Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman
Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman on Launching a “Conscious Entertainment” Media Company With This Podcast
“Why make a podcast right now?” So begins this 10-minute introductory episode of Time Sensitive, a conversation between the show’s two co-hosts, Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman. Time Sensitive is the debut platform of the conscious entertainment media company The Slowdown, co-founded by Bailey, an editor and journalist who has written at length about architecture, art, culture, design, and technology, and Zuckerman, a filmmaker, photographer, and creative director whose work is largely concerned with the intersection of nature and technology. Consider this episode a “who we are, how we got here, where we’re going” primer.
Each week, going forward, Time Sensitive will release an interview conducted respectively by Bailey or Zuckerman with a leading mind in business, the arts, and beyond who has made a profound impact in their field, contributed to the larger conversation, and is concerned with the planet we all share. Episode 1, with actor-marathoner-musician-writer-horticulturalist Peter Sarsgaard, is now live. In the weeks to come, you’ll hear lively conversations with Ghetto Gastro’s Jon Gray, fashion stylist Kate Young, architect Bjarke Ingels, artist Teresita Fernández, and more. The common thread between all of them? They’re curious and courageous—and each has a distinct perspective on time.
Special thanks to drummer Billy Martin, who composed the Time Sensitive theme music; art director Omar Sosa, who worked with us on the Time Sensitive site design and identity; web developer Eric Bichan, who coded the site; and sound engineer Pat McCusker.
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ANDREW ZUCKERMAN: Why make a podcast right now? It’s 2019—there are a lot of podcasts.
SPENCER BAILEY: A lot.
AZ: There are a ton of them with a huge amount of funding. There’s a whole industry exploding around it. Why would we make an independent podcast? Why did we do this?
SB: I think, at its heart, it’s about wanting to put something into the world that has depth, has meaning, offers something that is a rich experience—that you come away from feeling the energy of. That you feel better by consuming.
AZ: Spencer, you and I have talked so much, for so long, about the state of media today—well before we decided to start a company.
SB: Yeah, since we first met, which was almost four years ago.
AZ: I guess those conversations started with the basic curiosity of, “What is the human relationship to nature right now?” And: “Why do we feel the need to fill all of our time and space with technology, and be pushed further away from nature?”
SB: Exactly. We started working on this project last September [in 2018], really deciding to go deep into it in August. Over the months that we worked on it [in the lead up to our May 2019 launch], we pinpointed the focal point or area that would be the real focus for this company, and that’s culture, nature, and the future.
AZ: We whittled it down to those being the most important issues of our time. We were talking a lot about food—and how there’s a relationship between content and food, between your eyes and your mouth. We started to get very concerned about our media diet and society at large’s media diet. So, I guess, in an answer to my own question of why start a podcast, it’s kind of like, Why start a restaurant when there are lots of restaurants out there?
AZ: Because there’s an opportunity to make a really great restaurant. And there’s an opportunity to attach an ideology to what you’re doing, and give it a purpose.
SB: Yeah, or at least give it a value system. And I think that value system is about valuing time.
AZ: Very much so. And about valuing the quality of the work that you’re putting out.
We’ve been looking at the Slow Food movement, we’ve been looking at the Slow Media movement. We’ve been looking at all these things in building this company, called The Slowdown. Which is, in a way, a play on words. It’s a lot of things. I’ve always felt The Slowdown was almost naming a movement that’s beginning. It’s a movement that’s not ours, but we’re watching it.
SB: And we want to be a part of helping stir the conversation around it.
AZ: Yeah, it’s so fractured.
AZ: It’s kind of like when “techlash” started, about a year ago. You’d hear about “screen addiction,” but it was so corporate-facing. It had nothing to do with the period of time that we’re in, and how our behaviors are changing because of the “convenience economy,” and our willingness to be numbed out. I think what we’re experiencing right now is a definite backlash to that. People want rich media, people want real stories, people want truth. We’re sick of hearing untruths and decontextualized statements.
SB: Right, and I think, too, they want curation, not aggregation. The internet is really good at aggregating, but I think, to have a really specific perspective that’s honed and thoughtfully constructed, that takes time. And it takes heart, it takes energy, it takes a human touch.
