What’s Good In Podcastland: Articles from Other Places

I wanted to point you to a few outlets that are keeping tabs on what’s good in the world of podcasting.

The Onion’s A.V. Club has a column dedicated to what they liked this week.  Podmass tends to repeat itself with a few shows they love deeply (the last four articles mention 99% Invisible), but they do listen to quality stuff.

Gawker put out a list called “Listening to the Radio Is Cool Again: 8 Smart Podcasts You Should Hear.”  Again, a solid listing from a place that doesn’t talk about podcasts often.  We see a few things that tend to slip under the radar (like the excellent but more adult Love + Radio and Audio Smut), and a few things that you have hopefully have listened to before.

What you consistently see on lists like these are shows either directly produced or supported by public radio.  Public radio is doing some of the best storytelling in the audio space, and shows outside the public media spectrum that tell great stories tend to get a lot of attention paid to them by public radio.  Aside from resources, public radio shows also tend to lend some credibility to their shows that the average podcaster doesn’t have.

It’s interesting to see what other media outlets like.  Whether you like or respect those outlets or not, it puts a perspective on what we are doing.  Shows like these are what tend to get a lot of attention.

Kevin Smith Sums It Up

Over the last several years, Kevin Smith has been on a tear with podcasting.  He is still making films, still touring the country, but his podcasting empire has been really interesting to watch, not just for it’s size and success, but also it’s innovation.

One of his podcasts gave him the idea for a movie, so he decided to write and film it.  And in a post he put out today on his blog, he talks about how he did it again:

If you listen to the EDUMACATION podcast, you’ll remember that episode 20 (Part 2 of the Christmas eps) consisted of another dopey conversation that resulted in a screenplay – a’la SModcast and TUSK. I was goofing around with Mr. Edumacation himself, Professor Andy McElfresh, when we accidentally brainstormed a Christmas horror anthology that would eschew the gruesome spin on Santa Claus, and instead embrace the Scandinavian/German Kid-Eating Christmas creature known as the The Krampus. That podcast was released 12/23/13.

It took us less than a month, but Andy and I have finished the screenplay for a flick we’re calling COMES THE KRAMPUS! It’s 99 pulse-pounding pages of what’s essentially SModCo’s CREEPSHOW, with four terrifying tales stitched together by a freaky framing device. It was a blast to write and totally new to me, as I never actually wrote a screenplay WITH someone else before.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine.  It’s not mine either (I’m not a fan of horror films).  But he sums it up simply at the end:

Go record a podcasts, kids. Don’t cost nothin’ but time and the potential yield is limitless.

Yes, exactly.  As overdone as the “TTWGBAC” (Two Twenty/Thirtysomething White Guys Bullsh***ing About Culture) (as coined by Colin Marshall) genre may be, it can yield some amazing results.  Much like a writers room, or an improv set.  Or just hanging out with people you like talking to about things you care about.

Start that podcast.  Do something new.  Talk with your buddies.  And see what comes of it.

Transom Posts Pro Tools Tutorials For Us

PT-+-Logic.pngAt some point, you are going to need somewhere to record your audio and mix it together. For that, you need a Digital Audio Workstation. But you knew this, and you probably already use one.

The most popular, in my unscientific observations, is Audacity. It’s free and it’s capable, but it leaves a lot to be desired for it’s usability. Among Mac users, Garageband is popular, again because it’s capable and free, but it’s ease of use leaves a lot to be desired.

If these are fine for you, great. Keep using what works for you. However, if you want to step up to a bigger and more professional tool, there are options. Your biggest one is Pro Tools.

Pro Tools has been around for quite a while, changed hands several times, and changed it’s philosophy in large and small ways over the years (the ability to use any hardware several years ago was a major change for them), and still it remains the industry standard. If you walk into a radio station that does it’s own production, chances are, they are using Pro Tools. If you are in a recording studio, they most likely have Pro Tools. If you want to work in audio beyond your own home studio, it helps to know Pro Tools.

