Ep 21 – How to turn 5 hours of audio into a hit show

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Episode 21 – Full transcript

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EP 21 Raw

So this is the aim.

I’m trying to make a hit podcast. I want to make one that rivals the big production companies, but on a fraction of their budget and with none of their time or resources. And over the past few episodes, I’ve tried to find out what makes a hit show.

I’ve even started to build one called “How not to get old and boring”.

I’ve interviewed five people for it. And now I’m trying to turn those recordings into something that people will talk about. And to make that happen, to make the show a hit show, not just one of the hundreds of thousands of others out there, I’m trying to take a different approach.

Instead, I’m trying to make my show chemically addictive to anyone who listens. I’m literally trying techniques, which should give anyone who listens a powerful dopamine kick when they hear it, that delivers a powerful pleasure response.

Now Gimlet, one of the world’s big podcast production companies, bought fairly recently by Spotify for a lot of money, claim that’s what they do.

Gimlet’s producers are from national public radio in the United States. And from in particular, This American life.

And what is the technique they use? They both specialize in carefully selected storytelling.

I’ve done the careful selection process.

I followed their steps for that. I’ve designed a show idea.

I’ve got five interviews all done, and now it’s time to turn that into something which is chemically addictive to listen to.

You are listening to Calla, make a hit podcast. The real time story of an attempt to make a hit show that rivals the big podcast production companies, but with none of their time or resources, and while trying to hold down a busy, full time job. I’m Richard Manson, her former news journalist and disillusioned podcaster who tried five different shows without much success.

Now I’m turning my attention to testing the claims that anyone could make a hit show by trying it myself. I’m on Twitter and Instagram almost every day with username hit podcast 2020 that’s at hit podcast 2020. And of course, in this podcast, you’re listening to right now on your favorite podcast app.

So is it possible to do all this? Well, let’s find out

that is the sound of me booting up my computer. And to be honest, looking with a bit of trepidation at the audio files. There are a total of 2.82 gigabytes of data there. This is video files and audio files for my interviews, but it makes up 300 minutes of potential audio. That’s nearly a hundred minutes longer than extended edition to the first Lord of the rings movie.

No one is going to sit through that. The extended edition of Lord of the rings was hard enough. And that I suspect is probably how most editors at NPR feel when they start a big project like this.

You know, how do you turn this massive chunk of audio into an addictive story?

If you know anything about my past, you might think it should be easy.

I was a journalist on Newsradio, my son, but it has been an awfully long time. And that was my day job. I did it all day long. Now I have to do this. It’s like you and I suspect like everyone else listening to this in the evening, after tiring day at work, when your brain is functioning at 50% at best. So how can we make this happen?

There is one realization straightaway, and that is if there are 300 minutes of audio, just listening to it to start clipping it up, we’ll take 300 minutes, right? That’s five hours. And that’s, if I don’t get up and go to the toilet or move.

You know, I’ve seen some figures out there on the internet would say the editing, the show can be something like a 12 to one ratio. So that’s 12 minutes for every one minute that goes out. I think that’s under, to be honest, but thinking about the smash hit series serial, the first series of that was 8.5 hours of output.

That’s sort of by 12 that’s 102 hours, 4.2, five days, minimum of production. And that’s also, if you never go to the toilet, so I’ve got to find a better way.

I’ve got to find out how to make this show quicker than that, because that approach is just not going to be sustainable.

so of course I turn to Google. The article certainly looked promising.

But the first thing he says is that you’ve got to listen to it in its entirety, in full.

You can’t help, but wonder if this is really all worth it. If it wasn’t for this show that you’re listening to right now. And the fact that I want to do this now for the people that gave their time and commitment to be interviewed, it would be very easy to give up. So why shouldn’t we just give up.

Well, if you think about it Serial, didn’t just get up hundred listeners, like many podcasts. It got 175 million for series one. Yes, it was pioneering. Yes. It started the whole trend and there was nothing else quite like it at the time, but even a fraction of those 175 million would be great.

Gimlets Startup podcast was narrative driven as well.

You know, how many startups shows are there out there, which don’t work or get just a few listeners? Alex Blumberg had got a headstart because people knew him from other shows, but the show was still a little bit ropey when you listen to those first few episodes and it works because it’s story-driven, you can feel it, you get hooked into it.

