Speaker 0 00:00:00 If you've ever had to read and record a script of any kind, then you likely know the difference between good and bad copy. When you see it. There's writing. That looks beautiful on paper, but the second you start to read it aloud. Well, it just sounds kind of off writing for audio. No matter the genre of your podcast is more than just words that appear on a script.
Speaker 1 00:00:21 We had to take about 45 minutes of audio from Joan and condense it into a five minute segment, which is writing for audio. It is taking tape and writing it. It may not be your words, but it is still using those same creative skills to write a segment.
Speaker 0 00:00:40 Next, you'll hear from a producer who works with some of the most successful production companies in the world about how she writes for audio. My name is Stewart, and this is audience, a cast's original series that story's next.
Speaker 0 00:01:02 So good. Writing and editing are crucial steps to making your show better. And when you do all that work, you should reap the benefits at Casto. We make tools that make that process a little bit easier. For instance, through the Casto platform, you can create a subscription based podcast. Thanks to our partnership with straight using this integrative tool, you could do things like create a private podcast that accept payments directly from your listeners. No more clunky ad algorithms that don't generate income, no more middleman taking a 30% cut. It's a direct payment from your audience to you. Simple, learn [email protected]
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Speaker 1 00:01:42 It's Greek theater, isn't it it's understanding how and when and where the action takes place and giving yourself the opportunity to lean into this. The audio specific storytelling.
Speaker 0 00:01:57 That's me Bali, a podcast producer, songwriter, musician writer, actor, and frankly, all around Renaissance woman. She's worked with some of the top production companies in the world like laundry, Gimlet, PRX, PBS, and Marvel.
Speaker 1 00:02:13 And I think there's kind of a misconception that work in audio is just limited to two people sitting in a room talking particularly in fiction, and you can have action sequences. You can have outlandish things, things that maybe wouldn't even be possible in a live visual medium, because you are engaging with the listener and asking them to use their imagination and be a co particip in the storytelling. And so you're able to accomplish quite a lot in writing for the year.
Speaker 0 00:02:50 Megan's a graduate of the Boston conservatory with an MFA in musical theater. So naturally after graduation, she pursued a career in the performing arts, like a lot of freelance artists. She had a side hustle in her case, she was teaching kids, everything from music to Hebrew, to cooking,
Speaker 1 00:03:07 Being in New York. I wasn't setting my own price. I was working for companies and my lessons were prohibitively expensive for kids who could really benefit from having them. And I grew frustrated with some of the clientele who didn't wanna be there, but whose parents wanted them to be in lessons. And I wanted to find a way to reach an impact. Young listeners lives in more than just a one-on-one setting.
Speaker 0 00:03:33 Then Gimlet media came calling and she got a chance to work on a musical called chopper. It's a podcast for kids that helps them establish good brushing habits. She's featured prominently on the series as a writer, performer and songwriter. The series was a big hit. And from there she never looked back. It was the perfect culmination of her skills and a medium that allowed her work to be more accessible as a lifelong listener of audio. It was a natural transition.
Speaker 1 00:04:01 My first experience with like audio storytelling probably came through my parents who listened religiously to this American life in the car. And those, those kind of stories, that way of narrative storytelling was like a huge part of my, my childhood. And then kind of on the other end of that, my, my dad is a actor in a, or was an actor in a classical theater company out here in LA. And so I kind of got to know the world of storytelling through audio because he would read me Shakespeare stories as my bedtime stories. And so we kind of talked a lot about the power of language for a long time and kind of how you could use words to achieve your goals, tell stories, get what you want. And then kind of before I started working in the audio industry, I listened to podcasts all day. Every day I live in New York, all my subway commutes were like had accompanied by podcasts, accompanied by audio music. Um, so I really was listening nonstop before joining the industry.
