You might not know what David Chen looks like, but there’s a chance you’d know his voice.
Chen has heard it quite a bit himself — when you’ve hosted almost a dozen podcasts, you naturally become familiar with practicing, editing and listening to what you say. You also look for stories everywhere. And to that end, Chen occasionally likes to record conversations he has with people, including the three interviews I had with him. (I agreed, but as a journalist, it definitely felt unusual to not be the one recording.)
Chen, 36, is one of Seattle’s most prolific podcasters; he has hosted or co-hosted a myriad of podcasts over the last 15 years, covering everything from movies to television to personal stories. His first podcast, “The /Filmcast,” has accumulated a cult following that has tuned in for more than 500 episodes, drawing an estimated 50,000 listeners per week, Chen says.
A solid following for a host that sees podcasting as more of a hobby. Chen works full time in marketing for Amazon.
Due to their easy accessibility via streaming services like Apple and Spotify, podcasts have grown in popularity in recent years, and in today’s saturated landscape, podcasts can seem like they’re a dime a dozen.
But when Chen first started podcasting in 2007, he realized he was filling a much-needed space for community and conversation.
“Whenever I would go to the movies with friends, I’d ask them how they thought the movie was, and they’d usually say ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ And that’s where the conversation would end, but in my opinion, that’s where I thought the conversation should begin,” said Chen.
And so he created what ultimately turned into “The /Filmcast,” in which Chen and co-hosts Devindra Hardawar and Jeff Cannata discuss movies, TV shows and their related ilk.
Through “The /Filmcast,” Chen gained a loyal following on Twitter and has started several other podcasts. He eventually struck gold with “A Cast of Kings,” consistently listed as one of the internet’s favorite “Game of Thrones” podcasts, which he co-hosted with California-based Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson. While it originated as a book explainer — Robinson had read the full “Game of Thrones” series, Chen had not — “A Cast of Kings” became known for its engaging recaps and fun banter.
But it wasn’t always easy. Robinson said even with their mutual respect, it took some time to iron out the kinks and find their groove as co-hosts. Despite recording in separate states — they didn’t meet in person until 2017, five years after “A Cast of Kings” launched — Chen and Robinson developed a conversational style that resonated with listeners.
Over the course of almost 100 episodes, it launched them both into the podcast universe, affirming Chen and Robinson as pop-culture aficionados. The popularity of the podcast started trickling into their everyday lives — one of the most surreal moments for Chen was when he changed departments at work, and his new boss recognized his voice and name from “A Cast of Kings.”
“A Cast of Kings” ended soon after the “Game of Thrones” series finale earlier this year, but that has not slowed down Chen’s podcasting. He currently works on four weekly podcasts and has started a new show: “Culturally Relevant,” which Chen called his pride and joy.
“Culturally Relevant” features TV and film reviews, plus in-depth interviews with other entertainment creators. Since the podcast launched in July, Chen has interviewed people such as “The Farewell” filmmaker Lulu Wang, among others. While Chen has aspirations to eventually interview more of Hollywood’s biggest filmmakers, for the time being, he says he still feels fulfilled creating a space for content creators to talk about their work.
“To a large degree, my dream has already come true, that I’m consuming work from people that I really admire, and they are speaking to me for the purpose of the podcast,” Chen said.
Robinson says Chen has always tried to prioritize these kinds of conversations.
“There are very few people I’ve met in this industry that are actively looking for new voices to give a platform to,” said Robinson. “Dave does a lot of research to find important people and works that deserve to be uplifted.”
Having lived in Seattle for a little more than five years, Chen says the city is a great place to record podcasts, despite being less entertainment-centric than Los Angeles or New York.
“What’s great about podcasting in Seattle is that we are one of the top markets from a cultural perspective. Musicians come here, authors come here, filmmakers come here,” said Chen. “It has the advantages of a small city without the disadvantages of a big city.”
In addition to four ongoing weekly podcasts and his full-time job, Chen has also dabbled in music and film, releasing a pop-cello EP in 2015, and directing a movie, “The Primary Instinct,” in 2014. So how does he juggle it all?
Chen says his Amazon job comes first, but he likes using his free time to pursue a serious passion. “I let the podcasting fill in the gaps of my life,” Chen says. Overall, he estimates his podcasting process — recording, editing, producing, scheduling and interviewing — takes him around 12 hours per week.
For some big name hosts under national media outlets like NPR and Spotify, podcasting has become a full-time gig. Chen, however, describes himself as more of a “middle-class podcaster.” He’s garnered a loyal audience and makes some money from ad sales, but it’s not the kind of money that he could live off, and at the moment, that’s not the end goal, anyway. Chen says he’s happy with what he has created and has no intention of becoming a full-time podcaster.
“I don’t necessarily think that what I’m doing is a noble task,” Chen says. “But I like that people can find meaning out of the things I make, and if I can keep doing that in new and interesting ways, then that is enough for me.”
Right now, Chen’s biggest challenge is getting the word out about his podcasts. In such a cluttered market, there’s already a podcast for everything. It can be quite hard to stand out. But ultimately, Chen has been successful, he’s happy with the audience he’s found, and he doesn’t plan to leave it anytime soon.
“There’s an opportunity to create a community around a certain product or idea,” Chen said. “I like expressing my opinion and creating a dialogue around the things I’m interested in. Maybe I’ll stop podcasting one day, but I won’t stop doing that in some form.”
Listen to some of Chen’s podcasts here: