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Posted by Carl on Dec 23, 2010

Behind The Mic Part 3 – Show Preparation

Behind The Mic is a series of Blog Articles we are going to release about the trials and tribulations of two guys starting a podcast. We will go over how we got started, what goes into each show, and finally just explaining how the whole thing comes together. Even if you aren’t interested in running a podcast yourself, we thought you might enjoy this series.

We have now talked about the equipment involved and the editing required to put out an episode of The Independent Characters, but what good is any of that without content?

When we first started the show, we decided to focus entirely on 40k only. We felt that we played this game exclusively and it was really the subject matter we wanted to tackle. As you have seen by our charter, there are a few key ways we tried to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the Podcasting community.

These boiled down to the following:

  • News Segments – We didn’t feel there was a need to do “news” segments. We would touch on new things here or there, but typically in the course of conversation. There are WAY too many web sites, blogs, and other podcasts out there that ALL do news about the hobby. Why rehash the same old thing? We didn’t see any value in that.
     

    Another problem with news segments in podcasts is timing. Just recently, if you are up on the show, you have heard our new cast member Zach. We had some specific information regarding a new product coming out – sent to us by the author of that product. We even had permission to share that information. However, before we recorded, it was released on several other blogs.  

    Zach expressed to me that we had been “scooped”. The fact that our show releases once every two weeks, almost guarantees we will be “scooped” on any news bit. So no “news” segment on our show.

  • Codex Overviews – Wow this was a tough one. As of this writing, the most recent codex to come out is the Dark Eldar Codex. This is a product that some people have waited in excess of 10 years to be updated. This is huge! I personally think the new codex is very nice. The models are great. But before the codex had even come out, two other podcasts had done in depth looks at it (by reviewing the preview copies in the store or getting them through other sources or by nefarious means). Some had even been playing games with it already.
     

    Again, we run into a problem of everyone sharing the same content. The source of this content (in this case the codex itself) is the same for everyone looking at it. So the content is BASICALLY going to be the same. The worst of this coverage consists of the host reading the units right out of the codex without any real context around the army as a whole.

    Sisters of Battle New Codex

    Of course some podcast or article might come up with a combination of units or some particular build that is unique – but in general the content is all the same. We didn’t want to run with the pack, so much as make our own trail. So Codex Reviews out as well.

Well now we have put out what we didn’t want to talk about, what’s left? As regular segments we wanted to cover a couple of things:

  • Positive Approach – We wanted to make our listeners feel like they were a part of our gaming group. We didn’t want to be preachy or try to shove our opinions down others throats. We just wanted to share what we loved about this hobby. We would always promote our hobby, experience, and play in a positive way as well.
     

    There are enough podcasts and blogs out there that complain or are very negative about everything GW does. Again, it’s easy to take shots at things you don’t like. I personally feel it’s harder to build something than tear it down.

  • Hobby Progress – Not only do we personally find listening to others hobby progress to be very interesting and inspiring, putting our own progress (or lack thereof!) out there for others to hear, forces us to push on through those roadblocks which can prevent us from fielding painted models or improving our game.
  • Games Played – Sharing exciting instances of game play as well as sharing what we learned from each game is fairly valuable. We are typically addressing a wide range of gamers skill levels so half the time we are not only talking about what we learned, but soliciting feedback about our play as well. Again this is something we personally enjoy listening to others talk about when we gather, so we decided to include it.

Both of the above topics are covered on about every other podcast. However, the source material is very different. While I may be working on Chaos Space Marines, guys from Worlds End Radio, or Imperial Vox Cast are likely working on their own projects. So while the concept is identical, the content is actually vastly different.

Other than our show closing, those are the only two “regular” segments on the show. So what do we fill the other 2 hours with? That’s where it gets difficult.

If you listen to our earlier shows, we discuss a variety of things across one episode. Eventually we decided to theme each episode around a particular topic or subject. Some of these subjects are very specific (ie: Planetstrike, Apocalypse, etc) while some of them are more ephemeral (ie: Fitting Hobby into your busy life, GW Retrospective, etc).

On a couple of occasions we had been “scooped” by other podcasts (unintentionally) where we were going to produce a show on a particular topic only to have another podcast release the day before we recorded with a similar or exact same topic.

In an attempt to avoid this from happening again, we decided to go ahead and pre-announce what we would be covering on our next episode. We would metaphorically “put a stake in the ground” on that particular topic. Other podcasts were welcome to cover it as well, but we felt we had shown our hand and explained to the general community what we would be covering next.

