Podcasting part 3: Content

This is follow-up to two blogposts I’ve written on podcasting – the first was on why you should do it and the second on some of the basic technical and organizational issues. I’m writing this from the point of view of a scientist, researcher or communicator wanting to start a podcast from scratch, but many of these still apply to other podcasters.

Things I am not going to talk about

I find discussions about adding metadata, creating an RSS feed and so on very boring, and when you have done it once, it is very easy. Let’s take a quick example (The Sound of The Ladies podcast) so you can kind of see the workflow.

1) I record my show in garageband. I edit it.

2) I bounce it to an mp3.

3) I open the mp3 in Podcast Maker and add an image and shownotes. I bounce it to disk.

4) I upload it to Libsyn and add image and shownotes.

I probably don’t need to do (3) anymore, but I haven’t quite figured out the best way to do it. So really it’s a 3-step process. Libsyn (or whoever you use) will tell you the location of your feed, you submit it to iTunes when you start doing the podcast and never again. So let’s never speak of it again.

Other things we will never speak of again

I don’t really like using USB mics because it’s tricky to use more than one at a time –  they’re not scalable. But if you’re not sure you want to do it long term so you want a small financial investment and it’s just you recording (one voice) – they are the cheapest option, other than using built-in computer microphones. Just be prepared to throw your usb mic in the bin when you need more voices or location recording.

EDIT: Elizabeth Hauke has covered a lot of this really well (so I now have an excuse). Check it out.

So, content

I refer the gentle reader once again to the rules of podcasting:

1) Make a podcast
2) Make it good
3) (1) comes before (2)
4) Learn as you go

I have lots of suggestions about content, these are little bit more negative than the previous blogposts. I  am absolutely of the belief that everyone who wants to should podcast, and that a combination of listener tastes, recommendations, reviews and (unfortunately) being picked up by old media will allow the good stuff to rise to the top. I also think that this is a much better state of affairs than a world where the quality of a piece of content is judged before it comes into being (i.e. whether a commissioner thinks a thing sounds like a good idea) because my experience is that good ideas can get scuppered by bad execution and bad ideas can develop into something good by the process of being made. It also shifts the gatekeepers more to a community rather than a few industry people.

But this means there is a lot of competition for attention. And a lot of podcasts will be crap. And when you start podcasting, even if you are not crap, you will be less good than you will be a year later, say. So always focus on how you can make what you do better. Better does not necessarily mean “like radio 4” – it means better at what you do.

Brevity

Brevity is wit. Come to the story late. Most people cannot get away with recording a podcast which is 30 minutes of your unedited ramblings. If you are not famous, at least. If you are recording a podcast about science or research, a subject which people can get bored by, you cannot allow them to get bored.

Variety

Use jingles, music, idents and stings to bring variety and break up long sections of continuous speech. If it’s appropriate of course.

Editing

One approach is record long and edit short. Bright Club records 25-30minutes of discussion to get a 15 minute podcast (including a theme song, and outro, and some adverts for Bright Club live events). But editing is generally important – the exception might be a roundtable discussion where you’re trying to fairly represent the views of all of the participants – but good editing never makes things worse.

Scripting

If time is a factor, make sure the recording is concise in the first place. Scripting allows that, but has the tradeoff of making the recording less spontaneous. I don’t think heavily scripted podcasts work any better than completely unedited ramblings, for the reason that most people are no better at writing and delivering large chunks of scripted material than they are at improvising for thirty minutes. Which isn’t to say don’t do it – but be prepared to work at making it sound good.

Audience

A lot is made in broadcasting about targetting a particular audience. I think there’s a nontrivial debate about the merits of this approach, but my attitude has usually been to try to make something good first and foremost, and if it is good it should find its own audience. The suggestion that I have the ability to appeal to a broad audience may be flattering but one has has to be realistic about where one’s talents lie.

Having said that, broadening the audience for science and PE is a serious issue, and trying to reach a wider demographic (eg) is a laudable goal. You really do have to balance who you’re trying to reach with what you have to offer. For a science podcast, for example, this might mean not making content overtechnical, to attract people who don’t have science degrees or A-levels; but one has to be wary of not talking down to your listeners. If someone doesn’t understand something it may be a spur for them to go and find out more rather than something which alienates them. I think this is a very interesting area of discussion and so I will say no more about it*.

Format

Think about the format of your show, but don’t be afraid to change it if you think you can improve it. Change it back if that’s not working, or try something else. Then, if you’re happy with it, stick with it.

The next stage is promoting your podcast, but I don’t know whether I’m a particularly good example for this. So for the moment, get the podcast you’re making to be as good as you can –  there is literally no point drawing people’s attention to something that is rubbish – you are inviting a crowd of people to never listen to your podcast again. So try make it good before you try to make it popular.

*</irony>

One thought on “Podcasting part 3: Content

  1. Pingback: Podcasting Part 3: Content by Sociable Physics | Engaging Talk

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