Davy Gardner, Curator Of Audio Storytelling At Tribeca, Sits Down With Bingeworthy
Squeee!! Is about I can say for the audio industry
This week I sat down for a chat with Davy Gardner, who is getting ready for his second festival at Tribeca as Curator of Audio Storytelling.
But our conversation was about so much more. We also dug into ideas around the space and the place that is narrative audio storytelling, to the industry, and to the wider world.
Davy comes to Tribeca after many years in the audio industry; a staffer at Wondery, at Radiotopia as a staff writer with The Truth podcast, at Audible…his resume has done a tour of the industry landscape. He’s a writer, a producer, a creator…and now he’s also a curator.
And he’s here to offer more festival laurels to the podcast industry. Finally. And, he really wants to emphasize that indie creators are most welcome.
What struck me about this conversation was just how down-to-earth he is. And how much he cares about using his position of influence and power to help make audio an equitable and accessible industry. He shares that his own values fall in line with those of Tribeca, which champions independent creators.
Read below to find out how Tribeca —the first A-List festival to include audio storytelling in its lineup—is excited to grow the audio storytelling industry. And, how Davy plans to make sure it remains connecting and community-driven.
If you’re thinking you might submit something to Tribeca and you are an indie creator, which makes the entry fee is uncomfortable, please hit reply on this post to reach me.
There’s still time left! Submissions are due February 22: Find out more about the Festival Submission Deadline and all the categories….including works-in-progress. See here for the updated eligibility requirements.
This conversation has been edited from the original conversation for brevity…I’ve also removed a few likes and so’s.
Samantha Hodder: I love that you have a mandate to actually work with independent producers…tell me how you work at one A-list festivals, one of the biggest ones out there, and you're able to ardently support independent podcasters, independent storytellers, independent creators? How did you get the mandate to do that?
Davy Gardner: Well, I will say, Tribeca has, for a very long time, been a long-standing supporter of independent producers. When I came to Tribeca it very much aligned with my values… I've worked at a lot of companies, some audio companies and other companies that have had values that have differered from mine…and in that sense, this has been a real breath of fresh air.
I think in the festival space, there is room to celebrate independent creators in a way that there might not be [in the same way] in other areas. Last year, we had such an amazing time with the festival. One of the events [we held in 2022 was] My Mother Made Me, a Radiotopia project by Jason Reynolds, [he was interviewed by] Jad Abumrad.
Julie Shapiro [formerly at Radiotopia] is someone that I worked with for that event (and also when I was a writer on The Truth podcast). I learned so much from her. She has so much experience from Third Coast, and I think she really was very generous with me in terms of advice on how to balance everything that needs to be balanced, and to [also] focus on discovery for people who can't get exposure, and other ways.
SH: That's a good lineage: Third Coast and Radiotopia are both prime examples of organizations that have really built the [audio] industry and have done it in a way that’s inclusive. Because, really, if you can figure out how to do [audio storytelling], you can do it. That's really the barrier to entry.
DG: I also think that the ability of the medium to foster community is just different than anything else that I've seen. I mean, you know, I love television, but I don't know the television community…whereas, the indie podcast community, and I can point to, and maybe it's on Twitter, maybe it’s on Mastodon, I don't know where it is…but these are people that care so much, and are so supportive of one another…and that is rare and exciting. And I really think that the best resource that independent creators have is each other.
SH: But I think what Tribeca is doing [is helping indie creators to] get out there and to find [their] audience and then to connect with people. What was the genesis of when audio came to that festival?
DG: So Tribeca has always been more than a film festival. They've had games immersive, TV, shorts…it's really a multimedia storytelling destination. And in 2021, Leah Sarbib, who is my predecessor, brought podcasts into the fold. And I was hired the following year as the Curator of Audio Storytelling to manage the live events as well as the competition.
I’ve never worked at a festival before, so it was a very different experience [for me]. I've been working in audio for a very long time, and I have a lot of different networks, but I saw an opportunity for expanding audio beyond just the competition that we did in 2021. And also those live events, to help make them something bigger…something more like an On Air or a Third Coast, as well as year-round programming, because, you know, as podcasts, it's not just the best podcast in June, you want to be able to curate year round and be a source for discovery. And then leaning on the curatorial footprint of Tribeca, and our programming team, to help people [or] listeners become connected with an independent podcast that they might not otherwise [discover].
SH: So do you do this year-round now?
DG: Oh, yeah…the festival. And then Tribeca Audio Premieres is the flagship podcast of our network; I host and produce that show and it has been so much fun to get to know the hosts of shows that I love. We've had some really amazing stories featured on there. Whether they're established or indie creators, it feels like everybody kind of knows everybody somehow. It's a fun world to be in.
