Are you too old for ghost stories? If the popularity of The Black Tapes from Vancouver’s Pacific Northwest Stories is any indication, listeners are still big on spirits and paranormal activity. With over one million downloads to date, this week’s season one finale may raise more questions than answers. But in a post-Serial world, one thing’s for certain: podcasts are thriving, and Vancouver creatives are making their mark on the internet soundwaves.
Vancity Buzz sat down with Pacific Northwest Stories co-creators, Terry Miles and Paul Bae, to speak more about the success of The Black Tapes.
First things first: no one from Pacific Northwest Stories will confirm or deny the fictional aspects of The Black Tapes. The weekly podcast tags itself as a serialized docudrama, but the mystery surrounding the subject matter is part of the allure that has sparked a very vocal fanbase who have, not surprisingly, developed their own conspiracy theories. It’s the kind of fervent following that’s every podcaster’s dream, creating passionate fans through word-of-mouth and social media. The little-known Vancouver company has also attracted the attention of their fellow podcasters, with shout-outs from Nerdist, LORE, and reddit’s NoSleep Podcast.
Vancouver plays a distinct and crucial role in the series. Miles and Bae, like most locals, have a deep love of this region; a romantic view of the Pacific Northwest’s rain-soaked mistiness that reflects both in the company name and its storytelling. “There’s a dark, beautiful undercurrent that’s really inspiring.”
The two originally met when Bae, a local comedian, landed his first acting role in Miles’ first unofficial feature film. As an avid podcast listener “since forever” (pre This American Life days), the two started collaborating together when Miles spotted a gap in the market for content like The Black Tapes: “There just seemed to be this empty space in podcasts for this kind of storytelling.”
It may be fun telling ghost stories, but it’s evident how seriously the duo take their work. Is the company profitable? “Not yet,” Miles transparently replies; although sponsors are starting to take interest, “it’s not pennies… but it’s more like dimes.” While not quite covering the costs, early interest does give Miles and Bae hope of becoming a viable business. Their goal is to become self-sustaining within a year.
Pacific Northwest isn’t looking to go the investor route, preferring to retain creative control over the podcasts.“We don’t want to wait for any other juries to decide when we get to do things.” It helps that both Miles and Bae are established in their careers – Miles with writing and directing for film and TV, and Bae with his recurring role on The Debaters.
Pacific Northwest Stories has a new show ready for launch, and a few more in progress. Becoming the “Gimlet of Canada”, Bae enthuses, is a great goal for the fledgling company. Gimlet Media is a network that has exploded in the past few years, thanks in large to flagship podcasts Startup and Reply All, as well as heightened interest from investors and sponsors alike. “Anything that people are interested in, and we see a vacuum in that area, we’ll try to tell those stories,” says Bae.
Given their passion for the format, we asked Pacific Northwest Stories for a few podcast recommendations:
The Black Tapes is a weekly podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale, and is hosted by Alex Reagan. The Black Tapes podcast is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both. More information here.