’s a year unlike any other year, because this year, I am trying to build a company that revolves around digital media. Naturally, that means that I can’t take the month off.
Every event that has happened in the past year, from the pandemic, to the handling of the pandemic, to being laid off, and then navigating the circumstances of that event have reinforced what I have long believed since my 30’s: we are not in this together. Sorry to be a bit of a downer, but I’m at this odd point in my life where I don’t believe half of what people say, I don’t trust anyone in a suit and tie, and I most certainly don’t trust any of the companies that currently rule the world. So, this January, I find myself feeling far more alone than I ever have.
I’ve also had this odd sense that time is moving faster. Have you been feeling that way, too? When you’re thrown into unemployment in a field that disgusts you to the core, it feels a bit like that fig tree passage from The Bell Jar. With the accumulation of skills I’ve obtained through the years, with the wide variety of hobbies and interests I’ve pursued, I’m a really well-rounded individual. And, as I type this, I’m filled with a bit of anger, because I’m also an incredibly competent individual.
I have worked for some terribly incompetent, terribly impersonal and terribly inadequate men in my life. I have a basket full of stories that would either bore you to death, or have you reacting with an enthusiastic, “me too”! The point is, I’ve often felt far more competent than some of my superiors in the workplace. The only thing separating me from a similar title was that I didn’t know who they knew. I wasn’t part of the network, and I certainly would never climb a ladder if it meant having to say “yes” to everything. Throughout my 25 years in the workforce, I clung to that precious “no” because sometimes, it was the only thing that made me more human than them.
This year, I have chosen three different fields to specialize in: podcasting, digital marketing, and science communication. Three things that I love enough to the point where I feel justified in having them replace my free time. Free time is the most precious thing you’ve got. You better fill it with something that doesn’t make you hate yourself every day.
I visited the dentist today and one of the hygienists asked me what I was up to these days. When I told her I’d changed fields and was starting to build my own company, she simply replied with, “I’m not surprised!”. People aren’t phased at all to learn that I’ve taken up a new project, or that I’ve decided to go all in on a new idea. They’re not surprised. But, I am. I’m always surprised. I always think I’m going to fail. I always think it will not end well.
The thing that makes me the saddest about the state of our current digital presence is that we don’t write about ourselves anymore. We write about others, often in a derogatory way. We write with a sense of expertise, and a sense of urgency. As though the world will explode if we don’t express our opinions enough about whatever daily topic has captured everyone’s attention. I don’t care. I just don’t care about any of it.
Compound that with the fact that today’s digital media is heavily manipulated by formulas and recipes, and that even this blog entry is not “optimized” enough for SEO, and therefore, no one will read it – I don’t care. I mean, there is a part of me that has been contemplating going into the funeral industry. I’m not even kidding. That’s my backup plan. Death is quieter. Plus, I’d be happy to get into the green funeral industry. I’ve been an advocate of it even before it was noticed by profiteers and technologists.
So far, January has been a long collection of short, grey days. There’s not enough time, and it gets dark far too early. I’m scared, and I work alone. Yet, I’m the happiest I have ever been. At least things are in my control now. My failures and accomplishments won’t be decided by a person in power that I’ve never met. I got laid off by someone that I don’t even recall having ever spoken to.
I’m not really sure what the future holds. My plans, these days, are made by the hour. But, what I do know is that I’m not about to throw away everything that I have learned about how not to do business. I used to hang on to the word “no” in the name of humanism, but now, I hang on to it as a means of power. And the same can be said about the word “yes”. When you’ve levelled up another notch in life, it’s these little words that determine who you have to work for, and who you want to work for. It’s these words that determine the outcome of a project, and how far it goes. If you want me to say “yes” to you, you had better impress me. You had better be kind. And you had better be competent. I’m not joking – I’m done working with losers.
In 2021, it is my time that I value the most.
Am I a talk show host, an interviewer, a journalist?
When you discover that you’re really good at interviewing people, and you discover that you love doing it, it’s normal to want to do more of it, especially paid work! The problem is, what do you call someone who is specialized in interviewing people for new media? With more and more media available to us today, this becomes a problem because a person who is specialized in interviews now has a whole new array of shows available to them. Podcasts and livestreams are taking over traditional media, and now companies are hiring hosts and personalities for their own shows.
