Sonal Chokshi is editor in chief at a16z crypto, where she leads the editorial team and also runs & hosts the web3 with a16z podcast. Prior to that, Sonal was Editor in Chief for Andreessen Horowitz (aka ‘a16z’), which she joined in early 2014 to build the editorial operation, overseeing all content products from written pieces to email newsletter to websites to multimedia. This included her co-writing, editing, and assigning several viral, industry-defining pieces on tech trends and company building — as well as producing, hosting, and showrunning the popular and influential a16z Podcast (and network). Sonal grew the fledgling show into a top 1% show.
Before coming to a16z, Sonal was a Senior Editor at WIRED, where she built up the influential expert opinion/ideas section into one of the chart-leading sections there. She was one of the first mainstream editors to feature several then-nascent trends such as Ethereum, e-sports, the sharing economy, and many more; her work also started or shaped important conversations around the future of the internet and several top-of-mind topics in tech policy. Prior to joining WIRED, Sonal was responsible for content and community at the infamous innovation center Xerox PARC for several years, where she dove deep with top experts on topics ranging from bioinformatics and cleantech to AI/natural language, optoelectronics, many more.
I never listened to many podcasts at first. And as the longtime showrunner of the a16z Podcast Network (which I built and grew from 2014-2022), it was actually a bit of an “occupational hazard” for me: I found myself editing podcasts in my head, or just not being able to enjoy them in the same way…
But once the pandemic hit and I spent more time on walks, all those voices on podcasts and on social audio became my “pocket friends” – thanks to the power of mobile phones as computers-in-our-pockets, constant connectivity, and the revolutionary portability of wireless headphones. Such technology has made it possible for us to listen, learn, laugh, cry together – even if asynchronously and while on the move – and the podcasts I’ve curated below are all personal favorites that I listen to for pleasure, to push my thinking, or for creative inspiration.
You can check out these links for: more on my editorial “playbook” on podcasting; views on the overall trend/future of audio; the backstory and evolution of my past shows; and my current show web3 with a16z. But below is my playlist, specially curated for Pocket Casts!
While it’s described as the “secret or forgotten” history of Hollywood’s first century, You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth is for me really a show about the business, and technology, of creativity. Whether it’s the evolution of the studio system to New Hollywood and cult of the auteur to the impact of the Production Code – or the shift from silent to sound technology or changes due to new distribution models, this show covers it all. But ultimately it’s the people’s stories that really hook me, from Merle Oberon’s to Louis B. Mayer’s. My absolute favorite episodes of this podcast however were the “Polly Platt: The Invisible Woman” (2020) season, based on Platt’s unfinished, unpublished memoir It Was Worth It – and featuring actor Maggie Siff as the voice of Platt. Audio storytelling at its best!
Featuring interviews with leading film and TV creators about their process and craft, this show from IndieWire is my absolute favorite to listen to for creative inspiration. (If you’ve seen the movie Bring It On, where they combine insights from jazz and ballet and more to inspire their cheerleading routines, well, then this show is my version of “borrowing inspiration” from everywhere!) My favorite genre of editorial is the “process behind the outcomes” and this show is all that – because you never otherwise know how many countless details and decisions went into crafting the final product, from editing to lighting to so much more… I love hearing every little bit.
Similarly, this show features a different director interviewed every episode who shares behind-the-scenes stories and process details of a particular film they directed. My favorite thing to do is to go here immediately after watching a movie to find that specific episode so I can learn more about the process-behind-the-outcomes. Brought to listeners by the Director’s Guild of America, this show features industry peers interviewing the directors as opposed to being interviewed by a single repeat host. I love that approach because I firmly believe that nuanced expertise is key to successful podcasting, and is what differentiates the high-signal, quality shows from all the rest.
Yet another pick where artists are asked to delve into the specific decisions that went into creating their works, Song Exploder focuses on musicians who take apart their songs piece by piece, telling the story of how that song was made. The show is produced and hosted by one of my favorites Hrishikesh Hirway – who is himself a talented musician and creator all round! – and I love that Hrishikesh edits the interviews to focus tightly on more signal than noise (which I too love to do!).
I am loving this growing trend of “ephemeral”, limited-edition podcasts that are created for a specific purpose – such as this one, a 10-episode podcast companion to the HBO MAX limited-series on television, based on the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The podcast is co-hosted by showrunner Patrick Somerville with Vulture writer Angelica Jade Bastién, and together they interview various people involved in the show – from head production designer to actors to later the author – for behind-scenes insights and deep dives into storylines, themes, characters, decisions made and decisions not made. Listening to this was an almost magical experience for me, and hearing it vs. seeing it somehow let me more viscerally experience all the makers’ journeys!
Co-hosted by Kim France – founding editor in chief of my all-time favorite magazine Lucky – this show is billed as a show for women over 40, but it’s really about how to navigate change of all kinds. The show features interviews with various book authors and others, and I actually heard about my first podcast pick on this list (You Must Remember This’ Polly Platt season) on this podcast! I love how podcasts are often the best way to discover other podcasts; it’s so uniquely special about the medium.
Boys Club is a social DAO (decentralized autonomous organization)/community and media company which produces a newsletter and podcasts – including one “for the deeply online”, where the hosts and guests talk about the new internet and future of emerging tech, culture, and commerce. Hosts (and Boys Club co-founders) Deana Burke & Natasha Hoskins help cut through the noise around hot topics in the zeitgeist, and do so in a way that helps bring context to our fast-moving world of feeds. They also help make insidery topics feel much more accessible to more people wanting to learn about topics like crypto and web3.
While I am a huge fan of the growing trend and appetite for in-depth insights on air, I am not a fan of most pop sci podcasts – even those hosted by so-called experts. If anything, the popularity of such shows shows the hunger for smart content, reinforcing my long-held belief that audiences are very smart and willing to go beyond the surface. Unfortunately, many of the most popular shows distill complexity and nuance into cheap soundbites, or over-extrapolate expertise from one field to another. But Dr. Peter Attia’s show is remarkable in both its depth and clarity, and his “neutral but clear when opinionated” tone is something I strongly respect and relate to! I have learned SO much about health (including women’s health, which is not elsewhere often covered) from this show – and am looking forward to now reading his oft-recommended book, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity (Penguin Random House, 2023) as well.
This show is hosted by my friend Matt Abrahams, a lecturer of strategic communication at Stanford Graduate School of business, and executive coach who specializes in strategic communication, interpersonal communication, persuasive communication, and spontaneous communication in any situation. I previously interviewed him on how to moderate talks, panels, and workshops (not just in person but virtually too) here. Besides his own popular podcast, Matt has a book coming out this fall to help people master the techniques of communication: Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot (Simon & Schuster; September 2023).
I grew up watching the PBS show Reading Rainbow, which was hosted by LeVar Burton. Launched in 1983, the show was intended to address the “summer loss phenomena” where kids didn’t read as much once out of the classroom – but then the show became a bigger educational and cultural phenomenon. I have always been bullish on audio for education, so to be able to experience Burton’s voice decades later, but with new technology – sound effects [which they call “soundscapes” and I define differently] – is truly special. The audio isn’t just immersive technically, however; Burton reads the short fictional stories himself, yet somehow adds dimension so it’s like going from a 2-D to a 3-D world inside your head. And the way it makes you feel is remarkable! You must start with LeVar Burton reading Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie”.