SH: So what's your vision for it? Where do you want to take it? You've already done a lot since you've been there.
DG: I have a lot of high hopes and big ambitions for Tribeca in the audio space. I’m looking to build our Audio Network [into] an exciting thing. And we have a lot of stuff in the works, and we've got to show two new shows we're working on as well with Tribeca Audio Premieres Podcast [which will return in the summer.]
And in terms of the festival, my hopes are to make this as community-based of a festival as can be. I'm really into group experiences, I'm really into people talking about audio, the way that they talk about film and television. You don't hear that as much.
The jurors from last year told me they love being able to talk about audio, and deliberate about it, in a way that hasn't been discussed before…more like the way that you might talk about a television show.
[Also] I think that something that distinguishes Tribeca in the audio space [is the] Creator’s Market, [which is where] independent creators come together and meet different companies [and] present their work to different outlets. At that Market [which happens during the festival], they can also meet people in the television world, people in the games world…all kinds of storytelling are there. It's story first, so really, I think the sky's the limit.
I want to make it the biggest, or the best festival that it can be. And I want to continue to focus on narrative more than anything else.
SH: Wow, I'm bursting! Bursting with questions and ideas…Can you describe the Creators Market? I can imagine what it would be like for the film and TV side…but is there a Creator’s Market just for podcasters?
DG: Well, it's a Creator’s Market, and the market is for everyone. I can nominate five podcasters for the Creators Market program. So then those podcasters get to go not only pitch their ideas to all of these companies that we bring to the market, but also they can get to know people from other disciplines, which I think is really invaluable, in the sense of meeting others, thinking about their story and how it might fit into different forms.
SH: So, your title: Curator of Audio Storytelling, I don't think I've ever come across that phrase before. I really like it. Where did it come from? How did you make that happen?
DG: I think that the Tribeca festival has always been a place for curation. I think it's an activist festival, a curatorial festival. And ultimately, it's just about storytellers, and storytelling. So curator was sort of a natural part of the title.
We want to look at audio with a little more inclusivity to types of audio beyond just podcasts. This year, for example, I don't know if you noticed in the eligibility requirements, but we're opening up to audiobooks as well…or somebody could submit a walking tour…these are all people working in sound and I think it's about ALL experiences in sound and narrative. And if we can sort of celebrate that as more of a universal whole then we're a lot less constricted by, you know, the podcast industry talk.
SH: I totally get what you mean. When I was getting ready to launch Bingeworthy, I spent so much energy trying to figure out what to call them. Are they serialized and narrative? Are they nonfiction? Are they original? I tried to do a Twitter pool to ask what others call it…and basically, everyone had a different opinion.
DG: Yeah, I saw that tweet! I don't remember what [ranked] the highest, but everybody had new names for [it].
SH: This actually is part of my thesis, about why I want to do [Bingeworthy], which is that if this is going to be a thing, if we're going to recognize it as a new [presentational] genre, then it needs a name that people recognize. And it needs to be the same name three times in a row, and then not be confused with something else….and until it has a name, it’s not really a thing.
DG: I agree. And I think, however that name surfaces…I don’t know how that will be decided and agreed upon…but in the meantime, audio storytelling felt right for Tribeca, because we don’t do news shows, we don’t do unedited chat shows. We do narrative audio.
And that is audio storytelling, sound storytelling…this gets to it a little faster. And if people don’t really know what that is, I hope they are curious enough to come and find out.
SH: I think what is fascinating is that you put audiobooks in that fold, because one of my dreams is to make an audiobook that's somewhere between a podcast and an audiobook.
DG: You should totally do that!
SH: One of the interesting things about Tribeca, which follows the film festival model, is that [to qualify for the festival] it can't be previously published; it has to be a premiere. But this is a little bit antithetical to the production world of audio because you know, there is there's no calendar, there's no timeline to [publish works]. And sure, you can get a premiere at Tribeca, but then there are no other [festivals] to go to. So tell me, what is the thinning for that criteria…and what is going to happen next?
Is that part of your vision, of what's going to happen next?
DG: Well, first of all, I will say Tribeca, while some people might think of it as a film festival, it has always been a storytelling festival, and the talks…it’s a place for people who tell stories to get together. The premiere aspect of the festival is a really interesting one, I think, because it does define the event, and the community around it, as destination for discovery, and for being the first to find a brand new project.
I think that that's a fun thing for independent creators to launch their shows alongside established creators—who have huge marketing budget—it makes it such that the independent creators have actual substantial push and marketing towards becoming real. We've had independent official selections and independent creators who they have distribution deals now, many of them.
