A huge part of a podcast host’s job is to tell his or her guest’s story in the most compelling way. Producer and writer Lucy Copp is the host of Life on the Outside podcast which features the stories of healing and change of some of LA’s ex-lifers. On today’s episode, Lucy joins Tracy Hazzard as she shares what got her started in the field of prison life, and how she turns her guests’ heartbreaking accounts into inspiring stories. Discover effective ways to prepare your guests, the challenges of editing your episodes and building podcast intimacy.
Listen to the podcast here:
Life On The Outside With Lucy Copp
I have another very interesting Center of Influence podcaster to bring you, Lucy Copp. She’s got a very different podcast from many of the ones that we talk about here. Her podcast is called Life on the Outside. Lucy is a producer and writer living in Los Angeles. She has volunteered for the past few years inside the California prison system with an organization called Partnership for Reentry Program. Her work inside of prison includes co-facilitating a parole preparation workshop called Insight, which is an active program in over twenty California institutions. Three years into her work, Lucy created Life on the Outside, an effort to hold space for the conversations and stories shared by those returning home from prison. I loved the show. I was like, “Is this relevant? Are you all listeners? This isn’t a business style podcast. Is it going to bring something to you?”
The minute I started listening to it, I knew there was something special here. The specialness is what Lucy Copp brings to it, which is the storytelling style that you can learn from, whether you’re talking about these deep sensitive stories that she’s bringing. You have people being a life inside to what their life is like on the outside. It’s caught a compelling transition story as well to maybe something that you’re bringing before and after as to what’s going on in your world or your impact business of transition and helping people through pivots or making transformations for themselves. Her story telling style is unique. She has a heavy entertainment background so she’s bringing that in as well. I’m excited to bring Lucy Copp to you because of all of these things and highlight her as a Center of Influence and creating a more storytelling side to podcasting. Let’s chat with Lucy.
Lucy, thank you so much for joining me. I’m so excited about your show because Life on The Outside was enlightening to me. When somebody comes on my calendar and schedule, I start looking at their show and going, “Let me pick a couple episodes to check out.” I binged your entire series because they were so compelling and so outside of my own personal experience. I have a couple of good friends who had being in prison situations, but you’re talking about pretty cushy prison compared to some of the people you’re talking to. Their life on the outside is not all that different from the way it was on the inside. It didn’t change that much. To hear the stories here, it’s going to break your heart a lot of times.
A lot of it is heartbreaking. I also find a lot of joy in the stories that are shared. I find a lot of hope, a lot of resilience of the human spirit. I don’t want to make a podcast that breaks people’s hearts every time they hear it.
It’s like, “Why does it have to be so hard for them?” You’re sitting back rooting for them. You probably are making a lot of the editorial choices as you edit the show and the details. You’re thinking about, how do I create this journey to a positive feeling? Is that what you’re thinking about when you edit it?
I do. We don’t focus on the crime a ton. It comes up if it comes up. I do think it’s important if they’re comfortable sharing what brought them into prison. There’s a general arc to the story. Naturally, what comes through is this resilience. It definitely is heartbreaking and I hear that a lot from people. What I hope comes through is the amount of strength these people have to get through the system and heal a lot of their deep wounds too.
I did find it particularly interesting when someone said, I don’t remember which episode it was, that he didn’t want to talk about his crime at all anymore. That he needed to move past it. I thought, “He should have the ability to do that.” He did his time. He shouldn’t have to be. He was regretful and he had all of that. Why should he have to talk about it? That’s such an interesting perspective that you don’t get. It may be way so many things in our lives. You could see that applying to so many things you’re beating yourself up over.
In this era of true crime podcast mania, and I am a fan of true crime podcasts, it’s interesting that our approach with this podcast is to put the crime not at the very crux and core of what this is about, but to this side. It’s still important, but it’s not the starting place at all.
They recognize the changes in themselves over time. I thought that’s so insightful that you can have this view of what you were like before, what you were like inside and what you are like now that you’re on the other side. I thought that’s remarkable that they have the insight in themselves to look at themselves that way.
