Making Audio Stories

Funemployed: a breakdown

Interview shows are flooding the podcast market and they've been the staple format on radio airwaves for years because they’re easy and cheap to make.


Because you don’t have to do any editing, the audio from the studio or skype session is uploaded without any edits!

But, these type of shows can make for boring and predictable listening.

The Australian radio series I'm breaking down today is the perfect antidote to this format.

Plus, it has a simple structure that you can emulate.

Yes copy it, if you don't trust me, trust Alex Blumberg.


First a book and now a radio series, Funemployed by Justin Heazlewood.

The series about what it's like to be a working artist in Australia. 



Re above: I'm definitely in the "no job" section :).

Each episode is based on a topic:

  • Self promotion
  • Rejection
  • Mental illness
  • Fame
  • Selling out
  • Workaholism
  • Giving up

Justin interviewed loads of creatives about the above topics and the best bits from his interviews make up each episode.

Each episode is kind of like an extended vox-pop:

Host introduces sub-topic 1

Person one talks about sub-topic 1 (vox pop 1)

Person two talks about sub-topic 1(vox pop 2)

Host introduces next sub-topic 


Here's a visual of the same thing.

The above structure is then repeated for the rest of the episode (see the graphic near the end of this post).

This simple structure doesn't sound as predictable as it looks because the narration, where Justin shares his own experience, breaks up the interview snippets and gives you story to latch onto. 

The narration is fun too, Justin puts on voices to act as different people and ends each episode by singing one of his songs.

A Breakdown of Episode 1: Sell Yourself

Let's have a close look a one episode.

If the title doesn't give it away, the topic of this episode is self promotion.

The episode has 5 sub-topics, as shown below.  

The episode only goes for 15:30 minutes, but it includes nine interviews (whoa!).

Now here's a full visual breakdown of the entire episode structure (you can listen along if you like).

Difficult bits

Okay, disclaimer, while I've said that the above structure is easy to copy, I don't want to downplay two things that are hard to copy from this series:

1. Justin/Narrator

The episode relies on Justin's 'persona' to hold each episode together. And boy, has he got some pizzazz!

You've either got to step up and try to be like Justin, find a host that's like Justin or try a different narration style (I'm keen to know your thoughts about what other types of narration styles you think might work instead).

2. Bulk interviews

Justin interviewed over 100 people for his Funemployed book. It's not clear whether the radio series uses these same interviews or if Justin did new interviews for this series.

Either way, you're going to need to interview a lot of people to get a good selection of tape to choose from because remember, some interviews are duds

But don't let those two things put you off, we should all aim to make our audio bigger and better.

That's why I'm here anyway.

And a quote from the final episode of Funemployed sums up exactly why I need to keep making audio:

We’d be infinitely worse people if we weren’t doing this.
— Giving Up, Funemployed

Wouldn't we ever?! 

Okay, you should listen to the episode now if you haven't.

Buy the book or give it as a gift to a friend.

And let me know what you think of the episode? Did you like it? Can you relate to the topic? How do you sell yourself?

If you’ve got the gear people will think you’re good

Gear equals you are a pro

I’m always a bit nervous at the start of an interview.

My head is full of thoughts:

Don’t forget to ask…

Is it too loud in here?

Am I sitting close enough?

Please, please, please don’t stuff this up!

I worry the person I’m interviewing is going to notice my nerves and think I’m crap and unqualified to be making audio.

Which is ridiculous, I mean can you imagine anyone ever saying:

“Stop this interview! This girl is far too unqualified to interview me.”

Yes stupidly unlikely, but I still get nervous.

But something different recently happened at the start of an interview which took my nerves away instantly. 

The interviewee was in awe of my gear.

“Ooooohhhhhhh nice microphone”, she cooed.

“Wow, cool headphones!”

Then the same thing happened again, in another interview.

Maybe it’s because of the popularity of podcasting these days and people are more interested in audio?

Whatever it is, I’m all for it.

Especially because it gave me something to talk about which calmed my nerves.

“Yeah, this is microphone is so easy to use and there’s hardly any handling noise, try it (they put headphones and hold the microphone).”

She was impressed.

Your gear fools people into thinking you know what you doing.

Even if in reality you have no idea what you’re doing, because you actually have the gear, it doesn't matter.

Even if you're gear is not the most expensive gear in the world (they won't know that, how could they?).

Hold a microphone and put some headphones on and people won’t question you.

Your gear is your uniform.

Wear it.

Or “hide behind it” as Bryan Cox says.

Use your gear to your advantage.

Let it fool them.

