As the founder of podcast studio Dustlight Productions, Misha Euceph has helped bring the voices of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Bruce Springsteen to millions.
But the 28-year-old is also sharing less familiar stories. With Tell Them, I Am, whose second season launched last month on Spotify, Euceph is spotlighting the lives of fellow Muslims. The podcast’s novel premise is “a central question that has nothing to do with Muslim identity,” Euceph tells Penta. “It’s more about a small moment that defines you.”
Along with guests like Queer Eye’s Tan France, religious scholar Reza Aslan, and actress Alia Shawkat, subjects have included artists, athletes, and performers.
“Being Muslim had not been a defining part of my identity,” says the Pakistan-born Euceph, who grew up in Karachi and moved to the U.S. in 2003 with her family. “Coming here, that was the only thing people could see or hear, and they lumped us all together. We’re 1.7 billion people around the world, yet seen as one kind of person. So you could say Tell Them, I Am had been brewing for 17 years.”
Euceph’s audio career began at University of California Irvine, where she studied philosophy. A radio show she launched there, Dates and Other Mistakes, “interviewed professors about their love lives and expertise on love,” she says. “It was a total disaster, but it made me realize how much I wanted to get involved in every part of making a show, down to the cleaning-the-toilet-bowl part of it.”
After graduate work in journalism at Northwestern, Euceph worked at SiriusXM and NPR before landing at Southern California Public Radio affiliate KPCC. Beginners, her first podcast, followed Euceph re-enacting “things I never did as a kid, and that are integral parts of an American childhood,” like swimming or reading children’s books. “Without any marketing or advertising, it blew up to 200,000 downloads” she says. A second series, earthquake-themed The Big One – Your Survival Guide, earned raves and even bigger audiences.
Today, Euceph leads a team of 18 at Dustlight. Along with Tell Them, I Am, the company co-produces Renegades Born in the USA, with the former president and the rock star, and The Michelle Obama Podcast. Its production partner: The Obamas ’ Higher Ground Audio.
“When I started podcasting, it was just me and my recording equipment, putting it out into the world,” she says. “Since then, my role has evolved a bit.”
Penta caught up with Euceph from her Los Angeles home.
PENTA: Do people have misconceptions about how podcasts come together? Do they assume you just record a conversation and hit send?
Misha Euceph: Well, we do have shows that are mostly two people in a room, and less edited—with comedians, for example. They may get uploaded from the original conversation.
But what I do is a different beast. It’s in the tradition of This American Life, Serial, Radiolab—heavily researched, written, and edited. It’s more like a movie or TV. We work with composers and engineers. It might involve actors.
How did you feel when you started working alongside two Obamas and Bruce Springsteen?
It was a feeling of reverence and honor. I grew up with the Obamas as people I looked up to. I’m an immigrant. Coming here in 2003, and seeing a Black man become president in 2008, was particularly powerful. With the podcasts, I worked with Michelle first. By the time I worked with President Obama and Bruce, it felt more familiar and more natural. They have such respect for the medium.
What makes a good podcast?
A good podcast is an honest one. If you’re telling a story only you can tell, and telling it in the most honest and vulnerable way, it’ll resonate with people. It doesn’t matter who’s backing you up; it’ll gain an audience.
But for me, at this stage of my career, it’s important to value the craft. I want to make something at the highest level of quality. I like to push the boundaries of audio. I treat every story with a fine-tooth comb, handle it with care, and present it in the most beautiful possible way. That’s why we work with sound engineers and an entire team. We want to make something that sounds like a movie for your ears.
Do you have your eye on adapting podcasts for platforms?
I do. It’s a natural transition from podcasts to other forms of media—podcasts are narrative and highly produced. We’re thinking about movies, television, even a musical and live tours. We have some stuff in development—we’re with [talent and media agency] WME. We’re planning a branded podcast for [outdoor lifestyle retailer] REI in the fall. I’m also working on a book. But ultimately, audio is my first love. It’ll always get my attention and care.
Is there one memory that really sticks with you from working with personalities like the Obamas and Springsteen?
The episode where Bruce and President Obama talked about fatherhood was pretty big for me. I made every man in my life listen to it. I was really struck by Bruce. I know his music, but I wasn’t a superfan before the show. Listening to him talk about the impact therapy had on him… My generation talks about therapy all the time, but hearing someone my dad’s age talk so openly about personal growth, and all of the time and energy he put into developing into a more loving husband, father, and friend, blew me away.
As a Muslim letting other Muslims share experiences in Tell Them, I Am, did any of the stories surprise you?
I’m non-hijabi, and I expected my hijabi guests to be conservative and pious. But they’ve been the women who’ve shocked and surprised me the most. It was unfair to assume they hadn’t had sex before marriage, or drank, or done drugs. They’re also wrestling with faith. The only difference is that they wear a headscarf. Those conversations impacted me and challenged me the most.
Are you the one who has to tell President Obama and Bruce Springsteen, “Guys, that wasn’t so hot, let’s do another take”?
Luckily, their conversation is pretty raw. There’s great chemistry. It doesn’t require a lot of massaging.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.