Friday, May 30, 2014

For Jack

Hi Jack,

You're graduating from high school this year and going to college next year and that's kind of terrifying to me because it means that time is passing way more quickly than I would choose for it to if I was in control of time. But wouldn't it be neat if I controlled time? Anyway.

You're going to college which means you are kind of going to be an adult. As a 14 year veteran of adulthood, I've learned a few things, and now in written form for you, and anyone else choosing to enter into adulthood this year, I've written out a few tips I've learned on adulthood.

1. Coffee is a miracle substance. Alcohol will make you tired and slow-witted. Coffee will turn you into a superhero. I recommend taking coffee slow. Start with regular coffee with milk and sugar. Then, start easing yourself into the darker stuff. Slowly take your coffee with less sweet stuff till you're drinking it black and that tastes amazing. When you're ready, buy a French press and make your coffee with that. You will thank me. Then, when that's no longer enough: get into espresso. Also, never say "expresso," people will think you're an idiot.

2. Alcohol is nice, but there's no glory in binge-drinking. Seriously, when you drink, know when to stop. Never have more than 3 glasses of liquor, 4 glasses of wine, or 5 beers. The math gets stickier when you start mixing those things up. Throwing up, passing out, blacking out, and telling someone they're fat when you would never say that in real life is not fun. This is going to be incredibly important when you go to college and there's alot of pressure to binge. It's okay to drink but don't go crazy. Also, for Christ's sake drink good stuff. Craft beer, good wine, good liquor.

3. Music is awesome when you're sad or angry. Find a band or a musician you really love when you're sad. When you're having a hard time, just let their songs wash over you. Lately, I've been listening to the Mountain Goats when I'm sad. Also, crying is okay. Cry because you're sad. There's no shame in it. It's not weak. It's something human beings do when they're sad. It's also something you do when you're happy. Treasure the times you cry for joy. Those are the best times.

4. Try everything. You are the most amazing machine nature ever devised living upon a planet that is covered entirely in miracles. Eat weird food. Go to weird places. If someone says "let's go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon this Summer:" Do it. Hang out with weird people. They are the best people. Your oldest brother might be one of them. Actually all of your older siblings are kind of odd. Remember that that makes all of them amazing. To be more succinct with this point, keep an open mind.

5. Violence is not a good solution to problems, ever. Use your brain to get yourself out of fixes. Think things through when you're angry. Being smart and working hard will get you so much farther than reducing yourself to violence. The pen is mightier than the sword. This statement is 100 percent true. Learn how to use a pen.

6. You are not the only person in the world. Every single man, woman, and child you meet is a person just like you. They are the heroes of their own stories just like you are the hero of your own story. Treat ALL of them with kindness, patience, and understanding. If someone does something that pisses you off, before you do anything, stop for five minutes, and try to think of all of the reasons why that person might have done that thing. Then, try to understand those reasons. Think about all of the humans in the world and try to understand why they do the things they do. Remember that those people are also insanely complicated machines just like you. Don't dismiss people as "idiots" or "crazy people." There's no worth in that. Then, after all of that, f you decide that person is still a piece of shit, remember you can hurt them alot more with a pen than you can with a sword. I mean with words. Don't stab people with pens.

6a. As a sub-thing to the last thing, never forget that women are people just like you. Women are just as good, smart, strong, and capable as you. They sweat, swear, and fart just like you. How do you talk to girls? The same way you talk to your male friends. They are not obligated to date you for any reason. With that said, learning to write good poems or play the guitar is a nice way to begin the flirting process. So is doing improv comedy if that's a thing you're interested in. Also, if that's a thing you're interested in, I have several hundred pages of tips I could give you.

7. Learn to cook your own meals. This can probably wait till after college, but the earlier you start the better. You should have at least 6 dishes you can cook. At least one of them should be something you can cook for a crowd. 

8. Listening is incredibly important. Hearing is even more important. What do I mean by that? When you listen, you take in sound information. When you hear, you process that information. Listen, hear, then speak. Don't do that in any other kind of order.

9. Work your ass off. Don't slack off in your classes at school. Mom and Dad are paying alot of money for you to go to college. Go to all of your classes, do all of your homework, get good grades. Otherwise, Dad's going to give you the lecture where he calculates how much he's spending per class and tells you how much of his money you wasted when you blew off your geology lecture. Doing your schoolwork is more pleasant than dealing with that lecture.

10. It's okay to ask for help when you're having a hard time. If you're having a hard time in school, if you're depressed, if you're heartbroken, ask for help. Being a "lone wolf" is not cool, or tough. It's stupid.

11. Read all of the books. All of them.

12. When you move away, call mom and dad and talk to them. They will miss you.

13. Never make an argument you can't back up with facts. "Well, I think that..." is not a fact. "I saw a guy once who..." is not a fact. Facts are things that have been researched and proven by scientists, and economists, and other people with advanced degrees. When you get into an argument, always be the guy with the most facts. Also, be ready to accept that things you believe might be proven wrong, and be ready to adjust your worldview when that happens.

14. You will not get everything you want out of life. Sometimes you will do everything right and work very, very hard, and be very, very kind and life will still leave a flaming bag of dogshit on your front step. That's okay. Learn from it, grow, move on.

15. Learn how to act in a party where you don't know anyone. As soon as you figure this out, let me know what you did because I'm still terrible at it, but I am under the impression that it is an incredibly valuable skill.

