Right now, there's a chance you're stuck at home with no idea what to do. It's a scary, stressful time for most of us. Some podcasts are on hiatus because creators can't make it into the studio; some podcasts are going into overdrive because creating at home is something we finally have the time for.
Many podcasts are seeing a dip in listenership. Podcast meetups are being canceled. It's an easy time to feel alone and defeated — but in my eyes, it's the perfect time to remember why you love audio so much.
It's an easy time to feel alone and defeated — but in my eyes, it's the perfect time to remember why you love audio so much.
Diving deeper into your work is not the only way to reinvigorate your love of podcasting. In my experience, focusing my efforts on creation when I'm feeling stressed and tired actually does the opposite: it leads to total burnout. What helps me isn't creation; it's deep, mindful, active consumption.
In times of stress, I try to pivot myself into appreciation versus resignation. It's a refreshing practice that tells my worries that, no, they don't have power over how I process my craft. Instead of giving into boredom and burnout, I break out my best headphones and get ready for some stellar listening sessions. I'm not talking “listening to episodes of My Brother, My Brother and Me while playing Animal Crossing.” I'm talking “listening to concept albums lying on my bed with my eyes closed.”
You might have noticed I didn't name another podcast there. Here's one of my secret tools for reminding myself why I love audio: I remind myself why I love audio as a whole, not just podcasts. I get back into the albums I love. I listen to cast recordings of musicals. And, yes, naturally I listen to my favorite podcasts again. And when I listen, I listen hard.
First, I try to pick out the pieces of audio that are the most meaningful to me, the ones that have stayed with me years after listening for the first time. I get comfortable — usually lying on my couch or on the bed — and close my eyes, and I start my first listen of what will be many over the course of a few hours or a few days. On this first listen, I listen to the piece as a whole — a normal listen, just to remind myself of what the piece accomplishes.
I usually hit a second listen directly after the first, and I try to pay attention to everything but the words themselves. What is the sound design doing to set the scene in this audio drama? What's that horn doing in the background of that song?
What are the drums doing in each different part of the composition? Then, I ask myself the most important question: Why? Why were these choices made? What choices would I have made if I were in their positions? How can I apply those choices to my own art?
It's imperative to focus on the audio that sweeps you away — it's the “spark joy” of listening.
The second I start feeling bored with the piece of audio, I stop listening, and I pivot to another I love. The key is to not get burnt out on the pieces I love while trying to fight burnout for my own work. It's imperative to focus on the audio that sweeps you away — it's the “spark joy” of listening. Find the audio that catches your heart and holds tight. Find the audio that makes you swoon over and over. Key into that love and revel in it. Use your analysis not as a soulless picking apart. Use it as a way of finding different, beautiful things in what you love.
When you find yourself recommending the things that you've listened to, focusing on the aspects you've been picking apart, that's when you take the next step. That's when you remind yourself that this is what you're doing with your work, too.
This isn't a time to compare yourself to the creators you look up to. This isn't the time to let yourself steep in impostor syndrome. Instead, this is the time for unrepentant pride in your work. You are taking part in the great tradition of audio art, no matter what kind of podcast you make.
You are taking part in the great tradition of audio art, no matter what kind of podcast you make.
You can take this time to learn from your favorites and implement their practices in your work, and you should. But you should also remember why you got into audio in the first place. Remember what's so exciting about storytelling and conversations you can listen to anytime, anywhere, for free. Remember what makes you love layering noise and weaving together sound design. Remember what makes a good edit so satisfying, and how great just getting to share your work publicly feels.
It's not just understandable to feel scared and stressed right now; it seems worrying to not feel scared and stressed. When it comes to your podcasting work, no matter what its status right now, don't let that stress and fear take hold of you. Smother that nervous energy with the patient delight of listening to your favorite audio closely and deeply. Quiet your unease with the love of your medium and your place in it.