It blows my mind that they’ve become masters of their story. The people that I interviewed were all lifers. It’s a name that’s commonly given to people who are sentenced to life in prison. What’s unique about this group of people is they don’t have a date to get out. They have to earn their freedom, which means they have to go before whatever state you’re in, as a lifer, you go before your parole board. You are either found suitable or you’re not found suitable. Part of being found suitable is knowing your story, having the insight, having the remorse. People that are granted suitability and are released, which are the people that I ended up interviewing, have this amazing story to tell. They’ve workshopped it and they’ve practice it out loud. They’re a great group of people. They have one amazing stories. They can tell it so beautifully.Podcasting is a conversation. Your guests are not just telling their story into the air; they're telling it to you. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about how you got started here. What made you want to do this?
I was working in film and TV in LA and have always been drawn to media and storytelling. In between gigs, I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and wanting to be part of community. I’d done some prison volunteer work in college. I started going into prisons in California across the entire state with this 77-year-old Catholic nun. She’s such a bad ass. She has this mock parole workshop that helps men in these facilities. It gives them the opportunity to tell their story and they don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice. This was their opportunity and I’ve found my way into this workshop. I was totally drawn in and my world was blown open.
This mysterious system, this intrigue and this curiosity became about the people. It’s the work they were doing on the inside to heal themselves, to live a better-quality life and make something of their life. Me being someone interested in media and storytelling, life on the outside was my way of also doing something that I enjoy doing, which is storytelling and interviewing people. Coupling that with this volunteer work I’ve been doing this and these people I’ve been meeting, that’s where the podcast came from.
What made you decide it was right for a podcast?
Podcast, as you know, can be so DIY. I felt like I had the ability to start it tomorrow. It took me a year to start it and I did think about a documentary film. Probably a lot of your audience know this, but there’s something so intimate about a podcast, about hearing people’s voices and this is a topic that can be controversial, can bring up things in people. It’s easier to hear their voices and to not see an image of them or a picture or whatever.
I think you’re right, Lucy. Here’s the thing, it could have been my aunt or my uncle or my brother. It could’ve been anyone like that. I didn’t have a preconceived notion of that’s not in my circle of friends. That person wouldn’t happen in my world. It sounded like you could have been anyone I knew.
It can be. I heard someone say once to a parole board commissioner at a facility. After a hearing I went to, she said, “We’re all just a situation away from ourselves being incarcerated.” I don’t know that we are all a situation, but we could be. We could hit someone driving their car, which the last person I interviewed was a DUI murder. That was tough to listen to. Most of them are gang violence, but it shouldn’t feel as far away from our life and world as it does for most people.
The podcast intimacy of it helps with that. You start thinking like Orange Is the New Black. We’ve made it into an entertainment. We’ve made it something farther from ourselves, but the intimacy of the podcast helps that bring that right into, “It could be anyone I know. It could be me.”
We are hearing a lot more stories like this in mainstream, Orange Is the New Black, and we have more films and documentaries. The concern though is who is in control of the narrative? Who is telling the story and what story is being told? For people who are vulnerable, who are marginalized, you got to be careful. We should be careful about how their stories are being told. Part of the reason I take myself out so much of this podcast, I’ll go on rants to and I’ll edit it all out, is for them to tell their story on their terms.
Let’s talk a little bit about your process because your show is produced in a different way than many shows. We turn it on like we’re doing here and we start talking. Occasionally, there’s something that interrupts us like a dog barks. We edit it out, but it’s not heavily post-produced. What are you doing on a pre-production side to plan it out and what are you doing on a post-production side to develop your story?
There’s not much production. I do book a studio in Downtown LA. I have a nice relationship with them. It makes it a lot easier. I do audio engineering, but this takes away a lot of my stress. I know a lot of people in the community. If someone is put in touch with me or there’s someone I want to interview, I wouldn’t even call it a pre-interview, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. It’s a filler for me and for them. I will ask a lot of people and they will be unsure. We’ll have a call in and talk it through. That’s all I do in the pre-production phase. If they decide to do it, we meet in the studio. We pick a day and time. We record for about an hour, a few minutes under over. As you’re alluding to, I edit it a lot depending on how the interview goes and how chronological and how on topic we stay. Sometimes it’s a lot of editing. Sometimes I don’t have to do as much.
Sometimes you do re-records like you record yourself saying something different and to lead in it, then change the lead in.
There’s been a few episodes where I’ve added a little bit of narration here and there or something up top. This is something I want to explore, but I haven’t done much intro or outro or any of my own voice at all. I’ve stayed out of it completely.
