Starting out podcasting

podcast mic

I’ve been wanting to podcast for a few years now. I get really inspired by lots of podcasts and radio shows I hear and have harboured a deep desire to record my own but didn’t know where to start or how to get going. I particularly love Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio 2 show on Tuesday evenings. It’s only an hour long but packed with amazing old and new music, and informative and original content.

I happened to mention my interest in creating a podcast on music to an old friend called Dooban and it turns out he’d been thinking the same thing and already brought a microphone. We decided to join forces and give it a shot. We’ve recorded four episodes now and I’m looking forward to posting the first one in a few weeks at the beginning of April.

I thought I’d share some tips and experiences of getting a podcast off the ground from scratch as it’s a steep learning curve.

Choose a name, purpose, and intended audience

It’s important to think about branding from the start. I brainstormed loads of names and then checked to see if they were taken on iTunes. We made a shortlist and asked friends and family for feedback before deciding on ‘Main Source’. It’s a nod to our hip-hop roots but also indicates being a source of information and knowledge. The purpose was easy to decide on as we knew from the beginning that the remit of the podcast was going to be based on music and more like a radio show but with talking and factual content.

However, after recording a pilot episode, I realised that we weren’t on the same page regarding the audience. I was aiming my content at a general, non-specialized listener, but it became apparent that Dooban was thinking more in terms of our close friends who are music aficionados and would already know a lot of what we talking about. It was therefore important to have a discussion to pinpoint our intended listenership and pitch the content appropriately.

Get the technology and equipment

You need a microphone and editing software to make a podcast. Luckily Dooban is a DJ and very tech savvy, which has really helped the podcasting process. He’d already purchased a Blue Yeti microphone which is an excellent USB condenser mic that can be set to bi- or omni-directional recording formats. We use Ableton to edit the podcasts, though lots of people have recommended Audacity if you’re new to editing.

Decide on podcast format and plan content

There’s a number of decisions to make about the podcast itself: it’s length, frequency, structure, whether to include ‘features’, and theme music. We decided on an hour in length as that allows a good number of tracks and discussion between two people. We’ve chosen to post monthly as this seems a realistic commitment based on the time and effort required to write, record and edit an hourly episode. Based on our interests and the scope of the show, the monthly podcast features include ‘Cite the Source’ and ‘Fact Off’. This gives a bit of variety to the music-discussion format and plays on our interests. Dooban created a short 20 second jingle as our theme music. There’s lots of websites where you can find free or cheap intro and outro music such as the Free Music Archive.

There’s an incredible amount of preparation that goes into a podcast before recording. I recommend preparing an outline at least, if not some more scripted parts such as the podcast’s ‘opener’ and ‘closer’ for ensuring consistency. Ad-libbing might work for some podcasters but as our content is closely related to the songs we play, we need to do some research and gather facts in advance. We have a google doc file listing all episode ideas and show topics and we prepare a rough script that’s mainly in bullet point form to follow when recording.

Record your podcast

I highly recommend recording a pilot episode. If it goes well, keep it. If it doesn’t, ditch it. We ended up scrapping our first show as it was massively ambitious and we simply had too much content for a one hour episode. This only became clear after a long recording session and an even longer editing attempt. We quickly realised that 10 tracks was a good amount of songs with discussion in between. This also nicely divides the labour between us where we choose five tracks each on the monthly theme and do our research independently.

It can certainly be challenging listening to your own voice, trying to sound relaxed, or fighting a fit of giggles. But the beauty of podcasting is that it is not live so you can edit out any major fluffs. One’s improvement rate is massive after a small amount of practice.

Publish and promote your podcast

We wanted to record three podcasts before sharing them instead of producing them on the fly. This has also allowed us to check the format works, get feedback from friends and family, and also confirm our commitment to the project. We’re going to release our podcasts on MixCloud, the digital audio streaming platform. At the moment, we’re just doing it for fun and not pursuing monetization, but depending on our listenership and audience, we may move to iTunes in the future. We’ll be using our own social media channels to promote the podcast rather than manage an additional twitter/website/facebook stream.

Overall, I’d really recommend podcasting as it can be fun and rewarding. Though I’d also emphasize the significant level of commitment required to make it work. Planning episodes and finding time to record and edit is hard work so make sure the podcast is on something you’re passionate about. Lastly, don’t put off starting/continuing or get discouraged by feedback. Just go for it and enjoy it!

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My book is out!

hip-hop-authenticity_speersI’m pleased to announce my book Hip Hop Authenticity and the London Scene has been published by Routledge this week.

Unfortunately, as with most hardback academic publishing, it has a hefty price tag. But the e-book is cheaper and when the paperback comes out, it will dramatically drop in price.

It’s available on amazon here or you can read a substantial amount of it for free on google books here.

What does the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brother single tell us about creative collaborations?

[Written in October 2014 for 53 Million Artists Blog]

The recently unveiled collaboration between Tinchy Stryder and The Chuckle Brothers has gone viral in less than a week, clocking up over a million hits on YouTube. One of the reasons that it has gone viral is the unlikely nature of the collaboration – a young grime artist from East London rapping with a geriatric duo who made ChuckleVision, a children’s comedy TV show.

According to the video description, Tinchy met The Chuckle Brothers while filming for Celeb Juice and really hit it off so decided to record something in the studio. The resulting song, ‘To Me, To You (Bruv)’ was released through the online youth broadcasting platform SBTV with all proceeds going to charity.

Although there are jokes abounding on the internet about potential future collaborations with Rosie and Jim or the cast of Saved By The Bell and other 90s TV icons, there is something quite distinctive about the creative energy produced in putting together two unlikely collaborators.

We tend to be drawn to the image of the lone genius who brings insight or a particular kind of creative flair to the world. However, research has shown that the lone genius is a myth and instead it’s partnerships or groups that generate breakthroughs.

In Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration (2008), Dr Keith Sawyer, lists 7 key characteristics of effective creative teams. These are:

  1. Innovation Emerges Over Time – no single actor comes up with everything, every person contributes something.
  2. Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening – most people spend too much time planning their own actions and not enough time listening and observing others.
  3. Team Members Build on Their Collaborators’ Ideas – when teams practice deep listening, each new idea is an extension of the ideas that have come before.
  4. Only Afterwards Does the Meaning of Each Idea Become Clear – creative actions take on meaning later.
  5. Surprising Questions Emerge – transformative creativity occurs when groups think in new ways.
  6. Innovation is Inefficient – Improvise rather than evaluate and judge. Improvised innovation makes more mistakes and has as many misses as hits. But the hits can be phenomenal and thus make up for the efficiency and failures.
  7. Innovation Emerges from the Bottom Up – Improvisational performances are self-organizing.

As we can see, the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brothers collaboration embodies many of Sawyer’s characteristics of successful creative teams. Perhaps one of the reasons the artists kept the partnership a secret is because of the tendency of people to judge and shoot down ideas rather than see them through. As Sawyer notes, when you take risks and improvise, it can lead to phenomenal hits.