Crafting a Narrative Podcast

Crafting a Narrative Podcast
Crafting a Narrative Podcast

Aug 05 2021 | 00:12:43

Episode 0 August 05, 2021 00:12:43

Hosted By

Stuart Barefoot

Show Notes

On this episode of the Audience podcast, Stuart talks about creating podcasts and episodes with narratives. Narrative podcasts have their own format and their own style but are not limiting within the narrative format. Stuart explains what makes a narrative podcast different from an interview podcasts and how to craft one well. He also goes over best practices, the pros and cons, and how a narrative podcast can make you stand out in the sea of podcasts out on the internet right now.

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Today you’ll learn about:

  • The art of creating a narrative
  • Interview versus narratives
    • The pros of narratives versus interview formats
  • How to craft a narrative
    • Examples of podcasts with great narrative formats
    • Understanding your topic 
    • Cold opening versus a welcome section
  • Creating a limited series versus a biweekly or monthly schedule
  • Series outlines
  • The Bow and Arrow analogy




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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:06 What about one of my favorite words in the English vocabulary narrative? This episode of audience is all about crafting a narrative podcast. I'll also briefly describe what to think about if you want to start a series as opposed to a weekly or monthly podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:21 My name is Stuart barefoot, and I'm standing in for Matt for this episode. I actually had a chance to be a guest on this podcast a while back. And if you didn't catch that, I'll briefly introduce myself. I'm a podcast, producer, writer and editor. That's my job. It's what I do for a living. And for the past several years, I've worked with all types of podcasts, with many different types of podcasters. I've worked with an economist, a fiction writer, an investigative journalist, and even a musical composer. Most recently, I've been lucky enough to work here at Casos with their great team and some of their clients. I also write produce in there, write my own series called obscure ball, which is a narrative podcast that explores obscure events or figures in sports history. And that's what I want to talk with you about, well, not so much obscure ball, but I do want to share with you a bit of the creative process that goes into making a narrative podcast. Speaker 1 00:01:10 Before we go any further I should call. She knew that this is more art than science to tips. I'm going to share with you. You have worked well for me and my clients, and I hope they can work well for you too, but you should definitely feel free to put your own spin on them if you want, because I get it. We all work differently. Another thing I'll mention is that I'm not going to go real deep into anything too technical. Most producers and editors have their own way of doing things. So if you work with them, they might have their own way of approaching it. I'm also not going to touch on marketing analytics or monetization during this episode. It's not that any of those things aren't important because they certainly are. It's just that before you ever get to that point, you need to have an idea and you need to have a way to bring that idea to life in a narrative podcast is one of the best ways to do that. Speaker 1 00:01:53 So if it's okay with you for this particular conversation, we're going to stick only to the creative process with the understanding that all that other important stuff comes later on. So you've probably noticed that most podcasts out there seem to be an interview format. The host find someone in their field or area of interest records a conversation, and that's basically it. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking it. I actually think it's a pretty effective and simple way to share information. And when done well, it can be a really good experience for the listeners. It's also a good experience for the podcast, yours too, because it's a relatively easy way to streamline production. And it allows podcasters to keep putting out episodes, which is especially nice. If you're someone who likes to have podcast episodes every single week as an editor, I've done tons of work like this, and I've seen podcasters really thrive in this format, but narrative podcasts have their own benefits, as well as a creator. Speaker 1 00:02:45 It gives you a lot more flexibility to shape the final outcome. And for listeners, when done well, they're treated to an engaging story. And story is key here with the narrative podcast. You're telling a story, you're bringing something to your audience that they probably won't get from a 30 minute interview. So how do you go about crafting a narrative? Well, as simple as it sounds, it always starts with an idea or a premise at a minimum, a broad idea for something that you think might make a good story. Now, to me, this is both exciting and stressful at the same time. Exciting because well, new ideas are exciting, right? Stressful, because it's still just an idea. And in many cases, I'm not quite sure how to craft that idea into a compelling story for listeners. So to put my own mind at ease, I usually like to start with writing a