Speaker 0 00:04:59 It would appear to me that your, your background and your education, while maybe you weren't specifically thinking I'm gonna go be a podcaster one day, you are pulling from some very useful skill sets that would probably transcend a lot of mediums. If I had to guess,
Speaker 1 00:05:12 Oh, 100%. I went to the Boston conservatory with the intent of being a performer in musical theater and tried out that lifestyle for a, a big period of time and the kind of lifestyle wasn't for me. But the skills that I learned, the things that I was using on a daily basis absolutely apply to audio storytelling and to audio in general, understanding how a story is told, um, obviously the medium's different, but understanding the components of building a story, understanding how your protagonist might try different tactics to achieve their goal, understanding how music might function in the world of storytelling, whether it is a musical number, whether it is a music bed or underscoring, understanding how different voice types interact with one another and can help or detract from your storytelling. All of that really translates very easily from the world of musical theater, to the world of audio. And then as, as an actor and as a student at the Boston and conservatory, my job was to read and listen and learn. And that's so much of what my job is now is listening to tape and learning what I can from the information I have and trying to piece together stories.
Speaker 0 00:06:22 I love talking to musicians. I envy that skillset. I, I wish I had it. Who, who are some of your musical influences?
Speaker 1 00:06:29 Uh, I should start by saying my mom is one of my first musical influences. My dad was a performer in a theater company and my mom was a singer in a touring like alt rock grunge band in the nineties. And I was heavily influenced by nineties like grunge music. I loved alt rock music, Alanis morrisette was my first concert. So the world of like nineties music in particular is something that I'm very fond of. And if you listen to my music enough, you will definitely find a lot of sneaky nineties references in it. But current day music references, you know, although I'm not a performer anymore, I am still a die hard musical theater fan. And so I think the way that you can tell a story with lyrics in the setting of a musical, I think is still a very powerful influence for me today. I love Sonim. I love a lot of the things that are currently on Broadway. I love six. I think it's so incredible. Um, the way that they are able to like blend and merge, pop music with the story of the wives of Henry thei is just absolutely stunning. And I do like definitely listen to some contemporary pop music as well, but when it comes to how I write music, I think I listen to a lot of musical theater.
Speaker 0 00:07:43 Part of your, your, uh, I guess, continued education was participating in the PBS kids, PRX and CBP, 2021 learn, ready to learn podcast accelerator, cohort mm-hmm <affirmative>. So have you always had a passion for telling, uh, stories for children?
Speaker 1 00:07:58 Yes. Like I mentioned with cereal, I was on a national tour of a children's musical and the way that kids interacted with theater was so eye-opening to me while we were on the road, because they don't know the rules of needing to sit and be silent, they would talk back to us and they would scream when they got excited and, and screamed when they were frightened. And the kind of, um, instant feedback loop that you got with kids was really, really exciting to me. And then not to mention when we'd get off stage, we'd meet these kids in real life and see in live time, the impact that storytelling had on their lives. And oftentimes the show that we were on went to neighborhoods where they didn't have a lot of live theater. So for some of these kids, this was their first musical they'd ever seen.
Speaker 1 00:08:44 Their first play, their first live stage event they'd ever seen that spoke to me. And as I was pursuing theater, as, I don't know if you have a lot of like former theater people on here, but a lot of theater people like have side hustles that they do to get by. And my side hustle was teaching. So basically anything you can think of, I taught it, I taught Hebrew. I taught kids cooking lessons. I taught fitness classes. I taught self-defense. I taught, I babysat. I taught, I tutored like basically anything you can think of. I was working with kids and I taught private music and songwriting lessons. And the kind of thing that, that bothered me about teaching was twofold. One, a lot of those kind of quote unquote specialty subjects. I was teaching being in New York. I wasn't setting my own price. I was working for companies and my lessons were prohibitively expensive for kids who could really benefit from having them.
