From Heroin Addict To Podcaster

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    (By Ed Ryan) Sean Cuddihy is the host of the Room 9 podcast. That was Sean’s room number in his long-term Substance Use Disorder treatment program. A little over two years ago Sean was living on the streets, addicted to heroin. He burned every bridge with the people who loved him. He stole, he lied, he manipulated.

    After being arrested and sitting alone in a jail cell for months, Sean realized he could no longer live the way he was living. He says one of the biggest reasons for his “heroin-numbing” activities, other than his brother and sister dying, was going to a job every day and feeling empty. While he was in rehab he decided to change that. Sean launched Room 9 in October of 2018. He says he always loved podcasts and soon realized that it was the most convenient way to help people who struggle with SUD and mental health.

    For the past year, Sean has been putting five hours a day into the podcast. He’s now working with three major SUD programs in Western New York and just got approved for a $10,000 grant which will help him reach more people. When he started, like so many, Sean knew nothing about podcasting. “That’s very apparent if you listen to episode #1 and then episode #46,” he tells PBJ.

    His goal is to help people get out of the world he once lived in.

    Here’s our interview with Sean.

    PBJ: Why did you launch this podcast?
    Sean Cuddihy: It wasn’t too long after Ben Hammersley coined the term “podcast” that I fell in love with them. It is such a convenient way to learn and grow as an individual and I   can even listen while I am driving or doing laundry. I created the Room 9 podcast to give those who are struggling with substance use and mental health a means to know they are not alone in their struggles. I wanted to make stories of failure and redemption accessible to anyone who has cell phone reception and show people what can truly be loved about them is inseparable from their limitations. There is also some selfishness behind why I launched Room 9. I need to feel like I am making a difference and helping people. I have found in doing so I am helping myself.

    PBJ: When was your first show and how did it go?
    Sean Cuddihy: I originally started the show with my roommate from my long-term treatment facility, Horizon Village, located about a half hour outside of Buffalo in Sanborn, New York. We recorded the first episode in my garage with an ancient laptop, a free DAW, and some old mics. I converted the Mp3 to an Mp4, compressed it, and put it up on YouTube. To say the least, it was a rough-sounding podcast episode. I don’t think there is an adjective in the English language to describe the sound quality of my first episode. My former co-host and I conversed about our journey’s up until that point, the changes we have had to make to get to where we are, and why we decided to start the podcast. Unfortunately, that co-host backed out on me when he realized doing a podcast isn’t just hitting “record” and posting it on YouTube.

    PBJ: How much time does each episode take?
    Sean Cuddihy: From preproduction, production, to post-production I would say anywhere from 10 to 15 hours go into one episode. That’s not including the time I spend on promoting, scheduling, and networking. When I first started out it took me nearly three times that length. As I’ve mentioned, I knew nothing coming into this, other than the fact that, with all my heart, this is what I wanted to do. As I keep learning and growing as a host and a business owner my time spent on each episode gets shorter. Learning and growing, in this industry, is probably one of the things I love most. The more I know, the dumber I feel.

    PBJ: How much editing are you doing?
    Sean Cuddihy: Apart from the actual hosting and conversing with the guest, editing is hands down my favorite part (I know, there is something wrong with me). I first started off using Audacity and then moved on to Adobe Audition. I immediately fell in love with Audition. When I first opened Audition the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” was never so apparent to me. Each episode is an incredible learning experience. My average editing time, per episode, is probably around eight hours. Not only do I get lost in the “learn new techniques rabbit hole,” but I am also very anal about my sound quality. I remove all loud breathing, stuttering, and repetitive language, along with “uhs” and “ums.” It is truly an incredible growth period each time I sit down to edit.

    PBJ: What is your goal with the show?
    Sean Cuddihy: My sole purpose for starting the Room 9 podcast is completely centered around helping, educating, and encouraging the people, and their family members, who are struggling with a substance use disorder and/or a mental health disorder. I was able to take my love for psychology, philosophy, and personal development and use that to help people move towards furthering their self-awareness. On top of the “help others” aspect, this show is helping me more than anyone and if I can find a way to be one of the few who make a decent wage there will be no complaining heard from my mouth.

