Posted by: Liz Massey | October 11, 2012

In The Studio With … Julien Clancy

Julien Clancy, unafraid to do what it takes to get the interview.

Today we continue our interview series exploring the inner workings of the creative life with Julien Clancy, a radio producer based in Ireland. Clancy, who provided this unconventional “headshot” for us (see below for the “thumbshot”), spends his days creating stories in sound – producing a wide array of programs, according to his profile on an Irish website, ranging from a children’s radio drama to an educational segment on the music industry to a historical program on the Irish famine and the fate of Irish immigrants to Canada.

Clancy has a deep understanding of his process and what helps him produce good audio.

Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.

I’m a freelance radio producer so I make radio programs for a living. Basically I come up with an idea for a radio series, or documentary, pitch it to a station, get it funded and then produce, present and record the whole thing before taking it to a production studio for a generous sprinkling of fairy dust to make me and my story sound as good as possible. It’s a job that involves lots of different roles, some which you have to act out all at the same time but all of which are rewarding in their own unique way.

I was also quite involved with the Association of Independent Radio Producers of Ireland(AIRPI), organizing training events for members and basically exploring the world of international radio which lives through amazing organizations like Third Coast Audio Festival or the In the Dark initiative. Once I finished volunteering with AIRPI, I still wanted to be active in radio so I organized an evening of radio themed events all under the name of Sounds Alive. After last year’s success, Sounds Alive will be returning to a beautiful 18th century Georgian dining room in Dublin’s city center, to allow people to immerse themselves in a night full of stories, sounds and scenes from around the world.

Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?

I got a good grounding in radio in general when I first started off working in a community radio station which was understaffed, under-resourced and underpaid. When I started there, we didn’t even have desks to work from so we really had to start with the basics. The upside to that was the station was a blank canvas which together with some very passionate people we helped shape into something that we could all be proud of. It was while working there that I first began exploring radio docs but to be honest  apart from some basic training, I’ve pretty much learnt everything else I needed by working alongside talented people who know more than I do and then asking a lot of questions.

I think there are definitely advantages to training, especially in something which requires a specific set of technical skills like radio. Ultimately however, I think it depends on the person. Around one year in, I considered going back to college to pursue a degree in journalism but instead decided to stay working as a freelancer.  At this stage the indie radio sector was starting to take off and I was lucky enough to be playing an active role in its development. I was getting the kind of practical industry experience that you simply couldn’t get in a lecture hall so I decided to stick with it.

I think the best kind of training is just to make stuff, make mistakes, learn from them and then make something else. At the same time, I would still love to return to college one day, but only if both the course and time is right.

What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?

I listen to a lot of music and I get a lot of inspiration from lots and lots of different kinds of genres. I love buying records as well, as I find it very relaxing and actually quite therapeutic!  I think great radio stories can also be like a piece of music in that they can tell a story, paint a picture, or teach a lesson all through the medium of sound. At the same time, great radio stories can be just nice to listen to purely because they sound nice – so you can enjoy it on many different levels.

I also go to a lot of gigs – art galleries and exhibitions, film screenings, plays and everything else in between. Dublin is blessed with a really vibrant local music scene and it’s also a very creative city with an independent spirit.

I also listen to a lot of radio online. Apart from the RTE Radio and BBC, I get ideas from programs like This American Life, Radiolab, Re:Sound, 99% invisible, The Truth,Transom.org, and the Hackney Podcast. I like to listen to them while getting from A to B, on a bus, during a run or even just popping to the shop for some milk. I’m never far from my earphones!

What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?

Ultimately creativity is a deeply personal thing so what works for me mightn’t work for another person. Saying that’s here’s a few Dr. Phil like sentiments I’ve found have helped me in the past.

  • Get inspired. Do something every day or every weeks that makes you excited, happy and eager to want to share it with the rest of the world.
  • Take risks. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new which will really challenge your-self. It can be something big or small but it has to be new.
  • Make it personal. Don’t try and create something influenced by what others want. Make something you yourself would like and the rest will follow, even if it takes a while.
  • Take a break. I find my best ideas come when I’m out and about, relaxing and completely turned off from work. Just make sure to write them down fast as they usually disappear pretty quickly.
  • Work with someone else. Working on your own is an incredibly solitary and lonely experience. You also become so attached to your project that sometimes all you can see is what’s wrong with it and not what’s right. Working with someone or even asking someone for an opinion about a piece will make you see your work in a fresh light and get you over that block.

Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?

I’m just finishing a radio series about my Irish experiences in Japan which I recorded over a period of 6 months. I met everyone from an Irish sumo wrestler in Tokyo to an Irish fake priest in Kobe and recorded some great sounds along the way.

The new project I’m really excited about is a 2 part series on Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was a Greek/Irish writer who lived in Japan from 1891 teaching English and writing articles and books about his experiences.  He wrote about old Japanese traditions, customs and folklore all of which was in danger of disappearing forever during Japan’s Meji period, its era of modernization where it was all about out with the old and in with the new. In the town of Matsue, where he first lived, he’s adored. Streets are named after him, statues have been erected in his honor and his former home is preserved right next to a museum dedicated to his memory. In Dublin, where his father was from and where he himself lived until his late teens, we have a single plaque outside the toilets of the Dublin Writer’s Museum. The program aims to properly introduce Irish audiences to the writer and ask should more be done to celebrate his Irish heritage.

How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?

The story has to be personal in some way. You have to be interested in the subject you’re trying to explore through your program because a) its fun and b) you’re going to spend a serious amount of time on that subject so it might as well be something you’re actually interested in.

Finding a new story is always really exciting. Researching it and coming up with a pitch is actually very exciting as the possibilities are endless, it’s fresh and new. The internet is great for the basics but if I want a real idea or story I speak with people. I find the library too is a great place for ideas. I also love interviewing people and getting to a heart of a story.

Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?

There’s a great piece on my website, where Ira Glass of This American Life is giving advice about creativity. Basically, you’ll start out pretty bad but your taste is killer – it’s so good that you know the stuff you’re making isn’t any good to begin with. If you can keep at it, however, while it might literally take years, your creative work is one of the most satisfying things you can ever hope to achieve in your personal life. So basically, my advice is to stick with it!

Listen to Julien Clancy discuss life in Japan and a missing pair of yellow shorts in “Yellow Short Pants!”

Here’s another program by Julien, “A Cold Freezin’ Night (Adventure),” produced for the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s 2010 ShortDocs Challenge.

Listen to “A Cold Freezin’ Night (Adventure)”

And for those who like Julien’s work a lot, here’s a great sampler of his radio work that’s been produced in the last 4 years.

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