Things I've Learned:
Mira Burt-Wintonick

An occasional series of hard-won-wisdoms from the mischief-making, pixie-dust-sprinkling, original-thinking auteurs of the audio world

Photo credit Jer Clarke

Please supply a short 'official' biography

Mira Burt-Wintonick is an award-winning radio producer based in Montreal. For 10 years, she produced CBC’s WireTap, in collaboration with show creator Jonathan Goldstein. She is the co-creator of CBC's Love Me, about the messiness of human connection, and PenPals, a fiction series that puts unlikely pairs in conversation. Her work has aired on This American Life, The Truth and Snap Judgment, among others.

But who are you, really?​

An introvert who secretly loves connecting with people.

What are your top tips for making audio pieces?

1. Let it breathe. Sound needs oxygen, too.


2. Zoom in to the personal. Don’t let anyone tell you that personal stories can’t be just as valuable as ‘big issue’ stories. (Narcissism, on the other hand, is unforgivable).


3. Let emotional impact guide your structure. Withhold information until it can resonate the most deeply. Control the escalation of your piece, drop by drop, like channeling water through a dam. Don’t flood the opening of the story when the rest of it will be parched.


4. Spend too much time on each crossfade. Details matter. Seamlessness takes work.


5. Start collecting audio for a story now that you can work on in the background. There’s a redundancy of stories told after the fact in the podcasting world (I’m guilty of this, too). The best stories take place over time. Of course very few of us are paid to spend long enough on each story, so start gathering small amounts of tape now, on the side, for a story yet to unfold so you can follow it along as it develops.


6. Loosen up. Blend fact and fiction when your subject matter allows it. The rules are ours to reinvent.


7. Watch documentary films for inspiration. Planet of Snail, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Last Train Home.


8. Don’t make anything when you don’t have anything to say. This is a hard lesson to remember, but I’m grateful to Duncan Speakman for the recent reminder. When we’re trying to earn a living as audio-makers, we often feel the need to churn out story after story, to stay relevant and to pay our bills. But the work becomes mediocre when it’s being spewed out without excitement. Maybe it would be better to supplement our income with less creative work so we can harness our creative energies for when we really have something special to say. (This also helps with tip 9.)


9. Take breaks. Creative burnout is real.


10. Learn to forgive yourself. This most important lesson came to me via writer Ann Patchett who says that the ability to forgive oneself is the key to making art. It can be paralyzing to know that you’ll never be able to perfectly execute the brilliant and magical work of art that you have in mind. Turning the imagined into reality always results in disappointment, and that’s ok. Don’t let it prevent you from trying to make something in the first place. Let the desire to minimize your own disappointment be what fuels you to work really really hard at trying to make something good.

​What's your favourite of all the things you've made and why? 

Probably Call of Dating because after hearing it a million times it still makes me tear up. I love a good cry.


What's your (current) favourite piece of audio by someone else?

Summer Rain by Nanna Hauge Kristensen. This piece delivers such devastation and beauty in only 3 minutes. I wish I could master that kind of delicacy and restraint half as well.

Who are your influences (in any medium)?

Jonathan Goldstein. WireTap was my first job out of sound school and working with Jonathan informed so much of how I make radio. Everything I make to this day strives for that blend of playfulness and poignancy that he achieves so well. Sophie Townsend, Rikke Houd, Eleanor McDowall. Patti Smith’s writing. My documentary filmmaker dad, Peter Wintonick.

Please supply a visual representation of your life in audio

Mapping out Season 2 of Love Me in the basement of the CBC.