June 5, 2024

How They Made It: Megan Tan of Millennial about learning the podcast ropes as you go

Megan Tan started Millennial back in 2015 as a sort of resumé builder. She's since been named Producer of the Year. Here's how she did it.
June 5, 2024

How They Made It: Megan Tan of Millennial about learning the podcast ropes as you go

Megan Tan started Millennial back in 2015 as a sort of resumé builder. She's since been named Producer of the Year. Here's how she did it.
June 5, 2024
Zan Romanoff
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Megan Tan made one of the OG podcasts: Millennial, which debuted in 2015. It has been recommended by The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among others, and helped launch her into a full-time career in audio. Her work has continued to make waves and garner acclaim: in 2020, she was named Producer of the Year by Ad Week, and in 2016, Refinery29 listed her as one of the 29 Under-30 Powerhouses Poised To Change The World. 

So we talked to her about wearing a lavalier mic to record herself serving brunch, not blowing up overnight, and how to balance paid work with passion projects. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Megan Tan headshot
Source: MeganTan.com

You have talked about making Millennial as a proof of concept show, something you made to prove to potential employers that you could make a show in the first place. You were really teaching yourself podcasting, and actually made yourself a syllabus. What was on it?

I have the syllabus right here. It says, the objective of this course is to become a solid radio reporter who has the skills to work in any kind of radio reporting setting

A writing teacher once told me to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. And the same is true for radio journalism. If you're going to be a great reporter, you have to be a great listener. I had plans to listen to a lot of podcasts, to network, and to apply for various positions. 

I had just graduated from college. My background was in photojournalism; I had never been a radio journalist before. I never even considered myself to be a print journalist. In photojournalism, it’s nice to have a degree, but you also don’t need one. If you had a portfolio and it was really good, that could get you into the door of most places. 

Basically I ran around with a recorder. I was afraid, because I felt like I wasn't an actual reporter. So I ended up interviewing myself and the people in my life about this period I was going through. Millennial became this actual tangible, tangible product so that I could use it to get a job in public radio.

Oh yeah, I started a blog after college for the same reason. Just to have a place where people could see that I could write. But my blog didn’t exactly blow up the way this did.

Millennial didn't blow up overnight by any means. I think people forget that everything always takes time. 

I was a waitress and working at LL Bean when the article in The Guardian came out, which was like a review of the podcast. I stumbled upon it. I didn't have Google Alerts. A group of friends and I were hanging out one night—I actually recorded it and then put it on an episode of Millennial later. We're just hanging out, and then all of a sudden we stumbled into The Guardian article. Nobody had tagged me! And then the next day I was asking people, “Do you want more ketchup with those fries?” 

I was like, what is this life that I'm living? I think it also feels like it took longer than it actually did, because I was hustling so hard all the time. 

Within that year, I was able to get a full time job. And then I actually quit that full time job to pursue Millennial full time because I got my first sponsorship. Shout out Squarespace! 


Screenshot of 2015 Guardian review of Millennial
2015 review of Millennial in The Guardian 

What was it like to be working on the podcast before you were showing it to everyone? It can be hard to be putting energy into something that isn’t giving you any feedback yet.

I think you have to remember, I did not know what I was doing at all. I was scared as hell. I was running around with my recorder, but I didn't really know how to record.

A friend of mine who would then become one of my editors—I had a lot of editors—I remember he was like, “You hear that buzz in the background? That's a refrigerator. You need to unplug the refrigerator.” I was learning the basics.

I was also collecting and collecting and collecting, mostly because it was fun. I am a hoarder in terms of moments. It's actually very hard for me to finish things. So the process of like, “okay, now I have to sit down and sort through this collection” was very overwhelming, because I also hadn't created a system for myself yet.

Now I know, you have to re-title your piece. You have to immediately send it to yourself so you can upload it, so that there's a backup.

The person I was dating at the time was a huge champion of this idea. We became accountability buddies. I think that anybody who has a project—I mean, it all depends on what kind of person you are and how you work. But for me, it's much easier to get things done when you have someone to work with. Especially with personal projects—we're conditioned that the things that take priority are the things that make us money. Which we do need to eat. But it's hard to have drive and motivation for the things that feel like a personal project.

