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How do I make my podcast?

Sunday, 15 December 2019

This podcast is in its very early days, but I already have a very fixed way I go about making it.

At the moment, the podcast has a cast of one: Me! That not only makes it easier to arrange (I only have my own diary to argue with) but easier to record.

But it would be very simple to just pick any story, sit in front of a mic, press record, and waffle on. That isn't me, however, and it wouldn't be very professional. So, my podcast goes through a very specific process.

Choosing the Story

Since my podcast is a storytelling podcast, before I do anything, I need a story. For the most part, this podcast will use traditional or well-known folk tales that are in the public domain. But I will be writing some of my own, and I hope to also include new ones from new writers.

The podcast is once a week and currently I am recording it on a Saturday. I probably should be recording it midweek, to be honest, so it is ready for the weekend, and I am going to look at that.

I start thinking about the next story as soon as the previous episode is up, but I don't make the final decision till later in the week. The story has to fulfil a few requirements. 

  • It needs to be more or less family friendly. That doesn't mean childish, by the way.
  • It has to run between fifteen and forty minutes, or can be edited to a more suitable length. This probably means making it longer rather than shorter as I am trying not to remove too much from stories.
  • It needs to be good! I rewrite the stories a little, so I am not worried if I have to make it easier to perform, but it is pointless if the plot is rubbish or I am uncomfortable about it.
  • It has to be a good fit with me and my podcast. If it isn't something that sounds like I would choose it, what is the point?

That little list gives me a bit of wriggle room. But having chosen my story-victim, I then need to go through it.

Editing the Story

I have created a Word Template for my podcast to keep myself organised. It has four sections: Show notes (for when I upload the finished podcast), Opening, The Story, End Section. The template is in Times New Roman, first line indented, twelve point, double line spacing. Why? Simply because that is easy to read from my iPad when I am recording. The double line space in particular allows me to mark up the script.

Some types of script, for instance interview or corporate scripts, don't have first line indentation and have space between paragraphs.  That works well. But with a story that has dialogue, that isn't so helpful. So publisher manuscript format is much nicer!

Once I paste in my story, I start working through it, speaking out loud all the time. I am looking for three things:

  • Any little changes that make it more "me" style-wise
  • Any problem issues like racism or sexism that have no place in the story - out they go.
  • Archaic phrasing that people might not get their heads around. Why should they? They aren't archaic people!

My goal is to use as much of the original writing or translation as possible and keep the flavour of the original piece. But I am the storyteller here, and it has to fit me, so I have no qualms about hacking it around a bit.

Dealing with problem issues can be quite hard. In the Golden Bird, the young man just kidnaps the princess and she doesn't get a say. Indeed, he is warned not to let her run to her father. So I changed it so that she had to really like the young man, and that her father was horrible. I wanted her to have a choice. With Thumbelina, that was easier, because Hans Christian Andersen appears to have had quite modern views, and the story is all about her having a choice, and trying to get out of forced marriages.

Recording the Story

Before I make the podcast episode, I record the story as a standalone.

I record on Cubase Pro and I have a specific template I use for recording audiobooks for clients. (Click here for my narration profile). I use that for recording the stories - several in each project, for instance all my Grimm stories are in one project.

This is so if, at a later date, I want to reuse these adaptations for an audiobook, they are all ready to go at the correct specs for Audible.

I edit heavily checking breaths, looking for little mistakes and so on. Unlike with chatting on the mic, people want the experience of listening to a story to be flawless.

Writing the Music

Having recorded the story and exported it to a WAV file, I then work on the music.

I don't use any fixed criteria other than it should be short and work! I don't buy in music, I compose my own. My little studio has keyboards, percussion, guitars, a voice booth and my editing desk, and they all have mics. So it is easy for me to wander around and just play with ideas. If you listen to the opening of the Thumbelina episode, you will hear a quick audio tour!

I use a lot of great instrument plugins, including the Hollywood Diamond Orchestra from EastWest, Kontakt Ultimate, and several other strange bits and pieces.

The trick is not to make it too complicated - at least, so it sounds simple. Obviously if I have an orchestra in there, even if it is playing a terribly simple melody, it might be 20 tracks of instrumentation!

But I am equally likely to record a solo recorder. I like solo recorders.

Once the music is done it is on with the podcast proper.

Recording the Podcast

Like with recording the story, I have template!

It contains the following tracks (though I can add more if I need):

  • Story Import (for the story which I have already recorded)
  • Intro section - Mic
  • End section - Mic
  • Outro section - Mic
  • Theme music in - Stereo track
  • Theme music out - Stereo track
  • Story music in - Stereo track
  • Story music out - Stereo track
  • Fx track - stereo

The reason I keep everything on separate tracks is so if I am editing, for instance the intro, I don't mess up the outro which is on the same track.

And, to be honest, it keeps my brain organised, especially if I am distracted or wander off halfway through!

I use busses for submixes. The story goes straight to the stereo master, but the mics go to a common Voice Bus which has the exact same processing as the voice bus on my story template. Music goes to a music bus, and effects go to an effects bus. Again, this is all about keeping organised.

I work from front to end. So, I import my theme music (which I composed), then run into the voice booth and record the intro. Once edited, I then mix the music against the voice to get that right.

Next, I import the story theme intro music and the story. Again, I line those up correctly and make sure the levels are correct.

Then I import the story theme outro music and record the end sections. I then add in the podcast outro theme.

And I am almost done. But I go back and check everything. I make sure the timings between the elements are good and I make sure the music level is correct. I am using automation so I ride the levels by hand (or with the mouse) to make it feel as natural as possible.  Trust me, auto ducking (where you use a compressor to duck music under a voice) never sounds nice! 

Once I am happy, I export it as a wav, and then convert it to an MP3 at 192kbps because I work in stereo.

Cinderella ShoeArtwork

There is only one thing left to do at this point - the artwork. I am creating bespoke artwork for each episode (the gods help me!).

Like everything else, I have a template! 

I use Affinity Designer and I have a template which has several artboards. A 3000px x 3000px artboard for the main image (I will also export a 1400x1400 version from that for Instagram and my own website). There is an SEO artboard which is for Twitter Cards and Facebook post image.  That is 1200x628px. I also have a template for Instagram stories and a couple of spares. All these already have the background artwork.

So, first of all, I create a large square document to draw the episode specific element - like the bloodied shoe on Cinderella.  Once I have done that, I will copy that into my template and create the various jpg files.


I am all ready to go now. Normally, I will start by doing the episode post on my website.

My website is a custom affair. I don't use Wordpress as Wordpress sites get hacked continuously. I use Processwire which is a framework, and I have developed a site from scratch with all the elements I need.

So, when I create a "new episode" in the admin, I get, guess what? Yep! A template! (There is a theme going on here).

It has fields for the episode image and the SEO image, it has an into field, it has a main text field, it has a transcript field (I just paste in my script from earlier), and a field for the embed code for the player. That could come from a podcast host or from Spotify, Apple, all kinds of places.

So, I create the web page, and simultaneously, I upload the MP3 to my podcast host, then grab the embed code.

And I am done. I just have to hit publish in all the right places.

The Future

For the moment, I will stick to this format, but later, I hope to add the odd short interview with authors or publishers or experts on folk tales. I will probably start this once I decide to accept story submissions.

But even with extra elements, I will still stick to a very organised way or working. 

I spent many years as an independent, freelance engineer and voice producer, and in that time worked on many productions for the BBC and others, particularly in comedy and documentary. And the best programmes, even if they were anarchic, were always beautifully planned.

If it ain't broke...