How to Be A World-Renowned Podcaster

Misha Euceph's rise from independently creating Beginner to being Michelle Obama's choice to produce her podcast

Misha Euceph went from pursuing a career in law to being the producer of the Michelle Obama Podcast. It seems like quite the leap, but it’s the result of years of a certain mindset: taking risks, prioritizing creativity and not following the beaten path.

“The trailer got 8000 listens right off the bat,” she says. “I was like ‘Holy shit. I don’t even know how to make a podcast.’”

Euceph has produced shows like The Big One and Tell Me I Am, both of  which made it to several “top podcast” lists; in 2019 she was pegged as the “producer of the year” by Adweek. After starting her podcast company, Dustlight Productions, Euceph was named as one of the top 20 businesspeople in their 20s by the Los Angeles Business Journal.  

But her journey started with Beginner—a podcast about being a Pakistani-American immigrant. Beginner followed her as a 24-year-old learning the traditional parts of an American childhood, like riding a bike.


Finding podcasting

Euceph remembers struggling with her undergraduate classes and being depressed.

“I was very unhappy while I was pursuing the law path,” Euceph says. “My professors, friends and family pulled me aside—it was like a massive intervention. But Euceph is not one to let go of ambitions easily. She says, “There was a lot happening and I had to confront that I didn’t want to go down that road.” 

Photo provided by Euceph

Doing a show for her college radio station helped Euceph realize that audio storytelling made her light up. So she switched gears. After completing her Bachelor of Arts, she pursued her masters in journalism, and landed gigs with WNYC and Sirius XM filing audio stories, though nothing longer than two minutes. Yet there was still a sense of unfulfillment. “I realized that the traditional path in any industry is never going to get you quick or outrageously innovative results. You are never going to make something that no one else has made within the system,” she says, adding that she always had a high tolerance for risk and a business mindset. So she started making Beginner as a side project.

The show was inspired by Millennial, with each episode being about 20 minutes in length. She recorded her conversations and used them alongside scripted narration to create slickly produced stories.


Prioritizing creative elements

Euceph went into credit card debt to make Beginner. She funded it herself and felt strongly about paying other artists and not skimping on the creative elements. Design was a priority and the thumbnail art alone cost $750. Design and music were other elements she didn’t want to overlook. 

Photo provided by Euceph

“Every podcast should have a distinct sonic identity – it should reflect the mood and tone and feel,” she says. “Not enough people are thinking about sonic identity and how to distinguish one show from another.”

Euceph didn’t consistently use the same theme song at the top of each episode. The sonic identity of Beginner ranged from tracks with intense vocals to tender songs.

Her cues came  from movies and TV shows. “What’s really interesting about music is that you look at movies and television and they have mastered the use of music as not just theme music or covering bad audio but really as scoring,” she says. “So I think that’s something I was always drawn to and understood.”

These kinds of decisions helped shape the production style she continues to champion, which includes working with composers instead of music libraries. Incidentally, that’s her biggest piece of advice for up-and-coming podcasters. “If you really care about the sound of your show, try to hire a composer,” she says, adding that each episode should get the “care and attention” it needs.

 


Paying off the debt

After cutting together a trailer for Beginner, Euceph started sharing it on her social channels and radio listservs. From there, the producers of Reply All heard it and shared it in their newsletter.

“The trailer got 8000 listens right off the bat,” she says. “I was like ‘Holy shit. I don’t even know how to make a podcast.’”

Now, she thinks that trailers are integral to the podcast production process: “The trailer should be specific to the show. It should grab your attention the way any good story does.”

As soon as the trailer was completed, Euceph started pitching to potential advertisers. She dug up email addresses for contacts at companies like Casper and Warby Parker and sent them her trailer, focusing her pitch on reaching diverse audiences and a projected listenership of 30,000 per episode. It worked. 

Companies bought advertisements before the first episode was released. Spots went for around $18 CPM at first, eventually increasing to roughly $25 CPM. Though some advertisers ended up dropping out, she still made enough money to pay back everything she had originally invested. 

“For a totally independent podcast, that’s insane,” she says.


From Beginner to something bigger

Beginner ran throughout 2017, racking up 250,000 listeners over nine episodes. She didn’t release on a regular schedule and sometimes, listeners would wait months for a new episode to drop. “I was learning how to make a podcast, while making a podcast,” she says.

The time she spent creating Beginner allowed Euceph to embrace a way of working that helped her thrive, which includes taking risks, prioritizing diversity, and creating “beautiful stories.”

“There was a nimbleness to the process when you’re working by yourself and… getting to pick and choose who to bring in,” she says.

After Beginner, she worked at KPCC in California, where she produced The Big One, a podcast that acts as a “survival guide” to help listeners understand what a catastrophic earthquake would mean for Los Angeles (and the world). She also created and hosted Tell Them, I Am, which features Muslim guests sharing universal stories. 

Although the time at KPCC is where Euceph “grew up, creatively,” it wasn’t an ideal fit. She has spoken openly about her creative struggles and “fetishization of diversity.” 

So she decided to return to her roots in independent production. “I wanted to make shows with people that I love and not get cut out of the money and decision-making power,” she says.

In early 2020, Euceph launched Dustlight Productions. Now she’s leading a team that creates original podcasts and produces shows for select clients, who are aligned with their mission “to inspire awe.”

Photo provided by Euceph

Her most recent partnership was with Higher Ground Productions, founded by Michelle and Barack Obama. Euceph was ecstatic when she randomly received a call from Mukta Mohan, the VP of Audio at HGA, proposing the Michelle Obama Podcast. Euceph was not able to spill any juicy details about what it was like working with the former First Lady (believe me, I tried), but she did say that working Higher Ground Productions was a great experience. 

“We’ve just had a really beautiful partnership. This is the first of many shows we’re going to make together. They’re a wonderful production house,” she says.

For her, “work is more than just work.” Euceph wants to protect and also scale the culture she’s built. As part of that, Dustlight offers free resources online like How To Make A Podcast, apprenticeships, and training. “It’s really important to me to create long term equity and equality,” she says. “I want to equip people of color to be the next set of leaders.”

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