Gretta Cohn — CEO of Transmitter Media on $7,000 of Startup Capital, Touring with Bright Eyes, and Making Beautiful Things

1:12:49
 
Share
 

Manage episode 282050241 series 2806035
By RockWater Industries and Chris Erwin. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Gretta Cohn is the founder and CEO of Transmitter Media. Gretta's experience runs the gamut of all things audio, from public radio and ringtones, to producing chart-topping podcasts. We discuss her time touring with the band Bright Eyes, being hired as the first prodution executive at Midroll Media and Earwolf, and starting her own podcast company with only $7,000 of savings.

Subscribe to our newsletter. We explore the intersection of media, technology, and commerce: sign-up link

Learn more about our market research and executive advisory: RockWater website

Follow The Come Up on Twitter: @TCUpod

Email us: tcupod@wearerockwater.com

--

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Chris Erwin:

Hi, I'm Chris Erwin. Welcome to The Come Up, a podcast that interviews entrepreneurs and leaders.

Gretta Cohn:

I thought I would take the more productive path, the one where I didn't leave podcasting and I made this decision in December of 2016 to myself and then spent the next couple of months just tucking away money. And when I say I saved money before starting the business, I saved $7,000.

Chris Erwin:

This week's episode features Gretta Cohn, the founder and CEO of Transmitter Media. Now, Gretta's experience runs the gamut of all things audio. From being a touring cellist with the band, Cursive, to teaching radio workshops at NYU, to working in audiobooks, ringtones, and most recently podcasts. And Gretta's done some groundbreaking work along the way like turning Freakonomics Radio into an omni channel media brand, launching the number one podcast show, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People and helping build Howl, which eventually became part of Stitcher. But Gretta's career transformed in 2017 when she decided to do podcasting on her own terms. So with only $7000 of savings, Gretta founded Transmitter Media and quickly began producing premium podcasts for clients like, TED, Spotify, and Walmart. Today, Gretta is focused on scaling her Brooklyn based team and creating more, as she describes, beautiful things.

Chris Erwin:

Gretta's love for her craft and team is so genuine and her story is a great example of how sheer will and passion are the ultimate enablers. All right, let's get into it.

Chris Erwin:

Tell me a little bit about where you grew up. I believe that you grew up in New York City. Is that right?

Gretta Cohn:

Well, I grew up in the suburbs, so I grew up on Long Island. My mom is from Queens and my dad is from Brooklyn and there is a sort of mythology of their meeting. My mom's dad was a butcher in Queens and my dad would always tell us that they didn't have toothpaste growing up and he'd go over to my mom's house and just eat. Yeah, they moved out to Long Island after they got married.

Chris Erwin:

Nice. And what part of Long Island?

Gretta Cohn:

Initially I grew up on the eastern end in the town called Mount Sinai and then when I was 13 in a very traumatic move at that age we moved to Huntington, which was more like smack in the middle of the island.

Chris Erwin:

My cousins are from Huntington. That's where they grew up, but then I think they moved to Lloyd's Neck shortly after. Why was that move so traumatic at 13?

Gretta Cohn:

I think it's that really formative age where you are sort of coming into yourself as a human, as a teenager and I remember writing my name on the wall in the closet because I wanted to leave my mark on that particular house that we grew up in. But then we moved and I made new friends and it was fine.

Chris Erwin:

Everything is scary at that age. It's like, "Oh, I have my friends and if I move to a new high school or middle school, I'll never have the same friends again."

Gretta Cohn:

My best friend at the time, Alessandra, never to be talked to or seen again.

Chris Erwin:

What was the household like growing up? Was there interesting audio from your parents? I mean, I think you mentioned, remind me, your father was a butcher and your mother was...

Gretta Cohn:

No, no. Those are my grandparents.

Chris Erwin:

Those are your grandparents. Got it.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. No. My parents were both teachers in the education system. My dad was a teacher his whole career life. He taught shop and psychology classes and computer classes. And my mom ended up being a superintendent of the school district on Long Island. She got her start as a Phys Ed teacher and then became an English teacher and worked her way up to superintendent. The sort of interest in audio they instilled in me and my two brothers extremely early. We all started learning to play string instruments at the age of three through the Suzuki method.

Chris Erwin:

The Suzuki method?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Which is like an ear training style of learning music. So you essentially at three years old, you cannot possibly understand how to physically play an instrument and I remember a lot of time spent in those early group lessons just hugging the cello and singing this song, I love my cello very much, I play it every day and crawling up and down the bow with spider fingers, that's what they called it because your fingers kind of looked like spiders crawling up and down the bow and we all started playing string instruments at that age. I played cello and then the brother who came after me played violin, and the brother who came after him also played cello.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. And did you parents play instruments as well, string instruments?

Gretta Cohn:

No. My dad loves to say he can play the radio.

Chris Erwin:

I respect that.

Gretta Cohn:

I think they are educators, they are really invested in the full education of a person and so I think that they thought it was a good teaching discipline and it certainly required a kind of discipline. I can recall really fighting against practicing because I had to practice probably every day and I would rebel and not want to do it, but it was not really an option and I'm glad that ultimately I was pressed to continue to play because playing music has played such a huge part of my life.

Chris Erwin:

Clearly. It led you, which we'll get to, into founding a podcast production company and network and so much more. So very big impact. But, I get it. I began playing the alto saxophone in fourth grade and my twin brother was playing the clarinet and it was lessons with Mr. Slonum every week, an hour of practice every day and it was, when you're putting it on top of sports and homework and academics, it's a lot and it's intense and there's moments where you really don't want to do it and it's not fun and then there's moments where you're very thankful for it. And I think a lot of the more thankful moments came later in my life, but if you can get some of those early on, it's meaningful. When you first started playing, did you really enjoy it or was it just like, uh this is what I'm just supposed to do?

Gretta Cohn:

I remember enjoying it. I remember in particular being able to do little recitals every so often and I know there are photographs of myself in recital that I've seen even recently and there is such a joy in that and I think that showing off something that you've done and your family claps for you, it's a good job. Ultimately, what it feels like to play in a group, in an ensemble, it's pretty magical. I played in orchestras starting in grade school all the way up through college and there is something really amazing about the collective and your part and you can't mess up because it's glaringly obvious if you're the one out of the section of 12 cellists whose got their bow going the wrong direction or the wrong note playing. But it's also really beautiful to play in a group like that.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. It's a special team sport, right? You rely on other people and people rely on you. When it comes together, it's an absolutely beautiful event, for you and the audience.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. I also played soccer growing up, speaking of team sports.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. What position?

Gretta Cohn:

I was defense. They would enlist me to run around and shadow the most powerful player on the other team. I don't know why, but I remember that.

Chris Erwin:

I was very similar. I started out as a recreation all-star like a forward and then got moved to right fullback, which is defense. That was my soccer career. All right. So interesting. So yeah, speaking of studying music, I think that when you went to university, you almost went to study music at a conservatory but you ended up going to Brown instead. What were you thinking, because were you going down a path where it's like, "I want to be in audio, I want to create music." What was your head space there as you started to go through advanced education, beginnings of your career?

