Dissecting how an indie podcaster went from side hustle to full time as a Spotify Original
Cole Cuchna is the creator of Dissect, a serialized music podcast that examines a single album per season, one song per episode.
Dissect was named "Best podcast of 2017" by Quartz, and the following year was named "Best podcast of 2018" by the New York Times.
In this episode, we talk about Cole’s attempt at being a professional musician, his love of creative writing, the beginning of Dissect, and how his perseverance through late nights paid off in helping him create Dissect full time.
Transcript and show notes can be found here
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Cole Cuchna 0:00
I don't see much of a difference between Kanye West and Beethoven, like I just don't. They exist in two different times and era's and they're, you know, different race. But at the end of the day, they're just creatives and they're just expressing ideas through art. And there's something timeless about that, just that that expression.
Jay Clouse 0:23
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, my friend. Welcome back to Creative Elements. As you may or may not know, Creative Elements just crossed the one year mark and celebrated its first birthday. I've had an absolute blast created this show for you every week, and I couldn't be more thankful for you listening every week and supporting the show. The show totally outperformed my expectations breaking 500,000 downloads in its first year. It's pretty unbelievable. It just motivates me to continue making the show better and better every week. The bar of quality that I set for myself is really, really high. And it's set in large part by one of my own favorite podcasters, who I'm lucky to have here on the show today. His name is Cole Cuchna, and he hosts a show called Dissect.
Cole Cuchna 1:32
Welcome to Dissect. Long-form for musical analysis broken into short digestible episodes. I'm your host Cole Cuchna.
Jay Clouse 1:50
I first started listening to Dissect in 2018. And I really wish I could remember who told me about the show but I started listening to season two and was absolutely blown away. As you heard Cole say there in the intro, Dissect is a show about long-form musical analysis. each season of the show Cole chooses an album and each episode of that season takes one song on that album and deconstructs how and why it was made. I'm talking about 40 minute episodes digging into songs that are sometimes less than three minutes long. And that's what makes Dissect so good. Season Two of the show dissected Kanye's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I love that album and I loved it before I listened to Cole's podcast, but Dissect made me love it way, way more. Because Cole goes far beyond the lyrical content of the song. Cole digs into the samples that Kanye uses the way he produces the beat to every song, even down to individual notes and chords. And to take it a step further, Cole really contextualizes each album. He puts into perspective, the culture of the time, through both current events and what the artist was going through. Here's a short clip from Episode One of season two.
Cole Cuchna 3:02
On September 13, 2009, a 15 second sequence of events altered the trajectory of contemporary popular music forever.
Kanye West 3:10
Now, Taylor, I'm really happy for you. I'm let you finish. But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time.
Cole Cuchna 3:29
I know I'm sick of hearing this too. But there's really no avoiding it significance, now permanently embedded in pop culture infamy. Kanye West drunk an interruption of Taylor Swift acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards caused torrential public disgust across the globe, Kanye was instantly vilified.
Jay Clouse 3:49
The level of production that Cole puts into the show is just unmatched. He just began releasing episodes for season eight, which is covering another Kanye album Yeezus. But he's dissected To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, Blonde by Frank Ocean, Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator, Damn by Kendrick Lamar, Lemonade by Beyonce, and Because The Internet by Childish Gambino too. And when he started Dissect in 2018, he was doing on the side while working full time as a creative director for a coffee roaster and being a dad to a newborn daughter. But as you'll hear in the interview, it was his education in music composition in theory that laid the foundation for him to create this show.
Cole Cuchna 4:31
Most of the people I went to school with were classically trained their whole life, I had never taken lessons, I think I took like one or two guitar lessons and quit because I just wanted to be Jimi Hendrix, not play classical guitar, I didn't want to read music. I just wanted to you know, and so, I came from this world of like, 10 years, 12 years of like, no formal training, just self taught, you know, and then I go into this world where most people are classically trained and they're been playing, you know, Mozart, Beethoven, their whole lives. I just saw this there's a separation between these two worlds where I came in I was like, actually, no, these are the same worlds and why are we separating them?
Jay Clouse 5:08
Cole may not have been classically trained as a musician, but he was definitely a student of music. And more specifically, he was an avid fan of hip hop, because as he says, hip hop is the leading voice and driving force of our culture.
Cole Cuchna 5:22
And that's why I kind of stay with hip hop because it is the music of today. You know, if I did this podcast 15 years ago, it probably would have been centered on like rock music, you know, because that was the country's microphone at that time. But now it's hip hop pretty definitively.
Jay Clouse 5:39
In this episode, we talk about Cole's attempt at being a professional musician. His love of creative writing, the beginnings of Dissect, and how his perseverance through late nights paid off and helping him create Dissect full time. This episode was a blast to put together I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse. And if you're not already in our listeners community on Facebook, I'd love for you to join. The link is in the show notes. But now, let's talk to Cole.
Cole Cuchna 6:13
Yeah, my college experience is pretty weird. I would say I started going to college right after high school. And I hated it. I hadn't at that point, my life I hadn't really found what I now consider a real love for education. And it was just I was taking the standard classes just wasn't into it and ended up like dropping out. The first time. I think I dropped out twice. But so I dropped out like after that first year, just like, you know, I was 18 and wanted to just have fun. But then I ended up going back and just taking classes that I wanted to take. So that's really what got me started seriously about college and actually falling in love with education. So I started taking clasfreses, essentially, they're all creative classes, writing classes, philosophy classes, religion classes, film even. And I just wasn't doing it for credits. I mean, I was getting credits, but I wasn't working towards any kind of major or anything. And I was just loving learning and loving reading. And I just kind of fell in love with that whole world. But ironically, I dropped out again, because at that time, I was also playing in a band.
Jay Clouse 7:16
What were you playing in those bands.