    PBJ: What reaction from listeners are you getting?
    Sean Cuddihy: As anyone who starts a business on their own knows, it’s a rollercoaster ride. One second you are on top of the world with motivation and the next you are wondering if all this hard work is making any kind of a difference. It’s when I am at the bottom, it never ceases to fail, I get an email or a message on a social media platform saying how much this or that episode has helped them. I once read an article by a man everyone knows, Gary Vaynerchuk, he said a great measurement of how you are doing comes from the unsolicited comments and messages. Every time I feel like nothing is helping, I get that message of encouragement. Room 9 is really growing through a grassroots style. One of my favorite comments was from a person who said, “I love your show so much. It challenges and helps me feel like I am not alone in my pain. I felt like I was sitting there next you, having coffee.” Another person stated, “The sense of clarity gained from the experiences shared is immense.” The messages trickle in one by one, slowly but surely. It is the responses I receive that keeps me going.

    PBJ: Tell us about the grant you received.
    Sean Cuddihy: The most recent confirmation, to keep moving forward with Room 9, that I have received was the approval for a $10,000 grant from the New York State Education Department. The grant will allow me to purchase and upgrade all new equipment and put money into advertising. I will get to keep the equipment under the condition that Room 9 makes a profit. This, at first, sounded like a lot of pressure until I discovered that “profit” could even mean $1. That is easily succeeded by one donor through my Patreon account. This was a humbling and surreal experience. To have the State of New York grant you $10,000 with basically no strings attached, that was the biggest confirmation to keep moving forward I have had since starting Room 9 last October.

    Sean’s podcast studio

    PBJ: How are your downloads/listens?
    Sean Cuddihy: It is not my numbers that are the encouraging part. It is the fact that, since starting my analytics this past January, my numbers continue to go up every month. I have grown my downloads from 20 per episode, to now closing in on 400 per episode. As I start putting money into advertisements and recording with remote guests, I can only see these number increase. Anyone I encounter is a potential download. It comes down to getting your hands dirty by going out into the community and recruiting fans one by one.

    PBJ: How are you marketing/getting the word out?
    Sean Cuddihy: Up until now I have put very little money into advertisement — probably less than $300 on social media campaigns. I have taken the approach of hitting the streets, going to any addiction recovery and/or mental health events I can get to in order to network and introduce myself. I spend a lot of time interacting on LinkedIn. Following hashtags like #Addiction and #MentalHealthAwareness while leaving my “two cents” on every post has proved to be a great way to grow my audience. Over the last month and a half, I have shifted my focus to connecting with the CEOs of the substance use disorder industry while letting my genuine and passionate character speak for itself. The plan is to talk with the CEOs, they will tell their employees, and then the employees inform the clients. Right now, I am working closely with three major companies in the Western New York area and I am seeing firsthand just how well this strategy is working.

    PBJ: Are you making any money? If so, how?
    Sean Cuddihy: Just over the last few months I have started to create a consistent revenue with Room 9. I am offering different companies collaboration episodes with their employees. I am calling this project “Know Our Leaders.” This project not only gives the employees of a company the recognition they deserve, but it also allows the clients to get to know the people who are sacrificing and working hard to help others every day. Depending on the package the company purchases, I am getting anywhere from $200 to $300 per episode. Another aspect of revenue comes from donations. This is obviously a more inconsistent form of income. I have received donations from $25 to $100. I most recently started putting energy into Patreon, I have three patrons thus far.

    PBJ: Describe your equipment setup.
    Sean Cuddihy: To record I am using the Scarlett Focusrite 18i8 external audio interface along with the AKG P120 microphones. Myself and my guests wear headphones and I use Adobe Audition for my DAW. I am currently using Windows 10 but, thanks to my grant, I will be converting that to a Mac Book Pro. Since the majority of my equipment is portable, I find myself out on the road quite often. I usually end up setting up in someone’s office. If that is not an option, I have a spare room at my house where I am constantly working.

    Is your story compelling enough to be in the PBJ Spotlight? Send it to edryantheeditor@gmail.com

    How and where to find Sean:
    Room 9 Website