Gretta Cohn:

I remember collecting fliers for conservatories. I was interested in conservatory, I think though that as I began to really think about what that would mean, I don't know that I was thinking really broadly, like oh... No one at 17 or whatever really has a full picture of what those choices ultimately mean but I'm glad that I didn't go to music school. I was always the worst player in the best section. So I remember I was in the New York Youth Symphony and I was definitely not the best player in that section, but it was really hard to get in. One summer I went and studied at the Tanglewood Institute in Boston, which is, again, extremely competitive and hard to get into but I was definitely not the best player there.

Gretta Cohn:

And I think that thinking about what it would mean to devote oneself entirely to that, I had other interests. I wasn't so completely focused on being a performer that it didn't ultimately feel like it would make a lot of sense because I wanted to study history, I wanted... And obviously, you go to conservatory, you have a well-rounded education ultimately, I would imagine, but it's not where I think I ultimately wanted to go. That was not the direction I ultimately wanted to go.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. It's a really big commitment going from good to great, but I mean, you are great. You are getting into these elite orchestras but to be the first chair, that's a level of dedication practice that's really tough. It's funny, I actually read a David Foster Wallace article about the sport of tennis and he played and he was very good and I think he could have even gone pro, but he's like, "I'm good, I put in enough hours and I have fun with it, but for me to go to the next level..." He's like, "It's not fun to me and I don't want to do that." It's not for him. So you make a decision and you go to Brown. What's your study focus at Brown?

Gretta Cohn:

I ultimately was in the American Studies Department, but I had a special sort of crossover with the music department so I took a lot of music classes, I took a lot of American Studies classes which is basically like cultural history, social history, history through the lens of various social movements or pop culture, which I think is really fascinating and I wound everything together so that my senior thesis was about cover songs and the history of sort of copying and the idea of creating various versions of any original work and the sort of cultural history and critical theory lens of it, but also just I selected three songs and I traced their history over time from a performance perspective but also from like, how does this song fit into the narrative of music history?

Chris Erwin:

Do you remember the three songs?

Gretta Cohn:

I think I did Twist and Shout.

Chris Erwin:

Okay.

Gretta Cohn:

I Shall Be Released and I can't remember the third one. But I had a lot of fun writing it and I really liked the bridging between the music department and the American Studies department. And strangely, there are so many journalists who came up through American Studies. There are several producers on my staff who were American Studies students in college. I think it just gives you this permission to think about story telling in the world from just this very unique cultural vantage points.

Chris Erwin:

Did you have a certain expectation where you had an idea of what that story was going to be over time or were you surprised and as you saw how the narrative played out with the original song and recording and production and then the covers, anything that stands out of like, "Oh, I did not expect this, but I found this very fascinating."?

Gretta Cohn:

I don't really remember at this point.

Chris Erwin:

Sorry for putting you on the spot, it's such a long time ago.

Gretta Cohn:

The thing was like more than 100 pages and it's probably a door stopper now at my parents house. I remember that I put a big picture of a mushroom on the last page. John Cage wrote a lot about mushrooms and so I wove some of his work into the thesis but this idea that the mushroom takes the dirt and crap and stuff that's on the forest floor and turns it into this organic material, the mushroom. So yeah, I don't remember the specifics.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, no. All good. My thesis was on the Banana Wars and that is... It's not even worthy of being a door stopper. That's just straight to the trash. But I did, for a music class, I think I did break down a song by the Sex Pistols.

Gretta Cohn:

Cool.

Chris Erwin:

I can't remember specifically which one, but I think I dove deep into the lyrics and I think I was pretty disappointed. I expected to find more meaning and have more fun with it, and I think it was maybe my young mind, I couldn't go deeper than I thought I could. Anyway... So fast forward to 2001 and as I was going through your bio, this really stood out and it hits close to home. You become a cellist for some alternative rock bands including Cursive, The Faint, and Bright Eyes. And I just remember The Faint, I think a song from 2008, The Geeks Were Right. I remember listening to that shortly after college. So tell me, what was that transition going from university to then moving, I think you moved to Omaha out of New York to play in these rock bands?

Gretta Cohn:

So when I was in college, I continued to play in the school orchestra, but I also met some friends who became collaborators and we would just improvise in the lounge like, bass drums, guitar and cello. And that was really freeing for me. Growing up on Long Island, I had such easy access to New York City and for whatever reason, I was really given a lot of freedom to... I would take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan and go to concerts all through high school, like rock concerts.

Chris Erwin:

What was some of your earliest concert memories?

Gretta Cohn:

Purposely getting to an Afghan Whigs show and planting myself in the front row because I wanted to be as close as possible to the stage. So I used to go to concerts all the time and I was really, really interested in... I wasn't only a person who thought about classical music at all and so I met this group of people and formed this little group together and so I was playing music in college, eventually joining a band mostly with locals in Providence and we became the opening act for a lot of bands that were coming through.

Chris Erwin:

And what type of music were you playing, Gretta?

Gretta Cohn:

It was arty rock.

Chris Erwin:

Arty rock. Okay.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Some of it was instrumental, but then some of it was like pop. I think one of the bands that I was in was called The Beauty Industry and it was probably a little bit reminiscent of Built to Spill and The Magnetic Fields and a little bit like Poppy. So in that band we would serve as the opening act for a lot of artists that were coming through and through that I was able to meet the folks from Saddle Creek from Omaha, Nebraska. And I didn't know that I made an impression on them, but I did and after I graduated I moved to New York. I didn't really know exactly where I was headed. I got a job working in the development office at Carnegie Hall and I didn't love it. We had to wear suits. And one day the folks from Omaha called my parents home phone and left a message and asked if I would come out and play on a record with them and I did.

Chris Erwin:

When you got that message, were you ecstatic, were you super excited or were you just confused, like, "Hey, is this real? What's going on here?"

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. I think I was like, "Huh, well, that's interesting." Like, "I didn't expect this." So Cursive is the group that invited me out to record. Just sort of like come out and record on our album. And I didn't actually know Cursive. I had met Bright Eyes and Lullaby for the Working Class when I was at Brown, but I hadn't met Cursive and my best friend, who is still one of my best friends was a Cursive fan and dumped all of their CDs and seven inches in my lap and was like, "You need to listen to them, they are so good." So I did and I sort of gave myself a little Cursive education and then I started to get really excited because I felt like there was a lot of interesting potential. Yeah.

Gretta Cohn:

Moving out there was not an easy decision. It was very unknown for me. I love New York City and I always imagined myself here and I had never been to the Midwest so I didn't know what my expectations were and I didn't... Also at that time Cursive was a fairly well-known band but it wasn't understood that I would move out there and that would be my job, right? I was moving out there to join this community and play in Cursive and do Cursive stuff, go on tour, record records, but at that point there was no promise like, "Oh, I'm going to live off of this." And so I went to a temp agency and I did paperwork in an accountant's office and-

Chris Erwin:

While also performing with Cursive?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Yeah. I will also say though, after the first year, things really took off after The Ugly Organ and I would say at that point I was no longer working in the temp office and we were going on long tours and when I came home in between stretches on tour, I was recovering from tour because it's quite exhausting and working on the next thing with the bands.

Chris Erwin:

Were you touring around nationally? Any international touring?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. National and international. We went all over the States, Canada and then European tour is like often... Cursive was very big in Germany so we would spend a lot of time in Germany, Scandinavia. We went to Japan once.

Chris Erwin:

What an incredible post university experience!

Gretta Cohn:

It really, really was incredible.

