Podcaster Interviews

Interview with Laurel Hostak and Derek Jones of The Midnight Myth Podcast

I virtually sat down with Laurel Hostak and Derek Jones co-hosts of the Midnight Myth Podcast previously featured in the Find That Pod newsletter. At its roots, their show is about pop-culture and its mythological, historical and philosophical roots. Think of it as a podcast that delves deep into the roots of what inspires some of today’s most popular pop-culture stories.

I wanted to ask them about their experience with running the Midnight Myth podcast, its impact and what their production process is like. I also wanted to know if they had any advice for podcasters just starting out and what their opinions are about the podcasting industry. Here’s my interview with Laurel and Derek:

Tell me what makes the Midnight Myth Podcast different from similar podcasts?

Laurel: We often find ourselves stuck between two different categories of podcasts: shows that cover myths, legends, and fairy tales, and shows that review movies and TV. We’re kind of a funky mashup of both. The Midnight Myth uses pop culture–film, television, and popular literature–as a way to learn about history, mythology, and philosophy. Or sometimes it’s vice versa, and we use those big academic subjects to find the universal themes in the fun movies we all know and love.

Derek: I agree with everything Laurel is saying. To me, the Midnight Myth is a way I can secretly live out my dream job of being a history teacher. I’m constantly thinking of ways to interject contemporary historiographical analysis into fun media.

Why did you start the Midnight Myth?

Laurel: Derek and I are a married couple, but we started the podcast back when we first moved in together. When we started dating, we were seeing a lot of theatre for my work, and constantly found ourselves deep in discussion about the shows we saw and our own pet subjects and interests. I think we knew pretty quickly that we wanted to start a podcast together, but it took a while to flesh out what would become the Midnight Myth.

Derek: I got invited to guest lecture about American revolutionary history and Battlestar Galactica by a good friend of mine. Laurel and I had just started dating and had so much fun participating together that it inspired the idea of the podcast. How can we take the skills we learned in our liberal arts education and apply them in our daily lives? The answer was this podcast.

Tell me about your process and the things that go into producing each episode?

Laurel: Being on a weekly publication schedule means things move pretty fast–and often by the seat of our pants. We try to keep a loose schedule of content in our minds for the next few episodes, but sometimes we’ll flash on an idea just a few days before we record. Once we identify a key subject–a movie, book, or television episode–there’s a ton of research to do. We each like to bring one or more key elements of history, myth, or philosophy to the table. I’ll take pages of notes, but Derek has the most incredible memory so a lot of it is in his head. In the studio, we go in with a very loose structure in order to keep it conversational and allow for surprises or revelations in the moment.

Derek: When you have a full time job and a weekly podcast, you have to use the time you have. If you only have an hour to prepare an idea, you better make good use of that hour. This often means sifting the very valuable and the not-as-relevant information. I rely heavily on my experience as an avid reader of social sciences. If I hadn’t done the work in my education to this point, I wouldn’t be able to do the podcast.

What have been the most challenging aspects of producing this podcast?

Laurel: As rewarding as it is to produce a great episode, it can be exhausting to prepare one every week–like adding a full-time job on top of my day job. Plus I never head into the studio without butterflies in my stomach. Putting yourself out there, being vulnerable to criticism, and delivering every single week is tough, but it makes me all the more proud when I see how much we’ve grown, or get a good piece of feedback from a listener.

Derek: Time is our biggest enemy. We never have enough. There are times when you are tired, frustrated, and you just want to relax, and those are the times when you’ve scheduled your record session. Which isn’t to say I don’t love the podcast, because I do. You’re constantly wondering if only I had a few more hours or a few more dollars, could I be doing even better than what I’m doing right now?

From a personal standpoint, why do you do the show? What do you get out of it?

Laurel: Derek and I both have degrees in the arts and humanities–his is in History, mine is in Playwriting. I worked in Theatre for a long time, but since making the jump to an office job, the podcast has been an invaluable creative outlet, and an opportunity to flex those brain muscles. Being able to talk extensively about my favorite things–literature, mythology, and movies–with my favorite person is an added plus.