Most podcasters in the hobby are very supportive of each other. We all pretty much talk (at least most of us) on a regular basis. We share sound quality information, ideas, and other thoughts. At this point we have communicated with almost all of the major podcasts you have heard about (minus one or two) and have each other on buddy lists for Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, or whatnot. It really is a great and supportive community for the most part and we are all in it to enjoy ourselves.

Up until this point we were coming up with the next topic of our show after completing one. But now we were announcing our next content prior to even recording it or really doing much in the way of research. This required us to really get our act together and lay out the topic of shows in advance a bit further.

As Zach joined the crew, and he lives remotely from Geoff and Carl, we decided that we should lay out a series of topics for the show over a long period of time. We spent a week or so tossing ideas around and now we are sitting on about six months worth of topics. We have them slotted into our schedule loosely at this time. The topics are scheduled roughly around how the various topics fit together (one leading into another) and pretty much Games Workshops and Forge Worlds expected schedules (some of it based on rumor and/or speculation) The schedule is flexible so that if something comes up that wasn’t expected in the hobby, we can quickly shift gears and cover that new topic.

When preparing for a show, we create an outline of each topic so that we don’t forget any particular point. This is stored on a section of our message board only visible to the cast. We typically print this out prior to the show so we have it next to us and can make notes on it as the show progresses.

In the event we are covering something like Apocalypse or Planetstrike (as we have already done), we definitely want to play the game. So we have to set aside specific time to play at least one scenario, though typically we would want to do more than that. This is the only way for us really have firsthand knowledge of what we are talking about. There is nothing that annoys us more than listening to someone drone on about how something sucks when they haven’t taken the time to actually try it out!

If we are covering a Black Library book or an Imperial Armour product, we most definitely want to read the thing thoroughly first.

As you can imagine, playing games for research, reading books, etc. all takes a bit of time. So it helps us tremendously to know our schedule out in advance as far as possible.

Do we get facts wrong from time to time? Sure we do, but we do make every effort to get things right and give you an overall picture of what we are talking about. Getting caught up on every specific detail doesn’t really tell the whole story.

I mentioned Imperial Armour coverage just a moment ago. Eventually we found this particular niche that resonated well with our listeners. This was stoked from our coverage of Imperial Armour 5-7: The Siege of Vraks. Carl was such a huge fan of this product that he wanted to share its awesomeness with the listeners.

This was an expensive and somewhat “boutique” item. Most people didn’t know much about it or understand exactly what it was. Our coverage of it struck a nerve and garnered a lot of immediate and positive reaction from listeners. So much that we decided right then and there to make the coverage of Imperial Armour products “ours”. Other podcasts weren’t really doing this. Some blogs were, but we felt we could bring value to this conversation in an audio medium.

To date we have now covered the previously mentioned Siege of Vraks (IA 5-7), The Raid of Kastoral-Novem (IA 8), and The Badab War Part 1 (IA 9). We are very proud of this coverage and in fact we have recently attracted the attention of the Forge World author Alan Bligh who actually listened to our coverage of his product and wrote to us!

We also need to now make certain we are including any advertisers commercials, and/or mentions in the show at appropriate times. Someone’s got to pay the bills around here!

It seems like each time we go into the preparation for a show, one of us will typically feel really GOOD about the upcoming show, and the other won’t have a strong feeling about it. As we get closer to actually recording the show, we usually flip flop on it. The person who was “driving” the episode becomes less sure of themselves, and the other one becomes more confident of the show.

In the end however, it has all seemed to work out pretty well so far. We have had some episodes that are better than others, but each on is a learning experience. And hopefully the show continues to improve with each one.

Taking all of this into account, it can take anywhere from four hours to produce a show requiring little in the way of research, to twelve to fifteen hours for shows requiring more preparation up front.

We are constantly looking for ways to innovate the show effectively. For example, as it stands now, we are still evaluating the layout of the show and how we prepare for it. We are heading in a direction where, when we think of the show we try to equate it to a magazine. In the future you may see us preparing shows obviously around one particular theme, but with sub sections around it.

So take for example, the aforementioned Planetstrike – We could do an overall show themed around Planetstrike and the show would break down into the following sections:

  • Show Intro
  • Hobby Progress & Games Played
  • Overview of Planetstrike Rules
  • Planetstrike Terrain
  • Playing Planetstrike
  • Planetstrike Tactics
  • Show Close

In this method we break down the primary theme of the show (Planetstrike) and then touch on each of the ancillary topics surrounding it (Rules, Terrain, Coverage of our playtest, and tactics we could use in future Planetstrike games).

So that’s it, in a very large nutshell! To us, you can always tell when a Podcast has prepared very little for what they are about to put out, we also turn that same magnifying glass on ourselves with each episode we do. In fact, we are probably more critical of our own show than any others out there.

Next: Recording The Show

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