A year of Curiosity in Focus
It’s November 4, 2017. It’s now been exactly ONE YEAR since I uploaded the first episode of the Curiosity in Focus podcast. I remember sitting at my dining room table with one of my oldest friends Lukas, now a paramedic, talking about his work. The conversation was great; just two good friends talking about work, life, and the amazing things we’ve seen along the way. Casual, educational goodness.
I drove Lukas home, and like a bunch of narcissists, we sat in my car listening to ourselves on my new show. The feeling was a mixture of excitement and confusion. It was exciting seeing the title of my show on the touch screen display of my car. It was confusing to hear my own voice come from my car. How did this happen? Why did I do this? What’s next?
I first started by creating a Soundcloud page with a pretty awesome graphic that my brother Jamie designed for me. With a free account, I was able to upload a total of 5 hours of content before I had to pay a monthly subscription. At the time, I figured 5 hours was more than enough to work with – I’d start this project, produce a couple of hour-long episodes, and then call it quits. I mean, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try this long-term. Some might say, I had commitment issues. But I was determined to see my initial goal of 10 episodes through, and because of the amazing conversations I was having, I started hosting the show on my personal website – danielhkwan.com - for the unlimited uploads. I’m still waiting for that sponsorship Squarespace…*cough *cough. That year, Jamie had actually designed the entire website for me as a Christmas present. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. But if I was going to honour that amazing gift, I’d have to keep up with the series.
So I did.
Back then, the show was originally called the Really F***ing Cool Podcast, but for reasons related to marketing the series to a broad audience, well, you can see why I changed the title. Once that happened, things took a turn for the better in terms of numbers. People other than my friends started tuning in! By episode 11, I decided to rebrand the series as its current title – Curiosity in Focus – after the YouTube channel I had started 11 months earlier. Once I officially changed the name, the whole project clicked in my head. Curiosity in Focus was more than just a show that captured the amazing conversations I was having with people. Instead, it represented a lifestyle I wanted to lead. I'm a curious person, and I love to learn about everything the world has to offer. As a creative and educator, I find learning personally empowering. Curiosity in Focus was actually a way for me to share this passion in others and to use their stories as a lens into culture and science! That was it! Curiosity in Focus was a forum through which I could preach the love of learning, expose myself to new and diverse learning experiences, and share them with the world. I was also frustrated with the lack of Asian Canadians in mainstream media. I mean, I still am. But back then, I was so sick of complaining about how few Asians there were in media that I figure I just take the initiative and do it myself.
Early episodes were made using a Zoom recorder Jamie borrowed from Ryerson University. I would later switch to a Blue Yeti mic that I still use during virtual interviews or guest appearances on other podcasts. I recorded the first episode in my condo, and the remaining 9 of the first season in either a small office or medium sized classroom in the Anthropology Building at the University of Toronto. Boy did those rooms echo. Back then, I didn’t know much about audio production. I was using free software (Audacity), and slowly learning the ropes by watching YouTube videos.
But looking back, the entire series so far mirrors what I was doing on my YouTube channel – learning by doing, and taking the audience along with me. My early YouTube videos were shot on a cheap point-and-shoot camera, slowly improving in quality in both production and editing as I got new software, learned from mistakes, and relentlessly produced content. The podcast is very similar. The audio for some episodes was passable at best, and I made some questionable decisions when choosing recording spaces. I even recorded an episode in the cold, damp stairwell of a gym. But as I learned from these experiences, the show got better. My guests were always amazing, but I needed to ensure the quality was just as good.
So I kept trying, I kept learning, and I think that speaks for itself.
I recorded my first collaboration almost two months after starting the show. In an episode with my friends at Greatway Games, we talked about board games, women in gaming, and the challenges of podcasting with guests virtually. It was also the first time I recorded an episode with guests virtually through Skype.
High profile guests like Simu Liu and Justin Wren really validated my efforts. Talking to Justin allowed me to step into explore darker topics such as addiction. I’m also a giant MMA fan, and the fact that he’s both a fighter and humanitarian struck really interested me. Chatting with Simu, of Kim’s Convenience fame, is probably one of my best episodes to-date. It was the first true episode where I wasn’t just learning from my guest – I was voicing my opinions and sharing with the person I was recording with. We talked about Asian erasure, dating, and of course, Asians in mainstream media. It when then that I realized that I had accomplished a goal I had initially set for myself – become a voice in Asian Canadian media.
I met Christopher Sims on Twitter after attending a Society for American Archaeology meeting in Orlando, Florida. At a social media meetup organized by attendees of the conference, I met dozens of fellow scholars and archaeologists who actively engaged with each other on platforms such as Twitter. The next year in Vancouver, Chris and I actually met in person at that very same conference. We instantly clicked, and later recorded an episode of his podcast – Go Dig a Hole. Connecting with a fellow solo podcaster like Chris and forming a good friendship with him was probably one of the highlights of that trip to Vancouver. Although we live on opposite sides of North America, we frequently appear on episodes of our respective shows, support each other with advice and shout outs, and use recording sessions as excuses to set aside big chunks of time out of our busy lives and catch up with each other. Some might say it’s a podcasting bromance born out of the love of learning.
Curiosity in Focus is more than just a podcast for me. Now, it’s become a part of who I am. It represents what I believe in – that the best educators are learners, and that everyone has something to teach the world. I could go on and on about this crazy journey, but I think I’ll end it here for now because I have a whole bunch of people to thank.
Thank you Lukas, for being allowing me to record one of our hangouts as the inaugural episode of the series.
Thank you Jamie, for the amazing creative advice and technical support. You’re the best brother. We still haven’t done an episode together, and I think it’s time we did.
Kiron, thank you for your unwavering support, encouragement, and being as you say, the “executive producer” of my life. You’re one of the best friends a dude can ask for.
Finally, to every listener of the show – if you’ve been here from the beginning, or if you just joined the movement – thanks for having faith in me. Thanks for joining me for this journey.
Don't forget to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Support the Curiosity in Focus podcast on Patreon at www.patreon.com/curiosityinfocus
Twitter @danielhkwan & curiousinfocus