Tell us a little bit about the background behind Cecilia. How did you both land in this industry?
Rob: CECILIA.FM makes branded content for the ears, for people that want to get heard. We are the first company to bring narrative and interactive content together in one space - podcasts, voice experiences, music, audio strategies and more - if it’s for the ears, we’re your people. We’ve spent over 10 years working in London creating award-winning branded audio for clients such as SONOS, Nike, Google, Spotify, Louis Vuitton, Land Rover, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson and recently moved to the Pacific Northwest to be in the heartland of voice tech and sonic culture to bring these worlds together.
Susan: What makes us really different is that we think listener-first. Audio isn’t a fragmented platform game, it’s about reaching people in headphones or at home and doing that in the most effective, sustainable and interesting way. As audio and voice started to explode, it was clear that brands are not set up for success and often don’t have the bandwidth to tackle it effectively. Rob handles production and sound engineering, I’m the creative director, and we’re both obsessed with audio, technology and making the world a better place to be listening.
Podcasts are on the rise more than ever. Why do you think this is?
Rob: I feel the intimacy of podcasts, like audio itself, boils down to the signal-noise ratio - it allows us to hear much more signal than noise and in turn helps us feel more part of a community, more heard and more interconnected. A feeling that we all yearn for IRL.
On the contrary, it seems we are constantly being bombarded in today’s society to receive information as quickly as possible. What are your biggest challenges in helping to create engaging material that requires deep listening?
Susan: This is a big question to unpack in one answer :) The upshot of audio tech is that it’s insanely easy to make content. But making something worth a listen is a totally different beast. Humans are acutely wired for audio communication and spoken word, but in our always-on worlds of self broadcast, we often forget that making people feel heard and accepted is the most incredible thing we can do - i.e. not defaulting into talking about yourself. Finding ways into the beautifully crazy pockets of life, without any friction and often without visuals, is really exciting.
Rob: We are what we spend time with - and being lucky enough to be a habit in someone’s life means making moments of high frequency and high focus. We’ve spent a lot of time getting deep with how people listen in today’s world to really get to the quick of this in some pretty cool ways.
The business of sound is so broad - you are working in both digital and real world frameworks. Can you speak to how these worlds interweave? What creates the most unique and impactful experience?
Susan: We’re big believers in designing audio as if it were a physical space, and designing around culture and values. That means design-thinking for all the senses, context, culture and values that come along with your audience’s experience of you. A 1-1 listening environment can actually feel quite intense, kind of like walking into a bar and being the only person there. We have a signature workshop called a ‘Tune-Up’ that takes clients through the process of designing for the ears in really provocative ways and making the invisible, visible. They usually never think about sound the same way again!
Listening to music, podcasts, what have you, are ways to relate with others. Do you think storytelling through these mediums can translate to long lasting effects of increased empathy in listeners?
Susan: Short answer - huge yes! We were recently hired by SONOS for a large global research project around what makes a brilliant sound experience and how sound makes us better people. The majority of respondents said they’ve learned as much from podcasts as they did in grade school, and that shared musical taste makes them feel instantly connected to somebody. Both music and longer narrative stories have a profound impact on our identity and our connection to each other. I have a Masters Degree in Applied Music Psychology and am extremely passionate about how we listen to each other and the world around us. We’re working on a podcast series all about making us better listeners, so watch this space :)
What has been the most exciting project for Cecilia that you’ve worked on?
Rob: Hands down it has to be The Discovery Adventures podcast for Land Rover, where we took a brief for a traditional travel podcast, infused it with Land Rover’s spirit for adventure and delivered the first-ever binaural family adventure podcast. The actual production was more akin to film production, with each episode being recorded at real locations across the UK. This meant we rappelled down prehistoric cave systems, climbed ancient trees and raced off-road across the English countryside shoving a binaural mic everywhere we could. Recording binaurally puts the listener at the heart of the adventure. It was such an incredible crew and cast, and really set the benchmark of how a brand can elevate a medium, and see global recognition and brand impact. The trust and bravery the brand gave us to pursue that was fantastic. If you want to hear more, you can listen to me wax on here via an interview I did with the BBC.
I have to ask, favorite album of all time?
Rob: Endtroducing, DJ Shadow
Susan: Blue Lines, Massive Attack
FILL IN THE BLANK!
The best-kept secret in Tacoma is _________.
Rob: the corner window table in Steamers (Titlow Beach) at sunset having fish and chips with the family. It’s the Brit in me.
Susan: Monkeyshines. And maybe Tacoma itself.
If I could travel anywhere in the world next it would be _________.
Rob: to take part in the Mongol Rally, a race for charity from London to Ulan Bator. Essentially it’s 10,000 miles of chaos across mountains, deserts, and roads ranging from bad to not-a-road in a tiny 1000cc car you and your best mate bought from a scrapyard.
Susan: 24 hours in London to see friends for brunch at Dean Street Townhouse, hit Rough Trade Records, sink into a corner of the Holly Bush pub, walk through Hampstead Heath, and catch a live screening of Fleabag.
_________ is a podcast episode everyone should go listen to right now.
Rob: Ted Hour’s Manipulation.
Susan: A few for different contexts -
Short listen: A totally irreverent yet totally relevant debate on Millennial Pink vs Gen Z Yellow.
Medium listen: A classic. Act One: The Break-Up. This American Life + Phil Collins. Do you need to know more?
Long listen: On the theme of human empathy…listen if you like Ear Hustle. Warning this podcast may change you.
_________ and _________ are the people that inspire me most.
Rob: Trent Reznor (NIN) and Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool FC) are the people that inspire me most. On match days, you may find me down at Doyle’s having Guinness for breakfast.
Susan: Tig Notaro and Chilly Gonzales are two people that inspire me. Being seriously funny is seriously needed in today’s world.
Someone may not know that _________.
Rob: I have played drums live on stage at the Royal Albert Hall.
Susan: I know Indian Head Massage.
_________ is better than people think.
Rob: Marmite is better than people think.
Susan: Swiss rose wine is better than people think.
Thanks Rob and Susan!
Photo credit: Effie Gurmeza - https://www.effiegurmeza.com/