CMAP Student Spotlight: Alumna Anna Ladd on Failure, Pyramid Schemes, and Becoming a Podcast Star

Earlier this month, CMAP alumna Anna Ladd ’18 won the Gimlet Creative “Casting Call” podcasting competition with her pilot episode of “An Exciting Business Opportunity,” a podcast that explores the dark underbelly of multi-level marketing companies (MLMs.) We sat down with Anna to learn more about her work and what inspired the idea for her award-winning podcast.

Anna Ladd is a storyteller. She uses image, installation, and sound to share stories and create a dialogue around social issues through her work.

After graduation from her undergraduate studies in the spring of 2016, Ladd felt unsure of what her next steps would be. “I fell into that void of I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know what I’m doing; I needed something to get back into the rhythm of making things again,” says Ladd about that period. In December of 2016, she conceived of writing a murder mystery podcast inspired by Serial.

Although that specific concept didn’t manifest, Ladd followed an organic path of inspiration that led her to create “Ok But Who Cares,” a podcast series that focuses on “weird little holes on the internet” that have intrigued Ladd in her online wanderings.

Back in 2014, when Ladd decided to start a rock band, she started teaching herself how to record and edit music. As a result of that process, she developed a technical aptitude for digital recording. Expanding those skills to podcasting turned out to be a new challenge for Ladd.

“Learning how to make [a podcast] episode and make it interesting has been a very public learning process,” says Ladd. “The difference from the initial [podcast] episode I put out to the most recent one is kind of hilarious, but I like being able to see that progression. Learning how to talk, learning how to write, learning how to integrate an interview with your own voice; I learned how to do all of that as I went through.”

Wanting to release a full series at once rather than just one episode at a time, Ladd didn’t release her first season of “Ok But Who Cares” until the summer of 2017. “I was really nervous to do it,” says Ladd. “I’m learning how to talk about failure more now. Everyone on the Internet wants to be like ‘I am doing so well!’ and when I graduated [from undergrad] and I didn’t think I was really doing well, I didn’t want to post about it, but as I got back into doing stuff again I wanted to feel comfortable talking about that…I think so many creative people get stuck on feeling like they need to know everything before they start. I kind of just wanted to put it out there and be like ‘I’m learning how to do this, I really like this medium, I really want to see how we can use it in different ways to tell different stories. Let’s see what happens.’”

Looking back on her first podcasts Ladd remarks “Sometimes I’m like, ‘oh those early episodes are so bad, it’s embarrassing,’ but I’m glad that they are out there still.” Although Ladd may have initially been nervous about her sharing her creations, it was obvious to Paul Mihailidis, the Graduate Program Director of CMAP, that Ladd was onto something when she began exploring podcasting as a medium.

“You could tell that it wasn’t just the tools, but she had the knack. She knew how to introduce things, when to put music in. She had the cadence and the voice, and all those other qualities that are really great…the first time she ever shared a podcast with us [in CMAP] I thought this is like something I could hear on any professional podcast, and it wasn’t just like ‘oh I just make this as something I’m doing on Saturdays.’”

When asked about how the “Casting Call” opportunity came into her focus, Ladd talks about how “serendipitously” things unfolded. “I’ve had a long-running fascination with MLMs for years…and one day I was just like ‘I want to create a podcast where I try out weird MLM detox and health products with my friends, who wants to drink shakes with me?’” The idea may have been sparked in jovial impulse, but the more Ladd discovered about MLMs and the people who had experienced MLM systems firsthand, the more Ladd realized that the concept could be a great opportunity to explore an “untapped wealth” of storytelling.

A week or so later, Ladd saw the “Casting Call” competition posted on social media. She immediately knew that she wanted to submit her idea, but other responsibilities kept her from preparing her application, and combined with a lack of confidence about her idea, she nearly didn’t apply.

It wasn’t until a few days before the deadline that she had an unexpected cache of time, and she decided to seize the moment to create the trailer that won her a spot as a finalist in the competition. “I was shocked,” says Ladd. “At that point I was like ‘why are you people talking to me?’…but [the Casting Call crew] was just really excited about [the idea] from the start.”

Ultimately, Ladd won the “Casting Call” competition with her podcast An Exciting Business Opportunity. “I really just wanted to make something that I would want to listen to, which is often my goal, and I think we did that. I’m really really proud of it, and I’m excited for the next three [podcast episodes] that we get to make now.”

Lindsay Goldberg, fellow member of the 2018 CMAP cohort, had been following Ladd’s creations since even before the two discovered they would be attending graduate school together at Emerson. Goldberg says “I’ve seen [Anna’s] art develop for over a decade, and I got to see her discover herself through storytelling… I watched her go through a transformative storytelling experience.”

Through Anna Ladd’s thoughtful, quirky podcasts, we not only develop a relationship with Ladd’s subjects, we are also invited to experience the story of Anna herself; her struggles and motivations, her failures and triumphs. The authentic, humorous vulnerability that Ladd embraces in the way she tells a story may very well be the most compelling part of her creations.

The fourth season of “Ok But Who Cares” is due to release in 2019. You can learn more and listen to the first three seasons now on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, and Facebook, and you can listen to Anna’s award winning pilot of “An Exciting Business Opportunity” here.