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What I learned

Audio is a different medium it needs special treatment.
So what were some of the things that you learned working on this podcast? What were some of the hazards that you had to get around? Well, the print journalists, Richard Baker and Michael Bachelard, very professional as journalists, but complete rookies when it comes to audio, completely new. And they were amazed at how different and, indeed, how difficult in a way it was because until they got to grips with what audio is as a medium, they were making all these kind of mistakes.
So simple things like not wearing headphones when you’re recording somebody so you couldn’t hear that there was wind noise essentially polluting the tape and making rumbling noises that were drowning out the words that Phoebe’s mother, Natalie, were saying. And the problem with getting an emotional interview is you can’t ask people to repeat emotion. So if you’re doing an interview that’s going to be deeply personal, you have to get the optimum sound circumstances. And because he was new to audio, Richard had her walking up a cliff, and so there was sort of breathing issues and wind issues. But they got ironed out later on. He also in one case interviewed somebody, and she had music playing in the background.
And he left that on because he thought it sounded nice. But as anybody who does editing would know, makes it impossible to edit because you can’t cut from one sentence to another because the music is still stuck in the background. So there were little things like that that were completely understandable. What the guys learned was that in an interview, you have to leave those silences in the interview. Let them hang because that gives somebody a chance to talk more, whereas as print journalist, they would just jump in with their questions because they were looking for quotes, and they wanted to get through a certain amount of stuff.
The actual pauses became really powerful, especially when for instance Phoebe’s father reads a poem that Phoebe had written, and he is almost sobbing as he reads it. And it’s about men with their wolf stares and fingering smiles, and it’s horrible. It’s about this beautiful young woman– she was very beautiful– being ogled in a way by men all her life. And Richard waits at the end and said, what do you think that was about? And the father says after a pause, I think that was about Ant, who was the boyfriend. And it’s really effective. You can feel his heartbreak, and you can also feel that she was so self-aware of the impression she made on people.
So all of that is in the audio itself. You can’t write about it. They also learned one expression that Michael said was, he said, I found audio as a very honest medium. And that was really insightful. So that’s both its strength and its weakness. Its strength is we can feel the sincerity. We empathise. But if you’re not doing it right, if you’re playing a part and not being natural, that will come through too. And they had difficulty– Richard in particular– with hosting because he wasn’t used to speaking a script. It took him a while to get into a feel for it, and he sounded a little bit wooden at times. But that’s the way. It’s not his forte.
The speaking part is not particularly– I mean, he’s actually gotten into it much more since then, and he’s now onto a second podcast. But there were little elements of production. So, for instance, we had one bit where Phoebe was seeing in an earlier part of her life, she had a relationship with her teacher. She was 16, and he was 30. Now, that relationship is actually illegal in the state of Victoria. And the music was so cheesy and chocolate boxy, it was an endorsement editorially of this relationship, which we didn’t want editorially to say.
So when I heard it, I said no, strip it out, and we actually just used natural sound in the background so that it’s just set out bare, and the listener can make up their own mind whether this is a bit off, or whether they think it’s OK, or whatever. But we’re not making a comment or a judgement on it. So simple things like that. And then things like timing. We had two instances. One was where we were talking about at Phoebe’s funeral, and there’s a beautiful description of her getting a Viking funeral by the lake. And Tom, the video production guy, had a lovely audio sensibility as well as it turned out.
And he just made a beautiful thing with bird effects, like the whistling kites, which were Phoebe’s favourite bird, and the sound of water Lapping, and just placement. So in this case, the choreography of sound– where you play sound and overlap it with other sounds so it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. And that’s the really sophisticated end of audio production, where you’re getting into the aesthetic of what audio does, just the same way that a film director has his own aesthetic or her own aesthetic. So that’s evident in that scene with the kites. And then, there’s the timing.
So we had end of episode two, we’re trying to set up a cliffhanger for episode three because you want somebody to listen on. So we had two really strong grabs. One is where the father of the boyfriend of Phoebe who was, in fact, a judge had said to him several times it’s clearly a case of suicide. And actually Phoebe’s father is a trained professional psychiatrist, and he’s reflecting on that. And he’s saying, I should have told him basically to shut– and he uses strong language– shut the F up because he said, you know, I know about that. But I bit my lip and said nothing. And you can hear the feeling in his voice. He’s so furious.
But then, the mother comes in and says that her father said just get a recorder down the shop and record the whole conversation when you go and see Ant’s apartment. And that’s another big important piece of information. And instead of letting one hang there, and have a bit of music, and let it breathe, the two were bottled up too close together so that you actually can’t take in what Len is saying. Oh, so he thinks it definitely wasn’t suicide. You have to absorb that, and you don’t have time because the mother comes in right after it too soon. So that’s an example of what not to do, which sadly got put online, but you learn as you go.
Learning through experience
  • Audio is an honest medium: voice must be sincere
  • Timing is crucial: leave space (e.g. via music) to allow important points to sink in
  • If doing very personal interviews, choose a suitable setting – quiet, no interruptions
  • Break your story into episodes based on themes, or chronology. Then fit the relevant audio under each and work on one bite-sized episode at a time
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