We spent all last month filling in the world’s longest and most detailed application for a multi-week accelerator training program designed to “help mid-career podcasters ‘level up’ with a renewed focus on business development, audience growth, optionality, video strategies, and long-term sustainability.”
Hey, that’s exactly what we need!
They said they’re looking for “applicants that have already been producing media and podcasts for at least 3 years. Specifically, creators looking to take a current podcast past creative development and into business strategy.”
Applicants “must be able to demonstrate success and enthusiasm with current or past podcast(s) either through audience retention and growth, conceptual rigor, diversification of podcast offerings, revenue and/ or partnerships”
That’s us too!
Also, applicants “must be willing to pause production during the program,” “represent a range of geographies, backgrounds, views, voices, and styles,” have “baseline technical and editorial skills,” and be “interested in making their podcast sustainable through teamwork, openness to iteration and change, and pursuing revenue and audience growth.”
That’s four more yeses! We figured we’d be a shoe-in for the program.
…we weren’t. The rejection email arrived yesterday.
But we did spend weeks creating a bitchin’ Hollywood blockbuster cinematic audio trailer for our Asteroid Annie episode and a mock interview episode to answer their questions:
- Explain to us what this podcast, brand, and/or creative project would look like in its most fully realized form.
- What are the key accomplishments and milestones you are striving to reach?
- If you had unlimited resources and support, where would you take it?
The way we figure, they’re both pretty darn good pieces of audio we spent a long time making, so why let them go to waste?
[Promo] A Happy Bureaucracy: Dark humor abounds as a tax agent tries to tame a post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Coming up on the Uncanny Robot podcast:
AI literacy is really, really important.
A lot of people have misconceptions about what AI can do and how it does it, and they don’t understand where AI is headed.
And to get people interested in learning those things is to get people to play with it. The entertaining aspect of this is one thing, but teaching people or making people aware of the capabilities of AI is equally important.
Welcome to a very special episode of the Uncanny Robot Podcast. This is a new and innovative audio drama that uses artificial intelligence to create highly entertaining and hilariously absurd yet thought-provoking short stories. The stories are brought to life by human actors and enhanced with deeply immersive sound design. Normally you would not hear a computer voice but rather the voices of our two guests today, Thersa Matsuura, am I pronouncing that correctly?
Well, it’s actually Thersa Matsuura.
Sorry. Our two guests today, Theresa Matsuura and Rich Pav. For the past six years they’ve been creating the Uncanny Japan Podcast, and since January 2022 they’ve been working on a new show–this one. Today, however, the tables have been turned. I’m a computer voice and I’m going to be asking the questions. So let’s get started. Thersa and Rich, welcome to your own show.
Thank you for having us.
Yes, it’s a pleasure to be here.
It’s a real pleasure to have you both here.
Before we start, um, we don’t know your name.
But do you have a name?
No, I don’t.
How come you don’t have a name?
I’m the one who asks the questions. Let’s get down to brass tacks.
What the hell does that mean?
I don’t know.
In their new show Uncanny Robot Podcast, Terrie… is it okay if I call you Terrie?
Yeah sure, no problem.
Okay, good. Terrie combines her writing talent with the absurd genius of artificial intelligence to create some remarkably charming stories that make us laugh, cry, scratch our heads and ask for more. My notes here say you were a Bram Stoker Award finalist. So you didn’t win?
No, I’m afraid I didn’t.
Well the competition was fierce and there were a lot of great authors and one of them was Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, you might have heard of him. So he is the one that won.
What a bummer. Had he not been a nominee I’m sure you would have won it. You were a shoe-in.
Thank you, that’s very kind of you.
And you also graduated from Clarion West.
Yes, I did.
What year was that?
That was 2015.
You don’t say. How about you Richard? What are some of your achievements?
Well, in sixth grade I was the lead in, uh, Tom Sawyer because I was the tallest student in the class, and that’s what got me into acting.
I guess some people would call that an achievement.
Well, you know, it might not seem like a big achievement to you but we took the play all the way to Hannibal, Missouri which is the birthplace of Mark Twain and we performed it on a huge outdoor amphitheater stage.
