#ShowYourWork with Tess Cocchio: International Podcast Month

Appropriately, for our sunset edition of TinyLetter!Audio Dramatic, I’m providing the first entry of a new Casting Light series. It’s called #ShowYourWork, where I interview a creator about difficulties they’ve encountered in their creative process and how they overcame them, or what sorts of changes they implemented. The goal is to show everyone that all creators encounter roadblocks, stumbling points, mistakes, or barriers, and you can work through them and to not be afraid of the moment you encounter one.

It felt right to start with Tess Cocchio, the force behind International Podcast Month, as well as the curator of the RPG Casts Directory and the creator of the I Am Hear podcast, a podcast that features interviews with people active in the RPG community — not just podcasters, but artists, musicians, game designers, and so one. It’s a platform for marginalized community members to tell their stories and talk about why representation matters, what inspires them, and what they want to see in their communities.

What was your impetus for starting International Podcast Month (IPM)?

A while ago, I had this idea to create a collaborative event for the RPG community specifically, and I wanted to do something where we all got together and did cross-promotion and collaborated with each other. I reached out to a couple people and together we came up with the idea of playing one-shots together and recording them and putting them all out together on one RSS feed. When we started scheduling games is around the same time that I joined Wil Williams’ Podcast Problems Discord server and started talking to the awesome audio drama people there. I got excited about including them and having an even bigger event, because RPG podcasts have a lot of crossover with audio drama — they’re just trying to tell stories in different ways. It was still a couple months away from the deadline and I thought that maybe it’s too late and maybe I’ll pitch it next year.

I pitched to one friend who agreed and said it was way too late to ask them to pitch in now, and we should definitely ask them next year. And then I reached out to you, Ely, and asked you if people would want to and you really gave me the push to reach out to the audio drama community and it…exploded! I already love it, I’m excited about its inaugural year and about where it’s going to go in the future.

You run the RPG podcast directory and you are the brains behind the podcast I Am Hear. What would you say you learned from those experiences that helped you with IPM?

The biggest thing that I’ve learned from RPG Casts is that it’s about community. When I started RPG Casts, I had expected for that to be a small community. I knew about maybe 6 or 7 different RPG podcasts and I was like, “there’s probably tops 50, only 50 podcasts that are RPG related.”

The silly thing is how that even started — a friend of mine’s twelve-year-old son wanted to get into D&D but didn’t have any friends who played it and she asked me to make a list for him. I thought, “I bet other people want a list”, and I wanted to focus on ones that have women in them  — so that’s it, there’s definitely less than 50 of those.

I have over 360 podcasts listed on RPG Casts now.

[we take a break to laugh here.]

I learned a lot about networking and collaboration because I wanted to recognize marginalized groups and that has to come from interacting with those groups — it has to be, “I see you, I want to get to know you, I want to be able to boost you in the most personal way that I can”. Right around the same time as I was created RPG Casts was when I had the idea for I Am Hear, but I realized that I could not create I Am Hear without building a community first and getting to know the people and hearing people’s stories before having them on the show to talk about themselves. Nobody is going to trust somebody they’ve never heard of to be open about personal stuff.

What’s been the hardest part about IPM?

Organizing podcasters is a little bit like herding cats. It’s not so much people not wanting to participate or people not being on top of things. The actual groups were really great at organizing their games. It was just a lot of checking in on people and checking in on the status of things, and that making sure everybody’s episodes were submitted and providing really specific guidelines as to what I was looking for.

Jeff Stormer from Party of One Podcast has this brilliant start anytime he has anyone on his show specifically about the rules of the table. He has created this beautiful opening that said, “we remain committed to making and maintaining an inclusive and welcoming space for people of all types. And so to that end, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and other related material is not allowed at the table.” And then we said, “we reserve the right for players, GMs, and even editors at any time if that material comes up to say, this isn’t okay, we’re not releasing it.” I was very intentional with who I was reaching out to initially because I wanted to create a core principle that aligned with those of I  Am Hear and RPG Casts, which was that marginalized voices need to be heard. And those were the voices I wanted to be heard with IPM as well.

