Podcasts: The Merger of Sound and Writing

Podcasts are a limited medium. You have to tell stories, portray images and infuse life into a scene that is quite literally made of only vibrations through the air. Its like a painter trying to make a sound using just a splash of color; it seems impossible right? Wrong. The art of the podcast is to paint a picture with sound, to allow the listener to envision the story you are telling and to set up a listening experience that promotes the easy transition between listening and seeing. But how? The simple answer is sound and writing. These two elements can turn a boring news broadcast into a cinematic experience, figuratively seen through the ears as pictures are formed through sound itself. A great example of this, and the basis for our analysis, is the podcast Invisibilia and their episode True You. (I suggest you listen to it before reading as I will assume from here on that you have listened to the podcast so SPOILER ALERT)

In this episode, the hosts talk about the alternate versions of ourselves, the ones that go against our personal identifications and how we end up handling this conundrum. Yet more interesting than the story is how it is told. First, and most important is it feels like these stories are being told directly to us as listeners and the podcast is written to help facilitate this. Obviously, the first thing we will note is that the interviews were not written, they were recorded in person by real people. However, it is pretty obvious that the interviewees were prompted in some ways to help flesh out the images of this story. If someone is initially asked to tell a story, they likely don’t focus on setting and visual details, just the events. But if the interviewer ask “what did you see?” or “what did the house look like?” all of which foster a richer description and easier visualization of the story. We can hone in on this in Tanya’s description of her dream, in which she describes sights of mountains and sounds of giggling, each occupying its own short sentences so as to be easily digestible. As we listen, its almost set up so we don’t have to think about it, the images are so simple, yet so well described that we can’t help but to picture it in our heads.

This is all constructed through masterful interviewing and creativity on the part of the interviewee as well as a good editing style. And when the producer Abby Wendel comes in to talk, her written parts mirror this form: short, easy to digest sentences, this time focused on directing the story but doing so with straightforward, powerful language. Combined, this makes it so that even if it is just these two talking, their words paint picture worth remembering and one that does not take much thought to picture. But the full picture may not be seen were it not also for the expert use of sound to enhance what is being said.

The use of sound on Invisibilia is perhaps it’s greatest strength. There are very few scenes in which there are no sound effects of music being played and it really fills out each story. The dream section is again a great example of the use of sound to enhance the scene. As Tanya starts to describe this dream, ambient music plays in the background and dream like plucks are heard as she describes the scene. She says she hears the girl and immediately we hear giggling edited into the mix. She enters a forest and again the music changes and a voice swells from the background as she hears them talking from inside the well. This description would be nonsensical without the brilliant use of sound to augment these scenes. We can see the forest, we can picture the girl. It’s all there and it is all due to the sounds we hear.

In Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire it is eloquently put as “what does the music know that I don’t know?” Often there is a deeper feeling, or a deeper point to a story, but it is hidden from our view. That is until the music is added. Invisiblia does this so well, as they take a boring scene of a woman wandering through a dream and make it have a sense of wonder and discovery, like we are actually dreaming ourselves, simply by adding music and sound effects to help audiences picture what is going on.

Music is essential to the podcast medium and it goes hand in hand with the writing process. We write stories to provide the framework to a picture, something that is easy to see and understand, but this can only go so far. But, once you include simple musical embellishments, however subtle, suddenly those empty lines are painted in with color and the full picture is realized. Straying away from our artistic comparisons, being able to write in a way that listeners can easily understand then being able to, underneath of that, provide the backbone of music to keep the scene engaging can turn a mediocre story into a truly powerful podcast.

Podcast Brainstorm: What is Wrong with Vermont?

In thinking about podcasts and the quest to create my own, a few ideas have popped into my mind. The hardest part for me has been deciding the topic or theme that I want to pursue. This post serves mainly as an elaboration of a few talking points that I have been ruminating on. I have been talking to a few people and some riveting ideas have sparked my interested in the form of issues with the state of Vermont and particularly why people want to leave it.


