SNDTRK Volume 16: Podcast Inspirations
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SNDTRK Volume 16: Podcast Inspirations

Justin Laidlaw
Justin Laidlaw

“I’m a podcaster” is the new “check out my mixtape.” Everyone and their crazy uncle Joe Rogan has a show. My podcast journey began in 2014, back when Aaron Mandel and I started the Clarion Content Podcast. I’ve been participating in the industry in some form ever since.

For a while, all podcasts sounded the same. Hosts were just repurposing their radio shows for the Internet or conducting 2-hour long interviews from their garage. Okay, so a lot of that is still around, but as the technology evolved and more people entered the space, production styles got more creative. Now, podcasts are like subReddits: if you think it exists, it does.

Like any good creative, I steal from, or as we say, “am inspired by,” a number of shows. There is a delicate balance between following industry trends and thinking outside the box. Ideas are like matter; they aren’t created or destroyed but changed and then squeezed for maximum value before eventually being sold to Facebook.

Many of you have asked what podcasts I’m listening to these days. I tend to keep a handful as a part of my regular routine. If I introduce a new show to the rotation, it’s usually a limited series. There are only so many hours in the day!

Here’s an 11-episode Buddy Ruski podcast starter kit to get you acquainted.

THE END OF THE WORLD WITH JOSH CLARK

Hosts: Josh Clark

Publisher: iHeartRadio

Description: We humans could have a bright future ahead of us that last billions of years. But we have to survive the next 200 years first. Join Josh Clark of Stuff You Should Know for a 10-episode deep dive that explores the future of humanity and finds dangers we have never encountered before lurking just ahead. And if we humans are alone in the universe, if we don’t survive intelligent life dies out with us too.

Episode: EP02: Great Filter

The show is largely carried by the narration of its host which is unusual for the podcasts I’ve listened to over the years but also admirable. Clark does a great job of pushing the topic forward in a comprehensive way without the episodes becoming stale. Hard to imagine a topic like “the end of the world” ever being stale.

WHY’D YOU PUSH THAT BUTTON?

Hosts: Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany

Publisher: The Verge

Description: Why’d you like that celebrity photo on Instagram? Why’d you leave that restaurant review on Yelp? Why’d you text in lowercase, or turn on read receipts, or share your location? The Verge’s Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany ask the hard, weird, and occasionally dumb questions about how your tiny tech decisions impact your social life.

Episode: Does deleting Instagram make you happier?

Carman and Tiffany bring levity and a real “shooting the shit with your friends” attitude to an otherwise daunting topic: psychological manipulation by modern technology. I think about these topics all the time, often through a Black Mirror-like prism and not like a school kid on the playground or an undergrad at the local coffee shop. Maybe it’s because these topics deserve to be scrutinized under that dooming lens, but sometimes they are just water cooler chat, worthwhile only long enough to finish our drink and get back to work.

LAND OF THE GIANTS

Hosts: Jason Del Rey, Peter Kafka and Rani Molla

Publisher: Recode Media

Description: Facebook. Apple. Amazon. Netflix. Google. These five tech giants have changed the world. But how? And at what cost? Netflix now has nearly 200 million subscribers, and the biggest companies in media and tech are racing to catch up. In our new season, The Netflix Effect, Recode’s Peter Kafka and Rani Molla examine the unique ways the company has disrupted entertainment and completely changed the way we watch TV.

Episode: Alexa, What’s Amazon Doing Inside My Home?

Land of the Giants, which exists in the same Vox Media Podcast Network as the previous show, is a further exploration of technology and its impact on society. The show’s first season, hosted by Jason Del Rey, is an examination of Amazon, the real-life Skynet. Del Rey does his best to remain impartial but the facts speak for themselves. There are things happening in the shadows that even the most active tech user might not be aware of. During quarantine, I’ve tried to take a hard look at my own tech use, specifically as it relates to F.A.A.N.G.

BINGE MODE: MARVEL

Hosts: Malloy Rubin and Jason Concepcion

Publisher: The Ringer

Description: The Ringer’s Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion return to take their signature deep dives into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, covering all 23 films.

Episode: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Binge Mode was one of the first shows I listened to that convinced me there were other ways to approach producing audio projects. Jason Concepcion is my favorite podcaster and maybe my favorite media personality. He and Rubin combine impeccable delivery, attention to detail and source material, humor and online community building in such a way that sucks you in and creates a unique listening experience unlike any other shows that I’ve come across. Granted, they are piggybacking on material that already features a rabid fanbase but the layer added by their podcast is something I aspire to.

THE CONNECT

Hosts: Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano

Publisher: The Ringer

Description: Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano discuss two movies and the things that connect them. Each episode will focus around a theme. That theme can be anything from characters from similar motivations, merciless mentors, and killer robots. They will then break down the connections of that main theme through a series of segments and games to share their love for not only these two movies, but cinema and its themes as a whole.

