Creative Lives — “It doesn’t cost loads to make something good”: Ivor Manley on building a career as a podcast producer
The rise of the podcast has been like no other. Increasingly popular and with no chance of slowing down anytime soon, audio storytelling has continued to evolve into a blossoming industry – one that Ivor Manley has always had a keen interest in. Although initially wanting to pick the songs for film soundtracks, Ivor longed to work in sound design from the get-go. So much so that after pursuing a BTech in Music Technology and a degree in Music Computing at Goldsmiths, he landed his first job at Radio Wolfgang and he’s remained there ever since – taking on freelance gigs on the side and even producing Lecture in Progress’ very own Creative Lives podcast! We chat to Ivor about his journey, plus the tools and techniques currently used to make podcasts today.
Producer, Radio Wolfgang (2014–present)
Freelance Sound Designer, The Guardian on Today in Focus (2018–present)
Freelance Editor, Creative Lives podcast (2017–present)
Goldsmiths College, University of London, Bsc Music Computing (2010–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I develop and produce podcast series from start to finish, working on everything from documentaries and studio shows, to bespoke series for brands and organisations.
What does an average working day look like and where does it happen?
Currently it takes place in my makeshift bedroom studio in South London, and any given day can be very different – that’s part of what I love about the job.
On the development side, we’ll generally be working together as a team to come up with new series ideas, sometimes from a brief set by a client or sometimes something we’ve been thinking about ourselves.
On the production side, it can involve anything from putting together research, finding contributors or presenters and writing scripts, to conducting interviews with people from all different backgrounds. When all of that is done, I will weave everything together with the edit, music and sound design.
What skills and tools would you say are essential to your work?
I would say that the number one tool is the editing software Reaper. It’s really accessible to anybody (it has a long trial period if you can’t afford it upfront); it works as well if not better than anything else I’ve used, and I’ve generally seen a range of people using it across different skill sets and experience.
The other tool is the voice memo app on an iPhone. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using it to put together a whole show, but I can’t tell you the number of times it’s helped me to get a remote or last-minute interview. Also, when giving people the right instructions, you can get a pretty reasonable sound quality most of the time.
However, if I can get anywhere in person I’ll most likely use a Zoom H4n portable recorder which is great for recording both interviews and atmosphere.
"I like that I work in a small team of collaborative people; I generally get to be involved in all parts of the process."
What do you like most about working at Radio Wolfgang, and how did the job come about?
I like that I work in a small team of collaborative people; I generally get to be involved in all parts of the process and there always seems to be the opportunity to work on a project if you really care about it.
I also really like that everyone in the company is really passionate about creating shows that inspire a positive outcome, and for that reason we only try and work on projects or with companies that share our outlook.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
My favourite project was probably a six-part documentary series called Unburnable: The People Vs Arctic Oil. It followed Greenpeace and a Norwegian NGO called Nature and Youth as they took the Norwegian Government to court for selling off oil drilling licences in the artic.
Not only was it great working on something I really care about, but it also took me to some amazing places I never thought I’d visit – like the Greenpeace ship called the Arctic Sunrise – and through making the series I met with so many inspiring activists, campaigners and lawyers from around the world.
Images from Ivor’s trip with Greenpeace
Images from Ivor’s trip with Greenpeace
Images from Ivor’s trip with Greenpeace
I’ve also really enjoyed working as a sound designer on the different series we’ve developed for Selfridges – they have a really good sense of fun. Also, as part of the series, I was creating soundscapes around things like chess boxing, video game weddings and art performances in skips.
With so many changes happening all over the world over the past few months, have you noticed any significant shifts within your industry or outlook?
I think it’s encouraged me, and our company as a whole, to really double-down on having a purpose to the content that we make. When things get difficult, there’s always the temptation to do the easy thing over the right thing, but I’d say now more than ever it’s the time to tell important stories and make sure everyone’s voice is heard. We’ve definitely been thinking in a more pointed way about what we are saying with our shows and who we are saying it to.
Hot Air, produced by Radio Wolfgang for Selfridges, on Apple Podcasts
How I Got Here
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I actually wanted to be one of the people that picks songs for film soundtracks – I’m still holding out!
How is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
The course that equipped me the most directly for what I do now was a BTech in Music Technology. It was a beginner’s course at my local tech college, but having played in bands throughout my teens, the chance to find out how to control the recording and production process was something I was very excited to learn. I took in a lot over the space of a year.
My degree in Music Computing at Goldsmith’s was more specific and mostly centred around software programming for music; whilst I don’t use the specific technical skills I learned there now, the way they taught the course really helped me think a lot differently about music and sound, and learning how to code has really helped me with both problem solving and thinking logically about how things fit together.
"I didn’t necessarily feel I had the confidence or specific skills to get the kind of job I wanted."
After graduating, what were your first steps?
I moved back to my hometown for six months and worked in a shop while I applied for jobs. I think my degree had opened a lot of questions about what I thought I should be doing, so I wasn’t 100% on what the next steps should be.
I applied to a lot of software programming roles, but in my heart of hearts I wanted to do something more sound-based. However, I didn’t necessarily feel I had the confidence or specific skills to get the kind of job I wanted.
When I heard about Radio Wolfgang, I think I was at the right place at the right time, really – I’d heard the company was being set up, and I sent a very speculative email with my CV attached. Much to my surprise, I was invited in for a chat, and then about a month later I interviewed for a position as an editor and sound engineer. Then I got the job.
Mr Porter: Fathers & Sons, produced by Radio Wolfgang, on Apple Podcasts
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
The main project that helped my development was a series we produced for Mr Porter, called Father’s and Sons. The series explored modern masculinity through different father-son relationships, and it won Podcast Of The Year at the British Podcast Awards in 2017.
I hadn’t actually had much experience with making multi-layered documentaries like that before, and I hadn’t had much experience conducting sensitive interviews. However, the other producers on the series – Natalia Rodriguez and Lina Prestwood – were both amazing, and they taught me more than I’ve learnt on anything else. They really pushed me out of my comfort zone; I definitely came out of it more confident as a producer.
What has been your biggest challenge in the industry so far?
Early on, I think I was a bit desperate to establish my ‘style’ and therefore would just throw everything at every project I worked on. However, my boss – who comes from a design background – has been great at getting me to think about how I should tailor my approach every time. This has given me the confidence to do as much or as little on something as is needed.
Unburnable: People Vs Arctic Oil, produced by Radio Wolfgang for Greenpeace, on Apple Podcasts
What would you like to do next?
I love making and producing shows, so for the future I just want to work on bigger and more ambitious projects. I’d say there are few projects that I am working on at present that definitely fit that description.
Also, having started to play around with video over lockdown, I’m definitely interested in expanding on this – I think if you’re trying to get a message out somewhere, video and podcasts can travel to different places. So being able to factor that in to what I’m doing would be really liberating.
“If you’re interested in something, just start doing it. It doesn’t have to cost loads to make something good.”
Ivor recommends the UK Audio Network to anyone wanting to get into podcasting
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the world of podcasting?
If you’re interested in something, just start doing it. I think what’s great about podcasts is that the barriers to entry aren’t that high; there’s so much affordable kit and software. It doesn’t have to cost loads to make something good, and publishing something on all of the platforms is a lot simpler than it used to be.
You’ll learn the most by listening lots and experimenting for yourself, and the more that people from different backgrounds get involved the more interesting the industry as a whole will become.
Are there any resources you’d recommend to anyone starting out in podcasting?
I’d recommend checking out the UK Audio Network (UKAN). It’s a group that’s free to join and it’s a very supportive community of people from all different parts of the industry sharing advice, information on jobs and beyond.