All of this is a long winded way of pointing to some excellent tutorials about Pro Tools from the fine folks at Transom.org. They recently revamped their Pro Tools tutorials, updating them for the more recent versions of the software, and focus on the needs of the radio and podcast producer, rather than the music producer.

Pro Tools: 1 Overview

Pro Tools: 2 Editing Basics

Pro Tools: 3 Mixing Basics

Looking these over, I want to do something similar for my preferred DAW, Logic. I find it easy, cheaper, and just as powerful as Pro Tools, and think most users would benefit from it over the scaled back programs like Audacity and Garageband.

If you are interested in using more professional tools than what you already have, Pro Tools is a great choice. There are other options out there, and I’m going to lobby for some of them.

Audio Never Goes Viral? Not Quite.

On Thursday, there was a must read article from Digg and writer Stan Alcorn called Why Audio Never Goes Viral.  From the article:

“Audio never goes viral,” writes radio and podcast producer Nate DiMeo. “If you posted the most incredible story — literally, the most incredible story that has ever been told since people have had the ability to tell stories, it will never, ever get as many hits as a video of a cat with a moustache.”

Never is a pretty strong word. Rare might be a term I agree with, but not never.

Let’s look at what viral means. Again, from Stan Alcorn:

Taken literally, “viral” brings to mind an infectious agent bumping around inside its host, spreading accidentally by breath or touch. When “viral marketing” emerged in the 1990s, the medical referent was apt. The disease vector typically took the form of email and “virals” — as such ads were then called — that lived in the inbox. Invisible to the wider world, they spread from individual to individual, as when Hotmail stuck a sign-up ad beneath its users’ signatures. Or when the movie “American Psycho” sent compulsively forwardable emails from its psychotic main character, Patrick Bateman.

Today, those seeking to “go viral” have the same essential goal — to increase their audience by reaching the audience’s audience (and their audience, ad infinitum) — but the web has changed beyond the dynamics of disease transmission. Instead of invisible, one-to-one emails, today’s Internet infections spread by a cascade of publicly visible, one-to-many “likes,” “shares,” “tweets,” and “reblogs,” accelerated and amplified by an expanding web publishing industry. “Sharing” implies a deliberate effort, but social media sharing skews toward a mix of self-representation and what Tumblr creative technologist Max Sebela refers to as “speaking in content”: You might share Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” not because you want people to watch the video, but to make a joke about the fact that today is Friday.

I think that covers it pretty well. I think you should read the entire thing.  It’s well written, and has some very good points to it.  But to say audio never goes viral is not quite accurate.  Mr. Alcorn does give an example of an individual piece that went viral, but what he is really talking about is podcasts, and the article gets into how podcasts aren’t designed to go viral.

I can think of two very striking examples of audio podcasts that did.

The first is Welcome to Night Vale. If you haven’t listened to WTNV, I would recommend getting on board now, not because it is going away, but because your listening life will be so much better for it. From the show’s site at Commonplace Books:

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

I found out about WTNV in a viral way: Tumblr. People I follow on Tumblr started talking about it and it sounded interesting enough to give a listen. From there, I was hooked. I’m not the only one. Listeners create fan art and go to live shows.  Joseph Fink, the creator of WTNV, talks quite a bit about how Tumblr launched the show into a viral hit. From The Awl and their post entitled “America’s Most Popular Podcast: What The Internet Did To “Welcome to Night Vale”:

“It took us about a week to figure out that it was just somehow we had exploded on Tumblr and we don’t know why or how that happened,” Fink said.

By the way, I found that article via a post on Nerdglaze and a post titled Welcome to Night Vale: The Viral Rise of an Impossible Town. You see where I’m going with this.

If you want to hear Fink talk more about the show, check out the conversation he had with Michael Wolf on the NextMarket site and his Podcast Project here. Or listen to it below.

OK, so now you are versed in Welcome to Night Vale. The second one I want to talk about is so obvious, I can’t believe it took me a whole day to realize it.

