The Art of Storytelling: Kerrianne Thomas

 
Illustration by    Anna Williams

Illustration by Anna Williams

 

We met up with Kerrianne Thomas in Manhattan’s Lower East
Side at Antler Beer & Wine Dispensary to discuss her career as
a podcast creator and the methods for successful storytelling.

Canvas & Cassette: You describe yourself as a “podcast producer and self-proclaimed professional playlist maker” on your website. Can you speak more to your background and how you ended up with these two awesome titles?

Kerrianne Thomas: I was one of those college students who had no idea what I wanted to major in or do with my life. I took a lot of liberal arts classes and joined my college radio because I loved making playlists, playing music and sharing it with people. I became pretty obsessed with the radio station and dedicated all of my time to it. I always thought journalism could be a good route to take because I like writing and talking to people so I started taking some journalism classes. At some point, I was introduced to WTF with Marc Maron and it was like nothing I ever listened to before. I wanted to be in radio but I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to do what Marc Maron was doing and tell stories and find a place where I could combine audio and storytelling. When I was growing up, and applying for colleges, podcasting wasn’t a career. It wasn’t until 2014 that it began to become a possible career choice. My career’s dependent on being in the right place at the right time and wanting to tell stories.

C&C: What was your career trajectory like after school ended?

KT: I was all over the place. I did an internship with BLI, a local radio station on Long Island, and then worked at Sirius XM at a talk show called Opie with Jim Norton. They’re a raunchy Howard Stern type. It was my first job in radio and I was so nervous but it was a great experience. I got to meet a Iot of my favorite comics and learned a great deal of my interview skills from them. After graduating, I interned for The Listening Booth, a company that trains others on how to become better storytellers. They heard so many great stories that they started a podcast called Memory Motel. I ended up getting hired as a producer for the show after the internship ended. I’m so thankful that I got that opportunity because I was able to research and dive into stories with people who don’t always get to tell their
story. It was nice that we were able to do that for them and make it into this wonderful piece of art with sound design and bring it to life.

C&C: Do your listening habits ever reflect the mood of the podcast you’re working on?

KT: Sometimes. I tend to get a little existential when I’m producing an episode and deep diving on specific parts of a story. The last podcast I did was an episode on robots and the future of robots and I was like, “oh my god, robots are going to take over.” So then I made a playlist called “Robots are Going to Take Over.” It had a lot of Talking Heads. The playlist’s a little chaotic and kind of sad and was made in a
moment of...doom (laughs).

C&C: What’s the typical process that goes into creating a podcast?

KT: As a producer you’re the behind the scenes person. The producer starts the research for the story, goes out and does the interview or preps the host for the interview, then we pick the best tape—out of hours of tape—that’ll give us our story. Once we have the story, we write around it, and script it; if there’s a host, we give it to the host to read, then we pick some music to create the mood and hand it over to the engineers. I adore the engineers and all that they do. They’re magicians and turn everything into gold.

C&C: How long does that process take?

KT: A long time. You’re telling someone’s story so there’s a lot of responsibility in your hands. You end up doing so many interviews and then maybe end up using only two of them for a story. Which sucks because you ask people to spend time with you and then, while their story’s great, it may not work for the project. I think that’s the
hardest part of being a producer. You always have these little pieces of tape that you love; they’re so charming and close to your heart but it doesn’t make sense to have them in the piece you’re working on, so you have to cut them. You have to kill your darlings.

C&C: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve worked on?

KT: When I was working at Memory Motel, we wanted to do an episode on hallucinogenic drugs and memory, and I ended up finding this really great article on Medium written by Jim McDermott. He told this great story about a time that he did LSD in Huntington, Long Island, where he lives. He went to a park with his friend where they dropped acid. It started to rain halfway through their trip and they winded up going to the bay where they suddenly see these big boulders, palm trees and psychedelic vans everywhere. They’re really confused and as it’s thundering and lightning, they’re becoming freaked out. Eventually, a security guard shows up and is like, “what’re you guys doing?” It turned out that they found themselves on a set for a Cheech and Chong movie. It’s a goofy story but he has a great way of reflecting on the acid trip and the self-awareness that the experience has given him and how he still maintains that perspective today.

C&C: What do you think the most important aspect of storytelling is?

KT: I think everybody deserves to be heard. Being listened to is really important—that’s something I’ve learned these past few years while producing and podcasting: listening is the most important part of our job. You cannot be good at storytelling without listening. It always starts with listening.