How Not to Make a Podcast

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By Cerys Bradley and Anna Ploszajski

What could two amateur podcast makers tell you, a soon-to-be amateur podcast maker, about podcast making that you couldn’t learn yourself? Probably not very much, but we can tell you about all the mistakes we made and the tips we picked up along the way.

Equipment

I (Cerys) use a Zoom H6, which is a portable recording device which comes with two microphones and has the capacity to take up to four more microphones plugged in. It is adorable, easy to use and great if you want to record at many different locations.

I (Anna) also bought some portable equipment but mostly used a recording studio at UCL. The equipment was of higher quality and had multiple microphones which is much better for interviews.

Having reliable equipment that works is important because, even if your material is solid gold and what you have to say is interesting, if your audio quality is poor, your podcast will be difficult to listen to.

If you’re in this long term and want to make something worth making then investing in equipment is definitely step number one. If £300 is a bit out of your budget and you don’t have a free studio at your university that you can make use of, try looking at what’s available second hand because this technology seems to be made to last. We both received funding for equipment which was relatively easy to acquire from pots of Public Engagement money.

It’s really important to familiarise yourself with your equipment before you try recording. There are lots of fun ways to do this, for example you could follow your housemate around as if they were a minor celebrity asking them banal questions about their day. When testing your recording device you should be trying to work out how to turn it on (obviously), how to record and play back, how to adjust volume and levels, how to store and save recordings and transfer them to a different device for editing, how to check battery life, and learning the difference between using mono and stereo and the various different microphone attachments you may or may not have. Also make sure your device is compatible with your computer and the memory cards.

Recording

Make sure you have enough time because a podcast will usually take longer than you think. Schedule 1.5 – 2 times the length of your finished product for the recording and at least 15 minutes either side for tech stuff. This is particularly important if you are working with guests.

Having a clear idea of the material you want to cover in advance means you are more likely to sound like an interesting person, as opposed to every guy you’ve ever met at a party. Note, this doesn’t mean you have to have a full script. If you want a conversational style podcast then having some notes to prompt you will help to facilitate the conversation without impeding on the tone. I (Cerys) like to write the opening and finishing sentence of each section in full, that way I know where I am starting and where I am going. I (Anna) jot down questions to ask my interviewees remember – having your notes the beauty of radio!

You may want to include other sounds in your podcast to. For example, I (Anna) like to include sound effects from the guests (no, not farts). When interviewing a jewellery expert, I asked them to clank their bracelets for the listeners. This takes the listener from feeling like they are overhearing a conversation to feeling as though they are in the room.

Always do a levels check before you start and try to speak at an even volume throughout. For editing purposes, if you make a mistake, pause in your recording and begin the whole sentence again.

Things that we have done which were silly: accidentally conducting an entire recording through the laptop instead of the aforementioned snazzy recording device and producing garbage, not recording a twenty minute interview, working with someone for over a year who shouted into the microphone making editing and listening to the podcast an unbearable experience, and recording a guest with very clanky bracelets such that there was weird scratchy noises all the way through the interview.

Editing

Some people really like editing, others (we) hate it because it’s really tedious. There’s lots of free software out there that will get the job done. Apple’s GarageBand and Audacity are two favourites. If you really hate editing, get someone else to do it and pay them.

If you’re using music, either write your own or use freely-available stuff. I (Anna) create loops using the software GarageBand on my Mac to make sure I didn’t land a hefty law suit.

Capturepod

Guests

It is important to prepare your guests a head of time on the content of your podcast so that they feel comfortable. Letting them know in advance the questions you intend to ask them or the topics you will cover is both courteous and will enable you to get the most out of them. It is worth pointing out here that not everyone does their homework and, if it is important that they do, you need to be very clear about what is expected of them and why.

After the recording, it is also polite to let them know when you will release the episode and how they can promote it. You should also let them listen to your edit before you release it. It is also important to try to get your recording out as soon as possible, instead of letting it sit on your computer for months (we are both guilty of this). Bear this in mind when planning your show, have you got an afternoon or evening free (who works in the mornings?) where you could feasibly edit your episode soon after recording?

If you are working with people who don’t podcast on the regular, you cannot expect them to have read this blog and, therefore, understand the importance of maintaining constant levels. You may need to tell them how to use a microphone and remind them to stop drifting away from it or to speak up. Pro tip from Anna: I always say to guests “You probably know this, but please try not to move around, scratch yourself, and hit the table”. It’s amazing what these microphones will pick up.

Some Final Thoughts

Podcasting can be a simple and elegant way to communicate science, but I (Anna) definitely underestimated the steepness of the learning curve and time it would take to set up. It gets easier as you gain more experience, though, and the buzz when your phone automatically downloads one of your episodes is awesome. Happy podcasting!