Cole Cuchna 7:18
Started out playing guitar. And then I ended up being playing piano as my major instrument. I knew that tap any chance with that band making it I was like 25 at the time. And I was like, Okay, if I'm really ever going to actually do this thing, I've been playing in bands for 10 years, just like if I'm ever going to try to like make a career out of this. I just need to like, give it my all. And I just I actually wrote my parents long letter, kind of explaining my decision and like, and just kind of going for it. And so I stopped going for a couple I want to say a couple years and just gave it my all it ended up not working out, I actually ended up not being the thing that I wanted to do after all, after kind of finding success there and kind of seeing where that road led. I was like, No, I actually don't want this. And so then I went back to school is like a really long story to start your podcast. Sorry.
Jay Clouse 8:04
I love it.
Cole Cuchna 8:05
So then I ended up going back to school, but this time for music, and it was much more focused. Like I was like, Okay, I still want to do something with music. But maybe let me find a lane in the collegiate world because I already love education. And I love that world. And I already gave this other world of like playing in a band to try. And so I was like, let me see if there's a lane for me here. And so that's when I really went back to school and got my degree in, in music composition in theory.
Jay Clouse 8:32
When you were pursuing music full time, I've always had this assumption that the most difficult about that is probably just coordinating three to five people's schedules when this isn't generating a lot of income. Is was that your experience? Or what was the hardest part of that when you're trying to make it work?
Cole Cuchna 8:48
Yeah, as soon as it became, you know, you never want to kind of mix business and creativity. But it was just a kind of an inevitable point. At that point in my life. I just gotten married. And you know, you start to think about how am I going to support a eventual family and stuff. So as soon as the flip switch was like, these are no longer just my creative buddies, they're actually in my business partners that really change things in my mind. And like you said, it is complicated to have three to four other people vision be the same exact vision, and also committing to the same exact vision in the same intensity. So it was definitely part of the point of why I kind of stopped pursuing that route was our vision, our vision line, we all wanted to kind of like make it in a band. But I didn't think the effort was wasn't doled out equally. And I think there was there's also the whole like drug and alcohol, partying scene and girls and all that stuff, which was not why I was in a band, but you can see why someone would want to take advantage of those things if they're in a band. So that was another thing. So it's all about like as you're growing up. Life goals aligning, and kind of life philosophies, aligning work ethic and is hard. Like, it doesn't never never surprises me. When a band breaks up, it always surprises me when a band stays together, you know, you hear about these bands staying together for 10, 20 years. I'm just like, how are you doing that? That seems impossible.
Jay Clouse 10:19
It seems crazy.
Cole Cuchna 10:20
That's the anomaly breaking up is the regular.
Jay Clouse 10:23
Well,you mentioned when you when you dropped out to try to do this thing full time you wrote your parents a big long note. And as you were talking about, I went to college, I didn't necessarily have a thing I was working towards yet. And I was also doing music. I was thinking to myself, my parents would have never let me do that. Did you, did you have to fight upstream on that?
Cole Cuchna 10:42
Yeah, I think, you know, I have great parents. And as a creative person my whole life, I think their concern was always like, the typical concern you have for your kids, which is how are you going to make a living? How are you going to support yourself How you going to support a family, artistic endeavors, rarely flesh out and into that kind of success, very hard to do. And so they were definitely, definitely went out. And especially when I was younger, they were like, you need a backup plan. You need to, you know, all the typical things that your parents tell you, which in retrospect, great advice, you know, but I was super stubborn. And that letter that I wrote them was like, I understand this might disappoint you, or this might be you think I'm being irresponsible, but I wish I had the letter because I it was, I felt like really powerful. And it convinced them like, once they read that letter, they stopped talking to me about that stuff. I think they just kind of knew like, it's, it's a lost cause there's no kind of stopping him at this point. And they saw how passionate. It wasn't like, I was doing that. And then not working hard. It was like, No, I was actually writing music eight hours a day, you know, I was performing every weekend. And it was like they saw the drive. So it was, I think that probably made it easier for them to wasn't just like out partying and doing that stuff. So but it was it was a, you know, in retrospect, it was like, the letter was for them. But it was also for me, too, is like me really kind of like, Okay, this is, this is what I'm doing. I'm putting it on paper, I'm articulating it to the world. And like, this is my path now. That ended up changing, you know, a couple years later, but, you know, that how life goes.
Jay Clouse 12:16
Cole mentioned a love of learning, which is an interesting statement for someone who also said he dropped out of college twice. So I was curious where his love of learning came from, and when it came into play. So I asked him if there was a person or an experience that helps them to develop it.
Cole Cuchna 12:32
Yeah, I think it's, it's an interesting question, because I think about a lot with Dissect, actually, because part of the reason why I do Dissect is to kind of provide entry points into learning that I feel like is lacking in like academia or other kind of avenues where it's like, you kind of have to meet people halfway. And so I think everyone that falls in love with education, or always has that one story, that one person that we're that entry point into the world, that seems so kind of foreign to you at some point. That was definitely the case for me. I think I definitely had one creative writing professor that really opened my eyes to how just cool and intellectually stimulating and life changing books and stories could be. And also, I had a friend, my friend, Jaden, who's still kind of my best friend to this day, who started getting into that stuff earlier than I did and kind of was showing me different books he was reading. He was the one kind of encouraged me to like, start experimenting with like creative writing. And he was kind of like my role model for a while there in terms of like, he was always kind of one step ahead. And I was always trying to like, Oh, that's really cool. Like, let me try that too. And so I would say those two influences in my early 20s, were kind of my entry point into that world. But yeah, I mean, I think there's stories where it's just that switch can kind of flip and I hope that what Dissect it kind of does that where it's like, you can just put music on for personal enjoyment, or you actually learn about the world about how to live and about other people's experiences through music, if you just kind of give it the time, and the kind of treatment that you would give something else maybe like a book or whatever.