Speaker 1 00:09:35 And I grew frustrated with some of the clientele who didn't wanna be there, but whose parents wanted them to be in lessons. And I wanted to find a way to reach and impact young listeners lives in more than just a one-on-one setting, um, for kids who were really craving that kind of content. And so when Trumpers came along, it kind of felt like this wonderful combination of the thing that I had been so desperately seeking and a thing that could really utilize my skillset. And so I really fell in love with children's media and in particular, because of what I do, kids podcasts pretty much from Trumpers on. And although I have some work for adults and or grownups in my resume, I really want to be working in kids in family, media forever, and ever, and ever,
Speaker 0 00:10:28 You know, some of the best media that's ever been made was made specifically for kids and our lifetimes or in our generation. I think Pixar
Speaker 1 00:10:37 Absolutely
Speaker 0 00:10:38 Are none. Pixar, invariably gets rave reviews. It's just done. I, I think flawlessly everything from the, from the dialogue to the music, to the animation, everything about Pixar works on multiple levels. You've worked with some of the best, in my opinion, audio companies in the world with chopper, you teamed up with Gimlet. You've also worked with PRX and Wondery, so what's the collaborative process like right there. And what's the talent like behind some of these projects
Speaker 1 00:11:09 Indescribable. The, there are so many incredibly talented humans who work at Gimlet who work at Wondery, who work at PRX, and then beyond who work at realm who work at pineapple. I mean, the, there are so many incredibly talented podcasters out there, and I feel so lucky to have collaborated with some of them on choppers. I worked with the amazing Jasmine Romero and Rachel Ward and my husband Marcus Bagga, who is SuperDuper talented. Oh my goodness. At Wondery I'm working with duke Doyle and Matt Sachs and Jenny Lauer, Beckman and Jennifer Klein, um, and the whole incredible team at Wondery Andrew law, Hector Fernandez, just incredible, incredible people. The PRX thing was interesting because we were learning and creating with them. And so we had the opportunity to fail, which in a professional setting, when there's so much, uh, time and money and resources being put into your work, you don't often get. So there was some really, uh, I've really enjoyed collaborating with all three companies with all three, um, doing work with all three. And I, I hope to continue working, uh, at this caliber Gimlet was the first place I started working. So the bar was set incredibly high from the resources that were available to us, to the, the quality of the work that was being done. And, um, for me, it kind of set this wonderful standard that I always tried to continue to aspire to.
Speaker 0 00:12:41 Well, speaking of skills, you're also a talented writer since the time I was a freshman in college up until now. So now going on 14 years, if I can age myself a bit, <laugh>, uh, virtually every working day of my life has involved me talking into a microphone. So whether it's something I've written or someone else has written difference between an easy work day and a bad work day is good or bad copy <laugh>
Speaker 1 00:13:04 Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:13:05 I've been presented with things I've even written, things that are great for the eye. <laugh> not so much for the ear. In fact, I it's, it's very rare that I've ever written anything for myself that didn't need some type of a rewrite. So when I say right, for the ear, not the eye, what does that mean to you?
Speaker 1 00:13:24 It's Greek theater, isn't it? It's understanding how and when and where the action takes place and giving yourself the opportunity to lean into this, the audio specific storytelling that in order to, to deliver that action. I think there's kind of a misconception that work in audio is just limited to two people sitting in a room talking particularly in fiction, and you can have action sequences. You can have outlandish things, things that maybe wouldn't even be possible in a live visual medium, because you are engaging with the listener and asking them to use their imagination and be a co particip in the storytelling. And so you're able to accomplish quite a lot in writing for the ear. I think writing for the ear also requires an understanding of how to use sound effects and how to use music, how to use sound design, how to use language, to tell your story, because you simply don't have that visual component. So it differs between whether you're working in narrative nonfiction or fiction or something else, but the possibilities with what you're able to do in audio, I think are so great. And often are underestimated.
Speaker 0 00:14:52 We're gonna hear this in practice again. Now this is for an upcoming project, or I should say upcoming at the time of this recording in 2022. So this is from I future maker. We'll listen to the clip. And then I want you to tell me a little bit about a, just like the idea in general and, and B how this particular segment came together. Sure. Cause I think it's, it's, it's very apropo of writing for the ear.
Speaker 3 00:15:16 What does like to be weightless
Speaker 4 00:15:19 Violet? It is awesome. It is so much fun. There is no gravity in space, so you have to be weightless and you have to float around, but here's the key. Do you float around looking really graceful or are you floating around flailing and not looking so graceful? There's a little learning curve to be able to float gracefully.
Speaker 0 00:15:42 Good advice. If you ever find yourself in an outer space. <laugh> so that's three year old violet and she's talking to an astronaut. So, uh, how did that segment come together?
