Recently, the CCD sat down with BU’s very own Macken Murphy (CAS’20) about his podcast, Species. Species is “The Podcast About Animals.” Every week, Macken sets out to teach the world about animals, one species at a time. Species has hundreds of thousands of downloads across 132 countries and regularly ranks in the top 100 educational podcasts on iTunes. It’s even been featured in BBC’s Discover Wildlife magazine! You can listen to Species on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pandora, and Castbox. Read on to learn more about the process of producing a podcast and advice on pursuing your own passions.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself! What are you studying at BU?
A: I am a double major in history and biological anthropology. I came in as a history major originally, and midway through college I had a friend tell me, “you have to take this anthropology class I’m in!” Fast forward a bit and I ended up enrolling in Intro to Biological Anthropology, and I immediately added it as a second major. I’m interested in what makes us human, how humans evolved, and why humans do the things we do. The only way to really go deep on topics like those is to look at them from an evolutionary perspective. Cultural anthropology is obviously very important, but I think that cultural anthropology focuses on what makes us different, whereas biological anthropology focuses on what makes us the same.
Q: What is Species about? How did you get the idea to start recording a podcast?
A: Species is “The Podcast About Animals.” Every week, I cover a different species of animal. I talk about facts, biology and all of that, but I also cover other topics like history and philosophy. I think that animals are an interdisciplinary lens, meaning they are a topic that we can use to look at other topics. So really, the podcast is about animals, but animals are just a launching pad for me to talk about things that I am interested in and that I think my listeners would be interested in.
I started Species two years ago. I’ve always been interested in animals. Growing up I had tons of pets – four dogs, four guinea pigs, two rats, three rabbits, five birds, several hamsters, a couple of frogs, and lots of fish. And when I got to Boston University, I took an amazing class with Professor Shipton called Humans Among Animals. The way he talked about animals in a broader context was inspiring and incredibly entertaining, so I tried to incorporate his approach into my podcast. I’ve listened to at least one podcast a day since I was 16, so I took my familiarity with the podcast format and combined it with Professor Shipton’s interdisciplinary approach to the topic of animals and it really worked.
Q: What is your listenership like?
A: One thing that is great about Species is that it has such a diverse listenership. It’s got listeners in 132 countries, and most of the people who are listeners outside of the United States are using it to learn English, which is completely delightful! There are also biology teachers who assign it in elementary schools or middle schools to get students more excited about the topics they are studying in class. A lot of college students listen to it, as well. Families and commuters are also probably my two biggest audiences – people driving to work and people driving their kids to school. Species is one of the few podcasts where both adults and kids can get something out of it. I’ve skimmed through educational podcasts, and I often find that podcasts geared towards kids try to dumb down the content. I don’t think that’s necessary. I think that kids are smart. When you talk to them about educational content like adults, they usually pick up more information that way.
Q: How do you manage being a student and also recording and editing a podcast?
A: Waking up really early and getting started. From 7am onward, people are going to try to take your time. They’ll send you emails, text you, make plans. You’ll have classes and assignments to do. The only time that no one is going to bother you is at 5am. That’s the only time that can really be yours.
Sometimes it is difficult because I will fall behind on responding to listeners who have reached out and I’ll feel guilty. I try to respond to every person who reaches out to me, because they really put in effort into their messages. Over winter break, I took an entire Friday to catch up and respond to everyone who sent me a message. The strangest thing is that I have this relationship with tens of thousands of people that I don’t know. So what will happen is that people will message me as if they know me. It’s tough for me when I don’t know them. I had to get more private on social media because people would reach out on every platform to talk.
Q: What was your favorite episode to record?
A: I actually don’t really know. Every week, I spend about 20 hours recording and editing an episode, and I haven’t missed a single week since I first started. After the first 30 episodes, I thought “Wow! I am just going to become an encyclopedia! I’ll remember all of this!” But at a certain point, my brain got really good at absorbing a ton of information and then forgetting all of it. So I regularly get Tweets or emails from people about an episode they really liked and I’ll go back and listen to it, and it’ll be like hearing it for the first time.
Q: What are your plans for the podcast after you graduate?
A: I’m going to keep going until I die or someone stops me.
Q: What advice can you give to other students who might be interested in pursuing a passion?
A: Be disciplined about setting aside time to do it. A lot of the time that I am working on my podcast is not super enjoyable. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes a lot of busy work. If you are trying to start a podcast, or write a book, or start a YouTube channel, you need to be disciplined about setting aside the time. And you need to expect to get out of this exactly what you put into it.