Jay Clouse 14:11
Something that's really interesting that you you've touched on a few times here is how much your background centers on writing. And on the surface, people might think music, music, music, music, but every guest on the show, there's just so much that ties back ultimately to writing and your show I read somewhere you said each script is 5000, 8000 words. Like there's just a lot of writing that goes into that. So talk to me about your relationship to writing. Did that start before music? Did you realize that you were really good at both? Or how do you think about the relationship between the two?
Cole Cuchna 14:43
Yeah, I think there's definitely similarities. I mean, anything creative I feel like has overlap. I definitely started as a musician, I didn't start kind of writing creatively until I was 20 or so. But when I when I did that, I've really fell in love with it and just do the kind of the beauty of words In the manipulation of words, and it's the same with sound, you know, you're essentially just create like taking something and sculpting something out of it, whether that sound, whether it's words, whether that's paint, whether, you know, it's all the same in the end. And so yeah, I was always loved writing always led reading, and like in college, do you just to take it back there, I was, like, I loved writing about music. And that's, that's something I, I never thought it would be the case. And when I looked around about, like, everyone else in my classes, didn't like doing it. Like I was the guy that like started the essay, the first day, it was assigned where everyone else I felt like like procrastinating. But I just fell in love with just like the research and listening to like, the different different pieces of music. Like if you had to write a paper on like Beethoven, it's like, I just love that time capsule element of just researching the composer researching the times that, you know, he or she was living in, and how that field of music, and he just ended a I guess maybe the best way to explain it is like, nothing exists in a vacuum. Like, everything being created now exists because everything else around it. And so I love finding those connections. I feel like writing is like the most concise way to like, express those connections. And so yeah, it's ironic that I feel like I more than anything, I'm actually a writer Loki even though it's about you know, I'm a podcaster, quote unquote, I spend most of my time writing.
Jay Clouse 16:28
And it sounds like you're describing writing as almost this forcing function to do the research into learn about the process. That's actually the learning tool, not the output itself.
Cole Cuchna 16:38
Yeah, exactly. And it is, it is a discovery process I writing as I'm discovering, it's like, in real time, you know, it's not like I come into these albums, like knowing what I mean, I have a general sense of what it's about. But until you really get into the details, you don't really know. And so yeah, I'm writing through my thoughts and putting the connections together in real time as I'm writing. And it's, again, that's a great way to even if you're trying to formulate and articulate ideas, I feel like writing is such a great tool for that. And it's often you can only articulate it, at least for me in writing. I'm not, I wouldn't say talking is my strong suit. And I think, you know, talking is a skill like everything else. And it's might not be a skill that you're intuitively good at. So writing, so I feel like it's something you really develop and work at. And to me it helps formulate, and articulate goals, feelings, emotions, all that.
Jay Clouse 17:36
After a quick break, Cole and I I talked more about music theory and what ultimately led him to create Dissect right after this. Welcome back to Creative Elements in my conversation with the host of Dissect Cole Cuchna, when you listen to Dissect, it's obvious right away that Cole must have studied something like musical theory or composition, the things he's able to pull out of songs and break down speak to just how much time he's put into studying music. But I think back to my conversation with James Clear all the time. And the idea that experts often master the art of what matters. They know how to break things down to their simplest forms, and ignore the excess. So I asked Cole, after all these years of studying music, what stands out to him as the core of what really matters?
Cole Cuchna 18:21
You know, I think it's To be honest, it's just the similarity of art and creatives throughout time. But it's again, a part of the reason why I do the show. It's like, I don't see much of a difference between Kanye West and Beethoven, like, I just don't, they exist in two different times, and era's, and they're, you know, different race and but at the end of the day, they're just creatives, and they're just expressing ideas through art, and that there's something timeless about that, just that expression. And like I said, like everything else funnels into that. Like, I don't think Beethoven would be writing classical music, if he was born today. Like, I just don't think that's what he would do. I think he would be more like a Kanye West or name your artists, but I just don't, it's not the same environment like the, you know, the time that we're living in the era, and the environment is going to kind of create different people based on everything. And so that's why I love to learn about what was going on in that era, because it usually always directly informs the music. And so just that concept, I guess, is something that I have taken with me and really created the show around which is you know, how is music and expression of life? How is the music expression of our time? How are they time capsules? And what can we really what can we learn from these artists expressing so vulnerably and passionately and it's I just, again, I don't see much difference between Mozart and what Bob Dylan or what you know, it's all the same and that was that was funny, I guess that ties back into my experience with college which was like, once a weird but it was like, if we can find ways to bring those two worlds together, I feel like classical music would not exist in the vacuum of academia now, which is essentially where it lives. And that's it. It's again about entry points. It's about trying to find common ground rather than kind of like putting these barriers up.
Jay Clouse 20:23
It's interesting because we almost conflate the length of time something has existed with the level of quality right? It almost feels safe to say like, because classical music is so old, and because so many people for so many years have talked about how good this is. That must be the truth and more so than something that has less history and less critical acclaim and something that you said in a recent interview basically calling out that you think this album that you're doing season eight on Yeezus by Kanye is this like stand out moment in musical history for for him as a producer and I'm curious what you're seeing to call that out and make basically like an early call on this because maybe history will look back on this and say like, this guy was right on he was right. But not a lot of people will make that call for contemporary artists. I'm curious what gives you have the confidence to say that?
