25: Don't Drop The Ball
I am in my room, under my duvet.
With me, in my left hand, is my phone opened up to the script I am trying to record. My right hand is clenched around a microphone. From the microphone, a cord draws away and runs out from under the duvet to where my laptop sits on my bed.
There are a few things that stand against you as an indie audio producer in Lagos where I live. Easily, the most annoying one of them is the noise. Lagos is not a quiet city.
Outside my house, generators playing the part of a power grid are screaming away. Shouting to me ‘I am better than your government.’ Noise is my enemy in this line of work.
To battle it, I have taken some steps. My windows are closed, they always are. My air conditioner is turned off because it produces a low-frequency hum. I could fix it in post and save myself a sweaty thirty-minute recording session but I rather not. Better to fix it before it exists.
I have been working on this story for two months, but this is my first time recording narration. I click the monitor button on my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Now I can hear everything my microphone can. The noise is bad but not too bad. I will have to clean it later. I hit record.
Since the last time you heard from me, I have recorded narration for this story three times. That’s two other times along with the one I just described. On the one hand, I should be excited. This story feels like the biggest one I have ever produced. Already, I know it will be heard by more people than I have ever been able to reach.
And this is scary. What if I do a bad job and people see that I don’t know anything?
While making this story, I have received some much-needed validation. The comments from my editors have not only helped me find cohesiveness in the process but also reassured me about the quality of my work.
This validation has paused my unending fall into self-disbelief. The entire process of making this story: writing the pitch, having it accepted, doing the work and going over the feedback with my editors. It is all working together against my perpetual tendency to doubt myself. I wonder how long this will last.
In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about how it seems that no matter where we are in life, we manufacture narratives to diminish ourselves. We find new ways to feel small, unqualified, and unworthy.
There was an issue of this newsletter I started last year but never finished. In it, I began with a paragraph describing how I found myself in a place of goodwill. I had been invited to participate in a workshop in South Africa, A workshop that would be led by Rob Rosenthal, a long-term influential character in my interest and growth as an audio maker. The trip would be free. Everything was covered and all I had to do was show up. The email ended with this exact phrase:
Is this something you think you would be interested in?
I looked at it and thought to myself. Would I be interested in visiting a country I have always loved, to learn a skill I am very much taken by, taught by someone I look up to? Would I be interested?
This was quite literally the opportunity of a lifetime.
I am writing this section of the newsletter to you from an airport. I am in between flights. The workshop happened in January, 5 months ago, I was unable to attend it for reasons people living in countries like Nigeria are all too familiar with.
This… This is something else but it’s similar. Goodwill has found me; instead of feeling excited, I feel mixed. Have I earned this?
Back in my room, I am recording the second run-through of my narration. There is a deadline approaching for my second draft. If I am being honest, the timelines for this production have been very kind to me. Yet, I have found myself struggling to keep up. For this draft, I recorded the narration, cut the interview and edited the run-through in a single night. The night before the deadline.
I am able to do things like this when I put 100 per cent of myself into my work. And that only tends to happen the night before I have to submit an assignment.
Most of the time, I feel, I put in only 20 per cent.
Now, the more logical part of me is not asking the lazy part of me to put in 100 per cent all the time. I am asking it to put in 70 per cent 70 per cent of the time. That way, we never have to find ourselves putting in 100 per cent under more pressure than we need.
But do I listen to my logical self? Nope.
For my second draft, I have included some sound design in the edit. I started it more than two weeks before it was due but most of the work actually happened the night before I intended to send it in. That night, I had only one hour of sleep because I had to be up early for a different appointment.
It’s things like this that contribute to my feelings of unworthiness.
I brought you back to my room, sitting with me, again under my duvet to tell you about the second problem someone like me, who freelances as an audio producer, faces when trying to record narration.
I am cut off in the middle of my recording at least three times by the people I live with. That I am okay with. It’s the interruption that I can’t control that I am not a fan of. It is still in the form of noise. Like in my parent’s house which I only moved out of less than a year ago. There were two of us in the area that worked our best at night. Me and a tailor whose window was directly opposite mine. I could not record during the day because for some reason, someone, somewhere was always doing some construction work. At night, I had to deal with this person and the sound of their sewing machine.
Okay. So here we are, at the beginning of this issue, with a few questions.
Am I worthy of my goodwill?
Will I be able to win against the noisemakers of Lagos?
This is where we start today.
In case you are new here. My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio journalism. This newsletter features personal essays about this journey.
For old readers, it has been quite some time and I really do want to apologise for leaving you for so long. I appreciate this community and your patience. Let’s continue from where we stopped.
Do I deserve good things?