Speaker 1 00:15:54 Wow. Well, it is, it was quite a journey actually. So what you just heard was I future maker, it was developed through the ready to learn accelerator year one from PRX, PBS kids in the C PB. And we had a brief to develop a pilot for a show that helped young listeners explore the world of work, which in, especially after two years, two plus years of the pandemic, kids have a very different view of the world of work than their parents do. Kids perhaps have seen their parents lose their jobs or be let go. Kids have endured enormous tragedy over the pandemic with family members, with friends, and perhaps may not see the world of work in the same way that like my generation, I'm a millennial. Like we were kind of told, like, you can be whatever you wanna be. You can do whatever you wanna do.
Speaker 1 00:16:51 And kids don't necessarily have that view anymore. And not only that, but the world of work itself has changed so much. The job of an influencer, for example, didn't exist when we were kids. Um, social media has created jobs that, that weren't even a thing when we were kids. And so have industries like electric energy and there are all these new industries that have developed. And so kids are kind of engaging with the world of work in a very different way. And so me along with my wonderful co-producers and co-writers Brett tubs and Luisi Iora came together and started working on this show that explored a new career, a new job, every new episode through a three act episode. So in act one, we kind of are introduced to our job by way of a future maker, a young listener calling in and saying something that they want to do.
Speaker 1 00:17:44 Maybe they wanna go to space. Maybe they want to play with animals. Maybe they want to, to plant flowers. And that backs us into a career, a future that includes that thing that they wanna do by way of a job. So if our kid, our future maker and our pilot Jaylen calls in and he wants to fly to space, well, who does that? But an astronaut that leads us into act two, which is what you just heard, which is an interview with a professional who currently has that job for us. We spoke to former astronaut Joan Higginbotham. She was the third African American woman to go to space. She is an absolute game changer and incredible human being. She was so generous with her time. She spoke to us for the better part of an hour. And, uh, by the end, all of us just fell in love with how wonderful she is.
Speaker 1 00:18:29 And what you just heard is a kid's questions. The end of a kid question segment. So we had real kids like three year old violet call in with their questions and Joan answered them. And so violet wanted to know what it was like to be weightless, which frankly, as an adult, I want to know too. And so Joan answered. And when it came time to write how we approached this, we spoke to Joan for the better part of an hour. And for kids media in particular, something that's really important is to keep things moving because kids, if they, first of all, if they don't like something, they're going to immediately stop listening. So you have to keep things moving and their attention spans aren't super long. So they don't have the time and the patients to wait for a slow burn to really get good.
Speaker 1 00:19:12 You have to kind of put content in front of them. And it's interesting and engaging right away, and then keep it moving. So the next thing is coming that's interesting and engaging. So what that means is we had to take about 45 minutes of audio from Joan and condense it into a five minute segment, which is writing for audio. It is taking tape and writing it. It may not be your words, but it is still using those same creative skills to write a segment. And then of course we scripted our questions around her answers. So just kind of based on what we had, some of the questions were questions that we had in advance, but others, we kind of found that her answers led us to a better question to ask
Speaker 0 00:19:56 You don't always know what an episode is or what a story is until after you started to tell it. Absolutely. And I used this analogy before and some people who have listened to this show for a while might be tired of hearing it, but it's gonna be new to you, Megan and new to some of the other listeners so that you everyone's gonna hear it again. But sometimes I equate making an audio story to get in a bunch of bow and arrows going out against like a big barn and just shooting them anywhere. <laugh> and then afterwards you go and you get yourself some red paint and you paint bull's eyes around each of, one of the arrows
Speaker 1 00:20:26 <laugh> yeah.
Speaker 0 00:20:27 Making audio can be that way. Do you know what anyone who drives by that? Barn's gonna be like, man, that guy can, that guy's got good aim.
Speaker 1 00:20:34 Oh yeah. Well like any type of writing so much, if the writing is done in the editing process, you kind of put it all out there, you see what you have, and then you kind of sort through all the things that aren't, that you, even, some things that you were really, really attached to, you may have to let them go because hidden somewhere in the kind of spaghetti on the wall is your story.
Speaker 0 00:20:56 That's, that's fascinating too, because we tend to think of writing as being a very visual medium. It's the words you see, it's, it's how you interact visually with something you're talking about it as, as an auditory medium, the, the, the writing, even if it's not very evident is how you craft that audio into, into a story.
Speaker 1 00:21:16 Absolutely.