So, the problem remains. If you want to do interviews, are you a voice talent? Are you a talk show host? An interviewer, or a journalist? What do you type in Google? The word “podcast host” would make sense. However, a “podcast host” is actually also the name for the company that hosts podcast shows. In other words, a podcast host is a server-based service (much like a web hosting company). So imagine my frustration when I type the words “podcast host” into a Google search and find nothing relevant to what I’m looking for. If this were the old days, I’d just look for “talk radio host”. At least that was succinct and everyone knew what that meant. Now, there’s no agreed-upon term, and most of us use “podcast host” anyway – you know, the other “host”. It’s confusing, I know.
(And while a lot of people prefer to self-produce their own shows and grow them, I love the idea of just interviewing people and not having to do the rest. I already have my own show, but I’m wondering what else is out there. I have spare time. That’s why I’m looking.)
Referrals work, for now.
It seems like referrals are a good way to get work if you’re a modern-day podcast host or livestream personality. If you already host your own show, and if people really enjoy your interviews (including your guests), then it’s very possible that you’ll get referred to someone who’s looking for talent like yours.
The thing is, as hard as it is for a modern talk show host to find work, it’s even harder for an organization that’s looking for talent. A traditional voice actor might not have the right skills to conduct unscripted interviews. Best bet might be to look for a journalist. But, a news journalist might also not be the right fit to do long-form interviews. So, it’s tricky for us, and it’s tricky for people who are seeking to hire someone.
Upwork and Fiverr are pretty useless right now as their ‘voice talent’ categories seem to be geared towards voice actors, narrators, and announcers, but not towards journalism or talk show hosting. I have found many postings for podcast work, including hosting, on Indeed. Other than that, a company that’s looking to hire a talk show host could start by listening to podcasts, or asking people for referrals on social media. Chances are, someone knows someone who’s hosting their own podcast these days!
Interviewing is a beautiful specialty
There’s nothing more beautiful than interviewing someone. I know, I sound like the artist that I am, but I mean it. It takes careful consideration to peel away the layers of a person’s personality or to extract their knowledge. You have to keep your nerves intact if they’re a celebrity. You have to listen carefully. You have to know when to interrupt – some guests ramble on forever. If you’re interviewing an expert, like a scientist, then you have to find a way to get them to explain their expertise in plain English if your audience isn’t full of academics and nerds. Interviewing can be really hard!
Thing is, it’s just the art of asking questions. And like all forms of art, the best of interviews are driven by curiosity. You can tell when an interview is scripted and prepped. The questions might work when they’re laid out ahead of time, but discussions can diverge, guests can bring up something unexpected, they might even shy away from a topic that’s not ready to be discussed yet. And, if you stick to a script, you’re losing the whole vibe of the interview.
I knew that I was good at interviewing when people, especially strangers, gave me their entire life stories. I practiced, intentionally, on cab drivers and Uber drivers. I practiced with partners – some who later felt like they were being interrogated. Sorry – curiosity also needs to be contained, sometimes. That’s how you learn. You find balance by practicing.
Even now, I don’t feel like I’m an expert; I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But, I feel like I’ve attained a sufficient amount of skill in communicating to not feel like an imposter. I feel worthy of being paid for my work.
To unionize or not unionize
As it turns out, interview work falls into the same category as voice acting, voice-overs, and audio journalism. That news anchor on TV? They’re unionized. The radio host you’re listening to is unionized, too. The documentary narrator? Unionized. In Canada, there’s a union that handles all voice talent called ACTRA. The equivalent in the U.S. is SAG-AFTRA.
Should you unionize for podcast work? Beats me! I honestly don’t know if it’s worth it. Remember that with a union, you have to pay union dues. You also have to follow a strict set of rules that limit the kind of work you’re allowed to do as a ‘voice talent’. You also end up with amazing perks and benefits. I was recently contacted for podcast work, so I contacted the most trusted person I know in the industry. She suggested that I join the union, but this wasn’t a union project. The truth is, I’ve yet to hear of a union project for podcast work in Canada.
