Making Waves With Sound

Working in podcasting is liberating. Once upon a time – not long ago – audio producers were confined to transmitting the fruits of their labour via terrestrial broadcasters with set time slots, rigid regulations, and long-established traditions of doing things in a certain agreed way.

Now all those limitations have been cast to the wind thanks to the podcast revolution. Producers can now experiment with different formats, styles, and methods to make inventive and original programmes.

I established Earshot Strategies as a podcast consultancy to be a part of this new golden age of audio. Since the company was launched, we have worked with organizations and individuals offering advice, production, training, promotion and more, on all aspects of podcasting.

Earlier this year, Earshot Strategies was brought on board by a major EU institution – The European Investment Bank – to do something new and different.

The EIB funds development throughout Europe.  It commissioned Earshot Strategies to make a 28-part podcast – ‘Future Europe’ (launched this week) – to mark the organization’s 60th anniversary. The Bank wanted something that not only described its work and achievements, but that also sounded original, inventive and interesting.

With this in mind, we proposed a series of sound montages which would paint a ‘sound picture’ of individual projects from throughout the European Union. Reporter and presenter’s voices would be absent from the pieces, instead they would weave together clips of various interviewees along with sound effects and background audio – all recorded on location.

Sound montages can be challenging and time consuming. Hours of material are recorded, and even more time is spent editing and mixing. The pieces need to ensure that interviewees are identifiable, that sounds fit with what they are saying, and that the material binds together to create an coherent and compelling narrative.

So far, this project has taken Earshot Strategies from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and many locations in-between. Among other places, we have recorded aboard a floating liquid natural gas terminal in Lithuania (see the featured photo), from one of Europe’s fastest electric cars in Croatia, and in the acoustically perfect setting of a Slovakian music conservatory.

Earshot has also employed the skills of some highly experienced producers including Robin Warren and Penny Boreham, both of whom are veterans of many years at the BBC.

Undertaking ‘Future Europe’ has recalled my earliest days as a trainee producer with the BBC. An early assignment in the 1990’s took me to Paris to  produce a series of montages about buskers. I spent days following songsters and musicians in the metro, on cobbled streets and in crowded squares. Once back in London, days were then spent in a studio mixing countless spools of carefully spliced tape into intricate sound-rich features.

Now, technology has opened up this kind of production to people who don’t have the luxury of sound technicians and professional studios. It has also enabled different types of organizations and individuals to produce accessible content, that would – at another time – never have been made. In addition to ‘Future Europe’, the EIB also puts out another series, ‘A Dictionary of Finance’ which explains the intricacies of banking for the layperson.

The EIB’s efforts are proof of podcasting’s potential to reach and serve niche audiences. People who want to understand international development and to hear highly produced stories about the EU’s work around Europe now have programmes specifically suited for their interests. Online audio is built for narrowcasting while conventional radio is for broadcasting.

Making ‘Future Europe’ has been an highly enjoyable and enriching experience. We hope that listening to it proves equally rewarding that it also demonstrates what is possible for programme makers and audiences alike in this new age of podcasting.