An Interview with Misha Euceph

July 29, 2020

Misha Euceph wants to create audio stories that will take your breath away. The founder of Dustlight Productions (which just yesterday launched The Michelle Obama Podcast From Higher Ground and Spotify) is on a mission to push the boundaries of what's possible in podcasting while running a production company built on integrity.

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On Air Fest:
In both your personal work and with Dustlight, the word ‘awe’ is central to your mission. What does ‘awe’ mean for you?

Misha Euceph:
Awe for me is the feeling of something taking your breath away. People often assume that in order to feel awe, something must be so exquisite and raw that it moves you to that place. That’s true-- vulnerability, beauty, high level of craft contribute to that feeling. But part of awe is also letting your own guard down and being open to the possibility of something or someone taking your breath away. At Dustlight, both of those ideas are central to our work, our culture and who we work with. Of course, we prioritize impeccable taste, uncompromising quality and pushing the boundaries of what exists in audio in order to make shows that inspire awe in others. But we also practice letting our own guards down and making room for vulnerability, honesty, difficult conversations, and being moved.

OAF:
Awe is also a word I think a lot of people would use to describe the former first lady. Michelle Obama is such an important cultural icon. What was it like to craft her podcast? Any behind-the-scenes stories you can share?

ME:
Mrs. Obama has been a huge source of inspiration for me personally, most of all because of her alignment with her integrity. Before public life, during and after, the former first lady modeled what it’s like to be honest with yourself and with others-- to listen to the deeper part of yourself and to hold true to that no matter what is happening in the world around you. That’s worthy of awe. Making her podcast was a huge honor and privilege for me, especially as an immigrant to the U.S., but it was also momentous for everyone on my team, and we’re thrilled for everyone to listen!

My favorite behind the scenes moments eventually made it into the podcast! They’re the exchanges between the former President and Mrs. Obama in the first episode, where you get to see them both as husband and wife, as parents, as the powerful, important and intelligent figures they are and as two people who are in love many years into their marriage and love joking and flirting with each other. Relationship goals for sure.

OAF:
Dreaming big… Who’s podcast would you love to make next?

ME:
That phrase, “dreaming big,” is funny to me, because I’d say we’re actively seeking out the kind of work that brings us alive here at Dustlight. More than making a show with or for someone in particular, we’re excited about making shows that bend genres, trying things never before tried in audio and telling stories that have never been told before or told in the way we want to tell them. Something I’m personally excited about are unique ways to use music and collaborate with composers to further distinguish a show.

For example, in movies and TV, soundtracks and original compositions can play a significant role in setting the mood, in establishing characters, in making us feel something. We’ve barely scratched the surface in podcasting when it comes to recurring motifs, character themes, genres of music, etc. Even something like a single-instrument soundtrack (which we did for The Big One), is unheard of. These are the things I daydream about, and I know the producers on our teams also have beautiful ideas like that that they’re excited to bring to life in new shows with partners or as originals.

OAF:
At Dustlight, you’re publishing the racial and gender breakdown of your production crews as well as pay data on your website which feels really radical and necessary. This isn’t the norm in the audio industry but something that could become more normalized. Tell me about making that decision. Did you know you wanted to create transparency from jump?

ME:
Yes. This goes back to integrity. I wanted to create the kind of workplace I would feel thrilled to be a part of, and that meant a workplace that was honest and unafraid of holding itself accountable. Though transparency, open communication and a non-hierarchical structure have been important to me from the jump, the specific decision to publish pay data didn’t come about until Arwen Nicks (Executive Producer on upcoming Dustlight shows) and I talked about the pact for Equality in Audio. I saw that a lot of companies had signed the pact but hadn’t created a public system of accountability around signing. Arwen and I debated what it meant to sign the pact and what it meant to not sign it as just an empty gesture. We also discussed all the different ways in which Dustlight could model what it meant to be a transparent, equitable and accountable company.

I eventually settled on the decision to calculate and publish our demographic and pay breakdowns, and ran that by everyone --contract and full-time-- at the company to make sure everyone was comfortable with me publishing that information. When consulting with some advisors, the question of “what happens when the numbers aren’t favorable?” came up. In answering that question, I realized that publishing this information was 100 percent the right thing to do. Because what happens when the numbers aren’t favorable is we are forced to look in the mirror and re-evaluate what we’re doing. It’s like self-awareness, but for a company instead of a person.

The truth is we’re not going to get it right forever and consistently. But we don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re reacting to a changing world and covering our tracks after we’ve done something wrong because we’ve been more focused on our image than our character as a company. We are, like our country, striving for something more perfect-- a group of people and an organization that has the ability to recognize when it is doing things wrong in the moment and to have those conversations privately and publicly so that we can grow, and do better. Publishing this information is one way of recognizing that we are human, that we will make mistakes and fail, but that we are committed to our company character -- to being honest and learning, no matter how hard that is.

OAF:
How has making that information public informed the company culture?

ME:
That’s such a hard thing to quantify so early in Dustlight’s existence. I’d love to say everyone’s really happy and we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, but I won’t know the answer to how this decision informs the company culture-- positively or negatively-- for quite some time. And that reaction and relationship will ebb and flow too.

OAF:
Next up for Dustlight, you’re launching a series of training, incubators, apprenticeships and bootcamps. What can you share about these opportunities?

ME:
Training is a core part of the business model and our mission at the company, because it allows us to elevate the skill level of producers (internally and externally) and increase diversity in the industry. We have already hired our first apprentice on a show that goes into production next week, and are working on hiring more. Separately, we are just starting to develop a slate of online trainings this year, and incubators and other opportunities for next year. Please follow @poddy.training on instagram and the @dustlight_co accounts on social to learn more when those are announced!

"I wanted to create the kind of workplace I would feel thrilled to be a part of, and that meant a workplace that was honest and unafraid of holding itself accountable."

Misha Euceph