Jay Sykes Interview Part 1: 99% Perspiration Podcast, Interviewing and Interesting Tangents

Being interested in working in the arts is a thing that can be really confusing to be interested in.

It’s really easy to volunteer for a project here and there and that’s great. But eventually it gets to the point where you start to wonder how you can draw on those experiences in order to help yourself progress?

It’s something I wonder and worry about quite a lot.

But I’ve recently realised there’s a really simple solution to this problem.

Ask for Advice.

So over the next few months, I’ll be speaking to a number of people working on arts and creative projects across the North East and sharing it here on the Juice Festival blog.

Todays post is part one of a conversation I had with Jay Sykes, who among many other things (including teaching at the University of Sunderland and occasionally contributing to this very blog) produces a podcast called 99% Perspiration in which he talks to creative professionals about how they got to where they are.

In this first part we focus on interview techniques and interesting tangents (whilst taking one itself) and then discuss some of the process of making a regular podcast .

Could you start by telling us a little bit about your Podcast?

So I produce a podcast called 99% Perspiration. It was weekly, I suppose I’ve let that slip a bit. Originally it was a weekly podcast offering interviews and advice for creatives, from creatives. So…somewhat similar to what you’re writing at the moment.

Haha yeah, this is an interview asking for advice from someone on how they ask for advice from other people.

Exactly! I think there’s such a demand for people who are after ‘How To’ content because you want to see how other people have done it, what they’ve done well, what could be better and then what you could go and make yourself that is unique and different and you.

And it’s what I’m all about. I love the idea of you talking to someone and them being able to fit their key into your keyhole and turn it in just the right way. Because there are some people who have a very specific keyhole. The idea that a piece of advice might be the one thing that it takes to unlock your creative genius might be the one thing that makes you go ‘Oh yes, now I know that…’ and your whole formula changes.

So it’s my hope with my podcast that I might make someone go ‘Oh, no way. I’ve never thought about it like that before’ and then change the way that they think about something and feel more confident in being able to do it, that’s what I’m all about.

(NOTE – at this point I got a bit confused on what questions I planned to ask. Usually I might edit this out, but it ended up leading to a really interesting tangent about preparing/not preparing questions and going off on tangents.)

So…wow, I’ve totally forgot to write down my questions.

No, I hate prepping questions, I literally never do it. In fact, that’s a piece of advice – One could say you should always prep questions. Should. One might say that. But I don’t agree with it.

Okay, that’s interesting. So what’s your approach then?

I just like to see how things go when talking to people. So I’ll sit down with a person and yes I’ll have some ideas in mind. I might have some bullet points I want to cover, but I never write out questions because that introduces this whole formulaic approach to it.

What if someone says something really interesting and you don’t think about it because you’re so busy thinking about the next question?

Who knows, going off on a tangent could end up being even more interesting that what we started out with. That certainly was the case for a fair few interviews that I’ve done. We’ve gone down a different route to what I expected, just because I was open to how the interviews were.

Getting the balance right between a strict set of questions and a more loose conversation is something I struggle with a bit. So how much preparation do you have in mind before an interview then?

That’s where bullet points come in favour. Have a ‘shopping list’ of things that you’d like to collect from the ‘Supermarket’ from the interview. So you want to know about this, you want to know about that, you want to know about that and don’t leave until, well unless it’s a timed interview, but if you’ve still got them don’t leave until you’ve ticked off all of that shopping list.

But I would also say that, something that other people have found really useful and something that I do a little, is to have some sort of rigid formula there. For instance, one question that I always ask without to all of my interview guests is ‘Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would have done differently before?’ and that usually provokes a really interesting response and I always have that question in there because I feel like having that sense of familiarity when it comes to that question makes it appealing for a listener and makes it easy for me to know what I want out of it.

I know another blog writer who, she’ll have a set number of questions. I think there are positives and negatives to that, she’ll have the same questions she asks everyone and it’s good, and it’s a blog, so it’s not a podcast so you can skim-read it and get used to the formula and then it’ll be really simple for readers to read. Which is interesting, it’s nice and simple for readers which is what you want, isn’t it?

But at the same time everyone you talk to will be different. Every interview guest will want to answer things in a different way or have a different approach; maybe you’ll be more formal with someone, more informal with someone else depending on where they’re from or what they do and just how they feel on the day, what they’re dressed like, whether they engage eye contact or look like they want to stop talking as quickly as possible because they’ve got too much to do with their time. Everyone’s different, is what I’m trying to say, so I never like to structure completely.

Yeah, I think there is a big difference. I think that some of what makes me interested in podcasting is that it often does sound a bit more informal and sometimes it does feel a bit like you’re hanging out with people a little bit, where with a blog you’re reading it and things sound a bit more serious.

Absolutely. That said, no offence at all to anyone who wants to make a podcast like this. But I would never want to make a podcast that’s just a conversation around a microphone. The way that I do it, I sort of produce more like Radiolab or This American Life.

This American Life

So, if you take a listen to 99% Perspiration it’s not just people sat around a mic having a long form conversation, it’ll be highly edited with bits taken from all over the place.

So there’s segments, like a Radio show.

Yeah, pretty much. So it’s all condensed and I’ve edited it in a way that contains as much information in that half hour as possible, so I’ve cut out all the crap bits and I’ve made their language tighter, I’ve cut the ‘Erm’s and ‘Um’s and it takes a long time to do it. I could just put up full interviews but I don’t think it would be anywhere near as good.

So here I am a one man team for the podcast. It takes a Sunday. My Sunday’s are gone, for editing.

So do you record it on the Sunday too then edit it?

I record it whenever. I work around people’s lives. I record it whenever they can come into the recording studio that I use at the University or whenever I can get to them with my own portable microphone. With professional people you know, you’ve got to work around their timetable.

Of course, and do you have a list of people you want to get on the show or is it just whoever you can get that week?

Well in the worst case scenario it will be ‘Whoever I can get’ but I’m in a good position now where I have about Twenty people that I’ve recorded interviews with and they’re ready to be edited. I plan things in terms of who will fit best around other people. I’ll make an episode that has a certain theme to it. Say for instance, one was like how to break out from where you are and it included people who’d escaped careers that they didn’t enjoy and pursued something else.

There’ll be different themes each week or, it ended up at the end of Season One it became every two weeks, one month I just produced one, the next month I just produced one and I was like ‘No, I can’t continue fitting his around my three other jobs, I’m gonna have to take a break from it and come back and do another season later on down the line’.

So that’s what I’m doing at the moment.

So when you do Season Two, will that be a fixed number of episodes like, intentionally more of a ‘Season’ or are you hoping to keep it running indefinitely?

That’s a good question. I hope not. I don’t want to go into it with the intention of creating a few episodes. I want to go in thinking long form again because it worked really nicely for the first nineteen episodes. I was doing one a week and it was great. Then life took over.

That’s it for part one. Part two will be online on Monday and will go into more detail about building up an online audience, Networking and what we can learn from Chris Traegar from Parks and Recreation. 

REMEMBER to check out the 99% Perspiration website. You can listen to the Podcast here. It’s also avaliable on iTunes and you can get in touch on Twitter at @99Podcast .