There’s another show listened to called Revisionist history, which is huge on the global podcast rankings. Again. It’s a narrative show. This American life of course goes without saying. And if you think about it putting the, the sort of data evidence aside of looking at the charts, but thinking about how you feel about when you listen to a podcast, how many times have you started listening to an interview show and given up after a bit yet a story you end up wondering, well what did happen? What happened next?

So it feels like it’s going to be worth it. But as I say, does anyone with a day job, like you me, have time to do this just physically however motivated we are?

So I need to find ways to speed this up. I simply cannot spend 102 hours editing and nor I suspect, can you!

So the first thing I did was turn to the notes that I made when I listened to the Gimlet podcast Academy. This is something that they’ve put out on Spotify. I’ve mentioned it a million times if you’ve heard this show before, I’m sorry, but basically this was aimed at people like you and me about how to make a hit podcast and the gist of what they say when I looked at my section on this about editing was that there is no perfect way to do it. No formula that is easy to explain. They say, They do say that each draft should be a script and not necessarily an audio edit. So it should be a transcript of what’s going on. And you should read that out to a friend and see where they lose interest or reach for their phone or where they’ve been engaged.

but there’s got to be an easier way. Surely there is a formula, right. That we can copy from successful podcasters.

And I don’t mean how to write a story because I’ve looked at that in great detail already in previous episodes. I just mean how to edit faster. I ended up back with Jay’s article.

Right near the beginning he actually reinforces this point about why narrative works because he says it with normal podcasts it’s very easy for an audience to get distracted and start thinking about other things. But when you’ve got a voice actor or presenter leading them through a story, a listener can actually relax and just be guided through it and that makes it addictive as you start to get involved in it and start to wonder what happened.

But focusing on the editing, if you go down a bit further in the article, this is where it starts to get really interesting. The first thing he says is that you need to get your raw audio and listen through it and clip out the bits, which sound best.

Which, to be honest at first one I read that was a bit of a shame because this sounds very hard, but he goes on.

He says the key to doing this efficiently because he talks about his “lean method of editing” here is to know the story you want to make beforehand,

which luckily I’ve done because I’ve talked about in the previous episodes.

Because if you know that clips you need, it’ll be a lot easier to find them because you’ve already created that mental filter of what you need to get. Okay. That’s good. I’ve done that in a previous episode.

And then I found another trick too, which came from an article, from an essay, in fact, from Nancy Updike, who’s from NPR, which I’ll mention again in a future episode, but she says it’s a good idea to make a note. As you’re doing these interviews of what you shared with friends, because you inevitably will, because those are the things that are probably going to be the most gripping and interesting bits of the interviews that you did.

So listen out for those ones as well. So again, it’s about creating that mental filter. So we don’t just try and find something that sounds good. We’re specifically looking for stuff as we listen through it.

So that should be able to cut the time down a bit by getting focused, but it still seems a pretty daunting task, but listening to all this for five hours, then I stumbled on another trick.

It sounds crazy this, but I’ve tried it now. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it actually works. And that is to play back the raw audio at double the speed.

I cant remember where I saw it mentioned

no sound crazy. And it takes a bit of lesson to get used to it, but it’s a bit like speed reading.

As you start to get used to it. You can hear what you’re looking for. And I know some people will say, but you will miss the subtleties in their voice, but this is about finding the answers to the questions that we already know. We need, you know, your, we can choose which clip is the best. One of a few later on.

So so far, I’ve got two techniques focus your mind so that you filter out stuff and speed up the whole process of grabbing those clips and double the speed of playback that should cut with lesson time in theory, the two and a half hours, which is much more manageable, but there’s another technique I found as well.

Imagine if you had this whole interview, all of these interviews on one long bit of magnetic tape, and you had to find everything in there. That’s actually how I started in radio back then you literally cut the tape with a razor blade and he used some sticky tape on the back of that tape to join the bits together.

It was a nightmare. You literally had quotes on bits of tape, this magnetic tape. All over your table or your desk and you had to try and piece it together. And it was so easy to get it all. Yeah. Muddled up now, digital editing with sound waves, like audition or Udacity then of course came along with it, spell out the process, but you still have to label all those clips and you don’t exactly what they said.

And it, you know, I put something like good quote on X. But you don’t quite know the words I said, but then along came descript. Now I am not a failure of descript. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ve got to be honest. I’m not entirely happy with the way it’s just been scaled recently. And, uh, the way that it’s been product developed, but I can’t fault how it works.

if you’ve not heard me say it before you edit audio, like a word processor. So you actually see the transcript of your audio. So instead of searching for a picture, the shape of the sound and then labeling it and trying to remember exactly what they said in it, you can literally copy and paste what people say from the words on the page and build your structure by.

