It seems to me that most of us share a common childhood memory of being read to from a storybook by a grown-up, lost entirely in another world -- bursting with curiosity, hanging on every word, and pleading NO NO DON'T STOP, I'M NOT SLEEPY when told it's time to end. We might associate that experience with childhood, but if we're honest, that's the Holy Grail, the magic state we're all trying to induce in adults as audio producers. It's not about the storytelling. It's about the storylistening.
Back when everyone in the world was shouting about how Serial and S-Town were making the earth shift its axis, I was actually listening to something else. I harbored a secret obsession with an equally amazing podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. It's just that no one was talking about that show because it was made for kids. Perhaps I just have the maturity of a Middle-Schooler, but the overall story structure, clever sound design, and non-condescending quality of the production hit my Goonies sweet spot like no other. The audience for this - me, my local librarian, and just about every kid in the "podcasting know" - listened and re-listened, and the work (deservedly) won some major awards. And this got me thinking - why aren't we making cool stuff like this in museums?
It's been interesting to see how podcasts like Serial, S-Town, Two Dope Queens, etc. have changed up visitor expectations around audio in the cultural space. We're all adapting in our own ways and on our own schedules, but the shift is palpable. I'm hearing a lot more risk-taking, a lot more intricate storytelling, a lot more messy voices "keeping it real," and a lot less AUTHORITIES FROM ON HIGH TELLING YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW. As younger audiences become more fluent in high-quality podcasts like Mars Patel (and the many others referenced in this article), how might that impact what we produce for them in museums in the future?
One thing's for sure, I will be listening.
Podcast makers are hoping that as more and better content is made available, audio listening will become another family ritual, like reading books at bedtime or listening to kids’ albums in the car.