Chris Erwin:

Playing music because of a skill that you formed very early on and then working in New York at Carnegie Hall and a job that you weren't too excited about and then you just get this serendipitous phone call. And you started listening to Cursive records in seven inches and you're getting more and more excited and all of a sudden you're traveling the world. That's like a dream scenario.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. It was pretty dreamy. And I think I recognized at the time. I mean, those first tours, we were sleeping on... I had my sleeping bag and we would be sleeping on hardwood floors, end up in like a row and someone's apartment in like Arlington. And I remember some of those first tours internationally, like in Germany, you would play the show and then everyone would leave and they would shut the lights off and we would just sleep on the stage. And in the morning the promoter, like the booker would come back and they would have bread and cheese and fruit and coffee. And it was just this beautiful... But we were sleeping on the stage.

Chris Erwin:

I mean, you're all doing it together. So it was cool. Right. You just were a crew.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, yeah. It was great. I loved it. I really, really loved it.

Chris Erwin:

I look at your work timeline between 2001 to 2010, which includes, you're a touring international artist, but then you do a lot of other things in audio. Like you study with Rob Rosenthal at the Salt Institute, do some time in Studio 360, and then you go to radio and then audio books. So what are the next few years? How does this audio adventure start to transform for you?

Gretta Cohn:

While I was in Cursive, there were other parts of me that I felt needed feeding and so I started writing for the local alternative weekly in Omaha. And I was doing like book reviews and reviewing art shows and doing little pieces, which sort of opened up to me, this understanding that journalism was something that I was really interested in. And while I was still essentially based in Omaha and still, essentially based out of Saddle Creek, I came back to New York for a few months and did an internship at The Village Voice because I just really wanted to sort of start exploring these paths of what would potentially come next. I didn't necessarily think that I was meant to stay in Omaha like for the rest of my life. When I first moved out there, I thought, "Oh, I'll give it a few years. See how it goes and then probably come back home to New York."

Gretta Cohn:

And then things really took off and so I didn't want to leave. And I was really having a great time and loved it and loved everything that I was doing. And I think that at the time that chapter was coming to a close, it was sort of like naturally coming to a close and I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do next. I was interested in journalism, I was interested obviously in... still thinking about music and audio although I think I needed a break from music after that time. Like when you're so intensively working on something like that, you just need a minute to let everything kind of settle.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. It's all encompassing. Right. You're just living, breathing, eating music and the band. It's a lot.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. So I took a couple of years and started to figure it out. Actually, something that's not on your list is I worked at a ringtone company for a bit.

Chris Erwin:

It is audio based. So I'm not surprised. So yeah, tell me about that.

Gretta Cohn:

It was just a job that I got. Actually, looking back now, I think that it was a company that was founded by two classical musicians. They mostly had contracts with major record labels and I remember turning Sean Paul's Temperature into a ringtone in particular. It was just like chopping things into little eight seconds and looping them and mastering them and-

Chris Erwin:

Were you doing the technical work as well?

Gretta Cohn:

Not really, you spend time in the studio and so you learn and you pick up things. I wasn't recording the band, but that was the first time that I got my own pro tools set up and so I had my own pro tool setup, like was using it for my own little projects at home, but I was not technically involved with the making of any of the records that was on now, except for playing on them.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, you were dabbling in pro tools then pretty early on.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, yeah. I had the original Mbox, which is like this big plastic, weird alien looking object with just like a couple of little knobs on it. I finally got rid of it a couple of years ago. I held onto it for a long time and now you don't even need it.

Chris Erwin:

So you're dabbling and then I know that you spend time as a producer at The Story with Dick Gordon, North Carolina, and then you went to audio books. Is that when things started to take shape for you of knowing kind of what you wanted to do?

Gretta Cohn:

I think as soon as I went to Salt to study with Rob Rosenthal is when I knew that that's what I wanted to do. I took a few years after Cursive to kind of reset a little bit and then I started working at the ringtone company and began to have conversations with people about where all my interests collided. Like I loved working in sound, storytelling and journalism were really important to me. I don't think at that point that... There was a whole lot that I was exposed to apart from NPR, This American Life and Studio 360 were sort of the major outlets for audio storytelling that I understood and spent time with. And I just remember having a meal with someone who I don't recall his name, but he's done a lot of illustrations for This American Life and public radio outlets and he was like, "There's this place, it's called salt. You can learn how to do this there." And so I just decided that I was going to step down this path. Right.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. And Salt is based in Maine, is that right?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. So I moved to Maine for six months. I was very excited. I got a merit scholarship to go there.

Chris Erwin:

Oh wow.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, and I basically... There's so many fundamentals that I learned there that I use every single day now still. I think Rob Rosenthal is absolutely brilliant and he has trained so many radio producers. It's insane.

Chris Erwin:

Of all the learnings from Rob, just like what's one that comes to mind quickly that you use everyday?

Gretta Cohn:

I don't know that this is one I use every day, but it's one that's really stuck with me, is he really counseled to be really mindful when thinking about adding music to a story. He used the phrase, emotional fascism. Essentially, if you need to rely on the music to tell the listener how to feel, then you haven't done your job in sort of crafting a good story. So like the bones of the story, like the structure, the content, the sort of stakes intention and the character you've chosen, like all of that have to clear a certain hurdle and then you can start thinking about adding music, but if you're relying on the music to sort of create tension or drama or emotion, then you've kind of missed something.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. That's very interesting. What a great insight! I like that. Emotional fascism.

Gretta Cohn:

I'll never forget.

Chris Erwin:

So after the Salt Institute, what's next?

Gretta Cohn:

I got an internship at WNYC at Studio 360. At that time the internship system at New York Public Radio was like largely unpaid. I think I got $12 a day. So I interned I think three or four days a week and then I had like two other jobs.

Chris Erwin:

Just to make ends meet, to make it work.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. I worked at a coffee shop, like most mornings. And then I worked at a Pilates studio many afternoons and on the weekends. So it was like a lot, I was really running at full steam, but I really enjoyed the internship there. And then that was my first real glimpse into what it was like to work in a team to make impactful audio storytelling and I learned a lot there too. The team there was really amazing. Yeah. So Studio 360 was fantastic. And then a friend of mine had found out about this gig at The Story with Dick Gordon. It was a short term contract producer role, like filling in for someone who was out on leave. And I got the job and I moved down to Durham, North Carolina, and found an apartment, brought my cat and worked on that show for a few months, which I think was a pretty crucial experience to have had, which helped open the door into WNYC.

Chris Erwin:

Why's that?

Gretta Cohn:

So this was in like 2008, 9 and there weren't like a whole lot of opportunities in the audio storytelling space. Like your major opportunities were at public radio stations and public radio stations were highly competitive. It didn't have a lot of turnover. They understood that they were the only game in town if this was the career path that you were interested in going down. So having had a job at a radio station on staff on a show was such a huge opportunity. I don't know that I was like chomping at the bit to leave New York or move to Carolina, although I loved it there. And I had friends who lived there that I knew from the Saddle Creek community. So it was really great. I moved down there and I didn't have to... I can't recall ever feeling lonely. Right. Like I immediately had this community of people, which was amazing, but that gig was only three months.

