LeVar Burton has spent a lot of his profession encouraging youngsters to learn. Now he’s urging them to hear — actually hear.
They’ll develop that talent, together with an ear for mysteries, in “Sound Detectives,” a brand new podcast for audiences of elementary-school age that’s half whodunit, half science exploration and half comedian journey. Co-produced by SiriusXM’s Stitcher Studios and LeVar Burton Entertainment, “Sound Detectives” options Burton as a fictionalized model of himself, an inventor with the identical identify.
“In a sure sense, ‘LeVar Burton’ has reached iconic standing,” Burton stated in a telephone dialog. “And it’s enjoyable for me to lean into that.” He added, “It’s additionally a possibility for me to introduce ‘LeVar’ to a different technology.”
The LeVar Burton of the 10-part “Sound Detectives,” which debuted on Wednesday — SiriusXM will launch a brand new episode each week thereafter — is an audiophile planning to open a powerful establishment, the Museum of Sound. However he discovers that sounds have gotten separated from their sources and going lacking.
To resolve the disaster, he hires a Philip Marlowe-style sleuth, Detective Hunch, and sends him an assistant within the type of considered one of his personal innovations: Audie, a 3-foot-5-inch-tall strolling, speaking ear. In every episode, Hunch and Audie should analyze an errant sound, establish it and return it to its origins, whereas additionally attempting to unmask the Sound Swindler, the human perpetrator who’s inflicting the disappearances.
“Sound Detectives” is the true LeVar Burton’s first podcast for kids, however he careworn that he didn’t see it as a long-awaited return to younger folks’s leisure. “I don’t really feel like I’ve ever left it,” he stated.
Burton, 66, who has remained energetic in youngsters’s literacy by means of founding Skybrary, a digital library of e-books and movies, stated he had not dominated out a younger listener’s model of “LeVar Burton Reads,” his SiriusXM literary podcast. (In line with the corporate, it has been downloaded greater than 54 million instances since its premiere six years in the past.)
However what appealed to him about “Sound Detectives” was that he didn’t have the burden of being the podcast’s sole maker or its star. The impartial producers Joanna Sokolowski and Julia Smith (Smith can be the producer of “LeVar Burton Reads”) created the podcast and developed it with Burton earlier than pitching it to Sirius XM. “Sound Detectives” focuses extra on the personal eye — and the accompanying ear — than on the well-known voice that provides them their missions.
Burton additionally admired the plan for every episode’s finish: As soon as the lacking sound is returned, younger listeners hear an on-location interview with actual consultants who take care of it of their work.
The podcast “appeals to the innate curiosity in a baby concerning the world round them,” Burton stated, and “it introduces them to elements of the world that they may not have but been uncovered to. And people are the important thing precepts that had been the drivers to ‘Studying Rainbow.’”
“Sound Detectives” visits locations like Yellowstone Nationwide Park, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the streets of Bangalore (now Bengaluru), India. When creating the missing-sound thriller for every half-hour episode, Smith and Sokolowski stated in a video interview that they generally began with a website they discovered intriguing, and at different instances with a sound. The sounds they selected will be difficult to establish; one instance was recorded on Mars.
“We hadn’t heard of one other present that was dealing solely with sound as, like, the primary narrative driver for a podcast,” Sokolowski stated. “And it simply appeared like an exquisite approach to not solely have interaction youngsters within the format, but in addition within the methodology and supply and elegance and each facet of the present.”
Though the podcast trade is present process retrenchment, “Sound Detectives” is getting into a youngsters’s market that appears nowhere close to saturation, stated Megan Lazovick, a vp at Edison Research, an analytics firm in Somerville, N.J.
Edison’s first national study of the children’s market (carried out just lately with the advocacy group Kids Listen) discovered that 29 p.c of kids ages 6 to 12 had listened to a podcast the earlier month. That determine rose to 42 p.c if their mother and father had additionally listened to at least one.
Lazovick predicted that Burton’s affiliation with “Sound Detectives” can be a giant draw for folks. She talked about how the brand new “Disney Frozen: Forces of Nature” podcast capitalized on the recognition of the “Frozen” movie and its offshoots. “Within the youngsters’ house, bringing in manufacturers which are already trusted is type of a no brainer,” she stated.
Adam Sachs, SiriusXM’s senior vp for leisure, comedy and podcast programming, stated that Burton was additionally a “enormous issue” within the firm’s dedication to the mission.
“Not solely is he only a nice podcast expertise to work with, and now we have a terrific monitor report with him,” Sachs stated, “however he additionally has a lot expertise working within the youngsters’ content material house that this type of felt like the proper alternative for us to dip our toe in.” (SiriusXM declined to reveal the finances for “Sound Detectives.”)
Sokolowski, who has a background in documentaries (amongst them, the movies “Ovarian Psycos” and “Very Semi-Severe”), and Smith, who has expertise in comedy (together with the podcasts “Decide John Hodgman” and “Bubble”), are each mother and father who needed “Sound Detectives” to be as layered as doable. Along with investigating physics and acoustics, the podcast consists of data on auditory biology (even most adults most likely aren’t conscious that the ears affect style) and one episode that examines how deaf folks expertise sound as vibration.
The 2 ladies, who wrote the scripts with Isabelle Redman Dolce, additionally determined that the dialogue can be partly improvised.
“I just like the vitality that it brings, and the concepts that may type of come forth that may most likely by no means emerge in another method,” Smith stated. They sought actors with improv expertise, and Vinny Thomas, who voices Detective Hunch, proved to be an authority on animal traits (like the truth that whale sharks lead solitary lives).
“Hunch is type of like an eccentric uncle,” Thomas stated, “and what eccentric uncle isn’t a know-it-all?”
Jessica McKenna, who portrays the ever-curious Audie, improvised tune interludes in addition to strains, utilizing her abilities to collaborate with the composer Adam Deibert on the jazzy “Sound Detectives” theme. “It’s a very goofy area of interest I’ve carved out for myself,” she stated.
Along with being an ear, Audie personifies a baby who’s possibly “fixing the case earlier than the grownup,” Sokolowski stated.
The creators of “Sound Detectives,” who’ve constructed a podcast website with associated sleuthing actions, intend younger listeners to develop into simply as engaged as Audie within the season-long investigation.
“One of many engaging workouts that we’re partaking in right here is getting youngsters to hear critically to the world, proper?” Burton stated. “To make use of their powers of discernment, which is considered one of my favourite phrases.”