With the rise of the digital age and the fall of the analog, podcasts are in a strange limbo of both technological ingenuity and archaic reporting styles. However, they can be a way to tell a story, or convey information, that isn’t possible just through the written word or word of mouth. As I explore the world of podcasting on my own, I decided to ask my cousin, Kate Brouns, about her experiences of creating a podcast for NOVA as well as her current podcast Liberal Arts and Crafts. She’s currently a senior at Hamilton College in New York, and is studying literature and physics. In this interview she discusses things such as audio software, writing inspiration, and even job interviews.
What is your podcast about and how did you come up with the idea?
This summer, I helped NOVA—produced by WGBH Boston—develop an idea for a potential podcast series, titled One Good Idea. The premise is essentially that, today, science in the news tends to focus on the negatives—global warming, obesity, addiction—or else highlights monumental, successful research. We wanted to emphasize those scientists who are doing science primarily for the common good and also highlight the process of them developing these ideas. Their research doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or revolutionary; it just has to have potential and be aimed at improving people’s lives. We arrived at this podcast idea, partially because of Marc Edward’s recent role in the Flint Water Crisis. NOVA is currently working on a story with Marc Edwards, and felt they may be able to use this idea as inspiration for a podcast series. If you aren’t familiar with Marc, he is the civil engineer whose work unveiled the tragedy that was happening with Flint’s water crisis. The message he preaches is that science should be done first and foremost for the good of people, not for money or grants or reputation. One Good Idea would feature people who are doing just that!
How did you come to work on creating a podcast for NOVA, and what was your job once you got there?
Allison Eck, my boss this summer, is the Digital Associate Producer of NOVA Next, which is NOVA’s website for written scientific journalism. I heard about Allison prior to my internship, because she’s a Hamilton alum, and is only several years older than me! We have a lot in common, so I reached out to her for an informational interview. During this interview, she mentioned that NOVA did not have a podcast, but recently has been contemplating the idea of starting one. I’ve been really interested in trying my hand at podcasting and audio journalism, particularly because of my passion for music and audio, along with my passion for storytelling. I ended up emailing Allison later in the year, and posed whether or not NOVA would like to have a podcast intern for the summer. Surprisingly, they said yes!
Since this was not a listed internship nor a regular internship for NOVA, my internship was a bit make-up-as-you-go. My initial job was to collect research about the podcast “landscape,” specifically monetization, potential partnerships, metrics, distribution of podcasts, what makes a podcast successful, and all about ‘social audio.’ In other words, I read a lot about what other podcasts are doing, how they’re funding it, and what’s making them work. We also needed to know what other types of science podcasts were already out there, so that NOVA could hopefully fill some niche that people would like to listen to, something not overdone. As the summer progressed, I taught myself the basics of Adobe Audition, met with other podcasters in the business, wrote a “report” on my findings, and pitched series ideas to NOVA—One Good Idea was the one they liked best. Near the end of the summer, I conducted interviews for both One Good Idea and for an independent podcast episode I was interested in making for myself. I ended up recording my own narration and using audio editing on that independent episode, which is unaffiliated with NOVA.
What programs did you use in creating a podcast? (Audio programs, recording software, etc.)
I used primarily Adobe Audition, a version of audio editing software. When I recorded in-person interviews at MIT, I used a handheld recorder, headphones, and a microphone for the interviewee to speak into. I unfortunately don’t remember the brand of recorder, but it was pretty nifty !!
What were (or are) your favorite and least favorite parts about creating a podcast?
The hardest part (and therefore my least favorite part?) was coming up with an idea for a podcast series. This took about half the summer, just to come up with one good idea! (See what I did there?) It can be very frustrating and tiresome, like trying to come up with a topic for an essay or for an independent research project. But additionally, you have to factor in that the series can’t be something everyone else is doing. I came up with a lot of ideas that I would then google and realize that the exact same type of podcast already existed. One time I came up with a topic and title, googled it, and realized the same podcast already existed with the same title! There is so much content out there, given the recent podcasting boom, so I was unbelievably relieved when we finally found something that could work.