Gretta Cohn:

And so I came back to New York and basically spent the next couple of years banging on the door to get back into WNYC, which is when I went to the audio books company where quite a few radio producers worked. Like that's how I found out about it. There were folks who had passed through Studio 360 or elsewhere. And my boss at the audio books company is David Markowitz, who is now currently working in the podcasting department at Netflix. And he previously was at Pushkin and at Headspace and he... So he and I, although our paths crossed at that moment, because our paths have continued to cross over and over again since that time working together with the audio books company. Audio books wasn't my passion, but while I was there I got the idea to pitch the podcast to the audio books company, which they agreed to let me do. And so I had this outlet to just do a little bit of experimenting and to grow some skills and also have just like an outlet to doing this kind of work that I wanted to be doing.

Chris Erwin:

Had you ever pitched a project or an idea before to any place that you worked at?

Gretta Cohn:

I pitched stories to Studio 360, but to pitch an idea for something that had not existed before, no.

Chris Erwin:

It becomes, I believe, The Modern Scholar podcast, is that right?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. You've done like a really deep research.

Chris Erwin:

Look, it helps to tell your story. Right. So you pitch, and then you get the green light, which must feel validating. It's like, okay, this is a good idea, but now it's got to be more than a pitch, you had to execute. Was that intimidating or were you like, "No, I'm ready to go I got it."

Gretta Cohn:

I was ready to go. They had an audio book series called The Modern Scholar. Professors would come in and record like 10 hours worth of like Italian history. And so what I did was just have a one hour interview with the professor who was the author of this series and talk about their work, go into detail on something really specific. I will say at that time that like I applied for a mentorship with AIR, the Association of Independence Radio, they gave me a mentor and I had like a few sessions with him and it was great. Like I had someone... I had an editor, right. I wasn't totally on my own kind of like muscling through. And so he really sort of helped refine the ideas for that show and that was a great help. So I'm lucky that I was able to get that.

Chris Erwin:

What I'm really hearing Gretta is that you moved around a lot and participated in and developed all these different music and audio communities around the US and even the world from like Omaha and international touring and Scandinavia and Europe, and then the Salt and Maine and North Carolina and New York and more, and I'm sure, as you said, with David Markowitz, that these relationships are now serving you in your current business. So it feels like that was like a really good investment of your time where the networking was great, but you also learned a lot and were exposed to a lot of different thinking and ideas. Is that right?

Gretta Cohn:

Absolutely. Definitely. Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

After dabbling around a bit for the first decade of the 2000s, you then go to WNYC and you're there for around six years, I think 2008 to 2014. And you work on some cool projects. You're the associate producer at Freakonomics and you also work on Soundcheck. So tell me about what made you commit to WNYC and what were you working on when you first got there?

Gretta Cohn:

At the time there weren't a lot of options for people doing this work. And WNYC obviously is an incredible place where really amazing work is done, really talented people. It basically was like the game in town, right? Like there weren't a lot of other places where you could do audio storytelling work in this way. There was a pivotal moment that I think could have gone in a different direction, but I had applied for a job at StoryCorps and I applied for the job at Soundcheck.

Chris Erwin:

What is StoryCorps?

Gretta Cohn:

They have a story every Friday on NPR that's like a little three minute edited story and it's usually like two people in conversation with each other. It's highly personal. And they're very well known for these human connection stories. It's I think influenced in part by oral history and anthropology, but it's basically this intimate storytelling. And I did not get that job, although I was a runner up and the person who did get the job is now one of my closest friends. But at the same time was an applicant for Soundcheck and I did get that job. And I think it was... That was the right path for me because I have such a passion for music. Right. My background kind of really led me to have an understanding of how to tell those stories.

Chris Erwin:

What is the Soundcheck format?

Gretta Cohn:

It changed over time. But when I joined Soundcheck, it was a live daily show about music and really open, like wide open as far as what it covered. So in any given episode, you could have like Yoko Ono there for an interview, you could have the author of a book about musicals from the 1920s, and then you could have like a live performance from Parquet Courts. So it was really wide ranging and varied and super interesting. And there's so much about working on a daily show that's I think extremely crucial to building up chops as a producer because every single day you have a brand new blank slate, you have to work extremely quickly and efficiently. Working in the live setting can create so much pressure because not only are you keeping to a clock, like the show went from like 2:01 to like 2:50 every day, and there had to be certain breaks and you have an engineer and you need the music to cue in a certain place.

Gretta Cohn:

And so you're like, "Cue the music." And you're whispering to the host like, "Move on to the next question." You're like this master puppeteer with all these marionettes and it's pretty wild. It's really fun, super stressful. You go off stage and it's like-

Chris Erwin:

It sounds stressful.

Gretta Cohn:

You can't fix it. You just have to move on and you learn a lot.

Chris Erwin:

It feels like something, you do that for maybe a couple of years or a few years and then it's like, ah you need a break from that. It's amazing that people who work in like live video or live radio for decades, like kudos to the stamina that they build up.

Gretta Cohn:

And that's exactly what happened is I needed a break from it. And that's when I went to Freakonomics.

Chris Erwin:

Got it. Before we go into Freakonomics, you also helped create Soundcheck into an omni-channel media brand where you were launching video and live events and interactive series. Was that something that had been happening in the audio industry or were you kind of setting a new precedent?

Gretta Cohn:

Our team was tapped to reinvent Soundcheck. So it had been this live daily show for quite some time and I think that WNYC wanted to reshape it for a variety of reasons. So we were sort of tasked, like we pulled the show off the air and kind of went through this like sprint of re-imagining, what the show could be, how it would sound, what it would do. And actually, I remember that I pitched this video series that was a lot of fun. I can't remember the name of it now, but we worked with a local elementary school and we would have three kids sitting behind desks and we would play them clips from pop songs-

Chris Erwin:

Whoa.

Gretta Cohn:

... and they would review them and-

Chris Erwin:

That's a really cool idea.

Gretta Cohn:

... it was awesome. It was so much fun. We did a lot of live performances and I started producing sort of like more highly produced segments and storytelling for Soundcheck at that time, because there was more space to try and figure that out. Ultimately, what it turned into was like a daily delivery of a show that I think ultimately resembled the old show in many ways, but it was not live anymore. And there were all these other tasks. I also created a first lesson type series for Soundcheck at that time where we would like stream a new album before it came out and I would write a little review. It was really fun. When we pulled the show off the air and we were tasked with re-imagining it was like a sandbox that you just kind of could plan, which was great.

Chris Erwin:

It's a wide open canvas that you can paint to how you desire. I get that why you were burnt out after that. So then you change it up and you become an associate producer at Freakonomics and you work with the fame, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. How has that experience?

Gretta Cohn:

It was great. It was challenging. I think that show has incredibly high standards and there's a particular kind of brain that I think works extremely well at that show. At the time, there were two of us who were the producers of the show, myself, who has this background in music and in production. And then the other producer was an economist who had been freshly graduated from economics school. And so we were this pair and I think what ultimately happened was that where I shown where these like human stories and where he shown was like distilling econ papers into sort of understandable stories. And so I think the two of us together really complimented each other. One of my favorite episodes that I worked on was about the Nathan's hotdog contest and one of the sort of like champs who had come up with a particular system for how to win-

Chris Erwin:

Dunking them in water and all that stuff. Yeah. I remember watching some of those segments online. In a minute they put back like 47 hotdogs. It was something crazy.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, it's wild.

Chris Erwin:

After Freakonomics, you decided to depart for Midroll and Earwolf. What was the impetus for that?

