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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How to publish an academic book

book-publishingAs I look over my final proofs and await the release date of my book Hip-Hop Authenticity and the London Scene, I’ve been reflecting on the process of writing and publishing an academic book. As a first-time monograph author, this has all been new to me so I thought I’d outline the entire process and share the insights I’ve gained so others can learn from my mistakes.

  1. Choose your publisher carefully
    • This is the single most important aspect about publishing your monograph. Research carefully different publishers, which presses you cite most, and the publishers that leading researchers use in your field.
    • I, for some reason, decided on Routledge as my first choice (mainly because lots of my favourite books have been published by Routledge). This was despite being advised to go for a more prestigious press such as Oxford University Press or American university presses. With hindsight, I wish I had gone with another publisher because a) the prestige factor still matters in academia b) the more distinguished presses have more money so spend more time on promotion and marketing and care about you as an author c) they are more likely to sell your book at a reasonable price and not at the outrageous fees of monographs.
    • I was advised to pitch my book as part of a series, which although probably did help make my book ‘fit’ with the publisher, meant that it was only later on I realised I didn’t have any say about the book cover design as the entire series has to be identical.
    • To be safe, choose a back-up second or third choice in case the first publisher rejects your proposal.
  2. Write your book proposal
    • Depending on which publisher you go for, look up their proposal guidelines on their website. Follow this strictly, don’t send the same proposal to different publishers.
    • Change the title from your PhD thesis! Publishers tend to like something broad (key words) but informative and snappy.
    • Ask as many colleagues, supervisors, and friends possible for copies of their book proposals. It’s super helpful seeing the tone and style it is written in (i.e. massively bigging yourself up and making grandiose claims about impact to the field, potential readership, international reach etc.). Make sure it doesn’t sound like a hesitant PhD thesis.
    • You don’t need to submit sample chapters at this stage – they usually only ask for these later on if they’re interested.
  3. Send your proposal to the correct commissioning editor
    • Do some research on your prospective publisher’s website to make sure you send your proposal to the right person – it is usually divided by discipline.
    • In your ‘cover letter’ email keep it short and sweet stating who you are, how your book is a great fit for the publisher, and a two sentence synopsis of your book (no CV, sample chapters, journal articles etc.). Also, include an ultimatum along the lines of: “I’m giving you first refusal to this book but if I don’t hear back within two weeks, I’ll start approaching other publishers.”
  4. Send a follow-up email two weeks later
    • Editors are super busy people and receive hundreds of proposals so send a friendly reminder if you haven’t heard anything. Hopefully they’ll respond saying they’re potentially interested but would like to read 1-2 sample chapters. My commissioning editor asked specifically for chapters 1 and 5 so although it’s a good idea to start preparing your manuscript asap, be aware that you won’t necessarily be working on it chronologically.
  5. The commissioning editor gets your proposal reviewed
    • If the editor is interested in your proposal s/he will send it and the sample chapters to two people in your field to review. The review covers the strength of the topic, the content and structure of the book, you as a scholar and writer, and whether there’s a market for the monograph.
    • You are then sent the reviewers’ and your editor’s comments and asked to write a response about how, or if, you will address their concerns.
  6. The commissioning editor backs your book proposal to the editorial board
    • If your editor likes your proposed project, s/he will need to make the case to the decision-making editorial board (my editor gave me a date of when this meeting takes place so I knew how long I’d be waiting for). They approve or reject the project.
  7. Offer of a contract 
    • If you’re a first time author, you’re usually ecstatic to be offered a contract so sign and send it off immediately. Big mistake! I really wish I’d taken the time to read it properly and ask friends more au fait with law talk to look over it. Nearly every single point on the contract is negotiable. The aspects you’re probably most interested in is the royalties percentage (for academic books anything between 3-10% is the norm), the number of free copies you get, the price of the book, and when/if the book will be released in paperback.
  8. Write the manuscript
    • If your book is basically your PhD thesis, the chances are you are going to need to do some significant re-writing. With hindsight, I wish I’d dedicated more time to the re-writes and really thinking about how I envisaged the complete volume, the style of writing, and even delving back into my fieldwork notes to find exciting examples to bring the book to life. Try and savour the writing process if possible.
    • Get friends and colleagues to read your chapters or any new material to receive feedback.
  9. Manuscript is peer-reviewed
    • Your editor will send your book off to be peer-reviewed. Unfortunately this can result in months and months of waiting. Eventually, you’ll receive a couple of pages of comments and also some feedback from your editor who will have read the entire manuscript too.
    • My anonymous peer-reviewer was incredibly nice and gave some really helpful and detailed feedback. Luckily, there were no substantial changes so I was able to progress with these edits quickly.
  10. The book goes into ‘production’
    • Your book gets sent to the copyeditor, followed by the typesetters, and then the printers.
    • The copyeditor reads your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and sends a long list of queries about spelling, names, footnotes, references, and punctuation being in the right place, which you address.
    • The typesetters set your text to how it will look in the book. You’ll get sent the final proofs to look over and correct any last (small) errors.
    • Indexing: I was asked by my editor early on whether I’d like to do the indexing myself or pay (£200-300) for their indexer to do it (outrageous they don’t provide it for free, I know!). I stupidly believed I had no idea how to index, wouldn’t know where to start, and couldn’t commit to giving up potentially weeks of my time to it. Big mistake! When I received the index that I will now have to pay for, it was atrocious – really basic with key concepts missing. I ended up having to do my index myself anyway. Luckily, it didn’t take that long because by this stage you’re so familiar with your book you know it inside out, the electronic proofs make it really easy to identify key words, ideas, and page numbers, and they take about a day or two to complete. In short: save money and do your own index!

