I'VE ALWAYS APPRECIATED that line from William Goldman, the legendary screenwriter when he talked about why he wrote. "Stupid Courage," was something William fought for, characters who possessed that quality, the heroes that go for it and leave the risk calculator at home. I appreciate when anyone is able to bypass the overwhelm of overthinking and complexity and 'just do.' Sounds simple, but it surely, surely isn't.
I was a guest on 'Aiming for the Moon,' a podcast created and produced by Taylor G. Bledsoe and Mattie G. Henry, two 14-year olds in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I was inspired by their focus, their quality of listening, and formidable questions. They've interviewed a high octane variety of guests, to name a few (only a few), Tim Kendall, former President of Pinterest, Dr. Angela Duckworth: Author of “Grit," Dr. Cal Newport (NYA Bestselling author of "Deep Work"), Zach Johnson (PGA Golfer, British Open and Masters Champion) ...
AFTER THE PODCAST, I wanted to turn the microphone towards Taylor and Mattie and ask them to tell me more about the story behind their venture, the benefits of homeschooling, and the importance of a supportive environment.
QUESTION: Where in the world are You two, what are you up to in your daily life (school, hobbies) - and how do you know each other?
Taylor: Mattie and I live in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. We are both in 8th grade and will be going into high school next year. Unlike the average American, Mattie and I are both homeschooled. This has been great for us because it has allowed us to experience amazing opportunities like Aiming for the Moon and meet interesting people instead of sitting in a classroom for 6-7hrs. Usually, my day consists of getting up around 7-8 am and starting schoolwork. I have online classes so I jump on those between finishing homework and interviewing people for the podcast. Now that the podcast has become an actual job and not just a hobby, Mattie and I have 3-5 interviews per week. Besides doing administrative work for Aiming for the Moon (like answering emails, scheduling new guests, and editing episodes), I play soccer, code robots for my robotics team, and train at my local BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) school. Mattie and I met a few months before the pandemic at a co-op for homeschoolers. A co-op is a program that provides homeschool students, in-person classes, one or two days a week for the school year. We instantly became friends.
Mattie: Though I have been to many different schools, currently I am a part of a little homeschool co-op. This helps free up more time for the podcast. I have no idea how we would have managed it if we had both been in a traditional school. As for me, if you've ever met someone who wasn't especially gifted in any certain area, but could do a number of different things, that's me. Besides running a podcast, I enjoy art, listening to music, singing, playing guitar, tennis, reading, writing, and a lot more. If I'm not doing one of those then I am most likely getting in trouble for being too loud around the house. Taylor and I first met at our homeschool co-op a little over a year ago. Before I really got to know her, I thought of her as the cool, smart girl (which turned out to be a correct suspicion). Eventually, we started hanging out at school which led to us calling and texting over the summer of 2020. That's when she asked me to join the podcast she was planning on launching. Our friendship kind of rocketed from there and now I consider her one of my best friends! It's a blast to go on this crazy adventure with her.
Q: From experience, I know that setting up a podcast is a lot of work. How did You come up with the idea for your podcast and how was the technical setup process?
Taylor: My dad and I came up with the idea when brainstorming about cool projects to do in high school. He's one of my role models and has always inspired me to think big and try things. When he was thirteen, he ran a neighborhood newspaper. I knew I wanted to do something cool like that around thirteen as well. He is the one that thought up the quick 15 minute interview model. When I was testing my microphone later that week, he saw a recording of Mattie and me talking. He recommended Mattie to be my co-host. I jumped at the opportunity to have a partner in crime. After we had decided we wanted to work together, Mattie and I spent a few weeks researching the technology and skills involved. I learned how to edit the audio and music. My sisters helped us get off the ground by creating our music and art. My little sister, Emery, threw together a cool intro song while my other little sister, Harper, drew an incredible logo. All in all, there is no way Mattie and I could run Aiming for the Moon without help from our families.
Mattie: It was Taylor that came up with the whole interviewing interesting people from a teenage perspective thing. It sounded good to me, so that's what we ended up doing. As for the name, like before we pitched a lot of ideas, (which I will not be putting in this because they will make anyone who reads them cringe and laugh out loud at how ridiculous they are). We wanted a name that was relevant to our podcast but was also catchy and upbeat. The idea that we had was to have a name that showed that we had our sights set high and wanted to learn more, so naturally, the name Aiming For The Moon was born. Taylor's younger sisters were a HUGE help in the set-up. Emery created our theme music and Harper designed our logo. We couldn't have done it without them.
Q: Did either of You seek out any specific training or study the etiquette of good questions, either before or after you started? Are there any specific role-models that have helped you develop your interviewing skills or podcasts that you look to for structure and approach?
Taylor: Honestly, Mattie and I did not take any classes or study. At the very beginning, I was the only one doing the interviews and I only went off tips from my parents and what I thought TV news channels did. Weirdly enough, the podcast that inspired our style is the This Podcast Will Kill You podcast. They specialize in teaching about diseases in a fun and cool way. Usually, they never interview people. However, by listening to their show, Mattie and I learned how professional podcasts are formatted. Our interviewing skills have just come from practice and tips from friends and family members.
