Protected: International Media – AKA what I leant from sitting in the corner

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  • Date May 20, 2016
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Episode #7 – Sweaty Palms 2

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26 Reece Street

I could never remember Melba’s boyfriend’s name. We’d met one night in a bar at The Rocks, a bit of a fancy bar where someone from uni was having a birthday. It was in a lovely old building, and a great bunch of people turned up. When you go to drama school though, you are enveloped in your own little world, in which you know nothing of the outside. Drama school feels like a really special bunch of people too, the amount of people that apply to get in is ridiculous and there aren’t many places, so to be picked to go, in most cases, means you’ve done something exceptional in your interviews. So it is a group of high function drama, craft and design focused individuals. I could imagine from the outside this sounds like a load of wank. So whenever someone brought along a partner who wasn’t one…

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Convergence of Media

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The project I have taken on for this subject is the project Meg has pitched. It’s a website come documentary, this provides an interesting case of convergence of media. The static website will crossover with traditional documentary, and web documentary. The website itself becomes the production though, rather than somewhere like YouTube where the site is just a conduit for the story. The experience starts as soon as you open the site.

My original case study “The Boat” produced by SBS, had a similar feel to it. The website became the entire space for the delivery of the production (albeit a few clicks to get to it from the SBS site). This kind of website is popping up more and more, and personally I think they are a great way to tell stories. As Kevin Spacey points out in the Mactaggart talk, a camera doesn’t know if it’s going to film a film or a TV show, the content is what is important and the format has to be whatever the audience is hungry for. So much life is spent on websites these days, so they may as well be used as a space for storytelling. People are hungry for a story.

To use Meg’s project as a way to explore a new space for storytelling will be a great project for my masters. I played around with a fiction piece that was completely web based in my first semester, this piece is documentary and is open ended. the fiction piece had a definite narrative and an ending. Meg’s idea is to build a space that has a bit of a non-fiction narrative, but one that can be added to by both us the production team, and by the subjects of the documentary who can choose to engage with the site on their own terms through photography. It’s a new experience, and it brings together video, photography, and the web, something I’ve never done before.

Simulation in modern audio media

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I think people have got to remember, that he’s like my best friend, and if there was three people agreeing it wouldn’t be a funny show. I certainly take on the role as class bully, Steve takes on the role of professorial mediator, but it’s just to get the best out of Karl, and he always wins. […] We’ve known each other now for ten years […] It’s like, that what mates do, that’s how I was brought up, that’s the whole thing, you poke someone until they come back, and you don’t mind if they come back with a zinger.

Ricky Gervais, on his relationship with Karl Pilkington on the groundbreaking podcast,”The Ricky Gervais Show”

The success of The Office took Ricky Gervais back to radio, where he first began as a comedian. His show on XFM featured co-writer Stephen Merchant, and producer Karl Pilkington. The show had a certain feeling to it, it wasn’t your typical FM loud announcers with an audio bed sprouting ill conceived competitions and segments. It was worse than that. It was almost as if they came in with no preparation done whatsoever, and just talked as if they were in the privacy of their own home. The show was rough around the edges, rough in the middle, and rough everywhere in between. But it was fantastic.

Once their stint at XFM was over, they decided that the dynamic was so good that they should continue it somehow. Podcasting was starting to surface at around the same time, but hadn’t yet had any real hits. Continuing the format of their XFM show, which is to say they did seemingly absolutely no preparation whatsoever, they went about making a series of podcasts, which lead them to an entry into the Guinness Book of Records.

Riding on the coattails of this success was Russell Brand, who also started out at XFM but managed to make his way to BBC Radio 6, then to the more prestigious BBC Radio 2 (before the show was subjected to quite a public axing). During it’s heyday, The Russell Brand Show gave The Ricky Gervais Show a good run for its money in the podcasting charts. On the show, Brand continuously promises to give out free ice-creams if they make it to the top of the podcast charts, which they manage one week while Ricky Gervais is on holiday.

What is significant about these shows is the atmosphere that is created. The formality of radio is stripped back, when you’re podcasting the rules change. During the 90’s, the radio I grew up with was a mix of talking and music. Then the MP3 player came along, and I just had to go online to find new things to listen too, direct to the music without the talking in between. This left a gap, one where some talking needed. The MP3 player had split radio in two for me, now the talking and the music were separate tracks I could shuffle in between. The talking no longer had to be about announcing the music, and the formality was stripped away.

What happened was a simulation of sitting around with friends. For me, the atmosphere of being back at an all boys school, poking fun at each other, pissing each other off for laughs. The podcast managed to recreate this nostalgia of the best teenage years spent with mates. It’s like being at the fun end of a dinner party with old friend where you just revert to your most natural states, relax, and laugh until the night ends.

There are some more recent podcasts that go for a similar simulation, where information is exchanged in an informal setting, much like if you were sitting around with friends. Under the Radar is a good example of this, where comedian Sean Hughes talks to all his friends that are working in stand-up comedy in the UK. Another is Stuff You Should Know, part of the popular site How Stuff Works, where Josh and Chuck tackle some fascinating subjects, feeding information to you as if they were sitting in your living room.