If you're after a good interview question

I collect interview questions.

I like to pull them out when I'm mid-way through mediocre interviews.  

These are my favourite questions from my stash. 

From the 36 Questions to fall in love with anyone (from Arthur Aron’s study)

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ... “

Share an embarrassing moment in your life.

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

The rest of the 36 are here.

Alexandra Frazen's "Tell me everything" questions

Tell me about a moment when you quit — and regretted it later.

Tell me about a moment when you quit — and did not regret it later.

Tell me about a moment when you felt intense shame.

Tell me about a moment when you felt intense joy.

Tell me about a moment when you felt like your world was ending.

Tell me about a moment when you felt like your world was beginning.

Tell me a secret you’ve never told anyone else.

Tell me about your current hero and why you admire them.

Tell me one thing that would feel like a miracle for you right now.

Danielle LaPorte's Conversation Starter app (perfect companion for a road trip)

Some example conversation cards:

What are your first thoughts when you wake up in the morning... or this morning?

Are you still tolerating something or someone?

What or who do you “think” you should forgive because that might be the evolved thing to do, but you really don’t want to?

StoryCorps have an endless list of amazing questions, here are my favs:

Do you have a nickname? How’d you get it?

Who were your best friends? What were they like?

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

Who has been the kindest to you in your life?

What is your favorite memory of me?

Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?

What are you proudest of?

When in life have you felt most alone?

If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?

How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?

How would you like to be remembered?

Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?

Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?

If you were to die suddenly this evening, what would you most regret having not told someone? or get their app.

AND... don't forget you MUST ALWAYS ask this question:

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Try it at the end of your next interview. It's the best interview question ever!

And now it's over to you, what's your favourite interview question?

Hiding behind your gear, audio walks, building confidence and other advice from Bryan Cox

Sometimes I get some really beautiful emails from readers.

Just before I fell off the audio bandwagon, I received one of these inbox treats from Bryan Cox.

He shared with me what he’s working on, his struggles + he sent me lots of virtual encouragement.

In turn, I shared with him some of my hurdles including:

  • Asking people to do interviews – this is an ongoing struggle for me. I find it difficult to actually ask strangers for interviews! I’m shy too (my face is constantly in a blushing state lol) which doesn’t help! And I have a general lack of interview confidence

Bryan is a photographer cum independent media producer and he sent me some great tips. I’ve asked him if I could share them with you because they are so damn helpful.

Over to Bryan...

Use your recorder as an excuse to approach people – hide behind your recorder

Bryan Cox Quote 1

I'm with you on actually recording interviews.... it can seem like it is a big hurdle if I think of it as "A BIG THING". So, I'm trying to get started the same way as I did with photography and that is by adopting the rule of "Take it with you everywhere you go."

This isn't actually always possible.... and sometimes our circle of friends and family are not open to us sitting there with cans on our head sticking a mic in their face while we nod and smile and say "describe that for the listener" or "tell me more about the way that felt" - that is actually a good way to get *not invited* to things.

The closest thing I can relate it to is street photography and the BIG HUGE THING was working up the gumption to walk right up to some stranger and ask them if you can take/publish their picture. If I was good at being social, I wouldn't have hidden behind this camera!

On the other hand, having the camera gave me an excuse to walk up and talk to them, and working on some sort of a story/project/whatever gave me an excuse to ask a bunch of nosy questions. In reality, walking around with a camera made me feel self-conscious. The more I got used to that, the more comfortable I felt. When I felt comfortable with the camera, I realized that it was my ticket to getting to know people and it is those types of conversations and experiences that I now want to capture on audio. A picture may say a thousand words, but half of them are lies....and the other half are questions.

Go for an audio walk

What I'm trying to do is audio walks. Photographers often do photo walks.... just before dawn, when things are quiet and just before the first "golden hour", you go somewhere and just walk around.... take pictures. You go back to the same place over and over. Try to see the light. Will the sun be better at a different time of year? When the leaves are turning? Should you come back when there's some fog? Maybe in the evening when the sun is coming in from the other side? 

You get the idea.... I'm trying to get in the habit of doing the same thing with my audio equipment. Maybe I don't get anything that I actually publish or put in my portfolio.... it is just as much about the process of getting out there, rain or shine, warm or cold.... "thinking" in sound..... and becoming comfortable enough with my tools that they get out of the way.

