Talia Augustidis is a uniquely talented audio producer, community organizer and all-around audiophile living in London. Her work can be found on BBC Radio 4’s Short Cuts, Times Radio and the Financial Times, and she currently works as a Producer at Broccoli Productions. Beyond her professional audio work, Talia is an advocate for audio storytelling and collaboration, running listening events with In the Dark and producing the excellent audio newsletter, All Hear. We recently had the chance to speak with Talia about mentorship, building a community around audio, and much more.
Hi Talia! To start off, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and what you do?
I am an audio producer and community organizer from London. It’s actually the first time that I’m saying those words, ‘community organizer’ in an introduction, which is very exciting. It’s a new addition. I’m also the creator and host of a podcast called UnReality.
When you first started working in audio, what were some of your favorite pieces? Were there any podcasts or radio shows that inspired you to start creating your own?
Like most people, the first audio that I ever listened to and appreciated the medium was This American Life. And then from there it was just a process of finding more inventive and sonic audio projects. It went from This American Life to Radio Lab to The Heart, still all from North America. And then I did this audio course and I was introduced to more European styles of radio. And each time I discovered a new style, it felt like I finally knew everything. I felt I’d just discovered it all. And then each time someone was showing me that it was actually a lot bigger than that, and then bigger than that, and it was just this journey of audio discovery.
In terms of singular pieces, one of the ones that inspired me most in my own practice is a piece called ‘Everything, Nothing, Harvey Keitel’ by Pejk Malinovski, a Danish audio maker, and it’s weird and wacky and wonderful. And I really love it and it sort of plays with reality in this very funny way that I’d never heard anyone do before. I’d never heard anyone mix something with real and fake.
That’s what I do in a lot of my pieces now, and it all stems from that one moment with Pejk.
When you started working with audio, what were some of the first pieces you created?
The first one I ever made, the first ever one I finished – and I think ‘finished’ is important here because it was built on the bones of a lot of unfinished pieces – is called the ‘Sound Collector.’ It’s a personal piece, which is an easy one to start with generally when you’re making things, but also happens to be probably one of the pieces that will stay with me for a long time.
It’s about a poem that I thought my sister wrote, but she didn’t. The work is me picking up the pieces of finding out that she didn’t write it and what then, because I projected onto it, this reality that it was about my mom who died when I was little, and then I don’t really know what to do when it’s not about that, and so I have to figure it out within the piece.
It’s about a lot more. It’s about the past. It’s about the present, it’s about disappointment, it’s about grief. It’s about so many things for me personally, so many things that even the listeners won’t pick up on. But I understand that it’s about more than just this one story, but it was really helpful to have something neat, and something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it helped me to grieve in a way that I hadn’t previously.
It was probably an amazing feeling to finish something like this and have an expression of how you felt, in a way that is tangible (as much as audio can be) that you can share and hold dear for a long time.
Definitely. I think it was helpful for my family to have that as well, but then there’s a second part to it, which is that I didn’t have anywhere to publish it.
And one thing that helped me to finish it was that it got published on the BBC because I won this competition. And that was a very good way of being like, ‘I’m done. I can’t change this.’ And of course now I listen back and I would change so many things. But I think everyone needs to publish. Whether or not you’re lucky enough to have the BBC, you need to just put it out there and let it sit as that, as something that’s a marker of that time.
You recently started working with Broccoli Productions as a Producer. What have been some of the projects that you’ve worked on so far?
I am currently editing their series Build, which is basically a series to help people get started in audio.
And I love editing those because I learn so much. The one I edited today was Kaitlin Prest talking about creative practice. So I’m really, really enjoying that.
I’m also working on another upcoming series that’s unannounced, and it’s really exciting because it’s at the perfect time to come in. Sometimes you come into a company and you are thrown into the middle of a production and you kind of have to pick up the pieces of where someone else left it. But this is the beginning of a big series, which is really exciting.
And it happens to be something that, I think a couple of days before I spoke to one of the Exec’s about it, I wrote in my Notes app that I would love to make a series about this particular topic. And then it happened to be about this topic. So it just felt like this moment of, ‘ah, yes, I’m where I need to be and where I want to be.’
In 2022 you compiled The Everything List for Audio Opportunities, a huge list of audio resources, such as grants, courses, jobs, awards and more, and it took off like wildfire in the international podcasting community. The list kept growing and ended up being dozens of pages and has been super helpful.
What was like the impetus for you making it?