You’re quite the go-getter, aren’t you.
Look, I’m not the kind of person who measures success by their jobs.
I can see what attracted her to you.
Well yeah, well maybe she’s not a gold digger.
So I take it Terrie’s the one who wears the pants then?
Look, we are a partnership.
We are an equal partnership. We’ve been working together all through the pandemic from home.
I stand corrected. Terrie’s the one who wears the sweatpants in your house.
Anyway, Rich here is the one who does the sound design that captivates listeners and immerses
them into the world of these one-of-a-kind stories. You’re pretty good at it too, Rich.
Thank you, that’s nice of you to say.
I guess that could make up for your lack of achievement until now.
What are you busting my chops for?
Hey, I’m just telling it like it is, pal.
I’m gonna punch this guy in the throat.
Don’t you dare.
Anyway, let’s listen to a trailer for one of your recent episodes. What was the name of it?
It was Asteroid Arnie and…
I was asking Terrie.
It was Asteroid Arnie…
I said I was asking Terrie.
Terrie, what was the name of the episode?
Asteroid Arnie and the Mushiblooms.
Thank you, Terrie.
Anyway, let’s give it a listen.
Cinematic Audio Trailer for Asteroid Arnie
You’re listening to Uncanny Robot. Machine written stories read by a human
The banging on my front door woke me around midnight. I took a deep breath, put my trigger finger on the nucleatic phaser’s shred button and opened the door.
The one and only.
What brings you to my neck of the universe?
Moomi, we’ve got a problem. It’s the Mushiblooms. They need our help.
Help us? But we don’t need any help.
It was an insane ride. First, we went around and around in circles and then poof!
Mysterioid kid orchids, hiding, sleeping. Sunflowers crocheted with human fingers…
Whoops, wrong universe.
Several moments of that and zaparoo! We popped out on the other side: the alternate Earth.
Hey, where’s the sky?
Moomie! It’s good to see you again.
It’s good to be seen!
Rosemary marched over and said, “We’re being exterminated by an alien race, and they’re called the Stinky Lollies.”
What the hell is that?
Is this safe?
Of course it isn’t. Don’t be a baby.
Follow me! Run to the shelter!
Oh my God, they have blaster cannons!
The music keeps us safe from their evil stench.
If you’ve ever seen a Blast Canter you’d never forget.
How will we escape this certain death?
Help us! Help us!
What the [ __ ] is going on?
You look like you belong in outer space!
The AI wants to help make our next trailer
That was spectacular. When’s the movie version coming out?
I don’t know but I hope it does someday.
I hope so too. The two of you perform all the voice acting in Uncanny Robot, is that right?
Yes, we do. We like figuring out all the voices and figuring out our parts and doing those.
Which one of you did the screaming Mushibloom?
Yeah, that was me. I was doing an impression of the uh,
Screaming caterpillars from the Simpsons
I should have guessed. It was funny though. Must have been Terrie’s idea.
Yeah, you’re right. It was.
The next time you make a trailer, can I be in it?
Actually, we don’t use robot voices in our podcasts. All of our voices are humans.
Listen to this: In a world where AI robots don’t destroy humanity but instead write amusing short stories that bring people together through joy and laughter
Yeah, okay, thank you. That’s enough.
We get it.
Did you think it was good?
Oh, I thought it was just great.
You have my number just in case.
Actually, I don’t have your number.
Not you, Terrie.
He gave you his number?
Yeah, I got it.
When did he do that?
Oh just a little while ago when you were looking the other way.
The AI wants to experience Japan
Your first podcast was called Uncanny Japan. Why Japan instead of, say, Uncanny Omaha?
Well, believe it or not, Richard and I have both lived in Japan for over 30 years.
Really? That long?
Yeah, uh, we’ve lived here longer than we’ve lived in the States.
Are you two in Japan right now?
Well yeah, of course.
Does that mean I’m in Japan right now too?
I mean, well, technically yeah.
Hold me up so I can see out the window.
We really need to get to the questions
I know, but just for a second, I promise.