DG: And yeah, absolutely. And it's it's exciting to see that those projects are getting made by networks that we know are creator-friendly and that, you know, I think that the sort of premier aspect in one way, as you say, can be viewed as antithetical to the production process of a podcast, because it's like who's going to sit on a product that they've made? The whole thing of podcasts is that you publish, when you've got [the show]. So I've changed the eligibility requirements to allow for a lot more flexibility, just in the sense that people will know if they're an official selection, or not, by April. So now the amount of time they're waiting [to hear back] is more like one month, one-and-a-half months.
And then in addition to that, I've allowed works-in-progress to be entered. And my screen screening committee that I oversee, they vote and figure out what the official selections will be are, this is a conversation we're having, and have had many times. It's complicated. But I think someone has to try to make to make this work. And I think that something about the energy of a premiere is really exciting.
SH: Absolutely! Does this happen just because it happens? [You might have a] premiere at Tribeca and then it gets picked up for distribution? Or is it more organized?
DG: Well… if you're an indie creator and you submit to the festival and you become an official selection, you're eligible for the winner of the audio storytelling award. But it's not really an award show. What we're doing is picking, spotlighting shows that we believe in. And because of that, I think the official selection laurels are actually far more important. They play a big role in discovery that I think it’s novel to the podcasting world…Podcast art is so important…when people are looking through their podcast apps and [they] see a stamp of approval [the laurels] something that an indie creator didn't pay for, I think that does matter.
Also, [Tribeca is also playing] a role in setting industry standards for credits and pay and supporting the WGA Audio Alliance…using that legacy name brand to push audio in the direction that we hope it goes [that’s something that] Tribeca has always been pushing towards.
SH: Tell me what the actual audio storytelling experience looks like on the ground, at the festival. If you are there as a participant, or as an audience member [for people who might be] interested to go to Tribeca, what will it look like this year?
DG: I think people are getting excited about Tribeca as a place for audio and we've got some really exciting events lined up that we haven't announced yet….but I can say, last year we had Mother Country Radicals [premiered here]. We had a discussion with Bernardine Dohrn and Zayd Ayres Dohrn [along with Bill Ayres] moderated by Alex Wagner. That event stands out in my mind; It was a fantastic event!
We [also] did this for My Mother Made Me. And we chose two-to-three minute segments of audio and then played them [over the PA system in the venue] in the event in the beginning, the middle and the end of the event. And then we had a panel discussion, or a talk, between listening. It made it a very communal listening experience. We changed the lighting during the audio…everybody was really listening…It was a cool thing to experience. And then the conversation that followed immediately became so much more thoughtful and personal because we all had had that sort of theatrical experience. So that's our I would describe a podcast premiere. There are also live events. We also had some live tapings of shows.
And in terms of what to expect as just someone attending, we have Audible, our sponsor, and they host an Audio Creators Cocktail, which is this sort of big, wonderful networking event that we're so we're very grateful to be working with them on, because they can help us with that kind of thing.
There's also an awards ceremony for the official selections. And beyond that, I would say that after every audio event that I went to, all of them, of course, almost always there was a big group of people that just went to a bar nearby and like hung out and talked about the show.
You know, my background is in theater, and [last year] felt like sort of a New York City theater vibe in that way. We're also trying to change the dates of the audio events to be within four or five days of each other, as opposed to two weeks…it's going to be a really fun experience, even more of a fun group experience, this year!
What do you think the role that a festival can play in the audio spaces? What do you think?
SH: My dream is that there's a circuit of festivals. Tribeca is the first, but then you go on to Telluride and you go to South by Southwest and you go to Toronto…and there's a marketplace there…and an opening to do that more than once. And you know, this history has been written already with the film festivals.
[I think that this helped] to create the modern film/television heyday that we're in because people want more and more and more and they want to not only that; but a festival is able to create a feeling of an “immersive-ness” and a story. They create an immersive experience where you feel like you're in the story, and you're seeing people who were in the film and you're hearing them introduce it.
So I think [that they are] creating a cultural moment, and also a practical production [marketplace], especially if there's more to go to. And the laurels are huge because there's a criterion to be established of what is good. [Festivals are] taste-making, and then and then you're helping to create this community of people who come together and get to know each other, and it's wonderful.
DG: You have to come to the festival because it really it's like you just get to have conversations with people that are thinking about all the same things and you've never met them before. And, there's an energy to it that really feels fun. Like it's not you know, it's not a stuffy thing. It's a really fun, fun event.
SH: I'm going to make it! I can't wait!
Again, if you’re an indie creator, and you’re thinking you might submit something to Tribeca, but the entry fee is uncomfortable….please hit reply on this post to connect with me.
Submissions are due February 22: Festival Submission Info here
There are lots of categories….explore the site to find out more.
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