The Art of the Podcast: A Radiolab Review

How do you paint a picture with just words? How does one become engaged with a topic without any prior context? Why should I care about someone’s podcasts? These were questions that I thought to myself before embarking on the task of making my own podcast. I have, in the past, listened to really great podcasts, such as Total Biscuit’s video game based Co-Optional Podcast or the No Dumb Questions podcast by YouTubers Destin Sandlin and Matt Whittman. However, these podcasts were by creators whose content I already enjoyed outside of the podcasts. I was bound to like them regardless of their content because I liked the people who made them. This got me thinking about what makes a really good podcast and what this can tell me about making my own. On my search, I found a wonderful story called A Clockwork Miracle by Radiolab that functions as a great example of both a great podcast and a great reference point for my own podcast endeavors.


eSports and Video Remixes: A Brainstorming Post

As discussed in a previous post, an extremely powerful form of persuasion and argument is the video remix. Though the remix is somewhat simple to describe – a collage of videos that make an argument larger than their individual parts – the actual discourse for going about making a remix is much more difficult. I am starting this blog post as the beginning of my process for making my own video remix, including what I intend to include in said video, who I envision my audience would be and any additional thoughts I may have on the remix as a whole. Now perhaps the hardest part of the video remix is the subject that one will “talk” about and the argumentative stance that one will take. For a persuasive essay, you can talk about anything because the words are strictly your own and can be manipulated however you want, but with video, the information or scene you are looking to use must already exist in video form and you have to be able to find it. This started the struggle of what I would talk about, as I need to ensure there are enough original videos around the topic that I can actually have substance to the video. After much deliberation on a few topics, I decided that I would create a video about eSports and I will argue that eSports is actually a sport.


How to Turn Mitt Romney into a Rap Star

The art of the video remix is sometimes a subtle one, crafting together multiple often unrelated stories into one cohesive piece, slyly coercing the viewer to see a new perspective by using sources that originally said completely different things. Sometimes it is not subtle. The ladder is the case for a video made by Hugh Atkin mixing the unlikely pairing of Mitt Romney and Eminem. The finished product is a well edited, and frankly catchy musical piece that simultaneously critiques the rightist views that Romney presents.


What the Dung Beetle Can Teach Us about Transforming Research into Captivating Writing

Reading a research paper can be dull. Ask any STEM major in college about peer reviewed research articles and a great majority would groan about the endless hours spend reading dense papers that could easily bore you to sleep. And that is not to say that these papers and the research behind them are not interesting or important, they just aren’t very engaging to read. This brings us to a dilemma: how do we make scientific research – work that is actually interesting once you understand it – sound interesting without all the extra work for our readers. This is where a New York Times article by Douglas Emlen comes into play. In Emlen’s article about the weaponry of dung beetles, he takes a fascinating topic of research and makes it engaging, first by explaining it, how it came to be and then what it can tell us about ourselves, demonstrating along the way practices that can be used to strengthen any research based piece. More

Are You a Good Person? How About a Good Writer?

We have all likely wondered in our lives what makes someone good or evil. “Am I a good person?” we ask, trying to set ourselves apart from all of the bad people we have met in our lives, saying we are different because we do this or don’t do that. In reality, it may not be that simple. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee tackles this question in a National Geographic piece about what makes people good or bad scientifically, while at the same time giving us an exemplary online magazine feature.

Yudhijit starts us off with an example, a woman who saved a man from being hit by a train. He then contrasts this with depictions of mass shooters and serial killers. Both sets of real world examples, all too familiar. Here readers are introduced to the age-old topic of good and evil and the question of “what makes one good or evil?” But this article is more than just a glorified research paper attempting to answer this question and this is a key aspect of the essential magazine feature: it is research based but tells a larger and more relatable story. More

Combining Machine Learning and Web Design for an Immersive Experience: A Website Review

What makes a website catch your attention? How about two massive company names, large numbers and a unique idea. This is what the dynamic duo of The New York Times and Google accomplish with their promotional website for their new photo archiving system. As you open the page, you are greeted with a bold claim: that millions of photos will be revived using new cloud technology. Intrigued, the reader will click forward to find a myriad of black and white photos slowly scrolling across the screen. Clicking on any single one presents you with an option: what story do you want this picture to tell? None of this is explained to you, yet the reader is guided by their own curiosity down a hole of unique pictures, each with three unique stories. Here is where things get interesting. Given the slickness of the page, the black and white aesthetic with subtle pops of color, the smooth continuous movement, it is so easy to get lost in reading the stories attached to the pictures of the site that its true ingenuity is concealed. A machine made all of these stories.


thank you friend

Skip to toolbar