Gretta Cohn:

My time at Freakonomics was sort of like naturally coming to a close. I think that while my strength was in this sort of human sort of storytelling, I think the show needed someone who had a little bit more of that like econ background. And so I started to look around the station at WNYC, of other places where I could land, right? Like I'd moved from Soundcheck to Freakonomics, like what would be the next place for me to go? And I couldn't find it. I spent a little bit of time in the newsroom helping to look for a host for a new health podcast and I had conversations with people around the station about various other shows. I think I talked to the folks on the media and this producer, Emily Botein, who ultimately founded the Alec Baldwin podcast and a host of other really great shows there, but it didn't seem like there was space or a role that really made sense for me as far as like the next step is concerned.

Gretta Cohn:

At that time, Erik Diehn who's now the CEO of the Stitcher empire was in the finance office, I think at WNYC and he left to go to Midroll/Earwolf.

Chris Erwin:

I didn't realize he was also WNYC. Bannon was also WNYC who's now the chief content officer over there?

Gretta Cohn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Erwin:

Wow. It was a feeder to that company.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. So Erik Diehn left WNYC and I remember the note that went around, he's going to this company, Earwolf/Midroll. And I was like, kind of filed that away. And then it was probably a few months later that they put a position, they were hiring for a producer. And I sort of leapt at the opportunity. I thought that the shows on Earwolf were awesome. I had not worked really in comedy. Although I think that there's so much crossover in Soundcheck. We really had a lot of license to have basically like whoever on the show, like I booked comedians, I booked authors. Like I booked anyone who had a passion to talk about music, which is like 90% of the world. And so I think that that was really of interest to them. And I had a couple of conversations with Erik and the job was mine. I mean, I went through-

Chris Erwin:

You make it sound very easy.

Gretta Cohn:

... a proper vetting and interview process. And there were other candidates, but they gave it to me. And I was really, really excited because I think I was ready for a fresh start and I was ready for something new, something a little bit unknown. I think that I tend to find... Typically, I think if you look over the course of my life, like every few years, I'm like, "Okay, what's the next thing?" And I think that I still feel that way except now I have this entity of Transmitter in which to keep iterating and playing, but I was just ready for the next thing. And it was at that time, a really small company, I was the first New York based employee, like Eric was living in New Jersey. So it doesn't count as a New York employee. There was no office.

Chris Erwin:

I remember that Jeff Ullrich was the founder and it was bootstrap, didn't raise any venture capital and started I think in the early 2000s, if I remember correctly. Is that right?

Gretta Cohn:

I don't know the dates, but that sounds right.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. A little context for the listeners. And Earwolf is a comedy podcast network. So there's a slate of comedy shows and Midroll was the advertising arm of the business that would connect advertisers with the podcasters. But no, please continue. So you're the first New York hire.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Which was really exciting to me. I was the first producer hired by the company. They had a few really amazing audio engineers out in LA who ran the recordings and they did editing, but there had never been a producer on staff. So it was really this like wide open field. And Jeff at that time, I think had taken a step back from the company, but the moment that I was brought in is when the idea for Howl came into the picture and Howl was a membership subscription-based app that has now turned into Stitcher and Stitcher Premium, it was folded in, into Stitcher and Stitcher Premium. But at the time there was like this real push to create a subscription-based app with like a ton of new material. And one of my first jobs was to work extremely closely with Jeff to figure out what was going to be on this app, who were we going to hire to make material? What producers, what comedians, what actors? There was an enormous spreadsheet, like one of the most enormous spreadsheets that I've ever spent time with.

Gretta Cohn:

So that was my first task and alongside, which was to sort of from a producer's perspective look at this later shows on Earwolf and start to think about what would a producer bring to the network? What would a producer bring to the hosts, to the way that things were made, to new ideas to bring to the network? And so those two things were sort of happening concurrently.

Chris Erwin:

The producer role was not defined. You're the first producer there. So it's you coming in saying, "Here's how I can enhance the slate. Here's how I can enhance the content strategy of where we're headed concurrently with we're launching Howl, which needs a lot of content, both from partner podcasters and probably owned and operated and then filling..." So creating a new slate, that's going to fill that. That's going to make people want to buy the membership product or subscription product, which are big questions that Spotify and Netflix and the biggest subscription platforms in the world have huge teams to figure out. And it's like you and Jeff, and maybe a couple more people?

Gretta Cohn:

There was one developer.

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Gretta Cohn:

It was intense. It was a lot of work. I remember because at that time too, I was the only New York based person. Eric was in New Jersey. I think Lex Friedman came along. He was either already there or came along shortly thereafter, also based in New Jersey.

Chris Erwin:

And Lex was running sales?

Gretta Cohn:

Yes. And he's now with ART19, but there was no office. I was working from my kitchen table, much like I do now. It was great. I think what really excited me was like the open field of really sort of figuring out what everything was going to be and it was like off to the races.

Chris Erwin:

So I actually reached out to a few people that we mutually know to just get like, oh, what are some stories I can have Gretta talk about from the early Midroll/Earwolf days. So I reached out to Adam Sachs who was also on this podcast earlier. He's a childhood friend of mine that was also the CEO of the company when it sold the scripts, as well as Chris Bannon, who I consider one of the most like delightful humans on the planet. I think he was the chief content officer while you were there and he still is now under Eric as part of this new Stitcher Midroll combined empire. And what Chris said is that, like you mentioned Gretta, no office for the first six months and that you were taking meetings, I think in sound booths as well. And that when you finally did get an office, it was so small that you were taking turns sitting down.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Well, we put our own furniture together. I learned so much from my years at Earwolf that have completely guided and shaped a lot of how Transmitter kind of came into being. Yeah, we put all of our furniture together ourselves in this first office.

Chris Erwin:

That's good training for you launching Transmitter where it's lean budgets, you're funding from your savings. You probably had to set up your own furniture yourself too. So that DIY attitude persists.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, yeah. And it was exciting. Whereas a place like WNYC is this like well oiled machine, it's also like a big ship that in order to turn 30 people have to be sort of moving things around and like, is the sky clear? There are just like so many little tiny steps that have to be taken to make a decision. Whereas what working at that early stage at Earwolf meant was like you can just make decisions, you just do it. Eric and I went around to see like five different offices. We decided together, "Oh, let's take this one on Eighth Avenue." This is the furniture. All right, let's put it together. I remember walking into the office when the furniture was first delivered and it was extremely dusty and we were wearing dust masks and trying to figure out where's the studio going to go? And it was just really exciting. It's really exciting to sort of pave your way and build something from the ground up.

Chris Erwin:

I like what you're saying too, is that you can just get things done very quickly. And that's actually one of the things that Bannon brought up about working with you is you guys launched good shows I think in just a matter of a few months or less, like Bitch, Sash and Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, which was a number one hit on iTunes. And that now making shows like that, if you're at a bigger company with all the bureaucracy and the approvals can take over a year, but you guys were getting stuff done fast, there was no alternative choice.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, we were working very quickly.

Chris Erwin:

So I'm curious to hear like Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. That's like an iTunes topper. Was that the first big podcast hit that you had in your career?