One thing I can say for sure is that when I made Millennial, from when I started until it ended, all I did was practice. I was just honing the craft again and again and again and again and again. 

And at some point that did drive me into the ground. So watch yourself. 

Millennial podcast cover art

Yeah, burnout is very real. 

But I think a lot about, how do you get reps in your creative practice? If you're not getting accepted to internships and fellowships…there almost doesn't exist this idea of an entry-level job anymore, right? You have to have known how to do the things that we're going to hire you to do. And we may train you if someone is intentional about it, but don't plan on it.

So how do you put yourself in a situation where you are creating your own reps for yourself? For me, that's what Millennial was. And then it became a business.  

When you were getting your reps in, what did your tech setup look like?

I would go back and forth. I have a Zoom recorder, and then I also had a TASCAM. I would use this RODE mic—I have it right here.  

When I was working with video, we would just put a RODE mic on top of our camera. I would run around with a RODE mic, or sometimes if I didn't have my mic, I'd run around with my phone.

There were some episodes where I wanted to experiment with sound. And so I clipped on a lavalier mic to myself. There's this episode called Brunchies; it's the third episode, and you literally hear me being a waitress. I just clipped on a lavalier mic and it recorded my day. That was a lot of fun to edit, cause it was a ton of different audio from all over the place. 

I’m sure you learned a lot, editing stuff that was that rough. Like it’s nice to always have crisp, perfect, studio sound, but I would imagine you learn more when it’s rougher around the edges. Speaking of which, what software do you use to edit?

I was using software called Reaper. There's so many software names that are hilarious—Hindenburg, Reaper. They're all scary! 

At the time I was using Reaper, it was free. It was very intuitive. And then after I became a contractor, I had to learn ProTools on the spot. Now I just use ProTools, and I also used to use Adobe Audition. I feel like a lot of public radio stations use Adobe Audition because ProTools is way too expensive. 

You mentioned earlier that it took you a while to figure out your process for dealing with files, drafts, whatever. Just the logistics of the show. What does that look like now?

I recently did a show with Audible, and it was similar to Millennial in that I collected a bunch of audio of my mom and I talking on the phone. It was all about her dating as a 73 year old woman, and I was kind of her coach. It’s called Now or Never.  

I have this recording device on my phone, where you can record the phone conversations that you have. I was just recording my mom and I talking, because it was during peak pandemic. I was like, this is a crazy moment in our history. Also, it's kind of funny because now my mom's dating.  So I was like, let's capture this moment. I was recording, recording, recording. And then after I started pitching it out to different places to see if anybody would be interested. 

After every single conversation I would have, I always write down the date, who was talking, and what we were talking about. Then I would transfer that to something, either I email it to myself, or upload it to Dropbox, or transfer to an external hard drive.

And then I create a big spreadsheet, and in that spreadsheet is every single one of these.  And also questions like, has this been transcribed? I would go into Descript and either I would transcribe it or I would have a producer I'm working with transcribe it. From there, either the producer or myself would highlight the pieces of audio that we really like. 

Actually, wait, let me back up. One thing that I really, really really advocate for is, sometimes the story will tell you what it is as you're doing the editing. But I lean more on the side of, go in with a plan, and then allow the story to reveal itself to you and have the plan change.

But I very rarely go into a piece of audio and only take the stuff that is interesting. I usually make an outline beforehand, and I write at the top, this is an episode about. So for instance, with Now or Never, it's like, this is a show about a woman who is looking for love in the last years of her life. Does she find it or not

I always advocate going with a plan, having, this is a story about and also the reason why it's… you can use the word interesting, you can use the word complicated, you can use any word, but it needs to be a word that has some tension.

I thought very deeply about the structure of every episode before we even started cutting tape. I decided to structure it like I would a TV procedural. So every episode, the question is, is this the man that my mom is going to fall in love with?