Mattie: When we started the podcast Taylor was the one interviewing the guest. Only a couple of months later did I actually join the interviewing process. By that time Taylor had found her niche and was really good at making the interview more conversational. Although I never sought out any specific training, we did occasionally get advice from some of the guests who were experienced with interviews. My role model was and is most definitely Taylor. She is great at responding to the guest's answers and asking great follow-up questions. When I would be freaking out before some of my first interviews, she was usually calm and confident. Her skills definitely taught me a lot about what makes an interesting and entertaining interview. Taylor's a natural when it comes to this kind of stuff. Since our podcast is so unique some of the things that worked for other podcasts didn't work for us, but I definitely gleaned some important knowledge about presentation and content quality to be sure.
Q: The Internet, Social Media, Podcasts - the volume of material out there is high, is there anything You two emphasize in regard to standing out, I know your podcast is aimed towards 'young audience' - but how (I'm asking as an old person, haha) - but how do you navigate through endless channels or prioritize how you market your work?
Taylor: As for marketing: Right now, we connect with our listeners through Instagram, Twitter, and our blog. Our guests have been very supportive and happy to share their episodes with their followers. In total, it is a combination of word of mouth and luck.
Mattie: I believe what really makes us stand out is that we are just two teenagers with a podcast that is aimed to help kids our own ages. We interview interesting people from a teenage perspective, which hasn't been done before. Teenagers have a lot of pressure to know exactly what they want to do with their lives and our podcast can help guide them through that. Aiming For The Moon is on a couple of social media platforms including Instagram and Twitter. We also have a YouTube channel where you can see what our interviews really look like. Our guests have been very helpful in spreading the word around. There are a lot of podcasts out there, so I guess we are just kind of lucky that our podcast's content gives us a great, natural way to market our podcast.
Q: From experience, and as a creative method, I focus partly on 'not knowing what I'm doing in order to keep space for all the X-factor ideas I work with - how much of your podcast is structured or planned, and how much is that X-factor when it comes to selecting guests and topics?
Taylor: Pretty much all of it is improv. Mattie and I prepare questions before each interview, but (usually) those are thrown out the window during the actual event. The discussion segments at the end of the episodes are also 100% spur of the moment. Guests are decided by recommendation and Mattie and my personal interests.
Mattie: Every podcast is run by people who have different schedules, responsibilities, and most importantly, personalities, so naturally everyone's podcast looks different. We know other podcast hosts who plan, plan, plan. They have set recording dates and release days. Aiming For The Moon just recently found their perfect scheduling day and we have had this podcast for about 8 months. We don't have set times that we do interviews. We don't have a scheduled recording. Taylor just texts me and asks if a certain time would work to knock out some recording. Taylor and I usually just wing it. If we get a burst of inspiration or a fantastic idea, then we act on it. Not having a tight schedule gives me more freedom to follow my curiosity and ideas to see where they lead. Honestly, I believe that we are very lucky with the guests that have come on. I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and exciting our interviews can be. They have so much amazing knowledge and experience to share with our audience making their interviews very entertaining.
Q: What advice would you give anyone who wanted to start a podcast - what are some of the challenges you would have liked to have known beforehand?
Taylor: Just do it. That is my advice to any beginning podcaster. Listen to Nike. And, research your podcast hosting site (RSS feed site). Those are very important because they track all of your analytics and allow your podcast to show up in the main podcast listening locations. Although it is possible to switch hosting platforms, it is a pain. We know from experience!
Mattie: Nothing I can say will ever prepare anyone for the wild ride they will go on if they start a podcast. They have to figure out how to do most of it on their own, however, I do have some advice that may help people make the decision of whether or not they want to start a podcast. My first piece of advice would be to know what a huge commitment a podcast can be. You will spend a lot of money and time, so make sure you are ready for it. Two is to make sure your podcast's topic is something that you can talk about for a long time. You don't want to be a couple of months in and realize that you don't have any more ideas for episodes. My final piece of advice is to just go for it. If you really want to start a podcast, then do it! You'll realize how rewarding being a host can be!
Q: I doubt either of you can see the future - but in rough sketches, what 'aim' do You have for 'Aiming For The Moon' in the future and for yourselves individually?
Taylor: Like I'm sure all creators want, Mattie and I would love for Aiming for the Moon to impact our listeners' lives, even if that is just by giving them something fun and interesting to listen to. For myself, I want the podcast to provide me with lasting relationships with my guests and audience, expand my horizons, and allow me to explore the world literally and philosophically. Oh, and help me get into college.
Mattie: I would love for our podcast to impact our listeners' lives. I want Aiming For The Moon to help people navigate life and learn more about different people and their experiences. As for me, I would love for this podcast to keep teaching me new things, keep helping me understand more about the world, and to keep letting me challenge myself. It also wouldn't hurt if it helped boost me into amazing opportunities later in life.