Opinion » Odd Job

The podcaster

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In a bygone era (last summer) where you welcomed people to your home, Andrea Helleman shows up with a vintage hardcover vanity case, like a door-to-door salesperson of yore. But this is no Avon calling or Fuller Brush dude. The case holds recording equipment and cameras. Helleman is setting up for an episode of her popular online listen, The Lawless Podcast—and I'm honoured to be its latest subject.

An open, breezy manner has us chatting immediately, her manifold curiosity pulling in numerous directions. By the time she unspools all the wires, sets up the mics, and plugs into her board, we've already been yapping for half an hour. Is there anything left to say, topics left to cover? Doubtless. After all, this podcast is lawless—no rules, no real formula, no set length, no regular release dates. It just happens.

Not only that, but she gets it done off the side of a very busy business desk that sees her working with entrepreneurs and small businesses to develop their brand. "I like when people have an idea and then I create the branding and it becomes real to them," she summarizes. 

Originally, she'd looked to create a podcast focused on the business, but when she sat down to do so, wasn't that inspired. "It just didn't feel right. I wanted to put something out into the world that was pure passion. I'm most passionate about where I live and the people I know, and I like conversations and stories, so it seemed a better medium to explore the fabric of the Sea to Sky—athletes, wellness types, creatives."

Although technically proficient in graphic design, photography, and filming, wading into audio was different. For tips, Helleman dug into YouTube and talked to Whistler-based Mark Warner, creator of the excellent ski-related Low Pressure Podcast. And the ear-grabbing name? "A therapist once told me I was lawless, a word that seemed the perfect catch-all for a platform with no direction and where I don't have to justify anything."

For her first recording, she sat down with snowboard icon Jonaven Moore in his trailer. Sponsored from a young age, as the stakes of the pro game rose, the shrinking sphere of what Moore loved provoked an existential crisis that saw him walk away from it all, a story that intrigued Helleman. Where Moore was measured and thoughtful, a calm ride on a smooth trail, her second interview—Rory Bushfield—was more bucking bronco. "People who know Rory thought I made sense of him, but those who don't know him didn't understand the interview."

This early dichotomy highlighted the diversity and challenge she was about to encounter. "They're all so different, but before those two, I'd never conducted an interview and had to grow into it. The biggest thing I've learned to do is relax. After a busy day, sitting down to make a podcast is a kind of relief. They typically start out slow and maybe a bit stiff, but eventually—usually when I run out of questions—a real conversation begins."

The list of Sea-to-Sky photographers, athletes, polymaths, yogis and others she has chatted with in the past year is now some 40-some deep, a watershed after a slow start. "I had five episodes ready before I launched because I was hesitant, anxious and questioning the whole thing."

Then she just did it and realized it wasn't that big of a deal—like most things in life.

"But now that I have a bit of a system," she muses, "my brain wonders if I should switch it up a bit, add a different element. Is that human nature or an artist's thing? I don't know. Some interviews are difficult, some therapeutic, and many of them inspirational. Overall, it has been a freeing experience. As a person, I've become more open-minded and a little less critical—especially with myself."

My own time with Helleman is easy, stimulating, wide-ranging, and as much about her interests and knowledge as mine; true conversation—two hours' worth. How does that work in a time of short attention spans? "Everyone consumes things in different ways," she notes. "I'll listen to a three-hour podcast in parts and be doing different things while I listen."

During her last few years as a long-time server, Helleman stopped looking at what she was being tipped, feeling that doing the math undermined her approach to the job. With Lawless, she likewise doesn't bother with analytics. "I don't want to change my relationship with it—it's still a passion project. I'm surprised and happy when people tell me they listen, but what's really cool about this platform is that you can just put it out there and whoever finds you, finds you."

The last person she interviewed was Murray Siple, director of Carts of Darkness. "He said I should have a party and invite everyone I've ever interviewed. Great idea—but a ways off now."

With the value of podcasts increasing many-fold in recent weeks, what of the future? The same as for most of us: remote. "I have to figure out distance recording; I've only done one before."

Since podcasts are about both perspectives in the moment and creating an historical record, these are bound to be even more intriguing.

Leslie Anthony has never had a real job—which is why he writes about them. Would yours make a good story? Let him know at docleslie@me.com.

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