So, are there enough podcasting jobs available in Canada to warrant union representation? I don’t think so, not yet. I don’t think there’s enough podcasting work anywhere, other than in the United States. American companies are really catching up, and many big corps are creating their own podcasts. American non-profits, especially in Science and Tech, are also starting their own shows. “Science Communication” is HOT right now, and there’s a whole slew of people who call themselves “science communicators” – I happen to be one of them (though I don’t ONLY do science-based communication). There are many podcast jobs available in the U.S., but not so many here in Canada.
If I were to see an opening for a podcast host position with a major broadcaster, you bet I’d unionize. If a Canadian science org wanted me to host their livestreams, I’d unionize. Barring that, you go where the work is to get your start. Larry King was a UPS driver who really wanted to do radio. So, he moved to Miami because someone told him that there were non-unionized jobs there, and he could get his first start faster. So, it really depends on the opportunities available. If we were to compare this to acting, because unionized film and tv productions are really big here, I’d unionize as an actor. It’s the first thing I’d do. As a non-scripted voice talent though, my union options are too limited.
Start the process, share the process
If there’s anything I’ve learned from every other project I’ve done, if you want to do something, you have to start talking about it. Seriously. How often have I seen someone post an update saying they were looking for work, but they didn’t even specify what kind of work they were looking for? If you want to interview people for a living, then a) start interviewing people and b) start telling people that that’s what you want to do more than anything else in your life. If you have a passion for something, SHARE IT. Because that’s how referrals happen.
I think the worst thing someone can do is to say they want to do something, but they just wait. Or they’ve done it a couple of times, and they just keep waiting for the next potential client to call. I have the type of personality that doesn’t do well with just waiting. I’m extremely patient. But, I’d rather get things done and keep growing while I wait. That means self-produced projects, trying new things, adding a second, third, or fourth project. It means learning things by doing, and doing them over and over and over again. I want to master stuff – not just do it for gig work.
I have all the time in the world right now. A lot of creative people have a lot of time right now due to the pandemic, too. This is a GREAT time to learn new skills, and to practice, practice, practice. It’s like boxing. You can do all these fancy combos, but you gotta keep practicing the jab. The most basic punch is the one you’ll use the most, anyway. So, keep jabbing. Film it, post it, share it with the world. Eventually, something will come up.
Want to hire me for your show? Let’s talk: fill out this form, or contact me directly at julielaurin AT gmail DOT com.
Podcast promotion is HARD
The question “how to promote a podcast” comes up ALL the time on Reddit, in FB groups, on Twitter, etc. Generally-speaking, podcasts are created by one person, and that person handles every facet of the show, from production to hosting to marketing. As someone who hosts and produces her own show, I can tell you this: it’s far too much work for one person to do, especially in their spare time. But still, we do it. And many of us do it because we absolutely love the process, and we think there’s a place in the world for our idea. There are all kinds of shows out there, all because one person came up with an idea that other people enjoy as well. When you create a podcast, you take a chance.
The reason why podcast promotion is hard is because marketing, in general, is hard. Whether you call it promotion, marketing, advertising, sharing, whatever – it’s all hard. And that’s because a lot of us start shows without having huge online communities of our own in place. It’s not that hard for celebrities or existing online personalities to get traction. It IS hard for ‘nobodies’ to find their audience.
First, treat your guests like gold
First off, forget about promotion. Forget about marketing. If you do an interview show, treat your guests like gold. Why? Because they’re more likely to help you promote the show. They’re more likely to recommend other guests. And, you’re more likely to be seen as a professional and not just some hobbyist who’s in it for the money. Take my word, you don’t create a podcast to make money. The phrase “monetize a podcast” should just die, because it can take years to make a bit of money online and too many people think they can make that happen in just a few weeks, after just a few episodes.
No, forget all that. Your guests come first. Show up on time for the recording, manage their expectations as to how long the recording will take, say your goodbyes and then get to work. Recording is the easy part. Creating content to show off your interview and your guests is the most tedious part of all. Even editing takes less time. But, trust me, all of the content you create, whether they’re audiograms, quote cards, YouTube clips, all of that goes towards a build-up of quality content that will help you – AND YOUR GUESTS – down the road. Remember: it isn’t about you. It’s about them.
