Thoughts from Audiocraft 2018

Audiocraft, Australia’s leading podcast event, took place last weekend and included two days of talks and workshops covering the best in audio production. I’ve come away with a range of ideas, from refining interview techniques, to sharpening my script writing and thinking about integrating sound or music more seamlessly into story.


Jesse Baker and Collin Campbell open Audiocraft 2018, Nicole Cama

Think Big with Audible

Jesse Baker and Collin Campbell

Audiocraft opened with a session by Jesse Baker and Collin Campbell from Audible. They asked: How do you know it is a series and not a single story? What happens when great characters don’t work well on tape? How do you make ‘sense memories’ come to life? How can I make my characters relatable? Why should listeners want to listen to or care about my podcast?

There were also some interesting takeaways from the session:

  • Sometimes a story becomes a pile of questions. Some choose to structure their episodic narrative based on those questions
  • You need to know where your podcast ends, especially if there’s no neat ending
  • You can’t cover every plot point or bring every scene to life.

One thing that seemed to resonate well with the audience was:

You will do your most creative work by figuring out which rules you’re going to break

Searching for the Australian Sound

This session interrogated the fascinating concept of the ‘Australian Sound’ and was structured around a series of lightning talks.

Johanna Bell artfully examined the way Australians use prolonged pauses as they speak, and what that means for story and audio production. It was something that never occurred to me, as someone quite new to the world of interviewing and audio production, that Australians struggle with talking about themselves when compared to those from other countries, and this invariably impacts the way we tell our stories. Bell pointed to tall poppy syndrome and the social shame of being more visible than those around you.

The problem is that it [tall poppy] masks our line of sight with these stories. A lot of people don’t think they have a story to tell.

Namila Benson spoke about the ‘discomfort, denial, decolonising’ that goes on in discussions about race and the importance of critiquing structures that enable this content to be broadcast, shared etc. She asks not what is the Australian Sound, but should the Australian Sound be?

Mike Williams spoke about the importance of authenticity in a podcast; that it’s not about the topic, it’s about the way it’s expressed. He asked: Are you putting yourself on the line?

Fine Tune

Jess O’Callaghan, Jon Tjhia & Jaye Kranz

This fascinating session asked audience members to consider casting music and sound as a character in your story and as another way of conveying information beyond dialogue. They shared some fascinating examples of music/sound integrations in story, including the very powerful first two minutes and 45 seconds of ‘They Tell Me You Are Wicked’, performed and produced by Robert Andersson.

A few tips/questions from this session:

  • When matching music/sound think about what’s happening in the story and what sort of mood is being set
  • Listen to musicians talk about making their music
  • Creating a ‘pocket universe’ for the listener
  • Try to evoke the experience of something rather than the fact of something
  • How do you want the listener to feel as they’re listening?

Under the Hood with Planet Money

Robert Smith

Robert Smith spoke about the process the team at the hugely successful ten-year-old podcast, Planet Money, go through to turn news into narrative and make economics interesting. A few tips:

  • Find the little story in the big idea
  • Give people a reason to keep listening
  • The word ‘explore’ implies you have no direction for the story
  • Who is the character in your story?
  • Make a map of the structure for your story even before you’ve started pursuing the story and its characters. Make sure your map contains a question and a promise.

Day two of Audiocraft was comprised of workshops at AFTRS.

How to write for radio

Sophie Townsend

ABC producer Sophie Townsend took us through the process of structuring story (going through the three-act structure), writing script and editing narration. Townsend weaved audio in to her presentation to demonstrate the power of minimalist and sensitive scripting, and being brave enough to keep some of those silences. Listen to a couple of those examples below:

Art of the Interview

Beverley Wang and Leona Hameed

It’s Not A Race’s Beverley Wang and Leona Hameed presented a fantastic workshop on preparing, conducting and editing the interview. There was so much in this session that was useful, here’s a summary based on the slides provided by Wang and Hameed:

  • It’s important to know what type of interview you want before you start. What do you want to get out of it?
  • Pre interview people as much as possible. Take lots of notes and use that to shape the interview questions
  • For ethics and fair dealing the ABC have a range of policies freely accessible at https://edpols.abc.net.au/
  • Listen to what your guest is saying and ask follow up questions based on the answers your guests give you
  • Get comfortable with silence. Don’t rush, don’t jump into the gaps
  • Your interview won’t always go to plan. Don’t get stuck in it. Follow the flow of the conversation. Have a question guide and group your questions by topic. What are the three main topics you want to cover?
  • Know when to wrap
  • ‘It’s not about you’! You aren’t there to prove yourself as an interviewer or to insert yourself into their story.

In the post-interview stage:

  • What were your favourite moments of the interview? What stands out? Note it down
  • Were there any funny bits?
  • Were there any awkward moments?
  • Did you have any revelatory moments?
  • Are there any gaps? What’s missing?

Final note

One of the most powerful moments for me was listening to Gus Fitzgerald present his story, alongside Johanna Bell. For more info, see Spun — a live storytelling event in Darwin.

The conference talks were recorded, so definitely follow Audiocraft to listen to those when they’re published.