Scott Johnson got an extra life. It
sounds like an additional incarnation,
when you get to come back to life
in a video game, but it’s actually his vocation,
requiring enough time and energy
that it’s almost like a separate existence.
But, it’s a labor of love. His MyExtraLife.com online cartoon site and ExtraLife Radio
podcast are so popular that the show is among
the top-rated, and advertising revenues have
allowed him to pursue it solely as a career.
MyExtraLife.com started out of Johnson’s love of drawing, going back to early childhood sketching Sesame Street characters. He continued through young adulthood studying graphic design and illustration at the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College and Utah State University. He utilized his talents on behalf of a number of local agencies, but says “I didn’t really put my own work out on the Internet until the late ’90s.” He spent the early ’90s starting a family, and he has three kids.
The comic started in 2001, and—as the name suggests—it was originally intended to be just about video games. Over the years, the comic evolved in looks as well as topically to include movies, science fiction and politics. The comic is usually a single panel or, occasionally, several grouped together, featuring witticisms such as a dog dressed as Princess Leia, the caption reading “Hey, maybe Jeff just really likes Princess Leia and he doesn’t have to explain his life to anybody.”
For Johnson, starting a podcast was a
natural fit. As a kid, he carried around a
tape recorder and interviewed anyone who
was willing. He hosted a computer advice
show on the weekends on KSL from 1992-
2000. But, it wasn’t till podcasting started
to become a phenomenon four or five years
ago that he got the idea of producing his
own podcast. “Podcasting has emerged
as a way to put content out there without
breaking the bank,” he explains.
Extralife Radio started in 2005 and
gradually grew to the point that it is consistently
near the top of iTunes downloads.
Johnson has branched out and now produces
five different shows under his Frogpants
Studio production company.
Johnson says he just built his audience, which eventually led to advertisers approaching him the old-fashioned way: slowly and surely, over time. He advises being realistic about the amount of work it takes. Although podcasting is a relatively new field, Johnson says it offers unique target markets for advertisers. For example, TypeFrag.com—which designs voice-chat servers for online role-playing games— was a no-brainer to sponsor the World of Warcraft show.
Johnson’s four other podcasts after
ExtraLife also grew out of his own desire
to find something to listen to on subjects
that interested him. “The Instance,” a show
devoted to World of Warcraft, was started
because he couldn’t find anything wellproduced
and interesting on the game he
participated in. “App Slappy” discusses
iPhone applications. “Diary of a Cartoonist”
discusses his first vocation. “Don’t let ideas
go away,” he cautions, recommending the
“spaghetti approach” of just throwing them
at the wall and seeing what sticks.
He’s gained publicity for his shows by
appearing on Buzz Out Loud, a nationally
produced tech show that has 100,000
downloads per episode. Always networking,
he made friends with host Tom Merritt,
a nationally known podcasting personality,
and they started Fourcast, a look at the
future of tech. Their first episode featured
tech podcasting heavyweights Leo LaPorte,
Veronica Belmont and Jim Louderback.
But Johnson’s successes came from humble
beginnings. He notes that you don’t have
to have professional equipment to sound
well-produced; for several hundred dollars,
you can get some adequate condenser
mikes and a four- to eight-channel mixer.
Audio software like Audacity can be found
free online, and sites like Ustream.tv and
Stickam allow you to stream audio or video
live on the Web at no cost, allowing your
audience to comment and interact via chat
in real time. Johnson finds interaction with
listeners vital and even presents the “Big
Nerdtacular” yearly meet-up, which listeners
travel from miles to attend.
Great production values won’t improve
uninteresting content, though, and if your
content is great but you are unlistenable,
that’s not good, either. Johnson says the
most important thing in podcasting is to
find a subject you are really passionate
about and make a niche for yourself, especially
if you want to be successful on the
level of racking up at least 10,000 downloads
per episode. By the same token, if you
want to start listening, pick a topic you like
and there is probably a show about it on
iTunes. He follows the leaders in the field
to look for examples of pods done right.
“I listen to really well-produced stuff,” he
explains. “I aspire to the quality of NPR or
Leo LaPorte’s This Week in Tech.”
Brian Staker hosts The Awkward Hour podcast.