Grab a Coffee With Militsa Tekelieva

Militsa Tekelieva is a podcast producer as Pool Artists and a Bear Radio School Alumna.
Militsa has always had a big love for audio – from falling asleep to audio stories on cassette tapes in her childhood, to working in marketing at Radioeins, and starting and ending her first podcast in 2015. 5 years later Militsa experienced a podcast reawakening – in spite of the ups and downs, knocks in confidence and one minor quarter life crisis, Militsa stuck it out and now finds herself working on incredible projects, doing the thing she loves most: producing audio stories. And the bonus – she does it for a living! In our conversation, Militsa discusses her passion for sound, the making of her first ever audio story in her blanket fort in Bulgaria, what it was like to go through the Bear Radio Podcasting Workshop, what she learned in the process, and what advice she has for anyone looking to jump into the world of podcasting.

Hi Militsa! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! My name is Militsa Tekelieva and I’m a podcast producer. I work at Pool Artists, which is a Berlin Production Company, and we are the people who are behind the production of most of the Zeit Online podcasts, but also some other very cool stuff.

And where are we grabbing a coffee today?

We’re at Spontan in Moabit. It is my personal favourite in Berlin. They have very good coffee, very nice baristas who are always very friendly and they have good cakes and a good taste in music.

Meet Militsa Tekelieva

When did you first find yourself drawn to audio production and podcasting?

Well, I have always had a big love for audio. When I was a child, I used to fall asleep every night with an audio story on a cassette tape – I can still quote some of the fairy tales that my brother and I used to listen to back then. Later on I was a big radio fan but my interest in podcasting started in 2015. I was a marketing intern at Radioeins but I wanted to do the radio, not sell it to people. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun, but I think it solidified the fact that I want to make radio. I realized then that I was just going to have to do it on my own, and  that’s what led me to podcasting.

You’re from Bulgaria, and I remember when you took part in the Bear Radio Workshop series you got a Zoom recorder for your birthday and you were furiously running around Bulgaria recording cow sounds. Was there a podcasting scene there that inspired you back in 2015?

I must confess that I’m not super familiar with the scene in Bulgaria. My impression is that it is in its earlier stages and back in 2015 there was very little. I remember mainly only finding tech podcasts, which somehow also had very bad recording quality, even though we’re, they were talking about tech… you would think that they… I don’t know, buy a microphone. I sound judgmental, which I’m not meaning to be.

Ha ha! You just sound like somebody who’s been working in audio for a while! What was the first audio piece you ever worked on?

Yes, so this genesis in 2015 started with an idea for a podcast that I worked on with a friend of mine and we ended up recording it in a blanket fort in my house, also with a very, very shitty microphone. So here I come back to that audio quality and being judgmental of other people. And this is exactly what I did, but it was a trial. Basically we researched a topic independently, the first one was ‘sleeping and dreams’, and then we came together to discuss our findings on the podcast. We only sent it to our friends and relatives to listen to and give us feedback. And, most of the feedback was: “uh, what is a podcast?”

Militsa recording the cows near her home in Bulgaria.

As you can imagine, we had almost no experience with moderating things, we didn’t have a script and didn’t know what the other person was going to say. It was a very long and awkward talk, which we then edited together somehow and brought it to, I don’t know, two hours?

Anyway, that podcast didn’t last but then in 5 years went by, and in 2020, while working in a PR job that I was not enjoying, that same friend who I’d recorded with in 2015 reminded me of my love for podcasting so we got back to it and we started another podcast with a different concept which we did for a year.

Militsa on her first podcast episode.

Have you listened back to that piece you made back in 2015, and do you have any thoughts about it?

I listened to it regularly! Maybe once a year. I find it so endearing and so sweet. Listening back to yourself in this immature stage of your development not only as a podcast producer, but as a person is a very interesting experience. I’m happy that I can live through that again and again. The audio quality sounds worse every time, but there are some highlights and some very good jokes that still make me laugh to this day.

Militsa on listening back to old stuff.

You had your 2015 Genesis, then in 2020 you had your reawakening and then, correct me if I’m wrong, in 2021 you joined us for the Bear Radio Workshop Series?

Yes! So I was doing this Bulgarian podcast – I was reading a lot about the topic and learning how to edit, how to record, how to write scripts and everything that’s involved, I was looking for any and all information. And then I found out about your workshop and I thought “I can do that as well!”

What was the most interesting thing that you took away from your experience with the Bear Radio workshop?

I think the most important thing for me, from this experience, was that it gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to be a podcast producer.I was very insecure because I was working in a completely different field professionally and being a podcast producer seemed like a distant dream. I thought I wasn’t capable of making it, I was just a hobby podcaster and I didn’t know what I was doing. So working with you guys made me trust myself more. I was also able to share my ideas and work on my pilot episode with people who have experience and who can give me a real sense of direction. Before that I was on my own. I was bettering myself, yes, but I didn’t have anybody to tell me if what I’m doing is okay. 