Speaker 0 00:21:17 Wow. What a, what a great way of looking at it. If
Speaker 1 00:21:20 You wanna go into it, I think there are some like quote unquote rules, right? That you can choose to follow that make writing for audio easier, right? Like, and especially like, for example, if you're writing dialogue, you might choose to have your speakers narrate their action, or someone might say, Hey, come walk with me, which will indicate, right. That they're about to go on a walk or, oh my gosh, did that spaceship just fall out of the sky? And suddenly you have your storytelling. You can have, you can have your, your talent. You can have your, your characters call out what they're seeing in a way that is not heavy handed. That is not exposition, that aids towards your story, but in a way that you also kind of need, because you can't see that spaceship falling out of the sky, you can't see that they're going on a walk. And if you hear those footsteps without hearing them invite the other to go on a walk, you're not gonna know what's going on. So you kind of have to plant these little breadcrumbs when you're writing for audio in a way that perhaps is different than a visual medium. But I think there is a balance to strike between spelling out everything and then setting up your work and trusting that your listener will understand what's going on.
Speaker 0 00:22:32 It's all about leveraging the medium books, for example, will have chapter breaks and page numbers, and they'll have an index and a, and a prologue and all that, you know, authors and editors leverage that medium to make a better reading experience for the readers. As people who produce audio, we have to do the same thing and we have to leverage our medium, which is what people can hear to you. Does that kind of fall in, in the realm of writing for the ear?
Speaker 1 00:22:58 Yes. I think it has to. I think you have to take into account what you're writing for, right? Anytime you set out on a project, you have to start thinking about who it's for and what it's for. And in practicing that empathy, you can really be informed by the, your subject and your subject matter and, and use those pieces of information to craft your piece.
Speaker 0 00:23:20 And we'll get to hear more of Megan's work. If you stick around after the, uh, the credits Megan, we will, we'll hear a little bit of, uh, I, future maker is gonna come out soon. It's, it's, it's an exciting project, but before we get to all of that one thing, I'm always just very deeply curious about with people who wear a lot of different hats, right? I mean, you've done writing, you've done editing, you've done producing you're a singer in a song writer. Do you find it challenging to switch between all of those different roles? Like, I mean, obviously let me back up and say podcasting is a medium, it's not a genre. So just because somebody makes is good at making a certain type of podcast, like I would not be a good producer maybe on like children's fiction or, or any type of fiction, just because I make narrative nonfiction doesn't mean that I can just jump into any type of podcast and automatically be a good fit, but you're pretty versatile. I mean, the, the work you did with Marvel, that was, I, I think from what I've heard of it, that was very much falls into the category of chat, shows people talking
Speaker 1 00:24:19 About
Speaker 0 00:24:20 Talking about Marvel versus, uh, you know, these musicals that you're writing. You know, you wrote a feminist retail in a of Hanukkah. I did, which is a very, which is a very complex <laugh>, uh, piece of work. So how do you balance all those roles? And do you find it challenging to, to move from one to the next?
Speaker 1 00:24:38 Yes and no, in terms of whether I find it challenging, I think from a hard skill perspective, no, like I know how pro tools works. I know how logic works. I can play instruments like these hard skills are ones that are pretty can pretty practically apply across the board. I think it's the, it's the soft skills that requires a little bit of, kind of a mental switch. And like I primarily worked on Marvel's P list at Marvel with the wonderful Jasmine Estrada. Um, the hosts were Ryan penagos, AKA agent M and tar Tucker Marcus. They are amazing, also fell in love with comics while I was working there, just because I had to read 20 comics a week for my job, but oh, my talk about a medium that is incredible storytelling. Um, albeit remarkably visual comparative to podcasts, but I think the same skills that I would use to edit a chat show, which, um, was part chat show.
Speaker 1 00:25:36 They would break down the comics every week and then also come to an interview. You have two hours of audio and you're told to make it one. So there is you have to have a really sharp editing ear and, um, the ability to let go of something that you like if it's not serving the story. And I think that that applies to the world of fiction. It applies to kids media. It applies to, I don't know, I keep follow it grownups media, but I think that's cuz I work in kids' media, but it applies to grown up media. It applies to narrative non-fiction I think having all these skills has only benefited me understanding the musicality of someone's speech is the, is a similar skill to understanding how a music bed functions in a story because all of these skills come from listening and from being creative and storytelling.
