Bristol based Noiser is a podcast production company which, in just over a year since it started, has regularly topped the podcast charts internationally and recently signed a first look deal with Spotify’s Parcast.
Noiser was set up in 2020 by Pascal Hughes, whose background is making history television programmes at the BBC and for American networks such as Discovery and National Geographic.
“My passion (and my work) has always been making and bringing history to life in the TV space,” says Hughes.
Working his way up to director level was his goal, but when he achieved it, realised he wasn’t fulfilled by having to make the programmes so short, with so much left on the cutting room floor.
This is what attracted him to podcasts, he says: “It’s a medium by which you, as a creative, could have much more of your fingerprint on it and I love that.
“I was given an opportunity to make a podcast about the American Mafia a few years ago and it enabled me to do a bit of deep dive on these people, so go beyond Al Capone as this bad guy, I was able to delve a lot deeper to look at subtleties and nuance stories.
“It was a big surprise to me, it ended up doing really well and as a result I thought there might be something in this – taking my background in TV, making compelling stories but moving it into the podcast space.”
Pascal was impressed by how much more information people wanted on topics. When Noiser made one of its early podcasts, Real Dictators, as Pascal and his team were writing it, they didn’t think it could go beyond two episodes because it would bore listeners. Now, they tend to make eight or nine episodes but still get emails from listeners saying they want more.
With storytelling he believes there’s a belief that listeners are always hovering over the pause or skip button, so the question is how to convey that the story is compelling and worth their time? He says the writers are told that if they and the team find the story interesting, the audience will find it interesting and that’s how they now do their commissioning.
One of the reasons Pascal was drawn to podcasting was that, unlike the TV stations with massive budgets, where he was working, he was often not given enough to make the programmes come to life in the way he wanted to, but with podcasts it’s not so much about budgets.
“With podcasts, you’re not limited by budgets,” he explains. “You can write about Joseph Stalin walking through the Siberian wilderness and the snow and him knocking on a cabin door three thousand miles away in the middle of nowhere – you can do that without having to fly a film crew out there.
“It opens up opportunities to tell the real story and not be restricted. For us at Noiser it was about bringing the best of video on demand into the audio space and giving listeners a chance, not to learn about history, but to experience history.”
Because there are so many podcasts out there, Pascal knew his company had to have something unique that it did well and was committed to. He says that the big motivating factor was about focusing on every element, to do it to the best of their ability and trying to do it better too.
So far, Noiser has successfully covered some fairly heavy topics such as Real Dictators and Real Narcos and although they are doing some fiction shows, the plan is to grow out their non-fiction, not necessarily as heavy, but remarkable true stories.
Recently, Real Dictators which explores the hidden lives of history’s tyrants, won Best Arts and Culture Podcast at the 2021 British Podcast Awards. The judges said: “This podcast had us hooked. The perfect balance of narration, facts and expert opinion set within a dramatic audio production give the listener a heightened experience and allows them to feel like they were at some of history’s biggest moments.”
The company has grown quite a lot in the last few weeks, growing from a team of four to seventeen and there are plans to double again over the next few weeks.
Pascal says they’ve been very fortunate that their shows organically grew rapidly because it’s often difficult to cut through, but he recognises that it’s down to the audience enjoying and recommending the content.
“We’re passionate about a certain type of storytelling and it seems to work,” he says, “Crucially, our audience know what to expect from us but if we made a programme completely different from our type of content, our audience probably wouldn’t know what our USP was.
“I feel having a company identity is key for us, mostly because it’s an identity we love, but there’s an opportunity too – with everything we release our audience will move across because they know what they’re going to get.”
Everything about their identity is important – even choosing the voice to use as narrator. They hired actor Paul McGann, not only because he’s very good, but also because he loves history and therefore has an authentic connection to the stories. Pascal says that with Paul, they’ve found a real gem.
In late 2020, the company signed with one of the world’s biggest agencies, WME, who brokered Noiser’s new deal with Spotify’s Parcast. This will see Noiser produce a string of new podcast series in partnership with Parcast, that will sit exclusively on Spotify.
The first look deal means while continuing to independently produce its own podcasts, Noiser will also work with Parcast on ideas and provide them with other shows too. “It’s enabled us to create more, and quicker. We love it, it’s a really exciting partnership for us,” says Pascal.
Deathbed Confessions is the first series as part of the deal and was launched on 21 July. The idea for it came from a conversation that members of the team were having in the office. They took it to Parcast, who loved it but wondered whether enough stories could be found.
After doing a bit of digging, a lot of stories were found. It seemed in many cases the confession someone did on their deathbed was passed over by filmmakers, but they were key to unlocking a fascinating story.
They discovered that in a lot of cases the confessions weren’t in the picture at all and it’s only with hindsight that people can go back and piece things together.
The first episode features Hollywood film actress Margaret Gibson. In 1922, Anglo-Irish American William Desmond Taylor, a film director responsible for 59 silent films, and who starred in 27, was found dead in his bungalow early one morning.
This led to a frenzy of fabricated newspaper articles at the time and remained an ongoing mystery; a murder crime that was never solved, despite there being several suspects and witnesses.
It was over 40 years later, in 1964, as the former movie starlet Margaret was experiencing a heart attack, that she called for a priest to be by her side. And in her dying breath she uttered the words: “I killed William Desmond Taylor”.
In the planning stages is a new series, Short History Of, looking at moments in history that most people have heard of but don’t know much about. The series will bring the listener into the moment and go deeper into it.
One interesting development for the company is that some universities have started using its podcasts as part of their courses, which Pascal says, was unexpected but very nice!
Noiser has grown quickly in a very short space of time, so what does the future hold for the company?
“We’re fully independent and at the moment we’re doubling down on making the best content,” says Pascal, “The focus is on how much we make, linked with quality and compelling stories – that’s the fun challenge… and making lots more!”
You can find find out more about the company’s podcasts by visiting the Noiser website.