(Podcasting) partners in crime

by Radhika Viswanathan

There’s a great podcast Hrishi Hirway made called Partners which I love. Part of the show’s description, which showcases fulfilling partnerships of all shapes and sizes from business to the creative, is that everyone wants to connect meaningfully with another person.

Vaaka Media was set up by myself and Samyuktha, my co-founder, and one of the things we think about a lot is how to build teams. Samyuktha and I work really well together, but if this partnership works well for us, it’s because we’ve worked very hard at it. We’ve learned to develop complementary skills, give each other space and independence, and work as a team: and having learnt how to do this with each other, we’ve learnt to recognise these skills in others and work with more team members. That said, we started out as a two-person team and over the past few years, we’ve slowly found other creators who have become a part of our core team. We’ve grown slowly, intentionally.

From our recruitment campaign to onboard Bernie.

You see, podcasting and audio storytelling is a team sport, but it’s a small team sport — think bob-sled team or 4x100 relay team. Everyone has their own specific role, but we also lean on each other all the time. What this means is that it is not enough to just be good at your job — you have to know how to do everything but not do everything, and you have to support your fellow team members. The best podcasts we have made are those where everyone on the team is thriving creatively and in sync.

A year ago, we were attending a podcasting training program in the US and a journalist from a very successful show came to speak to us about their team and how they made their show. It was mad. They had the tiniest of teams but were able to produce deeply insightful episodes week after week. Everybody worked really hard and I was most inspired by their partnerships (which they drew out as a messy squiggle on a whiteboard).

Being a creator is hard and lonely work. Making things takes time and the really good stuff is the product of hours of thought, hard work, rewrites, editing, and multiple sound revisions. When a piece of audio sounds effortless, it’s probably because it’s taken hours to make and has undergone multiple versions (we worked on a show sometime back where each and every episode had over 12–17 revisions before they were released). Every time you hear one of our shows and you hear just one or two voices, please know that there’s a team of folks that have spent hours making it.

Right from when the idea is conceptualised, we spend time talking through it, questioning it, and refining it. What will the episodes talk out? What will be flow be like? What should it be called? No idea is bad: we bounce the most inane and silliest of ideas off each other which has lead to some of our best work. Our episode ‘Props’ on City of Women started out with a ‘Would it be crazy if we — ’. The genesis is typically one person’s idea, but we all give it more and more shape, and nothing goes out till it’s perfect. Yes, creative fights happen, and when they do, we try to fall back on something we learned in podcasting bootcamp: let the audio decide which way to go. At some point, it’ll acquire its own voice. (It’s one of those things that we didn’t understand in the abstract, but makes total sense when you’re working on something).

We typically have a couple of producers working on each show. Interviews (and we end up interviewing many people) take a lot of time as well, and we try to spread the work around so that everyone is in the know, to the extent possible. Simultaneously, at a desk somewhere else, our art producer is imagining what the show could look like; our social media manager is thinking up ways to introduce our work to you, and in another location, the sound producer is composing music and dreaming up what the show could sound like. And then, the host or hosts record their voice-overs, the Audio Editor edits everything, and then there’s sound design and engineering…all the pieces of the pod are still moving parts, waiting to come together.

It’s hard to stay creatively motivated when the work is so intense (and it can feel very personal). We try to share as much as we can on what we’re listening to, watching and reading (and sometimes we share our questions with you — have you read our #DeleteMonday recommendations?).

This all feeds into our work: if you think we have a nice sound, if some of our words resonated with you, or if some of our artwork or our social media caught your eye, it’s because of all the work that goes into it. If you think that podcasting — at least the kind of shows we like to make — is easy, it’s actually complex. Remember the Skoda cake ad? But more than that — it’s incredibly fun and rewarding, especially if you have the right people to work with.

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