Yolanda Sangweni: We are operating like a 48 year old startup so we get to buy our own mics. We had to buy everything and you know most of us we didn't come with that knowledge. So we had to kind of lean on our producers to kind of help us with mics and like you know audio's stuff that we just never had considered.
That’s Yolanda Sangweni and Charli Penn, two of the hosts of Yes, Girl!, the podcast from Essence magazine. In this episode, these magazine editors talk about becoming podcasters and how they create that special vibe that ensures that both their guests and their listeners get an interview they won’t find anywhere else.
I’m Tanzina Vega, and this is Werk It: the Podcast, a compilation of some of the best moments from the live event.
Yolanda Sangweni: Hi everybody. Hi. Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. It’s still morning, right? I'm Yolanda Sangweni
Charli Penn: And I'm Charli Penn.
YS: We are the hosts -- co-hosts of Yes, Girl!
CP: Yolanda, tell them where our little baby podcast is.
YS: Oh OK so before that we do have a third amigo. Her name is Cori Murray and, uh, Cori had something else to do for work. So she couldn't be here.We are editors at Essence magazine. If you don't know, Essence Magazine is the oldest publication serving black women in America. It's 48 years old and in 2017 we launched a podcast called Yes, Girl! And even the name Yes, Girl we came up with because it's like. I don't know about you but we're always like yes girl. Yes.
CP: It's an affirmation.
YS: Yeah there's so many ways to say yes girl like girl. Yes girl. You know what I mean so we know this could be yes girl the podcast is really about for fun take. It's conversations about anything that affects black women. Low brow, high brow. So we go everywhere we go talk politics, we talk pop culture. There's three of us. Like I said we're editors. So a lot of the content we come back to the site and we create it for the website and the publication as well. And also Essence Festival.
CP: Right. And the format is amazing because we have the unique opportunity to have so many celebrities come through our door and Yolanda's always -- used to always say that no one talks to us. They don't talk to anyone else like they talk to us at Essence. It's like a special conversation.
YS: It really is. So we have I don't know because the brand is so old 48 years old. People feel really comfortable when they come to Essence and they sort of let their guard down sometimes we are you sure you want to be public?
CP: They tell all the secrets. They feel really comfortable. And so we wanted to bring that to life with the podcast and we have an expression that it's black girl magic headquartered at Essence and we wanted to let people inside those door. Yeah. And we were almost at 100 episodes in February which we can't believe and we've had some milestones. We -- thank you, guys -- we reached 1.5 million downloads.
YS: Which is a little podcast that could.
CP: Organically. It's a moment because we did not know what we were doing.
YS: We really didn't know what we were doing but Charli we should talk about you know there's three of us hosting this podcast and that's a lot of personalities so we're just going to talk about you know what's it like Charli to like why do you think it works well when you have multiple hosts.
CP: Yes. Everybody warned us they were like oh three hosts. That's a lot of voices. Right. And we were like OK but we've also been co-workers for almost ten years together at the same place. So we knew we would have sort of a synergy but what we realized was special is that we had three completely different personalities and they were all essential to what we were trying to do. So Yolanda is Yoprah. As an Yolanda-Oprah that's how we ended up calling her because she hits people with that soul searching question that coming out of nowhere and before you know it you're tearing up and answering it and telling your whole story then she'll do this she'll get like tell me you know it. But it works like that's her thing like you don't see it coming and she gets you to really pour out your soul. And then Cori who's not here today who we miss is like an entertainment encyclopedia. She's been the entertainment director at Essence for a very long time and she knows every movie, every -- we like to call her the receipt reader. Yes she knows everything anyone that comes in our door has ever done. So she'll always make people feel welcome and then I sort of got nickname The Care Bear because I am that person that makes the feel warm and comfortable I'm a little bubbly don't know if you guys can catch that. But it mattered so that trifecta that threesome. We felt like there was no guest that could come in that we couldn't really get them to warm up to us.
YS: Yeah and Charli really is a care bear like you. Someone will come in ice cold and Charli will just warm them. So this is like a technique where we have we have a formula.
CP: Yeah. We hit them with the yeah. It's like I'm going to warm them up. Cori is going to let them know we see you we know what you've done. We're not just having you on the show for numbers. And then Yolanda's is going to bring it home and make sure that that interview that we have with them will be unlike anything else that we've experienced. Yeah.