Cole Cuchna 21:13
Yeah, I mean with specifically Kanye to me, it's so obvious I mean, name a bigger artists and Kanye hard to do, who's more well known in name and sound than Kanye at right now. And the same can be said with, you know, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn. Those were the guys in their day. And so I right now open season eight, with Igor Stravinsky, Bob Dylan, and Kanye West. And I do that very strategically because you can look at these moments that specifically with these, these three people where they're these controversial moments that in their time were not received. Well, Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring caused a famous Riot on its premiere night, Bob Dylan going electric cars, you know, booze at the Newport Folk Festival, and people call him Judas because he betrayed folk music. And then Kanye West coming out withYeezus and totally like flipping hip hop on its head and people that that album was trashed by most people when it came out.
Jay Clouse 22:11
Cutting in here to share part of what makes Cole's production of Dissect so incredible. In the beginning of season eight, when Cole shares these moments from Igor Stravinsky, Bob Dylan and Kanye West, he doesn't just tell you that Yeezus was trashed. He does the work to pull in reactions to the album from 2013 to show you that it was trashed.
Fan Reactions 22:30
This motherfucking album is the worst fucking album I have ever heard in my fucking life.
This album in a word is incredibly middlebrow.
Yeezus is a disaster.
This is a fisher price, my first experimental album, I look at this, like a little kid that's trying to get my attention by tugging on my shirt. And if I'm ignoring him long enough, he's gonna go light something on fire.
This motherfucker is garbage dude like, I'm trying to figure out like, he fucking sucks.
Cole Cuchna 23:03
And so it's like, in my mind, it's like, okay, here's the biggest artists of the day, taking the biggest risk in front of the biggest audience. Bob Dylan is going to stand the test of time. Igor Stravinsky has already still, I just can't see it a password. Kanye West? Isn't that guy that we look at 100 years from now? and be like, yep, he changed music at that time, like hip hop is the biggest genre. And Kanye West is one of the biggest hip hop artists ever. So it's just so it's just obvious to me, you know? So, yeah, it is kind of taking bets but in my mind, and maybe I'm wrong, but it's just so obvious. It's just so obvious. But I think yeah, I mean, living through history is you don't ever so hard to realize that sometimes, especially like this kind of history, which is kind of secondary to like, a 911, or, you know, something of that nature. But you know, Yeezus was a moment, you know, like that cause real controversy in a discussion and you had to choose a side it felt like at that, at that time, I would say that the show is taking bets like it is like who are the artists that are going to be 100 years from now, defining this moment in time and feel like more or less, the artists that have chosen will probably be that some more obvious than others. But Kanye, I feel like out of all of them. 100%
Jay Clouse 24:20
Want to take a quick step back here, first season of Dissect airs in 2016. How long before you release season one? were you working on it? How long before that? Were you ideating on it, like helped me think about the conception of the show?
Cole Cuchna 24:35
Yeah, I mean, it ties into the college thing because I graduated college and it was like, Okay, what now, especially with a music degree, it wasn't like a degree that's an obvious path. The only obvious path with music degree is to teach. So it became a decision do I want to get my doctorate or not? And at that point, you know, I graduated when I was 30, I guess so I was like a late I was late in terms of like age. So I was like, do I want to go to school for another four to six years. And at that point, I did not want to do that. Like, I've already been over like 10 years now is like, I don't want to go anymore. So, so not wanting to go back to school, which I almost did, but I ultimately decided against. So at that point, I wasn't in a band anymore. And I had graduated college. So it was kind of like, what am I going to do creatively, I need something because I've had something my entire life, it kind of goes back to that. Those two worlds I was talking about one academic and one kind of popular, I guess you could call it in terms of music. Like how do you bridge these two worlds together. So To Pimp A Butterfly came out, actually, the day after my daughter was born To Pimp A Butterfly came out my first daughter. And I always tell this story, because I feel like it was like, looking back, it was definitely a moment I could point to was like, Oh, that's actually the start of it is like I had to just read taken our daughter home for the first time. And I listened I was listening to To Pimp A Butterfly for the first time with headphones on was like holding her in her nursery with the like, it was like sunrise, you know, like this kind of beautiful, picturesque moment. And that, that that experience was really powerful. The album was really powerful, partly because I was holding my newborn daughter, and I think that affected it. But I was just really moved by this record, in a way that I hadn't been in a long time. And the more and more I listened to I was like, I know, he's talking about some serious stuff. But I know that I'm not going to really be able to understand it fully. Like I used to understand these pieces that I studied in college until I do what I did in college, which was research, right? Think Ida blah, blah, blah. And so I was like, Oh, I want to do that. Like it just like it just seemed fun to like, do that again, because I was kind of missing that. And then at the time, I was just listening to podcasts. And I was listening to cereal, which I'm sure everyone's heard of, or listened to. I was like, Oh, this would kind of maybe work as a podcast, I could just like, record my scripts and put the music in there and call it a day. That's essentially what I did. And kind of the rest is history. I didn't really give it much thought after that. It was like, once I had the idea, it was like that was it. Dissect was literally the first name that I thought of that was it. And I just like, go for it. Like that's kind of what I always encourage people to do is just when you have an idea, just start it like the most kind of the thing that I see a lot of people do. They'll say, I got this great idea. It's like this and this and this. It's like, sounds great. Why aren't you doing it? Like what's holding you back, like just jump in and you'll figure it out on the way but you got to get past that barrier. Because I feel like the longer you wait, the less likely it is you'll actually follow through because it comes it's like thinking in your head where you're just like getting in your own way. So I just jumped in. And literally what you hear on Episode One is the first thing I ever wrote. Welcome to Dissect. Long-form musical analysis broken into short digestible episodes. I'm your host Cole Cuchna.
First season of Dissect is dedicated entirely to Kendrick Lamar's 2015 masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly. Over the course of nearly 20 episodes, we're going to dive deep into this incredibly rich record. We'll break down both the musical and lyrical content while also analyzing the album's overall narrative arc. There's a lot to unpack on this record. I just went went in and I kind of figured it out as I went along. And they worked out for me.
