Producer Spotlight: Megan Tan of Millennial

Each month we’ll be highlighting a different PRX producer to find out what they’re working on and hear about the challenges they face as indies as well as the stuff that gets them stoked.

This month, our intern Alexandra Morrow interviewed producer Megan Tan about her radio show Millennial. We were really excited to find out more about Megan, how she got started, and what’s next for the show.

Photo credit: Ben Severance.
Megan Tan working. Photo credit: Ben Severance.

For those who haven’t listened, what is Millennial about?

It’s about life post-graduation through the eyes of one person (me) in an Alex Blumberg / Start Up kind of way. It’s a narrative driven, first-person perspective podcast about maneuvering your 20s, after graduating college, and all the things that nobody teaches you.

Why audio?

I want to become a radio producer and really this project was just so that I could create a portfolio piece so I could show people, “Hey look I want to be a radio producer and look I’m making radio!” Using audio was really just so that I could get practice and hone a craft that I felt really insecure about.

I notice you said because you “want to become a radio producer.” Do you not consider yourself a radio producer, now?

When I talk to people they say, “You already are a radio producer! You are making radio!” But I feel like I’m half a radio producer and half I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing. I’m making it all by myself. I still have tons to learn. I feel like a very immature kind of radio producer, if that makes any sense. I’ll be making the 6th episode of Millennial soon and this podcast is literally the first time I have ever produced anything (audio wise). I used to do videos, so I do have some knowledge about story structure and working with audio, but before this I never worked solely with audio.

For a first try you’re doing a pretty incredible job.

It wasn’t until recently that I started re-listening to my old work (like the first episodes of Millennial). After I published them I would shed it off like it was bad skin. I would think, “oh God I’m glad that’s over, moving forward!” I couldn’t re-listen to it for a long time. It’s hard listening all the flaws, all the things you can do better.

Do you still feel like there are things about your work or about Millennial that are always nagging you. You said you feel that there are always things you can do better?

Oh sure, I mean I don’t know anything about sound production. I don’t know anything about sound engineering. I am constantly on Transom. I am constantly on AIR, and on YouTube. I’m constantly taking notes. I always have one of my best friends who isn’t in radio listen to an episode before I publish it – just to tell me if the levels are good. I’ll call up an old friend from college who used to be my roommate and I’ll say, “Hey can I just borrow 20 minutes of your time and can you please tell me if there are parts of this that are too soft, or too loud?”

How has Millennial changed the way you think about your future?

I think a lot of the things that I was really scared of when I started this are so much more tangible than they have ever been, which is remarkable. I write down a lot of goals. I write down lots of lists and things that I want. For a while I had a list and I took a picture of it with my iPhone and had it as my background. A lot of things I had written just felt unachievable. One of those things was making a podcast. But now because I’ve created Millennial, a lot of the things that I wanted I’ve gotten lot closer to.

Is that list changing?

Oh yeah. There will always be lots of lists. The list is definitely changing. You always want to be reaching for things you perceive as impossible. But what I’m learning is to really be patient. I remember talking to an old friend of mine and she said, “Megan you do this thing where you envision yourself jumping between cliffs. You’re jumping between two cliffs and when you’re in mid-air you raise the bar of that cliff. So you’re naturally going to fall, because you increase your expectations as your going towards them.” So instead of doing that I feel like I’ve purposefully thought about longevity and steady efforts.

That’s something I didn’t think of when I graduated college. When I graduated college and when I was making the very first episodes of Millennial I wanted everything now. I felt like I was already failing because I didn’t have a job in my field. And now… this is a very long answer.

No this is great!

…welcome to life as a millennial!

Hey, I’m a millennial too. I have one more year until I graduate.

That’s so exciting. I guess… I just feel like I’ve been able to take a breath. I’ve been able to make some pivotal decisions in terms of how I want to carve out my life for the future. I’ve worked at a restaurant for almost a year now, but I’m also making something that I really love, and I feel like that’s worth it because later that will turn into something.

When did you graduate?

I graduated last year, in 2014. But I’m older. A lot of people think I’m 22. But I’m 24. I took some time off from school to do a Radiolab internship at WNYC and I also went to a small liberal arts school in California for a year. But I didn’t like that so I went to a school in Kentucky to study photojournalism. Then I took a year off. So my route hasn’t really been the ‘ideal four years.’ I graduated high school when I was 17 so, it feels good to be done. It feels really good to be done.