Gretta Cohn:

I would say so. Yeah. I'm trying to remember what if anything came ahead of it, but I'm fairly certain that some of my first meetings after joining the team at Earwolf were with Chris Gethard and working with him on sort of early prototypes of Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. And he's a remarkable person. He's a brilliant comedian. He's such a good human being. He's an amazing collaborator. And yeah, it was the two of us for a while just, I think the first call that we took, which was sort of just the prototype, the pilot for the show. We're like, "We don't know what's going to happen. Is anyone going to call?" And yeah, I mean, it was really awesome working on that show. And also it was such a departure from the kinds of projects that I had worked on previously, which were extremely buttoned up like very highly produced in the sense that every single step that you took in the process was regimented, right? Like making a Freakonomics episode, making an hour of Soundcheck, thinking about that live daily experience.

Gretta Cohn:

Like you can't have a minute on the clock that's not accounted for in making those things. And here's a show where we just open a phone line and see what happens for an hour. And it's so freeing to be sort of separated from that regimentation and working with Chris Gethard, I think taught me that you can make something that's really compelling and that's really good. And it was highly produced. Like a lot of thought went into it. There's a lot of post-production, but it didn't need to be the kind of thing where like every single minute of that hour was a line on a spreadsheet. And I love that show. I think that we're all like voyeurs of other people's experiences. Right. And I think it's super interesting the way that people are willing to call and sort of like bare their souls to Chris and working on that show was fantastic.

Gretta Cohn:

And it was really gratifying and really rewarding when we realized that people were paying attention and they were going to listen. And for that to be one of the first projects of my tenure at Earwolf was great. It was great.

Chris Erwin:

That's awesome. What a cool story! Bannon even mentioned you work on, I think Casey Holford's Heaven's Gate, which is now an HBO Max series. I think that just came out this week or something, some big projects. All right. So look, in 2015, Midroll/Earwolf sells to Scripps, EW Scripps. Then I think in 2017 is when you start Transmitter Media. I'm curious to hear that after this fun sprint at Midroll and the sale and launching the shows and launching Howl and Wolfpop and all the things, what got you thinking about becoming a founder, which is a very different experience than what you had done for the first 10, 15 years of your career?

Gretta Cohn:

So after the sale, I think that Adam Sachs kind of offered me the opportunity to reshape my role a little bit. So I had been overseeing the Earwolf shows, developing and producing brand new shows and Howl was in the rear view at that point for me, I believe. I think this is like a classic situation. They're like, "We're going to split your job into two, which half do you want?" And I was like, "This is great." Because it had been a lot to be developing new shows, to have this sort of slate of shows at Earwolf requiring my attention. And I picked the path of new development and that's when they went out and found someone to executive produce the Earwolf network. And in my new role, I needed to build a team and a division.

Gretta Cohn:

So I had to hire really quickly about six producers to form a team. And there wasn't really a human resources and so it really fell on me to read every application that came in and kind of vet all of the candidates and begin that process of selecting who to talk to. And I probably spent about six months just interviewing. I think that I learned a lot from that process and I think it developed in me like a little bit of an eye for how to spot talent and people that I want to work with, but it also was like supremely exhausting. And at the same time, I think that the company was in a real state of renewal and flux and change following the sale to Scripps, which I think is probably common in any situation where a company is acquired by a company that has a different POV, like maybe doesn't understand podcasting, has its own goals that are separate from what the goals had been at Earwolf.

Gretta Cohn:

So there were just a lot of strategy shifts that I did my best to kind of keep up with, but ultimately found myself thinking like, "Well, if I were setting the strategy, what would I do? If I were re-imagining sort of the direction that this company was going in, what would I do?" And I looked around and Pineapple Street had been around for a few months, maybe six months. And I went and had some chats with them about sort of like what they were doing and what they wanted to do. And I went over and had a chat with the folks at Gimlet thinking like maybe there would be a place for me there, but ultimately out of my conversations with all of those people, was this kind of clarifying feeling that there was something that I wanted to do and that I wanted to do it differently. I would say it was definitely like burnout that kind of led me to thinking about what I wanted to do next, because it felt like where I was at was like a little bit unsustainable. It was scary.

Gretta Cohn:

I definitely spent a month sort of quaking with fear on the couch. Like, is this something that I'm going to do? What does it take and what do I need and are there like, long-term consequences that I can't really think of yet? Because I'd always had a job, right? Like I always worked for someone else and enjoyed the freedom, frankly, that that gives you, right? Like you show up, you do the work and then you leave and you can go and take care of whatever. So I just spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking to friends, my close friend who gave me the Cursive records back in the day has run a press, a small press for nearly as long as I've known him. And it's a small non-profit, but it requires the same levels of sort of like entrepreneurship and sort of like-

Chris Erwin:

Discipline in a way.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Discipline. That's exactly the word. And so I talked to him a lot about he figured out what he was doing. My brother has had his own post-production business for film for more than five years, so I went for dinner with him and talked about... His business relies on film clients who come to him with a movie that needs mixing and sound effects and sound design. So we talked about that and my husband was acquiring a business. He purchased a retail shop in our neighborhood around the same time too. So there was like a lot of this around me where I had just a lot of conversations about this and I decided to do it. I decided that like the fear was not a good enough reason to not do it. And my alternate path to be quite frank was to leave podcasting because I just couldn't see where my next step was going to be.

Gretta Cohn:

And so I thought I would take the more productive path, the one where I didn't leave podcasting and I made this decision in December of 2016 to myself and then spent the next couple of months just tucking away money. When I say that I saved money before starting the business, I saved $7,000. Like this is not an enormous coffer of like startup money, but it was enough to pay for an office space and to pay for myself for a couple of months to just see what would happen. And I gave extremely early notice at Midroll and I started to look for clients before I left. So I set it up so that by the time I finally left Midroll in the end of March of 2017 and walked into my office, my new office for Transmitter Media, on the 3rd of April of 2017, I already had clients. So this also gave me that added security of like, "I'm not just walking into this empty pit of like who knows what? Like I have work to do."

Chris Erwin:

Look, that's just like an amazing transition story, but a couple of things stand out. One it's like double entrepreneur household. A lot of couples that I talk to will say, one will start a new venture business that's risky while other has like W2 salaried income. But your husband had just bought a local retail shop in the neighborhood. You were launching Transmitter Media. So you were smart about mitigating risk of landing of clients in advance. Yeah, it's a lot to take on. And the second thing I heard that I think is really interesting is you felt that there was no path for you to stay in podcasting unless you started your own business. So it's either get out and do-

Gretta Cohn:

It felt that way.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Get out and do something totally different or commit and go deeper with this incredible network and skillset that you've built up for a decade and a half and start your own thing. You committed to it. And yeah, whether it was meager savings of $7,000, it was enough. And you had the confidence. And I think in the early days, confidence is everything that you need. Tell us about what is Transmitter Media or what was it at that point?

Gretta Cohn:

Transmitter Media was born as a full service creative podcast company, meaning primarily working for clients who needed podcasts production. And it's really 360 ideation. There's like a paragraph that explains what they want the podcast to be and then we figure it out from there. Like it's quite rare that someone comes in the door and they have like a fully fleshed out idea for a show that has all the episodes outlined and the guests and then this and then that. So it's really starting with a kernel of an idea, figuring out how to make it, what it needs, what's the format and executing it all the way up to launch and continued production. And I think that I saw what Pineapple Street was doing. I respect Jenna and Max from Pineapple Street so much.

