Our going-on-two-years-now Battle Bards podcast is probably one of the most involved of my various web projects and a true labor of love from Syl, Steff, and myself. We are nuts about MMO music and have a grand ol’ time jawing about it together, and seeing how the show’s resonated with fans is a treat.
But as I said, each episode (which is usually about an hour long) represents probably seven or more hours of our combined time to make. I’m not sure how interested any of you might be in how a show gets made, but since I go through this on a bi-weekly basis, I thought I’d chronicle the making of a show from conception to release.
Through discussion and trial-and-error, we came up with a good plan early on that works for us. The very first thing we do is to lay out a plan for the next batch of six shows, with each one of the Bards nominating an MMO-specific episode (i.e. WildStar) and a theme show (i.e. Character Creation).
Syl — the ever-organized lady that she is — set us up a group spreadsheet that we use for show planning. On it, we have the upcoming shows with spots for each of our track choices. The rule of the show is that whoever came up with that episode’s theme gets to pick three tracks for the episode and the others only get two. Seven tracks felt like a good “sweet spot” to give us a nice selection without making the show run too long.
Another rule we have is not to choose tracks that have already been done or (hopefully) someone’s called dibs on for use in a future episode. Although we’ve messed up on the latter often enough that it’s caused a little bit of eye rolling.
As the record time approaches, each of us listens to all of the tracks for the next two episodes (so that’s 14 tracks total) and takes notes, since we won’t actually be hearing the music while we record. Personally, I like to listen and write my notes the morning of so that my memory is very fresh on them.
Generally, we record once a month on the second or third Saturday. This requires coordination between Steff and I (eastern time zone in the US) and Syl (who is in Switzerland). For us it’s a Saturday afternoon, but for Syl it’s probably some ungodly hour of the night. Or early morning. I’m not quite sure how time works on the other side of the world.
A couple of days beforehand I’ll take a look at the spreadsheet and any of our reader letters, and then put together show notes for everyone. Mostly this is just about the order of the tracks, which only occasionally needs to be handled deftly for various reasons (such as grouping similar tracks together).
Because of the hassle of getting three people from two different time zones together, we record a pair of shows back-to-back within a single two-hour block. We set up a three-way call on Skype and I record using my trusty Callburner software (which I’ve been using for three years now for all of my podcasting). It’s not always perfect, but it makes three tracks for each call: one on my side, one on theirs, and one combined.
Recording is a lot of fun and we’ve gotten comfortable enough so that we don’t screw up that often any more. Occasionally we have little kids wander in or fire alarms go off or power outages, but we roll with it. I’ll then save the files and leave them for a week or so.
The week after we record and then two weeks after that I’ll edit the two shows. Editing is both fun and tedious; it’s really cool to see a show come together, but man does it take a lot of time. Generally, I can expect to take between two to three hours for a single 50-minute show, and that’s if I’m going at a good clip.
What takes so long is that our podcast is ambitious with its use of music. Most podcasts will feature an opening and ending song, but the bulk is just talking and requires minimal editing. Ours weaves the seven track in and out of the conversation along with our standard Battle Bards intro, two additional music snippets during the opening talk, and a stinger track.
I use Audacity to edit, mostly because it was recommended and it was free. It took me a little while to learn what I needed to know, but now I feel quite comfortable with it. I’ll have three tracks on the screen at any given time: the top one being all of the music in the show, the middle one being our recorded conversation, and the bottom one being the current track that I’ll pulling segments from.
I’ve been asked why we don’t just play the full track. Not only would that really interrupt the format of the show (a lot of music then a lot of talking then a lot of music is actually dull) but it would be violating copyright law. Each one of these tracks is owned by someone who is not me, and so we have to be careful about this.
Initially I modeled Battle Bards on another podcast called Top Score, which I liked for its professional sound and its love of game music. I reached out to the host and asked her about the usage of music, of which she replied by saying that fair use allows us to broadcast 30-second clips “in the clear” (i.e. with no voices on top of them) for the purposes of review. So that’s what I’ve clung to. Every music snippet is actually around 45 seconds or 1:00, but I’ll only put 30 seconds of it without any voices, with the beginning and end fading in and out.
Getting the right parts of the track and making sure that the fade in/out sounds good and doesn’t obliterate our talk, not to mention finding good breaks in our conversation, is that fun/challenging part of editing.
So after I finish up with an episode, I’ll add podcast tags for iTunes and other sources to reference, then export it to an MP3.
As I’m mixing I’m also working up the blog post/show notes for that episode. I’ll go into Libsyn, our podcast host, and paste those notes into a second blog post (one for Libsyn and one for Bio Break), while also uploading the show to that site. I then set the show to release on 9:00 am on the next Tuesday, zip my co-hosts the links and blog post, and call it a wrap.
When the show actually comes out, I’m already well past thinking about it because it’s all automated at that point. The blog post and podcast is pre-scheduled, the podcast aggrigators pick up the new link, and Twitter gets our links out.
And there you have it — if I didn’t bore you to death with the details! We’ve got a new episode coming at you tomorrow morning, so stay tuned.