My favorite part was hands-down using the equipment and audio editing. I had the opportunity to twice interview Nergis Mavalvala, an astrophysicist at MIT who played a role in the recent ground-breaking gravitational waves discovery. Sitting down with her and collecting audio bites—listening to her say these gems of wisdom—was so neat to take part in. I also loved recording my own narration—I’ve always wanted to be on radio or podcasting, so this was thrilling. And lastly, the editing process was, possibly, the very best part. Sitting down with all these pieces of audio and trying to weave them into a moving story, adding in music that can set the mood/atmosphere of the piece, all of this was incredibly rewarding. It was also a neat opportunity to just use my hands to create something; obviously this takes thinking and planning, but it’s so hands-on, and therefore was one of the most memorable aspects of the internship.
In your opinion, what factors make a “good” podcast?
Tough question. I would say:
1) Great audio mixing. Adding in music that will set a mood or tone is difficult, but if done well, it has the capacity to bring a podcast episode to a whole new level. I love Radiolab for this precise reason, and I think this is what makes it so successful.
2) The element of surprise! In other words, being able to tell a story and keep a listener engaged the entire time by revealing interesting information as the story unfolds. It doesn’t have to be a mystery story or anything, but letting the listener learn as the episode progresses, and eventually letting them be surprised by elements of the story—that is something that only really good podcasts do, in my opinion.
What’s your favorite podcast currently? What do you like about it?
Currently, I would have to say Happier by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a podcast about crafting daily habits and mindsets that will make you happier and more productive. Gretchen hosts it with her sister, Elizabeth Craft, and the two of them are almost the antithesis of one another. The show is unbelievably relatable, and the advice they give really does work. They never sound preachy either! They advise things like making your bed every morning, taking time to enjoy really good smells, finding a person to hold you accountable for a habit you want to practice or a task you want to accomplish, etc. I write down a lot of their tips and really try to practice them in my daily life. Along with its reliability and usefulness, the episodes are short (20-30 minutes), so I can listen to it while I fold my laundry or clean my dishes. Doubly productive! Couldn’t recommend this series enough.
Are there any podcasts you are currently working on? What is the premise?
Yes! My friend, Rachel Harshaw, and I are making a weekly podcast at school called Liberal Arts and Crafts. You can find us both on YouTube and SoundCloud! Essentially, this summer, Rachel and I were feeling heavily inundated with information and were lacking creation in our lives. I was reading and consuming article after article at work each day, then looking at social media after work, etc. etc. It was a lot of reading and absorbing media. Rachel felt similarly, but also felt like she wasn’t creating as much as she used to, whether she be journaling, blogging, writing poetry, etc. Our show stems from this idea. The blurb on our sites is this: “Liberal Arts & Crafts is what happens when college seniors Kate Brouns and Rachel Harshaw realize they’re both having the same existential crisis. This podcast explores their ups and downs as they try to slow don, appreciate the little things, and find a balance between taking in information and putting out creative content.” It’s a simple show, since we’re busy students and have limited free time to plan and edit, but essentially we sit down and chat about what we’ve consumed that week (experiences, ideas, music) and what we’ve created that week (interesting conversations, written work, new habits/experiments). It’s been a blast to work on, even if we have a listener audience of just our moms! I honestly just love getting the chance to produce something original through audio on a weekly basis.
Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
Don’t be discouraged if you are trying to make a podcast, and are struggling for that ‘one good idea’ or brilliant thing to come to you. It happens to everyone, so cut yourself some slack! It’s hard! At the same time, if you have an idea you like but don’t think it’s good enough, just do it anyways. It can’t hurt to try, and from the process of just delving in, you’ll probably learn how to improve your idea in the process.
Second, don’t think that you aren’t qualified enough to make a podcast. Anyone can, seriously. If you need inspiration, listen to Megan Tan’s podcast, Millennial, or listen to Peter Bresnan’s podcast, Tell Me I’m Funny. You can record a podcast in your own closet with your iPhone mic even! I felt really discouraged this summer, because I was an uniformed 21-year-old girl with no experience, tackling a project much larger than myself. But everyone has to start somewhere and everyone has an interesting story to tell. This advice is so cliché, but seriously, if you want to pursue something you’re interested in (particularly podcasting), just try it! And who knows what could happen!
Any last thoughts or advice?
~~ Happy podcasting ~~
Check out Kate’s Soundcloud or Youtube at the links above if you want to know more about Liberal Arts and Crafts! And if Adobe Audition isn’t for you, try the free audio software Audacity, which you can check out here. To learn more about Audacity and how to use it, check out our Simple Audacity Tutorial to get yourself started on the road to podcasting!