Click the links below to hear the Talent Factory podcasts.

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by Rachel Wheeley

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by Anna Ploszajski

There ain’t no such thing as a performance licence

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In two months time myself and the Talented Factorials will be installing our act, Agony Auncles of Science, at the Edinburgh Free Fringe. I’m pretty sure I’m not ready, and someone else would do a better job. After all, just four months ago, we were asking beginner questions about the Fringe to a very patient and helpful Sarah Bennetto in a busy London pub. We asked ‘How do you know when you’re ready for Edinburgh?” She said “Well, it’s not like there’s someone who hands out permits.”

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Eight months ago, I wasn’t sure about applying for Talent Factory, and admitting that I wanted to experiment with drag. 26 months ago, I wasn’t sure about doing my first Science Showoff, and asking a room full of people to listen to me witter on. I knew I wanted to do some performance. I knew some science. I wondered if I could get on stage and make people laugh. I was interested in gender as a variable and a caricature, and I thought (still do) that people who do science probably should know more about the astounding variety of human gender. I worried I was not the best and shouldn’t do these things, that there were other people who knew more than me, were funnier than me, had better bodies and makeup than me, had earned their spurs and had their qualifications and were more right-on and better informed about gender politics. There are. But they were not there.

I was the person who was prepared to write the sets, learn them, perform them, invite everyone down, work the door, do the posters, write, improve, read the tutorials, make the costumes, read the books, rehearse, get the feedback, volunteer for the jobs and ask for the favours. I get my science wrong sometimes. Sorry.  I’m not the most enlightened, or least privileged person in the world (but I’m better than most of what’s out there at the moment). I have fucked up a few times, I will fuck up more. Other people could have done it better, but they didn’t.

If there is noone else who is willing to do the job, it doesn’t matter that you are not the best at it. If you wait until you are literally the best person in the world for the job you will never get the experience to be that good. If you wait until you are perfect you will wait until the universe dies a cold, lonely death, with the relentless vacuum only interrupted by the ashes of dead stars and the occasional glossy page of ’25 celebrities who went out for milk without makeup’.

Also, a lot of white boys from private school who haven’t even stopped to consider if they are qualified for the role will tread on your head.

If you have a chance to do something you want to do, do it. Learn. Sure, take advice (as much as possible), consider if you can bear the cost, emotionally and financially if it goes wrong, do your research about what you’re letting yourself in for – don’t be a child about it – but you need to take responsibility for your own development and that includes responsibility to try things that sound so awesome they are terrifying. The worst that can happen is failure. The worst they can say is no.

Do you think you get a regulation 3 points after finishing each gig (+5 for a good one, -1 for a bad one, +2 if you remained upright throughout)? ‘You must be this experienced to ride’? Is there an extra shield you can equip if you know your gender theories and axes of oppression backwards and forwards? Does giving a totally garbled account of gravitational redshift that gets confused between acceleration and velocity mean you get your science passport revoked? (You do lose 4 points for that one though).*

There is no giant golden hand of comedy that comes down and bops you on the head when you have filled up your skill bar and can level up to doing your own show. Much less a giant sparkly golden hand of science-comedy-gender-commentary. Noone is going to give you permission because a) noone is able to and b) you don’t need it. You try, and you see what happens. That’s all you get, and it’s all anyone gets.

This goes double if noone else is doing your wildly specific interest yet; how can the world know it doesn’t like it if it hasn’t tried? You might not write the best hairmetal-opera about the queer poly love lives of subatomic particles the world will ever see, but if you’re the one who’s prepared to make it happen, you are the one the world wants.

Agony Auncles of Science will be at the Edinburgh Free Fringe from 4-25th August. Scary’s upcoming gigs can be seen on their portfolio page.

*Yup, did that.

What we’re learning about at the moment: event management

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Event management

Running a science event is a good way to get an idea out there without the risk of pitching an idea for a show you haven’t written yet for funding, and hoping you can make it work.

So you book a venue, settle a date, book a bill of acts and then panic for a month and a half about how on earth you’re going to sell enough tickets.

TFers Rachel Wheeley and Aimee Eckert run Dead Talks and Dr. Jiggs Boson’s Charming Science Friends. We have put on half a dozen gigs since the Talent Factory rolled into town, with decent audiences, sell out shows, not so sell out shows and bookings at Green Man and Cheltenham Science Festivals. Talent Factory has also produced Agony Auncles of Science which will be performed at the Edinburgh festival in August this year.

 

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Scary Boots at the helm of Agony Auncles

 

Don’t be afraid to fail. If an idea needs tweaking, you will find out by putting it on. Not everything is going to be an overnight success like Dr Jiggs. Rach genuinely thought it would be a good idea to do a show with a shredder on a plinth in the middle of the stage for people to come and shred their notes at the end of a set (I still think that’s a good idea – Rach.)

