COVID-19 Student Podcast Challenge

It feels like any time you turn on the TV or the radio, all is there to talk about is COVID-19 (and that’s understandable). However, there has been one voice missing in the coverage of this pandemic: the students. So, at WFDD, we want to give students the chance to express how they have been impacted by the coronavirus, but in a creative way: through sound. So, we’re launching a COVID-19 Student Podcast challenge. This can be a news story, a personal reflection, an essay, a poem, a song, a mash-up of sounds, an interview… whatever they feel like doing. The more creative and out of the box, the better! We only have two requirements: that it is under four minutes, and that it answers the prompt: “How has the coronavirus pandemic affected you?”

Ready to submit? 

Submit your entry here.

 

Podcast Challenge Resource Center

We hope that this helps you get your podcast off the ground. We will continue to update this with more resources as the days go by but remember that we are looking to see how creative you are using audio so don't limit yourself to just the information on this resource center!. 

If you have a question that you'd like us to answer or if you need more resources on some specific part of the process, send us an email to gabriel_maisonnave@wfu.edu and we will add the information here.

 

Table of Contents

1) What's a podcast?

2) How to come up with an idea?

3) What do you need to get started?

4) How to edit sound?

5) How to organize your podcast?

6) How to script?

7) How to interview?

8) Can I use music?

 

What’s a podcast?

There are over 500,000 active podcasts on iTunes! That’s an insane number of podcasts, and it also makes it hard to come up with just one definition of what a podcast is. Technically, if you have an audio digital file that you can listen to on demand, online, then you have a podcast. So, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what kind of podcast you want to do. Are you a great storyteller who loves talking to people? Well, maybe a narrative podcast in the style of This American Life is for you. Do you enjoy just chatting with your friends? You are a Pop Culture Happy Hour person then! Maybe you enjoy interviews? Hello there, Fresh Air-style podcaster! Or how about fiction? Welcome to Night Vale is your jam then. The point is that there is not ONE TYPE of podcast . . . and you get to choose what to do!

The one thing you should keep in mind is sound. This is your chance to express yourself through audio. Whether this means you talking into the microphone, you doing an interview, recording a poem or a song, or a creative way of using the sounds around you, we want to see your creative side!

 

How to come up with an idea?

This is your chance to think outside of the box and surprise us with your creativity. However, if you are dead in the water and you want some help getting started, these questions might help:

  1. How has the coronavirus changed your family dynamic? How about your group of friends?

  2. Tell us a story that reflects what you’ve been through for the last couple of months.

  3. If we could go inside your head, what would it sound like?

  4. What’s different about you now?

  5. What are some of the problems that you see in your community? Are things better or worse now?

  6. What are parts of your identity that have been affected by COVID-19?

  7. How are you coping with this?

  8. What is something that you understand that you think adults don’t?

Think about what would be the best way to explore the topic you choose. Maybe it’s an interview with someone you know; maybe it’s you and someone you know discussing the topic over the phone; maybe it’s a montage of soundbites; maybe it’s something else that nobody has thought about . . . .

On that note, the best thing you can do to look for inspiration is to listen to what’s already out there. Here are some great examples to get you started:

 

What do you need to start?

The cool thing about radio is that you don’t need much to produce great content. If you have a cellphone and a computer, you already have access to everything you will need. Now, each phone is different, so the first thing you’ll need to do is figure out where the microphone in your phone is located. For most phones, it’ll be at the bottom, by the charging port.

You can record yourself using the voice memo app and then download the files on your computer for editing.

Keep in mind that the microphone on your phone is most likely omnidirectional. This means that it is going to capture a lot of background noise unless you position it about a fist-length away from your mouth (or the mouth of your interviewee).

If you need to do phone or web interviews (highly recommended during these times) you can try apps like RevCaller, Automatic Call Recorder, or Audio Hijack.

 

How to edit sound?

The art of mixing sounds is, arguably, where the fun begins. You can combine different files, or use music and sounds to enhance your narration. You can get rid of mistakes and things like “umm” or “ehhh” without much effort. You can add effects to make your voice sound like a chipmunk or you can literally create music by combining different sounds! There is so much that can be done!!!