AZ: Exactly. Just to explain to the audience, we approached it in a really specific way. First of all, we started to think about all of the people that inspired us that we don’t hear from, the depths of the stories that those people have that we never get to hear. We realized there was this throughline about these individuals being sensitive to time. They have an understanding of time, they have a perspective on time. Clock time, love time, personal time—all of these aspects of time. The most interesting conversations we’ve had with people are about time and space and their perspectives on that. So, somehow, we got to one of the first platforms that we’re launching, which is this podcast called Time Sensitive.
SB: Which is basically an excuse for us to sit with people that we really want to talk to and get ideas out of them that they haven’t really publicly shared or that haven’t really come out in a deep, thoughtful, contextual hour-long conversation.
AZ: Which is kind of the ruse of both of our careers.
SB: Exactly, I ran a design magazine for half a decade, and you worked in Silicon Valley.
AZ: I’ve made a lot of art, a lot of books, I’ve worked for a tech company, I’ve done a lot of different things. My craft has been my passport to experience what I’ve been curious about. I’ve been fortunate enough to get the door open for me, and get to have a front-row seat for what I’m most curious about.
In a lot of ways, selfishly, we wanted to continue that practice of having an excuse to talk to really fascinating people about the things that we’re most interested in. We won’t give away too much, but we’re going to be dropping an episode a week. We hope that you experience these episodes on our website, timesensitive.fm, where we’ve worked hard to—through the lens of design—innovate a way that podcasts can be presented.
Spencer, tell me a little bit about how this is going to look.
SB: It’s going to look as good as it sounds. Part of that means, as you scroll through the page, it includes a slightly condensed and edited version of the transcript—i.e., an enjoyable, readable version of the transcript. You’ll get visual assets that correspond to the text. For example, on Episode 1, with Peter Sarsgaard, you’ll get to see him on his apple orchard, you’ll get to see a photo of him as a young child on his soccer team. These are things we’re able to pull out.
AZ: And we’re hyperlinking all of the references they mention, so you can learn more about what the guest is talking about.
One of the things that I love about it is, I’ve got three kids, I’m really busy, sometimes I can’t listen to a full hour of a podcast, but I really want an experience for twelve minutes. And one of the things that I loved that we did was chapter out the podcast so that there are generally four chapters per episode. They’re broken out, and we label how long they are. So if you only have ten minutes, you can listen to only that one chapter.
SB: It’s like a book.
AZ: And it’s searchable, which is great.
SB: And if you have even less time, you can just look at the pretty pictures. Not that we’re really wanting people to do that, but that’s another way to experience it.
AZ: Yeah, we were wondering, if podcasts are having such a moment right now, what can we do, both in the content of the podcast and the form that we deliver it, that adds something, that elevates it a bit?
SB: And editorializes it. It creates a magazine-like experience—but for audio. And we will, of course, be on Google, Apple, Stitcher, and Spotify. So you’ll be able to access it on the places where you already listen to podcasts.
AZ: But it would be great if you just went to the timesensitive.fm website.
AZ: Because that really is the experience that we’ve worked hardest on.
SB: This idea of launching a media company with a podcast as our first platform really came out of this notion of podcasts being inherently full of friction. The internet is just this frictionless environment where it’s easy to maneuver from one place to the next. But, with a podcast, you really can’t do that. There are no algorithms that are going to search through the podcast and show you a more efficient way to consume it. And we thought a lot about that: How do you create content that’s deeply engaging and encourages people to slow down to listen to it? But it’s also something that we, in our busy lives, can consume enjoyably quickly. This idea that we’re pushing, of “short-form content with a long view,” is about looking at the world from a greater vantage point, and doing so in a relatively condensed period of time.
AZ: I also think, just to add to that—and then we should just let these people listen to the episodes, because we’re the least interesting part of it in a way. But the idea that we’re experiencing this huge tech backlash right now—where it’s “Get off screens! This makes you anxious, depressed …”—while there are all these issues around screens, we think that, in fact, screens are great and technology is great, and we love where we’re going. We just think that we want more out of it.
We want more from it, and because of that, well, we can’t sit around for someone else to do it. We figured, Why don’t we try to do it ourselves? Why don’t we create the content that we want to hear? As two curious, creative people, we’re constantly looking for things to consume. We figured, Why don’t we create the kind of things we would want to consume? That, in a lot of ways, is why we started this.
SB: Yeah, and hopefully, like at a good restaurant, when you go and have a meal there, and you like it so much you want to go back—that’s what’s going to happen here.
This interview was recorded in The Slowdown’s New York City studio on April 16, 2019. The transcript has been edited and slightly condensed for clarity.