Hi, I’m Tal, and I don’t want to be a professional podcaster.
Well, sort of. Not in the sense that I don’t want to be professional, or make any money from this hobby – but in the sense that I don’t want it to be my day job. I don’t run into a lot of people in my position, especially in the sphere of fiction podcasting. Given the chance to podcast full time, it seems to me like most people in this industry would take it and run.
Me? I’m not so sure.
I don’t talk about it a lot in this podcast space, but I’m a Mechanical Engineer. I went to a small tech school for four grueling years to get my bachelor’s degree, and I’ve been working in the field for five years since. And – do prepare yourself for this hot take – I like it a lot. I currently work in R&D (research and development) for a modular lighting company. I get to design, prototype, and build all sorts of parts and assemblies, and refine them again and again until they’re products on the shelves. It’s what I went to school to learn how to do, and I love doing it. Give me a list of requirements a part needs to meet, give me Solidworks and a 3D printer, and I’ll make a thing that fits it. I’m a big nerd, I know, and this is fun for me.
I spend 8 hours each weekday dedicated to my career as an engineer, and then I come home and work on podcasts. I love that too! Working as a producer for audio drama scratches many of my creative itches. It’s part of why I wear so many hats – I genuinely enjoy writing, voice acting, sound design, graphic design, all the different things I get to do for my shows. The work compliments what I do as an engineer. I’m still making things, but instead of physical parts, they’re digital stories. It’s still design, but one is for function and the other is for art.
But what do you do when your endgame in podcasting isn’t quitting your day job? I don’t want to give up engineering. Beyond being a job I truly enjoy, it’s one that pays pretty well. In order to get even the same amount doing podcasting, I’d have to up my monetization game tremendously.
From the beginning, my goal with podcasting was to break even. This is not an easy thing to do in audio fiction in particular, where you’re usually paying cast and crew to help you make the show. I started with indie rates that matched that of similar shows, and with the help of crowdfunding and Patreon I consistently was able to break even after about 2 years. When that happened, I had to re-evaluate my goal. I had hit it, so what came next? Pay myself, or pay others more? It felt like such a selfish question to even consider.
I wish I could tell you that I had a big epiphany about setting good precedent for other showrunners and ensuring audiences knew the real cost of making fiction podcasts, and that such an epiphany led me to agree to pay myself for my work. Alas, no. It’s embarrassingly simple: I started disliking my job. This was in early 2020, as the pandemic took hold, and as my employer did not take adequate precautions for it. Working from home (only when it was legally mandated by the county) led to my boss being suspicious and unkind, and to me being miserable. I started budgeting for my own time in my productions, doing more freelance work, and toying with the question “could this ever cover rent?”
I daydreamed about working full time in podcasting while I applied to other engineering jobs. It was a rough time; as I looked more into the feasibility of getting a living wage from audio drama, I realized that doing so was sapping my joy for this medium. Ultimately, the answer to my question of covering rent was a resounding no, and that sucked! You can ask almost any audio fiction creator, and they’ll tell you the same thing: there’s so little money here, and none of it guaranteed. It’s very difficult to make a living doing this work, and I was burning myself out trying to do it.
But then I got another job that treated me well, and I realized I wasn’t looking to leave engineering, I was looking to leave that specific job. Rediscovering my love for engineering led me to rediscover my love for podcasting, too. This is probably why they say don’t monetize your hobbies. When I didn’t stress about it being my income, I could enjoy making audio drama. I liked choosing the time I spent working on my podcasts, and picking what I worked on based on what would be fun for me (instead of what would make money). But now I’m in this weird position! I want to do work that’s taken seriously, and I want to get paid for it. I live in this zone of “making some money from podcasting, but not a living wage,” and I’m happy in there. I feel like such an imposter sometimes.
If my goal isn’t to be a full time podcaster, what should my goal be? I think about this all the time. I see a path forward for my work: I want my podcasts to have an audience, hit download milestones, and win awards. I see a path forward for myself: I want to speak at podcast conferences, be hired for consultations, and collaborate with other creators. I just don’t see an end to that path, a milestone at which I can say “I’ve made it.” Maybe there isn’t one.
In the absence of a solid goal, I’ve simply done what is fulfilling, and seen where it leads. At the end of the day, this is my hobby, and if it stops being fun I stop doing it. I don’t see that happening soon – I have so many ideas I’m itching to make – but maybe it’ll happen someday. Ultimately, my goal is to make cool shit, be it via podcasting or engineering, and I’m really happy to say I’m meeting that goal on both sides.
I suppose that means I should amend my opening statement.
Hi, I’m Tal, and I want to be a professional podcaster AND mechanical engineer. In fact, I think I already am.