Jay Clouse 28:35
This is interesting, because a lot of people when they start a podcast, they start a podcast because they want to start a podcast and it becomes this exercise of Okay, so what's that podcast going to be? When they start realizing the realities of where you could put in production value and how much effort that takes they say, sounds like a lot of work, I'm going to cut corners, and you were starting the standpoint of I know the activity I want to do here. And that may actually just fit into the medium that is podcasting. And that's what got you to do. The high level of production and effort, frankly, that went into this. When we come back, Cole and I dissect his own creative process. And a little bit later, we talk about how he persevered through late nights and early mornings to get Dissect to a point where it's supported him full time. So stick around, and we'll be right back.
Welcome back. As he listened to Dissect, you can't help but be blown away by just how deep Cole cuts into these episodes. In fact, he goes so much deeper than I could have ever imagined that I wondered how he himself knows when to cut himself off and call an episode complete.
Cole Cuchna 29:37
Yeah, oh, it was a learning process for sure. I mean, if you look at those first episodes, I think the tight the length of the episode varies really widely on those first handful of episodes. I think one's even like 17 minutes long, rather, another one's like 40 minutes long. So you could literally see me like figuring this out as I go. So I would say I was just doing it in real time. When I go to whatever I wanted to say, or whatever context I wanted to give, and I just got there, I just stopped. And it was like, that's the episode. But now it's like looking back. Yeah, let's figure it out real time. Now I've kind of got to the point where I know what I think is the proper length. I know, the general approach I want to take, I think I know what works and doesn't know. But again, it was all because I just jumped in and figured it out. I don't think I if even if I try to conceptualize it more before I actually did the work, it would have changed anyways, like, there's you could guess and think what's going to work but until you actually do it here it you just don't know. So it wasn't much thought to be honest with you. It was just let me do this one episode, listen to it, you know, maybe make some changes. But more I was like, I'm just going to make the next change in the next episode, rather than just like really tinkering around with one episode, which maybe in retrospect, I should have done more of. But at that point, I was not thinking that this was going to be anything like I was just doing it for my own personal enjoyment. So it didn't matter. At that point. Like, I didn't think I was gonna have an audience. You know, I always say like, if someone asked me to make a successful podcast, it would not be one that dissects one album for 13 hours, like, Who would ever thought there'd be an audience for that. So, you know, in retrospect, it was kind of good that I just did it, because I loved it. And I think that comes through on the show, like people have told me, You sound like you're passionate about these things, which I am, it's like, I think that's you can feel that in the work. I think that's important. And I think maybe you lose some of that if there's too much pre planning and productions, and maybe some shows work like that. But for this one, where it's very individual, it's just me, no guests, like, you can feel it like has to be something I'm really cared about.
Jay Clouse 31:38
And it really comes through in the small moments where it's like, you even do the work of recreating certain beats, or like you'll say, Actually, let me show you what I'm talking about. And you'll play this as opposed to just explaining what the artist is doing with a certain approach on the song, you'll actually play it on a keyboard.
Cole Cuchna 31:55
Your ears trained to hear this chord and yearn for this resolving chord. And music theory, this move from the dominant chord to the tonic chord is called a cadence. When the hook of dark fantasy drops into the verse section, we don't get the F major chord as a resolving chord. Instead, we get a D minor chord. dominant D minor. Let's hear that transition on piano alone. Dominant, D minor. This move is called a deceptive cadence. Our ear thinks we're headed one place, in this case F major. And instead we get the keys relative minor chord, D minor.
Jay Clouse 32:38
I know some of that you're actually creating yourself in in your recording space, right?
Cole Cuchna 32:42
Yeah, some of them I do. Now I have a guy that's really talented Andrew Atwood that does all the recreations for me, but in the early days is yeah, just me.
Jay Clouse 32:50
Looking at the process. Now, let's just say you've decided the album, you decided the artists that you want to focus on for the season? How do you start that process? Do you go big picture, contextual? And then go song by song? Do you kind of start with the songs and then try to go outwards? Like it seems like you come from you could come from a bunch of different angles. I'm curious what you found to work the best.
Cole Cuchna 33:09
Yes, I usually start with song one. And I'll just episode one I don't write for a while. And I'll just dive right into the music because usually that's going to tell me where I need to go with the intro and how to contextualize it. Because again, like you can have an idea of where, what the album's about or what a song is about. But until you really do that nuanced, detailed digging that's required to kind of unearth the kind of these these discoveries, you don't really know. So I always try to get a handful episodes done. So I could at least get a general shape of the concepts and the themes and all that and then I'll go back after thinking about it for a while and like, Okay, how do I set this up? What's really important about this artists where they were in that, you know, it depends on the album or the artists, but it's like, Where were they in this moment in time? What was going on in the country? If there's any kind of like, like for Lemonade season, it was very clear that the elevator incident with Jay Z and Solange and Beyonce was the that was what started the snowball that became Lemonade. So I was like, Okay, I got to start there. And then how do I then kind of bring people to how do you get from that moment to lemonade? Sometimes it's clear cut like that. Other times, it's like, not so much. And maybe, like with that album like To Pimp A Butterfly. It's like, yeah, you have to kind of go into like the history of Compton and those kind of contextual environmental things, because that's what he's talking about on the record. So it's like you got to set up. I always try to, you know, I'm always trying to think about what's the artists intention? And how do I most clearly get that point their point across in a way that they can't really do outside of the music, you know, it's hard to for music, it's like very conceptual, and there's only so much you can kind of do but it didn't kind of opens up this whole other world. It's like my job is like, try to piece together that whole other world and present it in a way that's digestible for everyone. So that's what I'm trying to Usually as it always starts from the music and the artist.
