Episode 36 – “Breath pt. 2” by Sebastian Spivey

Co-Winner in the Graduate Category of the Excellence in Podcasting Competition

At the outset of the COVID pandemic, we all became acutely aware of the vulnerability of our own ability to breathe. In this episode of the Ministry of Arts podcast, Sebastian Spivey and their team produce a vivid story of a nurse’s relationship with the relentless rhythm of the breath.

This is an episode you don’t want to miss.

What was your process for structuring this episode?  

“All of our episodes followed a format of host intro → produced story/interview → host outro. We chose this because of its familiarity to most audiences. The structure of the stories themselves was organic in response to what developed from the interview.”

Did you plan out the entire episode first or did you just experiment with audio until you found something that you liked? 

“Our production team kicked around ideas for stories based on the theme of ‘breathe’. There are two segments in this episode, the first of which I produced from start to finish. I knew what I wanted to be able to get at in the interview, but I wasn’t sure what my interviewee’s actual experience as a COVID nurse was or how she felt about it, so the sound design was decided on after editing for content. The second segment (the person with asthma) was scripted by that person, so I can’t speak to their creative decisions in terms of structure. I did the sound design for it though and I was just trying to convey the experience a little bit more viscerally without being too literal about it.”

Which did you conceptualize first: the stories you were telling or the audio you wanted to use? 

The stories.

How long did it take for you to produce this episode? 

“Oof, this is really reaching into my memory archive of a very hectic time. I’d say ten hours?”

What advice would you have for students that are interested in producing something with a similar complexity in sound design? 

“Experiment. Listen to people who are making the kind of work you want to make — the podcast field is saturated with lots of trite design and canned scripting, but there is still excellent work out there. I recommend Love + Radio and most of the stuff coming out of Radiotopia and Mermaid Palace. Gimlet’s scripted shows are also usually well done in terms of design. I have a pantheon of producers that live in my head and when I am making work I imagine that they are part of my audience even when they aren’t. 

Very practical resources: Free Music Archive has lots of CC0 (and other CC) music. Freedsound.org has tons of high quality rando sounds (also CC, and you can filter by license). You can also filter YouTube vids for their license and extract the audio. Transom and AIR Media are good resources. 

Start with low stakes stuff and set challenges for yourself — record your friends rambling about whatever and then edit it into something with a lot of layers. Use good headphones.”

Is there anything else we should know about your episode? 

“It’s so peculiar to reflect on the circumstances of production. It was late 2020, pre-vaccine, and we were all trying to process this reality that the things that had heretofore brought life and thriving — the act of breathing in, the presence of people we loved  — were now the things that were capable of bringing anxiety, sickness, death. And yet we still craved them. This episode was an attempt to get at that reality and also to create the connection and the space for deep restful breathe which we so deeply desired.”

Episode 35 – “Climate Change in Miami by Emily Irigoyen

Runner Up in the Undergraduate Category of the 2022 Excellence in Podcasting Competition

Miami, Florida is at the epicenter of many discussions about rising sea levels caused by climate change, but we rarely get to hear from the individuals displaced by it. In this short episode, Emily Irigoyen paints a vivid picture of a city inundated by floods and the state’s continued denial of the grim reality faced by thousands of citizens.

“Using very short pull quotes is very much a thing that could work well in print but in podcasting, which privileges the human voice, it doesn’t work quite as well.” 

– Jad Abumrad on the limitations of using short interview clips in podcasting

“One of the big debates you have in a story meeting is, ‘is this a topic or a story?’ and this particular piece is very much a topic [that] has story-shaped elements…There’s an opportunity here to go a little bit deeper into any one of the chapter-lets to let me see and feel and hear and taste and smell the experiences being described rather than to keep hopping around.”

– Jad Abumrad on how to turn a topic into a story

VandyVox was created by Derek Bruff and is managed by Jad Abumrad. The fifth season is hosted by Abhinav Krishnan and produced in collaboration with Vanderbilt Student Communications and the Center for Excellence in Teaching.

Episode 34 – “Diermeier and the Giant Unicorn” by College Voices

Winner in the Undergraduate Category of the 2022 Excellence in Podcasting Competition

Over the last few years, the fossil fuel divestment movement has taken the country by storm, and at Vanderbilt activists made their big debut by interrupting Chancellor Diermeier’s speech at Founders Walk in 2021. In this episode Abhinav (and a special guest) listen to College Voices’ reporting about this movement and discuss how students can create similar audio stories.

“The music knows something. I think it’s always interesting to ask, what does the music know that the listener doesn’t know yet? ‘Cause the music is the thing that can exist outside of the time of the story. It knows the past, it knows the present, it knows the future…I would say use it thoughtfully, use it as a knowing entity, use it as a punctuational entity.” 

– Jad Abumrad about using music in podcasts

How long did it take for you to produce this episode?

“This episode took dozens of hours of research, interviews, scripting, and production to complete. A lot of this work, however, also laid the groundwork for the second and third part of this divestment series”

What was your thought process behind the audio design for this episode?