Just like you would a letter to someone, you can move a paragraph to another position and it will instantly edit the whole thing in that way.

Equally, if you get to the end and you find you need another clip B, which you didn’t think you needed at the beginning, you can scan through that whole transcript very quickly find something that looks right and grab that out.

So certainly the editor is going to massively speed up this process too, particularly on magnetic tape from where I started.

so it’s pretty clear. There is no way of getting around this. I have got to listen to that whole audio, but it should be up to speed up the process a lot.

So I need to do that next and listen to the whole thing, but how do I make sure once I’ve done that and pulled out those clips that I’ve got the right ones. Well, I read Glassman PR made some great points in the video. He did. You said that you already know in your head, you already know this. What sounds good?

You already have what he describes as taste. The problem is not your lack of taste because you know what you like listened to already and you you’re critical of it. I suspect as well. The issue is trusting that sixth sense when you’re editing your own material and putting aside what you think should sound good or what you put your time into and trusting instead, what actually sounds good and deleting the rest.

Now I actually have had quite a bit of experience with this because when I worked in radio, I actually worked for a station called news direct 97.3, which was a rolling news station, 24 hours a day. But what was significant here was that news would repeat itself every 20 minutes and it would be boring to hear the same news package over and over again.

Right. So we had to make three different versions for each 20 minute segment. So that was the first hurdle to find three separate clips that would sound great for your piece, but then came the next challenge. These pieces were around 30 to 60 seconds long.

So in just a few seconds, you needed to convey the entire story as well as possibly two audio clips or maybe more. And that is not a lot of time. Each clip would be about five to seven seconds, max. so you had to be right brutal with your editing and you learn to do that. You leave a lot of good stuff behind, but you actually produce something which is fast slicker and people enjoy far more than hearing all that extra stuff.

So we’ve got double the playback speed. We’ve got focus clearly on the clips that you actually need. We’ve got use a good editor. It speeds up the process. Be brutal with what we don’t really need. So overall, there are tons of things for me to try here to speed up the process. So the next thing for me to do is to upload all my audio to descrip now and let that transcribe.

And then I’m going to go through these steps and see how it works. It’s interesting listening to NPR and to Gimlet because you hear them say at times that are good at, it can sometimes take months and it’s like a play which shows in the West end or Broadway for you years after 10 years, it’s going to be fine tuned.

It will be better. But as an independent like me or you, we don’t have the time, but if we can make something 90% is good, it should still be better than 90% of the other podcasts out there.

And that means we can stand out if these techniques really work. Of course. And there’s only one way to find out that.

So I need to upload those audio files now to descript and start editing those and following those techniques. And I will, of course, let you know how well those go.

And once I’ve done that, then I’ve got to start building the story, which is going to be a whole other episode and stuff.

I want to round up with some of the things I’ve been learning from you on social media as well. And thank you to Simon, Edward Johns on Instagram, who answered a point about how to keep going when your energy levels hit zero, which is something that I think is a big issue for us, independent podcasters.

And he makes some great points that we should still try working on a podcast, even when we’re running on zero, because we may not do as much in his particular case. He’s talking about weight training. He says that he may not do as much that day, but by simply starting and trying, we often find that we start to do things that we don’t expect as he says, perception is softened the problem.

So just starting, even if you expect to achieve virtually nothing in your podcasts that night. Is the best way to get on with it? There was also one I spotted from Matthew Luhn. on Twitter. And if you’ve been listening to the series for a while, you know, I’m a big fan of his book on storytelling. And he said this, he said, remember when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they’re almost always right.

When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. I thought this was a really good point because if you ask people about what they don’t like about your show, they could be wrong. But the fact that they don’t like it is significant.

Thank you so much. If you’ve been commenting on my social media during the week, I read every single comment and I try to reply to every single comment as well. That’s it for this week. So much to do over the next week until the next episode Do join me on social media as well. You can join me on Twitter and on Instagram, it hit podcast 2020 that’s hip hop, Garth 2020. And you can find all the links as well on the website. Can I make a hit podcast.com? It’s literally all one word, kind of make a hit podcast.com. There is, of course, a lot of advice out there saying you can still make a hip punk after in the 2020s.

If it’s right, then you and I could and should be making one by the end of the year, speak next week.

Published by RicksWP

Former YouTuber, former news editor, a former journalist, former political social media content creator, now an engineer of happiness at Automattic.

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