When I was just starting out, which was maybe in 2021, I started compiling a list of resources and opportunities for myself. A friend of mine, Suzie McCarthy, very kindly sent me a little list of recommended things to look into if I want to get started in audio. I had that list and then I just started naturally building off of it every time I saw new things, a lot of which I came across on Twitter. And a lot of it I came across when it was too late, when the deadline had passed. I would see who won and then I’d think, ‘Okay, I can’t apply to that anymore.’ But I’d add it to the list for the next year.
It just kept growing, and it got to a point that it felt unfair not to share. I realized at a certain point that I probably knew more about audio opportunities than anyone at this moment in time. And so I just thought, ‘okay, fine. I’ll put it out.’ I didn’t edit it or anything. I just put this messy Google doc out on Twitter and it just took off. And I think that’s a sign of how needed it is because no one had ever done that before. No one had put it all together and no one had really done the research and it just seemed like an obvious barrier to me. For someone starting out, you had to know someone like Suzie, or like my tutor, Nina Garthwaite, who would tell you what to apply for.
But what about the people that don’t have that? What about the people that just wanna change careers? What about the people that just suddenly wake up and want to try podcasting? There’s still a barrier – someone still needs to tell them about the list – but it’s a lot easier now than doing so much research on your own.
Yes. I posted the resource list in June of 2022 and then I got an influx of resources being sent to me and that surprised me because I sort of thought I would post it and it would be done. And then I realized that I would have to keep updating it when new resources became available. So, I realized that even though I’d done all of this work for free, and I was happy to share it because I was doing it for myself already, if I didn’t keep it updated, it wouldn’t be useful.
I couldn’t keep it updated unless it was sustainable for me because I would burn out. And then no one will have it, and that benefits no one. So I decided, ‘okay, how do I get paid for it? I guess sponsorship. I don’t want to get sponsored by organizations that I don’t trust or want to be involved with because I don’t want to ‘sell out.’” And it was a really big challenge for me to get over this idea of selling out.
I thought, ‘oh, people are going to think I’ve just done this for my own gain, and that the list is no longer useful.’ But it was a good learning curve to understand that I should be paid for my labor and that this would make it sustainable. And even in the future, if I don’t continue it, it means that I can, in good faith, pass it on to someone else who can continue it and get paid. I think a lot of people end up exploiting themselves because they’re not comfortable exploiting other people and then they just run themselves to the ground. Which benefits, again, no one.
Originally, I was going to pitch to a few places. Transom was the first place and they said, ‘yep, we’ll do it.’
It was good. It made sense. I like Transom. I like what they do, and they’re just really great to work with. So that’s been exciting.
Well, thank you for your service! I’d also love to know about your work with In the Dark Radio and the ‘What’s New?’ event series you’re doing with them. How did you initially get involved?
I got involved with them last year in 2022 because the Founder, Nina Garthwaite, she started it about 13 years ago, and she was my tutor at university for this audio documentary course. I was straight out of university and I was really looking for community. Nina stopped doing the London events just before the pandemic, and she just kept saying to me: “You would have loved In The Dark”.
And my sort of technique for most things is just gentle pestering. So I gently pestered her for about a year until she just finally turned around and was like, ‘Fine, you do it then.’ She helped me with the first event, which we decided would be the ‘What’s New?’ event, showcasing pieces by emerging audio people, which felt right because I was new at that time.
I organize and choose the curators for each event, so each event is a little bit different. Someone called it a ‘curatorial fruit salad,’ because you never really know what you’re going to get because each person chooses audio that they like and speaks to them, and it’s been an incredible opportunity.
The curator of each event selects, let’s say, 10 pieces, about an hour to an hour and a half of audio and shares them. They can also share their own work or even do a live performance. It’s basically a space for people to creatively play and do whatever speaks to them. I think you get the best out of people when you just let them play when there aren’t that many boundaries. Sometimes maybe I’ll suggest a piece or give them a bit of a steer if they’re lost, but mainly it’s the curators doing it for themselves, which has been really, really fun to see.
You’ve mentioned some of your mentors and the people that have inspired you. What are some of the things that were important lessons or skills that you learned from mentors?
This is a good question. My first mentor is definitely Nina Garthwaite, the Founder of In the Dark and my old tutor. She definitely taught me what audio could be and what audio does not have to be.
