Producers are the heart and soul of any great podcast. They work tirelessly behind-the-scenes, turning hours of interviews, music, and archival audio into works of art. We sat down with Wonder Media Network’s Director of Audio Liz Smith & Earwolf Producer Kimmie Lucas who shared with us how they got their start in audio, what they love about podcasts, and how other women in audio inspire them.
How did you first get into audio?
Liz Smith: Growing up, my Dad was a professional musician so I was always around music and recording gear. It was around age 7 that I acquired a Talkboy Tape Recorder a la Kevin McCallister in Home Alone that my interest in audio production really took off. It wasn’t until late college that I figured out that I could turn my audio related hobbies into a full fledged career, which led me to pursue a Masters Degree in Music Technology at NYU. From there I finally had the time to intern and work in the audio industry proper, from Electric Lady Studios to Heritage Radio Network which gave me my first job in podcasting.
Kimmie Lucas: As a child, my family would take long road trips from California to Florida and back to visit family. To keep my sister and I from losing our minds, my mother would play this radio series, The Adventures in Odyssey, which was basically a Christian-version of the Prairie Home Companion. I was obsessed — I probably listened to hundreds of hours. I can still tell you so many of the plotlines, characters, and even quotes. For me, audio was always an incredibly valid medium for storytelling. It was only recently that I realized everyone didn’t grow up listening to radio plays!
Tell us, why podcasting?
Liz: Admittedly, at first podcasting seemed like an easy way to make money outside my recording studio work. Editing voice overs and cutting clips? Easy money! However, I grew to appreciate the art of aural storytelling more and more as I was a big drama and speech team kid in high school. Podcast production fused the creativity of music production with the narrative nature of a play, plus normal working hours, so needless to say, I was hooked.
Kimmie: I realized how moving audio was the first time This American Life made me cry at my desk. And as a medium, it feels pretty punk rock (said by a not very punk rock person). All you need is a microphone, a computer, and a vision, and you can have a podcast. I loved comedy podcasts, because it was funny, talented people who decided just to make something themselves. I fell in love with how empowering that was, as both a creative and a listener. As a listener, I loved finding a community and a world I could dive into. As a creator, that was an addicting idea.
What types of pieces do you most enjoy being a part of?
Liz: I am a big fan of all narrative podcast work, especially documentary style series. Recently, I’ve loved producing Ordinary Equality; there’s so much archival audio to weave together with what’s happening on the ground today. You quickly learn that history will repeat itself without the ability to look back and react. That’s where our production comes in.
Kimmie: I love collaborative, produced comedy. The community around comedy podcasts is passionate, so trying to make things which can make a bad day a little better, but also has the love and care of a producer’s touch (with editing, music, and shaping) is a dream. And one of the joys of Earwolf/Stitcher is being surrounded by many creative, inspiring people who can help you grow as a producer.
How do you think about the music choices in your shows?
Liz: When curating music for a series, I often try to come up with a big list of audio assets that I want the series to reflect. It’s more of a feel than anything. From music indicative of a certain time period to stuff that I just think sounds cool or plays off the cheekiness of a script or host delivery. I try to keep an open mind and make fun choices that perhaps aren’t the most obvious.
Kimmie: Music is such a fun part of podcasting. Sometimes the music choices are easy — like your host is dating a grammy-award winning musician who writes a jingle for your show. But, most of the time, it is not that easy. I love choosing the intro music for my show GROCERIES, which always begins with an absurd, in-character reading from hosts Erin or Bryan from the back of some food item’s packaging. Listening through the character choice, and slowly poking through a music library is a soothing part of my day. I so often end up in polka music — who doesn’t love polka music! For me, it’s about matching the rhythm and energy of the music to the rhythm and energy of the hosts.
How is podcasting different from other artistic mediums you’ve worked in?
Liz: Podcasting is different than other mediums in that it’s made to be incredibly personal and immersive. The host is talking to you, the guests are bringing you into their world and expertise. Music is meant to highlight and further expand upon the story so you have the best listening experience possible. Often times, pieces are specifically mixed for the headphone experience, so that speaks to the medium’s intent.
Kimmie: Coming from a background in TV, it is a joy to be able to focus on one sense. I love that focus. TV was fun but there are so many elements to always be worrying about. I also love how few people it takes to make audio. The voices behind a project can become more focused, and a producer can be hands-on in a way that isn’t possible in TV or film. I love to be involved in multiple parts of the process, from content-shaping to editing to marketing to PR to art. Podcasting lets you do that easily.
What are some other stellar women producers you’ve worked with?
Liz: I would be amiss if I didn’t give a massive shoutout to the WMN production team: Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, Maddy Foley, Edie Allard, Luisa Garbowit, and Jenny Kaplan! Working with these women every day is a dream and the world should watch out for the big plans we’re tackling this year!
Kimmie: So many! My Senior Producer Codi Fischer has a passion for voices and representation that I am always challenged and moved by. It’s always cool to see a creative mind and a logistics mind in one person, and Codi is that person. I am also lucky to have a group of women at the company I meet up with weekly to discuss projects and ways we could be growing ourselves as creatives. As a person who excels in a collaborative setting, I am so grateful to Renee Colvert, Kristen Torres, and Mindy Eskow for letting me join, and always asking the most thoughtful questions. Having this group has truly improved my work and given me more confidence in my choices. Everyone needs a group like this!
In honor of Women’s History Month, Wonder Media Network and Stitcher are partnering to amplify women podcast hosts, producers and audio engineers. Learn more about the partnership here.