“The biggest priority in creating this piece was to report accurately and ethically the scope and challenges of this movement. This topic, though, is not one that may naturally interest students, so we decided to create an introduction that tries to catch the audience’s attention. Listen closely and you’ll hear that we’ve used a lot of sound directly from the protests we attended!”

What advice would you have for students that are interested in producing something similar?

“A lot of podcasts just clip voiceovers together with some interview audio and music – this might serve your purpose but you can be a lot more creative with this medium! Try layering multiple clips over one another to create interesting effects that truly immerse the listener in your story.

Also, podcasting doesn’t need a fancy microphone or advanced editing software – you can and should get started with your phone, a headset, and Garageband! That’s still how I make my episodes!”

Credits

VandyVox was created by Derek Bruff and is managed by Jad Abumrad. The fifth season is hosted by Abhinav Krishnan and produced in collaboration with Vanderbilt Student Communications and the Center for Excellence in Teaching.

Episode 33 – “Lost in Transcription” by Steven Rodriguez et. al

Co-winner in the Graduate Category of the 2022 Excellence in Podcasting Competition

In an increasingly digital world, where Zoom meetings are now commonplace, the importance of transcripts–as a written record of audio and for accessibility–cannot be understated. In this episode, Steven Rodriguez, along with his cohosts discusses how transcripts have shaped the humanities and what can often be lost in the process.

“Overall with academic-type of communication, I feel like the key is always to anecdotalize; to talk about moments, to talk about cases, to tell stories that you can then build your academic ideas around”

– Jad Abumrad

This episode features half of the full episode produced by Steven. To listen to the full episode, click here.

What was your process for structuring this episode?

“The episode came together over the course of a week as part of the National Humanities Center’s “Podcasting the Humanities Workshop.” My co-producers and I brainstormed episode topics together and quickly decided that transcription would be a fruitful topic to explore.”

What was it like to collaborate with other producers on this episode?

“It was really rewarding to work with scholars from so many different fields. I felt that I was able to benefit from the different disciplinary perspectives.”

How long did it take for you to produce this episode?

“One week.”

What advice would you have for graduate students that are interested in producing something similar?

“Make sure you spend enough time on audio. Obviously, the content needs to be really high quality, but you can risk turning off listeners if you don’t give enough attention to making something that sounds professional, or close to it.”

You can read more about Steven’s work here:
Podcasting the Humanities

https://as.vanderbilt.edu/robert-penn-warren-center/2022/03/21/podcasting-the-humanities/

Episode 32 – “Fermi Paradox” by Lukas Berglund

Created for CSET 2100: Science Communication Tools and Techniques

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if there is another life in the universe? Lukas Berglund has and in his episode on the Fermi Paradox, he takes the audience on an engaging audio journey that tactfully discusses the existence of extraterrestrial life. He weaves a UN speech, audio from the Voyager probes, and electronic music to set the mood and immerse the audience in a succinct story.

“Overall with academic-type communications, I feel like the key is always to anecdotal; to talk about moments, to talk about cases, to tell stories that you can build your academic ideas around”

– Jad Abumrad on podcasts about abstract academic concepts

What was your process for structuring this episode? Did you plan out the entire episode first or did you just experiment with audio until you found something that you liked?

“I started with the plan to make an episode about the Fermi Paradox. I was thinking about a hook and I remembered this disk that Carl Sagan sent out to space at some point so I took a look at that. It starts with this recording from the UN representative that I put at the start of my podcast. It really blew me away the first time I listened to it. It had this old-school, peace-and-love, the-world-is-holding-hands energy that I found to be an illuminating look into the way people thought back then. Once I knew how to start it I structured the rest of the podcast around best explaining the Fermi Paradox. I was particularly interested in proposed solutions to the Fermi Paradox so I read through a lot of them on the Wikipedia page. I also think the great filter is a pretty important idea so I decided to include that too. In the end, I think I packed a lot of stuff into the episode, maybe a bit too much, which made it feel kind of hectic, but it is what it is.”

How long did it take for you to produce this episode?

“I’m guessing I put about 7 hours of work into this episode including edits I made after the first draft.”

Could you explain your thought process behind designing the door knocking and “hello” in different languages?

“To be honest, this is the weirdest part of the episode. These recordings are also part of the voyager record that I featured in the beginning of the episode, so I thought it would be a nice touch to include them in that part of the episode. But that part ended up sounding kind of awkward and obviously people didn’t know that it’s from the voyager record, so that fun detail is lost on the listener. It also didn’t help that the recordings were pretty low-quality.”

What advice would you have for students that are interested in producing something similar?

“I have a couple of miscellaneous pieces of advice:

  1. Think about what you are trying to explain and try to do it in the most natural way possible. Also, when you are writing the script, say it out loud to see what does and doesn’t sound natural. The number one thing here is that the things that read nicely do not always sound nice.
  2. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The best way to tell if something works is by making it and listening to how it sounds. Producing a podcast is usually a loop of making a change, listening to it, readjusting, listening again, etc until I find something that sounds nice.
  3. Steal stuff from people you admire. Especially at the start, I think you can learn a lot by just taking things that you like from other podcasts and trying to do the same.”