“Knowledge is power!” Whether you attribute the quote to Sir Francis Bacon or your childhood educational program, it’s a quote you’ve undoubtedly heard numerous time. And, as a podcaster listener, it’s likely something you value and hold dear. Instead of listening to music, playing games, or watching reality TV, you choose to listent to podcasts, which a good amount strive to teach you something new. Let’s Know Things, is a podcast to help satiate your ongoing education. Instead of specifically talking about politics or tech or culture or any number of specific topics, Let’s Know Things instead gives primers on a number of relevant subjects.
Some of their most popular podcast episodes are around Bitcoin — which even my dad is talking about nowadays — cultural appropriation, or even electric cars. Clearly a wide range. I got a chance to meet Colin, host and creator of Let’s Know Things, and talk about how he got started with the podcast and where he wants to take it from here. Below is our Q&A.
Discover Pods: What’s your podcast about?
Colin: Putting the news into context.
DP: What’s unique about your podcast?
Colin: Many of my listeners are simply looking to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture so that when a news item about Bitcoin or patent law or the Nine-Dash Line hits their timeline or inbox, they know what’s happening and why it’s important. I think the way I lay out multiple sides of a particular argument or issue sets the show apart from most others, as does the range of topics covered; it’s not just politics or technology or culture, it’s a mishmash of everything.
DP: Why did you choose to podcast?
Colin: I make my full-time living as an author, so I’m far more familiar with books and other written mediums. But there’s a certain type of conversation you can have with people via audio, and particularly audio that’s consumed more intimately, as podcasts tend to be. It feels less like a scattershot broadcast and more like an audio message from a friend, in a lot of cases, which I think makes us a little more open and receptive and comfortable with things that might otherwise feel threatening or intimidating.
DP: With Bitcoins resurgence, is it time to revisit the topic?
Colin: Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, are something I touch on a lot — sometimes with full episodes, and sometimes as small sub-sections of other episodes. The blockchain is a fascinating technology with a lot of potential use-cases, so I’m guessing it’ll continue to get coverage from me in the future. I did a separate episode on asset tokenization, which is a broader use for many of the technologies in Bitcoin that I think has even longer-term potential.
But all that said, I’m not aiming to be an up-to-the-minute resource for news; I want to connect the pieces to help people understand what’s happening and why it matters, but I leave the day-to-day reporting to more qualified people. The surge is amazing and interesting and could go a lot of different ways, though, so I’ll definitely be keeping up with it myself, and watching for an angle that seems unexplored by more traditional news outlets which could provide an opening for me to cover it in a different way.
DP: What are some of the most popular topics you’ve covered so far?
Colin: The Bitcoin episode was pretty big, so was the one on electric cars. I did an episode on cultural appropriation that was also very well received. I find that the episodes in which I break down a topic that’s a subtle presence in a lot of the discussions taking place in the news, but which aren’t themselves being covered in the news, often get the most enthusiastic response. I’m trying to fill in those blanks and help listeners understand why, for instance, electric cars are so remarkable, above and beyond the environmentalist argument, and why the topic of cultural appropriation is a difficult one to discuss even when the people having the discussion have a genuine interest in understanding each other’s point of view.
That ah-ha moment of understand is intellectually satisfying, I think, and when I can help people to get to that moment, those episodes tend to get shared a whole lot.
DP: How has listener feedback been?
Colin: It’s been incredible. I couldn’t have hoped for a better response.
It’s such a weird, genre-straddling approach to a show that I didn’t really have high hopes in terms of numbers and fan-base. But the people who listen tend to keep listening, tend to leave nice reviews, tend to share it with friends. I’m thrilled that others are as interested in understanding these topics as I am. I love the hell out of producing each episode, and it’s gratifying to know that the folks on the other end of the audio are right there with me.
DP: Where do you want to take your podcast next?
Colin: I feel like I’m still fleshing out a sprawling foundation upon which a lot of other things can be built. And I mean that in terms of the topics covered and in terms of the show itself.
If I can use the first 100-or-so episodes to outlines a lot of major concepts that are often covered in the news, in current events, then that’ll serve as a good entry point to much of what we discuss, and from there it can get increasingly granular and specific.
The same is true, I think, of the show itself; it may be that some other mediums, or even supplementary shows would be more ideal to address more specific industries or topics. Maybe limited-run shows with twenty episodes that serve as kind of an audio-documentary for something like privatized space flight or the history of capitalism. Maybe an expanded newsletter or blogging infrastructure would be valuable to listeners.
I’ll be taking it step-by-step, and thankfully my listeners are good about letting me know what they consider to be valuable, and what would probably be superfluous. I’m not going to add stuff just to add stuff, and if it turns out that the best way forward is just more of the same, I’m good with that. I’m thrilled with how the show works and is presented, today.
DP: What’s the biggest challenge you face as an indie podcaster?
Colin: Part of what’s interesting about the podcasting world right now is that it’s becoming fairly huge fairly quickly, but we still have a dearth of metrics and even social infrastructure through which we can understand how we’re doing, what could be improved upon, and even what the larger scene looks like.
And that’s both good and bad, because it allows us to break rules in a potentially valuable way, and if the guidelines were more crisp and clear, we might not have made those valuable “mistakes.” But it’s frustrating and confusing, too, because although there are a million how-to articles and videos on how to start a podcast, most of them are about the equipment and production and marketing; not about the industry and community underpinning a still nascent medium.
There’s also the ever-present internal struggle of how to sustain your project. It would be nice if we were all just independently wealthy and could produce our podcasts for fun, but at a certain point, you have to figure out what you’re willing to do to make income happen. I think long-term it makes the most sense for most people to be directly audience-funded, but that’s a big ask for many types of show. And considering the low percentage of people who contribute via that sort of model, it wouldn’t necessarily be workable for shows in the lower half of the numerical median, not to mention those below that.
DP: What type of equipment do you record with?
Colin: I use a Rode Podcaster mic (with a shockmount and arm), connected to my 13″ Macbook Pro. I produce/edit with Adobe Audition. A super-simple setup, and one that I may upgrade at some point, but it’s also quite portable and requires a minimum of hardware.
DP: What are your top 5 favorite podcasts?
Colin: It’s difficult to choose just five!
I love Dan Carlin’s podcasts (Hardcore History & Common Sense), The Daily has shown that consistent, daily podcast-delivered news coverage is possible to make in a compelling way, On The Media is just so, so good (and necessary), 99% Invisible is a yardstick for well-produced interestingness, and Science Vs is fun, informative, and features a host with one of the most interesting and pleasant voices in the business.
DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Colin: There’s never been a better time to start a podcast, and the space just gets better the more voices and perspectives we have involved.
Likewise, it’s never been easier to support podcasts that add value to your life: you can have a direct, positive influence on the creation of a thing, and the person creating it.
That’s amazing to me. We live in high times.
DP: Where can listeners find you?