Below, you’ll see that I create a wide variety of social media content for each guest, for each episode. I send that to them the day before the podcast episode airs. I use it for the podcast’s own promotion, but this is a fantastic way for a guest to promote themselves on their websites and social media accounts too!
There are rules, and then, there are YOUR rules
I’ve found a lot of podcast marketing literature to be completely useless because it pretends to follow a formula that, even when you follow it, doesn’t always provide you with the best of results. Instead, I think it’s best to do some things your own way. For example, one of the most common recommendations in the podcast marketing world is to promote your show in Facebook groups. I roll my eyes at this. Not because it doesn’t work – it sometimes does. But, it’s not applicable to everyone. Also, many FB groups that permit promotion end up being deluged by commercial posts. The other thing is, who’s your audience?? Do they even use Facebook?
For my own show, I’ve found that I get better traction on Twitter. I have a FB page and an Instagram account, but to be honest with you all – I’m thinking of blowing them out of the water. They’re both a pain to manage and the only real way to get traction on these two networks these days is through ads. If you have an ad budget, or if you have an existing group or large following on FB, then of course – use it! If not, it’s not a wise game to play. Unless you feel like it.
So, just make up your own rules based on what’s a good fit for your podcast. I use the term “rules” lightly, by the way. What I really mean is this: test things out. See what works. Cast a wide net, and see where there’s traction. Get rid of the places where people aren’t interested. Try a new network. Try TikTok or Pinterest. “But, that takes so much time!” Yeah, it does. It’s hard, remember?
Create good content
No, but seriously, how many times does it have to be said? Create solid content that isn’t always about promotion. There’s nothing wrong with having a Twitter account for your show where you tweet clips from episodes or post quote cards. In fact, I do this regularly on Twitter. But, there’s gotta be more. If you’re a writer, then write a blog about the topic, niche or genre of your show. A murder mystery podcaster could start a blog about famous real-life murder stories. A boxing podcaster could interview boxers and then post about their individual careers in a separate blog article. If you’re better at videos, then do weekly shows on YouTube, on top of the podcast episodes. Create a piece of content every single day. Use Canva. Use Headliner. Use whatever tools at your disposal.
Over and over again, I see podcasters create a show, post a handful of episodes, promote their episodes on a social network or two and then a month later, they say “nothing’s working”. I hate to break it to ya, but again, if you don’t have an ad budget, you’ve gotta rely on what we call “organic growth”. That means, working your butt off on creating a ton of content to grow your show, your website, and your social media accounts.
The best way to do this is to set a schedule, much like you’d set a schedule to record. Except, this time, you’re setting up a schedule to create images, videos and/or blog posts. Even if it’s just 30min a day, that adds up! It takes me about 12 hours to create all of the content to promote ONE episode. That includes YouTube clips, audiograms, quote cards, tags, and sometimes, a transcript. On top of that, I’ve begun setting up a new schedule to write a new blog article every Tuesday. Your schedule will be different based on your available time, and what kind of content you want to produce for your show. Just stick to it. You’ll see that you’ll get into a groove after a while!
Even a great show takes time to show results
If you’re in a rush, if you think you’ll make a living at podcasting in the next 12-24 months, get out of the game. There’s a reason why studios have engineers, hosts, admin staff, booking agents, marketers, strategists, content creators, and producers. If you’re doing it all on your own, you have to play every role. And, I guarantee you, the marketing/content creation role will take more time than all of the others combined. Even if your show is absolutely fantastic, if you’re a fairly new face in the online world, it’ll take a long while to start seeing your audience growing.
If you really, truly enjoy doing it, then have some faith that over a year or two, you’ll start seeing some loyal audience members give you good ratings, sharing your show, telling their friends about it. I started seeing this after just a few months. It feels really nice to see someone publicly recommend your podcast to other people. And some shows, even the most deserving ones, just never manage to break through all the noise. There are so many new podcasts these days that it’s just getting harder and harder to get noticed. Just give it time. Keep improving the quality. Keep blogging or creating additional content. If you know basic SEO, make your website more searchable. And, if you don’t have a website: get one!
