You read that correctly. It says Don’t Keep Your Day Job NOT Don’t Quit Your Day Job. And that’s the name of Cathy Heller’s podcast. Heller’s story is incredible.
Cathy Heller is a married mother of three who had a successful career as a musician and songwriter. She was so good she got a deal with a record label — but then they dropped her. Heller has licensed her songs over hundreds of times for films, TV shows, and ads, including McDonald’s and Walmart. She also launched her own licensing company called Catch The Moon Music.
When Heller was teaching a course to songwriters someone suggested she should start a podcast. One thing led to another and today Heller has nearly 120 shows. Her mission with the podcast is to offer real tools and insight to help others find a sense of purpose and newfound fulfillment in their work.
Here’s our interview with Cathy Heller
PBJ: Who is Cathy Heller?
Cathy: I’m a mom with three little kids living in L.A. I’m married to a guy who was my friend and next door neighbor. We’ve been together for 12 years. I host a podcast. I’m a songwriter who wrote songs for TV for about 10 years and started teaching an online course for songwriters. The podcast grew and became my favorite thing to do. I want to help other people feel encouraged. When I first got here I had a record deal and was then dropped. I started to figure out how to make a living with my music. I had a bunch of day jobs and was miserable. I read an article in a magazine about artists who were licensing their music to TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and commercials like Old Navy. I thought, Well maybe I can do that. I set out to do that and did it for many years. I did songs for McDonald’s, Kellogs, Walmart, and TV, movies, trailers etc.
PBJ: Did you like that job
Cathy: I loved it. It was fun to be in the studio and getting paid to do it. I was making a few hundred thousand dollars a year, paying my mortgage, and supporting my kids. That led me to wanting to help other artists make a living from their dream job. To show them that it’s not “Beyonce or nothing.” I was asked to speak a lot to songwriters. Then I started a course teaching songwriters what I was doing. Most of what I was teaching was not specific to songwriting. Somebody suggested I start a podcast, which I did in January of 2017. We are about to hit 4 million downloads.
PBJ: Are you still writing songs?
Cathy: I am sort of phasing out of it. I have built a team so I still teach the course. I have an agency where I used to rep myself and then I signed about 50 other artists. I still have a team repping those artists. We are still teaching the course, which has made over a million dollars in two years. We have helped so many artists learn how to turn that side hustle into a living — many of them have their songs in Starbucks ads, Lexus, T-Mobile, and TV shows.
PBJ: Tell us what it’s like to be signed by a label and then dropped?
Cathy: It’s a defeating feeling. It is like you went to see the Wizard of Oz and he can’t get you home. I thought I would give up on all my creative dreams at that point and I tried to get a real job. I worked in a casting office. I took an interior design class. I worked for an oncologist on his philanthropic pursuits. I then got a real estate license and tried working in a real estate office. It was part of a journey. It taught me a lot — that sometimes we have to be gritty with what we want to do in this world but flexible with the how. We are not sure what package it might come in. We are here to do something unique that can make the world better. Everybody’s DNA is completely unique. You will find what you’re supposed to do but it doesn’t always come in the package we thought. At first it was very depressing and then it became a puzzle — what am I supposed to do if not that? The truth is most people only have one model for them. They don’t have 15 other ideas. Usually the only way we can build something is when we can see it. Our ability to see things that are possible allows us to have the clarity of what we can do about it. The only thing I knew about being a songwriter, and loving to sing, was that one day I would get lucky and be a touring artist. I didn’t know there were other ways and degrees between where I was and being a superstar. There are so many ways in every field and category for people to figure out how to monetize what they love. You don’t have to be filling up stadiums or have millions of followers. You can make a living doing what you’re doing in other ways you may have thought.
PBJ: How did the podcast get started?
Cathy: I was teaching one of the songwriters courses and one of the attendees said, “You are so inspiring and everything you’re saying could be applied to other creative avenues, have you ever thought of starting a podcast?” I said I have. She introduced me to someone she knew who sells advertising for podcasts. I met up with this woman — I had just had my daughter 10 days earlier. She said you have to have at least 10,000 listeners to sell a single ad otherwise it doesn’t make sense. I said, “That’s a lot. I don’t think I have a thousand listeners.” She asked me what I would do a show about. The only street cred I have is in the music world but I don’t want to do a podcast about the music business. She introduced me to a friend of hers who had been working in podcasting. He asked me what my dream was. I said I want the show to be about helping people figure out how to make a living finding purpose in what they love. He said do it. So, I figured we would try it. That was October and we decided to launch in January. He told me to record about eight shows and keep my favorites to put up in January. We rented a studio for, like, $50 an hour. I started thinking Who do I know who has a creative job and is successful? I had a friend who owned a bakery, a friend who was a screenwriter, and I knew a comedian. They were all working full-time and had left their day jobs years ago. I started with those people and had a conversation about how they wound up making a living doing what they love. It was fun to interview them. We put up the first episode and iTunes grabbed it and put it in New and Noteworthy and then put it on the top of the scroll bar. They liked the title “Don’t Keep Your Day Job.” It made sense for them, especially in January when a lot of people are thinking about leaving their job. In the first week, we had 40,000 listeners and I asked my team if that was good. They said yes very good. In my head I was thinking Ira Glass has 800K listeners so maybe it’s not a big deal. Tim said let’s see if the audience sticks. Then we needed bigger guests and more of them because we were doing the show every week. I started to cold email all these successful people who were icons in creative fields. Who are the biggest people in the makeup world or fashion or design. I emailed Bobbi Brown who has a makeup line. Most of them did not respond or said “no thanks” but a bunch said yes. Seth Godin was on the podcast, Jenna Fischer, Mandy Moore. I started to interview them and I would be shaking because I was intimidated. I was about to interview Jenna and I had been watching The Office for about eight years. On the way there I was shaking so much I spilled my Starbucks. I never do that. I was so uncomfortable and very new. When I had Seth on the show, at the end, and this is on the podcast, he said, “I have done thousands of interviews and I can’t think of an interviewer who has worked so hard to make me feel seen and appreciate the essence of what I do. You did that for me.” I started to cry after that. He said, “You really see people and make people feel that. You are gonna be so successful at this.” We’ve had dips and had one last summer. We started in January very strong and that summer there were a few guests that were not that interesting. I think I was losing sight that people don’t want someone on because they are famous, they want someone with a great story. We learned from that and it picked up again. It has really picked up over the last several months because we added a second episode a week where we read listener questions. We read letters and interview people who are not as famous but doing well.