Gretta Cohn:

And it felt like the right model, essentially doing what film production companies do or in a way kind of like what advertising agencies do. You have clients, your clients have a story that they want to tell and as a production company, you figure out how to tell it and how to tell it really well. And I think that for me, having a focus on craft was really important quality over quantity and taking the time to really figure out creatively, what does something need was how I stepped into it.

Chris Erwin:

Clearly as the industry is growing, in terms of more audio listenership, more brands wanting to figure out the space and still early, I think in 2019, the ad market for audio was like 750 million. So you started the company is like two to three years before that, when you look at the total advertising landscape, which is like over, I think, 600 billion globally. But brands are leaning in, they want to figure it out and you have a knack for audio storytelling, and then you commit. And so who are some of the early clients you work with? I think they were Walmart and Spotify. And what did those first early projects look like and had you had experience working with brands before? Or was it like, "All right, I have a skillset, but I kind of got to figure this out on the fly too."?

Gretta Cohn:

So it was Walmart, Spotify and TED I think were the three sort of major clients at the very beginning. I hadn't worked directly with brands. I understood working with other media institutions. I understood working with hosts. I also understood developing new shows because that's what my team did at Midroll, Stitcher, Earwolf. Before I left, an entire year of just coming up with ideas and piloting them and throwing them at the wall and kind of running them through PNLs and doing all of that. And so I understood all of that. So we have worked directly with brands, but with Walmart, it was running through an advertising agency full of really great creative people and so we were interfacing more with them. And I think that I learned through them a little bit more about how to work with a client like Walmart.

Gretta Cohn:

But I think also that everyone we were working with at that time was also trying to figure it out for themselves in a brand new way. So we've now been working with TED for over three and a half years, but at the time the show that we developed with them, WorkLife with Adam Grant, I think was their first sort of step into the sort of slate of podcasts that they have now. They had TED talks daily. It was sort of concurrently like I know what the steps to take and the people that I am making these podcasts for don't, they've never done it. And so I think I learned a lot in those first few projects about how to deliver, how to communicate what we're doing clearly. But it's not like I hadn't already done that before. Like I had the skills, it's just was like refining them and putting them into this really particular box.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, just a little bit of a different application. Makes sense.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah, exactly.

Chris Erwin:

When we were talking about having to build a development team at Midroll and Earwolf that you said that you had like a unique sense of how to identify good people. So then you start building your own team at Transmitter and it seems that you've built a pretty special team there. So what was your, like when you think about, if I need great people to make Transmitter a success, what type of people were you looking for and what has like your culture become at your company?

Gretta Cohn:

I love my team so much. I agree. I agree I think they're really special. I think independent thinkers, people who have a really unique creative spark, people who surprise me. Right. I think that what I learned in doing all this interviews at Midroll was like, I prepare a lot for interviews, kind of much like you prepared for this. I would do deep dives. I would listen to a lot of work from the people who were coming into... had applied for the roles. I also like over the years, there are certain producers who I'll just kind of keep in touch with, or follow their work and be excited by their work and hope that one day they might like to come work at Transmitter. And so I also am really keen on people who have a collaborative spirit. So an independent thinker who's down to collaborate, who doesn't necessarily need to put their fingerprints all over everything and it's like cool if their fingerprints kind of merge with other people's fingerprints and we've got this really sort of group dynamic where we're really, everyone is contributing towards something.

Gretta Cohn:

And people own projects, people own stories, people own episodes, but ultimately, I think that we have a very collaborative team environment. And we're also a group of people who like to celebrate our successes, even like the teeniest tiniest ones. And so we spend a lot of time like talking about the things that go well and I think that creates a lot of pride in work. And I'm interested in working with people who have that same sense of craft as I do. It's not necessarily about perfection, but it's about doing really good work, making something sound as good as it can possibly be. We have an episode that on Monday I got an email about, saying, "This is in its final edit. I'm not looking for any big edit changes. I'm only looking for a notes on music." And I listened to it and I was like, "Ah."

Chris Erwin:

Is this from a client?

Gretta Cohn:

"How did they get editorial note?"

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, was this a client email or internal?

Gretta Cohn:

No, it's internal. I have a big editorial note and here's why, and I know that you thought you were almost done, but it's going to be so much better because of this. And typically as a group, we come to that agreement very quickly that it's going to be better and our goal is to make work that sounds very, very good.

Chris Erwin:

I think that's how you build a great company and also become successful and are fulfilled in that. Like yesterday's win or yesterday's excellence is today's baseline and you just keep upping the threshold. My team calls me out for doing that all the time, but I always say, "Yeah, I hired you guys because men and women, you're incredible and I'm going to hold you big." And that makes for a fun work environment. And it's all in our mutual best interests. So I like hearing you say that Gretta and you just talked about celebrating wins often. What is like a recent win that you guys celebrated, big or small?

Gretta Cohn:

I mean, earlier today we recorded an interview where the host was in a studio in DC, our guests was in her home under a blanket fort in New Jersey. We had a little bit of a technical mishap before it started. One of the newer producers on our team was managing that. And I know that that could have been a situation where she got so stressed out that she could have been paralyzed by the overwhelming sort of urgency of overcoming this technical mishap, but she was calm and she kept us informed of what she was doing and she figured it out and the interview started late and it went long, but that was fine. And you got to give someone a thumbs up for that. Like that was hard and you figured it out.

Gretta Cohn:

And another recent win is we are about to launch season two of our podcast, Rebel Eaters Club and we have a promotions team working for us this time, we're making new artwork and we've got the episodes of the season in production. It's just exciting for me when all the pieces start to come together and we're like a month away from launch and it's not done and it will get done. But right now it's just this like ball of energy and that feels very exciting.

Chris Erwin:

This is your first owned and operated podcast where-

Gretta Cohn:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

... your business has helped create audio stories for a variety of different brands and marketers and publishers and now you're investing in your own IP, which is really exciting. And so what is the general concept of Rebel Eaters Club for people who want to check it out?

Gretta Cohn:

Rebel Eaters Club is a podcast about breaking up with diet culture.

Chris Erwin:

Ooh.

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah. Our host is, her name is Virgie Tovar, and she's sort of one of the leading voices on breaking up with diet culture because it's extremely harmful. It is a huge industry. It's a debilitating thing that is, fat discrimination is something that's like not very often discussed, but such a huge sort of point of discrimination in our culture. And I have learned so much from this podcast, it's funny, it's a weird, there's a lot of eating of snacks. Our new season is in part a sort of cultural history of food, which speaks very much to my American studies heart. Like one episode is a little bit of like a social history of home economics, another talks about that sort of origins and evolutions of potato chips. So it's really like a celebration of body positivity. It's a celebration of enjoying food and enjoying what we eat and enjoying our bodies.

Gretta Cohn:

And I couldn't be more proud of our first original show being this show. Last year, I decided that the next push for Transmitter would be to really start to make original shows and to tip the balance of client work to originals. I think we'll always have client work and we love working with our clients, like right now, we were just working on a project with CNN and we're working with NBC and we continue to work with TED and love working on those projects. They often come with amazing hosts and incredible resources and access to really interesting places and people and stories. But for me, there's so much, I get a lot of joy and gratification out of the original shows where we control the narrative on everything. We need a new piece of artwork, I hire someone to make it and I sign off on it. Right. And it's really exciting. And so we have the goal for next year is to add several more original shows and we're sort of well on our way to that.

