Australian Audio Guide

Working With Sound: Selena Shannon

Selena Shannon took over as Executive Producer of All the Best in April 2016. She began her radio adventures at FBi Radio in 2014 where she has produced for All the Best, Backchat and Out of the Box. In 2015, Selena produced and edited Fenella Kernebone’s independent podcast Trackwork and she recently worked on her first feature radio documentary for Earshot on Radio National with Jess Bineth.

We spoke to Selena about working with emerging producers on All the Best, and her appreciation for Australia’s unique style of audio storytelling.

Selena Shannon (Photo: supplied)

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

One piece that stands out for me as an audio maker is ‘Everything, Nothing, Harvey Keitel’ by Pejk Malinovski. The way it created a multilayered sense of space by aurally conveying the narrator’s internal voice – contrasting it against his spoken voice – and the voice of the meditation teacher worked so well for me. I also loved the way Malinovski used the rhythm of the meditation to transfix the listener: the style was so effective even though the premise of the story was so simple! It made me realise what amazing things can be achieved with simple, well-made sound, without the need for too many bells and whistles.

Where did the idea for All the Best come from?

All the Best started long before I became involved. It was dreamed up by Jesse Cox, Brigitte Dagg and Eliza Sarlos about six years ago to be a platform for homegrown Australian stories, personal narratives and documentaries about life in Australia. It’s grown and changed so much over the years thanks to the enthusiasm and talent of so many up-and-coming radio makers.

allthebestWhat is your favourite part of making All the Best?

My favourite part is hearing the first audio draft of a new story after we have spent days or weeks refining the paper draft through multiple feedback rounds – and we hear every piece of it click together in a way that just works.

Of course, not every story triggers this feeling in the first draft. Often I find pace or tone is hard to nail in the first cut draft, especially when we’re working with contributors who may be putting together their first ever audio story. But when it does work in that first audio draft, it’s incredibly encouraging and satisfying, and you can take a breath and focus on being excited about the finished product.

What is the hardest part of producing All the Best?

The great thing about All the Best is we get to be the training ground where new radio makers can learn the ropes and test their wings. However, it does mean each story is a learning curve for the person making it, so each production needs extra time and investment. Luckily when we spend enough time training someone they often come back with fantastic follow-up pieces they have since been able to make on their own.

What’s the best thing about working with sound?

All the Best relies so much on people being willing to share their personal stories with us, and I think podcasting and radio create a more comfortable environment in which everyday people can be vulnerable and honest. Sound affords a degree of anonymity that film or TV can’t match, while also having the ability to stay truer to someone’s personal voice and emotion in comparison to print stories.

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

I’ve been given lots of great advice over the years, but I think the worst advice is a line by Ira Glass in a talk he gave that has since been heavily debated amongst my radio friends which said: ‘Never end a story with tape’. I think the implication was that the narrator should always be the last voice in a piece, which I think in some cases can undermine the central ‘character’ in a non-fiction story. If someone is sharing their experience or their life story with you, I don’t believe in legislating against them ever having the last word. Sometimes it works to end on their thoughts.

I think podcasting and radio create a more comfortable environment in which everyday people can be vulnerable and honest.

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

I think what I’ve learned time and time again is that a story concept that seems interesting to you may not be immediately interesting in an obvious way to the audience. Producing a great story isn’t just about relaying it in the tightest or most polished format – it’s about unpicking key elements, examining the narrative from different angles and putting parts in context to convey to listeners why they should care and what makes this story amazing. It’s definitely a common mistake I spot in a lot of new radio makers’ pitches.

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

Outside of social media, it’s quite hard for us to engage with our listeners who aren’t part of the radio or community media demographic. Internally we share a lot of feedback, within our team and with our radio networks, and their support helps us constantly improve the show. Having said that, we’ve been recognised by a number of awards and our team members are regularly invited to speak at literary and audio events, so I hope we’re doing something right!

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

Hands down I would dine with Scott Carrier of Home of the Brave. His programme is my absolute favourite podcast and I find him so fascinating. He’s really been able to create something so unique, genuine and personal, alternating between archived soundscapes and political musings. I’d love to talk to him about American politics, but also how he feels about finding success so late in his career and whether it’s changed his approach to radio.

What are you listening to at the moment?

It’s hard to find time to listen to new podcasts when I’m listening to so much All the Best content at every stage of production throughout the week, but when I do get a spare moment I mostly listen to Sleeptalker, Reply All and Invisibilia, as well as diving into the back catalogue of Radiotonic from time to time.

What’s your favourite Australian podcast, and why?

I know it’s kind of cheating, but Radiotonic would probably be my favourite Australian podcast. I’ve uncovered so many unusual pieces through that program. No relation to the fact that it’s hosted by the founder of All the Best!

What do you think is unique about Australian audio?

The Australian podcasting scene is still in its infancy relative to America, but what I find unique about it is its strong independent culture and collaborative spirit. I feel so lucky to have such a solid support network around All the Best, coming from our contributors, from Audiocraft and from other independent radio makers.

Content-wise, I love Australian audio’s ability to switch between city and country stories, and find the interesting crossover between the two. I also find Australian narrators place themselves less at the centre of the stories they tell, and instead let the ‘characters’ speak for themselves a lot more.

What’s next for you as a producer?

I feel like I’ve only just settled into running All the Best after taking over six months ago, so now I’m ready to hit the ground running with refining and growing the program. I’m really happy with our industry recognition as a show but I’d love to match it with higher audience numbers. I’m also really excited to go to Third Coast Festival in the States later this year and see how our American counterparts are doing things over there.