Curious: I’m always so impressed with just how epic your podcast is. You have so many different types of segments and each of them deep dives into different topics, and we get about three hours of content every month. It’s so great for the listener!
Emma Grant: Every month we’re like, “How did we wind up with three hours of content!”
Drinkingcocoa: Oh no, not again!
Caroline: At the same time we cut down so much! We try really hard not to give you more than three-and-a-half hours.
Emma Grant: We could put out a really shitty eight-hour podcast.
Drinkingcocoa: It might not even be that shitty. It’s just that we are limited by our labor and by how much time we have, and how long a podcast can be before it’s not downloadable. A lot of our labor every month goes towards cutting things down by at least fifty percent.
Caroline: In my case often more than that, because I am the worst moderator.
Emma Grant: One time Caroline interviewed Jinglebell, and it was hours!
Caroline: Mind you, our longest segments are supposed to be about thirty minutes. So you take your audio and you whittle it down, and ideally you start with about an hour, or an hour-and-ten minutes and you cut it to about thirty minutes. You can get a pretty good conversation out of that.
I spoke on Skype with Jinglebell for four hours. Granted there was a pee break and there was a moment where she got up, and we just talked about all kinds of shit. And in the end it was the most preposterous thing. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard me or Jinglebell talk, but when we get in a room together it’s like micro machines. I’ve only had to slow down the audio speed of two people using Audacity the audio program, and those two people are myself and Jinglebell.
I managed to whittle it down to about 38 minutes before I gave up. All the segments that are too long are generally mine.
Curious: How do you choose your themes every month? What’s that process like?
Emma Grant: We probably have about ten or fifteen active people on the main staff at any one time. We have a monthly meeting where we try to plan about three or four episodes ahead. We try to always know what we’re doing up through four months from now, so sometimes we pick a theme and then we go back and go “no.” For example, last year, the episode that was going to be on June 1st was going to be “gender issues in fandom”. And then we had that huge blowup after 221B con, so we all decided not to do it. I think instead we made it something silly and cracky like “Sherlock goes on vacation.”
Drinkingcocoa: It was our escapist episode.
Emma Grant: We still haven’t done gender issues in fandom. We’re putting that off until next spring. I think we have it slated for March, maybe? So yes, we do plan ahead and we also have some episodes that we always do, like the September episode is always the Sextember episode.
Drinkingcocoa: February is always either Femslash or Fandom February.
Emma Grant: We did Kinktober after last year’s sex episode, because we had so much content for the sex episode that it was running over. Our cup runneth over! It also depends on what the show is doing. January is Sherlock’s birthday but this January’s episode will be focused on the Special.
Caroline: It’s also our anniversary episode as well. Our birthday is also Sherlock’s birthday so I’m really pushing for a Sign of Three something for this January. Sign of Three Patch?
Emma Grant: But it’ll probably be more like, “Oh my freaking God! Squeeee!”
Caroline: Three hours of incoherent babbling.
Curious: Since you have an idea what’s coming down the pipeline, do you just create all of the segments for the current episode, or do you record segments in advance?
Emma Grant: Both. We have a bunch of running segments that maybe don’t show up in every single episode. The news shows up in every episode, while the sorting segments and shipping segments and things like that, maybe show up in every other episode. But basically when we’re in the planning meeting, we’re thinking, “Okay, three months from now we’re going to have this episode and this is the theme, what should we do?” Then we just brainstorm about what segments could there be and that list gets whittled down. If someone feels really interested in taking something on they’ll volunteer to do it, and then that person will become the producer of that segment.
The segment producer will put it all together, contact all the people, schedule everything, do the recording, be responsible for getting it edited, and get musical selections. They also collect all the information that goes in the show notes. They basically take charge of everything. People take charge of things as they have the time and energy and interest and it always somehow works out. We always end up with three hours of content.
Drinkingcocoa: Usually we plan for more, because we know that something will happen or someone is gonna be too busy, but we’ve gotten so long that even if we drop two huge segments, we would still have a really a big podcast.
Caroline: I feel like that happened with the November episode. A whole interview just kind of fell off, but we still had three hours. Even so, like a crazy person I’m always pushing for something more. Like we could do a last-minute segment or something like that. It’s horrible, I don’t know why I do that to myself…
Curious: What is the role of the overall show producer? What do they have to take on?
Emma Grant: The episode producer role rotates, but the episode producer basically becomes the leader of the podcast for that month. They organize and run the meeting, they check at the meetings how the segments are going, and who needs support. They make sure that everything gets done to get that podcast out on time. They’re responsible for getting it posted, putting the show notes together, talking to Fox about artwork, making the lineup, and for going through and making sure that everything makes sense and we’re not missing a bumper somewhere. Their job is just to make sure that it happens, then they hand that to somebody else the next month so nobody gets burned out.