one page outline, or at least a brief summary of where I hope the story will go fully expecting that the scope of the episode will change over time. Speaker 1 00:03:38 That's the first part. The second part is research and a whole lot of it, an exceptional case of this is a podcast that I personally love called how to start a war. Now I'm not involved with this podcast in any way, but it's a scripted podcast about world war II that hearkens back to the days of old radio dramas, the series is written and narrated by a fellow named Michael Trapani before Michael ever put pen to paper or fingertips to the keyboard. He did three years of research. He didn't just read books. He read transcripts from meetings, journals that soldiers kept basically anything that he could get his hands on to better understand his subject. In this case, world war II. I'll give you another one. Christopher Gosford, Christopher produced dirty John, and were recently the trials of Frank Carson. He's been known to spend months and even years interviewing his subjects, traveling all over the country to gather information before he ever steps behind the mic. Speaker 1 00:04:31 Now I've never done and would probably never do anything quite that extreme, but if you go back and listen to those podcasts, I think the end results speak for themselves. My point here more broadly speaking is that the hardest work for this type of podcast is done behind the scenes. I'll give you a personal example. As for an episode I did on a man named happy Chandler. He was the commissioner of major league baseball back in the 1940s, and I wanted to know everything about them. So I found 15 hours worth of oral histories in the archives at the university of Kentucky. And I listened to all of it for a podcast episode that lasted roughly 45 minutes. Now the point here was never to have 15 hours worth of audio. I point was to learn as much as I could about the subject. I think I ended up using maybe three 32nd clips from those oral histories, which was a nice touch, but like I said, all of that helped me understand the subject a lot better, which turned out to be helpful since happy Chandler died in the early nineties, you can also interview people for narrative podcasts. Speaker 1 00:05:28 I almost always do the difference here is that the interviews are elements of the episode. They aren't the episode. I'm actually not that great of an interviewer in the traditional sense, I can be kind of socially awkward. And if it's not scripted, I tend to talk in circles and think out loud, but I am pretty good at getting people to share information and figuring out where in the bigger narrative that information fits. And another thing to think about is your guests. Some of them might not be real comfortable answering back-to-back. They might prefer a conversation and they might feel better knowing that the conversation will be heavily edited and they won't feel like they're on the spot and have to answer questions. Immediate I've found personally, you actually get more candid, genuine answers this way. Again, for that same story, I just mentioned, I interviewed three different people and I even got to speak with happy Chandler's grandson for three hours. Speaker 1 00:06:18 Now, again, the point here was never to use the entire three hour conversation. The point was to build rapport and trust with the guests. And essentially just to have a conversation, you don't need to have a three hour conversation with everybody every single time, but the more rapport and trust you build with someone, the better, more candid answers you'll get. And this brings up another thing I like about narrative pod. Yes. How many times have you interviewed someone or just a rigor conversation in her daily life? And then like 20 minutes later, you said to yourself, oh man, if I'd had just asked them this or said this at this part in a narrative format, you can go back in and do essentially that you can contextualize things your guests said, fill in gaps, maybe where they left out information. If you need to cut out the information you don't need or move information, the more relevant parts in the narrative. Speaker 1 00:07:05 In my view, no one does this better than guy Roz on how I built this. He interviews people. That's the whole idea of his show. Supplements is interviews with commentary and sound design that really enhances episodes. Now, trust me, I know this is a much longer, more tedious post-production process, but when done well, I really think it's the best format out there. At least that's my opinion. Anyway. So once I've interviewed someone, I like to go back and listen to the entire conversation and start to pull out parts that I think will be interesting lately. I've been using the script to transcribe the recordings, which makes it way quicker to find the interesting bits. So once I've done my research and interviewed the guests and then pulled out the interesting part of those interviews, I can finally start to write then rewrite and rewrite again, and then change the title of my episode five or six times before rewriting one more time. Speaker 1 00:07:53 But eventually I get a script that's pretty fleshed out and can get to the point where I start to record. Now, I like to build a narrative podcast in a way that my narration interacts with my guest interviews. And I'm also bringing