Fresh out of the Saffron X Noods radio production course, our very own Gemsski shares her top tips for aspiring broadcasters.
“It’s not just the music side of radio I’m interested in,” says MA Innovation in Sound student Gemma, who also goes under the alias Gemsski, “it’s the communication side as well.”
From listening to her grandparents’ wireless as a child to chatting to her teenage boyfriend on a CB (citizens band) radio, Gemma grew up exploring the airwaves. Yet despite nearly 20 years of experience mixing vinyl and a number of attempts reaching out to local radio stations, breaking into broadcasting presented a challenge.
“I sent off a work experience applications loads of times and never got anything back. I know it’s been a rubbish time with everyone having to cut back in sizing, but I got a bit disheartened. I thought maybe it was because I didn’t have the right skills. I never thought it could be because I was a female. I wasn’t aware that the underrepresentation of women in the radio industry was an issue.”
This all changed when Gemma came across a new beginner’s radio production course run by womxn’s music tech initiative Saffron, in collaboration with Bristol's’ Noods Radio. “Tugkan (dBs Institute’s Employability and Engagement Officer) sent around an email encouraging us to apply,” says Gemma. “I’d never seen any radio stations offering any opportunities like that before – to males or females.”
Taught by dBs graduate and Worldwide FM resident Manami alongside Noods and NTS resident Tilly, the Noods x Saffron course was launched to help more women and non-binary people into the world of radio. At the end of the eight-week programme, students are invited to present a one-hour show on Noods as part of a day-long takeover of the station.
As one of the applicants lucky enough to secure a space on the course, we asked Gemma to share some of the key lessons she took away from the experience. Here’s what she had to say:
1. Do your research
“When coming up with a concept for a show, it’s important to look and see what’s already been done and how you can fit into the gaps. Stations receive a lot of show applications so you need to try and bring something different to the table. One of the first tasks we were set on the course was to listen to and research other shows. Rather than simply trying to emulate what other people are doing, focus on honing your personal style and leveraging that to contribute something new.”
2. Pick a theme
“During the course, Nabihah Iqbal came in to do a guest talk for us. She gave us a really honest review of the radio industry in general which was very empowering. One of the things she spoke about was the benefits of structuring radio shows around a theme. For example, her latest on NTS was a Lee Scratch Perry tribute. She’s also done shows based on Asian music.
“After our second session, we were told to go away and start digging for our tracks. When I was planning my first show, I found it really helped to have a focus when thinking about what I wanted to play and in what order. Initially, I thought I would order my tunes by BPM, but in the end, I ended up structuring the show around the history I had behind each track.”
3. Find your voice
“For me, a big part of learning how to present on the radio was about becoming more comfortable with my voice. Speaking on the mic is a funny thing. You want it to sound natural, but unless you have people in the chatroom you can interact with, a lot of talking is a blank wall experience with your voice and that can feel strange at first.
“To practice, I was doing little voice notes on WhatsApp with my friend. That was a really good way to get comfortable with free speaking. I’d also recommend listening back to your radio show to work out where you’d like to improve next time. I noticed for example with every tune I introduced, I’d say “so yeah”, so that’s something I’d like to keep in check. I think it’s all about striking a balance between preserving your personality and making your voiceover clear for the listener.
“I also think a successful voiceover on a music show is about timing. If you know a tune on vinyl really well, then you can speak during a breakdown and finish just as the tune drops back in. On CDJs you can see the waveform or put cue points in to make this easier.”
4. Don't worry about beatmatching
“I was the only person on the course with DJing experience and I think quite a few of the other students were worried they might not be able to get shows because they didn’t know how to beat match.
“In reality, there are a lot of radio hosts who don’t mix their tracks – they simply play a tune out, speak about it a little bit and then put the next one on. Even though I do like to have a mix on the radio (it’s a good way to showcase your skills and get gigs if you’re looking to play out), I wouldn’t mix every tune as it feels like too much pressure. Also, radio is a great opportunity to play music outside of what belongs in the club. Often tracks like this aren’t really suited to beatmatching anyway.”
Listen back to Gemsski's debut show on Noods
5. Connect with the radio community
“Community radio is about community! Whilst it’s great to put energy into preparing and promoting your show, it’s important to support other people as well. Listen to other residents’ shows – you’ll probably discover a lot of new tracks that way! I always say music is for sharing, so I’ll always give credit to wherever I first heard a tune from. That keeps it in the community and we all bounce off each other. I also like to play new releases from local artists from within Bristol, for example in my first Noods show I played a track by Zoob, one of the other MA students.
“I’d recommend reaching out to artists as well. When I was preparing my show I found a track on Soundcloud that I really wanted to play but I couldn’t find anywhere to download it, so I messaged the artist to ask when it’s coming out. They weren’t ready to share it with me in this instance, but sometimes that’s all it takes for a producer to drop you an unreleased mp3. By reaching out to artists you can often find out more of the story behind tracks too, which gives you something else to talk about on your show.”
6. Familiarise yourself with the setup
“I’d recommend getting to know the equipment you’ll be playing on. Usually, there’s going to be someone else in the studio right before you do your show, so there won’t be a huge amount of time to familiarise yourself. On the course, we were given an introduction to the Noods studio, but if you aren’t able to check out the set-up beforehand, ask for your radio station’s tech rider.
“It also helps to get familiar with the process of speaking on the mic. We were given a little guide laying out the steps of pressing talk, turning down the booth and bringing the fader down to 5 before speaking. We spent some time at Pirate studios practising this and it really helped, so I’d recommend doing the same if you can. Also, have a dialogue with your producer. They’re there to support you with any technical difficulties so having a relationship with them will helps things run more smoothly.”
7. Roll with your mistakes
“Whilst it’s great to prepare yourself as much as possible, mistakes are going to happen. Don’t give yourself a hard time about them!
“When I was doing my show, I started my first record at the wrong speed. I noticed just after I spoke on the mic and had to quickly change it. I was gutted, but Tilly - one of the course tutors - was really sweet about it. She said ‘stuff like that happens all the time. That’s what makes it authentic'. There was another moment where I forgot to turn the booth down when I went on the mic, which led to a lot of feedback. It’s important not to let mistakes like that derail your whole show. Just remember – that’s the way you learn.
“I know another person who did a show and couldn’t get her track to stop looping. It was something to do with the version of Rekordbox she was using. Things like this happen to everyone. You’re never going to be totally in control, but that’s the beauty of live radio.”
Radio student to resident
Now returning to dBs Institute to resume her postgraduate studies, Gemma is hoping to incorporate her love of radio into her master’s research. “I want to explore the innovation side of radio,” she says. “I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but I’m excited to see where things lead.”
Since completing the course, Gemma has also secured a residency on Bristol’s 1020 radio. Her show ‘Wax of Mass Distraction’ will be a vinyl-only affair, exploring the discography of various labels across the spectrum of soul, Motown, funk, boogie, disco, psy-rock. You can listen to it live on the 3rd Thursday of every month between 1200-1300 or listen back on the 1020 Mixcloud.
1020 Radio is also the home of the 'dBs Presents' show, which is presented and broadcast by dBs students across our Bristol and Plymouth. Find out more about this opportunity.
In addition to this, Gemma will be playing some guest slots on Noods radio in the coming months, starting with a show this Saturday 18th between 3-4 pm.
Gemma is currently studying for an MA in Innovation in Sound. Find out more about this programme.