Have You Heard? is a series where the Pod Bible team meet the people behind the podcasts you may not have heard of yet. While the Oh. My. Pod. section in the magazine gives a quick shout out to shows of that ilk, Have You Heard? aims to go deeper in an effort to spread awareness for shows that deserve more exposure! We recently heard from Laura Kidd, creator of a podcast that interviews artists about the magic of making things, Attention Engineer…
Who are you and what’s your podcast about?
I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and solo artist known as Penfriend, beaming songs and podcast episodes into peoples’ ears from my home studio The Launchpad in Bristol, UK. With “Attention Engineer”, my mission is to encourage creativity in every listener by sharing deep, honest conversations with some of the artists I admire the most. We talk about where ideas come from, celebrate the magic of making things and travel through topics like productivity, mental health, balancing online and offline life and everything in between. It’s aimed at listeners who are interested in how things are made, who might want to be more creative in their own lives and would appreciate a friendly nudge in the right direction.
Why did you decide to start podcasting in the first place?
An “attention engineer” is someone who works for a big tech company, deploying sneaky techniques to keep you stuck to your screens as much as possible. After building up a sizeable audience for my music using the internet, I started feeling concerned that not only was I expected to spend all day on social media telling people about myself, but that I was encouraging my audience to do the same thing. After reading books like “Deep Work” and “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport, amongst others, I’ve been working to retain better control over my time and attention, two of the most valuable resources we have.
I’ve always been a performer who wants to meet the people in the audience after the show – the idea of the person on stage being more important than those who paid to come and see them has always felt weird and wrong to me. With my podcast, I want to keep breaking down these barriers by really humanising the artists I speak to – there’s no room for starryness or a load of PR hot air and selling on “Attention Engineer”.
At its basic level, my podcast is an attempt to create something more meaningful, resonant and valuable than a bunch of tweets about my face, and it means so much to me that listeners have found it helpful as well as entertaining.
What was the first podcast you ever listened to?
It was the Ricky Gervais Show – I was an extra on his show “Extras” around the same time as the podcast began (yes, that’s me standing next to David Bowie in the singalong scene!). The first to make a deep impact on me, though, was WTF by Marc Maron. I was introduced to it on a UK tour in 2012 and have listened loyally ever since.
Which podcasts do you take inspiration from?
WTF is a big inspiration – Marc has always asked such great questions about the craft behind creative careers, and I love discussing that sort of thing because I always want to learn how other people make their work. It was due to hearing many guests on WTF talk about their experiences of meditation that led me to try it, which was life-changing. My new interest in mindfulness led me to another podcast that has had a profound effect, “Hurry Slowly” by Jocelyn K. Glei. It’s about mindful productivity, slowing down and going deeper, and I’ve come across so many great people through that series, like Austin Kleon, whose books on creativity are really wonderful. My other favourite is “Creative Pep Talk” by Andy J. Pizza, which is a must-listen for artists of all stripes. I love how Andy’s goals are so clear – each episode is packed with really practical tips on how to supercharge your creative practice and get your work out there. I highly recommend all three.
Who’s your dream guest for the podcast?
I have to say, I’ve had several dream guests on the podcast already – Tanya Donelly, Corin Tucker, Miles Hunt, Mark Chadwick, Lemn Sissay, Bernard Butler…BUT early on in the planning stages for the series I made a list that had Shirley Manson from Garbage at the top of it. I’ve loved her work since I was a teenager, so it would be a total dream come true to have a conversation with her.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far as a podcaster?
I thought I knew what I was getting into, because I’d already made a podcast series for someone else before starting my own, but the additional workload was an adjustment. I was already a very busy person before I started “Attention Engineer”, but I’m glad I decided from the start to publish consistently every Wednesday. It’s a real commitment, especially as I make the whole thing myself, but it’s so rewarding to get regular feedback from fans of the show. I love hearing that someone has been inspired to pick up the guitar again after years of not playing, or that something discussed on the show sparked an idea, or encouraged them to give something new a try. That’s what it’s all about.
What episode would you say is the perfect introduction to your podcast?
That’s a tough one, but I’d go with ‘Episode 18 – Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff)’. I’m thrilled to have known Miles for nearly a decade now, after being a fan since I was kid, and he’s been a big supporter of my music over the years. I’m always very happy to delve deep with guests, whether I’ve met them before or not, but listeners have told me this episode felt like they were overhearing a chat between friends down the pub. We talked about the magic of songwriting, how the internet has changed musicians’ careers and how Covid-19 dashed Miles’ dreams of becoming a long distance truck driver.
Where can Pod Bible readers find out more about you?
Visit my website penfriend.rocks and you’ll find my music, writing and all the podcast episodes, of course. I’ll even send you two free songs immediately when you sign up to my friendly online community. I’m @penfriendrocks on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
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