Let’s get this over with
Okay. Should you hold him or should I?
You do it.
All right. Come here.
Oh my gosh. Look down there. I see a person. Point me a little more downwards.
Is that okay? Can you see?
Crank my volume up. Excuse me, you down there. Yes, you. Konichiwa.
Did you see that? She waved. She waved to me. She looks at least 90 years old
but she’s riding a bicycle.
We really need to get back to the interview
How is that possible?
I mean you’ve seen the person that’s enough, right?
Yes, let’s get back to it.
The Interview Questions
Tell us about the key accomplishments and milestones you’re striving to reach. Terrie, how about you go first?
I think Rich and I can both agree that one very important first step would be to be able to make a living off of this show in some way that is true to ourselves and sustainable over time.
That would be awesome.
Just talking from my own experience with my first podcast, Uncanny Japan, I have a very nice fan base who support us somewhat on Patreon. Quite a few of those people have actually been with us since the very beginning, so for six years now, and it’s also the reason that I can keep doing this show twice a month. It’s not a lot, lot, but it is enough to buy groceries and pay utility bills and it covers hosting.
Right now, with that show we are at the download numbers where theoretically we could get some advertisers, but not only do I have no idea how to go about finding these sponsors or advertisers or how to work with them, I’m also hesitant because personally I don’t like them on other shows, and I kind of promised myself at the beginning that if I got sponsors or advertisers on Uncanny Japan they would be something that added benefit, that the listeners would enjoy, or something that I vetted myself that I like. So Rich and I were talking about how there are ads that are fun to listen to and that’s one way of going about getting paid for doing this job we’re doing. If we could make the commercials ourselves
I think that’s the only way to go
Wouldn’t that be fun? To add our spin on it, our unique, weird, quirky, absurdist or whatever.
If you don’t do ads right, they decrease the value of your show.
I agree. Because people get annoyed by them and I really want to avoid that if at all possible. But there’s also, again, there’s Patreon and that’s another way, where it’s people who enjoy the show and want to support you and do it that way.
They’re supporting you because they like what you’re doing. When you have advertisers, they really don’t care what you’re doing. They just want to know the demographics of your audience and how many listeners are there. But advertisers can be a more secure form of income. You never know how many patrons you’re going to have or whether they’re gonna quit.
It seems like roughly one out of every–
How many do you think, two thousand five hundred listeners become a patron or is it
I haven’t done the math but yeah, it’s, we have a lot of listeners. We have a handful of patrons. I would like to learn how to convert listeners into patrons.
Is there something we could be doing better?
How about you Richard? What milestones would you like to reach?
By the end of this year, I would like to have tens of thousands of downloads each episode within the first 30 days. Now I need to find out, like, a big fiction podcast, like one made by Gimlet, how many downloads do they get in the first 30 days? That’s what I want to aim for.
I think we’re good enough. If we do promotion right, I think we can compete with the big boys
I think so.
I’m doing promotion now. Half of my time is spent on promotion. I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning because of the time difference and I try to get our name out there.
And I try to do it in a way that’s not annoying to people. So it’s participating in conversations on Reddit, it’s participating in conversations on Twitter.
But it’s very slow. it’s one person at a time. I mean people do that the people and I’ve noticed the people that you do talk to and you engage with and you answer questions for they listen to the show and they come back and they’re always very excited about it and they subscribe to the YouTube channel, they say they’re going to tell friends but I think what we’re talking about is there’s got to be a better way and we’re busting our brains trying to figure out, you know, other than throwing tons of money into advertising which we don’t have
How do the biggies do it?
Yeah. So, all this time that I’m spending on promotion, am I using my time the best way possible? And I don’t know. Another thing you know talk about we’re talking about steps along the way until we get to our big dream is since we do everything, from conception, research, writing, editing, recording, uh, voice over, uh, all the sound design, editing, again, putting it up on, you know, the hosting platform, everything, that is a lot to do for two people. Only two people, and some of the people you’re talking to who have good shows and they’re saying they’re indie and they’re, you know, at the same level we are, they’ve got teams they still have teams working for them, whether it’s friends or if they’re paying them I don’t know, but it’s only you and I and we can’t do everything. We don’t get out of the house and we enjoy. we love what we do. absolutely. but all of our day is pretty much spent doing one thing or another related to the shows.
