Producer Download: Bea Duncan

The importance of providing learning opportunities for young team members

Bea Duncan is a real changemaker in the podcasting industry and was recognised this year as part of PodPod’s inaugural Faces To Watch programme. Currently working as a senior producer for Broccoli Productions, Duncan’s podcasting career started four years ago when the team was only made up of five people, and she has since worked on developing a number of award-winning original podcasts. 

In addition to her main job, Duncan has a deep commitment to continue advocating for the independent side of the industry, having founded the Entry Level Audio Network (ELAN) which provides a space for up-and-coming podcasters to gain insight into the industry and network with like-minded individuals. We spoke to Duncan about why authenticity is the most important thing in podcasts and what makes a good podcast producer. 

How many podcasts do you work on?

I'm currently actively producing three, and I've got another handful in development. Because we're quite a small team, we're all involved on pretty much all of the projects so we're all available to help out when somebody needs it.

I'm just finishing up the new series of Anthem Talks and that has involved a video element as well, which is something that's quite new to me, so it's been a bit of a heavier lift. I spent a bit more time on it than I usually do to make sure that it all runs smoothly - but it's been a really gratifying challenge, for sure.

How many podcasts do you listen to per week?

I really tailor what I listen to depending on what I'm doing, so I usually have a few shows on the go at the same time. My personal favourite is Frog of The Week, which I love shouting out whenever I get a chance - but I don't actually listen to many of the classically-released weekly shows, so I feel like a bit of a podcast producer fraud, because I like more of a limited series and I'll listen to those in bulk.

I try to separate my listening for work from my listening for pleasure. I'm always trying to really push my own learning as a producer, and so I find it really interesting to hear what other producers in the space are doing. I’ll listen to the really popular blockbuster series that everyone's talking about at the time - even if they're outside of my comfort zone - and take note of the sound design, the narrative, the scripting, and so on. I do think it's really important as producers that we care about what's happening. 

What's your podcast app of choice?

I am an Apple Podcast girlie. I feel like I see a lot of criticisms about it, and I agree with most of them; I'm usually getting frustrated with it on a daily basis, but it's what I used when I first started listening to podcasts, so I guess I'm just loyal. I know people really like Spotify, but my second audio love is always going to be music and I really like to keep them separate, so I hop between the two.

What are your three items of essential podcast equipment?

Number one would definitely be a phone of some variety. I think my phone is crucial to me: it's where I have my best ideas when I'm on the go, so my notes app is just filled with ideas. The voice memo app I also find is useful, and it is surprisingly good at recording content. Number two for me would be a blanket. I'm thinking very much from the point of view of somebody who is just starting out. Putting something as simple as a blanket down on the table can improve the sound so much, and I don't think people realise how much time you can save in an edit and a mix if you start off in the right environment, so that's definitely really key.

Finally, you should always record and edit in the same way that somebody is probably going to enjoy the podcast, so the third thing would be a really good pair of headphones. You're going to catch so many more pops and clicks; you're going to find noises that you might have missed, and most people will be using headphones when they're listening to the podcast.

How long does the average podcast take to turn around?

I'm quite speedy when I need to be, so if it was a basic interview podcast, that could easily be recorded and turned around in a day - but when it comes to longer series with multiple interviews and sounds, then it really depends. I love having more space to really sit with the story or sit with a contributor and just make sure that something's being told in the right way with equal care to everyone involved, especially if it's a topic that's maybe more emotional or sensitive. We'll usually have a couple of months of lead time to get everything in place for production.

I also think that it’s quite important to offer learning opportunities to other people within the team. If I just did everything then nobody would learn anything and it would be pointless, so there's a really huge amount of value in setting aside a little more time if you need it to give someone the first go. Eventually, you'll have somebody in your team who can work at the same level as you, and that's something really powerful.

What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?

We have a meeting every morning where the entire team can get aligned, and it's a really good space for ideas. I think people are sometimes surprised by how small the team is compared to the output, and I think that's because somebody can have an idea in the morning meeting and then we've already made a head start on it by the end of the day, because we all just chip in to make the content really shine. 

As the senior producer on the team, I'm responsible for a lot of the projects from start to finish and I'm usually working alongside a producer and assistant producer, so I'm also coordinating them and making sure that everyone's got what they need. I also sometimes act in an executive producer capacity, so stuff in that role would be giving feedback on edits, developing ideas, and giving approvals on other things that somebody else has done. I'm also a manager, which I like to see as a role in itself, and so there's a certain portion of my working week that is dedicated to one-on-one meetings and coming up with tasks for junior staff to upskill. 

What's one thing that you wish every podcast host knew?

I would say that the more you are invested in the show, the better the product will be. Because over all the years I've worked with talent, I think the shows that sparkle the most are the ones where the host actually wants to be involved in the production process and that's why I really love working with up-and-coming talent, because they really want to learn as well.

I feel like you can always tell the shows where there's been a big talent that's just been brought on to say the words of somebody else. It's so obvious, and it just breaks that connection that is so important in audio. That's the reason why we all love audio as a format, it is because of that intimacy, and if you're not gaining the trust of the Listener, it's easily broken.

What makes a good episode?

For me, it's always about the authenticity. I'm a really big believer in telling stories that you believe in, and ones that reflect your values and what you care about. When everyone on a team knows why you're making a project and they care about the impact that it could have, you can hear that immediately.

Taking Anthem Talks for example; there was a certain amount of guidance from me as the producer about where I wanted the conversations to go, but I also really ensured that the contributors felt very safe to take the conversation in whatever direction they felt was comfortable in going. So what resulted was five very raw, honest, and authentic conversations and we had contributors telling us that they've never had the space to talk about these issues before.

How did you get into the podcast industry?

I led my student radio station while I was studying at the University of Sheffield and I fell in love with audio as a medium. I was at the station for three years and I think that I learned a lot of the basic skills. After graduating, I worked in live radio for a bit and freelanced at a variety of independent radio stations.

I was drawn to podcasting because I didn't find that live radio served my needs very much. There was a wider breadth of possibility when it came to format and form in podcasting. I decided to make the jump to podcasting in 2019 and I freelanced on a project with Broccoli Productions when they were actually just starting out. I assistant produced and hosted my first ever show, which was a podcast for BBC Sounds in 2019, and then was offered a full-time role after that, and basically just worked my way up. 

What's the last podcast you listened to?

It was probably the finale of The Dream podcast. I absolutely love it, and this series has been really great - but this finale was wild. I don't want to spoil anything but if you haven't listened to the latest series, start from the beginning and just wait, because the last two episodes were quite wild.