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.”