With the first episode of the new season of Reverb Effect dropping at the end of October, Taylor Sims, the History Department’s graduate student public engagement and professionalization coordinator, connected with Reverb Effect host and season producer Hayley Bowman on Zoom to discuss the podcast, her role as season producer, and how to pitch an episode.
Taylor Sims: I know you've only been in it for a couple months, but what has been the best part of your job as producer so far?
Hayley Bowman: That's a great question. Actually, it's been talking to people about their projects at different stages. I've been talking with Timnet Gedar about her upcoming episode. It's more in the final stages, and I came in at a later stage. But it's been really rewarding to hear about her project, how she came to it, have her catch me up on it, and then talk about how we see it coming together for the episode. It's also been really cool to talk to people in the early stages, who are just interested in trying to figure out what they want to write about. People often come to me with several ideas, and then we get to talk about them all. I get to hear about all kinds of different history, and then we try to decide what seems like the best choice or the most interesting choice for the narrative form. That's been really cool, just to talk to people who are outside of my field who I wouldn't normally interact with on a day to day basis. I really get to deep dive into some of the really interesting things that they're finding in the archives. You get to hear about people’s interests beyond their dissertation, while also learning about other small facets of their dissertation that they might dive deep into for this. So, I really like that.
TS: Why did you initially apply for and then accept the position of season producer for Reverb Effect?
HB: I've spent a lot of time being very interested in narrative and how to create narratives from history. I'm very passionate about that kind of storytelling and thinking about our job as storytellers. It’s something I've been working on pretty much my whole time here at Michigan in conjunction with my advisor and personal projects … and that spoke to me about the podcast. So, when I saw that this position was open, I thought, I don't have any experience doing podcasting, but I really like the idea of thinking about history as narrative and then also helping other people think about history narrative and helping them pull these stories out of their research. It’s just something that's really important to me; so that seemed like a great opportunity.
TS: What is the process of pitching and releasing an episode? Let's say I want to do a podcast, and I have ten early stage ideas. Now what?
HB: The first thing you would do is contact me, and we would meet via Zoom to discuss the options. Usually for this initial meeting, we talk about the ideas you have, and we try to narrow them down. My goal is to get us to maybe one idea that we think is the best. A lot of people leave with a couple, maybe two before they move on to the next phase. So, I'll help you figure out what might be the most interesting thing or one that would work especially well in the narrative form on a podcast … especially within the constraints of our podcast. For example, we're not doing an hour-long episode. We're trying to keep it short, and it needs to be powerful. We’ll talk about strategies and different parts of your research that might come out.
Then, you move on to the proposal writing phase. I send you the requirements, but basically it’s up to 500 words and includes a description of the narrative and who you might bring in as experts on the episode with you. It's usually nice to have multiple voices or at least more than one voice. You can also have voice actors, which is something we're implementing on one of the in progress episodes right now, which is pretty cool. The proposal just gives me and the editorial team an idea of what you're thinking and that you've thought about it in a narrative form.
Once the proposal is approved—we usually have feedback—then we move on to script writing. This is the script for the episode, and we can work on things together, bounce ideas off of each other. I give you feedback along the way; and again, it gets sent to the editorial team. You’ll get more feedback. And then once you've made the necessary edits and tweaks and we feel good about the script, we move on to recording.
Recording in the time of COVID is a little bit different than normal. Maybe we'll get to the point where we can do this in person; but for the time being, I've been working with Justin Schell, the director of the Shapiro Design Lab, who's a recording expert. So you, as the episode producer, record the script, and there are ways that I can support you via Zoom. There's a couple different programs that we use, and the library gives us access to software, so you can record with a microphone on your phone or your computer. Of course, it's not going to be the same as being in a professional recording studio, but most podcasts have done the same thing lately, and because of COVID.
Once you've recorded, we divide the labor of editing. Usually, the episode producer cuts the audio the way they want. You might take out “ums” and things like that, choose music and sound effects, and decide where you’d like them. Then usually, you send all of that to me, and I mix the episode. I’ll write a three to five minute introduction and the outro as well. So I mix it all together, make it sound good; and then of course, you get to approve it. The episode producer always gets approval before we send it to the editorial team for final approval, and then it goes out into the world!
TS: So why should someone pitch an episode? What's in it for the episode producer?
HB: I think it's a great opportunity to think about your research and how to present your research in a new way. Even just turning your research into a narrative ... some people may write that way already, but a lot of us don't. I think it's a really good opportunity to also tease out what aspects of your research might be best suited for this kind of media. It's a great way to think about how we convey information. How do we convey history? I think there are many things that podcasts can do that even a lecture or a book cannot do. More and more, teachers are using podcasts in their classrooms; they're having their students create podcasts. It’s a chance to think about how you are communicating with your audience, and it also allows you to reach a larger audience, maybe a different audience. I think that’s something we need to continually think about and do. That's part of our obligation as historians in my opinion, to think beyond the university. The episode producer will also be compensated for their time.
TS: Who can pitch a podcast?
HB: Everybody. I think a lot of people express that they don’t think they have a story worthy of a podcast episode. And I always say, let's talk about it. Tell me about your research, because I think everyone has a story that's worthy of an episode. We just need to think about it in a different way, and I think everyone can do that. A lot of people have mentioned that they don't think that their topic, like a pre-modern topic, relates enough to the present to be on the podcast. And I don't think that that's the case. I think everything resonates with our present, even if it doesn't do so explicitly.
TS: If I wanted to go listen to episodes of the Reverb Effect podcast. where can I find it?
HB: You have options! You can go to the Reverb Effect website. We're also on all the big podcast-streaming services, like Stitcher, Spotify, Apple podcasts, and Google Play.
TS: Are there any other questions you think I should have asked about the podcast or things you want to raise? What would you like people to know?
HB: Mostly, I just want people to know that I'll help you. You’re not in it alone. I will do my best to empower you to make the episode your own, and you're not going to lose control of your episode—it's going to have your name on it. My name is attached to it too, but it's about your work. I'm here to help you create a great episode, and I'm really invested in that. So if you're at all interested, everyone has a story to tell, and I want everyone to feel they have creative control.