So then when you go into the tape and start doing that first pass, you're not just floating. Because I've been there with Millennial, where either you think everything is trash or everything is great, which is basically the same value when you're editing. It puts you at this standstill.

Now or Never podcast cover art

How do you think about balancing paid work with projects you haven’t sold yet?

When I was making Millennial, I had two jobs. I had a waitressing job, and then I was working at L.L. Bean. And I was working on this show on the side. I would work on it in order to get me the job that I wanted in the long run. 

And I think that that is still the same. Right now I'm doing a lot of editing for shows. I love editing. That's a form of income. And then also teaching, that's a form of income. Those things help me pay my bills. At this point, I have a house. I have responsibilities. My dad lives with us. 

And then I'm working on a show that is not making me money. But I feel like in the long run, it'll open doors that I won't be able to open otherwise. 

I need to make sure that I am putting enough effort into the things that make me money immediately, as well as putting effort into the things that will possibly be a great investment or fuel my soul in some way.  

So teaching and editing projects are my two main sources of potential income. And so when I look at my day, that's two thirds, right? When I look at my day, I literally am like, have I sent out emails to these five people to possibly get more work as an editor. Have I sent out five emails to these people to get more work as a teacher? Have I worked on the projects that I need to work on that make me money first? And then it’s looking over here and being like, okay, I can only dedicate a certain number of hours to this thing that isn't making me money. 

There comes a moment where you have to be responsible. Whatever your goals are financially, you have to look at your day and ask yourself, am I making a concentrated efforts towards those goals that I have? You have to be intentional about the efforts that you're making every day. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a podcast now?

Here’s my question: why start a podcast? You really got to ask yourself, why am I starting this podcast? 

I've talked to a lot of friends who are journalists and they have a great, great, great story. And their instinct is, I need to start a podcast and sell it. And I would say, wouldn't it be better if you pitch it to a show that already exists, has funding, has an editor, has a giant audience? Wouldn't it be better if you pitch it to them and get it made with them? And then they pay you to make it. 

There’s a bunch of podcasts out there. There's a bunch of noise. When you start a podcast, it's a small business. You got to think about it that way. Do you want to run a small business?

Zan Romanoff
Zan Romanoff is a full-time freelance journalist, as well as the author of three young adult novels. She lives and writes in LA.
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How They Made It: Megan Tan of Millennial about learning the podcast ropes as you go

Megan Tan made one of the OG podcasts: Millennial, which debuted in 2015. It has been recommended by The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among others, and helped launch her into a full-time career in audio. Her work has continued to make waves and garner acclaim: in 2020, she was named Producer of the Year by Ad Week, and in 2016, Refinery29 listed her as one of the 29 Under-30 Powerhouses Poised To Change The World. 

So we talked to her about wearing a lavalier mic to record herself serving brunch, not blowing up overnight, and how to balance paid work with passion projects. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Megan Tan headshot
Source: MeganTan.com

You have talked about making Millennial as a proof of concept show, something you made to prove to potential employers that you could make a show in the first place. You were really teaching yourself podcasting, and actually made yourself a syllabus. What was on it?

I have the syllabus right here. It says, the objective of this course is to become a solid radio reporter who has the skills to work in any kind of radio reporting setting

A writing teacher once told me to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. And the same is true for radio journalism. If you're going to be a great reporter, you have to be a great listener. I had plans to listen to a lot of podcasts, to network, and to apply for various positions. 

I had just graduated from college. My background was in photojournalism; I had never been a radio journalist before. I never even considered myself to be a print journalist. In photojournalism, it’s nice to have a degree, but you also don’t need one. If you had a portfolio and it was really good, that could get you into the door of most places. 

Basically I ran around with a recorder. I was afraid, because I felt like I wasn't an actual reporter. So I ended up interviewing myself and the people in my life about this period I was going through. Millennial became this actual tangible, tangible product so that I could use it to get a job in public radio.

Oh yeah, I started a blog after college for the same reason. Just to have a place where people could see that I could write. But my blog didn’t exactly blow up the way this did.