WTF with Marc Maron.

OK, it’s been a while since it launched and the initial hype has died down, but Maron certainly went viral with his hit podcast.  His show has spun off into a public radio show and an IFC television series. His stand up career has taken off. WTF found it’s way into the mainstream in ways few comedian-hosted podcasts have. I can hardly think of one bigger.

Maron has expanded his base by interviewing people outside the comedy space, keeping him supplied with a steady stream of guests and high quality interviews for over 450 episodes.  He has taken WTF and made it bigger than the initial podcast, and none of that would have happened were it not for the viral nature of it’s success.

What makes the viralness (not a word, as far as I know, but I’m going with it) of Maron’s show so interesting is that he spurred on more comedians to do their own podcasts, and the space has filled up with stand up performers hosting their own creations. Without the viral success of Marc Maron, the comedy podcast space would look a lot different.

I want to explore more of why these two podcasts were able to get over the hump of “never going viral” in another post. But for now, you have a bit of listening to do. Go download the pilot to Welcome to Night Vale and see what it is all about. Grab a few episodes of WTF and see what you think makes the show the hit that it is.

Never is a big word. Even Sean Connery found out that never wasn’t as absolute as he thought.

What To Do With a Bad Show

Several weeks ago, I recorded a podcast episode after doing a Google Hangout session. I had to use one audio interface for the hangout and different one for the podcast. The problem was that I had them both connected to the computer, and after switching from one to the other, the second one didn’t want to sync correctly (that’s what it sounded like to me). When your sync is off, it produces artifacts, and these manifested as clicks and pops. It was ugly.

Instead of ignoring the problem, we sent out messages on Twitter and Facebook addressing what happened. We posted a twenty second outtake from the show to let the audience hear for themselves. The funny thing was, as bad as it sounded to us, the audience didn’t seem to mind, and wanted the full episode. I wound up recording a little explanation to the start of the show and published the entire episode.

Everyone has a bad show. It might be a bad interview, the audio may be garbled, the file is screwed up, or you were just plain off that day. Whatever the reason, bad shows happen. It will happen to you. If it hasn’t yet, it’s because you have just started podcasting or you are deluding yourself.

So what can you do when you get in a similar situation?

Acknowledge the problem.

If the issue is of a technical nature, you don’t have to get into every little detail about why the problem happened, just that you know what it is. Also, you can mention that you are working on it. Most listeners want to know that the next episode won’t have the same issues.

Don’t publish.

Followed closely by…

Publish.

This is a personal choice, and kind of depends on the severity of the problem. If it was a technical issue severe enough that the audio is useless, then the decision may have been made for you. If it’s just a bad interview, it doesn’t hurt so much to look human.

As our issue proved, what may or may not be acceptable to you could be different from what the audience thinks. Hedge your bets on the side of publishing.

Have a backup show ready.

If you have a more evergreen show, then it doesn’t hurt to have a segment or a show in your back pocket for such occasions. I haven’t found it very common to just have an episode laying around. If you make something, generally you want to publish it. Having something ready is nice but rare. If you have the time, it doesn’t hurt.

SUPERCUT!

Do not deny the power of a super cut. Take the best parts of your shows, or some outtakes, and combine them into a clip show. If you don’t know what I mean by this, the very fun Ask Roulette has put out a few. You can find one of them here. Besides, it’s just kind of fun to say “Supercut.”
——————-

With our problematic podcast, all of the feedback we received was positive. Most people said they didn’t notice the problem, although I couldn’t see how. Something I thought made the podcast unlistenable was tolerable to our audience who is there for the content. By acknowledging the issue and talking about it, we headed off all of the potential negative comments about it.

Have you had a monumentally bad show? What did you do with it?

Must Listen: Ira Glass on Podcasting

If you like public radio, you know of This American Life and it’s host and creator, Ira Glass.  I talk about Ira and his show quite a bit.  He is one of the most forthcoming radio hosts on how to create good radio and podcasts, and has worked very hard to build his craft.  When Ira speaks, it’s worth listening to.

