Black Hands - The making of an international hit podcast series

Press senior writer Martin van Beynen

The hit podcast Tandem Studios co-produced with on the Bain Family Murders has now become one of the most successful ever produced in New Zealand.

It was a fantastic audio production to work on and one that involved many people and inputs including three years of painstaking research from Fairfax journalist Martin van Beynen. From this work, he wrote a book and then the script for the podcast. On top of this, he spent countless hours in the studio recording and voicing and re-voicing the script. Martin says, “that it is never too late to look for answers to a horrific murder”

Ten voice actors were used to pay the key roles of those involved in the criminal case and for the families background. A large amount of court audio from various sources in different formats was found, listened to and then edited together. The final stages involved the subtle addition of atmospheric music and some sound effects. We had to be careful to not overdramatize the production as the story itself and the brilliant telling of that story was strong enough to stand on its own.

The recording's done, what next?

There were numerous re-records after lawyers listened to each version and requested changes, Martin had a couple of script revisions and then finally we were ready to launch. Next steps were finding a podcast hosting platform that could handle large amounts of downloads at the one time and one that worked with Apple iTunes and their RSS feeds. After searching the podcast platform libsyn ticked all boxes and is now hosting the podcast series on their servers.

It also helps that has a large audience online and through their Fairfax print network to promote the podcast. They did a brilliant job with all artwork, several in-depth stories over the last week, along with a live online Q and A with Martin. They've been fantastic to work with.

Finally, Apple saw potential in the podcast and helped with a 'profile' listing within iTunes. Results since launch over the last 10 days have been fantastic with now close to 3 million downloads and no 1 spots on iTunes in NZ, Aust' and in the UK.

Audience Reaction 

After 3 years of Martin working on research, writing the book, then this script Tandem Studios were approached to produce the podcast and got involved in September last year. The reaction has been beyond our expectations.

The results have seen a very successful podcast that has stimulated discussions, confirmed believes and introduced many new listeners to the joy of 'time-shifted' listening through audio podcasts. 

As the producer, we have always approached this podcast as 'ole school radio', with great story telling with quality audio production delivered via the internet and RSS feeds straight to someone's phone. We've also been inspired the by the incredible Serial podcast produced by This American Life

So thank you to everyone who's been inspired to download and listen and to all of the team from Fairfax and who together have made the podcast so successful. Here's hoping we see more of this kind of audio production and attention to detail in the future but above all, we hope you enjoy the Black Hands podcast of this tragic tale of the Bain family murders.

Watch the trailer for Black Hands below.