In case any of you are either curious, or thinking of setting up a podcast yourself, I thought I’d go through a few of the practicalities from making mine; I already wrote about the background to my sitcom podcast.
Recording, editing and mixing
It’s worth investing in a decent microphone – mine was second-hand from ebay a few years ago and I also got a Scarlett Solo which has a USB connection. If you plug the microphone into the Scarlett Solo with an audio cable you can record straight to the computer. I haven’t had much luck with built-in microphones on phone/tablet/laptop, and I heard a professional film-maker say last year that he’s now happy to make short films on a phone, but only if the audio’s recorded separately (i.e. the video capability of phones is more advanced than the audio). I had the microphone sat in a cradle on top of a box, with a pop shield (a fine metal mesh) clamped to the desk and fencing the microphone off from my mouth. I also had a thick piece of packing foam behind the microphone to stop reflected sound from the box. I’m lucky to live in a pretty quiet street, but I did make sure both my cats were asleep before I got going.
I’ve been recording stories to put on Chirbit for a few years (that’s why I got the microphone in the first place) and I’ve read on stage and radio a fair few times. It still took me nearly an hour to record a 26-minute episode – fluffed lines, wrong emphasis, someone slams a car door outside – and I counted that as a really efficient recording session. I’ve taken longer than that to be happy with a ten-minute piece before.
I used to use Audacity, which is brilliant and free. This time I used GarageBand which is free in the Apple system (I mentioned a few months back I got a second-hand Mac). Either way you can record your voice (or sound effects) directly into it via the Scarlett Solo, in separate tracks if necessary. You can then delete or move sections, add filters, fade in or out, mute tracks etc. Both have nice visual interfaces, but I found noise-reduction and fine control easier in Audacity – possibly I just haven’t found the right way to do it in GarageBand. GarageBand has drag-and-drop for moving sections around, I can’t remember if Audacity did.
It took about an hour to do the basic editing, by which I mean cutting out the fluffed lines, stitching in the better versions I recorded ten minutes later when I decided that after all, I wasn’t happy with how I’d read that paragraph. It then took at least as long again to add the sound effects, music, and do any necessary fades in or out. Mostly I was listening on headphones (cans not in-ear) to try and pick up small details. OneMonkey (Andrew Woods as mentioned in the podcast credits) did the noise reduction on my sound effects because I couldn’t work out how to do it and he has more experience than me in GarageBand.
Once I’d got the words recorded I had to make design decisions – what is the vibe of the podcast? The cover art, fonts, theme music etc can all work towards conveying that vibe to the audience, but it’s easier said than done – this is why people hire designers who do that kind of thing for a living. Fonts, artwork, music and sound effects are where licensing and rights come in, so it’s fairly easy to either end up spending a lot of money or get into trouble for using something you don’t have the rights for.
Lee-Ann’s Spare Fridays is a sitcom so quirky ought to be ok, but it’s not at the ‘zany’ end so nothing too clown-like. It’s about a history-buff who doesn’t fully inhabit the modern world – she uses archaic terminology, she’s very late to the smartphone party and is clueless on contemporary culture – so old-fashioned, maybe Victorian would work. On the other hand it’s set in the present day so I didn’t want anything too historical-looking that might lead the audience to expect a historical sitcom.
I had a vague calendar-based design idea for the cover but thankfully OneMonkey took that bit out of my hands and made a proper job of it, incorporating books and cats as Lee-Ann’s favourite things. He’s done websites and book or comic covers for us and our friends before, and he used public domain elements from https://openclipart.org/ then put the cover art together in Inkscape because that’s what we happen to have and are used to using (it’s free open-source software). I spent at least half an hour working my way down the list of fonts to get one that looked right – I was determined I wanted one with large and small capitals, but that’s not what I ended up using. Flexibility and being open to new ideas was very important in all of this.
For the theme music I was looking for something old, preferably public-domain, probably a brass band as it’s set in Yorkshire. The incidental music had been composed by OneMonkey using the French Horn setting in GarageBand but again that’s not what I ended up using. First I found Silverman Sound which is one man writing (free) theme music for every eventuality and has so many great pieces of music but none of them were brass. Then I tried the Free Music Archive and searched for historic and instrumental to see what they had. I clicked on one to see how the interface worked, and it wasn’t brass but I quite liked it. The more I searched, the more I kept coming back to Naughty Marietta by the Victor Herbert Orchestra from 1911, and that became the theme music. While I was listening to the track there was a repeating section that sounded like it might lend itself to scene breaks, so I edited that down to be incidental music.
I happened to record my own sound effects this time (one of my cats mewing, an alarm clock, and an outdated phone ring tone), but in the past I’m fairly sure I’ve sourced them from https://freesound.org/
Choosing a host, and distributing
From all the mention of free, open-source, and public domain above you’ll understand that I wasn’t about to sign up to a podcast host that cost twenty quid a month, certainly not for my first attempt when I was dipping a toe in the water and not guaranteed to carry on long-term. I did have a scout around though, and even within that price bracket there seemed a huge variation in what you got for your money so that while some of them didn’t seem worth it for me and my immediate needs, some of them just plain didn’t seem worth it. I opted for Anchor in the end because it’s free but still (as far as I could tell from the vague advert on the site) gave you a fair bit in terms of how many episodes you could have up, how many downloads they could have, and where your podcast could be found. Also, as part of Spotify it seemed unlikely to disappear suddenly. It didn’t give much information about requirements before signing up, but as it was free I thought it was easier to sign up and then change my mind than try to find all the info first. There is apparently a way to monetise your podcast via Anchor but I wasn’t interested in that so didn’t investigate.
I of course was uploading both audio and cover art but there are facilities to record and edit, plus make your own cover on the site. Uploading was quick and easy, and without doing anything further it was available both at my newly-created Anchor page and on Spotify. When I went to a podcast-making workshop last year they said in the UK 70% of podcasts were listened to via Apple, and 25% via Spotify, so at the very least I also needed this to be available on Apple podcasts.
Now, here’s the bit they don’t tell you – for that, you need the site to generate an RSS feed which includes your email address embedded in the code. I had signed up for Anchor using my usual personal email address, which I didn’t want to be publicly available. So, I set up a new (free) email address at GMX, very easily changed the email associated with my Anchor account to the GMX one, and then generated the RSS feed. I then had to create an Apple Podcasts Connect account (free) and give it the RSS feed, so that it picked everything up from Anchor (I might have had to choose categories by hand). My podcast had been verified and was available on Apple within a couple of hours, but I’ve heard it can take up to a week so it may have helped that I did all this from a Mac where I was already signed in with my Apple ID.
If you include all the time spent choosing a podcast host, choosing fonts, listening to music and sound effects I didn’t use, as well as the writing, recording, editing etc then this 26 minutes of audio took me at least a couple of weeks’ full-time work to make. Episode 2 should take less time of course because I’ve already got the cover art and theme music, I’ve got the distribution set up, but it will still take a while to write and I may need different sound effects.
It didn’t cost me any money, but only because I’d already bought audio equipment and I used public domain clip art and music. And got assistance from my other half with the design and production.
If you’d like to listen to the results, it’s Lee-Ann’s Spare Fridays – you can listen in the browser at Anchor and it has buttons there to take you to Spotify or Apple if you prefer. If you enjoy it, you can always buy me a cuppa…