Michael Wolf, founder of NextMarket Insights, who describe themselves as:

a new research firm focused on emerging technologies…

spoke with Ira Glass about podcasting and where it’s going for an article in Forbes.  It was posted in April 2013.

You can listen to their full conversation here, or listen to it below.

There are other interviews that Mr. Wolf has done with other podcasters, and you can find them here. I’ve got several I need to listen to, but I didn’t want to wait to post this one.

If this was interesting to you, make sure to watch Ira’s four part series on storytelling.  Here is the first part.

Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

What I Learned From Letterman

Letterman

Photo Credit: Alan Light via Compfight cc

I am not much of a late night TV person, but I was on a bit of a Craig Ferguson kick for a while. When you have a job that doesn’t get you home until 11pm, these things can happen.

One night, I tuned in while David Letterman was signing off, and he said something that stuck with me:

“See you tomorrow, everybody!”

That’s it. Simple, right? But he really is going to be there tomorrow. Maybe it’s a rerun, or it might have been recorded the day before, but he and his show will be broadcast tomorrow. And the next day. And every weekday. He’s going to be there.

That’s how you build an audience. Not being there every so often. Not from being there sporadically.

You set a schedule and you show up. And when you show up, you deliver.

It doesn’t have to be every day.
It doesn’t have to be every week.
It doesn’t have to be your best show ever.

But you have to show up. You have to ship, and do it regularly. You have to be there when your audience expects you to be. You have to be there when you say you will be. You have to be there again and again.

Whether you like David Letterman or not, he is a professional that has worked consistently for years. He hasn’t been without a Late Night show in over thirty years. He shows up, and he ships.

Take it from a guy like that. Show up, regularly. You will be rewarded for it.

Tutorial: Editing Audio in Logic

Several months ago, I took a class from Coursera.org called Introduction to Music Production, offered by Berklee College of Music.  It was a fairly basic course, but it was nice to get a certificate from completing it.  If you are looking to understand audio better, I recommend taking it.  The class is geared towards music, but also delves into the fundamentals of audio and what we use to record it.  It’s very relevant to podcasters.

The assignments from the course had the students reteach the concepts of the class, creating videos, blog posts and audio content to describe what we had learned.  I made a few screencast videos, and thought this would be a good way to repurpose one of them here.  In this video, I show how to edit a region in Logic.  I recorded a bit of my voice, then edited it to be more concise.  As you will notice, I was sick that day, providing an element to edit out.

It’s best to watch this video in HD, so you can see the tools more clearly.

Note that we were supposed to have a five minute time limit on our videos, and I blew past that.  Otherwise, I would have made that breath sound more natural.  It’s important to edit voices to sound natural.

Must Listen: TLDR

TLDR Header

A little over five years ago, NPR cancelled it’s experimental show, The Bryant Park Project, after only ten months.  They poured a lot of money into it, and it’s now considered a cautionary tale of what not to do with a big public radio show.  I’m going to take a look at the show down the road because I think it’s fascinating.  One of the staples of BPP was digging deeper into things happening online.  Most of their listeners came to the show via the web, and they used the internet better than any other public radio show at the time, and perhaps since.

Taking the NPR news format and applying it to the internet didn’t always pan out.  Look at the early beginnings of All Tech Considered, and you will see that NPR wasn’t prepared to cover the internet in any meaningful way several years after the BPP cancellation.  The BPP group were renegades with their approach, and it had fairly mixed results.

Getting away from NPR, you should take a listen to TLDR, a podcast sprung from the public radio show On The Media, concentrating on internet issues worth exploring.  Although there are only seven episodes so far, it’s one of the shows I look forward to seeing a new episode from.  It’s wormed it’s way into my must listen list by being interesting but also picking it’s topics wisely.