Jay Clouse 35:03
How do you manage the time in research versus working through this? I guess when I listened to episodes, it almost seems like you could have been spending literal days just going through YouTube and listening to interviews in this time period. Do you batch activities like that and research and then come back and say, Okay, here's everything I did. Are you kind of bounced between the two?
Cole Cuchna 35:21
Yeah, usually it starts before I do like the first song. It's like, yeah, it is like, a few weeks of just that, like YouTube interviews, any interviews, sometimes easier than others? Because like, Beyonce again, like doesn't do any interviews. So that's easy. For that, for like, for that one. It was like I read, there's books on Lemonade. So I read those. So yeah, it depends on on what but there is a heavy amount of research that goes into it before I even start script one. But then you have to know when to cut yourself off, because you can live in that world forever. And so once I have a pretty general sense of like, Okay, I think I understand what's going on. And then I'll understand even more once I get really into the music, and then it becomes Yeah, this hybrid process of like, okay, dissecting the songs, but then also thinking about bigger picture stuff. And just kind of juggling both of those simultaneously.
Jay Clouse 36:12
How much are you editing existing scripts that might have been in your mind, quote, unquote, done, as you're going later in the album.
Cole Cuchna 36:19
Usually, very rarely, actually. Because I set it up where most of the albums that I cover have a linear kind of narrative. And so if I miss something, in like, say a song to that comes up in songs seven, because I'm kind of discovering this in real time with the audience I could get, I can then just go, Oh, this relates back to song two, to foreshadow is really hard. But to look back is really easy. Because it's like, if I try to foreshadow, it's like, Okay, this is gonna set up the song that we haven't talked about yet. And all these other things we haven't talked about yet. So it doesn't really even make sense to do that. Yeah. So it actually just worked in my favor, where I was like, oh, if something comes up, I'll just go back. And I don't ever go forward actually too much ever. So I've kind of structured it in a way that allows me to just keep plowing ahead, which helps.
Jay Clouse 37:11
You said a little bit ago, you didn't expect that this type of thing would have an audience. So you're just starting to hit publish. What when do you start noticing that people are tuning in and paying attention?
Cole Cuchna 37:20
Yeah, so the first couple episodes had like, 50 listeners or something, you know, which is, obviously, is probably going to be the case, unless you're already established as a celebrity or something that's gonna be the case, the case, you know, right. But I saw a slow audience start to build by episode, you know, the last episodes of season one where I was like, enough to be like, okay, I'll do it again. Like, because that was a big thing, where I was like, okay, 22 episodes in? Is it worth it to keep now started another album and do another season? Actually, real quick,
Jay Clouse 37:50
on that point? How many hours do you think you spent per episode in season one?
Cole Cuchna 37:55
Probably 20 to 30 per episode.
Jay Clouse 37:58
So it had to be significant for you to be like, I'll do it again. Because that is a huge commitment.
Cole Cuchna 38:02
Yeah, I mean, like I said, I just had a baby. And I also have a wife. And so it's like, a lot of things to juggle, and I was working full time I was I had a nine to five job. So I was doing this all at night, you know, essentially after my newborn daughter went to sleep, so it was a lot. I mean, it was, especially by the end of season two, there was no way I was going to be able to continue it after season two, unless I wanted to get a divorce. Frankl.
Jay Clouse 38:28
I'm hearing this like, recently engage them here in this like, I would not be able to.
Cole Cuchna 38:33
Yeah, I mean, that's just the honest truth. And the timing was Spotify worked out really, really perfectly. But season one. Yeah, I mean, it was I think I can't remember exactly the numbers, but it was like, definitely a couple 1000 listeners pretty regularly, which I thought was cool. Like, again, I didn't do it to do that. And but what I did notice early on though, was that the people that were listening were really into it. And I would get letters and you know, DMS and stuff that were just saying very gracious and appreciative and also like sharing, like personal things about themselves, which I thought was strange at first, but then it was like kind of aha moment for me because you realize you're like just talking to people for hours in their ears, super intimate. podcasting, super intimate, and that way so you and I have the experience with other hosts that I listened to where you just feel like you know them after a while they're like, kind of like this distant friend like one way friendship or something. I was like, Oh, that makes sense. And then I was like, and I'm even though I don't think I would have made this podcast if it was like, you know, someone told me to start a successful one. But in retrospect, it worked out that it was so niche because I think all popular podcasts are a lot of them feel like they're so specific in their content that you feel like it's like made for you like it's tailored exactly to what you're interested in, which is the great thing about podcasting. So I realized that too, and so there was enough early on where I was like, maybe I've got something here and I love to do it. Which was the most important thing I love to do it, I look forward to doing it every day, I still look forward to doing it every day. It was a no brainer to start season two. But season two is when I started to think way more seriously about how do I now make this a career, you know.
Jay Clouse 40:15
And Ithink you had a Patreon for a while, right? It was like the goal was to get enough paid gems that was going to be the route and that that hit the goal. I think if I remember correctl.