Episode: Asshole Boyfriends: ‘Wedding Crashers’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You’

Shea Serrano is the King of Twitter. My feelings on Concepcion are clear. The two together are an unstoppable force. I would probably listen them do play-by-play of paint drying. What I appreciate about this show is that it’s clearly two friends who were just like, “let’s record the regular conversations we have about movies we like and see if people rock with it.” Would I be given the same grace to start a podcast with my weirdo friends about the random episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force we still quote? Something to work towards, I suppose.

THE REWATCHABLES

Hosts: Bill Simmons

Publisher: The Ringer

Description: The Rewatchables is a film podcast from the Ringer Podcast Network featuring The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and a roundtable of people from The Ringer universe discussing movies they can’t seem to stop watching.

Episode: ’Toy Story’ With Sean Fennessey, Mallory Rubin, and Shea Serrano

I have a complicated relationship with this show. Revisiting classics is a favorite pastime of mine. Learning about the nuances of how a project comes together, the what-if moments, back stories, common threads, and so on, enriches the final product, whether it’s a movie, tv show, album, business or any other undertaking. There’s a good chance you see a Rewatchables knock off on my feed in 2021. My quibble with this show, which leads to a much larger conversation about The Ringer that the union is happy to tell you about, concerns the lack of diversity across the board, from the choice of movies to the people talking about them. Representation is key. This show has very little but the architecture is worth exploring.

THE EZRA KLEIN SHOW

Hosts: Ezra Klein

Publisher: Vox

Description: Winner of the 2020 Webby and People’s Voice awards for best interview podcast. Ezra Klein brings you far-reaching conversations about hard problems, big ideas, illuminating theories, and cutting-edge research. Want to know how Stacey Abrams feels about identity politics? How Hasan Minhaj is reinventing political comedy? The plans behind Elizabeth Warren’s plans? How Michael Lewis reads minds? This is the podcast for you.

Episode: The crisis isn’t Trump. It’s the Republican Party.

Ezra Klein is the podcaster I admire most in the industry. He recently left his position at Vox after eight years as a co-founder, podcast host, and writer. His show is the one I’ve listened to most consistently over the years because of its subject matter, guest choices, and Ezra’s ability to get the most out of both. Even in the face of people and ideas he vehemently disagrees with, he carries himself with class and curiosity. To do it consistently for five years and counting is something I dream of.

RECODE MEDIA

Hosts: Peter Kafka

Publisher: Recode (Vox Media)

Description: What happens when media, entertainment, and technology collide? Peter Kafka, one of the media industry’s most acclaimed reporters, talks to business titans, journalists, comedians and podcasters to get their take.

Episode: ESPN’s Pablo Torre on balancing sports and politics

Kafka is cut from a similar cloth as fellow Vox podcasters Ezra Klein and Kara Swisher; seasoned journalists who seamlessly made the transition to podcasting. What I like most about Kafka is he asks questions of his guests in such a way that people who aren't totally familiar with the subject matter or the language of the industry can have a chance of understanding. It's common in most industries, but especially tech and business, to flaunt your knowledge of an industry lexicon to give off a sense of complexion and importance. Kafka sees right through it.

60 SONGS THAT EXPLAIN THE ‘90S

Hosts: Rob Harvilla

Publisher: The Ringer

Description: The 1990s were a turning point in music: with the increasingly connected world enabling an unprecedented coalescence of various styles and genres, the decade featured the rapid evolution of sonic artistry - and subsequently shaped the soundscape of eras that followed. Listen along as The Ringer’s preeminent music critic Rob Harvilla curates and explores 60 iconic songs from the ‘90s that define the decade.

Episode: Wu-Tang Clan - “C.R.E.A.M.”

This show is relatively new but as a ‘90s baby, I couldn’t help myself. Even as a music lover and son of a DJ, there’s plenty I missed. I couldn’t get the Spice World CD out of my head! I assume the podcast won’t be breaking any new ground. Similar to the Rewatchables, my interest in the show is 30% content, 70% structure.

THE PRESS BOX

Hosts: Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker

Publisher: The Ringer

Description: The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker catch you up on the biggest media stories, from sports to politics and everything in between.

Episode: Obama Writes a New Book. Plus, Claire McNear on ‘Jeopardy!’

Along with The Ezra Klein Show and Binge Mode, The Press Box is a can’t miss. As a practicing journalist who only spent two years in journalism school, most of my training comes from listening to interviews with more accomplished practitioners and trying to keep up with Ryan Cocca. There’s lots of media out there for your consumption. Curtis and Shoemaker provide much needed context for what that media says and how it shapes the conversation. The two are also lifelong friends and clearly enjoy the fact that they get to make this podcast on a regular basis.

CITY OF THE FUTURE

Hosts: Eric Jaffe and Vanessa Quirk

Publisher: Sidewalk Labs

Description: City of the Future is a podcast from Sidewalk Labs. Each episode, we explore an idea or innovation that could transform cities.

Episode: Flexible Streets

After teaching an environmental studies program this fall, I’ve been thinking more about how to get involved in the solutions to our climate problem. While it is a global issue, there are changes we can make on a city level that could have a dramatic impact. City of the Future helps provide a blueprint for those solutions. This particular episode inspired me to pursue a story on “The Streetery” here in Durham (more to come).

You can listen to the full playlist here.