When Rob Mitchell mentioned that he had recorded an introduction about himself for his podcast The Bitcoin Game several times, but he hadn’t yet created one he wanted to use, I jumped at the chance to interview him.
I remember when Mitchell first started his podcast a little more than a year ago. His first episode didn’t make the cut, but Adam B. Levine provided feedback and advice, and Mitchell succeeded in his second attempt.
He has since published 29 biweekly episodes, including memorable ones such as interviews with Johoe, the white hat hacker, Jake Benson of LibraTax — which I remember because I didn’t want to listen, but when I did, it was very helpful — and two of his latest with John Barrett of Bitcoins and Gravy, and writer Brian Cohen. He also created the Bitcoin keychains that appear in images all over the Internet.
"I notice, compared to everybody else, I’m trying to be first generation with compression and things like that — not compressing an MP3 a second time, if you don’t have to. These are things that probably even an audiophile might not notice, but I want to try to do everything right." — Rob Mitchell
Mitchell is quick to take responsibility for imperfections, while his podcasting and professional successes — the way he tells it — just kind of happened to him. I asked him what starting a podcast was like for him.
Why did you decide to start The Bitcoin Game?
I’ve listened to podcasts for so long. And I feel like I’m an odd person in that I love music, but now I almost only listen to podcasts. Before that, it was probably talk radio to some degree. I’ve always been interested in podcasts and I’ve also had a fair amount of experience with audio recording — nothing professional, but just being in bands, or using GarageBand or whatever to make music.
I’m also very anal in terms of trying to follow protocols and stuff. I really like to understand what I’m doing, even though I’m not a programmer. I notice, compared to everybody else, I’m trying to be first generation with compression and things like that — not compressing an MP3 a second time, if you don’t have to. These are things that probably even an audiophile might not notice, but I want to try to do everything right.
How did you come up with the name for your podcast?
When I was first getting into Bitcoin, I figured that if it would become more valuable in the future, so might good Bitcoin domain names. I also figured I should buy any domains that might work for Bitcoin businesses I might potentially engage in. So I went on a domain-buying spree. It was over a year later that I decided to start my own podcast, and I figured it made sense for me to choose a name that went with one of my domains.
"To the level I edit, it probably takes me triple or quadruple the length of the recording to go through and edit it."
How many hours do you spend a week on your podcast?
That’s what’s scary. It depends on the episode, but it’s very easy for me to spend ten-plus hours, all in all. There’s some time arranging it, general time reaching out to people, listening to content — but to actually put together an episode, I usually end up talking to someone a good hour, hour and a half. I talked to John Barrett almost two and half hours. I’ve talked to a few people way, way longer than the episode reflects.
I would say, to the level I edit, it probably takes me triple or quadruple the length of the recording to go through and edit it. If it’s two hours, it’s six or eight hours to go through and edit it. Because, and I think Adam does this a lot, but I go through and I might edit out little pauses, stumbles, and clearing of the throat, and stutters. So almost every other sentence has a clip out. Some people have a lot of weird speech — idiosyncrasies I’ll say — or maybe stutter a bit. I just find, if you take that out, it is so much easier to listen to and the content is so much denser. It makes listening much more pleasurable to edit it out and have it all flow really well.
Have you had to work on any of your own verbal ticks?
I edit myself more than anybody. I feel like my editing is better than my speaking. It’s weird when you’re editing audio. I don’t realize it during the interview, but then afterwards when I’m listening, I hear that this person starts every sentence with “you know.” You really start noticing these things when you’re trying to edit at the level that I am.
It’s a completely different thing than some of these live podcasts like Epicenter Bitcoin or the Crypto Show. I’m envious. I’d love to not edit, but I never feel confident enough with the material and the flow, and I break out of the conversation and I say, “Hey, you’re microphone’s jingling a bit.” A lot of stuff like that.
Is it possible to create good content without editing?
Yeah, Epicenter Bitcoin does it. They don’t edit, and I think they have solid content. The editing and the sound quality, and the accents — all these things can make it just a little bit more difficult to listen to a show. I have trouble when people have accents. It makes it harder for me, and it’s kind of sad.
Some of my most difficult interviews to edit were people who weren’t native English speakers, like Johoe. He would take tons of time trying to figure out how to word a sentence. Cutting that down made it so much easier to consume. I’ve had a few speakers like that. It’s a dream when I talk to someone who just flows and you don’t have to edit very much. I have just a handful of interviews I haven’t edited extensively. Of course, I might have an insane level for where I draw that line.
After I’m done editing, I write out what I’m going to say for the intro, add the magic word [a feature of the LTB Network listener rewards program], and then record those parts. I put that all together with the interview and mix in music, then mix down to an MP3. I listen to the whole thing and make sure that’s okay. Then I’ve got to type up my post for the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network interface and send the thing to SoundCloud, where I copy and paste all the show notes, but some formatting things change. There are a lot of steps, so it takes time.
— With son Zach
Did you understand when you got into podcasting that it was going to take so much time?
