The Sound Bank 2

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The Sound Bank is In The Dark’s grant scheme, set up to provide funding for creative audio and radio storytelling. It is a way of giving producers the scope to experiment in ways which would be difficult or impossible through conventional broadcasting. The results receive their premiere at a special In The Dark listening event each year.

After a successful first round in which we supported the production of three short features, the second round was launched in July thanks to a number of generous donations – most notably from patrons: Whistledown Productions, Fiction Factory and Falling Tree Productions.

This year far more first-time producers submitted proposals to the Sound Bank than previously, which made the selection process both more interesting and more challenging.

We received just under 100 applications, which were whittled down to a shortlist of 25. We then enlisted the help of American producer John Biewen, sound artist Dinah Bird, and British producer Cathy Fitzgerald to bring their unique and varying tastes and talents to help pick the final 4 grant winners. The panel was chaired by me, Nina Garthwaite, the Director of In The Dark.

One moment stands out from the judging process.  We were in the middle of a Selection Panel discussion when all four of us  found ourselves at an impasse. We could not agree over whether to put a proposal by a highly accomplished and interesting producer in the “yes”, “no” or “maybe” pile. Frustrated, one panel member turned to me and asked me to explain something – what was it really that we were looking for? And what do the guidelines actually mean?

In an uncomfortable moment. I was forced to look back at the Sound Bank guidelines, written over a year ago in a spirit of optimism before we even had any grant money to give away.  What we had decided back then was that we wanted to set up a scheme to fund ”adventurous” audio.

In the meeting we began to question this choice of words. It sounded vague. After all, what exactly constitutes “adventurous” audio? And how do you know it when you see it, typed out in a proposal with a 500 word limit?

In the face of real life proposals, written by real life people – many of them new-comers to the medium – the call to be “adventurous” was beginning to sound arrogant, naive and not very helpful.

And yet, on the spot in that meeting I chose to defend it. This is why:

My hope is that the Sound Bank will produce original, interesting and engaging audio pieces. But it is far more important to me that we support not just an end product, but a process. It does not make sense to reward anything which is not made yet, unless you are rewarding intent, sense of purpose and spirit.

The grant winners in this round have differing levels of experience and their ideas displayed varying levels of originality. What their applications all had in common was that the producer was trying to find out something new about their craft, the medium and perhaps themselves. Once we had re-united in our goals, we found that we chose the producers that wanted to go out on a limb, not the ones that presented something we were sure would work. It was this, in the end, that we agreed that “adventurous” had come to mean.

The truth is, there were many proposals that didn’t make it that were strong, interesting, and well thought out. Many, I am sure, will make great radio programmes. I hope that those applicants that we rejected do not feel disheartened. All grants are in some ways a lottery, and this one more than most.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been speaking to the grant winners, finding out whose work they admire and what makes them tick. While I’m sure there were many others that would have equally deserved the grants, I know already that we didn’t make any wrong decisions. I’m convinced it’s been grant money well spent. All of the grant winners are enthusiastic, passionate, talented and really really nice (the number 1 identifying feature of a good radio producer, if you ask me).

Finally I would like to say that for me, the Sound Bank’s mentoring programme is as valuable as the grants. It gives producers an opportunity to share skills and the possibility of learning from their heroes. While we are still negotiating a couple of the parings, I am pleased to say Tim Hinman has agreed to mentor Ellie Richold and Nina Perry will be mentoring Mair Bosworth. The second two mentors should be confirmed very soon, and I promise to fill in the gaps here first.

The adventure has only just begun.

The Sound Bank selection panel consisted of  John Biewen, Dinah Bird and Cathy Fitzgerald. It was chaired by Nina Garthwaite. The grant winning producers were: Mair Bosworth, Ellie Richold, Phil Smith and Mark Vernon.

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