Archive for February, 2012

February 26, 2012

Starry starry night

Hey pals,

I’m going to be live-tweeting The Oscars tonight from around 11.30pm, so please join me at twitter.com/helenzaltzman – it’s the only way I’ll stay awake during the boring bit in the middle.

February 12, 2012

Adventures in podcasting: the full set

Here’s the full list of posts in my Potted Guide To Podcasting For Beginners:

Part 0: introduction
Part 1: hardware
Part 2: software
Part 3: sound quality
Part 4: editing
Part 5: sundry other stuff

To read Martin’s take on podcasting knowhow, click here, here and here; and for specifically academic podcasting, click here. Also iTunes of course have very useful podcasting advice, which you can read here.

In 2014, I interviewed a lot of the greatest podcasters about podcasting; hear some of those.

I run occasional free meetups for podcasters; check for dates and places here. If you’re a podcaster or about to start, join my Podcasters’ Support Group on Facebook for the assistance and cameraderie of your fellows.

If you would rather listen to podcasts than make them, mine are Answer Me This answermethispodcast.com – and The Allusionist theallusionist.org.

February 12, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting 5: miscellaneous

The potted guide to podcasting is almost complete. I’ve spilt the beans on hardware, software, sound quality and editing, so here are the leftovers. If there’s anything else you want to know about, pipe up in the comments.

read more »

February 10, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting 4: editing is your friend

Face it: nobody says 100% interesting things.

I certainly don’t. I’m certain you don’t either. Not even Stephen Fry does.

Happily, when you’re podcasting, this isn’t a problem, because unlike radio or real-life conversation, podcasting is not live. And therefore you can reap the benefits of the most magnificent part of the process: editing.

We edit the shit out of Answer Me This!, and I mean that both literally (i) and figuratively (ii):

i) Although we’ve chosen which questions we’re going to answer each week, we don’t decide what we’re going to say before the recording, so the conversational results are not predictable. Sometimes a very unexpected tangent will produce some Class A material, which we never could have planned; other times, it’s just not good. But thanks to editing, nobody ever need hear that stuff! Goodbye, shit. Goodbye forever.

ii) We record around 90 minutes per episode, and cut that down to around 30 minutes. I do one rough edit on Logic; I send it to Olly, who writes a list of further cuts he wants made; then I do a final edit. So each podcast undergoes some 10 hours of editing. It may not sound like one, but it is a very highly polished turd.

In my opinion, absolutely every type of creative endeavour benefits from editing, but I think it’s particularly important in podcasting. Why? Because podcasts are on the internet. The internet is very entertaining. Your podcast is competing with the whole of the internet for your listener’s attention.

People complained that MTV reduced people’s attention spans to four minutes; well, online you have maybe 10, 20, 30 seconds to grab your listener’s attention, after which they’ll defect to the rest of the internet, and quite probably never give your podcast another shot. There really are so many funny videos of animals on YouTube, and so little time.

Bearing this in mind, keep your podcast tight, especially in the opening stretches of the show, and also in the early stages of your podcasting career, while you’re trying to gain an audience. Short but good is better than long and lacklustre. Numerous new podcasters have asked me to listen to their first efforts (never ask me to do something like that, I’m horribly critical) and so many of these are an hour or so of ‘Errr, I don’t know what to say’ and ‘Ummmm….Sorry, this is terrible!’ Better to cut out all of that stuff and release a 30-second podcast, I say ruthlessly. If the podcaster doesn’t sound like they’re enjoying it, there’s no way the listener will enjoy it. As for apologies and disparagement: self-deprecation has its place, of course, but I urge you not to leave in statements which imply to the listener that they shouldn’t be bothering to listen to your podcast. If your listener has been generous enough to offer you their ears, don’t censure them for having done that.

One must in fact hold the podcast-listener in great respect. They have not only chosen your podcast over the aforementioned All Of The Internet’s Wonders; they have leapt several hurdles in order to listen to it. Unlike radio, which might just be on in the background without anyone bothering to change the station all day, it’s pretty hard to find oneself listening to a podcast by accident. The listener has made a series of conscious decisions: to seek it out, to download it, to choose to listen to it at that moment. Repay this effort with a podcast which does not imply that your own amusement is considerably more important than theirs.