I don’t think I did. I didn’t know what would happen after doing the first episode. I just thought I had to give it a chance and go for it. I had the time. I had the content. I had the practice. I had a full edited podcast under my belt that was rejected, so I just went for it and didn’t know what would happen.
When I was a kid, I loved messing around with a tape recorder. I had an informal experience with sound. I record when I’m jamming with my friends, and I’ll sometimes edit that on the computer, so I was familiar with it.
"John and I had talked before about interviewing each other a little bit, but when he had disappeared and nobody seemed to know what was up, I just figured, since he never had a show explaining it, maybe he would like to come on [my show]."
I felt intense sadness when I listened to your recent episode with John Barrett. You captured the emotion behind the beginning and the end of Bitcoins and Gravy. Do you consider yourself to be a storyteller?
I’d like to be a storyteller. I haven’t put effort into pursuing it consciously. I’ve been such a devotee [of his show]. I didn’t listen to every episode. I did for a while, but I got busier and had to do my own podcast. … Having interacted with John in ways he didn’t even know, or didn’t remember, it was fun to share my experiences with him. It seemed like a good starting point to get his reaction.
I first really talked to John when we were both going to go to the Texas Bitcoin Conference. I think that was March of this year. We were both arranging it and trying to figure out if we could get press credentials and where to stay, so we started talking a lot.
John and I had talked before about interviewing each other a little bit, but when he had disappeared and nobody seemed to know what was up, I just figured since he never had a show explaining it, maybe he would like to come on. I felt he would be a good guest, especially for the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network audience.
What do you do for your day job? Do you work from home?
I do work from home. I’ve worked for myself for a long time. I went to college and I didn’t do anything to do with my social science degree. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had some different weird ideas. If I’d gone to a college that offered certain things that I was interested in, like architecture, or motion graphics or video, those were the things I was really interested in, but my college didn’t offer them.
I had friends who started a surfing publication just out of college themselves, and they didn’t really know what they were doing, and for some reason they asked me to be the art director, which I wasn’t. It was my title. I didn’t know a thing, but drew some very poor cartoons.
I also was playing in a band and we practiced at this little print shop. I was interested in what the owner did. Our singer, he ran the press, so we practiced there. One day the owner said, “You seem kind of interested in this prepress stuff,” and he started showing me all the processes at the time, which was before computers became pervasive — pasting up type and taking images with a stat camera that you make a plate for to make prints.
So being the art director for this publication and having a printing background got me doing more and more graphic design for print, and that became my occupation.
"I thought I would always be lazy my whole life."
What is your daily schedule like?
Every day is different. Right now is a relatively slow time for me, in that a lot of the work I do is pressure with time. Some of it is graphics and programs for concert events, so there are all these deadlines when things have to go to print to be ready in time. If you’re late a day for the concert, you’ve totally failed. So those times I’m working on a big project, it’s hard to find time to get a podcast out too.
As a kid, my dad was a pretty hard worker, and he used to want me to be a hard worker. But I felt so lazy. I thought I would always be lazy my whole life. I worried about it. I don’t know if my dad’s work ethic finally sunk in, or if it is just me trying to be serious about business, and doing what I gotta do to be successful, or maybe I just worry about the consequences if I don’t keep up on my projects.
I’m really lucky that I’ve got regular clients, so I’m not out soliciting. The only recent time I was soliciting new business is when I got involved in Bitcoin and I wanted to start working with Bitcoin companies. Then I was soliciting the kind of business that I normally would want nothing to do with, small jobs that aren’t that much money. Even a small job has a certain amount of hassle factor and things that could go wrong, and stress. I much prefer and handful of big jobs than a hundred small jobs. Because you have breaks between those big jobs.
How did you get into Bitcoin?
I listened to a podcast called Security Now and Steve Gibson had an episode in 2011 that talked about Bitcoin. He talked about how he mined blocks on his laptop, and about how from a security standpoint, from most standpoints, it seemed like a solid idea. He didn’t see some huge flaw in it. So I thought it was interesting, and the price was probably $1, give or take. But I knew nothing else about it. I doubt he talked about any political connections with it, or anything other than the technology.
Then in early 2013, he again revisited. The thing that got my attention was that I’d heard of Bitcoin at a dollar, and now they were saying, “Oh, the price is $40.” It was purely greed that got my initial interest. At the time, of course, I couldn’t go to a local ATM. You really had to learn a lot.
So my first bitcoin was bought with a wire transfer to Mt. Gox, which was a scary, weird thing. It was right during the crazy peak in April of 2013. It got up to $256 and I swear, I was ready to pull the trigger at that high, but my Gox account had some delay in the funding. I thought it was going to the moon. I didn’t realize it could come right back down again just as fast, or faster.
So I started buying into Bitcoin as it was on its way back down again. Rather than throwing my money in like I was going to, I thought maybe I should wait and see if it comes down more. I placed some limit orders on Mt. Gox and accumulated more bitcoin for the following months. I learned a lot at the time, and started doing everything I could in Bitcoinland.
