Monday, 19 April 2010

Fadeout: What makes the show tick (despite my input).

Twice a week, every week, my show is streamed out to the world over a bit of copper or optical fibre to an amount of people far beyond my concept of visualisation. It's a staggering thought to comprehend, and for the sake of keeping my brain relatively intact I try not to think about it often. Either way you look at it, it's not a bad result for a few hours per week on a laptop in my 'studio'.
And yes, my 'studio' is what other people call a 'living room'.

So, what does it take for my show to be put together? The internet provides an awesome number of avenues to go down as a broadcaster; several freeware programs exist for recording podcasts but I won't list them here-you can Google them yourself and prepare to drown in an avalanche of information on what to use, how to record, what to record and what all the funny little names are for certain parts of a show or podcast. To be honest, most of that doesn't interest me.

My weapon of choice happens to be Sony Sound Forge 6.0. given to me by a friend who simply couldn't use it.
I tried upgrading to the current version but I'm more comfortable with what I've used for years musically. I don't feel the need for multichannel capabilities and a small army of effects plugins unless I happen to be creating idents or sound effects, and that doesn't happen often. The freeware option is Audacity, but I didn't get on with it at all…nothing was where I'd expected it to be.

The other important ingredient of what makes Fadeout work is time. Lots of it. Okay, not lots of it but certainly a few hours for recording & saving, as well as a couple of hours thought away from the computer about what tracks I'll use.

Before I've sat down of an evening to record the show (normally on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night), I'll have compiled 14-16 tracks in a folder on the laptop ready for me to use.

From here on in, I will have three constants that factor greatly in the construction of 59 minutes of audio.

1. I know that I'll have run out of time to use all the tracks.

2. I'll find myself in a timing quandary where I quickly need to find a track that fits the last two minutes and thirty seconds and all I have is a seven minute track with no comfortable fading out section.

3. I also know exactly when my mind will go blank when I'm doing a 'talkie bit'. It normally happens when I pick up the microphone and hit the record button.

The above happens every bloody week without fail.
For all the sub-witty dialogue and quickfire lines which healthily populate Twitter and Myspace, every fibre of stand-up humour in my body runs screaming out of the door, or at least, excuses itself for a lengthy toilet visit.
I simply cannot make into physical sounds what happens through my fingers with ease.
Cue several horrendous and uncomfortable minutes of mindless blabbering and repeating bits of monologue where my tongue fell over itself, the on-air swearing at the cat for pushing the 'studio' door wide open to stroll in despite being the size of a toy car, and of course, the inevitable floods of 'um…' and 'er…'.

I can often be found editing four or five minutes of recording down to around fifty five seconds of smooth sounding, well-balanced and useful monologue. My career in live radio is decades away right now. For you techies, I noise gate the edited monologue to remove background anomolies and most clicks & thumps which occur when I'm handling the microphone (I don't get on with mic stands at all), compress it using the Sony Wave Hammer plugin (the 'Voice' setting) and add a little music underneath for atmosphere.

The choice of music (or 'bed') is deliberately as un-goth as it gets. I frequently use fairly well-known instrumentals such as 'Green Onions', 'Sliced Tomatoes', or the less vegetable-related piano piece from the Bio-Shock game soundtrack. The last show I did used the theme music to Spike Milligan's 'Q' show; an utterly barmy piece of music.

What I have to say and the manner in which I say it bears no relation to the atmosphere of the tracks I play. I suppose I could pander to the moody masses and project myself as a dark denizen of the underground, use a load of reverb on my voice and really inject some 'spooky' into the proceedings. I could do but I know I'd feel a bit silly doing it. Both you and I know that I'd just sound like a miserable Brummie announcing the next train to arrive on Platform 7a after being told my dog has died.
As a result, I say what I have to say in the voice I normally use and get on with the music. After all, people tune in for the music, not to hear me prattle on. A few people have pointed out a similarity between my voice and that of the late John Peel. I wouldn't stoop so low as to insult his memory. I'm sure I sound solely like a man out of his depth in technology and minority genre, though not so out of depth that I don't enjoy it.

The simplified rundown of how a typical Fadeout show comes about goes a little like this…

  1. Get the 'studio' to myself for a few hours, or mostly, the wife is at her friend's house for a coffee and the kids are in bed.
  2. Start off with the intro jingle and pick the worthiest track to kick off the show.
  3. Two songs in, make my presence known, talk a little rubbish.
  4. three more songs in, announce the impending halfway stage so you can run & grab a bag crisps/a stiff drink /a quick pee before the second half commences.
  5. Work out what song is going to take me up nicely to the twenty nine minutes and thirty seconds stage.
  6. Save what I've got as a WAV file & start a new one.
  7. Kick off the second half of the show with something a bit more electronic for those who like that sort of thing. Nothing crunchy or annoying; melodic will do just fine. If it works, make it two songs.
  8. Make my presence known again by talking rubbish, along with some contact details in case someone fancies emailing me a song request/death threat.
  9. Two more songs followed by an advert for World Goth Day. These will probably be old 80's classics that everyone forgot about or were too drunk to notice when they were first released.
  10. Start looking anxiously at what time I have left & decide whether I can cram two more tracks in or one long one (rifle through anything by Fields Of The Nephilim or Sisters Of Mercy for convoluted tracks).
  11. Announce the podcast URL, & discover that I only have two and a half minutes left due to bad timekeeping. Swear a lot off the air.
  12. Scrabble around for any Deathrock track (fast, punchy, but most importantly, often short).
  13. Completely forget step 12 and go for something daft like a cover version of a popular song done by someone obscure and/or unpopular.
  14. Save what I have as a second WAV file and start the tedious process of converting both files to a 256kbps MP3 format.
  15. Glue both WAV files together and make a 96kbps MP3 Podcast file
  16. Insert a whole bunch of metadata into the show files including playlist and album artwork. This probably gets stripped out at the other end but for my archiving purposes it works well.
  17. Upload the podcast file to the Podomatic page and upload the two higher quality MP3 files in a Zip file to Sendspace for mailing off to Phoenix Radio & Radio Nightbreed. This takes ages to do.

Despite the haphazardness of the above process it seems to work. I haven't been headhunted by local radio yet, but that's a good thing right now.

If I can contribute any advice at all to anyone looking to get into podcasting or broadcasting on internet radio, it would be this: Don't put out anything you wouldn't want your name connected with, and find a way that works for you, because everyone else, especially me, is getting it wrong more often than they'd care to admit before you get to hear it...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds scarily close to my 'production technique' too, what I refer to as the "switch mic on and pause, try to think of something, and then talk shit' method. I'm sure there's a proper radio phrase for that, all I can think of is 'panic and pray'..