Friday, February 14, 2020

Adventures in Podcasting: Introduction

Nearly three years ago I decided to stop talking about starting a podcast and actually figure out how to create one. That is not entirely true. I had been planning and plotting a podcast for about a year. I love to talk. I love to have an audience. Almost every review of this blog has said that reading it is like listening to me talk. It seemed logical to make the next step, but I was also acutely aware that my podcast did not need to work like my blog. I doubt anyone wants to hear me prattle away for 30 to 45 minutes about my silly ideas about life. My blog has often been a glorified string of rants. I am internationally known for my short-sighted and often controversial rants.

In the same way I wanted my blog to have greater meaning, I wanted my podcast to have form and function. Rants are all well and good, but without inspiration it would be difficult to launch into one on a weekly schedule. I decided that I wanted to podcast thematically about a hobby I was passionate about. That narrowed the field to guns, comic books, role-playing games, board games, and women. Don't take that last one as any sort of misogyny. Women themselves aren't a hobby, but studying them certainly is. I am a bit like Captain Kirk and his policy about teaching green skinned alien women to love with just a splash of Spock's scientific detachment. Because of this an my completely failed love life to date I really considered launching a podcast about love, dating, and sex. It would have been funny, completely satirical, and utterly offensive. I might have been shot on general principal. I probably ought to revisit the idea.

I will claim divine interference in sending me a friend just as in love with comic books as I was. My podcasting partner, Garin, decided the topic for me. He and I were having the most exciting and thought provoking conversations about comics. After several months of this Garin looked at me and said," What now?" I like to believe he wanted me to say," Let's find a way to launch our own comic shop." Instead I said," How about we start a podcast?" I do one day hope to run a shop with the guy. I would say that we would give an experience unlike any other. I think we chatted about the podcast for all of an hour before we set up our first recording.

Now, I decided I was capable of being my own sound engineer with absolutely zero knowledge or training. I bought a USB microphone on Amazon.com for about $16. After the briefest of web searches I downloaded Audacity. I brought my 5 year old laptop to the first recording and was thus armed to create something I wanted to share with the rest of creation.

I have to say that I never once considered recording on my phone. I thought I was fairly uptown with the laptop (which didn't hold any sort of charge) and mic. I might have read a few things on the internet about how to get started. Like most things in life I decided minimal effort was the right path.

Garin and I did about 10 minutes of show prep for that first show. To his credit, I think he wanted to do a lot more. I think there were to be notes, a rough script outline, and a good organization to what we were doing. I laughed out loud and said,"Let's just start talking about these few things, and see what happens." You can listen to that first episode here. Not bad, huh?

We decided our episode numbering convention would act like a comic book. We called our episodes issues and a season a volume. Honestly, I had forgotten that when encoding Volume 4 and 5. I have been listing them as Episodes instead of Issues. To my knowledge, not a single regular listener has ever called us out on this. I rather wish they had. It is really cool when people care enough to pay attention to details like that.

Our original format was a series of loosely connected opinion pieces. We picked a subject and chatted about it for a bit. We didn't have anything more than a subject for the episode. We tried to bring in friends and creators whenever possible. Then things changed on May 17, 2017. We did an episode called the Weekly Rundown. It became the standard episode format. I think it was one of the most brilliant things we attempted. Comparing what we are reading week after week is still the primary focus of the show.

The next break through came with the June 3 Diamond Comics Previews episode. I don't think any other podcast out there tackles the one source for all upcoming comic books. We tried not to belabor the episode, but went into depth about all the cool things that were coming soon. It was the first thing I heard feedback about. The customers at the shop I was working at loved it.

If I can give one piece of advice in this post that matters let it be this: Listen to your audience. No matter how you feel about your content be willing to adapt to what the people listening to you enjoy within reason. I can come up with a dozen ideas a day about innovations and updates to what we are doing, but the really meaningful changes have come from the comments of our rather limited audience.

I made a mistake early on that I have never attempted to rectify. Garin's wife and my friend Elizabeth took charge of the internet marketing, "fan" interactions, and the dirty details of what we were doing. It was Elizabeth who signed us up on Spreaker. Don't take this as a bad thing. I absolutely love Spreaker, but I should have kept my hands on these details. Heather set up and maintains our Facebook page, Twitter, and email. It is funny how much I have regretted not having my hands on these aspects of the show. Nothing bad has ever happened, but I like feeling in control of my content. What can I say? I am an only child. I have issues sharing from time to time. Luckily, Heather still does an amazing job, and when Elizabeth (and later I temporarily) bowed out of the podcast there wasn't any sort of problematic transition.

In case you didn't catch the parenthetical above, I left the podcast for about 18 months. Garin tried a couple of different hosting partners. The show was NOT the same. That isn't entirely my ego. Garin and I have a fun chemistry. I believe what we do really works well. Given our less than massive audience there is an argument against this, but I defend it by saying that we only got serious about the show upon my return last year.

There are so many details to podcasting that make the difference between success and failure. We have played with intro and outro music. I hate using canned music. I want something made for the show, but I lack the funds to hire a musician to put together and perform a theme for us. I think that will come in time. We only recently got our first logo. We only got that by the kindness of a friend of Garin's.

The reality of it though is that I love recording. It is a blast to sit down with my friend at least once and week and create something. My ego requires me to create something all my own and so I have this blog and a ton of not-quite-real projects. It is very good for me to work with Heather and Garin. They are great friends to me. Regardless of what comes from the podcast beyond that, I consider it all worthwhile.

At my count we have recorded 85 episodes together thus far. We are on all the major podcasting forums (iTunes, Google, etc.) As of this year we have started recording for YouTube. Adding the visual medium to the show certainly has put my brain to work. I have spent quite a bit of time rethinking every aspect of the show and how we present.

I will point out a few ideologies we have maintained throughout the show.

  • Because we are talking about other people's creative efforts, we attempt to remain as positive as possible. The biggest departure from this was my rather infamous rant about Tom King's first arc on Batman. I still feel incredibly guilty about it. I have also become such a huge fan that I would cringe to think he heard it. 
  • Comic Books are for kids and also kids of all ages. We talk about quite a bit of mature content, but we try to keep things fairly PG-13. I was surprised to talk to my buddy Walt and find out our show was considered extremely inappropriate for kids. I knew I talked quite a bit about Sex Criminals and adult content, but I imagined I had couched it properly. Listening to the older shows, I missed the mark. We have tried to course correct a bit. I still am juggling the idea of splitting the show for more adult content. 
  • The foul language is (mostly) mild. Exceptions exist. The funny thing is I often curse like a sailor, but it seems a little low brow. I want our show to be friendly from high school to the grave. I may not have always made this mark but I try. 
  • We don't edit much. I think eventually the show will be properly (perhaps even professionally) edited. I intentionally don't apply the small amount of editing skills I have now so that the show has a natural uncut feel.
  • Garin or I one screw up (most) every intro. I took pride in being the bad boy of the intro for a long time. Garin has come to love it in the last 20 episodes or so. I use the excuse of not being willing to edit much to keep our goofy intros in place.
I plan to write a series of these. I doubt they are informative, but I really like talking about podcasting. I plan to write about our change of equipment and the goals I have for creating my own studio. (Yes, this really is a goal of mine. I really enjoy recording.) YouTube has been an experience all its own. I have a bit to say about it. I hope to shine a light on the process both creative and procedural. I also plan to launch a few more shows in the near future. Who knows what will come of that. In the meantime, it gives me something fun to write about. 




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