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Review: Make Noise, a creator's guide to podcasting and great audio storytelling, by Eric Nuzum

January 14, 2020 · By · 3.2 minutes to read

I’m bloody annoyed that this book has been released.

When not editing Podnews, my job is a “radio futurologist” - someone that helps radio companies understand what the future is.

It’s a difficult thing to get a laugh from a conference audience, but for the latter half of 2019 I’ve been reading out a quote from this book when doing keynotes on the future of radio, and it never fails to get a laugh - because what better as a “futurologist” than to quote from a book that will be released in the future.

And now the thing’s come out, I need to retire that joke.

The quote, however, is still valid: which, in my pre-production copy, reads:

I often counsel radio broadcasters not to think of their product as a technology, and instead, see it as an experience. Stop thinking of yourself as a terrestrial FM broadcaster and start thinking of yourself as someone who creates audio experiences that accompany listeners through their life, regardless of the platform it appears on. I find myself more and more saying this same thing to podcasters.

This is the beauty of Make Noise, a creator’s guide to podcasting and great audio storytelling. Unlike any other podcasting book I’ve seen, it doesn’t focus on the technology: the RSS feeds, the podcast hosts, the different audio editors out there.

Instead, it focuses on the experience: storytelling.

The author, Eric Nuzum, worked for many years with NPR, the US’s public radio service, and has benefited from working in audio long enough to know what rules are important to follow, and which rules are fine to ignore. He’s read all the training manuals, so you don’t have to.

So we learn how to plan a show, how to do an interview, and how to tell a story. “Don’t be boring,” he says: the type of advice that seems blindingly obvious yet, surprisingly, beyond many people who produce audio stories.

His NPR connections mean we get to learn from people like Terry Gross, probably the interviewer most famous for being a good interviewer; and Ira Glass, one of the most well-known audio storytellers of our time. Highlighting Glass’s storytelling technique, we see his notes for one story: spidery and virtually illegible. It’s just one of a number of fascinating insights into shows you’ve probably heard.

Make Noise is about more than just the show itself. It also covers what happens next. There’s a long chapter with tactics on how to get an audience - which, as Nuzum points out earlier in the book, starts with working out who your audience is; and a further chapter on possibly the most difficult thing for any creative person: how to manage teams of other creatives. As someone who once did this, let me tell you that every one of the ideas in this chapter are golden, and obvious yet brilliant.

Throughout, the book is approachable, and - as you might expect by now - mainly done by… storytelling. Nuzum explains much of what he’s learnt by telling the stories that taught him what he knows: maintaining interest and keeping you curious for more.

You might be a little worried that it’s all NPR stories. Being fair, quite a lot of the stories are. To my British ears, much of NPR is a little clichéd: a sing-song carefully-modulated voice, inexplicable clips of awful jazz music, and a bit too much reliance on the training manual. So it’s a relief to note that Nuzum’s stories and experience, go wider than this - from his work with Audible, to other projects, too: many outside the padded walls of NPR’s Washington DC studios.

This is a great book: possibly the only book on audio storytelling that I’ve learnt lots from and enjoyed enough to keep reading for hours on end.

If you’re looking for a book about how RSS feeds work, the best way to edit audio on an Apple Mac, or how to choose a microphone, this is not the book for you.

But if you care less about the technology and more about the audio storytelling experience, you should rush out and grab a copy today. It’s a great investment, and will help you produce your best work.

Even if it does mean I need to search for a new joke for those conferences I speak at.

—James is the Editor of Podnews, and was first involved in podcasting in January 2005.

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