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Career Spotlight: John Asante, Stitcher

You know I love running these. This week, I interviewed Stitcher’s John Asante, who spoke about moving through what seemed to be a “conventional” trajectory, having worked on radio with live elements, and the podcast industry being a producer’s market.

Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation — job title, role, life plans, etc.
John Asante: I’m a senior producer for original content at Stitcher, based in Los Angeles. Some of the podcasts I work on are released as free, ad-supported shows (we call these Stitcher Originals), while others are made solely just for our subscription-based service, Stitcher Premium. The shows range from longform interviews to scripted comedies and dramas, to documentaries on a variety of topics. For reference, some of the podcasts I had hand in producing are Heaven’s Gate, Dear Franklin Jones, and Gossip.In my role, I mainly wear three different hats as I develop new podcasts from pitch to production to launch. On some projects, I’m the lead producer who’s editing scripts with the host, sitting in on interviews and taking notes, and then cutting tape to make the final product. On others, I play more of a project manager role, communicating with all the teams (production, marketing, ad sales, content operations, etc.) and assisting with any tasks to make sure all the deadlines are met in order to launch a new podcast. And while I’m actively producing shows, I’m brainstorming new ideas for podcasts and evaluating pitches from writers and producers who are looking to get their podcast picked up by Stitcher.

I also host and produce an independent podcast called Play It Back. It’s a storytelling show where artists, producers, and music lovers talk about discovering the songs that have changed their lives. It’s a concept I thought about executing for years that I hadn’t heard much of in the podcast space. Full disclosure: I took a hiatus from making new episodes with the move from NYC to LA last year and to rethink the format, but the plan is to get it back up and running sometime this year.

Hot Pod: How did you get to this point?
Asante: I’ll admit that on the surface, my journey has been similar to many fellow podcast producers — I was an intern at NPR after graduating college who then worked his way into a full-time job at the network in 2009. But my career arc differs from some people, as I primarily worked on shows with live elements before diving into podcasting — namely Talk of the Nation and Ask Me Another. And while I was working on those shows and thinking of making a transition into podcasting for narrative-driven shows, I got the feeling that my live-show experience was undervalued in comparison to other producers who cut more radio pieces and longform interviews, like All Things Considered or Morning Edition.After some frustration with my career trajectory and finding some trouble advancing, I actually left public radio in 2014 to try something completely different: marketing. That’s another long story, but the goal was to keep my radio chops up during the career switch. But after a year and a half away, I really missed producing on a daily basis…and marketing was not for me. The more I listened to podcasts — especially those produced by my radio friends who were moving into the podcast industry — the more I realized that there were a growing number of opportunities to produce podcasts. I realized WNYC was investing more resources into podcasts, and I got a temp position producing There Goes The Neighborhood back in 2016. A few months later, I landed a full-time gig on The Takeaway, mainly producing arts and culture pieces, which I had embraced as my forte at that point. Last year, I moved out to Los Angeles to make moves in the podcast industry. Stitcher’s work and mission felt like the best fit, and I’m glad they believe in my ability to create and develop new podcasts.
Hot Pod: What does a career mean to you, at this point?
Asante: A career means being able to work on a variety of podcasts in different roles. I wanted to make the move from producing one show to developing and producing several, and I’m definitely achieving that at Stitcher. From here, I’d like to take on bigger producer and editor roles, working on scripted projects and narrative shows that tell more stories about people of color and those living in underserved communities. It’s really important to me that these stories are told, even in ways I never imagined.I also want to be in the position of giving guidance and help producers and editors of color make moves in the podcast space. The same goes for those who don’t have the same career path as those of us who came from the public radio world. There’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to diversity. Our voices need to be heard on both sides of the mic.

And with the amount of connections I’ve been fortunate to make in LA, I’ve definitely thought about starting my own production company one day. I know I’m not the only podcast producer who’s thought about this!

Hot Pod: When you started out, what did you think you wanted to do?
Asante: After toying with the possibility of working my way up the ladder as a TV reporter, and simultaneously falling in love with college radio (then shortly after public radio), I graduated college desperately wanting to become a public radio producer. I was obsessed with NPR’s style of storytelling after interning there and formed an even stronger obsession with radio as a medium.My initial plan was to line a full-time producing job, then do freelance pieces in my spare time, and use those pieces to apply for a job as a member station reporter 4-5 years later. But after getting a few pieces on the air, I realized it wasn’t the right fit, so I focused more on producing. Then around 2011, a few friends and I started making a podcast of our own. We just wanted a way to make use of our interests and telling stories we weren’t hearing on the news or other programs. While the project lasted less than a hear, it made me realize that podcasting was a low-stakes way to experiment, try out new ideas, and see what’s possible. So my trajectory slowly started to shift toward producing podcasts, though it would take a while before I felt confident enough that I could make a career out of that new vision.
Hot Pod: How do you view the podcast industry, such as it is, at this point in time?
Asante: It’s wild, exciting, and moving incredibly fast. Every day, I’m impressed by the number of well-produced and fascinating podcasts I discover or get recommended, as well as the amount of money going into the industry. And I get legitimately excited when friends ask me for recommendations.I’m glad there are more players in the field, from small production houses to larger media companies. From my experience, this means it’s a producer’s market. More and more companies want to make higher-quality content, which means having the ability to cut tape, write scripts, and develop an idea is so vital.

Also, podcast discovery still needs to be more developed. So many interesting independent podcasts go under the radar due to a number of factors, and I hope these shows don’t get overlooked for personalities with a bigger following.

Hot Pod: What should I be listening to right now?

Asante: Gossip: As I mentioned before, I was part of the production team on this show, so I’m definitely biased. But this show is unlike anything I’ve ever heard or worked on. It’s a scripted dramatic comedy podcast created by Allison Raskin about three women living in a suburban town who meet up each week to talk about all the crazy rumors spreading through their town. Think Desperate Housewives meets Jane the Virgin.The Nod: I love Brittany and Eric’s dedication to telling stories about elements of black life that you’ve probably never heard of, or didn’t know how they were created. Their unique way of storytelling is playful and informative that has taught me about entertainers and activists like Josephine Baker, and made me think critically about the cultural impact of movies I’ve seen a dozen times, like Coming To America.

Thanks, John.