Dylan Marron has created two praise-worthy podcasts, but he—intentionally—does not know how many listeners he has.
Conversations with People Who Hate Me features Marron facilitating loving conversations with online feuders who are encouraged to get to know the human on the other side of the screen. The other more recent Small Triumph, Big Speech takes an everyday accomplishment and celebrates it with a big, over-the-top speech.
“I feel gross to admit this, but I do feel there is an addictive element to the metrics of social media.”
Despite Conversations with People Who Hate Me being the 2017 critic’s pick by USA Today and Small Triumph, Big Speech being chosen by the New York Times as a top podcast for the pandemic era, Marron tries to avoid checking the analytics.
“In a healthy decision, I have pulled myself away. [Metrics] had taken a horrible grip on me,” he says. “As someone who has been professionally reared in the digital space, I really had to do—and continue to do—so much work to not obsess over numbers and metrics.”
In fact, his aversion to metrics is one of the major reasons he chose to pursue the medium of podcasting in the first place.
Marron previously focused on creating online videos. He saw numbers climb with series like Every Single Word, which edited down movies to only include lines from people of color. (Its corresponding tumblr account went viral.) He also worked with a digital comedy network called Seriously TV to create videos that talked about social justice issues. Take a look at the videos today and you can easily see that each one racked up tens of thousands of views.
But that was what he despised.
“Something I really love about podcasts is you don’t have a view count next to it,” Marron says. “Yes, there are lists and charts, but there is no number associated with that. That means a podcast you have a personal relationship with could have millions of downloads per episode or it could have far less than that.”
As a listener, he also finds the absence of metrics a bonus. “The really magical thing about podcasts is that it is your relationship with the podcast,” he says. “When you don’t see a download count next to the podcast, you are just judging it by how it makes you feel.”
He explains that this is a rare occurrence in the current digital landscape, since we live in a “metrics-driven world.” Even when it comes to personal expression on platforms like Instagram, people get caught up in how many “likes” they get. It’s something he continues to battle with.
“I feel gross to admit this, but I do feel there is an addictive element to the metrics of social media—that no matter how aware I am and how much I try to resist them—it is really hard to resist.”
Marron says that when creators are constantly checking numbers, it can become consuming and unfairly determine the value of content. As a podcaster, he wants to focus on the craft because “the most radical and subversive thing I can do is to continue doing work without looking at the numbers.”
What keeps him motivated is the frequent emails he gets from listeners who say his podcasts have changed the way they view a particular topic or helped them during a tough time.
“That is my own metric of growth that I feel so proud of,” he says. “It is so liberating.”
Marron would recommend that everyone let go of the numbers and focus on the product. “Tether yourself to the ritual of making it and striving, personally, to make it better and better.”
His own ritual of sticking to his production schedule has been hectic—especially for Conversations with People Who Hate Me. Preparing guests to feel safe having potentially difficult conversations is time-consuming and necessary. Because of this preparation and scheduling and editing, some episodes have taken more than a year to produce. On average, he estimates that an episode takes 100 hours of work over the span of many weeks.
“I love making this show. That is a true statement. This show also—separately—causes profound burnout,” he says.
To balance burnout against his drive to create, he’s currently focusing on Small Triumph, Big Speech while Conversations With People Who Hate Me is on a break between seasons. But for both, staying away from the metrics, is his secret sauce.