The main point to take away from all this is that the entire process is an extremely long and complex one. It is now two years since I first emailed my proposal to Routledge to my book being in press. There can be months of seemingly nothing happening and then suddenly an email arrives with a demanding deadline. What can be frustrating is always meeting your various deadlines and then silence for ages the other end. Your editor, peer-reviewers, copy-editors, and type-setters are busy behind the scenes but if you don’t know how publishing works, it can seem like the project isn’t moving forward. Unfortunately my book release date has been pushed back three times now despite my punctual meeting of deadlines so be prepared for potential delays and setbacks and don’t advertise your ‘release date’ too prematurely as it might change.

Another point to bear in mind that I didn’t realise is the extent of what you do yourself in academic publishing: writing the copy that will be used to sell the book, composing the index, organising your own book launch if you’re having one, and promoting and flogging the volume yourself. I’ve really struggled with the self-promotion because I’m so embarrassed my book has a hefty price tag of £90. You have to get over this pretty quickly as a first-time author if you want your book to be widely read.

The publishing process can vary substantially from publisher to publisher but the above is based on my experience. I’ve found these articles on academic publishing provide useful perspectives too:

Six lessons I’ve learned since going freelance

freelancers_coverIt’s been a month since I decided to change track in my working life and try out the freelance gig. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster of a month and I’ve been on a steep learning curve. I have no regrets about taking the plunge, but I’ve certainly got a more realistic outlook on the freelance existence.

To help anyone else wanting to embark on this scary but ultimately fulfilling journey, I’m sharing what I’ve learned in this short period of time:

  1. Embrace the hustle

To make it as a freelancer, you need to put yourself out there constantly. Work isn’t going to fall on your lap; you need to seek it out. This involves telling everyone you know that you’re now a freelancer and available for work, relying heavily on any contacts and networks you have from previous employment, and being prepared to shamelessly promote yourself at any (appropriate) opportunity. The last one is pretty tough if you’re not naturally that way inclined but marketing yourself is essential in the freelancing world.

2. Say “yes” to everything

Unfortunately it seems as though 90 per cent of job offers/projects/promises fall through. I had one amazing week of job offer after job offer but stupidly turned many of them down because all the dates and deadlines clashed. Little did I know that the offers I had said “yes” to were dependent on non-existent funding/unreliable people letting you down/jobs that probably didn’t exist in the first place/friends trying to be helpful but didn’t know what they were talking about. As time progresses I’ll get more discerning of what will actually go ahead but in the meantime it’s safer to say yes to everything, wait to see if they ever come to fruition, then turn jobs down if the need ever arises.

3. Build your online presence/brand

Update all your online profiles – LinkedIn, Twitter, academia.edu, personal website etc. to reflect your new freelance status. Create an identity that clearly conveys the services and expertise you offer and display contact details prominently.

4. Make a plan

So much of freelancing is uncertain so it helps to plan ahead. Make sure you have funds to fall back on. List and contact any potential clients, then keep contacting them to remain on their radar. Decide early on whether you’re prepared to do any work for free. Sign up to a course or develop any skills you might need. Reach out to other freelancers in your field or community. Be super organised – I’m currently writing grant applications to fund my next book project so keeping a calendar of deadlines and timing work responsibilities is vital.

5. Broaden your (perceived) repertoire and skillset

When you’re starting out, the chances are there aren’t going to be great paying jobs that exactly fit your particular interest area/expertise. It’s therefore helpful to broaden what you think your knowledge area and skill base is. I was offered a one day research job for a think tank and turned it down as the topic area seemed far removed from my knowledge base so I a) felt I wasn’t qualified and b) thought it would take much longer than a day to complete. This was a big mistake for two reasons. Reason 1 – they weren’t seeking my knowledge but rather my research skills to write a literature review. In addition, I’m more qualified than I think I am so shouldn’t have succumbed to self-doubt regarding the research topic. Reason 2 – you should say “yes” to everything (see above point), as you never know if it’s actually going to amount to anything. If it does, it’s likely to lead to more work. If it doesn’t, at least you looked keen and they’ll keep you on their books.

Later on down the line, when I have more experience and a strong client base, I’ll become more specialised and picky about jobs. But at the moment I’m finding it’s good to be open-minded as income can come from unexpected sources. For instance, my main freelance job this month has been marking student dissertations. I never would have thought to seek out this kind of work but it turns out to be well paid and surprisingly enjoyable.

6. Negotiate your day rate

This is a really tricky one for the new freelancer and deserves it’s own blog post (which I’ll do at a later date). When someone approaches you with a job and pay offer, it’s not a fixed deal. My freelancer friend taught me that you need to extract a clear brief from the client, calculate how long you think it will take, and then give a quote (especially if it’s higher than they offered at the outset). They’ll either respond with a direct yes or no, or try and enter into negotiations. It’s likely they have a bigger budget than they’re letting on, but if they don’t, it’s up to you whether it’s worth a low payment. Taking the job will probably open more freelance doors but you don’t want to get struck in the trap of being on a low rate with them forever. Deciding what to charge as your day rate in the first place can be a minefield but luckily I have friends who are freelancers and although they’re in different fields, I was able to discern what the general pay bracket is for freelancers in London and set a competitive day rate accordingly.

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So, how am I doing after a month? Life seems much more manageable and balanced. I love being in control of my own schedule and being able to meet the odd friend or see my family during the day. I’m not making bucket loads of money but have reached my minimum target amount for the month. Despite the challenges, freelancing is proving to be worthwhile and rewarding.