There are several options when it comes to audio editors. Some are paid, such as Adobe Audition or Hindenburg. Some come with your computer such as GarageBand or Microsoft Sound Editor. And some are free -- like Audacity. For this, we recommend that you download Audacity. The interface is pretty clean and there are lots of tutorials on their website, not to mention tutorial-central . . . a.k.a. YouTube.

When it comes to editing, you want to keep in mind two things:

  1. Does this sound natural?

  2. Will my listener notice this?

If what you are cutting/adding makes the story/interview sound unnatural, then don’t do it. Sometimes, leaving a “mistake” in sounds better than a bad/sloppy edit.

 

How to organize your podcast?

There are several ways to structure your podcast and none of them is entirely right or wrong. You can follow the structure of famous shows like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or This American Life, or you can come up with your own structure. However, keep this in mind: we listen to audio in a linear fashion. This means that once we hear something, it is gone; we can’t go back. Think of this: if you are reading a book or a newspaper and you feel like you missed something, you can always start that paragraph again, but you don’t have that option in radio! So you want to carefully plan out your podcast to make sure that your listener will be able to digest everything that you are giving them.

A great tool you can use to structure your podcast is a storyboard. You can use each square to organize the different ingredients of your podcast (different segments of the interview, sounds, etc . . . ).

The bottom line is that no matter the path you choose to follow, you will need to figure out a structure before you get started. If you sit in front of the mic and just hit record without a roadmap, you aren’t setting yourself up for success.

 

How to script?

Writing for the ear is a bit different than writing an essay for school. The main reason is that in a podcast, you are really having a conversation with the listener; your writing should reflect that.

Here you can find some writing conventions that are going to help you along the way, but keep in mind these three things:

  1. Keep it simple: short sentences. 

  2. Conversational: write like you talk. This is meant to be heard so it should sound like you are not reading from a script.

  3. Be concise: get to the point and move on. All that flowery language that you use on your essays to hit the word count? Yeah . . . none of that.

You can also check out this handy guide by NPR on how to navigate the transition between print and audio.

 

How to interview?

If you need to interview people for your podcast, you will need to prepare. Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air, once said, “I read, watch, or listen to as much of the person’s work as possible, so I have an understanding of what makes them, or their story, important. I try to clarify in my own mind why this person matters, and why it’s worthy of our listeners’ time.”

Doing your research will allow you to come up with better questions and dig deep. Great tape is rarely found in the first couple of minutes of the interview.

Keep in mind:

  • Ask open-ended questions (Questions that start with “what” or “how” or “why” are always great).

  • Follow-up: pay attention to their answers and follow-up. Sometimes it will lead you to much more interesting places that you would have anticipated.

  • Ask yourself: “What will my listener need to know to understand this?”

  • Push your interviewee to use descriptive language. (“Can you tell me more about what day was like?” “What do you remember from that room?” etc . . . )

  • Use silence! Don’t be afraid of some silence. It’ll make your interviewee feel like they need to keep talking and will give you more tape!

You can find here some tips from Terry Gross on Interviewing and also some tips from our reporters at WFDD.

 

Can I use music?

Well, this is a very good, and complicated, question. Music (when used right) is a powerful tool. It can enhance an emotion, it can help you cover some technical mishaps, or it can even help you give the listener time to digest something you just said. However, when dealing with music you also need to think about copyright laws and that’s where things get complicated.

The short answer to this question is: You can only use music that you own. Meaning that if you are a musician and you made some music and you want to use that in your podcast, yes! You are all good. No problem there. Now, if you were planning on kicking off your podcast with Blinding Lights by The Weeknd in the background . . . then, no. For that you’d need written permission from the artist or to have bought the rights to the lyrics and music for this song. I don’t want you getting sued.

So, does this mean that I can’t use any music at all?
Not really; to reiterate: it’s complicated. There are several sites out there that offer free songs or music under a creative commons license. This would require that you credit the artist at the end of your podcast. A good place to start looking is the Free Music Archive, or BlueDot Sessions. But please, and I can’t stress this enough, be sure that you have the rights to use whatever you use, or that you correctly credited the owner based on the license that you got.

 

Most importantly, have fun and think outside of the box!! The reason why Radiolab, This American Life, Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, and any famous podcast out there is famous is that they dared to do something nobody else had done before! Be you!

 

Ready to submit? 

Submit your entry here.