Have you gotten any feedback from people listening to Millennial?

I get some really great emails from people. I recently received a donation, and you can always put a little message in it. The donation was from a mother, and she said, “I’m raising millennials, thank you for allowing me to understand what’s happening.”

I’ve also gotten emails with feedback from people saying “thank you for being so honest. I always thought that I was alone in this.” Mostly I hear from people who are in our same shoes and are trying to figure out what to do after graduation.

When you were talking about your list you said, “there’s always something bigger and better that you’re adding to it.” Your dream is always evolving. You mentioned the bar and the cliff. Do you have any big goals for Millennial, or is that top secret information?

Yeah, I do have some big bars for Millennial. I don’t know if I’ll talk about them. When I’m making an episode I’m just hoping that each episode is better than the one before, or as good as the one before. That’s on the list all the time: to make this episode as good as it can be.

The tricky thing about this podcast is, I’m documenting my life and enough really crazy amazing things, or interesting things have to be happening in for it to be a good podcast. So I question the longevity of it, but I also think there’s a potential for it to boomerang in a different direction.

I would really love to work with the best podcasters out there and with a team of people who would help me, or for people to see the potential for the podcast and for me as a host. To be able to say, “We believe in you. Let’s work on this together. We have a lot of tools and resources. Let’s collaborate.” But that would be the dream; to miraculously be lifted out of my a closet in Maine and be taken to a really beautiful studio somewhere and for a huge crew to be working on Millennial with me. But I feel like I’m in mid-air right now and while that can be a goal of mine, I also know that just making really good work is something I still need to focus on.

Like, you don’t want to dream before the dream gets away from you?

Yeah. Also you I know how it’s all going to pan out. But I do know at this moment there are people that are listening. They want a sixth episode and I want to make a sixth episode, so I just need to focus on making that sixth episode. Like when you look at great podcasts…people work really hard for a really long time. It’s not until 5 years down the road that they get picked up. So I feel like I still need to put in my time with that. I still need to just continue to prove to myself that I can make good content and that should be my focus.

That’s a big chunk. Also balancing working a full time job with making the podcast. I was putting in 40 hours a week at the restaurant. To be able to sit down at my computer after a long day standing on your feet, is hard. So maybe I’ll be working with some of my favorite podcast heroes in the future. That would be the dream.

You said your dream is to work with your favorite podcast heroes. Who are your podcast heroes?

Millennial was inspired by Alex Blumberg’s StartUp Podcast. Just the way that he structured StartUp is really great. I mean, I fell in love with that podcast and I remember watching a Creative Lively where he did a presentation. He was teaching a 2-day class online and I watched the entire 2-days because I just wanted to learn. I remember him saying, “what you need to do, is you just need to create something, You need to just imitate people and practice.” And I remember going to Ben, my boyfriend, and saying, “Ben! Alex Blumberg is telling me I can just be like him! So I’m just going to try it out!” So Alex Blumberg is definitely one of my podcast heroes.

I really love all the people at RadioLab because I know them personally. Molly Webster is one of my people. Matt Kielty, Kelsey Padgett, Jad Abumrad, Alex Kapelman. These are just my favs. My good people. I really like Starlee Kine, I really like Chana Joffe Walt. I like Sean Cole. All the people at Gimlet are great. Everybody in ReplyAll… There are just so many. There are a lot of really great people out there. I really also like the Radio Community. It’s very nurturing and people are always willing to help. They know how hard it is.

Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time and asked a lot of questions, but is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to say?

Hmm… I think it’s funny how when you get recognition via the internet, your life on a day to day basis is still the same. When Millennial first started getting a lot of press all of a sudden people I didn’t know were emailing me. But then I would go to the restaurant and no one would care, or no one would know who I was. That different dynamic was so funny. But it’s humbling because a lot has changed, but at the same time it feels like not a lot has changed.

