Yoshiko Ueda, 33, prepared the audio equipment while Domonique Meeks, 30, closed a window to drown out music from an Ethiopian diner across the street.
The 100-square-foot room in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood was barely large enough for two people, let alone a podcast studio space. A fan placed in front of a bowl of ice cubes helped combat the unusually sunny day, as Meeks sat down underneath his books about social justice, posters promoting equality and multiple motifs from the Marvel film “Black Panther.”
“I’m into ‘Black Panther’ for the idea of understanding Afro-Futurism,” Meeks said. “Someone had this idea of whenever folks saw comic books of the future they never saw black people in them… I feel like ‘Black Panther’ to me represents a call to representation in mass media.”
Meeks and Ueda are using their show No Blueprint to answer that call. The podcast, now in its second season, gives a platform to local artists and entrepreneurs of color.
The name No Blueprint represents how people of color succeed without following a traditional route. Its first season focused on people who did entrepreneurship or art as a side job to their everyday life.
They’ve hosted a wide range of guests: David Pierre-Louis, their first guest last year, sells Haitian Coffee; Louis Ortega, who immigrated from Mexico, uses storytelling to promote inclusion; Damon Bomar, a Howard University graduate, helps run the culinary brand “That Brown Girl Cooks!”
Season two has a focus on professional artists and entrepreneurs who have been able to do their work full-time. Eight episodes have already been released.
“We’re hoping to continue not only to inspire high school and college folk, but the question came up of how do we inspire the folks that we interviewed last season that were doing the 5- to 9- thing?” Meeks said. “How do we inspire them to take that full leap of faith?”
From music to storytelling
Both Ueda and Meeks are locals. Ueda was born in Beacon Hill, just north of where their podcast is recorded. Meeks grew up only 30 minutes south in Kent.
When Congress freed broadcast airwaves through the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, Ueda wanted to host a new FM show for R&B music. She called her long-time friend Meeks to go to the radio station with her. Unfortunately, they were met with some disheartening news.
“We learned that because they’re low budget we have to provide [licenses for] all our own music,” Ueda said. “There were all these logistics we weren’t ready for.”
Still, they pressed on with the idea of a show. The two friends soon discovered a shared curiosity for storytelling and realized the lack of platforms for artists and entrepreneurs of color. They decided to create that platform in a podcast.
Choosing to do a podcast was a logical step. The number of monthly podcast listeners climbed to over 67 million last year, almost double that of five years ago, according to Nicholas Quah, who covers the podcasting industry.
However, there is an apparent lack of diversity in podcast topics and hosts. Of the 800 podcast hosts surveyed for a report in Quartz, 18 percent were non-white — which is a smaller percentage than the minority population of the United States.
And, as Wired writer Charley Locke wrote, this lack of representation appears to result in underrepresented voices getting buried.
“When a white, male host recommends another podcast hosted by a white, male host to a white, male listener, there’s not much room for a diversity of voices,” Locke wrote.
This also has played out locally. In Curbed Seattle’s article “Five podcasts everyone in Seattle needs on their playlist,” each podcast listed appears to have a white male as its host.
Meeks believes the low percentage is due to high barriers of entry into the podcast industry. He himself bought the equipment to produce the show, while he and Ueda share rent costs.
“I think for us it’s delivering a new perspective but also I’m personally asking the question of how we build the ecosystem for other podcasts of color again to inspire the youth to create podcasts and use their own voice,” Meeks said.
Ueda said that putting voices and experiences that reflect the lives of people of color is a way to serve listeners of color.
“I think if it’s reflective; if they see themselves in the story or the guest or there is some kind of relationship or connection to them, I think that’s the way to get more listeners of color,” Ueda said.
No Blueprint currently is only possible as a passion project funded through Meeks’ and Ueda’s full-time jobs. Meeks is an entrepreneur, like many of the guests on the show. He and his fiancé, Diana Trinh, founded multimedia storytelling company Ambassador Stories.
Ueda is a program coordinator for Upward Bound at the University of Washington, where she works to encourage local students to graduate high school and continue postsecondary education. She hopes that high school students are among those inspired by the show.
Priya Frank, 37, the Associate Director for Community Programs at the Seattle Art Museum, was a recent guest on the show.
“Just to be able to have platforms to get to represent ourselves authentically and not have to be anything else is amazing,” Frank said. “I think to be able to just have space for my own story, for people to recognize that it has value, and make change happen… it’s because of podcasts, like No Blueprint, that allow that to happen.”
Season 2 of No Blueprint is available on their website, noblueprintpodcast.com. It may be small studio space, but each episode promises a big story to tell.