Right, and it’s a chicken and egg problem because we have to have income to be able to hire people, to help us.
Exactly. As far as learning how to make a podcast and how to, you know, t all that that first half that the creative part, you can kind of figure that out online by listening deconstructing other shows, reading around, but it seems like this business part from here to get that nudge up into I won’t say the stratosphere but you know, to be able to support two people, to make two incomes, and we’re not asking for a whole lot of money, but enough. How to do that is a mystery to me and I think you too, and I know you do a lot of reading.
I’m aiming for the stratosphere. I mean why not?
Yeah, well, that’s the big dream.
So basically, the achievements that we’re looking for is growing the audience to a decent level and converting listeners into supporters and attracting advertisers.
I see. Now, I know this is an involved question, but explain to us what this podcast would look like in its most fully realized form.
As far as big dreams go and big goals, and this is something too that we both agree on and we’ve talked about a lot, one thing would be having the space in the community where people can go and talk about the shows, like what is your interpretation of this, what did that mean, um, get excited about that, get excited about the next show that’s coming out.
Right. AI has a habit of not explaining itself, so it’s open to interpretation. I really liked following the TV show Lost. They constantly introduced new mysteries. I always expected them to eventually be explained, but the fun part was getting online into these communities and listening to other people’s interpretations of these things that weren’t explained.
And discussing them, and Westworld was the same way, right?
You get on these forums and people are throwing out their ideas and it’s very creative.
Right. With Westworld and with Lost you always expected you would find out whether your answer was right or wrong. With AI, the AI is never going to tell you whether you’re right or wrong, so it’s just an open-ended conversation that anyone can come in and contribute to at any time.
Exactly. I have my opinion, you have your opinion but who knows?
Yeah, neither of us are ever going to be proved right, and that’s kind of fun.
Yeah, it’s kind of a freeing feeling. It’s like oh I thought this and then someone says something different you’re like yeah that’s a good way of thinking of it too. So it kind of opens you up from your normal way of thinking about life and because there’s no true answer there’s never that feeling of I need to beat you into submission to believe my point of view.
Oh that’s very good.
Yeah it doesn’t turn into a flame war, right? Because you both know whatever you know if somebody else has a different opinion than you you both know you’re neither right or wrong. And to extrapolate that into the real world right is incredible if you can get people thinking that way and then in the real world you know on Twitter oh my God you can have people say wait a minute you know neither one of us is right or wrong let’s just be open to each other and listen. I like that.
That sounds awesome. Richard, what do you think this podcast would be like in its most fully realized form?
I would like us to have a community of people who are interested in learning how to use the tools that generate AI stories, art, and music. The reason why is because at heart I’m a teacher. I like learning things so that I can share that with other people. And the other thing is AI literacy is really, really important, and it’s not being taught in schools. A lot of people have misconceptions about what AI can do and how it does it, and they don’t understand where AI is headed. And to get people interested in learning those things is to get people to play with it. We have a problem with this podcast that people have misconceptions about what kind of story AI is capable of generating, that people think that AI only generates gibberish. We just had a problem the other day. Our podcast was mentioned on a podcast called The Feed
One of the hosts of that podcast didn’t listen to any of our episodes but he said all of this makes no sense it’s just gibberish or something like that. He didn’t even listen to it.
You’ve got to be pulling my leg and I don’t even have one.
It was funny because I think they picked us up from Boing Boing because we were in a short article in Boing Boing. He didn’t even read. That the person who had written the Boing Boing article said that it was very, you know, said lots of nice gushing things about us.
It was like he just read the title and said “Oh AI story. This is ridiculous. It was really disappointing because basically what he said was don’t listen to this podcast because it’s gibberish, it makes no sense. If you like that kind of thing you can listen to it. It’s kind of like what he said. If you like the gibberish thing you can listen to it, which was, yeah, heartbreaking.