"I think Bitcoin can be so many different things to different people."
How did you come to create the Bitcoin keychains I see so often online?
I had been to my first Bitcoin meetup, and I thought it would be really cool to make some Bitcoin stickers or something to bring next time. I investigated a bunch of different things I could have made, but ended up settling on a hefty metal keychain that I thought would appeal to people who like this sort of thing. I’ve always been interested by physical Bitcoins, starting with Casascius coins. And I thought a relatively low-cost physical representation of a Bitcoin in a strong metal form would appeal to others. I realized it would be a great way to get more involved in the community and kick the tires of Bitcoin commerce.
They were ready for the July 10, 2013 Los Angeles Bitcoin Meetup, and Pinguino took a photo of them, which ended up being used on BusinessInsider.com to accompany an article about Bitcoin. I had already thought there wasn’t enough Bitcoin imagery to keep up with all the news about Bitcoin, so that photo usage really inspired me to take a lot of photos of my keychains and provide them to the world to use with Creative Commons licensing. It’s been really exciting for me to see my keychain photos on so many big sites!
You’ve said you’re probably the most mainstream podcaster on the network. Why didn’t you think Bitcoin was too radical?
I think Bitcoin can be so many different things to different people. Everyone’s not happy about some of the things other people see it as. But it’s also scary. I think all technology is scary. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t feel 100% sure about anything. So maybe Bitcoin will evolve into Skynet, starting with Bitcoin-incentivized robots. Who knows what technology brings. I embrace it, but I have fear and worry, too.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a podcast?
Don’t do it for the money. I got into it because it seemed like such an opportunity. I think I had a rare chance when it was just Let’s Talk Bitcoin, and a few other podcasts on the network, and some kind of dwindled away. Suddenly, there weren’t that many Bitcoin podcasts.
There was actually another podcast that wasn’t on the network that I would listen to and get so frustrated for multiple reasons, and that was a big inspiration for me because I thought, “I know I could do something that would be less frustrating than this Bitcoin podcast, and I need to try this, and what a chance to do it on the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network.” I think it’s a little tougher to get a show on the LTB Network now.
Be committed. You either have to be an amazing, experienced spokesperson to do something tight that doesn’t have to be edited. Or be prepared to edit a lot. Do your homework, and listen to your recordings. Listen to other podcasts as a comparison, and if yours sounds bad audio-quality-wise, try to make it good. You’ve got to learn a lot of things, depending what tools you use. After you create the sound file, where do you host it? And how do you create your feed, if it’s not on something like the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network?
I feel so lucky and that I owe 99.9% of my listeners to just being on the network. I’ve listened to some quality podcasts that don’t have the benefit of the marketing, or of being part of the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network, and I see episodes that have two digits of listeners. That is probably harder, to put that much work into an episode and to do a nice product and have 26 listens to your episode. It’s almost like the music industry. There are amazing bands that no one will ever hear, and then whatever random band becomes popular is way more popular than they should be.
Everyone, do their own thing. Just be ready. It’s time and commitment. It’s an easier thing to do when you’re a younger, single person who doesn’t have a family, expectations.
For kids in school, podcasting is a great opportunity. They could spend a few hours a week to get a podcast going and probably be as successful as more professional-seeming podcasts.
"I’m just trying to be another source of information for people and trying to use this as a real opportunity to learn about podcasts and learn about Bitcoin and hopefully build up some good will."
Is there any particular effect on the world that you’re hoping to have with your podcast?
The effect I’m having with this podcast is not anything I have grandiose expectations about. I’m just trying to be another source of information for people and trying to use this as a real opportunity to learn about podcasts and learn about Bitcoin and hopefully build up some good will. Maybe someday, if I keep doing this long enough. And believe me, I have thoughts of throwing in the towel when I get busy in my life, and I’m in the middle of hours of editing a long interview.
The fact you are willing to express your insecurities makes you human and humble, and I appreciate that.
A lot of that is a reaction to other podcasts I’ve heard, where some people have been self-described Bitcoin experts and yet I’d hear them make mistake after mistake on episode after episode, when they’re trying to explain Bitcoin to the listeners. I’d much rather under promise and over deliver than try to act like I’m an expert when I don’t feel I am. And I definitely was not an experienced podcaster going into this.
I was thinking when I started the podcast — if you can just be yourself and do what you think is right, there will be a subset of people who you resonate with and will listen.
— Craig Sellars, Abhi Dobhal, David Johnston, Anthony Di lorio, and Mitchell
What are your future plans for the Bitcoin Game, or in general?
I would love to try creating episodes that are more produced, kind of like the popular mainstream podcasts by NPR, Radiolab, Gimlet Media, etc. It would be fun to interview people in Bitcoin, but with a more storytelling approach. I have met some people who I think are genuinely fascinating, and would work great for this type of episode. The biggest reason I haven’t yet is the sheer amount of time involved. Maybe in 2016!
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