In the end, you’re learning new skills
Whether your podcast becomes more popular or not, you’re learning new skills just by being a podcaster. I setup an alert on Indeed the other day for podcasting gigs, and there are so many jobs available to skilled podcasters now! Worse comes to worse, you could work as an engineer, as a producer, or as a host. I’ve decided to specialize in interview shows. It’s what I love the most about podcasting: interviewing people. Podcasting has made it possible to get radio experience without having to find a job in the radio industry. That’s a HUGE step forward for us.
Other than that, as you start to market your show, you’re learning more about content creation, content marketing, search engine optimization. See? It’s never a waste of time. Plus, your guests are getting promotion through your show. The more effort you put into it, the more you gain from it, especially from a professional standpoint. Make sure to put your podcast on your resume because it is a job, it is work, and it absolutely involves a whole slew of transferable skills that you can show off to your future employer, or to your future clients should you decide to do consulting.
Make the most out it. I do wish I could be more help, but the hard truth is that without throwing money at it, the best way to promote your show is to keep doing it, diversify the content, post every day, expand the website, find the social networks that work for you, and treat your guests like they’re kings and queens. Think about it: it’s YOUR show. You’ve created a show that’s online for anyone and everyone to hear. You’ve put your own little mark on the world. That alone is a pretty cool thing. Give it time, and who knows, maybe that’ll be your legacy.
Want to hire me for your show? Let’s talk: fill out this form, or contact me directly at julielaurin AT gmail DOT com.
Podcasting as a new profession
I felt I needed to write this because there’s not a lot of information out there on podcast hosting as a profession. A lot of podcasters just host their own show. That works sometimes. But, I sincerely believe that many podcasts fail because the host isn’t good. Sometimes, the guests can be a problem too (and that’s a topic for a different post). But, a lot of show producers who become their own hosts are learning a harsh lesson: it might be better to hire someone for the job instead.
How I became a podcast host
Recently, I was asked to host a new podcast for a private company. I spent many weeks prior to that doing research to find out if “podcast host” was even a potential career path. This offer was unexpected; it’s as though Lady Luck had read my mind. So yes, I’m interested. And I hope I get many more offers like this down the line. When I was younger, I hired a career coach. After getting to know me for a long while, she bluntly said to me: “you need to be doing documentaries”. She told me to put everything aside and to concentrate on that. Thing is, this was the 90’s. Documentaries were expensive. I didn’t want to be a filmmaker – I wanted to be the one interviewing people. In a small town in northern Ontario, there was no way in hell I could make a living at it. So, I never pursued it.
But, I spent years and years practicing on taxi drivers and Uber drivers. I kid you not. Every single time I hopped in a car, I had one goal: learn everything I can about that driver. I have incredible stories about them in my head. Stories of fear, stories of loss, stories of war, and stories of immigrating to Canada. I practiced because I knew… one day, I’d do this for a living.
When I started my podcast, I knew this was my chance to finally interview people that I found interesting. Interviewing people for a podcast is just like interviewing people for the radio, for a talk show, or for a documentary. It’s a little bit different, especially these days, as the host and guest can be in two completely different hemispheres. The other thing is, as a remote host, if you have your own studio, you’re also an engineer and a producer. So, hiring a voice talent to host your podcast when they have their own home studio is a huge advantage for anyone who’s starting out a new podcast.
Not everyone is good at interviewing guests
I listen to a lot of podcasts, especially on YouTube (did you know that most Canadians listen to podcasts on YouTube?!). I absolutely love interview shows, especially with experts, whether it be health-related, history, science or politics. Thing is, so many of the podcast hosts out there are just awful. They don’t let their guest speak, they interrupt with nervous giggles or the dreadful “mmhmm” every five seconds. You don’t need to acknowledge every word that comes out of your guest’s mouth. Shut up and listen so that your audience can hear what they have to say. Thing is, a lot of these new shows are hosted by famous people or academics, but these people lack talent in interviewing guests.