I’m not saying every podcast has to be as heavily edited as ours, but do not presume endless indulgence on the listener’s part. Although celebrities might expect an audience to be devoted enough to sit through their uncut musings, the rest of us can’t. And rightly so.

For the rest of the posts about podcasting, click here.

February 10, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting 3: a quick note on sound quality

No matter how amazing your content, if people can’t hear it properly, they won’t stick around. Listening to crackly podcasts recorded onto crappy inbuilt computer or camcorder mikes hurts the ears.

Furthermore, people often listen to podcasts in noisy conditions – in the car, on commuter trains – or on rubbish headphones.

Therefore, do all that is in your power to optimise the sound quality of your podcast.

As I mentioned before, record in high quality formats, like AIFF or WAV. Try to keep your volume levels consistent – nobody likes that thing when they’re watching a nice gentle afternoon film, then THE ADVERTS COME ON AT BLARING VOLUME.

So: during recording, keep an eye on the levels – in Answer Me This! this is Martin’s job, when he’s not too busy checking Tweetdeck or eating sweets. If you’re too quiet, come closer to the mike. If you are too loud – Oliver Louis Mann – back off the mike, especially if you are about to do something like a big laugh, or a theatrical bellow. And speak INTO the mike, not off to the side. And don’t speak too fast. And tuck your shirt in.

In post-production, I spend a tedious amount of time setting the volume automation on our vocal tracks (that is the yellow lines on this screengrab) so that the result is as loud as possible, without being so loud that the levels peak (that’s when the friendly green lights on the mixer turn angry red) because then the sound distorts. This is undesirable.

I also use plug-ins on Logic that I don’t really understand. I use a noise gate, to cut out some background noise, and a compressor, to make quiet noises louder; but I only use quite gentle versions of both, because if too heavily compressed, the edits will sound more obvious and clicky, and background noise becomes too amplified. The latter is a problem because we’re not recording in a sound-proofed studio, but in our living-room; we frequently have to stop whilst sirens and helicopters pass by outside, and even wait for the neighbours to stop copulating loudly on the other side of the wall.

Radio professionals don’t have to contend with that shit.

Next: the importance of editing. For the rest of the posts about podcasting, click here.

February 10, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting 2: software

Now that we’ve dealt with hardware, our next bit of podcast business is software. Wow, just typing the word ‘software’ makes me feel sleepy, so let’s get to it.

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February 10, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting 1: hardware


OK, let’s get the boring bit out of the way first: recording equipment. I mean, boring to me; my husband Martin seems to have endless enthusiasm for ribbon mikes and sound cards etc, judging by the magazines hidden under the bed.

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February 9, 2012

Adventures in Podcasting

Usually when I post on here about things I’ve made, I’m talking about things I made from yarn or scraps of fabric or flour. But the biggest claim on my time is making podcasts: chiefly Answer Me This!, which you probably already know about if you’ve fetched up here on my website (unless you found me accidentally after googling ‘Donald Rumsfeld doll‘ – if so, welcome!).

This Tuesday, I took part in the Fast Train event, cooked up by the BBC Academy and Skillset, where radio professionals came along to learn about more angles of the radio industry. I was charged with teaching people about podcasting, naturally. Shortly before my classes kicked off, I bumped into Jonathan Wall, the 5 Live commissioner who has very kindly been employing me on Saturday Edition for the past year and a half. “You’re giving away all your secrets!” he exclaimed.

In truth, there are no secrets. I have no training; I only know how to do it through having done it, pretty much every week, for more than five years now. I’m not sitting on any insider knowledge which has kept Answer Me This! going and growing for all this time – perhaps this can be ascribed to a combination of luck, persistence and application.

Therefore I thought I’d share my not-secrets on here in a few posts over the next few days, a rudimentary ‘How To’ guide for any of you who were considering giving podcasting a whirl. When we started, we had a copy of Podcasting For Dummies, which almost defeated us before we even began; so consider these posts to be Podcasting For People Who Are Dumber Than Dummies.

I can’t tell you what to say on your podcast, or how to say it in an interesting and engaging manner, but I can give you a quick rundown of what you are likely to need behind the scenes. If you have any particular questions about podcasting, stick them in the comments and I’ll try to address them. With very little learning, YOU can become a podcasting powerhouse. Although if and when you do become one, I’ll probably throw a jealous shitfit and wish I’d kept all the podcast knowhow sequestered, just like Jonathan Wall was trying to warn me to do.