That’s what’s apparent. It’s surprising. There isn’t a lot of you questioning and drawing it out. One of my favorite things is every so often, it’s John Oliver or something like that, one of those shows where he’ll show this montage of interviewers leading them to answer in the way and making them repeat what they said. You don’t do that at all. There’s such an absence of your question in a way that it is almost a stream of consciousness story is what it feels like.
To be honest, I do want to explore leaving my questions and more. This is my first podcast and part of it has been my discomfort with my voice, my questions and I stammer. We’re all our own worst predicts. There was definitely an intention with taking me out. I do want to keep my questions and more. It’s useful. It makes it more dynamic. The truth is this is a conversation. They are not telling their story into the air. They’re telling it to me. We’ll see how that goes.
I want to hit a couple of our lessons because I want to talk some more about your show. Some of the lessons that I look for from every podcaster and because your show is so different, I’m looking forward to hearing how your experience has been. We’re looking for some of the best ways to do things. What have you found are some of the best ways to get these interesting guests? Normally, I say book great guests but, in your case, they’re interesting.
I would go back to the pre-interview or whatever you want to call it, that first conversation and to not have an agenda going into it. If someone tips you off on someone who might want to talk to you, if you have time, meet them for coffee but a phone call is fine. What’s interesting to me is, what do people want to say? What are they like if you gave them a microphone? What do they want to tell the world, whether about themselves or what they believe in and what they’ve learned? All of us, there will be something. That’s where you get these animated, exciting, hopefully vulnerable stories. Even though this is a very specific re-entry after long-term incarceration podcast, I leave it totally open. When you leave that space, you can hear different interesting things following your curiosity. What did they say that made your ears perk up? I want to remember that thing that they said and make sure I follow up on that.
Establishing that rapport in that pre-call does sets the tone for how it’s going to be. It makes it easier for them to decide if this is a fit for them or not.Be totally open to hearing. Don’t just go into the conversation with an agenda. Click To Tweet
For me in this group of people, in this podcast, it’s all about trust and rapport. The last interview I did a was with a woman and when she started off, I could tell she was nervous. She was sitting upright. She was giving these very buttoned up answers. I might’ve even said was, and we will cut it out, “You can relax and don’t worry. This is totally a safe space.” She goes, “I feel very uncomfortable.” For the rest of the interview, she was herself. She was swearing. Her arms are flying around. It was amazing. It was a little bit harder on the audio, but it was so authentic. She felt good. She was out there. It totally changed the energy in the room. You also have to expect that people are going to come into it wanting to please you. That is not what I’m looking for. You don’t need to please me. What do you want to get out of this?
One of the other things most podcasters struggle with is increasing listeners. How have you been able to find listeners? You have an unusual show and many podcasters rely on these great guests to push it out to their audience. I can’t imagine your guests featured are excited necessarily to send it to too many of the people.
Some are, some aren’t. Some don’t know what a podcast is when they enter the studio. Some don’t know what it is when they leave the studio. It’s all over the place. I don’t know that I would share anything wildly. There’s cross promotion, ad sales, whatever. What I’ve been interested in right now are live events and how to make my podcast a living, breathing thing in the world that people can engage with and interact with. A good assumption, no matter if you have 1 or 18,000 or 1 million listeners, is that there are a core group of people or person that are so dedicated and love your podcast and are hardcore fans. If you operate from that place, what else could you give them? I’m more interested in engagement than audience size.
We talked a little bit about how you produce it. You’ve got a background in production and in all types of media. What do you consider to be the most critical factor to producing in a professional way for a podcast?
The audio quality. I don’t know if that’s stating the obvious, but having good audio. The rest of it comes down to taste in terms of how you’re editing and doing sound design. When I listen to new shows and I hear poor or scratchy audio, it’s a remote interview, which is fine, but it’s over the phone, I can get by it. It better be engaging.
It better be improved by the next episode. We only have so much patience for that. That’s the number one thing that we hear back from the listener side of things is that they wish you would improve your sound quality. If you can record it better, and that’s what you said, you went into a studio to record. Recording it in a better environment to begin with is helpful.
The next important thing is to have an identity. What is the identity of your show? What is the outro? What is the intro? That comes down to the music you use and the way that you pull people in from the top. I’m your host. Listeners want to know what to expect from episode to episode.
They want some comfort at the same time. I’m in the same place even though the story might be different this time. Let’s talk about that encouraging engagement thing. How do you encourage engagement on conversation on this? Do you post it on social? How do you do that and where do you do that?
