Now might not sound like the most auspicious time to start a new company, but don’t tell that to Jared Gutstadt, the production music pioneer who recently left Jingle Punks, the company he founded in 2008 (which was bought by Ole in 2015) to launch Audio Up. The creator of “Bear and a Banjo,” the podcast he launched in 2019, Audio Up debuted the Dennis Quaid-hosted interview show, “The Dennissance,” last week. The series revolves around the actor chatting with a wide variety of guests, starting with Billy Ray Cyrus and including Billy Bush, Tanya Tucker and John Carter Cash.

Quaid narrated “Bear and a Banjo,” Gutstadt’s collaboration with Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd in which the group spun improvisational tales rooted in music history. The concept attracted interest from iHeartRadio, which distributed the podcast, and One Medical, which sponsored it.

“Podcasts can be like music videos were for MTV, promotional vehicles,” says Gutstadt, a student of history who points to radio shows by Hank Williams, sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour, or Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, with its home station WSM taking its call letters from the slogan of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company (“We Shield Millions”) that discovered artists like Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. “Everything old is new again, especially as a medium like podcasting begins to develop into a major player,” he says.

Apple, iHeartRadio and Spotify have made significant investments in the space and such companies look to the likes of Gutstadt for ideas.“I’ve literally never been this busy in my life,” marvels Gutstadt. “It’s a whole new world.”

Gutstadt says the weekly podcast is “the mannequin in the window,” but its reach extends far beyond. “Bear and a Banjo,” for example, released a new song a week which was compiled into a full album at the end of the series and included a track written to previously unreleased lyrics provided by Bob Dylan. Says Gutstadt: “It’s a great example of how this works across a number of verticals, from music and publishing to brand awareness. I realized there was potentially a much bigger business in audio storytelling, which served as the perfect complement for the skillsets in composing production music I already had. I wanted to create the next ‘A Star Is Born,’ ‘Frozen’ or ‘Country Strong,’ except as a podcast. I want to tell really cool stories that have music in their DNA.”

Upcoming Audio Up podcasts include “Make It Up As We Go,” a scripted female-centric country musical that takes listeners inside a Nashville writing room, from iHeartRadio on-air personality Bobby Bones and Scarlett Burke, and “Uncle Drank,” a fictional country singer whose music will be released via a joint venture with Warner Records.

“Uncle Drank” has a colorful backstory. As revealed in the “Totally Hammered” podcast, he’s been missing since splitting for spring break 30 years ago, leaving behind a catalog that includes such hits as “Hand-job at Happy Hour,” “Whatever Don’t Teqkilla Will Make You Stronger” and “Vacay Is My Biznay and Biznay Is Cray Cray.”  His latest effort is the timely novelty single, “I’m Dying for a Corona (I Just Don’t Wanna Die).”

As a medium that has found it prohibitively expensive to license songs, podcasts are increasingly looking to create its own original music, which represented the perfect opportunity for Gutstadt’s idea to start building a publishing catalog and IP content. “I saw that as a sweet spot, an open field to play in,” he says.

And it certainly hasn’t hurt him doing all this in the middle of a pandemic — although recent comments by Quaid during a “Dennissance” press tour praising President Trump for “doing a good job” battling the coronavirus didn’t do anyone any favors. As most people self-isolate at home, Gutstadt says he sees podcast working “the same way today as when people hovered around their radios during the Great Depression or wartime, listening to FDR’s Fireside Chats.”

UnIntimidated by the need to pivot, Gutstadt is looking forward to the future, as uncertain as it might be. “I get to write, produce and publish the music associated with all these projects,” he says. “All the amazing relationships I developed as a composer has led to this moment. I realize I’ve been a passenger in my career to this point. It’s time to start driving.”