in different types of sound bites. Now this might sound really clunky and disorganized, but eventually it all coalesces into a pretty smooth narrative. I also like to do things that give the episode structure like sound beds, segment breaks, and et cetera, et cetera. There's not really a right or wrong way to do this. It's kind of a blank canvas. And there's a lot of things you can do, but I'd highly recommend having some kind of cold opener teaser, something that really grabs the listeners attention rather than front-load and episode with a lot of housekeeping or welcoming them to a podcast. They already know they're listening to. Speaker 1 00:08:36 I try to draw the listener in immediately. There's a lot of ways to do this, but a lot of times I try to write a really interesting monologue or I'll bring in a sound bite of some kind that's really grabby. There's plenty of good examples out there. Personal favorite of mine is have you heard George's podcast on the BBC, George to poet is phenomenal. And to me, his is kind of the gold standard. So the other thing talk about is creating a limited series as opposed to a recurring weekly or more show. Sometimes you might only need seven to 10 episodes to tell a story and what it means since to keep making episodes every week or month I've worked on these types of projects before and creatively, they can be really fun. There's something very satisfying about working on a podcast. And then just being able to wrap it up in a neatly satisfying way. Speaker 1 00:09:21 I'm including it in this episode about narratives, because in many cases, narrative podcasts can be part of a limited series or at least something seasonal cereal more on that later. I think this is a very effective storytelling tool. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of a listener for a minute. If you'd story arc is going to last say like seven or 10 episodes and you liked the story, you're probably going to listen to every second of every episode in that series. So it's a good way to retain listeners. And from a creative standpoint, like I said, it can be rewarding to work on a project and then step away when you're done, as opposed to feeling like you have to keep putting stuff out every week or month. Now, having worked on these types of projects in various capacities, there are a few things you'll need to think about before you start a series. Speaker 1 00:10:06 Assuming you have a topic in mind. I hope you already do. You're going to want to start thinking about the scope of your series. How many episodes do you want to have? How long will they be? Again, I find it helpful to write a series outline. This could include working titles for episodes, bullet point ideas to include in each episode and potential guests. If you plan on including interviews as elements of the series. Now, again, keep in mind, these things can change over time and that's fine. What you want is a basic framework for your series, even if the scope of the work changes over time, and you should probably go ahead and prepare yourself for that to happen. It's normal and totally okay. I'm currently writing, producing, and curating a series that well, that's exactly what's going on. Now. This might be more art than science, but here's an analogy that you might find helpful. Speaker 1 00:10:52 Anyone who's ever talked shop with me before has probably already heard this analogy. So apologies if it's Hatton, but if you haven't, here's how I approach making a podcast. Imagine that you have some bow and arrows and you go out to a big barn somewhere with a big wide wall, and then you just start shooting those arrows all over the barn. Then you take some paint and you paint a bullseye around each arrow. Then you invite all your friends over and say, Hey, look how good I am at archery. Making a podcast can be that way. You might start off with an idea. And as you research interview guests write and record. You might find the scope of the project or even the focus of it changes. But when you format a podcast this way, no one ever has to know that unless you want them to. Speaker 1 00:11:35 I guess the thing we're really trying to express here is that making a podcast like this will require you to think outside the box. It'll require a good bit of patience too. I know that can be hard when it seems like everyone is cranking out episodes every single day or a week, but a lot of those podcasts actually have a hard time standing out. If you take the time to craft compelling narrative, people will notice probably the best example of a series would be cereal by Sarah Conich. It's a true crime podcast that won a Peabody award. And season one last I checked had been downloaded more than 80 million times. It's a good example of what happens when a podcaster in this case, a seasoned investigative journalist takes the time to research, write and craft a narrative. Now I know making a really good narrative podcast is a little bit more involved and complicated than I'm making it seem to be. And this is just a basic overview, but I hope the things I'm sharing, what was to point you in the right direction. And maybe it's got you interested in starting your own series. We're more than happy to talk Speaker 0 00:12:33 Shop here at Casos and you can reach out anytime you need help.

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