Bryan Cox Quote 2

I also try to appreciate that... in the digital age....this is MUCH less work than when I had to use film .......and audio was magnetic tape. - Once I've got the gear, it doesn't cost anything to capture as many bad images or as much bad audio as I want.... and just delete them.... and my shame is private. :)

....and that is exciting to me... because it isn't about the medium or the tools..... it is about the moment and the stories about the places and people that won't be around forever...... it is my challenge to get comfortable enough with both my tools.... and myself.... so that they both get out of the way.... and I get to tell these cool stories..... and through the wonder of the digital age.... I can share those all the way across the planet..... 

How is all of that not pretty damned awesome and worth being happy about? So I shouldn't be scared or afraid. - but.... it is a thing that I think *everyone* in our position goes through.

Good stuff huh? I'm definitely going to make an effort to take my gear with me more and go for audio walks!

Thank you Bryan. Show Bryan some love, you can find him here:

Photos and stories about the people and places that make DeSoto County Mississippi a special place:
Twitter: @bryancoxphoto
Instagram: @bryancoxphoto

My radio making challenge for the next two months

My recent break from audio has left me questioning why I even like it.

So I've decided it's time for me to get back to basics and try to find that audio-loving sweet spot again.

To do this, I’ve set myself a challenge.

A focus.

For the next two months, I’m going to focus on:

Only making audio that’s fun.

I want to make audio that makes me smile.

I want to record stories that make me laugh.

So in the next two months I'm going to make at least two fun audio stories.

Do you want to join me?

If yes…

1.    Set yourself a focus

Your focus could be anything e.g. make an audio piece that moves people, make a short audio story for instagram, interview 3 strangers, finish editing something you've already recorded, make a non-narration story etc...

Choose a focus that lights you up.

2.    Commit to the challenge

Write it down.

And let me know (comment below, email or facebook me) or make a silent promise to yourself that you’re going to commit to your focus from 28 May until 28 July.

That’s it.

Keep it simple and have fun.

I'm looking forward to having a bit of fun and of course, hearing some of the great things you come up with too.

I thought I was getting better

I had some disastrous interviews when I was back in Australia.

They put me off audio for a few months. That’s why you haven’t heard from me, I haven’t been able to face updating you all.

I guess I’m disappointed.

I'm disappointed because I thought I was getting better.

And boy, was I terrible. In one interview I was 40 minutes in and because I didn't think I'd recorded any good tape, I just gave up and stopped trying and ended the interview early. 

But, I still learned a lot from doing the interview (like I always do) and I hope you can learn from my mistakes too.

Mistakes + lessons

My biggest mistake was: both of the interviews were open interviews.

Me: Can I interview you?

Them: What about?

Me: I don’t know, just about your life.

And, how do you think the interviews went?

They were vague and shallow. 

Lesson 1: Your interviews need focus

Yes, I'm saying to myself now, “Derrrrrrrrr, of course interviews need focus!”

You need to know exactly what you want to interview the person about before you do the interview.

If what you decided to focus on doesn’t turn out to be very interesting (despite trying everything in your interviewing bag of tricks), then you should try to shift the focus of the interview. But always start with something.

Side note: I’m always a bit wary about telling people what the interview is going to be about beforehand because I hate getting staged answers. I much prefer to surprise someone with what the interview is on. Definitely not sure if this is the best way to do things, it certainly isn't working very well for me, what do you think? What do you do?

Lesson 2: Don’t let the interviewee decide what’s interesting

Interviewees don’t know what’s interesting! By leaving the interview open, both of my interviewees had full control of where we headed. And while open interview styles can work, for me it didn't, it was just boring.

It’s your responsibility to steer the interview to interesting places not the interviewees (this lesson is certainly easy to type, not sure I’m ballsie enough to do this yet).

Lesson 3: Know the story before the interview

Hear the story beforehand – either from a previous conversation where you're left thinking 'Gee that’s a great story, I have to interview them about that' or from your pre-interview (nothing scares me more then doing a pre-interview despite having worked as a Radio Producer!).

Remember, you're not on a gold mining exhibition, you need to know exactly where the gold is buried before you even turn up to dig.

What I was happy with

This is a struggle, but in the quest to be kinder to myself, I’m going to end by mentioning two things I thought I did well.

1.    I was able to redirect one of the interviewees

Me: Tell me about a happy memory from childhood?

Him: I don’t have any.

Me: Really.

Him: No.

Me: (Knowing that he does) Tell me about your Grandfather (he then proceeded to tell me some happy memories from childhood).

1 win for me :)

2.    I asked a question I was super scared to ask.

The answer I got wasn’t very good, but that’s besides the point, I did something that scared me.

And that’s what I’ve got to do more, I've got to do the things that scare me.

What about you, what scares you? And how much do you tell your interviewees beforehand about what the interview is going to be about?