YS: And also we share because he is the host so we have to learn how to talk to each other. Yeah. We have visual cues so I can look at Charli and be like OK she's about to close her question or end her question so I can come in and I'm just really trying to be cognizant of not over sort of talking over each other because that can be that can be hard for the reader as well -- I mean the listener --
CP: Can you tell we’re editors?
YS: Because you can't tell the voices sometimes people you know they've told us you know I can't tell who's speaking. So it's really important for us to be take a breath and kind of let the next person speak before. I don't want to talk over Cori or Charli and the visual cues I think are the most important part and just being open to being to sharing the stage and the mic with
CP: You know our the co-hosts and I also think it's important to like we always strategize like we want to talk to the guests about. And we all bring different as editors we bring in different expertise to the table so we know we've learned to really like master like OK this is when Yolanda is going to go in. I talk a lot about love and relationships and the lifestyle as the lifestyle editor. So if it's you know someone where a couple comes and or you know we have celebrity couple guys we are able to kind of just get them where we fit in. Yeah.
YS: And I think it's important to really allow the co-hosts to kind of you know this episode is for Charli because you know she has a thing that is her passion. So it's not just one person's passion it's really important to share the you know in terms of what we are what we like. So one episode will be oh this is the Yolanda episode or the Charli episode. This is a Cori episode so we kind of really are cognizant of making sure everyone's voice is not only heard but also felt through the content of the episode.
CP: And that's really been a strength for us. And I think in a lot of ways with us being newbies when we started to the podcast world and not kind of knowing where it would go that allowed us to turn lemons into lemonade. A lot of times yeah. As we hit different bombs particularly with the. Reviews. I remember started reading reviews.
YS: Yes. So when we started because we were so new to this you know we would be like all up in Apple reviews like what did they say. So.
CP: We wanted to do three. One was going to be like four. I had four reviews and we were very happy with it.
YS: They weren't good weren't. Yes so Charlie like couldn't talk more about like because we had the reviews that it was like oh shit we're not doing this right.
CP: But yeah I mean in the beginning there were a lot yeah. It's interesting now because there's so many of them are so positive. You're right in the beginning they were really negative. But it was interesting because people were not negative it's not the right word but people were saying oh we want your format to be like this or we want your format to be like that and what we realize is we didn't necessarily want to let that in because we didn't want people to tell us how to be like the podcast they already love. We went to figure out what our podcast was. So we wanted to find our own voice and we didn't feel like we could do that by starting to change things that people said in the comments section and our review section overnight. And we stuck to that authenticity of what we wanted to bring which was this unique conversation among black women. And it worked because suddenly you wanted to those comments shifted
YS: My God it happened for a while it was like oh my god oh my god oh my god why are we doing this let's just quit let's just stop doing this because nobody likes it. And but then when you have you know it's also just fun sitting down and talking to people that you admire and respect your colleagues. You know Charli, Cori, and myself we've worked together for a very long time so it's just we're just shooting the shit a lot of times you know and it's fun and people enjoy that. You know our reader -- Jesus, what is happening? -- our listeners tell us that it just feels like we're their girlfriends and we're just talking.
CP: Do you think we gave it 100 percent?
YS: We gave it 300 percent. From the beginning and I think that was a little we had a little bit of a learning curve because when we started we were like OK we're just going to do this. We literally you know we would be like writing for the website or writing for the magazine and then be like OK you know I'll just stop my story and I'm just going to go downstairs and record this podcast really quickly and then I'm going to go back upstairs and that's it.
CP: What were we thinking?. That was a second job. People warned us it would be a second job. I mean you guys know podcasting is a whole job but it's not it's not part-time. If you're passionate about it and we had these entire full time jobs and we were like oh we can do this and these guys were just talking. No. We had to put the work in. But it was exciting I think to figure out how to make that work in with our real jobs and finding a way to just blend it and I think what kept us going is that we love doing it and connecting and then when those reviews started coming in and people were like We love this. This is the part of my morning routine. And then there was a moment where we were like: Do we have a season? Do we stop this for a while because our podcast is weekly. But then what changed -- we thought about like do we need a hiatus. Right. And then we started reading the reviews you guys and people were like this is an essential part of my Thursday commute. Or I look forward to every Thursday when a new episode comes out or when we would put the episode up maybe a few minutes later somebody would tweet us. Where’s my episode. And that's when we were like Oh we we can't yes we've revived with our audience we've connected with them where their friends and their head.