What TLDR does so well is explore the consequences of things that happen online, and how they affect people. Their breakdown of the Silk Road story was fascinating, but the first few episodes were my favorite, focusing on the Pronunciation Book story and how a reporter got caught up and scammed in the story.  It isn’t businesses and memes, but interesting things that happen behind them.

It’s short and sweet.  You can tell they take a lot of pride in making it.  It will fit nicely in to your commute.  I would like to see it come out more often, but the quality makes it worth waiting for.

And if you didn’t know, TLDR stands for Too Long Didn’t Read.  Fitting for a podcast.

The Worst Podcast I Ever Made

Sometimes, a bad idea seems so good at the time.  Something easy and silly or just plain dumb hits you and you think, “I can do that. I can’t see any reason that shouldn’t succeed.”  And sometimes the reason it feels that way is you didn’t really think it through, or you had to try it and find out why it was a bad idea in the first place.

Let me share with you my bad podcast idea and what made it so bad.

I have been told a few times I have a good voice.  I thought it would be funny to take tweets people sent me and read them live.  Short and sweet, people could send me something short to read, and they could have a good laugh hearing it read back.  Silly, funny and fun to make.  Thus Tweets Read Live was created:

Tweets Read Live

The idea itself isn’t without it’s appeal.  I thought it would be fun, and it kind of was.  Part of the problem was I was begging people to send me tweets to read and hardly getting any back.  I’m sure it was annoying to people who weren’t interested, and by all accounts most people weren’t interested.  The first episode was the only episode to come out.

So what made it such a bad idea?  Let me count a few of the ways:

It was meaningless.  The first thing you should ask yourself when you are going to put effort into a new project is whether or not it has a purpose.  Does this thing I am about to invest my time and effort in have any meaning, either for myself or for others?  And since we are talking about something that is going to be consumed by other people, we should be foremost asking whether it means anything to the people who we see consuming it.  In this case, it certainly did not.  A fun little thing for people, sure, but was there a reason to download it?  Was there a reason to listen to it?  Mostly not.

It wasn’t a part of anything more.  Not everything has to be associated with anything bigger, but in this case, this would have been a fun segment of something larger, like a comedy or variety show.  As a stand alone podcast, it wasn’t enough.  At least, not to me.

It had no connection with the audience.  There are so many places you can go to get your fix for just about anything you are interested in.  Why go somewhere you don’t have any connection to?  Nearly every interest is covered on the internet.  There is plenty of room for more, but there isn’t room in people’s attention for something they don’t connect with.  TRL didn’t have any real connection with it’s intended audience.

It was vain.  I was putting my voice out there in a way that screamed “Listen to how awesome I sound.”  Which is vanity defined.  I might have a decent voice, but putting out something centered entirely on how awesome I think I sound is pretty self-centered.  And when you are being self-centered, you are trying to make your connection with your audience entirely about you.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but looking back, yes.  Vain.

It relied on the audience I was failing in the first place.  Take all of those things above, add them up, and ask who is going to contribute something to be read on the show?  Pretty much no one.  Even your friends and family would get sick of it quickly.

——————

I didn’t think of any of these things when I made Tweets Read Live.  I just wanted to make something.  The more nefarious motivations (ego, self-indulgence, etc) didn’t cross my mind at the time of it’s creation.  But in hindsight, they are all there.  It all seems pretty obvious now.

I did gain a few things from it.  I have a deeper understanding of the criteria that should go in to every online venture I start.  I feel like I am applying those lessons in the things I create, including Pod Geek.  And I learned more about setting up podcasts and dealing with the iTunes store (yes, TRL is still on iTunes, clogging up the already jam packed podcast section).  Those are skills that come in handy.

I don’t regret creating Tweets Read Live.  I think I learned a lot from it.  And the only way to really learn about what works is to test your ideas in the world.  Seth Godin talks about shipping your work, putting it in the market, and seeing what happens.  But then you learn from what works and what doesn’t.

And then you do it again, only better.