The top section of this essay was drafted on June 16th, almost 4 months ago. The airport in question, where I did part of the writing was in Addis Ababa. I was waiting for a connecting flight to Greece. The story I was recording narration for; happened through May and June. I did the final narration recording at the start of July. The episode came out in early August.
Essentially, a lot has happened since I started working on this essay. My thoughts about life have changed, almost radically. I think my life itself, will change a little too. But I will tell you about all of that soon enough.
In this essay, we will answer two questions. First, the hard one.
Am I worthy of my goodwill?
Let’s start in January.
Not with the trip to South Africa that never happened. Not with the fact that I had my mind set on it, that I had edged the success of my year on this trip. Not going over how I somehow expected that by travelling and learning and doing, my entire year would magically be open to possibility. Not with the fact that none of this happened.
Not with that.
Things look so far away when the month is December and you are looking over the hump of January 1st. When you say ‘I am doing it next year’ everything just feels that much farther away.
I didn’t start to panic about not getting my visa till New Year’s Eve came and went. A week before my flight, there was still nothing from the embassy. I decided to live my life as if there wasn’t a growing possibility that the year would not start as I had hoped.
I packed my luggage.
I rushed into an interview with a friend over a story I pitched that hadn’t been accepted yet.
We had the interview in a car.
A couple of weeks before, the editor of a podcast invited me to pitch a story for an episode they were working on. The main pull of the episode revolved around tears.
I wrote a pitch about a first-year doctor who had broken down in tears after working every day for 7 weeks straight.
Without waiting to hear back about the pitch (because if everything went according to plan, I would already be in SA before I got said feedback) I went ahead and conducted the interview.
I borrowed a friend’s car, drove down to the hospital to meet the subject of my story and recorded an interview with her.
As it would turn out, I wouldn’t travel and my urgency made no difference. Plus, the podcast went in a different direction and the interview has been sitting on my laptop for 7 months.
Then last month, I saw an open call to submit an experimental piece of audio. There were no constraints outside the fact that the submission shouldn’t run longer than 10 minutes.
I dusted off the interview and made a story of it.
A couple of days ago, I submitted the story and almost immediately started to visualise a reality where my submission was accepted.
“I believe in myself”
It really was a weird feeling. I have applied for many things and generally, when I apply for stuff, I hope I get it. I want to get it. But I don’t think I believe I will get it. I don’t think I expect to get it.
I think I might be lucky but not worthy.
Something has happened in the time since I started writing this issue. Something that has led me to believe that I can be good enough for something I want.
At the moment, I am rounding up a story about my anxiety and my relationship with my dad. In the process of working on it, I have had Rob Rosenthal as an editor on the story.
There was one call we had just after I did the chunk of the recording for the story where he complimented me on my interviewing skills and my attention as an audio maker. He also shared a compliment on a story I did earlier in the year.
It was the weirdest most surreal moment ever. How had I gone from a distant admirer of this man’s work to listening to him offer me words of encouragement? Even more, offered me direct advice and feedback on the work I was doing.
I told my friend this and she said.
“You know how this happened right…”
I was quiet for a moment.
She asked how and I said.
“I just kept making stuff.”
So here’s my answer to the worthiness question. It actually doesn’t matter.
Before goodwill befalls you, it doesn’t matter whether you are worthy or not, all that matters is that you keep doing the thing.
When goodwill befalls you, it doesn’t matter whether you are worthy or not, you’ve gotten it already. Just do the thing.
I had this thought my 1st of 7 weeks in Paris.
Over the summer, I got the chance to participate in a residency and I can’t tell you the number of times I was tempted to ask ‘Do I deserve this?’
One particular instance stands out when the coordinator explained the selection process and how many applications they received. In my head, I was thinking of all the other people who did not get a yes and what that meant for me.
What does it mean to be the one who gets the acceptance letter?
Do you deserve this?
Are you worthy?
Are you better than all those other people?
I could tell you what I feel is the answer to all those questions but the correct answer is that it doesn't matter.
You are here now. do the thing! Don’t drop the ball! You have already gotten the chance to make something meaningful. The answer to those questions doesn’t matter as much as what you do with the goodwill now that it has come.
As for the second question I posed at the beginning, about winning against the noise in Lagos. That’s still an ongoing battle.
I am literally listening to audio from a recording session I did with my friend earlier this week. It’s noisy, as expected.
But noise is part of the character of this city, isn’t it?
Thank you for reading all the way to the end.
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This essay took over 5 months to write. I cannot tell you how many coffees I drank in that time haha. You can help me write my next issue by buying me a cup of coffee.
Before leaving, I’d like to invite you to help me with something on my mind. I’d love to engage better with the community of listeners I have in this newsletter. What way can I better have conversations with you? And what would you like to see more of in the future?
Feel free to respond in the comment or reply by sending me an email. Thank you.