Millennial didn't blow up overnight by any means. I think people forget that everything always takes time. 

I was a waitress and working at LL Bean when the article in The Guardian came out, which was like a review of the podcast. I stumbled upon it. I didn't have Google Alerts. A group of friends and I were hanging out one night—I actually recorded it and then put it on an episode of Millennial later. We're just hanging out, and then all of a sudden we stumbled into The Guardian article. Nobody had tagged me! And then the next day I was asking people, “Do you want more ketchup with those fries?” 

I was like, what is this life that I'm living? I think it also feels like it took longer than it actually did, because I was hustling so hard all the time. 

Within that year, I was able to get a full time job. And then I actually quit that full time job to pursue Millennial full time because I got my first sponsorship. Shout out Squarespace! 


Screenshot of 2015 Guardian review of Millennial
2015 review of Millennial in The Guardian 

What was it like to be working on the podcast before you were showing it to everyone? It can be hard to be putting energy into something that isn’t giving you any feedback yet.

I think you have to remember, I did not know what I was doing at all. I was scared as hell. I was running around with my recorder, but I didn't really know how to record.

A friend of mine who would then become one of my editors—I had a lot of editors—I remember he was like, “You hear that buzz in the background? That's a refrigerator. You need to unplug the refrigerator.” I was learning the basics.

I was also collecting and collecting and collecting, mostly because it was fun. I am a hoarder in terms of moments. It's actually very hard for me to finish things. So the process of like, “okay, now I have to sit down and sort through this collection” was very overwhelming, because I also hadn't created a system for myself yet.

Now I know, you have to re-title your piece. You have to immediately send it to yourself so you can upload it, so that there's a backup.

The person I was dating at the time was a huge champion of this idea. We became accountability buddies. I think that anybody who has a project—I mean, it all depends on what kind of person you are and how you work. But for me, it's much easier to get things done when you have someone to work with. Especially with personal projects—we're conditioned that the things that take priority are the things that make us money. Which we do need to eat. But it's hard to have drive and motivation for the things that feel like a personal project.

One thing I can say for sure is that when I made Millennial, from when I started until it ended, all I did was practice. I was just honing the craft again and again and again and again and again. 

And at some point that did drive me into the ground. So watch yourself. 

Millennial podcast cover art

Yeah, burnout is very real. 

But I think a lot about, how do you get reps in your creative practice? If you're not getting accepted to internships and fellowships…there almost doesn't exist this idea of an entry-level job anymore, right? You have to have known how to do the things that we're going to hire you to do. And we may train you if someone is intentional about it, but don't plan on it.

So how do you put yourself in a situation where you are creating your own reps for yourself? For me, that's what Millennial was. And then it became a business.  

When you were getting your reps in, what did your tech setup look like?

I would go back and forth. I have a Zoom recorder, and then I also had a TASCAM. I would use this RODE mic—I have it right here.  

When I was working with video, we would just put a RODE mic on top of our camera. I would run around with a RODE mic, or sometimes if I didn't have my mic, I'd run around with my phone.

There were some episodes where I wanted to experiment with sound. And so I clipped on a lavalier mic to myself. There's this episode called Brunchies; it's the third episode, and you literally hear me being a waitress. I just clipped on a lavalier mic and it recorded my day. That was a lot of fun to edit, cause it was a ton of different audio from all over the place. 

I’m sure you learned a lot, editing stuff that was that rough. Like it’s nice to always have crisp, perfect, studio sound, but I would imagine you learn more when it’s rougher around the edges. Speaking of which, what software do you use to edit?

I was using software called Reaper. There's so many software names that are hilarious—Hindenburg, Reaper. They're all scary! 

At the time I was using Reaper, it was free. It was very intuitive. And then after I became a contractor, I had to learn ProTools on the spot. Now I just use ProTools, and I also used to use Adobe Audition. I feel like a lot of public radio stations use Adobe Audition because ProTools is way too expensive. 

You mentioned earlier that it took you a while to figure out your process for dealing with files, drafts, whatever. Just the logistics of the show. What does that look like now?

I recently did a show with Audible, and it was similar to Millennial in that I collected a bunch of audio of my mom and I talking on the phone. It was all about her dating as a 73 year old woman, and I was kind of her coach. It’s called Now or Never.  

I have this recording device on my phone, where you can record the phone conversations that you have. I was just recording my mom and I talking, because it was during peak pandemic. I was like, this is a crazy moment in our history. Also, it's kind of funny because now my mom's dating.  So I was like, let's capture this moment. I was recording, recording, recording. And then after I started pitching it out to different places to see if anybody would be interested. 

After every single conversation I would have, I always write down the date, who was talking, and what we were talking about. Then I would transfer that to something, either I email it to myself, or upload it to Dropbox, or transfer to an external hard drive.

And then I create a big spreadsheet, and in that spreadsheet is every single one of these.  And also questions like, has this been transcribed? I would go into Descript and either I would transcribe it or I would have a producer I'm working with transcribe it. From there, either the producer or myself would highlight the pieces of audio that we really like. 

Actually, wait, let me back up. One thing that I really, really really advocate for is, sometimes the story will tell you what it is as you're doing the editing. But I lean more on the side of, go in with a plan, and then allow the story to reveal itself to you and have the plan change.

But I very rarely go into a piece of audio and only take the stuff that is interesting. I usually make an outline beforehand, and I write at the top, this is an episode about. So for instance, with Now or Never, it's like, this is a show about a woman who is looking for love in the last years of her life. Does she find it or not

I always advocate going with a plan, having, this is a story about and also the reason why it's… you can use the word interesting, you can use the word complicated, you can use any word, but it needs to be a word that has some tension.

I thought very deeply about the structure of every episode before we even started cutting tape. I decided to structure it like I would a TV procedural. So every episode, the question is, is this the man that my mom is going to fall in love with?

So then when you go into the tape and start doing that first pass, you're not just floating. Because I've been there with Millennial, where either you think everything is trash or everything is great, which is basically the same value when you're editing. It puts you at this standstill.

Now or Never podcast cover art

How do you think about balancing paid work with projects you haven’t sold yet?

When I was making Millennial, I had two jobs. I had a waitressing job, and then I was working at L.L. Bean. And I was working on this show on the side. I would work on it in order to get me the job that I wanted in the long run. 

And I think that that is still the same. Right now I'm doing a lot of editing for shows. I love editing. That's a form of income. And then also teaching, that's a form of income. Those things help me pay my bills. At this point, I have a house. I have responsibilities. My dad lives with us. 

And then I'm working on a show that is not making me money. But I feel like in the long run, it'll open doors that I won't be able to open otherwise. 

I need to make sure that I am putting enough effort into the things that make me money immediately, as well as putting effort into the things that will possibly be a great investment or fuel my soul in some way.  

So teaching and editing projects are my two main sources of potential income. And so when I look at my day, that's two thirds, right? When I look at my day, I literally am like, have I sent out emails to these five people to possibly get more work as an editor. Have I sent out five emails to these people to get more work as a teacher? Have I worked on the projects that I need to work on that make me money first? And then it’s looking over here and being like, okay, I can only dedicate a certain number of hours to this thing that isn't making me money. 

There comes a moment where you have to be responsible. Whatever your goals are financially, you have to look at your day and ask yourself, am I making a concentrated efforts towards those goals that I have? You have to be intentional about the efforts that you're making every day. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a podcast now?

Here’s my question: why start a podcast? You really got to ask yourself, why am I starting this podcast? 

I've talked to a lot of friends who are journalists and they have a great, great, great story. And their instinct is, I need to start a podcast and sell it. And I would say, wouldn't it be better if you pitch it to a show that already exists, has funding, has an editor, has a giant audience? Wouldn't it be better if you pitch it to them and get it made with them? And then they pay you to make it. 

There’s a bunch of podcasts out there. There's a bunch of noise. When you start a podcast, it's a small business. You got to think about it that way. Do you want to run a small business?

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