Recently I’ve been lucky enough to start recording some regular author interviews for The Regular, a Words and Nerds spinoff podcast. I like to think I’m semi-competent when it comes to tech. Still, this was a far greater learning curve than I expected. With podcasts becoming more and more popular, as well as becoming more numerous in the various lock downs over the last couple of years, I figured it might be worth discussing what I’ve learnt in my short time so far. This isn’t a Golden Rules of Podcasting post. More a ‘what I’ve learned in the early stages’ post, including some simple lessons that would have made life a lot easier had I known them a few short months go.
But first of all, how the heck did I get into podcasting?
A few years back, a very wise author gave me some sage advice regarding how to start out in the writing industry. Volunteer for everything, she told me. Throw yourself at opportunities.
I’ve never stopped being grateful for that advice, and I’ve never forgiven her for it either. On the one hand, following a Yes Man style mantra has given me some wonderful experiences. It’s also lead to some steep learning curves, few more so than podcasting.
It started with a comfy chair an a needle in my arm (plasma donation – nothing serious) making phone operations somewhat difficult. I received an email from Dani Vee of Words and Nerds fame inviting me to participate in a spin-off series, and I went straight back to that mantra. Terrified and well aware of my ignorance and complete lack of skills, I sent back something quite composed and professional along the lines of OMG YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES!!
But still, there was much I didn’t know about how to interview, or produce an episode. While I think I‘m getting the hang of it after a few eps, there’s obviously still much more to learn. Yet with three episodes of The Regular out, a couple sitting in the queue waiting for release, and a couple more released as Listener Takeovers, I figured it’s a good chance to share the lessons that are starting to emerge in these early days.
Test the equipment
I’m not going to name who, (I’m hoping they’ll come back for a return interview) but before our local lock down, I had a great interview. Australian spec fic royalty. One of my favourite authors and people. It was great. We had a chat about some really interesting styles of storytelling, how fiction impacted reality, and the impacts of lock down on authors. It was my first in-person interview as well. I was pretty excited about releasing this one.
Then I listened back; my questions came through clear as day. The answers? Muffled by café background, almost inaudible. Completely unsalvageable.
I lost a great chat, but also wasted the time of a friend and an author I have the utmost respect for. Yep. Learnt my lesson from that one.
Tangents are fun!
For my first few interviews, I stuck almost religiously to the script. I read the media pieces, wrote a few of my own questions, and then asked them. Nothing wrong with that approach, but in the last couple of chats there have been some unexpected journeys in the conversations. Not only are these far more enjoyable and natural, but listening back there is a certain something in the voices that a straight-up interview doesn’t get. It takes an interview from a formal back and forth to a relaxed, friendly chat. I don’t think I’ve quite his the exact sweet-spot yet, but as someone who instinctively follows the plan, I’ve learned that sometimes, going a little off the beaten track can make everything better.
Editing takes longer than you think
Imagine, if you will, a confident Nathan with about five or six episodes all recorded. The first couple are edited and sent odd, good to go. Editing was a breeze, barely took any time. Add a beginning, add an ending, and make sure the conversation flows as best as possible. Simple, right?
Well, for the first couple, it actually was. Then I heard the release along with all the mistakes still present.
Meticulous edits of the next few interviews ensued. I’m getting quicker, but those early few took a long time to get right. Editing is important, and like in writing, the difference between poor and good editing is the difference between an amateur and professional sound. I’m still on the amateur end of the spectrum. But learning to pay attention to editing has made a huge difference to the response to the podcast so far.
Preparation is key.
Alright, so tangents are great and all, but they need to come from somewhere. Also, if they go nowhere, they need somewhere to come back to.
I’ve only had one interview that I didn’t properly prepare for. A number of miscommunications meant that the author and I had different times for the interview. I had another interview that day, and got a little caught up in the first one. As a result, I went into this interview with a broad idea, but no specifics on what we were going to chat about.
The result? It was . . .awkward. Not interview-destroying awkward, and thankfully the author was quite forgiving of the situation, and we managed to cut most of the awkwardness in the editing. Still, a simpler solution would have been to do the requisite preparation.
Press record at the start.
I feel like this one doesn’t really need an explanation . . .but yeah, after a Certain Incident™ it is now something I always check. Luckily the author involved in this Certain Incident™ had a great sense of humour about the whole thing.
I’m hoping that people have enjoyed the podcast so far, and aren’t picking up the errors with the same hyper-critical glaringness that I cast upon myself. In the end, all of these are recoverable with the