My Story: Nick Andersen and Lisette Alvarez

As we gear up for a fall project, AIR’s spreading some audio love by raffling off prizes to the indie community. The “My Story” series brings tales from creative practices across the network and beyond. Read on for round one’s winning submissions from Nick Andersen and Lisette AlvarezFind inspiration from their stories and send in your own to for our current round: 

Share a time when you needed help as a freelance audio maker. Between weak, shared WiFi at airports and catching that perfect ambient noise clip, the indie life has its charms and challenges. Tell us a story about a time you pulled everything together at the last minute.

Submit to this week’s contest by midnight on Monday, October 1 for a chance to win $300 to attend your professional conference of choice.

By Nick Andersen

Two years ago, I received an email out of the blue from a Harvard Divinity student looking for help on a podcast he was developing. He knew nothing about me, but he had found my information as a Cambridge-based audio producer in the AIR Talent Directory, and thought I might be interested in making podcasts with him. “You just struck me as somebody who might be interested in the same kinds of big ideas as I was,” Zachary Davis, that grad student, told me.

Two years—and hundreds of thousands of downloads, one Guardian endorsement, and a BuzzFeed shoutout later—that small podcast, Ministry of Ideas is off the ground, and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I know I wouldn’t be here without AIR—and I know that Hub & Spoke, our larger Boston-based network of independent podcasts (many of whom are themselves AIR members) wouldn’t exist, either.

AIR has been such an important part of my growth as an audio producer, and I’m forever thankful that I was able to have had my name included on that AIR producer list two years back. Without AIR, Ministry of Ideas might still just be that—a vague idea, waiting out in the ether to be sought out, mixed down and turned into a podcast.

Thanks for all you do, AIR team!

By Lisette Alvarez

Early last year I got into fiction podcasts. I drove a lot for work, and between switching through my local NPR station, WAMU, and my podcatcher, I started to slowly but surely fall in love with audio storytelling. I appreciated the work put into independent production of fiction podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and The Bright Sessions. As I consumed more and more fiction podcasts (also known as audio fiction, radio plays, or audio dramas), I became inspired.

While pursuing my early career, I had abandoned my deep love for writing and acting. I tried pitching stories for traditional publication, but failed time and again. I was discouraged for the most part. However, I managed to get back onstage for the first time in seven years last year for a small local theatre. That comeback was largely due to the amazing work being done in audio drama. But I wanted more. I kept listening to these incredible stories, to the unique creativity that blossoms within audio, and I kept having a persistent thought: “I can do this.”

Then, in early November 2017, I fell off of a horse and suffered a severe concussion. I couldn’t watch anything, I couldn’t read anything. Screens were torture. I had to take time off of work and during that time the only thing that kept me from going stir-crazy and didn’t give me a throbbing headache were podcasts.

I wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November and, despite the headaches, I dedicated the entire month to writing my first fiction podcast. Thirty days and 50,000 words later, I had thirteen episode scripts detailing the audio diaries of a witch-for-hire. I completed the first creation of Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services, a fantasy audio drama about a witch struggling with complex clients and a mysterious saboteur hellbent on destroying her magic business.

Next, I had to learn how to record. Thanks to a very loving partner, I got set up with a Zoom H2n recorder and Audacity. I dove right in, learning about how to foley edit (or even what foley edits were), where to find license-free sound effects and music, how to set up an RSS feed, and so much more. When my first trailer dropped in December of 2017, I was planning on just sending the story around to friends and family.

I did not expect to catch the eye of multiple people already established in the small but mighty fiction podcasting community. Elena Fernández-Collins and Wil Williams, two well-respected indie podcasting reviewers, shared my trailer and pumped up interest.

As I posted episodes and climbed the steep learning curve that is first-time podcasting, I became more and more involved in the fiction podcast community and the art of audio storytelling. My Patreon jumped higher and higher as more fans were willing to use their own money to support my work. I felt like I was finding a craft that I could truly explore with gusto. When I saw the application for AIR’s Full Spectrum Storytelling Intensive earlier this year, I took a chance and applied. To my surprise, my novice experience was not a detriment to being accepted into the summer program.

The only problem, it turned out, was money. I nearly declined accepting the offer initially. It took some soul searching and chatting to other members of the podcast community to finally convince myself to take a chance on my community. In just two weeks, my faith in my fellow indie podcasters paid off. They helped me raise $800 for my trip to New York.

Since that week of workshops, the quality of my work jumped even further. I finished the first season of my first podcast in August 2018, with upwards of 35,000 downloads and with active plans for a second season. I pay my actors, I am passionate about paying my luck forward, I have been overwhelmed by support both through social media and financially, and I am now fully invested in my path to audio storytelling. After my season finale, I moderated the first “Podcast Panel,” a community-run livestream of indie podcasters. It caught the attention of other successful podcasters, even called for me to help moderate a panel at the upcoming PodCon. While I am also careful about where I can feasibly help in the podcast community, I am excited about audio storytelling and being a part of where it is going.

As a queer, Latinx creator, fiction podcasting has given me a lower barrier of entry into storytelling that traditional publication never could. I have found that indie podcasting has some of the most experimental and creative people. It is tremendously exciting to be in the middle of a new and growing creative field. And I am determined to drive forward with what comes next.