Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Podcasting Update: What we've learned so far...

So the eldest daughter really wanted to podcast--she was enjoying a lot of shows on Youtube. Alas, none of her buddies would help.

Meanwhile, dad was balking at the prices for advertising books on podcasts... A perfect podcasting storm.

Almost two months later and we're slowly putting out Weirdology101, our introduction to the strange and mysterious, the supernatural and the paranormal--with the occasional help of my nine year old daughter.

What have we learned in two months?

1. If you record, they will not necessarily come. Your 'cast of dreams is not enough to lure in listeners. Just like with self-publishing, you're one of thousands of free content producers out there. You've got to reach potential listeners. There are a number of sites you can send the equivalent of a pres release to, but even then, there's no guarantee of listeners.

We're going to try guests next. Guests not only provide fascinating, new content, they bring with them listeners. Listeners who will hopefully try other episodes and learn about other guests. It's like hosting a convention.

2. You need a plan. Yes, I could turn my teen loose and let her ramble on incoherently for hours, then break those up into episodes, but it would get pretty dull, fast. I've been listening to a lot of 'casts this year, having never really bothered with them before. The best shows follow a format and have segments. They don't just drone on and on. Just like good writing, you need an outline of what you're going to cover. Print it out and pass it out like a script--it alleviates lots of "uh"s and uncomfortable pauses.

3. You need to be able to hear. I'm amazed by all the 'casts that sound hollow and crappy. Adam Carolla's network of shows generally sound perfect, with studio-quality sound. Then there are independent shows like ours that sound boxy and hollow, like they were recorded in a garbage can with a first-gen smartphone. If you want people to keep reading, you write a good story. If you want people to keep listening, you need to record a better show--and quality of sound is a must. Eliminate echo, hums, background noises and the like, and make sure the volume is high enough to actually hear. Oh, and keep the volume level throughout. No high peaks or low dips. If I crank the volume all the way to hear a quiet person, I'll get a burst ear drum when someone else decides to scream into the microphone.

4. You don't need expensive equipment. I see a lot of articles online about the minimum equipment you need to record. I have to say, I don't think it's all correct. For Weirdology,  we use two Turtle Beach gaming headsets. I mean, they sound great when you're blasting Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty on Xbox Live with your friends, so why wouldn't they work for podcasting? They have a built in pop screen--a small windsock of foam, the boom is adjustable, and they fit snugly over your ears, controlling what you hear.

Next, you need a mixer. Not a DJ BigBucks Superboard, capable of accepting a bazillion different inputs. We got a simple 3 channel mixer on Amazon for under $30. Yes, it's pretty cheesy, but it works. It blends our gaming headsets and an external tablet with sound effects just fine. The output goes right into:

A recording device. Everyone shills Audacity, and I'm sure it's fine, but I've used Goldwave for almost 20 years. I bought the full version, loaded it on a laptop and then sent the output from the mixer right in. I can adjust volume, level out the recording, reduce noise... it does it all. Yes, we may sound a little soft, and recently I had the record volume WAY too high, forcing us to redo an episode, but it's really simple. And, with an editing program, we can chop out when we get tongue tied, wee say "um" too many times or we just don't like a comment or segment we recorded. It's not live, it's recorded, and we take full advantage of that fact.

Studio? We don't need no stinkin' studio. Simon Whistler, over at The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast has a nifty home closet-studio. with blankets hung for noise canceling. We record in the basement. At a desk. The only extraneous sounds we pick up are the occasional barks from the dog, or my wife walking through the living room above us. Again, I think those gaming headsets are totally the way to go...

5. Finally, regularity. It's not just for the bathroom. I've watched our paltry numbers, and both times we've missed putting out a new episode, it's hurt us. People expect regular content. If they don't get it, they might wander to another source and never come back. Keep it regular.

And that's pretty much what we've learned so far. As I force my daughter to finish what she started, making her commit to 6 months of episodes, we'll see what else we learn in this little fun, family experiment. Got any tips or lessons-learned you want to share? Put them in the comments below--we appreciate the knowledge.

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