Making Music for Podcasts: A Storytelling Experience

Micki-Lee Smith is a Faculty of Music student and podcast music producer. She is also one of the creative powerhouses behind the scenes of the Critical Technology Podcast, working on the sounds and musical accompaniments that help to make each episode so special. Here, she describes her process to us and how she composes for each episode.

Making music for podcasts is about enhancing storytelling. The interplay of music with subject material can work together to strengthen a point, or even help create a sense of instability through disjunct motion or a blending of contrasting sounds.

My creative practice in writing for podcasts starts with internalizing the overarching theme or topic. I consider each episode as a whole and then decide on what musical “pallet” to use. This can mean deciding on which instruments I want to feature, or gathering an array of timbres that compliment the subject material. Genre blending is also a tool I have drawn on by mixing traditional fiddle music, classical, jazz, and pop-giving each episode its own blend of influences.

I have enjoyed experimenting with the ways acoustic instruments blend with synthesized sounds to create effects. As a multi-instrumentalist I will reach for an acoustic instrument such as a nylon string guitar, or a violin, and will experiment with how these sounds fit into a synthesized soundscape.

My initial composing session is a subconscious practice in which I am very “in tune” with the emotion or theme I am portraying. Memorable melodies and harmonic progressions are established early on in this process, and often stand out as a prominent feature in the resulting composition. Reaching for expressive tools is often the next step, as these audio processes often achieve a more stylistic result-such as a cacophony of delay, or a layering procedure. Mixing technologies and common practices such as automation and EQ, also play a large role in how the music is perceived.

It has been a pleasure working with Mehrdad Ranjbar, KMDI’s Podcast Audio Mixer/Sound Designer, on a few of these compositions. His creative audio processing techniques and practices have resulted in some completely original beats and unique sounds.