YS: And I think it's also just important to talk about. We did take that hiatus. But also it was important for us to look at podcasting as Charli mentioned not just a side hustle like it had to be become part of our DNA and then really kind of taking the time to plan out our episodes. There was a time where I'll be honest we didn't really plan out our episodes. We would just show up. And so we've learned to kind of bank episodes. We get a lot of celebrity interviews and like I said for us it's not really about we don't want a celebrity to give us the same interview they gave on GMA or Today Show. We just kind of want to get really really familiar and like really cozy with them. So it becomes something different so we have to prep ourselves for that. And we've learned very you know some hard lessons about what works and what doesn't work.
CP: I think for starters when you talk to talent you kind of want to read everything that they've been talking about and all the interviews they've been doing with everyone else. But we found that -- I mean that was helpful -- but that was all the things we didn't want to ask them. Especially if someone is kind of making the press rounds, doing like you know like going through the motions. We realized how do we get that nugget. And then also what do we do when it gets a little awkward. Yolanda you're the queen of getting through.
YS: I've told you have to tell that story. There was an ice cold queen that came into our podcast which happens a lot. A certain celebrities, you know like OK another ice cold queen is going to come in. But we have to do this formula very A-List R&B diva.
CP: And you don't have to have someone come in for an interview and they don't know and they just throw you immediately? Like, she was like it's cold in here. I can't do it which is not a good vibe. But for me I had to care bear charge that woman up and because you have to make them feel comfortable sometimes you don't have a lot of time. So it was like OK I need to let her know that we appreciate her, let her know we're happy for her to be here. It worked. But I think you have to also we do a lot of icebreaking conversation before we start recording.
YS: It helps.
CP: When you come in the door we're like hey hey how are you. What's going on. You treat them like family.
YS: But also like our podcast is not just about interviews it's also about digging deeper into the matters or issues that really affect black women in particular. And we've talked about some really important things that really like fibroids. We've talked about gotten really deep about we've gone. So it's not just entertainment it's really about service as well.
CP: And we've also learned to, when we when possible, to bank shows. Because one thing I think that really helps you bring authenticity and connection to your podcast is when you're not feeling stressed right like you're not feeling like you're overextended. And for us it was about figuring out pockets where we could create content all in one day or do things and just stay ready and stay prepared. Plan holiday episodes in advance, themed episodes in advance, and not always feel like we were just rushing to the mic.
YS: And you know how we also break the ice. We do a lot of singing on the this, podcast, but so we kind of break the ice by doing some really silly because it's just girlfriends hanging out right. I think we're just girlfriends hanging out. So let's do a little singing.
CP: Y’all want to sing with us?
YS: Yes. Yeah. We have a segment called tea for the week and I want to hear all the vocals ladies.
CP: If not just hum along.
YS: You don't have to have good vocals just do it. So we go: Tea for the Week. Tea for the Week.
CP: Guys! No shoulders?
YS: Tea for the Week. Tea for the Week.
CP: We have fun. this is what you do with your girlfriend in the living room with wine for it is way yes girl has because that's what we do.
YS: But also just to talk about Charli like eyes on the prize like recovering we've talked about recovering from like awkward moment when I work with our guests I'm not really excited to be with us. But also we've also learned that when we have because we are a you know we get to be multi-platform because in Essence essence we put it in the magazine, we put it on the website, we put it we create live events around our podcasts as well so we really when they come in and it's like it's going that you can tell it's gonna be a difficult interview we just have to stick to our guns because for us it's like if I get a really good nugget from an interview on a podcast we can write about it in all these different platforms. So we have multi, you know, many ways to kind of the story has a point. The story has many legs so for us it's really important to get when someone comes in and you feel like oh they're not going to evade this question. We just kind of keep going because we need we already have a plan. Like I need to write about the story for the website. So I need this person to answer this question whether it's you know evading is not an option.
CP: Yeah we have fun but we come to the mic as journalists first. And that's been unique for us so we know we have to get the story. Have a good time. And also speaking of vibing we now feel like our listeners are our friends so we don't want to let her down either. So when she sees a certain name and the title of our episode we want to make sure that what she thinks she's about to get, she's going to get it. Because it's like we know what we want to know from people and what people are thinking and talking about. So we also feel that obligation to her as our friend. You know we always called her office -- she/her. But we had to give out what she wants and we think about every episode that way even though.
