Australian Audio Guide

Working with Sound: Sam Loy

Sam Loy produces the podcast Human/Ordinary. We spoke to him about finding compelling stories in ordinary places, and what motivates him to keep going with an independent project.

Photo of Sam Loy

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

The sound of my daughter’s beating heart as she was growing inside my partner was pretty profound – but I’m guessing that’s not really what this question is asking.

The Radiolab story ‘Reasonable Doubt‘ was one of the first audio pieces I heard that really showed me the power of the medium. I was completely transfixed, and couldn’t do anything other than listen. It showed me audio could be more than just something we have on in the background.

Where did the idea for Human/Ordinary come from?

After my daughter was born in July 2015, I had a bit of an existential crisis. I started to consider who I was and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. After a bit of soul searching, I realised that I needed to return to creative endeavours and have another crack at writing. I saw podcasting as something that would be different, relevant and a good opportunity to get my non-fiction stories out into the world.

My podcast was originally titled My New Two Month Project because I have a habit of starting a new hobby and then quickly abandoning it. But by combining my interest in writing, sociology, story-telling, and (to be frank) myself, I have been able to sustain Human/Ordinary through its first seven episodes.

What’s your favourite part of making Human/Ordinary? 

Definitely the interview process. I love hearing other peoples’ stories and facing the challenge of helping them to elucidate it. I’m not typically a very chatty guy, so doing the podcast gives me a great excuse to meet new people and learn about things I never would have otherwise.

What’s the hardest part of producing Human/Ordinary?

It can be pretty lonely at times. I listen to other podcasts where they have teams working on stories and I envy that. I think it would be great to be involved with a group of like-minded people helping each other produce the best stories possible.

Whats the best thing about working with sound?

Ira Glass has said that radio is a very visual medium. I think the best thing about working with sound is also one of the most challenging, and that is to try to realise those words. Editing and working with music and ambient sound to give the listener a clear image in their mind is very exciting.

Whats the best (or worst) advice youve received about podcasting?

Again, it’s from Ira Glass. And he didn’t say it just to me; it’s a pretty well known quote where he basically says that you’re going to make crap radio when you start out that doesn’t meet your expectations. But the thing you’ve got to do is just keep making it. Again and again and again, because you’re going to get better. This sort of thing is really important to me, as I have had a tendency to dump projects early on because I haven’t been able to create the greatest thing in the world straight away.

I love hearing other peoples’ stories and facing the challenge of helping them to elucidate it.

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

To have a strong sense of your story and what you need from each interview. That isn’t to say that you don’t take things where they might lead, but when I started out (on a story that I still haven’t finished), I just went into things without any sense of why. I think it’s really important for me to have some kind of a plan. Even if it’s a plan that I will dump within the first minute of an interview.

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

I have a Facebook page, but it hasn’t got a heap of ‘likes’ and only friends seem to comment on it. I’ve had a few old friends contact me out of the blue to say they’ve listened and liked the stories, but I really thrive off constructive criticism. I feel we don’t grow as much if we only ever get positive feedback. I’d rather someone tell me they only kind of enjoyed a story rather than loved it. At least then I can learn ways I can improve.

I feel we don’t grow as much if we only ever get positive feedback.

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

No way I’m only giving one answer for this. I’m having a dinner party.

Tom Waits makes audio, and he is my music god – so he’s there. Jonathan Goldstein (Heavyweight) seems like he’d be fun company, so he can come. Lea Thau (Strangers) gets an invite so I can pick her brain about getting people to tell intimate tales. I’ll get May Jasper (Random Article) along because I need an Aussie in the room and I love listening to her talk. And the absolute special guest would be Scott Carrier (Home of the Brave), because I idolise so much of what he does. I would annoy the shit out of him asking questions about how he approaches strangers on the street and gets them to talk to him. I am in awe of this man.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I always have This American Life updated. I’m trying to stay up to date with All The Best, and getting through Reply All‘s back catalogue. I really dig what Contact Mic is doing, as I think we share similar philosophies in the stories we’re drawn to.

I enjoyed Heavyweight, but the season never bested the second episode, ‘Gregor‘. I’m obsessed with HowSound as I really need the professional help it offers, and I’ve been devouring Story Club as I try to hone my skills as a storyteller. Also Short Cuts from the BBC, and Australian podcasts Random Article, Love, Canberra and Dead and Buried. That’s a lot, yeah?

What’s your favourite Australian podcast, and why?

I think I’d have to say Contact Mic because they’re making content that’s after my own heart. The tagline for their show is something like ‘stories about being human’, which is scandalously close the tagline for my show. I love how they have a theme each episode and they get interesting stories out of their subjects that examine the mundane, the extraordinary and the human. Recommended.

I’d also like to mention Random Article because I think May Jasper shares a fascination with the ordinary like I do. I think we both see that stories are literally everywhere and they’re just waiting for someone to come along and tell them. I’m looking forward to Season 2.

Whats next for you as a producer?

I’ve just wrapped up the first season of Human/Ordinary and took a break over the summer. Now I want to get to work on the second season of the show, where I’ll be producing six Headstone stories. These will all examine death and dying, and cultural reactions to these, but from different perspectives. Each will begin with a headstone inscription found in a Melbourne cemetery, and the first episode should be live in May 2017.

I’m also working on a collaboration with Bec Fary (Sleep Talker) and I’ll hopefully have a piece in the All The Best listening party they’re throwing with Audiocraft in Sydney on March 9th 2017.