Pitching Beginner

Why and how I wrote out a pitch before gathering any tape at all.

After we came back from our short vacation, Sammy went abroad on tour for two weeks. Since I had only moved to Brooklyn two months earlier, I didn’t have much of a community outside of my relationship so I couldn’t go out and learn activities, let alone have someone record me. I also had another few weeks before I started my job at Sirius XM to curate politics content for their new podcast app.

I had to do something with my time, though, because I was starting to feel really lonely. I decided to follow a format I’d seen before to write out a pitch.

I had worked with the talented Robin Amer, on her project, The City, which won WNYC’s podcast accelerator competition in the fall of 2015. Part of that process was writing out a pitch for the podcast pilot, which I observed Robin do. I had also entered a competition for NPR’s StoryLab workshop while I was in grad school. The competition had a list of questions that asked you to pitch your podcast idea specifically. In addition, I’d peaked at the questions for Radiotopia’s Podquest competition.

From my experience with all of these competitions and projects, I compiled a list of questions to answer in my pitch. Here are some of them:

What is your elevator pitch?

What makes your idea unique?

Who else is doing a podcast like this one?

Explain what format the project could take and why?

What is the tonality of the program?

Who are your intended listeners and what do they want? Why should the audience respect this show?

What digital presence do you plan for this project?

What does success look like?

I gave some of the questions a lot more weight than others. The two that I focused most on were audience and tonality. This is what I wrote about tonality,

Light-hearted with moments of deep reflection; scene-rich and high in production quality. The program, narrated in Misha’s voice, navigates through humor and embarrassment just as much as it gives space to the complex emotional landscape that comes with the feeling of not belonging and the difficulty of learning new things as an adult. The sound of the show can be described as warm, with samples of old pop songs and acoustic, instrumental accompaniment to reflective monologues. The pace of the show is slow, giving the listener room to breath in between few scenes. The characters are well-developed. From Misha’s parents and her boyfriend to temporary teachers of skills, each person gets their story and their own sense of un-belonging featured in the show.

I drew inspiration for tonality from the movie, Her, which I found to be the perfect crossover between my other two favorite things — Mad Men and Wes Anderson films. I also thought a lot about how to translate color through tone, because audio robs you of the visual. How could I elicit the feeling of Brian Rea’s Modern Love illustrations through a podcast?

Then, I turned my attention to audience. Who would listen to this podcast? Laura Sim, a producer on Gimlet’s Crimetown and the producer on the first episode helped edit this description. Here’s what we came up with:

Demographically, Beginner is aimed at two specific audiences. The first is a group of people who directly relate to the immigrant experience — people who watch Master of None and read books like White Teeth by Zadie Smith. They are out there protesting Donald Trump’s election or posting on Facebook about their sadness and dissatisfaction. They range from ages 15–40. They consider diversity and a knowledge of various cultures important as social currency and means of personal growth. They tend to be college-educated or on the college track and lean liberal. They care about safe spaces on campuses and think about “becoming woke.” They may themselves be third, fourth or further generation immigrants or children of interracial relationships. Many of them are dealing with issues of sexual, gender or cultural identity. A lot of them choose or create their own spiritual or religious codes and are part of interracial or inter religious relationships themselves.
The second group of people Beginner is aimed at is considered the opposite of the first. They are the Donald Trump voters — those alienated by the current climate of our country. They feel like they can’t belong in their own home because of the insurgence of those from “outside.” One of the podcast’s aims is to relate to these people, the 25–45 year old, white voters with conservative values who feel that they are forced to compete with minorities in order to just survive and belong. These listeners have been made fun of, forced to be silent and ignored because of what they don’t know — maybe they don’t use terms like “woke” or “cisgender,” or maybe they subscribe to a more organized form of religion, often scorned by their more liberal peers. They will relate to the feeling of being the only one in the room who doesn’t know.
We’ve reached a point at which much of America isn’t being represented in media. We’re talking about the relative proliferation of represented POC in podcasts. But how many of these podcasts, such as NY Times’ Still Processing or Buzzfeed’s Good Muslim Bad Muslim — actually speak to an audience outside of the college-educated, coastal elite? Beginner speaks to the human condition, a universal and perhaps endless search for belonging, that crosses color lines, to not just fellow POC, but also to the whitest parts of America.

Once I wrote out a detailed pitch and Laura edited, I came up with an episode outline that spanned two seasons and decided that barring unforeseen circumstances that fit with the narrative and warranted more content, the podcast would logically end after the second season.

I showed this pitch to a small group of my radio producer friends whom I hosted at my apartment the following week. Their enthusiasm gave me the validation to keep going.

In the next post, I’ll share more about our logo and visual identity.