Podcasting is one of the fastest-growing storytelling mediums. Ahead of her workshop on writing for the ear, we spoke to Beth Atkinson-Quinton about how writing for audio can create intimate moments of honesty and vulnerability.
In your upcoming workshop, you’ll be teaching participants how to develop and create stories that are perfect for podcasts. What do you think sets audio storytelling apart from other formats?
I think audio storytelling is so special because as most people listen through headphones, listening to someone else’s voice inside your head is deeply intimate. Listeners are co-creators of the story by translating the tone of voice, words and music into visuals as they listen. It’s one of the only mediums you can engage with with your eyes closed. I also think that a microphone is less invasive than say a video camera, so it allows producers to bring out beautiful nuggets of vulnerability and honesty in a relatively non-confrontational way that really celebrates the truths about human experience.
It seems like we’ve come into a golden era for podcasts. The number of people who listen to them daily has skyrocketed in recent years and this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Do you think the industry has changed in response to this popularity?
Expanding audiences have meant that more people are making podcasts. Organizations are using podcasts as a means of marketing their brands, and smartphones are democratizing the audio space meaning that there are huge amounts of independent podcasts being made. In saying that, there are a lot of poorly produced podcasts being made. I think as the technology and audience has grown so fast, educational institutions have not been able to keep up so there haven’t been a lot of options available to get trained in creating well produced podcasts. There’s of course a lot of information on the internet but there’s also a lot of differing opinions in what constitutes a good podcast. Only now are we starting to see podcasts reflected in our media education spaces.
Where would you like to see the industry go in the coming years?
I would love to see more funding available for independent podcasts. I would love to see community radio stations better embracing the medium. I would love to hear more experimentation with form. I would love to hear more international collaborations. I would love to see a google docs for audio editing so you edit audio in real time with your collaborator in another part of the world.
Are there any common mistakes that people make when they first start experimenting with audio storytelling? What advice would you give to people trying to avoid these mistakes?
I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when making a podcast for the first time is underestimating the amount of time it takes to produce high quality work and often not creating a realistic production schedule. I always encourage new producers to have a few episodes up their sleeve before putting out their first episode. I also think that so often new producers look to their favourite successful American podcasts to emulate, which isn’t a bad thing, but emulating a podcast that has a full time production team of 10, when you have an indie production team of people working around full time jobs, is impossible, but there’s space there to create exciting work from small indie teams where people can really hone their strengths which is often unique stories, interesting characters and engaging form.
What are some key features of a great audio storyteller?
I think the best audio storytellers are genuinely curious and also highly emotionally intelligent. It’s so important as a producer be sensitive to the stories you tell, the people you interview and the people you collaborate with. I think you can hear when interviewees feel cared for and held by producers.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I've got my hand in a few different pies - I'm mentoring some emerging producers for The Arts Centre's Sound As Ever podcast, gearing up to launch community-driven podcast network Broadwave at Audiocraft next month, broadcasting on Triple R and working on an photographic & audio art series with my friend and collaborator Snehargho Ghosh.
About Beth Atkinson-Quinton
Beth Atkinson-Quinton is a broadcaster, producer and educator based in Narrm (Melbourne). Her audio stories have been featured on multiple broadcasts and podcasts including ABC Radio National, Triple R and ‘All The Best’. She has produced podcasts with The Arts Centre, The Australian Red Cross, Dancehouse and Footscray Community Arts Centre. She is currently a freelance producer and presents ‘The Breakfast Spread’ on PBS 106.7 FM. Passionate about connecting audiences to storytelling, she has presented podcast workshops with The Walkley Foundation, Emerging Writers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.