Creator Conversations

Hear from the creators behind Apple’s Best Podcasts of 2021

Find out how the people behind two of this year’s top shows recorded in cramped closets, coped with creative challenges, and more.

Apple recognizes exceptional podcasts and their creators for their unique ability to help listeners through this challenging and uncertain time.

Each year, Apple Podcasts editors take a look back at the shows and episodes that have stood out in the world of podcasting. In our Best of 2021 collection, you’ll find shows that have sparked conversation, put a spotlight on previously untold stories, and resonated with audiences around the world. A Slight Change of Plans from Pushkin Industries, a deeply personal narrative from host Maya Shankar about navigating change, was named Best Show of the Year. The limited series Anything for Selena, hosted by Maria Garcia, earned Newcomer of the Year. The show explores the legacy of performer Selena Quintanilla and examines profound questions about Latino identity.

Read on to get insights from Maya and Maria on creative barriers they faced, what they learned from audience feedback, and more.

Best Show of the Year: A Slight Change of Plans

Maya Shankar, a cognitive scientist who’s no stranger to big, heartbreaking change, helps listeners process their own experiences of change through vulnerable, mind-expanding conversations with engaging guests.

Apple Podcasts: What is your studio setup and what do you use to make the show?

Maya: I use the closet of our apartment bedroom. My poor husband, Jimmy, came home to find that all of his belongings were no longer there and he had to find an alternative location. Thanks to the expertise of Ben Tolliday, our sound engineer, I use a Zoom Pro Recorder, an Austrian Audio OC18 microphone, Bose headphones, Zencastr, some shield thing… and a MacBook Pro! We also use Pro Tools, which Emily Rostek on my team is a pro at!

AP: What is it about your show that particularly resonated this year?

Maya: The stories in A Slight Change of Plans transcend specific circumstances in order to reach a more universal understanding of how we navigate change. But while the changes we go through may appear different on the surface, cognitive science teaches us that the psychological strategies we use to navigate those changes can be quite similar. Which is heartening to realize! Because it means we can learn from changes that don’t look exactly like ours.

AP: What episode did fans have the strongest reaction to this year and why?

Maya: I recently recorded a deeply personal episode about my husband’s and my beautiful relationship with our gestational surrogate, Haylee, and our loss of identical twin girls due to a miscarriage.

It was our second pregnancy loss with Haylee, and we were told we could no longer partner with her, which broke our hearts a second time. I was distraught, confused, and unsure of how to process these complex layers of loss. And what I realized in that moment is that I needed A Slight Change of Plans as much as it needed me. It was one of the most emotionally challenging things I’ve done, but it brought me a kind of clarity that I didn’t have before the conversation. I’ve received personal letters from countless listeners all over the world who have in turn shared their own stories of loss with me, and have said that the insights I gleaned from my experience have helped them weather their own storms.

AP: What challenges did you experience growing your podcast this year?

Maya: Honestly, everything has felt like a challenge because I’m entirely new to podcasting! I had never conducted an interview before this experience, let alone record one. And so my first-ever interview was the one I did for the pilot episode. It was with Megan Phelps-Roper, a young woman who decided to leave the Westboro Baptist Church, a religious cult and one of America’s most vile hate groups (“Leaving a Religious Cult”). Needless to say, I’m thrilled it went well enough that Pushkin decided to green-light the series.

While it’s not been the most polished process, I do think there’s a silver lining… not having my own “playbook” for how to create A Slight Change of Plans, meant I could just let my curiosity guide my creative process the whole way through. The show came from a very personal place of wanting to find meaning and answers in the confusing and messy changes life throws our way, so I think listeners are getting access to the most raw and unvarnished sides of me.

A Slight Change of Plans is in the midst of its second season. Listeners can enjoy the show for free or listen ad-free and unlock extra episodes and more shows with Pushkin+ at apple.co/pushkin.

Newcomer of the Year: Anything for Selena

Maria Garcia, a queer Chicana journalist, ponders what it means to belong through her relationship with artist Selena Quintanilla.

Apple Podcasts: What is your studio setup and what do you use to make the show?

Maria: We started production in the summer of 2020, so the podcast all came together in the thick of the pandemic. I recorded my narrations for the podcast in my walk-in closet, which we treated with foam wedges to cut down on reflections and provide isolation. I recorded on a Shure KSM32 condenser microphone into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 using a MacBook. I used Adobe Audition to record my tracks, but our sound designer, Paul Vaitkus, mixed the episodes in Pro Tools.

AP: What is it about your show that particularly resonated this year?

Maria: I think people really embraced that Anything for Selena was not a straight biography podcast. Instead, we tried to make meaning of Selena’s life and legacy. It was a truly personal quest. One that led me to ask questions about big booty politics, Latino fatherhood, Latinidad’s fraught relationship with whiteness and language — and my own identity. But also, I just wanted to write Selena a love letter, an ode, a beautiful story. So many people wrote to me telling me the storytelling in the podcast made them feel seen.

AP: What episode did fans have the strongest reaction to and why?

Maria: Episode two, for sure. I still get emails every day from strangers who were deeply touched by that episode, “Selena and Abraham,” where I meet Selena’s father Abraham.

When I spent time with Abraham, it was hard for me to separate Maria the journalist from Maria the daughter of a complicated father. I didn’t set out to write a meditation on Latino dads and their daughters, but reporting on Selena and her dad made me confront the untangled feelings I carried about my own father.

AP: What challenges did you experience growing your podcast this year?

Maria: We’re still figuring out what the podcast’s voice is online. We currently have about 23,000 social media followers because we were hosting Instagram lives every week during the podcast’s run. But after all the episodes ran, we took a break and are now trying to find a creative way to re-engage that audience.

All episodes of Anything for Selena are available now in English and Spanish.

Learn more about Apple Podcasts Best of 2021 shows and start listening for free on Apple Podcasts. These interviews were edited and condensed for length.