Hi, I’m Alex! (=^_^=)

Lewiston Middle School Students with Claire Holman, head of Blunt Youth Radio, and two Portland High School students. The show aired  on March 30th from WMPG in Portland, ME and featured selections from students' interviews with Lewiston community members.
Lewiston Middle School Students with Claire Holman, head of Blunt Youth Radio, and two Portland High School students. The show aired on March 30th from WMPG in Portland, ME and featured selections from students’ interviews with Lewiston community members.
Hi, my name is Alexandra Morrow (but you can call me “Alex”). I’ll be here at PRX as an intern through the end of August. I’m an only-child born and raised in Southern Maine, 4 houses over the border from New Hampshire (but that still makes me a Mainer, right??). I just finished my Junior Year at Bates College in Lewiston, ME where I’m a self-designed Narrative Studies Major. I’m interested in using stories and public media to organize communities and connect people across lines of difference. In Lewiston I run an after-school workshop for Middle Schoolers – helping to guide them through the process of conducting audio interviews to learn more about their community.

Last summer I interned at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, MA. I spent the summer making Sonic IDs and produced a 6-minute feature about the upcoming 400th Anniversary of Plymouth Plantation (in 2020) from the perspective of Native Wampanoag. I’d played around a little with audio editing before getting to APM, but didn’t realize just how much work goes into production until I was sitting at a desk, staring at hours upon hours of audio, and trying to find those golden 30-60 seconds.

Recording Sonic IDs on a Farm in Rochester, MA for Atlantic Public Media (Summer 2014)
Recording Sonic IDs on a Farm in Rochester, MA for Atlantic Public Media (Summer 2014)

My appreciation for public radio and audio-storytelling increased exponentially in those moments. It’s hard work, people!! It takes a long time to really figure it out and get it right. I can’t count how many times I read Ira Glass’ quote about creativity that summer. It’s going to take a while, it’s going to take a while… just gotta fight through it. Nothing I produce at this stage in my life is actually going to feel good enough. Just. Have. To. Keep. Trying. Ahhh.

I spent August – December 2014 in Kathmandu, Nepal living with a host-family and learning Nepali. I worked with the phenomenal power-couple Jaya Luintel and Madhu Acharya, two incredible and renowned radio-Journalists in Nepal. I worked mostly with Jaya doing some writing for her organization The Story Kitchen. I didn’t produce a radio story in Nepal for a number of reasons, but largely I was trying to figure out ethics of recording in a cultural context completely different from my own. I did a final project on Women Exercising in Nepal. I was inspired by a group of women from the Siddhipur Jogging Group. I met them while on one of my early morning runs with a friend and we were graciously welcomed into their community and their homes. These women became family. I returned in late-December to a world of snow, and ice, and closed-off New England homes. It was a hard transition to say the least and I miss my family every day. We talk on the phone often.

With the Siddhipur Jogging Group
With the Siddhipur Jogging Group

The recent earthquake in Nepal has been devastating. To learn that the people who so graciously shared their lives and their culture, who became both my family and my friends are struggling in ways that are difficult to fathom is heartbreaking. My host-family and many of the women from the Siddhipur Jogging group lost their homes. Many lives have been lost and countless more will be threatened as the situation continues to worsen. I’m trying to find ways to effectively assist in recovery efforts from afar. Nepal and its people have a long road ahead in terms of recovery. I had been planning to return in June with my parents (this would be their first time out of the US!), but we all agree the money can be better used to support relief efforts.

I’m really excited to be here at PRX this summer. I’ll be here in the office once a week, on Tuesdays. When I’m not at PRX I’ll be working at Brandmoore Farm in Rollinsford, NH. At Brandmoore I’m doing a combination of farm Brandmoore Farmwork and media production. Becky and Phil Brand so graciously invited me to work as a Digital Media Producer / Outreach Coordinator this summer. I’ll be creating content to showcase their farm and also look into the ways that local farms and food systems can reach a wider range of the population through public media. The content I produce might also be used for a Kickstarter Campaign they’re organizing in the near future. I’m hoping to integrate that work into something I do here at PRX. What that will look like, however, I’m not sure!

In my spare time I like to run in the woods, bike long distances, and experiment with fresh ingredients in the kitchen. 🙂

If you read all the way to here, you’re a trooper! I definitely wrote way too much – but hey, that’s me.

Questions? Comments? Fantastic story?! Shoot me an email. alexandra@prx.org