Lore has become an Apple Podcasts phenomenon since its initial launch in 2015. With 70 episodes published to date, Lore features non-fictional stories that examine historical events that show the dark side of human nature.
Its creator, Aaron Mahnke works tirelessly on the project, taking care of every aspect of the show including the conception, production, and even the marketing. His efforts have proven fruitful. This week, Amazon Prime will premiere the first episode of a television series based on his podcast. A big accomplishment for Aaron and a big step forward for the podcasting industry.
Aaron Mahnke of Lore
A freelance graphic designer and fiction hobbyist turned acclaimed podcaster with an Amazon Prime series on the way. How does it feel right now to be Aaron Mahnke?
Busy! But yes, it’s been quite the journey, and it’s an experience I’m grateful for every day.
While Lore is what you call your “happy accident,” it isn’t actually the first podcast you had a hand in. You initially spent several years behind the mic of the Home Work podcast?
That’s correct. My friend Dave Caolo and I worked together for four years on a little show about working from home. It was sort of productivity-centered, serving as an advice show for people who struggled with getting work done from home. I did zero writing, editing, or post-production. Heck, I did it for four years and never once learned how podcasts work as a technology. I just showed up, clicked record, and talked. That was my role.
It was fun, but looking back, I did a lot of things wrong. I should have done more prep or planning. The episodes could have been tighter and more focused, presented more professionally and more intentionally helpful. But we all have to learn somewhere, I suppose.
Most new podcasters put all their hopes and dreams into their first project. If it doesn’t become wildly successful right off the bat, they tend to quit. Based on your history in the field, what would you say to them?
If you quit the first time you fail, you’re in for a very frustrating, vey unfulfilling life. Babies would never learn to walk if they gave up after falling down. Failure is the fuel that propels us forward into success.
That said, I think “success” is a tricky concept to nail down, and it rarely aligns with people’s expectations. Is success being able to earn a living through podcasting? It is landing in the Top Ten over at Apple Podcasts? Is it a mention on Wired or EW or some other cultural publication? Success is multi-faceted. It’s different for everyone.
Most think it’s all about big numbers, but just how big your show can get is limited by your topic, your format, your style, and your quality. Some of the things are within your control, but many of them aren’t. So my biggest advice to new podcasters is always the same: focus 100% on making great content.
That means you don’t worry about selling ads right away. Don’t plan a Patreon campaign, or start making merchandise. You need to prove that your show is worth supporting first. You need to grow your audience to a size that’s right for advertisers. You need listeners to sell that merch to.
So drop everything else and make a damn good show. Everything else is a waste of time in the beginning. If you have a limited amount of time and energy, you should be pouring 100% of it into content. The rest will follow.
Many people that hit on a successful project talk about a moment of clarity when they realize they’ve got something. What was that moment for you with Lore?
When listeners spoke up. When they started emailing me with enthusiastic reviews, and when I could see them on social media telling others about my show.
Because that’s the turning point we should all be looking for. You can believe your content is great all you want. But then again, every single parent thinks their child is beautiful, even though we know that’s not always true. We as creators can’t be the final judge of whether our creation is amazing or not. That’s up to the listeners.
If they love what they hear, they’ll tell others. If they don’t, they won’t subscribe. So when I saw the excitement and positive reception and all the word of mouth happening, that’s when it all clicked for me. Lore was taking off.
What’s the workflow of a Lore episode from concept to publication?
I’m really methodical. I give the general topic to a research assistant and let them go find me solid source material and build a rough outline of the story.
Then I jump in, read it all, soak it in, and build the narrative. I write every single word myself, from start to finish, and then record and produce it myself as well. All told, each episode of Lore is probably a 30-hour process.
Oh, and I also handle all my own ad sales, all my email (I get a lot), marketing, publishing, websites, and bookkeeping. I stay very busy, and I work very hard.
Where is Lore recorded and what is your technical setup?
I have a studio here in my home office that I’ve custom-built to fit my personal tastes. I stand to record, I like using an iPad for my script, all of that…those habits are built into my space. The space is acoustically treated and isolated from the rest of my office to eliminate outside noise. My mic is a pretty basic Shure SM7B, and I still use an old version of GarageBand for everything.
It’s a great space. I even recorded all of the voice over for the Lore television show, as well as the entire audiobook for the first Lore book, Monstrous Creatures, in my home booth. It’s good enough for anything, from what I can tell.
Do you have a personal favorite episode that you’ve released?
Meh, I never play the favorites game with my content. I slave over every episode, and I won’t release something that doesn’t meet my standards. Every episode is a top choice for me. I need to be able to trust that if a brand new listener discovers Lore, wherever they start listening is going to be a top-notch experience.
The show runner for the new Amazon series based on your podcast is Glen Morgan, who also wrote and produced many X-Files episodes. Talk about your initial meeting with Glen and how the Amazon deal unfolded.
Glen actually emailed me out of the blue just to tell me he loved Lore and really enjoyed my writing. He was nothing more than a fan, but we connected around our love of story. The next time I went out to LA for TV meetings, I got drinks with him and we had a blast, so I invited him to be part of the show. When the dust settled, Glen was the show runner, and we were off to a phenomenal start.
But the TV process had started long before that. I had been making Lore for about five months when I started getting emails from production companies, expressing interest in adapting the show for television. I ended up going with the company that I felt had the best access to networks, the best resume of quality shows, and the best leadership team.
After that, it was a matter of finding a network home. And Amazon is a perfect choice for podcast fans, with full seasons dropping all at once, and binge-watching just a click away.
Every time you shift mediums, something changes. It has to. You can’t represent books like Harry Potter or Stephen King’s IT perfectly on the big screen. It can’t be done. When you shift from print to film, or print to audio, or whatever, the presentation changes by default. That’s why those mediums are different, after all.
But every medium has a set of unique skills that the others lack. Audio is immersive and intimate. Film is big and visual. Print puts the story in your hand and provides just enough structure to help the story thrive. They are all valuable and great.
At the center of all of them, though, is the story. And Lore has always been, at the deepest level, nothing more than a storytelling podcast. Which is great, because these stories can now be told through different mediums. The format can change, but the mood and story and core is always the same.
I worked hard with my producers to craft a visual Lore experience that matches the podcast. Chad Lawson’s music, my narration, the historical context, and the drama of the story. It’s all there. Fans are going to love it.
If you could offer one piece of advice to new and upcoming podcasters, what would it be?
Just tell great stories. Whether you are doing an interview show, a news program, reviewing products, or doing literal storytelling, work hard at telling powerful stories. Listen to feedback. Be willing to grow and change. Focus on content rather than revenue.
The one single key to success will always be this: make a show that’s so good that your listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from recommending it to others. If it’s not worth sharing, it’s not good. So go tell great stories.
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