16. Take some coding classes in college. It is totally mind-blowing how many jobs will require you to know how to code at least a little. Knowing computer code is a giant advantage in the job market.

17. No one gets to decide what your life looks like except you. If you don't want to get married; don't. If you don't want to have kids; don't. Dad wants you to go to law school, but you want to be a whitewater raft tour guide in Colorado? Keep the idea of law school in your back pocket but go try to do the rafting thing first.

18. Don't rack up a ton of debt. Put off getting a credit card as long as you can, and when you DO get a credit card, pay the balance off at the end of each month. Don't buy a car, house, hippogriff, or whatever if you can't afford it.

19. Help people whenever you can. Give money to charity. Let a friend cry on your shoulder. Let a stranger cry on your shoulder. We exist to leave the world better than we found it. That doesn't mean you need to do one big thing with your life. It means you need to do a million little things.

20. Learn to write well. Grammar and spelling are incredibly, incredibly important. Especially in 2014 when we do so much of our communication via the internet where EVERYTHING is written.

21. Don't read the comments in any article you find online.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adventures in Podcast Marketing

So here’s a thing you should know about me:

When I’m not nerding or improvising, I work in marketing. I am a marketer. More specifically, I am a marketing writer. So, I blog professionally, kind of. That’s my job. That’s how I put food on the table.

It’s kind of neat. Like, I take alot of pride in the fact that I make a living writing.

Roughly a year ago, my friend Chris Rathjen and I had a… let’s call it a come to Jesus talk. Basically, Chris pointed out that I’m a marketer and maybe I should treat our podcast (Improvised Star Trek) the way I treat my marketing clients. Like, put in the time and work to grow our listenership instead of just hoping people would stumble upon us on iTunes.

And so for a year I’ve been trying to do that. It’s been very frustrating at times, but also deeply rewarding. To kind of… bring you into my world for a minute, here are some things I’ve learned in the last twelve months.

Podcast Discovery is a Challenge. Recently, Apple announced that they had their 1 billionth podcast download via iTunes. Which is great! Lots of people listen to podcasts! AND there are a ton of podcasts! Like, everybody and their sister has their own podcast. If you can think of a topic, there is probably a really neat podcast you can listen to on it. This totally makes sense in that so many of us spend a ton of time listening to things on our smartphones and other devices. But here’s a frustrating thing: for the most part, people listen to the same podcasts. Like, everybody listens to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and everybody listens to “WTF with Marc Maron.” Generally, the really popular podcasts have some kind of institutional support- like, they’re produced by NPR, or Nerdist. Many popular podcasts star people who are already celebrities. Institutional support and celebrity names give those podcasts a huge leg up on smaller, independent podcasts.  They make it easier for listeners to find them. If you’re an indie podcast, it’s harder for listeners to find you. Only rarely will an independent podcast become popular.  So if you want your independent podcast to gain an audience, you have to do ALOT of work.

Podcasts are Less Shareable than Other Media. Social media is a great vector to get the virus of your creativity out into the world. However, social media is comprised mostly of the written word and images. Podcasts are made of sound. This means that it’s harder to share a podcast than it is to share a video, or an article. This means it’s important for any podcast to include some kind of visual element- photos, drawings, etc. so that they’re more shareable online. It also means you have to get good at writing descriptions of your episodes.

There are too Many Talk Shows. I feel like every single podcast is either an interview-based talk show (Hi, I’m Steve Johnson and today I’m talking to famous prop comic Reggie Snark…) or a bunch of people sitting around talking about a topic (Welcome to the Chuckaluck podcast, this week, the Chuckalucks talk about… climate change.) I should note that there are tons of good talk show podcasts- tons of them. But there’s SO much more you can do with the audio format. Like, it’s such a good format for storytelling. You can do ANYTHING on a podcast. Anything. Some of my favorite podcasts are narrative comedies or dramas including Welcome to Night Vale and the Thrilling Adventure Hour. It especially frustrates me when a fellow improvisor tells me they’re starting up a podcast and then tells me that it’s a talk show.

You Need to Play the Long Game. If you aren’t already famous, and you’re not part of NPR, you cannot build a big fanbase overnight. Building a fan community means you need to spend time everyday talking to people on social media, emailing people at conventions, and just generally doing work. You need to deal with the fact that even with all of this work, you will only see small short-term growth. Over time, like, years, you will build a fanbase if you put the work in.

But Sometimes You Do Get Lucky.  Every once in awhile you will get a big bump in listenership just from sheer luck. In 2012, Improvised Star Trek was featured in the AV Club’s Podmass and we had a HUGE increase in downloads without really doing anything. The thing is, moments like that are few and far between. Like, it’s nice when they come along, but for the most part luck isn’t a good marketing strategy.

Most Importantly: Make Something Different and Make Something Good. Of course the best marketing strategy is to start with a really good product. None of this other stuff matters if your podcast sucks. We put a lot of work into Improvised Star Trek. We use top-quality recording equipment, we have a team of editors who spend hours making every episode sound great, and we have some of the best improvisors in Chicago doing the show. The show might have a gimmicky name, but we try very hard not to do a gimmicky show. If IST wasn’t one of the best improv shows I’d ever been in, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. All of your marketing needs to be an extension of the product you make. A good show is the foundation of everything else.

Finally, here are some podcasts I really like: