Breaking into any creative industry can be tough — especially in a place like Los Angeles, where it seems like everybody’s hustling to make it big.
Before starting a hit podcast, Jay Connor was one of those people. In 2013, burned out from eight years in social work, he moved to LA to make a name as a writer in the entertainment industry.
“I decided that I was going to move out here. Make it happen. Chase the dream,” Jay explains on an episode of Between 2 Mics.
“In the process of doing that, I realized how much of an uphill battle it is in LA with everybody being a writer, everybody being a creator, everybody being an actor. I thought, How can I separate myself from this deluge of talented people? Because talent is never enough in this city.”
The answer was podcasting.
Jay teamed up with Alex Hardy and launched The Extraordinary Negroes, a podcast about pop culture and current events. The first episode dropped in May 2016.
“It immediately blew up, and it did exactly what I set out to do as far as furthering my writing career,” Jay says.
Since then, Jay has expanded the podcast into a multimedia company called, Extraordinary Ideas. These days, he’s a sought-after speaker, event producer, as well as an editor at The Root.
Read on to learn more about the steps Jay took to create a hit podcast, how he leveraged it to help his career and the many ways in which he wants to develop the podcasters of color community.
Creating an instant hit
From the beginning, Jay has used his podcast as a channel to promote his writing: “I made sure that everything I did was cyclical,” he says. “On the show, I talk about my writing and when I’m doing my writing, I mention my podcast.”
But, Jay has also done well at parlaying the podcast into other opportunities. “That’s part of the reason why I make it a point to give back to this community, because it’s done so much for me.”
Jay credits The Extraordinary Negroes’ success to “a multitude of factors.” Here are a few:
- A loyal following: “One thing that worked in my favor was the fact that Alex and I had reputations as writers coming into it,” says Jay. Their followings were not massive — by any stretch — but , they had a core group of people who were familiar with their work. “We had a nice little following, so people were already checking for us.”
- Good connections: As writers, they had “relationships with people who are much bigger names,” says Jay. “So it was a lot easier for us to get people on our show because they were friends of ours.”
- Great stories from different places: At the end of the day, Jay says the thing that “really resonated with [his] audience from the jump” was that the show didn’t spotlight typical celebrities. “I really wanted to make it about community and use the platform as a mechanism to highlight people that are doing dope stuff, whether they’re big names or not.”
Building community through podcasting
Whether he’s profiling teenage activists or trailblazers addressing racism, Jay says he’s all about using his platform to uplift others — and he suggests that others do the same: “I tell people all the time, you’ve got to stop making it about you,” he says.
Rather than being self-promotional, Jay urges content creators support the audience they want to reach.
“Anything you want other people to do for you, you should be doing for them,” he advises. “There are so many people clamoring. But what are you doing to make people want to support you? You should be supporting other people.”
Jay’s other piece of advice? Don’t “sleep on” people who aren’t seen as the top dogs or who don’t have lots of name recognition yet. There is a lot to be gained from creative collaborations with up-and-comers.
“You need to humble yourself and make sure that you’re working with people that 1) you can actually add value to; and 2) people that could be the next Google or the next Apple. Work with them to get to that point, because then everybody benefits.”
Advocating for podcasters of color
Jay says that the next year will be all about the “transition into doing more activist work within this space.” He plans to meet with big industry names, including Apple Podcasts, about the need for diversity and inclusion efforts.
“I really want to focus more on using my platform and the level of my reputation to continue making things more equitable for all of us,” he says. “I don’t want to just record shows and be selfish with my success. I would rather find ways to help everybody.”
One way Jay plans to do that is by using his OG status to help new podcasters of color, especially by providing resources made by POC.
“Literally every single thing that I’ve ever looked up, as far as learning this space, came from somebody who looks nothing like me, and I don’t fault them for it. I fault us,” Jay says.
The way Jay sees it, the information is out there — but it’s just not readily available. “And honestly, I hope somebody steals that idea and does it before me,” he says. “There’s no reason why you can’t have multiple resources.”
Building community IRL
Speaking of resources, one specific approach Jay leverages is live events. He sees it as an essential component of cultivating a supportive community. “I go out there and get hundreds of people in a room,” explains Jay.
In 2017, SXSW tapped him to host a live recording of Extraordinary Negroes at the festival. Earlier this year, he returned to SXSW to host the event’s Podcasters Meet Up. He also produces his own events under the Extraordinary brand.
He optimizes the crowd for relationship development and he’s picky about who he’ll work with as a sponsor. Jay notes that he’s turned down money from big names because they didn’t share his “mindset or ideology.”
Instead, Jay wants to work with “people who are looking to get their foothold within this industry,” he says. “I want to work with people that are trying to get to that next step. I’m a big proponent of looking out for each other. Let’s build together.”
For Jay, building up extends way beyond podcasting.
“We have to look at the bigger picture; it’s great to be a host, it’s great to be the face of a brand, it’s great to be a writer,” he says. But, it’s critical to be the decision maker, and Jay sees it as his responsibility to the community
“I need to be a producer. I need to be an executive. I need to make sure that I’m opening doors for other people. You need to have some kind of power and stake in ownership, because as people of color, we can’t afford to just be employees.”
Zachariah Moreno is a technologist, podcaster, author, and co-founder of SquadCast. He and his team are on a mission to connect creatives.