Three and a half years ago, Luke Brawner was commuting to work from Tomball to the Heights. As a worship leader and long time musician he was hearing more than enough music at work every day. The Fort Worth native needed something else to pass the time during the hour-long daily commute (a Houston story in one act).
”I started listening to audio books and podcasts,” he tells the Houston Press. “At that point I had only listened to the first season of Serial, and I loved it." Shows like Serial and Alex Blumberg's, Startup, cultivated Brawner's love of podcasting and the audio storytelling medium.
After months of filling his mornings with the sounds of other people’s stories, Luke set out to document his own. Noting the low barrier to entry for podcasting, he recalls thinking, “I can totally do this."
While the barrier to entry for podcasting is indeed low — anyone with a smartphone and hands-free earbuds can technically make one — Brawner understates the wealth of skills and knowledge he brought with him. A television producer, news cameraman, and studio musician in a previous life, Luke’s first two shows sounded less like the work of a first time podcast host and more like that of a veteran broadcaster.
Those initial shows, released one month apart in 2015, are called Sons and Doubters and Hymnistry. Both are faith-based podcasts that examine Brawner’s relationship with faith and music, respectively. Sons and Doubters, a program Luke co-hosts with friend Aaron Hale, focuses on the hosts’ difficulties with faith. “It’s an honest conversation about the moments in life when faith is difficult and doubt is easy.” Luke describes the show as coming from a Christian world view but not necessarily a Christian show.
Following the mild yet promising success of his first two shows, Brawner began seriously considering the need to start a media network. He and his co-producers needed an outlet from which to launch future projects, and the initial launch of two parallel shows already felt more like a network than a one-off independent podcast.
In March of 2017, he released the first episode of what quickly became his most popular podcast. The H has become something of a standard bearer in the small world of Houston podcasting. The storytelling program is a longform narrative show with noteworthy Houstonians as guests. From business owners to artists to tastemakers, The H is a celebration of Houston’s unique and diverse identity. Now in it’s third season, it is also Brawner’s most consistently listened to program.
Shortly after the release of The H Luke made his network official, forming Milieu Media Group LLC in June of 2017. The name is a throwback to an artist development project he once started in Fort Worth called Milieu Artist Cooperative. Today the network houses nine podcasts, with four more in development for 2019.
The network’s most buzzed about new show is a project Brawner created with singer/songwriter, Latifah Alattas, along with their mutual friend and Luke's original co-host, Aaron Hale. Moda Spira Podcast is a track-by-track companion to the latest album by Latifah's similarly named solo-project, Moda Spira. The album, Divorce, is a painful and profound expression of Alattas' journey through divorce. The accompanying podcast is a gut wrenching retelling of that story by the artist herself.
In the first week of its release, Moda Spira Podcast broke the top 30 on iTunes' music podcasts chart. "I have not been surprised by its success," says Brawner, who knew from the moment he heard her album that his friend's difficult story could best be delivered with an accompanying podcast.
"I knew the album would be challenging to a lot of her listeners," Brawner says. Understanding how sensitive and potentially taboo the topic of divorce is among an evangelical audience, Luke and Latifah felt the podcast would give them an opportunity to tell her story in the most direct and honest way, allowing hesitant listeners to better cope with the raw honesty of a challenging work of art.
"When people think of podcasting, I want them to think of Houston." Luke admits it's a strange goal, both obscure and extremely difficult. Nonetheless, it is one to which he is fully committed.
Follow Luke on Instagram at @lukebrawner and discover all of the shows he's producing and hosting at milieumediagroup.com/