Some Notes on Recording a Podcast

It’s been about three months since Richard Rothaus and I started recording the Caraheard podcast. Tomorrow, we’ll release our tenth episode. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things about podcasting and about our audience, and I thought it would be fun to share some of what we learned after just a few months worth of effort.

1. Production. So far, we’ve been pretty pleased with our production process and the final results. We both use Blue Yeti microphones which seem to do a great job picking up our voices and not all the ambient noise in our home studios (except, of course, for Milo’s editorializing). Pop guards definitely help, and I think that, if we continue to do this, some kind of microphone boom arm (which might involve upgrading our microphones) will also help isolate the microphones from my tendency to thump my desk while recording.

Richard and I mostly record over Skype with each of us recording both sides of the conversation because I’ve discovered that it is possible to forget to hit the record button on my end… Recently, though we’ve had the chance to record face to face into a single microphone. This involves the listener hearing more of the studio space (think 1950s jazz) and we might be looking to figure out how to record into two microphones and mixing our recordings to produce a clearer recording.

For mixing, both Richard and I are becoming increasingly at ease with Adobe Audition CC, although I will admit that I’m not entirely what the various file transformations do, and it appears to be a suitable platform for podcast production with a pretty modest learning curve. 

2. Distribution. We’re using SoundCloud to host our podcasts through their podcasting beta application which makes an RSS feed available for other applications including iTunes. So far, this works pretty well. I get updates from Overcast on my iPhone whenever we post a new podcast. 

The only downside of this set up is that we don’t know how many people are listening to our podcast except through the statistics provided by the SoundCloud page. From that page, we know that each podcast has had about 50 listens with a couple of our more popular, and older, podcasts getting closer to 100. To me this is an acceptable listener base especially when we add in a handful of listeners from iTunes.

It also strikes me as likely that podcasts have a “longer tail” than most blog posts and our podcasts will continue to get a few listens per week for the next few months. In fact, looking over the intriguing corpus of ASOR podcasts, it seems like there is a clear correlation between the age of the podcast the number of listens. 

3. Guests and Remote Recording. Next week, I depart for Greece and Cyprus and leave Richard Rothaus alone with the podcast. (I’m frankly terrified.) Since my internet connection is not always the most stable, so we probably won’t do much in the way of live recording. In the place of that, I will take a little recorder with me to do some field recordings for the podcast, while Richard will work to have guests come onto the podcast to fill in for me. 

One challenge with using guests is that Richard and I both have pretty decent recording set ups, but our guests may not. Moreover, Richard and I both have worked out how to record both sides of the conversation and to split the conversation to improve recording quality. So bringing guests and recording remotely onto the show will push us to manage sound quality and levels from a range of locations, technologies, and participants. 

4. Format. One of the most consistent comments made by listeners is that our podcast is too long and too unstructured. That’s fine with us.

The goal of our podcast is to capture the informal academic conversations that have such an important impact of the more formal disciplinary knowledge. This means our chats will be rambling and our arguments – such as they are – anecdotal. If people find it too tedious and unstructured for their tastes, that’s fine; they can read our articles or read the blog). We’ll be satisfied with a smaller audience who enjoys the more unstructured engagement on archaeological topics.  

few podcasters whom I enjoy have made similar argument about podcasts and noted that they are only popular among a small, but typically committed audience. Because podcasts involve a greater commitment of time on the part of the listener and because it is difficult to break them into bite-size fragments for circulation or occasional consumption, podcasts will always be a kind of acquired taste. It is telling, for example, that podcasts rarely go viral. 

5. Endings and Beginnings. So Richard… has become our typical sign lede for each podcast – although we’re excited to introduce a new introduction prepared by Richard this week! 

Endings, on the other hand, are trickier. Sometimes, Richard and I seem to agree that the conversation has reached a useful end. Other times, I feel like we’ve wrested the good from a chat and want to wrap up and Richard has “just one more thing” and I’m sure Richard has felt the same way. Since we usually record from different locations, and we don’t have a backchannel throughout the podcast, we have to rely on a shared sense of timing. I expect we’ll get better at this with time, but for now, wrapping up a podcast remains a challenging thing to do. 

For all the readers of this blog who have become listeners of the podcast, thanks!!

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