Starting an Audio Project
Daniel Story | February 2021
So you’ve decided to start a podcast, or perhaps you’ve been given a podcasting assignment in your class. Here are a few things to consider as you get started.
Break down your topic/idea/theme. This is where it all begins. Ask yourself some very pointed questions about what exactly you want the focus to be. Is there an underlying thesis or question you want to explore? Can you sum up your focus in one or two tight sentences? Or can you break your topic down into component parts? Starting with this kind of clarity will help guide most of your subsequent decisions.
Think about audience. Imagine the listeners you think are most likely to be interested in your podcast, or the listeners you’d like to reach. Are you aiming for a broad audience, or are there particular communities you have in mind? When you get a clearer idea of audience, consider how this focus will guide the way you shape your episodes, including framing, tone, scripting, music, etc.
Think about format. First, what kind of podcast are you producing? Is it interview-based? A conversation between a panel of hosts? A single narrator? Documentary-style with a combination of narration, interviews, and archival footage? Second, how many and how often are you hoping to release episodes? Will this be a recurring podcast series with new episodes weekly or monthly? Or will the podcast be limited or seasonal, with a set number of episodes dropping in bunches or all at once? This might also be a good point in the process to identify some existing podcasts that you might like to draw from. Listen and take notes on what specifically you like and want to incorporate in your own project.
Planning and storyboarding. Once you’ve honed your topic/idea/theme and settled on audience and format, you’re probably ready to start planning your episodes in a bit more detail. This part of the process will depend a lot on the type of podcast you're aiming for. For interview- or talk-style podcasts, this will involve planning a series of episode topics or making a list of potential guests. For more narrative driven projects, here is where you can begin to layout the story, break it into parts, and play around with how best to tell it so that it is both clear and engaging. You might even find it helpful to use a storyboarding template to sketch out the “scenes.”
Taking stock of what you have and what you need to get. As your plan starts to take shape, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll need in order to accomplish that plan. For instance, if you’ve made a list of interviews, you’ll need to plan for how to contact and book those individuals. If you need other kinds of audio assets, like music or archived audio, list these and make a plan for how you’ll collect them. Same goes for background research. You should be assessing your technical needs too: What recording equipment will you need? What audio editing software? What kind of space/s will you need to record in? And who will take the lead on these more technical tasks? You? Someone else? Do you or one of your team need some time and training to get up to speed?
Script writing and recording. For some types of projects, such as free-flowing interviews, a script may not be so necessary, but you will need to prepare for your interviews and you may need an abbreviated script for your episode intros and outros. For documentary-style podcasts, a script is crucial. When I approach script writing, I try to balance my attention between narration and everything else. I might start with a rough draft of my narration, but then spend a large amount of time working with and shaping the interviews and archival audio I will include. Once I have a clearer sense of how these audio assets will fit together—what story they tell—I go back and finalize my own narration. I also fold into this process a dry run at recording my narration since actually hearing the words I’ve written often helps me identify parts that do or don’t work so well when spoken out loud.
From here, you’ll be well on your way toward the editing and then post production stages. While these preliminary considerations might seem like a lot of work, when you have a podcast idea that you’re excited about, many of these tasks will probably come pretty naturally. And besides that, thinking about all of this in a more structure way right from the start will make your project run much more smoothly in the longer run.