Behind the Streams #5: Aaron Mahnke

This Week in Behind the Streams…

The Storyteller

Around the age of ten, I discovered books. Specifically adventure stories and tales of the unusual and bizarre. I wanted to be a writer from that moment forward

The Podcast

He told me it sounded like a great podcast idea, and that I should make more and release them regularly. In the end, that’s what I did.

Why It’s Worth It

I have a deep admiration and respect for my fans, and I will never fail to be grateful toward all of them.

What to Look Forward To

It’s an exciting time to be making—and listening—to Lore.

 

And now for Behind the Streams: Aaron Mahnke

When I first got my job at Podchaser, my family’s response was to list every podcast they know and love and tell me I should talk to those creators. One of the first to come up and the most often repeated was Lore. The show covers the weird and mysterious in history and believes fact is scarier than fiction and my little sister probably told me to talk to “the guy from Lore” seven or eight times. Eventually, I had to break it to her that there was almost no way I would be able to interview him.

Why? Because Aaron Mahnke – aka, “the guy from Lore” – is kind of a big deal. His podcast exploded early on and has been turned into several new formats including a television show and book series. He records and writes full time and his work on Lore entirely replaced his income as a designer. His show has helped to redefine storytelling and has moved people to rediscover the wonder and creepiness of reality.

Despite everything Aaron has going on, I did manage to sneak into his inbox and get an interview. So, without further ado, the guy from Lore.

The Storyteller

While I don’t ascribe to the stereotype that says only the artsy kids turn out to be writers or musicians or anything like that, when Aaron told me a little about himself as a kid, everything made sense.

Around the age of ten, I discovered books. Specifically adventure stories and tales of the unusual and bizarre. I wanted to be a writer from that moment forward, and after working at it for about three decades, I finally managed to figure it out.

Before you imagine a dorky, cute little nerd with a notebook that kept starting new novels in science class, let me introduce you to high school Aaron.

Thanks to being an introvert and the music of the early 90s, I was the quiet grunge kid with long hair and baggy flannel shirts. I kept mostly to myself, but had a small group of close friends. Our world was comic books, music, movies, and trying not to get beat up by the football players.

All those comic books and movies paid off, and Aaron became obsessed with storytelling and began working to hone his skill. Aaron wrote for years without earning much of an audience or income from it. So, he ran his own design company and made money that way, all while telling himself that he would keep writing until the breakthrough came, no matter how many years that took.

The Podcast

That breakthrough did not at all come in the way Aaron was expecting. He was looking for a way to grow his audience and put together several little essays as a gift to people who would join his mailing list.

But the freebie—which was a collection of five historical essays about creepy true events from the past—sort of became too big to be a convenient gift. It’s hard to read PDFs on a mobile phone, and when it’s 15,000 words long, that’s even worse. So I decided to quit. I’d given it my best shot, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I hadn’t found the right away to connect with an audience.

So, still wanting to make that connection, Aaron recorded himself reading one of the essays. He threw some music in behind him speaking and sent it off to a friend for him to listen to. Aaron was planning on just recording each of the essays and placing them in a file that his mailing list could access. His friend liked the recording but didn’t like the plan.

He told me it sounded like a great podcast idea, and that I should make more and release them regularly. In the end, that’s what I did. And the result has been surreal. Who would have believed that this sort of thing could happen?

I’ll let Aaron tell you exactly what happened.

It only took about a month for the audience size to explode, and when the daily numbers began to shift from 150 downloads to 3500 downloads, that was the moment [I knew I had something big on my hands]. It became my full-time job within four months, completely replacing my design income. And a month after that, the TV offers started to pour in. If I had any doubt before that, it all went away pretty quickly!

The fame didn’t get to Aaron or his show, though. The mission has stayed the same despite the shift to spending so much more time on Lore. Aaron has to do the research, writing, recording, post-production work and much more the keep up, but that hasn’t changed what he’s trying to do.

My approach to Lore has always been the same: tell great stories that are rooted in history and laced with darkness and shadows.

Why It’s All Worth It

With Lore Aaron did manage to grow his audience, and that audience has remained loyal across mediums and episodes. The fact that someone is hearing his stories and enjoying them keeps Aaron going through the hours of work and continual expansion.

I am who I am today because of them. Their support and encouragement and excitement…all of those things are the legs that hold up the table. So I have a deep admiration and respect for my fans, and I will never fail to be grateful toward all of them.

It isn’t just the fact that the fans are listening. Aaron has found that having people who find meaning and depth in the stories he tells is infinitely valuable. Aaron began his work as a storyteller because he believes it is important work, and he feels that belief has only been confirmed.

Hearing people react to the humanity of the past, and seeing them connect with people who lived centuries ago because—deep down—we’re all struggling through life and making the best of it—that’s a powerful moment. Story connects us, across boundaries lines, cultures, orientation, and time. We are really all in this together, and story makes that possible. So the fact that Lore gets to play a part in connecting people to each other and the past…that’s the best part.

Aaron is excited to keep connecting people and continues to find ways to grow his platform for more and more fans.

What to Look Forward To

Aaron isn’t anywhere near running out of stories and every time he finds a new one he is eager to share it with his listeners. But those stories aren’t limited to one podcast anymore, or even the world of podcasts as a whole.

Lore has expanded, too. I’ve partnered with my heroes over at HowStuffWorks to build a whole network of podcasts that Lore listeners would love. Cabinet of Curiosities came out in the summer of 2018, and is a twice-weekly show that covers two small tales in each 10-minute episode.

Aaron has also started a new show called Unobscured, that goes even deeper into stories like those discussed on Lore. This show uses a twelve-episode season to look into a single story in history, allowing listeners a much more focused and detailed experience, starting with the Salem witch trials.

But there’s even more!

The final book in my World of Lore trilogy was published on October 9th, and the second season of the Lore tv show arrives on Amazon Prime on October 19th. It’s an exciting time to be making—and listening—to Lore.

Aaron believes that “great stories can inhabit multiple mediums,” and is excited to see how each medium adds a unique power and depth to the stories he loves to tell. So, if you love the weird and creepy, or are just a sucker for a good story, it’s time for you to check out Aaron Mahnke and everything he has in the works.

 

Behind the Streams is a new series by Podchaser that explores popular podcasts and the brilliant minds behind them. Email Morgan (morgan@podchaser.com) to tell her why your favorite show should be featured next.