Christine Schiefer (’16) and Em Schulz (’16) launched their podcast And That’s Why We Drink in 2017. Now they tour the country performing in front of sold-out crowds. Vintage Fox Photography
It took a move to LA for two classmates to find friendship, and success, with the podcast And That’s Why We Drink
By Emma Guillén
“I’m so excited by this story—so excited,” Em Schulz says at the beginning of episode 86 of And That’s Why We Drink, a podcast focused on true crime and paranormal stories. “I’ve never done so much research,” Schulz says before launching into an hour-long rendition of the story of Harold the haunted doll, a possessed toy that leaves a trail of tragedy in its path.
Schulz’s podcasting partner, Christine Schiefer reacts with gasps and profane exclamations. She also monitors a ghost-hunter’s EMF meter for fluctuations, and occasionally refills her wine glass. Then it’s her turn—she’s the true-crime half of the team—and she counters Harold with the story of the Zodiac Killer.
Schiefer (’16) and Schulz (’16) studied together at COM, but only became friends after reconnecting in Los Angeles. While they pursued television careers, the two began hanging out. As their friendship blossomed, they realized they spent most of their time talking about true crime and sharing paranormal stories; eventually, they decided to turn their sometimes spooky, always hilarious conversations into a podcast. They’re hardly alone in launching a podcast—by one estimate, 25,000 podcast titles were added to iTunes in April and May 2018 alone—but Schiefer and Schulz found an audience with And That’s Why We Drink. Two years after recording their first episode, they’ve surpassed one million downloads and now tour the US recording the show live in front of sold-out crowds. The hosts mix the natural banter of close friends with the gruesome details of unsolved murders, exorcisms, cannibalism—and one demonic doll. COMtalk asked Schiefer and Schulz more about the origins of their podcast and how they’re handling its success.
COMtalk: Tell us a little about your friendship and what it’s like to collaborate on this podcast.
Christine Schiefer: We were in a class of about 15 [at COM], but were never close, despite living across the street from one another. It wasn’t until we were both in LA, and both pretty lonely, that we decided it might be time to reconnect. Em invited me to a harvest festival and as we trudged through a muddy corn maze and cheered on the pigs during a hog race, we realized we were destined to be friends. I’m pretty sure Em just wanted to hang out with my dog, Gio. I let it slide, though, because I loved hearing Em’s ghost stories.
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What was your introduction to podcasts?
Schiefer: When I first moved out to LA, I felt pretty isolated and directionless. Listening to podcasts wasn’t only a distraction, but also an awesome way to feel connected. People sometimes say this about our show, but it’s true that listening to a podcast you love can feel like you’re hanging out with friends. The first podcast I ever listened to was Astonishing Legends.
Do you remember the moment when the idea for And That’s Why We Drink was born?
Em Schulz: [After] two months of Christine and I hanging out every day and sharing creepy stories, I was sitting at work and thought it would be a fun friend project to record our conversations. I had no idea that anyone would listen to us.
Schiefer: I was scared to commit to such a big project with someone I had only just befriended. We brainstormed topics and it didn’t take long for us to land on paranormal and true crime, as those were the two topics we were most familiar with and had the most fun talking about. We really struggled with the podcast’s name, though. We’re embarrassed to admit that our podcast was originally called Eerie & Theory. It wasn’t until we invested almost all our money in audio equipment on blind faith alone that one of us said, “That’s why I drink.” There was a long pause and we knew the name had to be changed.
You both studied television at COM. Did the program teach you certain skills that have influenced or helped shape the podcast?
Schiefer: The most applicable one for me is storytelling. It was at BU that I realized I wanted to write for a living, and COM helped me hone my craft and strengthen my voice.
Schulz: My production design class at BU got me interested in building props, designing for movies, and ultimately working in the graphics department. Because of that, our logo was created—and having a logo was one of the first things we celebrated together as cohosts.
Since beginning the podcast in February of 2017, you’ve surpassed a million downloads. What do you think has made ATWWD so successful?
Schiefer: We ask ourselves that every day! This isn’t something we ever expected, but turning a passion into a fun project has carried us this far. Nothing about our research and recording sessions has felt like work.
Schulz: Everyone we’ve spoken to about the show has said that they love our friendship, hearing us laugh at each other and be goofy together. True crime and the paranormal are also themes that are always interesting, so the stories can be entertaining for people of all demographics.
What has changed since you’ve started working on the podcast full time?
Schiefer: It’s not all sitting around drinking wine and watching ghost shows, although that’s part of the gig, too. Because we built this from the ground up, it’s been a crash course in business management. I never thought I’d know the ins and outs of small business labor law in California, and yet here I am. All that being said, it’s all been worth it to create our own dream careers.
Walk us through the process of creating weekly episodes.
Schiefer: When we first started the podcast, we picked topics that were near and dear to our hearts, or ones we knew well. As time went on, we started to rely on our listeners to tell us what they wanted to hear. We have a long list of listener suggestions that we reference if we’re not sure what to cover that week. Our listeners have sent us a lot of crazy topics that we’ve never even heard of before.
Schulz: I wish it sounded more professional, but I get my stories off of Google. We also have a backlog of requests that listeners have sent in, so when I have a creative block, I use that list. I find as much information as I can on the story, break it down into a page of notes, and then read off the page to Christine. We don’t have anything scripted, otherwise the reactions wouldn’t be real.
Do you work in a studio?
Schiefer: If by “studio” you mean the spare room in my house, then yes! Although a lot has changed, many things have stayed the same. We still record out of my house, still use the same audio equipment we bought two years ago and are still incredulous at how far the show has come.
What exactly is involved in running a professional podcast?
Schulz: Now that the podcast has taken off, the most important things for us are scheduling and upkeep: staying on top of emails, planning our recording schedule in advance, maintaining a social media presence, checking in on merch inventory and inquiries, prepping story notes and travel itineraries and, of course, editing future episodes. The big trick these days is doing all of this while also on the road. I’m glad I’m in this with Christine: When one of us is overwhelmed, we’re both really good at handling things for each other.
What are some challenges of touring and performing live?
Schiefer: Touring is exhilarating, but exhausting—I’m typing this out after my first full night of sleep in three weeks. I just feel lucky that Em and I get to go on this crazy adventure together. As for performing live, that preshow panic never seems to go away, but I think that’s just part of the process. We both try to be really open about mental health and our struggles with anxiety, and I think that resonates with people, which helps if we ever come off a bit scatterbrained onstage.
Schulz: I still have stage fright, but luckily I found the right antianxiety medication to get me through it. It’s helped a lot and because of that we’ve been able to perform at some great venues.
Do you see ATWWD as your future, or do you intend to branch out?
Schiefer: It’s our main career focus. That being said, we’re currently working with a few people on expanding the podcast in other ways, and we’re extremely excited to get started on some new projects. I can’t say too much because it’s all super top secret, but keep an eye out for some exciting announcements in the near future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.