And that was so inspirational. She taught me about different types of narrative arcs and moving away from a more structured, ‘American’ style of storytelling, which broke my brain at first, but was really helpful to my craft. I also feel really lucky to have ‘mentors’ in quotation marks that are around my level of audio experience – so not mentors that are much older or more experienced, but in that we act as mentors for each other. For the past year, I’ve had an audio club that happens once a week on Wednesdays. It’s four of us and we just listen to each other’s unfinished pieces or answer each other’s questions and support each other in so many ways.
And that has been so foundational for me in terms of having feedback, having community, having general support. And I think breaking this idea of mentorship as one way has been really helpful for me. And then there are also other mentors like Eleanor McDowall. It’s really lovely to have her in my corner and always have her thinking of me and making sure that I’m making space and time for me and that kind of mentorship. So I have lots of people that fill different roles in my life. Which I’m very grateful for.
How you make space for you? Because it seems like you do a lot in the audio industry and you listen to a lot of things and you are out and about doing things, plus you work a 9-5 in audio.
How do you build out space for yourself? Do you ever take a break from listening?
Yeah. This is something I’m definitely still figuring out and haven’t got the balance quite right yet.
My first very purposeful step was joining Broccoli actually, because the content that they make aligns more with what I want to make, and there is more clearly a space for me to merge some of my personal work with the work that they do. I feel more creatively fulfilled because I was struggling with not having that fulfillment and needing to make pieces in my spare time when I’m also doing so many audio adjacent things like events and the newsletter.
So that was a step in the right direction, making my nine to five time feel more fulfilling. Another thing is I have days where I will just book the whole day in a free local studio and just go there and do audio. And that’s a really good, helpful thing for me because I move outside of my normal spaces and I know I’ve trained my brain that this is where we make audio and this is where we sit and this is where we are creative. And sometimes I’m not creative there, but it’s still an act of giving yourself space.
Regarding listening to things, I really struggle with that actually. I definitely do listen to things, I’m not one of those podcast producers that doesn’t. But I find it hard to listen to the voice all the time. So I listen to a lot of music to and from work. I have a puzzle in my living room that I do when I listen to podcasts because it helps me concentrate.
I think it’s awesome that you feel creatively fulfilled in that job. I think a lot of people who work professionally in the audio space have to compromise in order to make a living.
I used to think that there was a job out there where I could just make things I wanna make, and I’m quickly realizing that there will always be things you don’t wanna do in any job, whether you are freelancer full-time or part-time, and I’m coming to peace with that whilst making sure I can at least make things I’m interested in some of that time at a job, which I think is a more realistic goal than making only things you wanna make.
Do you have any advice for how we, as creatives who make podcasts professionally, can continue to learn new skills and explore new ways to tell stories?
I think finding people you trust and are inspired to talk about audio with, or share your work with, is really helpful because so many times if you’re creating on your own. You can get down about a piece, and it’s really hard to climb back out without playing it to someone and having them go, ‘oh, that’s so interesting.’
Or they pick up on something that you were intending, or they pick up on something you weren’t even intending. And then you’re inspired and excited again. You have that frenetic feeling of, ‘oh yes, I wanna do this again!’ So I think speaking to people is really helpful, and there are definitely ways you can find them. Just emailing people that you are inspired by, that’s something I wish I had done way earlier. I thought these were famous people that would never want to talk to me. And then you realize that they’re just people.
And another way I continue to learn is through listening. It’s a big one. Listening to things that are a bit different. I’ve never not listened to an experimental podcast and not felt inspired because even when I really, really hate it and I think they’ve done something awful, I come away from it feeling something and learning something. So finding podcasts that do different things and take risks is a really useful way to learn about your own style and put yourself out of your comfort zone creatively.
And making and carving out time for yourself to experiment. Audio Playground is a great resource for that. They have audio prompts that you can just play with. I think making audio that never needs to be heard by anyone else is really, really important. And those have been some of the best days of my creative journey. I learned so much from it, and you can hear the things I learned from that in every piece that I make from that moment forward.
I think it is really helpful to just give yourself space, like you said, listening to things to find new ways of how people are telling stories and also giving yourself space to get tactile and make new things and experiment, I think is really important.
Lastly, what is your favorite sound?
This is not my favorite sound, but it’s a sound I heard recently that surprised me and it was the sounds of lots of cars on cobbled stones. It really shocked me and it sounded like something musical, but also skeletal and loud. It was quite an incredible experience of all of this noise that you quickly get used to, when you are in a town with cobbled stones.
But the first minute I noticed it, it was this strange thing, something somehow I’d never heard before.
-Interview by Jill Beytin for Bear Radio