When I did Slashcast, I was the producer for two years and it was so hard. I was so done. But now we get to take breaks. We get to step back and have a smaller role. If you have to step out of an entire month or go on vacation, you can just come back when you’re ready. So that’s one of the things that I love about how this group is organized. There’s always somebody ready to step up and be the leader and so you can step back when you need to. I love it.
Caroline: All the segments are produced inside about two to six weeks. Six weeks is rare. Our monthly meetings are the first Sunday of every month, so that means that sometimes it’s on the 6th. Our segment deadlines are the 25th or so of every month, because everything gets wrapped up together and put out on the 1st. So there’s less than a week between the internal segment deadline and the episode going out.
But when our monthly meetings are on the 5th or 6th, then if someone doesn’t really own a segment until the monthly meeting, you only have about two-and-a-half weeks to get a segment together, including getting the right people together, and hopefully have an edited product at the end.
I think we do a lot of editing. I think a lot of podcasts don’t do a lot of editing, again it’s difficult for me to say because I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but when I listen to one here and there they seem very open-ended. I might feel this artificially because I ramble so much that I have to edit mine down a crazy amount. Other people seem to stay on task.
Drinkingcocoa: Even for the people who are really tight, there’s a lot of editing happening. Every once in awhile we joked about figuring out how much time we spent on a single segment and no one wanted to do it because then we would have to face up to how much time we put into it.
Caroline: I think it would go into grounds for divorce.
Drinkingcocoa: Finally one day, I just bit the bullet and tracked this one segment I made that was thirty minutes. I did an hour of admin for it, meaning emails and getting the people together. Then I did four hours of research, to make sure that I had the right balance of information and that I wasn’t leaving out anything major, and replying to thoughtful emails from somebody who was going to be a guest on the segment. The recording took two hours because nobody wanted to stop because this was everyone’s passion. Then I had to clean up the audio, make the audio less fuzzy and remove the parts that weren’t relevant. After that I sent the files to Emma for her to level the voices and make them all more or less similar in volume. The file she sent back to me was about one-and-a-half hours of talking and I had to edit that down to 30 minutes.
Emma Grant: How many tracks was it again?
Drinkingcocoa: It must have been four or five. The editing took me fifteen hours because literally you have to manipulate almost every second of sound and remove all of the “ums” because that’ll take two-tenths of a second off, and you’re trying to clean out everything you can so that you can keep as much content as you can. You have to balance it to make sure that everyone gets a voice, and make sure the major points are covered. Sometimes you have to move around huge chunks so that the finished conversation has a flow and makes sense.
Then at the end of it you have thirty minutes and it took fifteen hours to pull together. After that, about an hour was spent exporting everything as separate files and uploading them to Emma so that she could review it and make the final edit. We had to pull out the parts that were recommendations because Caroline needed that material for the “That’s My Division” segment. Emma did post processing and tracked down the show notes and figured out the bumpers, which took her ninety minutes… and that’s only counting the work Emma and I did.
Caroline: We have about four thirty-minute segments and then another two to four fifteen-minute segments, which is why I give up at getting my segments down to thirty-seven minutes because it usually takes me about twenty hours to get there.
Drinkingcocoa: So I would estimate that I spend an hour for every minute of finished content, but that’s just me. Other people may be way faster or slower; I’ve no idea.
Caroline: I think that sounds right.
Curious: It sounds like you all do a wide range of things for the podcast. What skills have you picked up along the way?
Emma Grant: So many. I remember when we started Slashcast none of us had ever done anything with audio before. We spent the first two months just trying to figure out everything, asking around and trying to figure out: Do I need a microphone? What software do I need? I remember I opened up Audacity for the first time and screamed, “I don’t even know what I’m doing!”
We recorded things that had terrible audio that we couldn’t fix, and all of these bad things that happened, but you just sort of learn. Slashcast started in about 2006, which was nine years ago. I haven’t been continually podcasting for nine years, but probably for seven of those nine years there’s been some podcasting going on, so I’ve learned a hell of a lot. We’re constantly learning. We’re bringing in people like fffinnagain who has incredible audio expertise. She’s taught us so much. It’s stunning actually how much we’ve been able to improve our audio quality by just having someone who knows what they’re doing.
Drinkingcocoa: Who knows why we should be doing something.
Caroline: A lot of what we learn is the vocabulary of what we don’t know. fffinnagain has that vocabulary and basically was like, “Let’s talk about this.”
Emma Grant: She made this great PowerPoint presentation for us at a retreat in New Orleans. She prepared slides and showed us graphs and we were all just staring at the screen saying, “This is incredible!”
Drinkingcocoa: Oh that’s why I sound so terrible! I see.