Speaker 1 00:26:33 I think that there is a lot of ways that my skillset applies across the board. And I, I think I should also say like before I started working in podcasts, I haven't ever found anything else that feels like this combination of my skills that fit so well. And I was looking for it for a long time and just really never quite felt like I fit in. And then this industry comes along where I can be musical where I can be creative, where I can write, I can produce, I can collaborate with amazing human beings. And it just like, it felt like such a light bulb over my head of like, oh my gosh, of course I need to be in this industry.
Speaker 0 00:27:12 You know, the, I, the idea that like when you're writing for, for media, are you also writing for make parents and teachers and other, you know, adults who, who might be in the room with the child?
Speaker 1 00:27:21 Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things in this ready to learn accelerator that we talked quite a bit about is the value of the co-listing experience for most adults, when they're engaging with podcasts, it's just them and the audio in their headphones. And for young listeners, there is a co-listing experience that is also happening. They're listening with their older sibling. They are listening with a, with a guardian they're listening with mom and dad or they're listening with grandma or who a teacher and his students they're listening with other people. And so from that co-listing experience, there's a few things that you have to take into account. Um, one of which being that the grownup is often the gatekeeper. And if you make content that is obnoxious or unlistenable or offensive or, um, inappropriate, that gatekeeper can take that content away. And so you have to be making content with both sets of listeners in mind.
Speaker 1 00:28:22 Um, the other thing that is so cool is that you're because you are writing for the co-listing experience, you're also helping foster these incredibly crucial intergenerational conversations. In the case of I future maker, we are helping foster the conversation between guardian and their and their child of what their future might look like. Maybe that kid didn't know that being an astronaut was possible, or maybe that kid didn't know that the fact that they really love being outside could lead them towards being a gardener or working in agriculture. Like there is, there is this really neat opportunity to help prompt and foster these conversations in an I future maker's case. It's about the future in, in a loony tunes case. It's about politics. Like there is such a neat opportunity that the co-listing experience brings in kids and family podcasts. And I suppose in cartoons as well that you don't necessarily get in other styles and other genres of podcasts, right?
Speaker 0 00:29:28 Megan, I'm excited to listen to the trailer after, uh, these credits. Thank you for, uh, thank thanks for joining me today.
Speaker 1 00:29:34 Thank you so much. This has been an absolute pleasure.
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Speaker 0 00:30:33 And now a sneak preview for I future maker, a series that Megan is working on with PRX.
Speaker 4 00:30:40 So when I was up there, we took the shuttle up to the international space station. And so the space shuttle and the international space station were joined and we were floating around the earth for 13 days. That way. Uh, there's actually a robotic arm on the shuttle and there's a robotic arm on the international space station during our mission. We were still building the space station. So we took up another piece of the space station to plop on the end of it. And it was such a big space station at that time, even though it wasn't complete that it took both arms, the arm on the shuttle and the arm on the space station to actually install that one piece.
Speaker 1 00:31:18 She understood when we interviewed with her, who she was talking to. And one of the things that was really important for us for I future maker was to make sure that we never, although we're talking to kids, we're never talking down to kids. And so she managed to craft her work and boil it down into something that was had. That was just, it was perfect. What she, what she said was perfect.
Speaker 0 00:31:42 Wow. I future maker. And when people, uh, when that comes out, where can people find it?
Speaker 1 00:31:48 Um, T B D you know, we are currently, um, in the shopping process of bringing it out into the world. And so, uh, I, I don't know if you have talked about, on your show, the, the process of shopping a show around, um, but it's really, uh, it's a complicated lengthy, but worthwhile process. Um, and that's the process that I futuremaker is currently in. So
Speaker 6 00:32:11 Joan, did you always know that this is what you wanted to do,
Speaker 4 00:32:15 So, no, this is not what I always wanted to do, and I really didn't have any interest in NASA. And I got a call in my dorm room one day from a guy from NASA. He said, well, why don't you come down to Florida and, and see the Kennedy space center. And I stayed 20 years.
Speaker 6 00:32:30 It's funny how life can take us to places. We never knew we wanted to go.