Instagram is my biggest outlet. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook much. I do a lot of Instagram. People are more interested in the Instagram sometimes than listening to the show. To be fair, it’s a strong Instagram. I love Humans of New York in the way that they profile people and share little excerpts about their life so it has that feel. After every interview, I have a good friend who’s a professional photographer. We’ll go out with the interviewee. We’ll take a walk in a park, go to a diner, go to a museum and she’ll shoot a whole roll on 35-millimeter film. I have these great photos to use. We have great photos they can use for whatever purpose they want. It creates a ton of content.
That’s so powerful that you do that. That’s what so many of us miss when we do these remote interviews. You and I are not in the same room. I wish we were. For some shows, this is what we’ve got to do because we are all busy. I love that’s a priority for you because that adds for a powerful engagement afterwards. You’re showing like, “I got to know this person. I met them.” They’re real.
For a lot of us, people who have guests or do long form narratives, our guests become part of this project and they can share it. They’re the ones that are going to go talk about it. We need to see them as collaborators in this. I send them all holiday cards. I make sure they know this isn’t a one and done. “I got your story. Thank you, goodbye.” This is like, “Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of my life now. I care about you.”
You’re looking at that and you’re building a long-term relationship as well.
I want to do live events and I want them to be involved. I want them to continue to share their story if they want to. Thinking about everyone that is part of the show as a long-term collaborator is useful.
The next thing on my list of lessons is the best way to monetize. It sounds like these live events might be in some ways a way to monetize it, but also to move them to have an impact in mission forward. What are your plans for that?
Have you ever been to The Moth? It’s like standup storytelling. My idea is to do a standup storytelling show. It would be like a live recorded podcast, but I have 2 or 3 people share part of their reentry story and we’d have a small audience. It would have to be ticketed. I would call it live from the outside, a little plan, the name. It’s a great way. Part of the mission of this podcast too is to bridge this divide between people who are returning from prison and the rest of us who don’t know that this transition exists at all. A live show is a great way to bridge that gap.
That would be an interesting way for you to take it to that next level.
Hopefully, we’ll monetize it in some way. I don’t know.
Taking your time on that and figuring out what makes it authentic and right for you, that’s also a choice. It’s a brilliant one for you because you could end up cheapening what you’ve built with the show so far.
For anyone else who has a podcast, anywhere similar to what this is, I have to be careful with exploitation. I don’t pursue any big ad sale type of things or I’m not going to get blue apron on there. When I make money, I don’t think it’s going to be from this podcast and I don’t need it to be. I need a small grant to keep it going. I need to make back the production cost. I have so many other ideas for shows. It doesn’t have to be this one. I don’t think it should be this one that makes my living. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with that, but I would like a lot more listeners.Trendy is not always the best format. Click To Tweet
We’ll have to try to make that happen here, whatever we can do. Did you expect it to end up a binge listenable? As I mentioned before, I got into one and I had to listen to all of them because each story was so compellingly different. Did you expect that?
No. It’s useful that they’re evergreen stories. I don’t know what I’ve expected. I like that a few years from now, these stories would still have so much relevance. People always get out of prison. They feel timeless in that way but no.
It surprised me too when I found out people were binge listening to my first show and I didn’t know it was thing. I didn’t know that I could binge listen to it. It makes you feel very rewarding like it was worth doing it at that point when you hear it.
Even when you say that, I’m like, “What?” My younger brother’s best friend, I did learn this, but apparently, he’s obsessed with it. He relistens to episodes and that blows my mind.
You talked about that. You’ve got lots of other ideas. You expect to not be making money off this show, but maybe something else. Are there things that have already happened from the show, some way that you’ve maybe been asked to speak somewhere or asked to do something that surprised you?
Many things have changed to be honest. Little things like friends are asking me about how to start their podcast. I’m getting a lot of like, “I’ve thought about this,” but in a much bigger way. Starting this podcast, I’ve pivoted entirely away from film and TV. I call myself an independent podcast producer. I’m starting to create my own brand called Just Voices. This is what I want to be doing. Starting this project, yes, it’s about the stories and the social issues. It’s also about me figuring out what I want to do and what my career is going to be, which has been a long journey.