But probably the toughest thing was staying on top of all of the little pieces; being really communicative with everybody, creating these guidelines for the blog and guidelines for the one shot episodes, and even creating some short guidelines for the audio drama minisodes and really being clear about what we’re here to do. We’re here to celebrate each other, but also to share listeners and to expose listeners to new shows and to new people who maybe they hadn’t thought of checking out before.  And then the pieces of how I was going to promote it, how I was going to drum up excitement for it and also do some sweet giveaways. For months beforehand, I was looking at Kickstarter and thinking things like, “If I Kickstart three of these pins, then I can keep one and I can give two of them away for an event.”

What are you going to do differently now that you’ve run the first IPM on your own?

From the excitement we drummed up this year, I can foresee more podcasters wanting to be a part of it next year. So I’d like to get a committee or board together fairly quickly afterward this IPM to survey everyone who participated or listened and find out what went well for them and what didn’t go well for them. We’d figure out how we’re gonna manage the workload because there’s a lot of work — I had a bunch of people stepping up to the plate to help me this year, and I just think a team would be even better for future years. And also figuring out funding, because that was a lesson learned!

Something I was really cognizant of this year was that, as I am fronting a cause, I didn’t want to make money off things that are not my property. I make it really clear on my website that I hold zero ownership over anything provided to me — episodes, blog posts, whatever. In wanting it to be recognized that the intellectual property belongs to the creators. I didn’t want to make money off of it. I’ve had a few donations and they have gone straight back into the cost of the IPM site specifically, but not the I Am Hear RSS feed, or it’s gone into giveaways.

What’s been the most rewarding moment?

Actually seeing the episodes come together and every time a new episode gets posted on the RSS feed and hearing people be excited about them, that has been the most rewarding. Hearing things like, “oh man these podcasters got together!”, or people seeing a minisode from a show that they love that they weren’t expecting to show up on the feed.

What’s been the most surprising thing about IPM?

I think just how much people wanted to be involved. When I first started pitching it, I thought I would get enough episodes for an episode a week. I do not have well-aligned expectations versus reality. I thought I’d get maybe five episodes and if each one has four different podcasters, that’d be 20 podcasters, and that’d be a lot!

How many did you end up with? [we are both muffling laughter at this point so we can keep talking]

There are over 75 podcasters, over 70 unique podcasts represented.  That is more than five.

What’s been your favorite episode so far? You can pick from each different group — improvised tabletop and scripted fiction.

You aren’t making this easy for me! Picking just one even for each of these groups is hard. I adored the Ostium audio drama minisode — the one that you were in! I had actually not listened to Ostium before listening to that episode and was immediately subscribed. For the oneshots, I’ll have to say the Monster of the Week episode, because it had me laughing out loud. I’ve loved all of the ones I’ve listened to so far.

I know making you pick between your children is hard. But in general, what podcasts are you loving right now and want to recommend?

I will always hype D20 Dames — it is a fantastic all-women D&D show. There are a ton of great all-women actual plays — Fate and the Fablemaidens, The Broadswords, Roll Like a Girl — but D20 Dames is especially up there for me. And definitely Join the Party for RPG shows, I adore those disaster children.

As for fiction, The Big Loop recently broke me. I discovered it like a week ago.

You inhaled the entirety of The Big Loop in a week?

I couldn’t help it!I bawled my eyes out and my tiny son came up to me with his books saying “Mama?” like his books were going to fix me.

I also want to hype Wolf 359 and Unplaced, which I actually discovered via Michelle Nickolaisen’s Serendipity City actual play. There are so many great podcasts! Choosing is hard.

What’s something you want to highlight before we sign off?

I think that I think the communities are changing for the better and, and ultimately, whether some of the more toxic communities want to admit it or not, queer people are making your RPGs, they’re making D&D, they’re making all sorts of amazing indie games. Queer people are podcasters, queer people are audio fiction writers and voice actors and editors. I think it’s important to note because the default in podcasting is not straight cishet white man. There are certainly straight cishet white men in podcasting, but that’s not it. That’s not the default for gaming either, and by making it clear and upfront that that’s not the default, I think really helps make people feel like this is a place for them. And that’s ultimately what I’m trying to achieve with everything that I do: everybody is welcome here and everybody deserves to be here and everybody deserves to take up equal space.

This interview was originally published in Audio Dramatic Issue #15, September 24 2018.