A day in the life of a podcaster

Posted by anon on Friday 1st May 2009

Hi I’m Richard Swainson and you’re reading the Playhouse Podcast blog . . .

We came up with the idea of producing a podcast for Nottingham Playhouse about a year ago. In recent times there’s been an explosion of podcasts from huge organisations like the BBC and CNN right down to those produced from the comfort of a bedroom by a single individual. They cover every subject under the sun and are listened to every day, by millions of people worldwide. And yet, there are surprisingly few produced by theatres in the UK. Until now…. Most podcasts are picked up from iTunes and are totally free and ours is no different. Soon we will also be allowing people to listen to the shows directly from our website, as well as by subscribing in iTunes.

The hardest part of producing a podcast is deciding who your audience is and ensuring you’re delivering the kind of stuff they want to hear. Nottingham Playhouse has such a diverse audience, it’s tricky trying to pitch things just right. So I decided that the podcast should reflect both our audience and the shows we put on.

So what goes into producing the Playhouse Podcast?

The first thing I do is look at the upcoming shows and events we’ll be putting on. What I’m looking for are interview opportunities from actors, directors, dancers, comedians etc. Interviews are a fantastic way to learn about a show directly from the ‘horses mouth’ so to speak.

Once I’ve created a list of potential interviewees, I need to arrange times and dates. If it’s, say, an actor who is rehearsing here, it’s simply a case of speaking to the director of the show to request a suitable time to chat to the actor. If it’s a phone interview, then I just agree a time directly with my interviewee.

Next I’ll choose which of the upcoming shows I want to give more information on. Things such as information on the content, prices and dates. This is always really useful as it provides a quick snapshot of what’s on in the near future in an easy to listen to format.

Once I’ve collated all the show information I’ll look at any other newsworthy items I want to include in the show. This might be something about any special events, such as Open Days or Gala Days that we have coming up or an update on a touring production or youth project.

On every podcast there’s a section called ‘In the Green Room’ which is basically just any gossip or frivolous news connected to the Playhouse. I love producing this bit of the show. There’s stuff like funny things that have happened to people who work here, amusing stories from front of house and anything at all which raises a laugh. I just tend to chat to my colleagues for material or follow up any gossip I’ve heard. Nothing sinister of course!

The last main item on each podcast is the competition. There’s a competition on every show. I begin by chatting with the manager in charge of Box Office to see which show we can give tickets away for as a prize. Once that’s agreed, I come up with a cunningly crafted question for our audience.

The last part of each podcast is to give out all the contact details such as how to email the show as well as where and how to make bookings for the theatre.

The whole show is then written up in a scripted format with details of any music, interviews or other items which are to be included along with the dialogue.

Once the script is done and the next step is to record any interviews. These are either done face to face, if it’s with an actor or director who is rehearsing at the Playhouse or over the phone. For phone interviews I use Skype and a software application called Audio Hijack Pro, that allows me to record the conversation from both sides. Aside from interviews I may also record some ‘vox pops’ – audience comments about a show, which I can use in the podcast as part of a review. It’s really nice to be able to get the thoughts of ‘real people’ as opposed to critics from the newspapers.

So, armed with the script and any interviews or audio clips I can then begin to actually record the podcast. 

Recording the podcast

I use a program called Garageband which is specifically designed for recording. The first thing I do is record all of my scripted dialogue. Then I put in any other audio, chronologically, staring with the theme music. After each segment of the show (like the news, interview and the ‘gossip’ sections) I insert a ‘sting’. It’s basically a little soundbite of music which helps separate the different sections of the show.

Adding the interview is next. On most interviews I edit all of the interviewees’ answers and then select the ones I want to keep. After this I re-record my questions for each of the answers and edit them all back together. The reason for this is that I can produce a much tidier, ‘cleaner’ interview without any errors, coughs, interruptions of miscellaneous sounds that may have been picked up in the original. This can take a long time. For example, a 15 minute interview that I need to edit down to 5 minutes can easily take two to three hours.

Once the interview is done I just add in and more ‘stings’ and additional audio clips and finally the theme music at the end.

In Garageband I can use a different track for different parts of the podcast. One track is for my vocals, one for imported audio such as interviews and another for music and ‘stings’. So after all the recording is complete I then go though the whole show to check it. I often need to adjust sound levels on individual tracks, tighten up on any edits and make sure I’ve not actually said anything slanderous!

When I’m happy with the whole show I let Garageband do lots of technical stuff like converting it to AAC format, normalizing and other impressive sounding stuff. Then it’s ready to be sent up to the Internet. Currently I use my own website to host the podcasts. I employ another software application called iWeb which allows me to create a web page for each show complete with a logo, the show itself and some information on that particular episode. All of this gets sent to the internet. Then something magical happens and the whole thing gets exported to iTunes. As soon as it makes it into iTunes it will automatically download to peoples’ computers, if they’ve subscribed to the show already.

To actually record, edit and publish a podcast takes about 4-5 hours although once I’ve published it to my website it’s usually only a few minutes before it’s ready to download from iTunes. The show does vary in length but is usually around 10-15 minutes long. I find this is an ideal length of time as there’s loads of content but it doesn’t take an age to listen to. The show comes out every two weeks on a Thursday and I usually publish it to the internet late on a Wednesday night so it’s ready for the Thursday morning all fresh and ready to be enjoyed.

And that’s all there is to it!

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