Cole Cuchna 40:23
Yeah, I mean, I think I can't remember exact number. But I was like, I think it was up to like 20 $500 a month, which was like, getting pretty close to like, it would be, you know, sin, but it was like getting to the point where I was like, maybe I could actually quit my job or at least go part time or something and do this for real. But then podcasting just exploded. And that really worked in my favor for sure where people any successful podcast because season two is really when the podcast started to take off. Articles are kind of being written about it all the time. Suddenly, Twitter following was like, really rapidly gaining and like I had multiple podcast companies seeing the success and start to reach out. So I actually had a few options by the end of season two, and Spotify was 100%, the best one and worked out really, really well. But there's a world where that doesn't happen, you know, but again, like something I always think about is like this, and I say pretty transparently on season two finale, kind of share my story because I kind of saw it go hand in hand with what Connie was talking about. But just like says idea perseverance of like, I think I even said on that finale episode was like my goal always was like, make a living doing something you love was always like the universal goal, whether that was music, something to do with music, whatever it was, do something that you love for a living was the goal. But the biggest challenge, a challenge that lasts to this day is simply time I work her full time job, and I have a wife and daughter. That's enough to fill a daily schedule and then some. In order to create this podcast, I wake up every day at 5am. I work on the podcast, I go to work for eight to nine hours a day, I come home and spend time with my family. They go to sleep, and I stay up late working on this podcast. The next morning, I get up and do it all over again. The world gives you nothing until you give it everything. That's been my mantra this year. And frankly, I live in a perpetual state of exhaustion. But make no mistake, I love creating Dissect. I voluntarily choose exhaustion in the ongoing pursuit of a lifelong dream. To make a living doing something I created something that I love. And it's extremely exciting and honestly a bit surreal for me to announce today. And I'm not exaggerating here. Literally the day I'm recording this officially accepted an opportunity that will allow me to create Dissect full time, I'm quitting my job tomorrow, and come 2018 I'll be making a living doing something that I created something that I love. It's still all sinking in, to be honest. But to bring it all back to the season, I shared with you my story because it's a personal account of art inspiring action, one that I hope resonates with you. Because when we strip my story of its specifics, we have a man who examine and re examine the challenges of his life and constantly realigned his life trajectory in order to make progress. It's my story. It's Kendrick story. It's Kanye story. And it's your story too. And it's like, you know, I've kind of told my story over the course of the podcast, where it's like, all these iterations and all these failures, there's 100 different points at which I could have just quit, you know, and just stopped and just kind of gave up did the nine to five thing could have been at probably fleshed out a really nice life that way. But there's always that thing inside me that you can do this like, and I just didn't give up. And there's like a year of doing the podcast where I got to do a full time. But it wasn't a year is 20 years. Like it took me 20 to 25 years to get to that point where finally something the timing was right all like luck. And all these things play different parts and everyone success. So finally things kind of like align perfectly for me. But you have to give yourself an opportunity to be lucky is something that I always think about, like you have to give yourself a shot. Otherwise, it's something I tell my kids all the time, if you don't try, it's a guaranteed failure. At least if you try and you fail, you gave yourself a percentage shot of actually doing the thing. So you have to keep trying. You just have to keep trying if it's something that you really want. And you have to give yourself the opportunity to get lucky.
Jay Clouse 44:29
How much pressure Did you feel along the way to either live up to listener expectations or at some point I imagined the show was big enough that you realized, oh, wow, this show where I am digging into the psyche and context of Kanye West might get big enough that he might actually hear something about it. Like Did you ever feel pressure around that?
Cole Cuchna 44:48
I don't think pressure No, because the show was always the show is a celebration of music. So I was never really worried. Even if I got an interpretation wrong. It's like you can chalk that up to just interpret Right, like, I think the best artists know once their art is out into the world, it's kind of at the freewill of everyone, whatever people want to do with it, it's theirs to do that with. So, you know, I was well enough researched in each of these albums and artists to think that I was doing a decent job in telling their story or their, their expression. If I got some things wrong, I don't know, I'm not going to get everything right. It's impossible without talking to them. And even then, so luckily, the feedback that I've heard from artists or people around them have all been positive. But again, there's literally not one word of criticism on the show. It's a celebration of the music in a way that I, I'm a musician. So I kind of know how I think music should be talked about in a way that really respects the artists and like, that's kind of another reason why I started the show is like, there wasn't too many outlets that really celebrated art in the way that I think art great art should be celebrated. It's always comes with some like shitty critique or like some journalists like dumb opinion, no offense to journalists, but it's just like, I saw way too many people inserting their themselves into the someone else's expression, which I get, there's a world and a place for that. But I just didn't think there was enough of the other side where it was like, let's go into the piece of art, and leave ourselves out of it. Let me just see what this person is trying to say and tell us and share with us. What can we learn from them, and just completely giving yourself over to the art? What happens then, you know, and it's like, people are so passionate about music, maybe hearing someone's critique is interesting. But like, I think hearing more articulation about something that you love is way more compelling than some writers opinion on what works and what doesn't like, I'm here to like, learn from these artists. And from this art, these artworks I'm not here to critique them. It's kind of like a conversation like the artist gave us like this kind of like clay that we can mold and like use for this like once. It's like a two sided conversation. But obviously it's like not because it's a static thing. But these are like living breathing pieces of art that you can interact with, and interpret and learn from. And it's like, I just wanted to see what happens when you give yourself over completely to that idea. And so to answer your question, not worried.
Jay Clouse 47:20
I love that you said that though I remember thinking back to when Chance's album the Coloring Book came out. There were pieces online from journalists, literally, like less than an hour later talking about how good or how bad it was. And I remember just thinking like, how could you possibly have a strong enough opinion?
Cole Cuchna 47:37
Jay Clouse 47:38
To even listen to the album in full and have written this? How do you think about like how long you sit with a piece and think about it before you really start digging into or dissecting your own opinion on it.
