Australian Audio Guide

Working with Sound: James Parkinson

James Parkinson is an independent producer from Melbourne who hosts and produces By Association, a narrative podcast about football. He talks to us about authenticity, analytical listening and putting listeners in the moment.

James Parkinson (Photo: supplied)

What piece of audio has had the most profound effect on you – as a listener, as an audio maker or both?

I was a relative latecomer to This American Life. I’ve been a podcast listener for years, but audio storytelling wasn’t really on my radar until I heard the episode ‘Right to Remain Silent back in 2010. The story caught my attention instantly and held it. I was hooked. It opened up a whole new genre for me, and I realised that audio could be so much more.

Where did the idea for By Association come from?

I wanted to create something that combined two things I’m passionate about – football (soccer) and documentaries. It was also a chance to do something different. Most podcasts about sports focus on news and results but I wanted to delve deeper into the stories and people that make the game what it is – a game that means so much to so many. Football is global and no matter where you are in the world, fans are all connected by their love for the game. That’s the essence of By Association.

What is your favourite part of making By Association?

I enjoy the entire creative process. Finding really interesting stories that people haven’t heard before and bringing them to my audience, it’s really rewarding. I’m always learning a lot.

What is the hardest part of producing By Association?

Finding great stories in the first place is always a challenge. I know the football world is full of them but not everything will work for audio. Tracking people down for interviews can be difficult at times, but that’s the reality of being independent and having limited resources. Although, working within those constraints is definitely helping my growth as a producer.

Tracking people down for interviews can be difficult at times, but that’s the reality of being independent and having limited resources.

What’s the best thing about working with sound?

It allows you to be really focused in telling a story. When there aren’t visuals for the listener to refer to it puts more emphasis on the human voice and you can evoke a lot of emotions out of that alone. Add things like music and sound effects and you can place the listener in a particular moment. It’s more like they’re along for the ride as opposed to watching it play out from a distance.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about podcasting?

The best advice I’ve received is to just start. A lot of people who are new to podcasting are hesitant about what they sound like, or get caught up worrying about the tech, and they never get past that. If you have an idea that you’re passionate about, just go for it. You don’t have to publish everything you create, but if it’s something you really want to do then don’t hold back.

What has been your biggest lesson as a producer so far?

Don’t be afraid to abandon a bad story or a story that just isn’t working.

Do you interact with your audience, or receive feedback or criticism about your work?

I try to reach out to successful people in the audio space for critical feedback as I know they listen to things with a more analytical ear. I think this type of feedback is crucial to tracking my progress as I hone the craft.

I try to reach out to successful people in the audio space for critical feedback as I know they listen to things with a more analytical ear.

I have also been very lucky to receive positive feedback from my audience, most of it via social media. It’s great to know that people understand what I’m trying to achieve with the show and it tells me I’m on the right track.

If you could go out to dinner with any audio maker, who would it be – and what would you talk about?

I’d have to say Roman Mars, because his work is a huge inspiration for me. After getting as many storytelling tips as I could, of course, we’d totally nerd out over flags, airports and revolving doors!

What are you listening to at the moment?

So many shows! I’m loving Beautiful/Anonymous. I’m also currently catching up on the Lore back catalogue. I really admire Aaron Mahnke’s work and everything he’s achieved as an independent producer. I recently finished Pin/Kings from ESPN which was excellent. Outside Podcast from PRX and Howler Radio are also recent favourites.

What’s your favourite Australian podcast, and why?

I have to say, The Real Thing has quickly moved up to the top of my list. From episode one, it pulls you right in with a nostalgia trip back to the 90s. What could be more Australian than Round the Twist?! And it only gets better from there. Carefully produced but also laid back and inviting.

What do you think is unique about Australian audio?

Unlike other forms of media and entertainment, with podcasts there’s more freedom of expression and creativity which allows us to be more authentic. I think we see the best of that in the audio space in Australia. We’re also a very diverse country and our outlook on the rest of world is certainly unique.

What’s next for you as a producer?

Trying to improve with every piece I produce. I’m still learning this craft so I’m constantly trying to get better in order to make By Association the best it can be. I’m always thinking and working ahead on stories and ideas. The podcast is currently on a monthly release schedule but I’d love to get to the point where I can put out two shows a month. That’s the long term goal, anyway.