It's time for me to be 100% honest with myself; today I’m admitting that I am afraid of the microphone.
Yes I may have studied, built, broken, soldered and babbled into plenty of mics in my time but this morning I realised during a lightbulb moment why I’ve come to loathe them as much as I love them.
I’ve been searching for a few days for some inspiration for a January blog, but you know - being January - motivation doesn’t exactly come easy. So when I’m desperately trying to avoid doing the things I really should be doing I find myself tidying and cleaning… And this morning by some magic of the elves I happened to stumble upon a cassette my dad made when I was about 3 or 4 years old.
Appropriately labelled ‘Growing Pains’, it contains a bizarre collection of ramblings of my little brother and I recorded at the first house we ever lived at.
If memory serves me right I think midway I break into performance mode with a variety of songs fresh from out of nursery. (Including one about a bear which drank up all the water, ate up all the soap and then went to hospital with bubbles in his throat!)
The tape doesn’t exactly flow from chapter to chapter. It’s very cute but there are plenty of stops, starts and background prompts of my dad telling us what to say - all amongst the babbles of my brother who is barely one and can’t really speak! Ah, those were the days. When I was the bigger older sister able to boss my lil bro about. (Older siblings will be nodding their heads about now.)
But there was something about finding this tape that awoke a realisation in me. Something about its pure, unedited rawness that made me connect the dots to how I came to fall in love with podcasts. And more importantly, perhaps the answer to how I finally tackle my fear of the microphone once and for all.
Let’s slip back into our younger years. A time where you probably had more hair and me a smaller waistline. For many folk, being young is a time where we are free from judgement and criticism. There is ample space in our lives to experiment, to play, to try new things. And if it doesn’t work out, we’re not really bothered - we just try again or move on to the next toy.
So when does that free living, experimental side of us fade away? And why?
Over the last 15 years I’ve produced thousands of radio programmes - for community radio, student radio, through to BBC local and network radio. But none of them gave me the same joy and satisfaction I gained from presenting and producing my own podcast series. Today for the first time I pondered over why.
As a professional producer in an established radio station, you enter in a covenant of many unwritten rules. There is a clear boundary of what is and what isn’t acceptable. For example, your cues must be three sentences long, this story must be relevant to your target audience, your packages must be 2:30 in total length, your in-line to audio must never been the same as the first line in the audio clip, you must time check and station check at least four times an hour, you must promote other output on the station somewhere every hour…
I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but the formulaic relentlessness of it all can become a bore. A producer mostly spends time looking over this stuff, and not so much harnessing their creativity and thinking up big ideas as most people would be led to believe.
It can be a bit like being an accountant. Routine, cyclical, predictable, and often mundane. (Sorry, if you’re an accountant - I’m sure you make up for it with exciting hobbies…)
Let’s compare that to a podcast:
There are no rules. You can record to any length you wish. This is no need to ‘watch the clock’, interviews are given as much time as feels natural. There is room for things to be a little rough around the edges, experimental even. You can record on your phone, your computer or a posh studio. There is no editor, or DG to tell you what to say. And also what not to say… This time you’re the boss. Which can be equal parts great and terrifying.
I’m a big believer that anyone can start a podcast, exactly the same as how many of us used to create our own little radio shows on ghetto blasters or karaoke machines many moons ago. But the problem may be that somehow between then and now, we’ve learnt to seek validation from others, we cry out for followers/subscribers/‘friends’, we’ve prescribed to a pattern of perfectionism, and developed a lifetime of giving up at the first hurdle.
Over the years I’ve faced much criticism for chasing a career behind the mic. I’ve never spoken publicly about how that’s affected me before. But to be frank it has played a huge part in slowly denting my confidence, and definitely cemented a deep rooted fear to step behind the mic at times.
According to many of my critics I have apparently been too young, too old, not resilient enough, lacking personality, am too much ‘all personality no experience’, don’t have enough twitter followers, my accent is common and I’ll never get a job working down south, my poor knowledge of sport means I’ll never make it as an on air reporter, my writing skills are poor - and a new personal favourite from a fairly recent critic - they and their team have no faith in my reporting ability…
Painful to read isn’t it? They are all genuine bouts of feedback I have received over the last decade. From some fairly high profile folk too that I looked up to and admired. It hurt. Their words sit inside my head like a woodpecker chipping at my shoulder again and again. Some days I actually believe those statements. Maybe I’ll never be good enough to have a job behind the mic?
However, I do have to balance that with some common sense. I have won awards for documentaries I’ve presented, I have sustained a PAID career working in radio and broadcasting for the last ten years, and have received tenfold nice comments about my presenting style! So why do we hold on to the bad stuff?
I come back to the title of the tape I found - ‘Growing Pains’. Let’s be honest. No one walks into a career or radio show or podcast immediately perfect. So why do we not give ourselves - and others - room to fail a few times before nailing it?
I'll never forget how I first came to present my first show in 2002 at Shock Radio. For some time I was the techie/desk driver, always watching - never on air. That was something I considered 'for other people', not me. Then after some months of 'observation' one show when the regular presenter didn't turn up I stepped up to the mic, felt the excited buzz in my stomach, slipped up the fader and converted to 'light side' right there. I went on to win Best Female Presenter at the station a year later. They were good times!
People often ask me to define how podcasts are different to radio. Perhaps using this context it’s a little easier to see how podcasts are opening up the audio world to allow people to be rough and ready but real. It doesn’t matter whether a first episode is perfect. Hosts are encouraged just to do it, get an episode out there and build upon a foundation. It never ceases to amaze me how there is a podcast for every topic, every sport, and every niche hobby. There are people making them to publicise their business and services, and there are people who make them for free. And that’s all fine - in fact it’s better than fine because in an industry such as radio where you have to be this and that and the other to ‘make it’, in the podcasting world there is room for anyone and everyone to have a stab. Not just celebrities.
So my lesson learnt today? A realisation that none of the ‘rules’ really matter, as when at the mic it’s really just me and my 10 year-old self sat there talking into a stick with some fancy bits on wondering if anyone is really interested anyway. I accept that all experience counts - good and bad. In 2018, as painful as it may be, I’m aiming to enjoy the process of learning and growing - and will ignore the distractions that inevitably falter along the ride. Question is, will you join me?
ASFB Productions provides a bespoke service to helping you create the right audio fit to best market you and your passion. Whether a full A-Z consultancy approach is needed, or just a pep talk and a motivational refill - contact ASFBproductions@gmail.com for a free consultation. We believe in you!