YS: We've got some hims we've had some hims. We have some theys, we have everybody.
CP: So yeah. And it's really weird that we've had Gabrielle Union on the show Halle Berry on the show. I mean we've had I mean Tyra Banks. Jada Pinkett.
YS: The A-list of black female celebrities.
CP: Yeah but if you listen, I think what we can say that we're proud of, is that you won't hear an interview with them like the one we had with them anywhere else. Whatever we get into whether we go one on about church or are we cry with pride together we've done it's it's special. Yes. And I think for us everything is about keeping the vibe of the authenticity.
YS: That's the vibe. Don't kill the vibe.
CP: Don't kill it and don't let it. You don't want in your comments kill it. I think also in the podcast space. Tell me have you felt this Yolanda there was a moment where we felt like people who had been doing this for a while and really good at it were like well you shouldn't do this and this is like you know I saw recently on Twitter someone posted about podcast cliche bingo. Anybody see that? It was really and we were like oh guilty guilty guilty but that's OK for our audience. She likes us just the way we are just the way we are. And so I think we have to create a bubble where we were like: This is what we're here to do. We're going to do it and don't kill my vibe.
YS: I think also it was really important for us to stop comparing ourselves. Like, you know you mentioned that they were people who are obviously way more successful than massive and impressive than us. But you know it's really being about authentic and telling our story matters just like anybody else. So we had to really you know mentally kind of tell yourself you know this is not a million downloads each episodes kind of show, but it's really important there is an audience for it and I think in podcasting that's really -- Remember we used to be bloggers most of us here right. We used to be bloggers and maybe three people read your blog but you still felt like a you know a passion for it and I think it's really important to keep that going because you know, what else do you have? That's what. Follow the passion. And you know. Yeah.
CP: Does anyone have any questions? We had a few minutes left. Yeah.
Question: Hi. I love the podcast. I also, you know, in a world in which we're always talking about centering diverse voices it was so amazing to like turn on Essence's podcasts and know that black women who are already center of, check that box. How did you get your organization that has been doing stories for black women for forever, my whole life, how did you get them to start a podcast? What was it like bringing in a producer? Like a little bit talk about your format, the process. Like, do you have a studio? Did you guys build the studio all that stuff?
YS: A great question. Yes. So we used to be part of Time Inc which is well used to be the largest publisher in America but that's no longer. But we went Time Inc. They had a podcast play and they. Oh bring the black girls in. OK. But you know we had one show where other publications had like 3 or 4 or 5. So we had one show. And so we started it through Time Inc. They brought in a podcast producing like a whole firm that does -- Digital maybe some of you know it is called Digital Media called Digital Media. So they came in they would come in every week. We had a podcast studio in the office so they would come in each week and record us and then go back to their offices and clean it up. But then Time Inc ended. Time Inc was ruptured and now we're independent an independent company, so we are operating like a 48 year old startup so we get to buy our own mics. We had to buy everything and you know most of us we didn't come with that knowledge. So we had to kind of lean on our producers to kind of help us with mics and like you know audio's stuff that we just never had considered. So yeah.
CP: And we stay with the mobile kit. We will come to you just grab our mic and go follow the story find a quiet place to record and just stick with it.
Question: Do you guys have any recommendations for how not to kill the vibe when your interview subject isn't in the room with you if you've done remote interviews?
CP: Like over the phone?
CP: Yes so we interview the queen of vibes. Erykah Badu over the phone and we were like yeah we can't smell the incense. What are we going to do? She was driving in her car of all places. So I think for us we were together. So if you have co-hosts we were in the same space so we made sure that our energy was strong. We were making eye contact, smiling at each other, bringing as much energy as we could through the phone. But also I think it's really also about that warm up lap in the beginning. We didn't just have her pick up and go we were like: What are you listening to? What did you do this weekend like how about your children? What's going on in your life? Then we got to the bottom of it. That first five minutes you spend with your bestie on the phone before you really get into it. Take those five minutes the prep.It helps.
YS: I think our time is up. Thank you guys so much. Thank you for your time. We appreciate you.