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Podcasting and Audio Storytelling

Save yourself hours of frustration and hassle with this guide for podcasts and other forms of audio storytelling

About this Guide

This guide is intended as a primer on podcasting as a narrative medium. It includes links to U-M Library and third party resources related to podcasting and audio production, as well as introductory coverage of many topics related to planning, creating, and distributing your first podcast.

 

[Created by Nicco Pandolfi, Shapiro Design Lab Program Assistant, June 2018; Last updated October 2019]

First Steps

Thinking about starting a podcast? Before you do anything else, you’ll need to do some careful thinking about your audience(s) and the kind of story you want to tell them. Spending a few hours on brainstorming and framing your narrative will save you dozens of hours during production and post-production.

 

The worksheet linked on this page belowcoupled with the wide range of resources included in this LibGuideshould help you on your way toward bringing your story to life in a way that aligns with your vision and resonates with your key audience(s).

An Incomplete Typology of Podcasts

As you decide how you will frame and convey your story to your audience, it can be helpful to consider the vast sea of examples that are already out there.

 

This 'incomplete typology' is not intended to be an exhaustive list of podcast formats or types, merely an overview of some of the most commonly used non-fiction/documentary story shapes and formats. Many podcasts also blend components of several of these structures quite effectively.

 

Monologue

  • One track featuring solo voicehopefully a compelling speakerwithout much supporting material (akin to the format of Talk Radio)
  • Might include interlude music or other breaks for the sake of variety
  • Examples: The Memory Palace and Hardcore History

 

Interview (Basic)

 

Interview (Intermediate)

  • Evidence of some basic editing to remove particles (ums, ahs, etc), possibly some restructuring of clips to create or clarify a narrative in post-production
  • Might have a break in the middle for a change of pace (or to run an advertisement)
  • Example: WTF (Marc Maron), How to Science

 

Interview (Elaborate)

  • Evidence of more advanced editing, the addition of music or sound effects throughout, inclusion of multiple voices, etc.
  • Sometimes styled as a conversation after the fact in post-production (e.g., a host records a question they didn’t ask the interviewee directly, but to which the interviewee’s statements contain the answer). This is done for emphasis and clarity. Other times, the episode is styled as a conversation between a host and a reporter/producer, who "tells the story" to the host in such a way that it includes all these other sonic elements.
  • Example: Many of the more polished and popular podcasts out there fall into this category, but Reply All is one example of this kind of style.

 

Conversation Among Hosts

  • Could have elements of all of the above, but its core structure is a conversation among multiple regular hosts/contributors (similar to a panel discussion)
  • Example: How to Survive the End of the World (Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown)

 

Narration/Voiceover + Interviews + Other Audio

  • The voiceover provides the narrative structure for the story (the ‘glue’ or throughline)
  • “Picking and choosing” pieces from the interview(s) and other audio clips to add dimension to the story
  • Example: This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radiolab

 

Non-Narrated Podcasts

  • A type of story where the voices of people in the story comprise most, if not all, of the story itself. While it may be edited by a producer, the story features little to no narration by that producer.
  • Examples: Snap Judgment, Love + Radio, Radio Diaries

 

Performance Presentation

  • A recording of a live presentation of some kind (poem, reading, interview from live event, etc) that is ‘wrapped’ with a voiceover before and after to contextualize, and/or summarize it
  • Example: The Moth

 

Fictional Narrative Podcasts

  • Reminiscent and often inspired by the radio dramas popular throughout much of the 20th Century, these shows either create original dramatic content or adapt existing written content to the audio drama format. Elements can vary among shows, but most will include multiple voice actors for different roles and sound design, including music, ambience, and sound effects.
  • Examples: Welcome to Night Vale, Passenger List, The Truth