It’s so surprising to me because I have a pretty decent-sized segment of our client base at Podetize that came from the entertainment world because we’re close to LA. I do a lot of talks up there. I have a lot of connections there. All of a sudden, they’re coming to us. The one thing I’ve been hearing from the people who’ve done documentaries or done a lot of TV and film over time is that they’re feeling the creative freedom on the podcast side. It’s addictive. That’s what they’ve discovered. I have a few, which I found so surprising, that it was strategic for them. They said, “I’m starting this show in a podcast format, even though I know it’s going to make a great streaming show in the future. I’m starting it here because I want do it my way. I want the audience and my listeners to build that so that they won’t be able to change it when the network gets involved.” I was like, “That’s such an insightful way to go about it.” You wanted to retain your creative value and prove that it works.
This is happening a ton. Homecoming was a podcast that got adapted into a TV show. We’re going to see this more and more. TV producers, film producers are starting to dig into the world of podcasting.
We used to look at books and not as many people are writing them.
I would love for Life on the Outside to be a Netflix series. I’ve even been hired by people producing audio engineering. All my resumes say it’s Life on the Outside. It’s given me a ton of opportunities in the podcasting world.
What advice do you when someone wants to start a show?
There are a few questions I tell them to ask themselves. Why are you the person to tell this story? What is the story? Is it out there? Even if it’s like a chat cast, what is it that you want to say and should it be a podcast? Are you set on it being a podcast and why? We have everyone starting a podcast. Trendy is not always the best format. Is this a blog post? To keep it real, do you need a podcast? Why a podcast? Why are you the person to share this story? Do your research. Is this already out there? In a yoga class, I was thinking about a podcast about grief. For some reason, the title Good Grief was popping in my head. I’m like, “That’s such a good name. That’s so good.” There’s eighteen podcasts called Good Grief, so no. Is this already being created exactly the way you envision it? Yes, we are original thinkers, but like a lot of things had been done before. Those are my first pieces of advice. Not to get people down.
Let’s be a little bit introspective at the beginning and let’s think a little harder about this. That’s so important. What you’re pointing out is like, “Am I the right person to host this show? Why am I the right person to host the show?” Those are questions that I ask my clients all the time. Why are you the right one? What relevant experience do you bring here and what perspective do you bring that’s different? When they can answer that, we go, “This is a show for you then.”
You might have a brilliant idea. You could also say it’s brilliant, but I’m going to be the behind the scenes person who produces this thing. I’m not the storyteller. I’m not the narrator. It’s being realistic about like what your role is. If your role is like at the center of it, there needs to be a reason for that. Maybe it’s your story. It’s like how this topic came to you, why you?
Lucy, I appreciate you being on the show. I appreciate all the work that you’re doing. Everyone out there, Life on the Outside is a monthly show so you got to catch it. Read it because it’s so beautifully produced. It’s got great deep stories in it. You’re going to learn something about how you might want to create a tone and a beautiful show that accomplishes something maybe you didn’t imagine it could do.
I was excited to bring someone so different to you and give you that perspective. If you’ve heard the show before you, I’ve mixed things up a little bit. I hope you enjoyed that. I’m going to try to do that more going forward. Please give me some feedback and let me know if you liked it. I didn’t ask the same of how do you start your podcast questions at this time that I mixed it up. Let them have a little more say in how it goes and give the very nuances to the difference of, in this case Lucy’s wonderful show, Life on the Outside. Please let me know if you like that.
If you’d like more of that, reach out to me on social media anywhere @FeedYourBrand. You can always reach me on the website at FeedYourBrand.co. I’m so proud to bring people like Lucy Copp to the forefront. Make sure you read their success stories, what they’re getting from podcasting and how it’s moving them forward and moving their ability to breathe their messages to the world. I’d love to keep helping you do that by bringing you new Center of Influences every single week. As always, suggest someone or suggest yourself. I love to hear from you about that as well. Thanks everyone for reading.
- Life on the Outside
- Partnership for Reentry Program
- Instagram – Life on the Outside
- Humans of New York
- The Moth
- @FeedYourBrand – Facebook page
About Lucy Copp
Lucy is a producer and writer living in Los Angeles. For the past four years she has volunteered inside the California prison system with an organization called Partnership for Reentry Program. Her work inside of prison includes co-facilitating a parole preparation workshop called “Insight” which is an active program in over 20 California institutions.
Three years into this work, Lucy created “Life on the Outside” in an effort to hold space for the conversations and stories shared by those returning home from prison.
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