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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Making Of

Listener Alexander asked for some feedback for his upcoming Persian history podcast.  I thought TAW listeners might be interested in the information as well:

How long did it take you to write the first episode/ how long does it take you to write a typical episode now that you're in full swing?

It’s hard to recall the timing on Episode 1, but I can certainly tell you how long it takes nowadays. The first step is finding a few good reference books (or other materials) and perusing them.  The time needed for that can vary pretty widely.  After I’ve reviewed the materials, the next (and main) step involves around 8 – 12 hours of solid writing.  Then I usually let the draft episode “sit” for a few days, then come back to it once or twice more to fine-tune things a bit.  When you add in researching pronunciations, etc., I’d say 12 – 16 hours of work per episode is pretty ballpark, and 20 isn’t unusual.  Which is why I decided to go with a 2-week schedule.  Since I have a “regular job,” this is all evenings and weekends for me.

How do you sort out contradictory accounts? I want to get my facts straight, but I'm beginning to realize there are always going to be 10 people with 11 different versions of the story.

Even using primary sources, this can be a tough one.  I do my best to cross-check important (or dubious!) facts across multiple accounts; then you can have some reassurance you’re relating the most solid version of the story.  Where differing accounts can’t be reconciled, I try to relate what’s considered the most plausible, well-documented and/or commonly accepted version, but also mention that there are other possible versions.  I recall doing this with, for example, both the death of Croesus and with Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. 

How forgiving, on a scale from 1 to Assyrian (1 being very forgiving and Assyrian being "display my skin at a dinner party") are the listeners about mistakes?

Since I’ve rarely been called out on any mistakes, and I’m pretty sure I must’ve made a few along the way, I can only assume TAW listeners are VERY forgiving!  Oh, except they do get annoyed when you don’t pronounce the K in “Knossos.”

What did your outlines/drafts look like for each episode? Was there a general formula?

In my experience, six single-spaced pages comes out to around 30 minutes of podcast, which is typically around the length I’m shooting for.  My usual approach is to intentionally over-write a bit, then come back and edit out the less important chunks (“trim the fat”) and still end up at around 30 minutes.  Other than that, the only “formula” I had for the original series was trying to discuss around three different civilizations per episode.  But formulas can also be a double-edged sword.  I’d mainly concentrate on finding your own voice, and letting your genuine passion for the material shine through.

Is there anything technical that you didn't know going in that would be useful for me?

I try to keep my logistics as simple as possible since, although I AM and engineer, I am NOT a technophile.  I use Audacity to record my audio files (using a Yeti Blue USB microphone) and convert them to MP3’s, then use FileZilla to transfer them to my file hosting website.  I’ve only had one major technical issue I can think of (knock on wood!): If you use Google Feedburner to burn your podcast feeds, by default it only keeps the most recent 25 posts active.  That means, for example, that when I posted my 26th blog post, Episode 1 was no longer appearing in iTunes (my 27th post knocked out Episode 2, etc.).  Luckily, a listener told me how to change the number of active posts in Feedburner from the default 25 to any number (mine’s currently set for 99), which fixed the problem.  Oh, and in an unrelated (but still technical) vein, investing some time in learning how to edit your audio files will reduce your stress when you keep “blowing that one line” in your podcast script.  Take it from me - good editing can cover a multitude of sins.

Hope this information is useful.  Now go make history!
Scott C.

9 comments:

  1. As usual, scott excellent work. I listen on my ipad, late at night, and generally set the timer to end when episode ends. I last 15mins. So I listen2x to each episode. Cheers

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  2. Scott,

    Came back to the site to listen to the Phoenician segments of TAW again and noticed the new series. TAW is my personal favorite of all the history podcasts but Rediscoveries just doesn't have the continuity to keep me hooked. I still maintain that you are the person to do a proper Alexander or Hellenistic period podcast. You've laid the groundwork better than anyone else. The complexities and back stories of the territories the Macedonians conquered are usually summed up by casually mentioning the Greco-Persian Wars and showing a map of the Persian empire. TAW blows that simplicity out of the water and gives us a real understanding of Tyre, Egypt, Babylon and everything in between. At the very least, consider it. I'd be excited to see it.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! Glad you enjoyed the original series, and I appreciate your confidence that I could do justice to Alexander and his Successors. Unfortunately, I'm not currently planning a series of that magnitude. After "Rediscovery" wraps, it's likely I'll do some sort of "Spotlight" series on a semi-regular basis. I also tend to be more drawn to "under-represented" topics and cultures, so we'll have to see where that takes me. Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. PS I will mention that I one time envisioned doing a follow-on series from 500BC to 500 AD exclusively from a Near Eastern perspective (which would at least partly fulfill what you're looking for), but that may be quite a bit down the road.

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  3. It really is well-worn territory. What are you thinking of covering with the "Spotlight" series? I like the idea of watching the Romans through an eastern lens. 500 BC to around the time of Christ would be from the perspective of Persians for the first 150 years and from the Hellenistic Kingdoms' and Seleucian perspectives for the remaining 350 years. That sounds great and we never get that side of the story in the west. I'm not sure how the remaining 500 years would look seeing as the area is occupied by the Romans for most of that time period. Are you thinking of it as an account of the occupation?

    There are a lot of under represented cultures in the western narrative. TAW proved that you can take one of those cultures and make it interesting despite our (the audience) limited prior knowledge. Overcoming the strange pronunciations through characterization is also easier in podcasts given the unlimited time. There are still some big ones I really hope someone covers. First and foremost, the Chinese.

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    1. Hi! Well, a lot can change in a few days. Since I last responded to you, a very exciting idea came to me for a podcast series that is 1) longer than I was originally planning, and 2) would (coincidentally) be at least partially responsive to your request. I'm going to leave things there for now, but keep an eye out for something new coming over the next couple months. Take care! - Scott C.

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  4. Leaving us in suspense, eh? I'll be sure to check back for that. As long as it's an extensive series, I'm on board. Until then, take care!

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  5. "Alexander" is going to tackle the Persians, huh? Nice.

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