By Ian Palmer
In our Ear Buds column, we interview our friends in the podcast industry to learn about their production processes, marketing strategies, and other tongue-in-cheek tidbits.
D .S. Moss is the existentially inclined host of The Adventures of Momento Mori, a podcast that explores the science, mysticism, culture, and mystery of death. D.S. is a filmmaker and screenwriter whose long career in video production translates to a sonically complex podcast that engages his listeners’ imaginations and emotions.
He describes the show as a cynic’s guide for learning to live by remembering that we die. We describe it as an addictive audio adventure.
Read on to learn how D.S. came up with the idea and how he applies his video production skills to the world of audio.
Describe The Adventures of Memento Mori in one sentence.
The Adventures of Memento Mori explores the meaning of life through the lens of death, as I try to reconcile my perpetual existential crisis.
How did your podcast grow from the seed of an idea into the show it is now?
I don’t like calling it a lark, but it was legitimately a passion project. Prior to this career endeavor I had a production company that produced videos for big brands. I decided to do a podcast on the side just as a passion project.
Compared to any of the other projects that I did creatively, where I was looking for an audience, this was a little bit of an anomaly. There was no intention of it being anything other than an exploration of a topic. It’s one of those things that I did just for the love of the subject matter, but then it got traction and kind of found its way. As it’s grown I’ve tried to be better at doing strategic promotion, but I do find that the more I treat it as a business the less enjoyable it becomes.
How does the podcast’s current format differ from your original vision?
It’s changed in the sense that I’m actually learning things and I’ve become much more mature in the topic. Also the things we explore on the show have expanded greatly since we started.
The podcast has some complex production elements, like music cues and multiple interviews per episode. What has been the biggest learning curve from a production standpoint?
When I produced videos for brands the shooting ratio was insane. We would shoot a 4-hour interview and cut it down to 90 seconds. So I already had the muscle for reducing a conversation into its most important parts.
But the thing that’s still easy to forget, is to be really diligent about cutting – having what you think is the final mix and then sleeping on it for a couple days and coming back to it. Because often times you’re so in the weeds with an episode and you’re hearing things that aren’t there because you were doing the interview. Editing audio is definitely more challenging than video because you don’t have a visual element to rely on, so you have to create characters and stories just with voices.
Your show dives pretty deep into history, philosophy, and science. What’s your research process like?
It’s pretty in depth. Typically, I aim for guests that are subject matter experts, and it’s helpful to target people who have recently written a book, because their publishers already need them to get out there and talk about it.
So I read a lot of people’s books, and I have a set list of questions, but I try to let my guests do most of the talking. What’s good about this podcast is that I am always guaranteed to be the dumbest person in the room, which works to my advantage because I can just follow my curiosity and deviate from the script.
Your website is beautifully designed with plenty of custom art and photography. How much thought and effort goes into that aspect of the podcast, and why do you see it as important?
It’s pretty labor intensive, because while the general design elements for the website stay static, the episode art is done individually after each final mix is complete. And even though it stays consistent within the season, each new design takes a lot of time.
Do you see design as an important part of making a podcast?
I think it’s incredibly important, because you should have a distinct voice on your podcast, and that voice should carry through to the design of your website and any other ancillary content. I believe that making a podcast is ultimately creating a world, and any opportunity you have to support, promote, and grow that world, you’ve got to take.
A memento mori is an object serving as a reminder or totem of death, and you’ve mentioned on the show that your podcast is your own memento mori. If that wasn’t the case, what object would you choose?
I tried wearing a pinky ring for a while, but I’m at the age now where there’s a certain demographic of men who like to adorn themselves with jewelry and ponytails, and I didn’t really want to be one of those guys (laughs), so I decided I couldn’t pull that off.
On the show I’ve mentioned the WeCroak app, which has been a great memento mori for me.
Since you host a podcast about death, what dead figure would you like to have as a guest on your show?
Jesus, just to ask, “Ok, what did you really talk about?”