Datewise, try to avoid clashes with things that will draw your audience (depends where you are and what type of show it is.) If it’s a science thing, don’t have it on the same night as a Science Museum Late, or anything by Steve Cross. Anything. If he’s in a pub, all the science people will just sort of flock to it. Ideally, run your event when he’s out of the country.

First things first

Book a venue

  • What capacity room should you book?
  • Does the venue have the right AV equipment?
  • Does the venue have someone who can run the tech for you on the night?
  • Is there a cost to hire the room, a door split or a minimum spend on the bar?
  • Will they promote your event on their website & social media?
  • Will they provide a cash box and float for on the door ticket sales?
  • Don’t assume anything.

Format

What format you do is pretty open ended. From stand up to all singing, all dancing cabaret, to panel show to monologue. It’s really up to you.

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Dr Jiggs Bowson’s Charming Science Friends – All singing, all dancing science cabaret at it’s finest (check it out at the Green Man festival this summer.)

Book acts

Be clear with acts what the date is, what the likely call (arrival) time will be, what the brief is and whether they will be compensated with expenses or a fee. If the gig is for charity, let them know which one. They may have a personal connection. If you are charging for tickets and it isn’t a charity gig, are you paying the acts? Can you afford as many acts as you’ve booked?!

Email the acts and other organisers – remind them of the venue, the address, call time, brief, timing requirements, your social media details and a contact for someone on the night itself. Give them a deadline for slides.

Be prepared for it to go wrong – book one more act than you need. Give some thought to your running order. Work out where the energetic acts are and where the less energetic acts are. Don’t clump them together. Try to give the event a flow of energy, culminating in something excellent!

Marketing

Make a poster for the venue. If you don’t have Photoshop, you might be able to cobble something together in Powerpoint.

Submit your event to the press association etc…

http://addyourevent.pressassociation.com/?_ga=1.241157443.1126112538.1493415020#/

Londonist (other conurbations are available): https://londonist.typeform.com/to/mKTdSo

 

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Florence as Hypatia at Dead Talks, featured in the Londonist in April

 

Make a FB event. Invite all the acts, plus organisers/other associated folk. Ask people to share the link with their networks. Add details to it every so often so that the event looks alive. Bear in mind, images wise that a FB event header is 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is worth making images that fit this exactly or you risk losing important info in the cropping.

If there’s no difference between the ‘on the door’ price and the advance price, people won’t buy in advance. Aimee cleverly side steps this by coming up with ideas that sell out weeks before they happen.

Always Be Selling

Tell everyone about your next gig. Which reminds me, have I mentioned Stand Up for Towel Day?

 

Don’t forget to write and prepare your set!

The problem with running a night is that you can get very pre-occupied with ticket sales, logistics and admin. This is not great for coming up with funny ideas, or researching your topic.

Allocate some time for writing your set, even if you haven’t sold any tickets yet, plus time for rehearsal, if that’s how you work.

Consider assigning one of the organisers ‘producer’ on the night, who can deal with audience members, venue staff and acts so that the MC can get in the zone.

 

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Charlotte Hale in control. The event is all about the content. All this admin cannot come in front of making a brilliant show!

 

 

On the night

Control seating

Some seating arrangements are terrible for comedy. Experiment, but it may be necessary to rearrange the seating arrangement in your venue before you start. If there are any chairs facing the opposite way from the stage (it happens), get them turned around! Packing everyone together in rows can help to create a good crowd dynamic. Encourage people to fill the venue from the front row backwards (people are often nervous of the front row.)

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There’s a whole other blog post to be written about crowd dynamics. Good seating arrangements help.

Music

The first thing your audience is going to experience when they come into the space is the music you’re playing. Ian Bowkett (the tech who demands respect) has a playlist with inoffensive rock songs on it, and it works very well. Inject a bit of energy into the room, but don’t put anybody off. You can’t beat the White Stripes.

Signage

It is worth making a few signs to direct people to your space. Especially if the space is upstairs or downstairs in a pub, or somewhere difficult to find.

Level Up Bar

Don’t let your audience get lost.

Also, stick a running order up somewhere for the acts. If they can clearly see where they are in the bill they won’t need to ask.

Lights

Does the venue have decent enough lighting? If not, could you bring some along to help set the right mood? Parcans are good for a car headlight style spotlight effect. LED lights are cheaper but can throw weird light around the space and annoy Steve when he’s taking photos.

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Get a spotlight on performers faces if possible so everyone can see expressions like this one, by Anna Ploszajski.

Beware that a projector directly behind the stage means that everyone will have their slides projected onto their face. Not always a good look.

