Brian Howe started his podcast in 2014, recording casual discussions with friends. Now, close to 200 episodes later, he’s turning common conversation threads into specialized, multi-person panel discussions.

By Ashlee Green

Brian Howe, creator of START THE BEAT with Sikes, a podcast for and about Pittsburgh artists, creatives and the people they inspire, has figured out an effective formula for making friends in his 30s: Inviting people on his podcast.

“It’s funny. I guess there’s a part of me that judges how good of a friend I could be with somebody by how unavailable they are,” he says. “I try to surround myself with people that are working hard on things.”

Howe noticed an empty space in the conversations creative people were having with one another and hoped his podcast could fill it.

“Nobody’s really talking about what they’re doing outside of their art, or why they do it, or what it’s like juggling full-time jobs, juggling school, juggling children, family, with all of this art that they’re putting out,” he says.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures are on display in Howe’s home studio. “I told myself, ‘I’m never going to buy a Ninja Turtles thing again,’” Howe said. “Then [these] got released.”
The podcast, which he started in 2014 and now has close to 200 episodes, began with no standard platform. It was just conversations between Howe and his close friends, like Ashley Corts of Black Forge Coffee House and Mike Hitt of MCM Studios. Once it became more regular, Howe began to receive requests from people he didn’t know asking to be a guest on his show. At some point, he says, the number of requests was so great that he “lost control of who was on the show.” The one-on-one dialogues became soapboxes for people promoting their new albums.

“I started to feel like I was being taken advantage of,” he says. “I wasn’t saying ‘no.’” Howe began to ask himself, “How can I make this fun again?,” and came up with the concept of panel discussions.

“A lot of people have the same struggles in the city, a lot of
people excel in the same ways. We’re talking about a lot of the same venues, same social circles,” he explains. He took these common conversation threads and created specialized, multi-person panels around each of them. There’s an episode in the works right now, for example, that features Diana “Dingo” Ngo and Brooks Criswell from the heavy metal-themed vegan restaurant Onion Maiden and John Huxley from hard rock band Jakethehawk examining the interactions between music and the food industry. The panelists discuss how writing a song can be similar to
crafting a menu and how people in the service industry often don’t get a voice.

“Being a chef is an art form that gets overlooked,” says Howe. “Say you go to a show and you watch a live band perform. Chances are, you’ll have a good opportunity after seeing their set to be like, ‘Wow, that was really awesome.’ But if you go out to a restaurant, you don’t get that opportunity.” He admits he’s often found himself in a slump on his show, featuring “a whole lot of guys talking about being in their bands” for stretches at a time, but hopes the panel discussions will change this. He’s putting out a call for more female identifying individuals and people of color to be on the show.

“I’m trying to make sure that [with] every panel that I’m doing, I have as diverse of a lineup as possible regarding race, gender, even just social scene background,” he said. “It keeps the conversation interesting.”

START THE BEAT isn’t the only project Howe is involved in. He works full-time at Get Hip Recordings. His “main baby” is his solo hip-hop material, which he releases under the name Sikes. He plays in a metal band called Greywalker, who put out an album in July, and is a co-coordinator for Brewtal Beer Fest, an annual all-day music and craft beer festival. The full-band version of his solo work, Sikes and the New Violence, is dropping a new album, “Modern Modesty,” this November.

“I get stressed out a lot, but I try to remember that I’m not getting paid for a lot of the things that I do, so there’s not that much of a responsibility… I work on what I want to work on,” he says. Before START THE BEAT began, Howe was in a bad place: “growing pains,” he calls it, which was evident in some of his older music. He jokes that podcast episodes serve as “low-key therapy sessions” for him, and each one is another chance for him to self-reflect. He’s trying not to take life so seriously.

“The only way I could possibly remain productive and do all the things that I want to do is by being one hundred percent honest,” he says. “It’s too much work to keep up a facade.”

Howe is still at the point where most of his listeners are friends, but he’s eager to see how that changes in the future.

“It’s wild going places and seeing people you don’t know wearing your band’s shirt,” he says. He’s thankful for where he is now, and excited to drop his new album, which he says shows his goofy side again. As for his goals with START THE BEAT, Howe wants to bring the show to a broader audience, especially non-musicians. He’s busy, and that’s how he likes it:

“I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, that’s for sure.”

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