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February 25th, 2013

Boskone Panel Notes: Podcasting a Wide Net

This panel happened on Sunday at 11am. It was my last panel of the con, and a very pleasant one to end on. Heather Dale was the music guest of honor, and she was astonishingly bright and cheerful despite it being the end of the con, and despite the fact that she hadn't even been awake long enough to eat a meal. In fact, everyone on the panel and in the audience was lovely.

This is not a true transcript. As always with my panel notes, it's just whatever I can remember based on my scribblings. These notes are incomplete and likely full of errors. Please feel free to offer additions or corrections in the comments.

Here's the official blurb:

It started with monologues and interviews, but panel shows and fiction readings now generate the most buzz for SF/F/H's new-tyme "radio." It's like a con in your computer (or your pocket), whenever you want! What are today's must-listen podcasts? How can you create, distribute, and promote your own? How do first-class casters keep the talk flowing?
Bob Kuhn (M), Heather Dale, Elizabeth Bear, Julia Rios, Kate Baker

Bob Kuhn is a professional voiceover artist with scads of impressive credits, and a gorgeous voice. You can hear samples of his narration on his website.

Heather Dale, Boskone's music guest of honor, is a Canadian musician who writes "songs for modern dreamers" (inspired by fantasy, history, and legend). She also has a podcast which has some of her songs along with commentary about them. You can listen to the first episode here.

Elizabeth Bear is a Hugo-winning writer and podcaster. Her most recent novel is Range of Ghosts (a sequel is coming out in March!), and she's won two Hugo Awards for short fiction (for "Tideline" in 2008 and "Shoggoths in Bloom" in 2009), and one Hugo Award in the fancast category for the SF Squeecast.

Julia Rios is me. I am a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. I am a regular on The Skiffy and Fanty Show (most frequently on the Torture Cinema episodes, wherein we discuss bad SF movies), and I host the Outer Alliance Podcast (celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction). I have also narrated stories and poems for PodCastle, Pseudopod, and Strange Horizons.

Kate Baker is the Hugo-winning Podcast Director for Clarkesworld Magazine. She's also narrated stories for several other publications, including Starship Sofa, Escape Pod, and The Drabblecast. In 2011 her narration of "The Things" by Peter Watts was a finalist for the Parsec award.

Bob: Started panel by introducing panelists, then talked a bit about what a podcast is (something you can download free--can be video or audio, fiction, or non-fiction). After that he gave some equipment tips. He mentioned draping the recording space with moving blankets to reduce echoes, and recommended the Harlan Hogan Voiceover Essentials product line.

Heather: As a musician, she's a fan of doing things on a shoestring budget. Not everyone can afford moving blankets, for instance. She's done professional recordings by throwing comforters over mic stands to get the same sound-absorbing effect.

Kate: Records in a recording booth that's painted to look like the TARDIS [how awesome is that!?] with wooden walls outside and foam lining inside. It's good to have a hard surface outside to reflect sounds, and soft surfaces inside to absorb sounds. If you don't have a recording booth, you can also talk into a box lined with soft material.

Bear: If you know a drummer, borrow their practice room. Drummers have a lot of experience with soundproofing. The Squeecast has a different challenge though, since they have 5 people who meet via Skype. They don't have one central recording location.

Bob: The human ear is remarkably good at recognizing different environments. Post production is important.

Bear: The Squeecast has a sound editor who tries to minimize non-vocal noise in the podcast, but their goal is mainly to be clear and audible, not to sound like they are in one place. They had a pretty steep learning curve. If you listen to the first episodes, you can hear how far they've come.

Julia: I also do a lot of podcast recording over Skype, and I often record panels in large convention rooms with an iPad. None of these are great for voiceover quality recording, but the content is the main thing. I produce all the Outer Alliance podcast episodes, and try to edit for clarity in GarageBand (because I have a Mac, and that's the default recording software). I also often run files through The Levelator, especially if participants are speaking at different volumes.

Bear: Common Skype problems include, skipping, lag, distortion, and weird robotic sounding voice. Sometimes it helps to stop the recording session and have people restart the program before continuing.

Julia: I tend to also ask people whose words are being mangled by the Skype connection to stop and repeat their sentences. If I can't hear them well, I know my listeners won't be able to either.

Bob: Do you ever have people record their side of the conversation and send you the file?

Julia: That's a great idea in theory, but in practice, no. I'm usually happy if people I'm interviewing manage to get on Skype in the first place. I can't count on others having recording software, or the knowledge of how to use it.

[Speaker not listed in notes]: recommends Podcasting For Dummies as a good guide to starting a podcast from the ground up.

Bob: How do you promote a podcast?

Heather: Start a mailing list and e-mail subscribers whenever a new episode is up.

Bear: For the Squeecast, getting George R. R. Martin on the show as a guest was a major thing. Their audience doubled.

Bob: How long is a good podcast?

Kate: There is no one good length. It depends on content, style, etc. That said, 15 minutes to one hour is a pretty good ballpark.

Bear: Enjoys the Titatnium Physicists Podcast, which always runs for half an hour. When she was a guest, they had so much fun they talked for 90 minutes, but for the show, the podcasters whittled it down to 30 minutes and then released an outtakes file.

Julia: I like podcasts of many different lengths. For podcasts that run longer than one hour, I tend to listen in chunks. I'll do dishes, put the podcast down for a while, then take a walk later and turn it back on. For people who are creating longer podcasts, it's good to recognize that a lot people will likely not be listening all in one go. A hard limit for me is probably around two hours, though.

Bob: Last tips for podcasters, or mistakes beginners make?

Heather: On the topic of microphones, you can go to a music store and rent a microphone for a day. This is pretty cheap, and a great way to really test how the microphone will sound with your voice and in your recording environment. Good idea to do this before spending a lot of money on buying a microphone.

Kate: Have an image that people will see when they play the podcast on their phone. Visual reminder is good.

Julia: One thing that pains me as a listener is if there are big interruptions in the flow of the conversation. If a dog barks for several minutes, or there's a phone ringing loudly in the background, it can really distract from the content. Good idea to re-record things said during those points and edit the noisy parts out in post-production if possible.

Bear: For group discussions, it helps to have a moderator (like the Lynne Thomas on the Squeecast) whose job is to keep the conversation on track and make sure people aren't talking over each other.

Bob: Which podcasts do you like to listen to?

[I didn't write down speakers, so here are podcast names in no particular order]

*Quirks and Quarks (science)
*Grammar Girl (grammar tips)
*Writing Excuses (writing tips)
*PodCastle (fantasy stories)
*Escape Pod (science fiction stories)
*The Drabblecast (strange stories)
*Fantasy Faction (story reviews)
*Ask Kaylee Frye (Tumblr Podcast)
*Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews (film reviews)
*The Coode Street Podcast (general discussion of SF)
*Titanium Physicists (science)
*The Writer and the Critic (specultive fiction book reviews)
*SciShow (science videos)
*Galactic Suburbia (feminist SF discussion)

We all like more podcasts, but that was the end of the panel time, so we had to cut our recommendations short. Please feel free to share your favorite podcasts and/or podcasting tips in the comments. To see more panel notes, click the panel notes tag. This is the last of six panel notes posts from this year's Boskone. I will, however, be putting the QUILTBAG panel online for the next episode of the Outer Alliance Podcast.

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