Derek: Some couples go on date night. Some couples go to the movies. Some couples will go on a trip. Laurel and I do a podcast. It has become such a part of our lives that even when we go on a date night or go on a trip, we are constantly asking ourselves, how can we use this experience to enrich the podcast? I can’t imagine my life without it, and I don’t want to.

Do you ever think about the lasting impact of your show or the fact that this is a sort of time-capsule of your voice? What sort of cultural impact would you want it to have?

Laurel: Oof, what a thought. I’m very self-critical, so the idea that every bad take or misused word that falls out of my mouth is preserved on the internet for all time is certainly something that’s in the back of my mind. But overall, I’m very proud of the work we do on the podcast. If we can contribute anything to the culture at large, I’m hoping we encourage people to consume media critically, to make connections, and recognize the interconnectedness of our stories. I think we’re kinder people when we do that–we can recognize the value and effort put into every work of art, and we can exercise better empathy with others by looking to the examples of great stories.

Derek: As a wannabe historian, this question is constantly on my mind. At the end of the day, once you put something out there, you have very little control over what happens next. I accept the responsibility of recording my thoughts for posterity but recognize the futility in having any modicum of control over it. The best advice that I give myself every day (which was inspired by the podcast) is never fail to be kind. I don’t always live up to it, but I am trying.

How do you promote your show? What have you found to be the most effective?

Laurel: We’ve put our eggs in a few different baskets over the years, spending loose change on paid social and whatnot, but as an indie podcast, it’s tough to break through the noise and get your message to the people who will listen to it. The most effective strategy, I’ve found, is to prioritize time over ad dollars. Organic audience-building through specific communities on Twitter, writing blogs and SEO for our website–these are really time-consuming, content-based activities, but they’ve ultimately driven more people to our show and helped us build a small, but engaged community.

What advice would you give to a podcaster just starting out?

Derek: One: It must sound good. There are a lot of podcasts out there, and if the podcast has poor audio quality, why should anyone listen to it? Two: Write down a mission statement. It sounds simple, but this has helped Laurel and I in more debates, disagreements, and confusion over what the Midnight Myth is. Any time we’re wondering if what we’re doing aligns with our values, we have those values written down. It is the North Star in the cacophony of noise that is online media. Three: Do something you would love to listen to. Another simple point, but if you love it, chances are, someone else will love it too. Four: When you find your fans, never stop thanking them. Without those fans, you don’t exist–and never forget that.

What do you think the future of podcasting holds? More walled gardens or open RSS feeds?

Laurel: I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend toward paid, curated podcast content continues, and I’m a little torn about that. On the one hand, a structure that allows podcast creators to get paid regularly for their hard work is a very good thing, but on the other hand, moving away from free, democratized content is a little scary for me as a listener and as an independent creator.

Derek: Our age is an age of corporations. I suspect podcasts will continue to be more corporate. This is a good thing and a bad thing. At the end of the day, podcasting is a new form of audio entertainment, and none of us really know where it’s going to end up. Anyone who says they do, is trying to sell you their version.

Give me 3 of your best podcast recommendations.

Laurel: We have collaborated with Verbal Diorama a few times, and I honestly can’t recommend that podcast enough. Em talks about the history and legacy of movies with panache, wit, and wisdom. Check out her episodes on Logan and A League of Their Own in particular. Brilliant.

Derek: I love The Bingeables Podcast, who we’ve also collaborated with. Their spoiler-free reviews on tv help me figure out if I should or should not tune in to a show, and I love listening to their deep dives and fresh, smart, interesting outlook on modern television. They just released a series on Futurama, one of our favorite shows, which is not to be missed.

Laurel: And on the spookier side, I love Not for the Dinner Table. Dave and Soph have episodes on all things creepy and mysterious, but they’re so funny that when I listen while walking down the street, I have to actively try not to look like a lunatic and bust out laughing. One of my favorites is their episode on Divination.

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