Cole Cuchna 47:49
I mean, I think that's exactly why podcasts became so popular is like in the media cycle that we're at now, you know, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they're kind of forced to bake these hot takes right away because everything's in the moment and it's like scrolling and blah, blah, blah. So I get a get why kind of have to do that as a media outlet. Now, for better for worse. But podcasting is great, because people are turning to it for long form conversations long form content in the same way people have this new there's a newfound appreciation for TV now that we can binge It is like people want 13 hour stories, you know, these shows that are super complex that are each seasons 13 to 15 hours, and then there's eight seasons and it's like you realize you can tell these really dynamic and complex stories, that people will actually sit through it and really enjoy it, I think dissect that speaks to that urge a little bit in terms of people wanting more than the surface level stuff or getting all the time kind of a breath of fresh air in terms of like actually sitting with one thing for a long period of time now, where again, everything else is kind of such a fast pace. So you know, I know I learned the most from these experiences of really sitting with one thing for an extended period of time because you forget that these artists especially the great ones are working on these albums for months, often years you know like Frank Ocean for examples like working on his stuff for literally three, four years every time so they're putting a lot of thought it's not just arbitrary these things the great you know, the greatest works aren't arbitrary. So it is gonna take you a lot of time to unpack and it might not hit you perfectly that you know the first time you listened to it like Jesus is a great example of that. Where I feel like in the moment it was so controversial and people just came out and blatantly like disregarded it but now I feel like there's been this over the year has been this really newfound appreciation for that record specifically. You can say the same thing about a way to heartbreak is other kind of more controversial record at the time where rap was still rap rapidly rap and he came out with a full singing album with auto tune which was at that time, so unheard of. And then now everything sounds like that. So and that's Kinda like to choose not records that are not quite in the moment, but we've had a few years at least to kind of sit with them, and then revisit them re bring them to the surface, because again, in this culture that we're in, we're kind of just swipe and scroll, and everything's behind us. And if it's in the past, it's in the past, but it's like, no, let's actually like return to these great works, because they have something to say still, you know.
Jay Clouse 50:00
To this point, you've covered independent artists, as opposed to bands we talked earlier, like, it was difficult when you're in a band to even coordinate all these people. Do you think that speaks to the level of creative work that can go into a piece when it's just one single individual putting their and only their expression into something? Or is that just kind of coincidence?
Cole Cuchna 50:42
I think it's coincidence. But because I don't think trying to think if there's any artists that I've done that is not super collaborative, like Kanye's in terms of collaboration, like that's his greatest skill is like, orchestrating different creatives and seeing, you know, his vision, but especially lately, it's like, he's, I mean, he's doing some of it himself. But a lot of the times, it's like, he's just kind of putting people in the right room or giving them the right directions, and taking everyone's ideas and, and kind of filtering out the best ideas. It's like, he's kind of like a curator now. Same with Beyonce. It's like, you look at Beyonce, his production and songwriting lists, it's like, it's miles long, right. But that's nothing to take away from these artists, it's like, it actually speaks to their skill of like, creating these very singular, focused works with cohesive stories and themes. But also working with all these, the best of the best people and solidifying these ideas into something that is cohesive and focused. That's a huge, that's a big skill. It's the same way, you know, an orchestrator or a conductor works with a big orchestra, where it's like, you're just trying to get everyone on the same page and bringing out the best in everyone, which is again, a skill. So even though they are under the name of Beyonce, Kendrick, you know, Tyler, it's like, I see them as collaborative works, especially when you get into the details of more than just the name Kanye West, you actually look at the credits, and you realize, man, this is, you know, this is a mile long, and how did he work with five producers on one track and get this really great piece? That's like, it's like, why it's interesting, you know?
Jay Clouse 52:15
Alright, last question. You start as an indie podcaster. Now you're working within Spotify, for folks listening to this, who think maybe podcasting is by game, but they're starting independently? Or assuming they have to start independently? What type of advice would you give to a podcaster? Starting today.
Cole Cuchna 52:29
it's harder today than it was, I always think about if I started a podcast now, would it have the same success, and I don't know if it would timing was a big part of my story, for sure. But I would just go back to, if you're doing it, because you love it. That'll make your show better. And it'll give you a better chance at actually doing something with it. Because you're going to do it no matter what. And you're going to again, go to go back to the perseverance idea, you're just going to do it because you love it. If you don't love it, and you're just doing it, because you think you might be able to make a buck off of it, probably not going to last long. And so I always encourage people just to do what they love. And if podcasting happens to be that one thing, just make the best podcast, you can get better and better each day. And obviously, there's going to be some strategies in terms of growing audience and making the show better and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, it's the show that matters is again to tie it back to like, the art is the art that matters. It's, it's the product that matters, it's not so much everything that else that comes from it is kind of ancillary, because if you're doing it for the right reasons, again, you're going to just want to keep doing it all the artists that I know that still create art, even into their mid 30s, which is the age I am now I know a ton of people that gave up completely. I know a few people that persevered because they love it. And you know, even bringing this this kind of conversation full circle that my friend Jaden who is like kind of my person I was looking to for artistic kind of guidance in my early 20s just got his doctorate in creative writing, and now is a head of Creative Writing Program and a college. He's 38. You know, it's like, it took him just like my journey was 25 years. It took him 20 whatever years, but he did it. And he's here and he's now he's doing something he loves. He just didn't give up. You know, and I think if you go through anyone's story, I think there's like some saying about an overnight success is never an overnight success. We just see the overnight success but the reality is they've been grinding forever to get to this moment to have the overnight success. So I would just say perseverance, if your love it, it won't even seem like perseverance because you won't even know what else to do. That was kind of my thinking at the time. So I still is you know, I was I don't think I would do the show still if I didn't love it even if I was making a living at it. So yeah, persevere would be the message.
Jay Clouse 55:00
Had a blast chatting with Cole about both his process and his journey. It's probably pretty obvious but Cole's story as an indie podcaster, who built a show people loved and supported him full time is super aspirational for me. As I shared in the beginning, Creative Elements just passed its own first year mark. And I've seen a lot of growth in the first year. 1000s of listeners and more than 500,000 downloads. And so I truly, truly thank you the listener for continuing to listen and support this show. My goal is to make Creative Elements your absolute favorite show, and so your feedback is a huge part of what makes that possible. I'm listening to season eight of Dissect right now. And if you enjoyed this episode, I strongly recommend you check it out too. Season eight is exclusively on Spotify right now, which also happens to be the podcast player that I use the most. Thanks to Cole for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork for this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet at me @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please, please, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.