 

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Projector face – not a good look

 

I mean, you can just stand to the left or the right of the screen, but even better, find a venue where the screen is above head height. Like the Imax at the Science Museum. Erm… yeah.

Tech

Do you have the right connector for your laptop? Have you received all the contributor’s slides? Do you need a clicker for your presentations (yes you do.)

 

Sadie Harridon and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John SOane's Museum oN Valentine's Day

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton: don’t forget that clicker

 

Prepare

If you’re MCing, hand over the running of the gig to your producer 10 minutes before you start, so that you can get into performance headspace.

 

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Charlotte Mykura demonstrates “performance headspace”

 

Sprezzatura

Once you’re there and on stage in front of your audience, forget about all of this and allow yourself to respond to the room. React to things that happen, don’t stick too rigidly to what you prepared and stay on your toes! (Sprezzatura is Italian, it means “be in the moment”, roughly.)

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Florence and Mike “being in the moment”

Mailing list

Have a mailing list for people and you can start to build your audience! Hand it around at the beginning of the second half so it can be passed around. Enter these into a Mailchimp (other email distribution options are available) and let people know when the next gig is.

Anything we’ve missed? Add it in the comments. Good luck!

The Showoff Talent Factory – What We’re Learning

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Why does this blog exist?

We’re eight months into the Showoff Talent Factory experience, and it’s time for the people involved to start to tell everyone else their successes, failures, lessons and awards.

First of all, a history lesson. In summer 2016 I invited anyone from across the UK who had performed at Science Showoff or another gig I’ve been part of to apply for a new scheme that would give them a year of mentoring, training, opportunities and support at no cost. It’s called the Showoff Talent Factory and 69 people applied, 14 of whom I took on after sifting the applications with two other experienced judges from the science communication world. You can see the Talent Factory members on the front page of this site – they’re a mixture of professional scientists, performers, researchers and producers of science communication. They were chosen as much for their willingness to support and develop others as for their own performance potential.

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski applauding

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski in the final of Famelab

The Showoff Talent Factory exists for two main reasons:

The first is that I used to be Head of Public Engagement at UCL, working with researchers over a long time period to develop their skills and ideas. One of the most rewarding parts of that kind of job is helping people improve, and seeing how far they can come with your help. People I helped to start off in talking publicly about their science became TV presenters, radio stars, world-famous TED speakers, podcasters and performers of all kinds. Having been freelance for a year, and generally only working with people once or twice, I really missed that kind of intensive interaction over time, so thought I’d offer a cohort a chance to do something similar with me.

The second is that I’m lucky enough to have a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowship at the moment. This is money and time to try new things, and one of the things I said to the panel that chose to fund me was that I would share the benefits of the Fellowship as widely as I could. I quickly realised that I couldn’t support huge networks of science communication practitioners and performers across the country (although with friends I am trying to do so in London), and the Talent Factory is a way to help people who don’t have help coming from anywhere else.

So far the Talent Factory members have set up a strong mutual support network, gigged across the UK including at festivals, entered competitions, won competitions, had training from some amazing names including Fiona Laird, Simon Watt and Sarah Bennetto and developed lots of new podcast, video and live products. They’ve experimented with new styles of performance (I’m pretty sure that the only regular science drag acts in the UK are growing out of this group) and pushed the edges of what science is supposed to be in a live environment. They’ve been screen-tested by TV companies and performed for corporate, museum, school and family audiences, as well as drunk geeks in pubs. They have had many silly photos taken.

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane's Museum on Valentine's Day

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane’s Museum on Valentine’s Day

This blog is about extending the group of people from the science communication world we’re supporting, by sharing the things we’ve learned. It will be written by people from right across the Talent Factory, and include successes, failures, formal evaluation and informal anecdotes about our work. It sits alongside work we’re doing to widen the pool of talent we’re helping, like the upcoming Science Showoff gigs in London curated by Alex Lathbridge,

This blog is also the beginning of recruiting another year of Talent Factory performers. This year’s group aren’t going anywhere, but we will be giving another 10-15 people a chance to be part of the programme and get the same opportunities that current folk have had. The scheme will open on 12th May 2017 (the formal launch will be at the London Scicomm Symposium on May 11th), with a closing date toward the end of June, and new Talented Factorians starting at the beginning of September. I’d encourage anyone thinking about applying to come and have a chat with me at a London Scicomm Social.

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

I’ve titled this blog “What We’re Learning” rather than “What We’ve Learned” to remind us all that every single performance, every gig, every talk is just practice for the next one. There’s no perfect endpoint that we can reach, just more experiments to try and more new ideas to develop.

Steve Cross

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson's Charming Science Friends

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson’s Charming Science Friends