PBJ: Are you finding now it’s easier to get guests and they want to be on the show?
Cathy: Yes. Now we have people reaching out. We have stayed in the top 100. We never left the charts since we started. We came out at #8 and went down to #198 but we have now been in the top 100. People come to learn about you and ask to come on. It’s not as hard if I want to reach someone. I can say who we have had on, we have 4 million downloads, and it’s been less than two years, so people get it.
PBJ: What do you enjoy most about doing a podcast?
Cathy: When I’m talking to people I feel so excited. The conversation is so stimulating. I can’t believe this is my job. I’m expanding my brain and it feels like a free Master Class. I’m making money and helping people at the same time. I feel the best way to make the world better from where I’m sitting is to help as many people as I can; get busy finding things to do with their time that makes them feel fulfilled and happy. This makes the corner of their world brighter. I feel this is my version of trying to rally or run for office. I want people to feel empowered.
PBJ: How are you making money with the podcast?
Cathy: We started to get a decent amount of ads right away. We’ve been consistently selling ads since we started. We have about four ads an episode linked in as sponsors. We have a second episode that does the same. We found our numbers are 100% consistent. If we have 50,462 downloads, it’s almost to that exact number with each show so we can sell the exact same amount of ads.
PBJ: How much do you get for an ad?
Cathy: It depends. It’s anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800. We do four ads a show with two shows a week. I read them live.
PBJ: How long is the show?
Cathy: About 55 minutes
PBJ: You say everyone has to start off being mediocre, can you explain that?
Cathy: People overthink everything. That’s the single biggest issue. You have to have the courage to make mediocre things and push through to make brilliant things. It comes through volume. It’s not that you one day discover your perfect purpose, it comes through the process. We had Angela Duckworth on and she wrote a book on grit. She said the grittiest people are pushing through feelings of inadequacy — continuing to make things that are not the thing you wanted but you keep doing it anyway until you eventually make something brilliant. You are developing your passion. It’s not a discovery but a development.
People don’t take that first step because they know what they want it to look like and there is a gap between that and what it looks like now. They can’t handle sitting down and not having it be perfect. They can’t handle sitting down at the computer and making a messy draft of a chapter but that’s how a book gets written. We miss out on the brilliant things that will come if you are patient. That’s how things grow. It is not failure, you are on your way to something bigger. Keep sitting there; you will make something awesome.
PBJ: What advice do you have for other podcasters who might be starting out tomorrow or have been doing it for six months.?
Cathy: You can absolutely do it. There are people every day waiting to be inspired. People can’t get enough of it. We know from research that the number one thing people need to have to live the life they want and be productive is not more uppers or time or money, but that feeling of energy, positivity, clarity. That’s why successful people don’t sleep a lot. Energy comes from a feeling, productivity is a mindset. If you can be encouraging, educational, interesting, or get somebody to be distracted from something that’s causing them anxiety in their life and give them something to look forward to, everybody is looking for that. Making content like that is incredible. There is always room out there. You need to be aware of who’s listening. At the heart of anything successful is radical empathy. Who is listening and what do they need: a laugh, interesting, or educational.
PBJ: What is the difference between striving for success and giving up?
Cathy: What you believe is possible. Some people feel opportunities are around us all the time. It’s like rain and they walk out with a bucket to catch it. To the extent we can see that it is possible we will keep going and to the extent that you can’t you will stop. We need to constantly be looking for models and what is possible. All these things we talk about have been done. There is evidence you can open a bakery, start a podcast, be a designer, make money making quilts. We have an easier task than someone who is trying to cure a disease — and even they still keep going to work. They believe it is possible. They have seen others do things they thought were impossible. Surround yourself with things that get you in that mindset, that help you be resourceful. Your greatest asset is your resourcefulness. If you don’t have it right, reverse engineer it, ask the right questions, figure out how to do it. We live in a time where you can make anything. You can figure out who can help you make it and how to build an audience. Everyone is a click away on their cell phones. There are no excuses.