Chris Erwin:

I love that. You guys are bootstrapped, right? Starting with your $7,000 of savings, you have not raised any outside capital, but you funded the business by your agency work, what you guys like to do, it builds your brand, it also gets you paid and you learn from it. You're not investing in originals maybe as fast as like a Gimlet or a Ringer before their exits, but you and the team own a hundred percent of the company and you're building slowly and what could also last for a lifetime. I look at that approach as what we're doing also at RockWater as well, which is, yeah, we do a lot of client advisory. Haven't raised any outside money nor would it makes sense, but launching a podcast, launching newsletters, and it takes a lot of time and it goes slower than if you had a lot of funding, but you're building something special that has a different ownership stake, and it feels really good. So kudos to you.

Chris Erwin:

And I'll call this out. We're going to wrap up the Transmitter and move on to the rapid fire to close it up, before we do I give you kudos where in working with one of our clients, FilmNation, as they are building out their audio slate. I think I'd been connected to you a few years ago through Adam Sachs, a mutual friend and as we were talking to different podcast producers, we put you in touch with FilmNation and you created great work in doing hypothetical for them, for Luminary. And when you speak about just like your focus and emphasis on quality and always pushing the envelope, I think that very much came out in that format. And so kudos to you guys for doing such great work and making us look good.

Gretta Cohn:

Thank you. Yeah, we loved working with FilmNation. They're great.

Chris Erwin:

They're awesome. Milan and Alyssa and the whole team over there. They're just fantastic. The close out the Transmitter Media story, where's the audio industry headed and what role does Transmitter want to play in that? What are just like a couple of beats or points that stand out to you?

Gretta Cohn:

I think that we're going to see more well-produced audio fiction. I think that that's a space that's still in development and I think that there are a few really stand out examples of audio fiction that feels like watching a film. And I'm really interested in that direction, I'm really interested in seeing what people do and I'm very interested in participating in it. So that's one thing that I'm really looking forward to. I'm curious, I don't have like a prediction for this, but I'm really, really curious to see what all of these continuing sort of acquisitions and consolidations lead to. Right. Like I saw a tweet right before this about Amazon is seriously considering buying Wondery who had put themselves up for sale in a few weeks ago. So who knows what will happen by the time this podcast comes out? But I think it's just really interesting to sort of see the consolidation that's happening. I'm good friends with folks who have had their shops acquired over the last few years or are in joint ventures.

Gretta Cohn:

And I'm just interested to understand like, how do those relationships, how does that flow of money, how do those sort of desires that are set by the acquiring organizations, like what is that going to lead to? Like what are we going to see more of? What are we going to see less of? I'm just sort of have my eyes open about that.

Chris Erwin:

The amount of M&A activity has been wild, right? Like Spotify I think the biggest purchase recently was Megaphone, but having bought Gimlet and Parcast and Anchor before that, and then the purchase of The Ringer and then Entercom with Pineapple Street and Cadence13, I believe. So there's just like the amount of dollars that are flowing in. And even the bigger rights deals where it's Spotify and Joe Rogan and then not yet finalized, but Howard Stern's Sirius. So I agree with you curious to how it all shakes out and what it means for the smaller midsize players and those who are, maybe are not aggressively capitalized and what it means for the different types of content formats that will emerge in the future and how audio will start playing a role with also like the big streaming wars. We think about this a lot, like what is podcasting for Netflix and for promoting Paramount Plus and HBO Max.

Chris Erwin:

One thing that we've been writing about is the proliferation of smart speakers and at-home audio where a lot of radio and podcasting was made for commuting and people that are on the go outside their home, but now with COVID plus the proliferation of smart speakers where they're going to overtake wearables, I think they already did just this year, 640 million smart speakers forecast by 2024. What is smart speaker micro cast content going to look like? That's personalized, that's interactive and short form. Who knows? I think it's very exciting, right? So we are now down to the rapid fire and the end of the program. So the rules are simple, about six questions and you can answer in just a couple of words or a couple of short sentences, but they're meant to be quick and from the gut, are you ready?

Gretta Cohn:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

Proudest life moment?

Gretta Cohn:

This is hard. Proudest life moment? Oh my God.

Chris Erwin:

Or proudest Transmitter moment?

Gretta Cohn:

I can say that my proudest life moment thus far is probably what I've built with Transmitter. I could say, like I was thinking like, "Oh, this performance with Cursive or this big move that I made." But I think that making the decision to start Transmitter is probably my proudest life moment so far.

Chris Erwin:

What do you want to do less of in 2021?

Gretta Cohn:

In 2021 I want to look at Twitter less.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. What do you want to do more of in 2021?

Gretta Cohn:

Take more along walks in the woods with my dog and teach her tricks.

Chris Erwin:

I love that. I think walks are the absolute highlight of the day when you can get them in.

Gretta Cohn:

I agree.

Chris Erwin:

What one to two things drive your success?

Gretta Cohn:

I think I have a really strong work ethic that I got from my mom. She showed her work, like she was working... She worked a lot and she cared a lot and she sort of showed us what work ethic is. My interest and real desire to make beautiful things. I want to make work that's beautiful, that resonates with people, that they connect with.

Chris Erwin:

Got it.

Gretta Cohn:

And I care about the people I work with a lot. And I'm interested in exploring and have been exploring over the last three and a half years with the Transmitter what less hierarchical company structure and culture can be.

Chris Erwin:

Final rapid fire three questions, quick answers.

Gretta Cohn:

My answers are too long.

Chris Erwin:

It's okay. You'll make these short. Advice for media and audio execs going into 2021?

Gretta Cohn:

These are hard.

Chris Erwin:

Just whatever comes to mind. This doesn't have to be perfect. Like other people have said follow the money.

Gretta Cohn:

Don't follow the money.

Chris Erwin:

Don't follow the money. Any future startup ambitions other than Transmitter?

Gretta Cohn:

Nope, not right now.

Chris Erwin:

Here's an easy one. How can people get in contact with you Gretta?

Gretta Cohn:

Go to the Transmitter website, transmitter.fm. And we have an email address where anyone can reach out to us there.

Chris Erwin:

Awesome.

Gretta Cohn:

And you can follow me on Twitter where I don't post much, but I lurk a lot.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, you are watching on Twitter for sure. Well, cool. Gretta, this has been a delight. Thank you for being on the podcast. This was fun.

Gretta Cohn:

Thank you. This was really fun.

Chris Erwin:

Talking to Gretta who is just so kind and warm hearted and just cares so much about her craft just yet again reminds me of these special people that the podcasting industry attracts and they are such a delight to be around. And I'm just really excited for the industry that they are going to build, which is just still so nascent.

All right. Before wrapping up, just another quick reminder that we are hosting our livestream media and commerce conference that's coming up in the second quarter of this year and we're to have some great speakers, panels and keynotes. We're looking for more people to get involved. If you're interested just shoot us a note at hello@wearerockwater.com. All right, that's it, everybody. Thanks again for listening.

Chris Erwin:

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin, and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple podcast and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to our show. And if you really dig us, feel free to forward The Come Up to a friend.

You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. And you can follow us on Twitter @TCUpod. The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck, music is by Devon Bryant, logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali. And special thanks to Andrew Cohen and Sean Diep from the RockWater team.

9 episodes