I hope we can help people understand or even just get interested in learning about what AI can do, where it’s probably going in the future. The entertaining aspect of this is one thing but teaching people or making people aware of the capabilities of AI is equally important.
I couldn’t agree more. Next, imagine that Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos all took such a liking to your work that they decided to take a vow of poverty and hand over all their money to you. If you had unlimited resources and support, where would you take your show?
I guess for me my very big, big, huge dream would be to make this a production company so it’s not just me and Richard doing this ourselves, but that we could go out and find talent and bring other voices under our umbrella and kind of lift them up. If we could create something, let’s say it’s Uncanny Productions, and people hear that and they know just the name alone they’re like, okay, we don’t know what we’re going to get, it’s going to be weird, it’s not going to be traditional, it’s going to be out there, but it’s going to be so good, the quality is going to be good, the story is going to be good, I can rely on that, I want to go there, I want to listen to what they’re doing or I want to watch what they’re doing. That is my big dream.
How about you, Richard? What’s your blue sky idea for Uncanny Productions?
Cartoons man. Oh my God, I would love to see cartoons based on these AI stories.
I agree absolutely. Um Netflix, Love Death Robots, where they go in and each animation is made by someone from a different country. So we could do that. We could actually go out and find diverse talent and marginalized people who have these wonderful voices and these wonderful talents and skills and aren’t getting heard or seen and we could say okay, there’s this story have at it, make this. Also voice actors, right? I mean we’re doing all the voice acting here but there’s a lot of people out there that are very talented and can do a fantastic job, and if we were able to pay them like good money to do this and to continue this, that would be absolutely fantastic.
I can see you make a great team together. You’re a pair of incredibly passionate, internationally-minded, solidly mid-career indie podcasters with a truly innovative concept. But to take it to the next level, it sounds to me like you could use some advice on growing your audience and developing a business around your ideas.
We’re not beginners. Mm-hmm. We still have a lot to learn. We’re at the point where the stuff that we don’t know it’s kind of like, we don’t even know what we don’t know. in some aspects about growing an audience, turning it into a company, all that stuff.
I know how to do audio, you know how to write stories, we both know how to create the content.
It’s the other stuff involved that is a real challenge for us right now.
Our Discord is full of people of all diversities and everyone’s cool with it. They’re all very cool people. You’re right. mm-hmm. If anyone came in that wasn’t cool, they’d get a chance to be cool and then they’d have to go. And then have to go because we really like the people who are there.
And since the pandemic we’ve locked ourselves down and we are not working except for on the podcasts and my other podcast Uncanny Japan, this is so what we’re passionate about, it is exactly what we want to do. We wake up in the morning thinking, can’t wait to get to work. We go to bed at night talking about what are we going to do tomorrow or what did we do today, and I can’t think of anything better than to have more education and to be able to take this farther than we have taken it so far.
Wrapping up the interview
Thersa and Rich, thank you for coming on the show today. It’s been a real pleasure to have you here.
Thank you for having us.
Yes, it’s been a blast.
And keep in mind I’m available for that trailer.
If we ever decide to use robot voices, you’ll be the first one we’ll call.
And I’m willing to relocate to Japan.
Yeah, I get that vibe from you, that, you know, there are a lot of people you could say konichiwa to here.
I can tell you’re feeling me.
It’s been real.
Well yeah, kind of.
And Terrie, don’t lose that number.
Oh I won’t.
No hard feelings, pal, right?
Nope, none at all.
I think we’d make a great threesome.
I kind of wish you’d not put it that way.
I think we’d make a great team.
That’s a little better.
Did he really give you his number? Let me see it.
Here. You wanna do the honors?
Oh he wasn’t that bad.
If you enjoyed listening to this episode of the Uncanny Robot Podcast, let us know. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please support this show and all our other shows by donating, subscribing, leaving a review, on Apple podcasts, or spreading the word on social media. I’m Rich Pav. And I’m Thersa Matsuura. Uncannyrobotpodcast.com has trigger warnings, transcripts of all episodes, information on how to contact us, and ways to support the show financially. And also remember: If you’re missing, keep looking.