I learned from the best
My favourite interviewer is Larry King. The reason I enjoy him so much is because he’s quick to the point, he’s direct, he lets his guest answer the question, but he doesn’t hesitate to interrupt when something needs clarification. A lot of guests have already rehearsed their responses, especially if they anticipate you’ll ask a question they’re already familiar with. It takes a keen sense of curiosity to get them to pause for a moment and answer something truthfully. Even in interviews with scientists about a particular topic, you still require some authenticity to make the interview enjoyable. Larry has said that he never prepares his interviews ahead of time. He lets his curiosity drive it. I think that’s the best way to do things. I tried both: prepared, and unprepared. And I found that preparing too much makes the interview sound dull. There is such a thing as too much planning.
Louis Theroux is another interview that I really enjoy. In his case, he has a very raw approach to interviewing guests. He just goes with whatever question comes up in his head. He doesn’t comment on anything. That’s an important one because some hosts like to comment and their comments drag on and on and on (I’m looking at you Joe Rogan). Howard Stern was a bit like that too – very blunt, curious questions, “why”, “why not”, “what do you think”. Louis and Howard have one more quality that works really well for interviewers: they remain themselves the entire time. After a few episodes, you can tell who they are. Louis has that beautiful sense of innocence about him, and Howard has an undying curiosity that digs into the darker side of things.
A lot of podcast hosts also try to be entertaining. Thing is, that works if you’re already an entertainer. But, it doesn’t work for a lot of people. And it doesn’t work for a lot of shows. Again, the show has to be geared towards entertaining people. Personally, I knew early on that I’m not an entertainer. I want answers to stuff and I get bored easily by guests who rehearse their answers, so I don’t let them. I like keeping a serious tone because that’s who I am. If someone asked me to host a show that was geared to entertain people, I wouldn’t do it. There’s one thing I haven’t had a chance to do yet: interviewing regular people. I’d love a chance to do that because, much like Louis, I find everyone fascinating.
Look for the best
If you’re hiring, you have to find the best person for the job. Podcast hosts and voice talent come in different flavours. A lot of voice actors aren’t good interviewers. And a lot of interviewers aren’t good at voice acting! Look for the best for what you’re trying to accomplish. If you want to start a new interview show, a documentary program or a news show, look for an interviewer. If you want scripted commercials, scripted shows or entertainment, look for voice actors and voice talent. And look for the best. Nothing spells disaster more quickly for a podcast than a really bad host.
A lot of voice actor are represented by agents, so keep that in mind. Podcast interviewers are largely unrepresented, mostly because it’s such a new field. Just because someone is represented by a union or an agency doesn’t mean they’re the best person for the job. But, they might be. Don’t let that be a deciding factor. First, listen to their demo, learn about their style, figure out if they’re a good fit. It CAN be easier to just go to an agency to get candidates. Plus, you know ahead of time that there’s a higher level of professionalism involved. As a former film producer, I only worked on unionized projects. But, I’ve also worked with non-union talent that blew my mind away. So, as a producer myself, I’d advise other producers to take time to look for the right person.
What does it cost to hire a podcast host?
Whether you’re looking for a podcast interviewer or a voice actor, the costs associated with that can really vary depending on what you need. Things to consider include the length of the show, how many episodes, the licensing agreements, the amount of time spent on research and recording, etc. Put it this way, don’t expect to get the right talent for $100. You’re looking at a few thousand dollars per episode for non-union talent and even more for union talent. Why? Because that person is giving you their voice (and if on video, their person) for YOUR project, and depending on the agreement, that can be for a lifetime. A lot of projects also have non-compete clauses, and other unfavourable terms that hosts and actors have to sign off on. A fully produced show with paid talent can cost you upwards of $50,000.
The future is remote
I really believe that the future of radio, the future of podcasting and to a certain extent, video shows is remote. A remote podcast host with their own studio will cut down your costs because you don’t have to pay for studio rental. In some cases, you won’t need an engineer either. Personally, I’ve made it a goal to get the best gear so that I can offer that to future producers. I don’t do editing – that’s a whole other beast. But even editing has gone remote, and you can hire editors anywhere around the world these days. As a remote podcaster, I do include a studio fee and/or wear and tear fee to my contract provisions because while you won’t have to pay for rental, it still puts wear and tear on my gear! I believe in fair arrangements, and in the end, if you can find a well equipped and highly talented host for your show, it’s a win-win.
Want to hire me for your show? Let’s talk: fill out this form, or contact me directly at julielaurin AT gmail DOT com.