For my own work, I’d love to capture this almost jocular but inviting atmosphere. I listen to podcasts on public transport, somewhere that used to be oddly lonesome. A podcast is like having friends in your ears, I’d love to be able to create this feeling for other people.

The podcasting process

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Episode 1 is complete!

I’ve been organising the first and second episodes of my new project, “The Freshstock Podcast” over the past week.

Firstly, a note on the title. I registered a business name last year “Headstock Publishing” (initially it was going to be an eBook publishing service, but I think it still works for media production). I wanted a name that sounds like it makes you smarter, like your brain is being filled with knowledge, restocked. Also, when I was a kid I wanted to be a professional guitar player, and a headstock is a part of a guitar at the end of the neck where all the tuning pegs are. So, we keep being told to build our “brand” so I wanted a name for the podcast that kept with the theme of the name headstock. The podcast is about new and fresh music, therefore “freshstock”. Similarly if I go on to produce films, I will probably call it “filmstock” or something along those lines. Anyway, I digress.

The first thing I did once I decided to make a music podcast was to come up with a release form, which can be viewed here (password is listetome). I also entered into an online chat via the APRA/AMCOS website to find out if I had any obligations there, and they said as long as I have written acknowlegement from the artists that they hold all copyright, then I don’t have a financial obligation. Here’s a screenshot of the conversation (used with permission):Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.33.16 pm

I have set up the release form as an online form, this makes it easier for the modern age, rather than having to print something out and sign it and scan it, the musicians are asked to read through and fill out fields at the bottom of the page. This has proven very useful, as I have had very quick responses all around from the five artists who have signed so far. I’m quite proud of how I’m handling the release form side of things, I thought it would be a headache but actually everyone has participated in this process very willingly.

In terms of sourcing the content, I put this ad on Gumtree:

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.29.00 pm

This actually didn’t bear much fruit, I got three replies. They have quite specific categories for “Musicians Wanted” on Gumtree, but I think I needed to target my search further. So I went to my own network and asked specific friends if they’d like to participate, so two of the three songs on the first episode will be people I know. This comes back to an idea from last semester, the minimum viable product. Making something with resources at hand, in this case it’s human resources. The second episode will have the other two gumtree entrants.

I joined a Facebook group called Melbourne Musicians, and this has proven a lot better than Gumtree already in the day or so the ad/post has been up. I’ve had two more people apply, one expression of interest, and one person who applied, listened and gave me some feedback. I think in the next week I will engage with more fairly specific Facebook groups such as this one.

So, these are the positives. The negatives…

Hosting a podcast properly requires skills in using XML format and RSS feeds. Don’t ask me why, I have a very basic understanding of what this even means. So I had to find other ways to get my content online. Podcasting services cost money too, and I wanted to do this all for free. I found an article that detailed how to host a podcast free from your Google Drive, that was a waste of two hours. (See it here at your peril). I then discovered that it was possible to host right from a WordPress blog, it creates an RSS feed and all relevant XML data automatically. This was relatively simple, but once the podcast was submitted it took days (the Apple Store said 24hours… hmm) for it to appear online. I have two entries up at the moment (episode 0 is a callout to artists, episode 1 is the show proper), and both entries have been very random in the time they take to appear, making it very hard to know if I’ve done things right.

Then I realised I didn’t know if WordPress monitors the traffic through the iTunes store. I’m still unable to answer this, there is a section in the dahsboard that seems to have some info from iTunes, but the number of downloads is lower than the number of people who has told me they have listened (and by this I mean they have discussed stuff within the show too, so I know they’ve listened).

I’ve signed up to a free service called Podtrac, which appears to be the industry standard, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. My IT skills just aren’t quite there and even though I’ve followed instructions as best I can, I don’t know if it is working. The site claims it scans the RSS feed every half hour, but nearly 24 hours after Episode 1 showed up in iTunes, it hadn’t shown up on Podtrac. Checking now, the episode is now present, but it says that it has had zero listens. I have contacted the company for help and await a reply.

I don’t want to go too much into the actual technical making of the podcast, or reflect on my presenting, as this is not what I set out to do. But just a note to say I’m reasonably happy with the quality of the sound (although I’m going to trial a different mic next week) and the feedback I’ve had so far has been positive.

The scripting came fairly naturally to me, I didn’t have to do much research. I’m talking about a topic I love, so the pleasantries were all easy to write. I have a couple of segments that people have enjoyed so far, one that gives home recording hints (again, something I don’t need to research), and another where I will come up with band names for those in need. So far I don’t have any band that have contacted me yet, but I think I will invent some to get the ball rolling. This segment adds an element of light comedy (super light actually, it’s not that funny but perhaps a bit whimsical).

I also included an anecdote, this was actually just a Facebook update I made earlier in the day, just an observation about a Hipster on my tram, it got a lot of likes so I decided to weave it into the podcast. It was great to have already tested out the anecdote on social media, and one of the listeners has already said that this was his favourite part.

I always carry notebooks around with me, and I found I was able to write the first script while I was on my way to the city on the train. I’m in the habit of writing in notebooks, so I think this will go well for me. I’ll be interested to hear how people respond to the content in further episodes.

Despite not yet cracking how to track my listenership, I’m having a cracking time making it. I think I will post it up on Soundcloud too, as I know the audience tracking is pretty easy on there. I’m looking forward to recording the next episode!