The Burton & Scrooge Guide to Podcasting
This is a somewhat self-indulgent post. I like to listen to podcasts as well as produce them myself. I have very particular tastes, not so much in respect of content but more with regard to presentation, style and quality of production. As a result I aspire to make the Burton & Scrooge podcast in a certain fashion and to a specific standard. But as everyone has their own personal tastes I fully understand that other podcasters may wish to do things differently. Hence this article is not being held up as a de facto guide. It is simply me sharing my process.
Format and structure versus informal chatting:
I listen to a lot of talk radio. It may be a sign of my age but I am beginning to prefer it to TV, especially with regard to news. Without visual input clouding the issue, you get to focus on the language. As a result, this very much shapes my view on podcasting. I like shows with a clear structure, a measured running time and the editorial strength to stay on topic. So I am a great advocate of planning, drafting show notes and discussing with my co-host Brian or any guests well in advance of recording. This does not mean that the entire show is mapped out in advance but it does allow points and counterpoints to be raised in an orderly fashion. It also allows the participants to marshal their thoughts. A good discussion is after all a logical process. A structured plan means that people know exactly what is being discussed and can craft an appropriate response. You can address the question that is being asked, rather than what you think is being asked, remain focused and not get side-tracked or derailed.
A planned approach also means that equal time can be given to all involved in the podcast. Balance is required because some people by the strength of their personality can sometimes dominate a conversation. That doesn't always make for good listening. However do not over do the planning or you can kill the natural conversational aspect of the show. Riffing off each other can be good and make a show more accessible. Informal chatting can make those speaking more "likeable" for want of another phrase. Although podcasting isn't a popularity competition your listeners do needs to be able to relate to you. So don't be too much of an asshole. If this is your "schtick, then you may find that you paint yourself in to a corner.
Do your research:
It's a simple point but it can elude us all at times. If you are going to reference anything in your show, make sure you have the relevant details in front of you when you discuss it. Never try to bluff or pull unsubstantiated facts out of your butt. If you have an opinion, then ensure you can back it up with some facts. Because if you don't there is no end to the armchair experts who will leave lengthy comments pointing out that you are wrong and that you should be burnt as a witch. Another thing worth remembering is to practise in advance any names or words that have unusual pronunciation. Write them down phonetically if need be. Gamers often have complex and esoteric handles. If someone has taken the trouble to write in or has done something worthy of discussion, then the least you can do is get their damn name right.
Using the right hardware in the right environment:
Let us be candid with regard to the technical quality of your podcast; there really is no excuse to producing a show that sounds shit these days. The tools of the trade use to be very expensive and only available to those who worked in the industry. This is no longer the case. With a decent quality gaming headset or desktop microphone, used in conjunction with Skype, Google Hangouts or Audacity, you can produce a show of an acceptable audio quality. Take some time to do some basic tests to ensure optimal sound performance. Don't just assume that whatever software you use to record is working. Double check it. Podcasting also requires the participants to focus and concentrate, so it's best to record in an environment free from distractions and ambient background noise. So turn your phone off or put in on silence. Don't have to TV running in the background. Make family, friends and anyone else you share a space with aware of the fact that you are recording so they don't disturb you. If you have a wireless headset, don't take a "comfort break" in the middle of the recording. It really isn't a pleasant thing to have to listen to. Take some time to have a warm up chat first, before recording or going live.
Lots of people like to record their shows live. They then simply upload what has been recorded. This is perfectly fine approach that suits some shows style. I personally like order, structure and streamlined discussions. So I edit the shit out of the Burton & Scrooge podcast (despite trying to make things simpler so I don't have to). Brian and I often record twice as much material than what is actually used. I like to remove all the "ums" and such like from the final edit. I also like clear endings to discussions and neat segues in to the following piece where necessary. All of which requires rather intensive editing. Now the thing is editing is hard work and very time consuming. It is an activity that can sometimes curbs my enthusiasm for podcasting. Yet it can greatly improve the quality a show. It is wise to remove a joke that may not be understood, or cut a digression that takes the discussion off track. Imposing a running time upon the proceedings also forces you as an editor to keep only the most relevant material in the show. If for technical reasons, a part of a show is sub-standard, then lose it. This means making some tough calls sometimes.
Have fun and enjoy yourself:
Don’t forget to have fun while podcasting. If you are locked in to a regular schedule of recording, then the entire process of podcasting can become a bit of a chore. If you are not in the right frame of mind when recording this can become apparent to the listener. So don't half ass things. There is nothing wrong with taking a break or doing a shorter show. Ranting occasionally can be fun and even cathartic. But don't overdo it or you will simply lose credibility with your audience. If you are fortunate to produce a show that becomes popular, don't lose your sense of proportion. Don't get delusions of grandeur just because you do a show that a few people listen to.
Podcasting is great fun and an excellent opportunity to discuss, debate and hangout with likeminded people. It also offers a chance of a discourse that is not filtered by corporate interests or any other financially driven criteria. You can learn a lot by just listening to regular people chatting about the things they enjoy and feel passionately about. There are lot of different ways to podcast and my way may not be right or appropriate for everyone. However I think that my approach may prove suitable to some aspiring podcasters. As ever feel free to comment and share your thoughts. I'm always interested to hear the experiences of my fellow podcasters.