I am somebody who often overthinks things. So it was nice to have somebody to reflect back to me what’s going on. Both Julia and Jill are very encouraging and kind people, in my experience. And I to this day remember something that Julia said to me, when I was stressing about something. She said: “You have to be kinder to yourself” and I think this is so sweet. So if I notice that I’m overthinking something, I stop myself and tell myself: “You have to be kinder to yourself”

“…be kind to yourself.”

I’m so glad that stuck with you, because it remains true! The piece you put together for the workshop was the pilot episode of Stirring Conversations;  “A culinary world tour within the borders of Berlin.” How did it feel to produce that piece?

The apple pie that Militsa made with her guest in the pilot of Stirring Conversations

It was a great experience! It was very fulfilling to work on a story of my own kind, that I was interested in, and using storytelling formats that I enjoy. Storytelling formats that are more complex, involving sounds and music and field recordings.  The other podcast that I was doing at the time was a pretty simple concept and it didn’t involve much sound design, music or whatever. But with Stirring Conversations I could use sound to make people feel things.

What was that transition like? Using sound so dynamically?

It was my first time holding a Zoom recorder in my hand. I was very excited about that!  It was also the first experience that I had listening to the outside world through a good microphone. 

Something very interesting happens when you get out your recorder and you put your headphones on because you hear everything so much closer and so much clearer. You notice a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t notice if you were just walking around without your headphones and microphone. 

I remember in that pilot recording, my friend had these very loud pants on – nylon pants – and when she was walking around, they were doing this swish, swish, swish. And I was like, “oh God”… the noise actually ended up adding to my soundscape because it helped the listener understand when we were walking from the kitchen to the balcony or somewhere else – there was the swish, swish, swish, and not only the footsteps. 

Militsa on what happens when you start to record the sound around you.

Was there something that you found particularly challenging about the experience of producing the piece?

What I found probably most challenging was the writing of the piece. First of all, because I felt really intimidated by the almost two hours of interview that I have recorded. And then it was this typical moment in front of the blank page where you don’t know where to start.  That was intimidating but it was also very enjoyable once I started writing. It was just like going to the gym. You don’t like it, you don’t want to do it, and when you’re there you’re very happy about it.

Do you have any advice for beginner podcasters?

I have very boring advice, that can be printed on a motivational poster: Just do the thing that you want to do. And surround yourself with people who support you in doing the thing that you want to do – if that thing is podcasting or whatever it is. I used to be someone who, before I did something, I would question if it was worth it, if I was going to make something of it, or if I was wasting my time. And who knows!? Maybe that stopped me from being a huge podcast star in Bulgaria if I had started in 2015 and stuck to it! Haha! You don’t know what the Bulgarian podcast landscape would be right now if I had.

Just don’t overthink it. You can start with a shitty microphone. It’s fine. Just have fun with it because it’s a lot of fun. When I listened back to that first episode from 2015, even when I listened back to this pilot episode from 2021, there are a lot of things that I would’ve done differently but it’s still something I’m extremely proud of and I’m happy that I did it.

Militsa in a sunnier Berlin.

Speaking of doing the thing, you then landed a job as a producer at Pool Artists. How did that come about?

I was on my podcast producing journey and had been applying for jobs in the field for about a year. Then I did your workshop and finally had something that proved my skills in a language that people in Berlin spoke. Not many people hiring could understand my Bulgarian podcasts. And then roughly six months later I found this producer role at pool Artists and thankfully they did got back to me! It was very strange. I didn’t get any responses for a year. And then in the same week I got two job interviews and then two job offers. It has now been a year and a half at this job, but it feels much longer because of all of the cool projects that I got to work on.

Congratulations again! Are you working on anything cool at the moment and can you tell us about it?

I am working on something very exciting… and I cannot talk about it! I’m working on the production of an investigative podcast which will be out in the coming months. And it does involve a lot of the things that I love, which is working with music and sound design and field recordings all weaving into a very exciting story. It’ll be out soon and I will be able to talk about it then, but that’s all I can say right now.

That’s really exciting and I look forward to hearing it!

My final question to you is, do you have a favorite sound?

Hmm. I have so many favorite sounds. Whenever I am back in Bulgaria, I like to carry my recorder with me and just collect interesting sounds. And there was this very hypnotic bell in a church, in a small Bulgarian town called Chiprovtsi. I was with my family and this bell started ringing and I could see the person who was ringing it, there in the bell tower, and he rang the bell and then he waited for something like 40 seconds and then he rang the other bell and it put me in a trance, right there on the spot. So I have a very nice recording of this bell, which I’m very happy with.

The hypnotic Chiprovtsi bell.

^^A short piece that Militsa produced for the October Issue of URSA about the history and preservation of the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

interview by Julia Joubert, for Bear Radio.

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