Just a quick one today. Man flu’s descending, and I’ve underestimated how big a commitment these recaps would end up being! Let’s get into it. (I’m also terrified Mrs Ruby-White an anonymous follower will break my fingers if there’s any further delay.)
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A couple of weeks ago, NMIT’s Writing and Publishing students were visited by Jessica Alice, another talented multi-hat-wearing young professional. Jessica is a self-described generalist: a writer, poet, editor, podcaster extraordinaire, and The Lifted Brow’s Poetry and Short Prose Editor. She is also the coordinator of the National Young Writers’ Festival and has been variously affiliated with Voiceworks (kicking myself for not getting involved with these guys!) and Express Media; independent young women’s magazine, Lip; the Darebin Council; and Kill Your Darlings. Jessica spoke highly of these experiences, but is especially fond of her current Brow role because of its autonomy and increased responsibility. Traditionally, The Lifted Brow has not had much of a poetry focus, but this is something Jessica is rectifying.
Throughout her presentation, Jessica enthusiastically spruiked a few art and culture ventures – not for any agenda; she simply wanted to help connect people with great art. She recommended the pop culture podcast Bring a Plate, and encouraged those interested in feminist writing to check out SCUM, an online literary magazine which she describes as the ‘punk kid sister of The Lifted Brow’. SCUM, for which Jessica is also an editor of poetry, has a DIY aesthetic, punk sensibility and penchant for favouring lesser-known writers. This last point’s especially important; like high school social groups, lit journals can be cliquey and insular.
Spoken word is another of Jessica’s passions, and she cited community radio as a great medium for enthusiasts. In particular, Melbourne station 3CR has been a great support throughout much of her early career. It’s through this involvement with community radio that she first developed an interest in podcasting.
Surprisingly (at least to me), a majority of the audience professed an interest in podcasting, so Jessica took the presentation in that direction. She was kind enough to give us a primer, and I will relay some of that information now. Podcasting – (indulge me; I know you learnt this in 2005) – is a revolutionary media platform that is similar in practice to radio, but has far broader applications thanks to the internet. Its popularity can be attributed to its ease of use, as only minimal, basic tech is required to podcast (unless you’re an audiophile). (Tangential aside: ‘Podcast’ is a verb, right? I have no idea! I’m so far removed from this culture! It’s like someone asked the whitest person in the room to articulate the history of the hip hop movement.)
Unlike other New Media formats (i.e. YouTube), podcasts are audio-only; audiences cannot physically see the speaker. I believe I heard somewhere that video podcasts are called vodcasts, though that might’ve been a fever dream. Anyway, podcasts effectively remove image from the equation, allowing audiences to focus solely on content.
Podcasts can be streamed or downloaded, and are usually hosted on dedicated servers. Unlike radio listeners, podcast fans can enjoy content at any time – even while completing work or chores. Podcasts are highly accessible nowadays, particularly with the popularisation of smart phones and portable audio devices.
PODCASTS AND LITERARY JOURNALS
According to Jessica, most of the major Australian literary journals (Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Overland, Going Down Swinging, to name a few) currently produce podcasts. It’s seen as a more progressive medium than blogging or feature writing, and a time and cost efficient way for journal staff to create new and engaging content.
Podcasts also allow listeners to become involved with journals, to get a taste of their work and grasp their identity, without necessarily having to purchase their products. Obviously buying and supporting literary journals is ideal, but this can be difficult for monetary or logistic reasons. Regrettably, journals are sometimes seen as an unjustifiable expense – particularly in our current economic climate. In other cases, they can be difficult to purchase because of limited print runs or remote buyers. Though obviously no substitute for a bonafide print or electronic literary journal, podcasting is an interesting and inexpensive way to involve yourself with journals and stay abreast of their developments.
TIPS FOR NEW PODCASTERS
For anyone interested in doing their own podcasts, Jessica endorsed the following software: Garage Band (native Mac program), Audition, Audacity (limited functionality, but a good starting point) and Cool Edit Pro (expensive, but with more comprehensive features). In lieu of a proper (and often costly) recording setup, Jessica recommended using your laptop’s built-in microphone. Of course, you must first ensure a quiet working area. Shut all doors and windows, and soundproof your computer or recording device by covering it with a sheet (high thread-count Egyptian cotton is a nice touch). This will reduce the echo echo echo, reverb and muffle some outside interferences, like dads who scream unnecessarily during televised football.
‘It’s okay, guys! I’m soundproofing!’
For conducting audio interviews, Jessica recommends investing in a zoom recorder, or a portable mic peripheral which can be plugged into your smart phone. If money’s too tight to mention (sorry – Simply Red was playing!), try borrowing recording equipment from your local TAFE, university or public library. Jessica uses her association with community radio to access equipment. She also stressed not to use your smart phone’s in-built mic. The quality will be dire – unless, she added with a smile, you can get the interviewee to come under the sheet with you.
Another valuable tip was to legitimise your production with sound effects and theme music. Done right, this could prove the difference between a professional and amateurish production. Jessica recommended visiting free sound effect websites, or calling upon musician friends. Musicians love black, so if you’re going to do the sheet thing try springing for black silk.
Once your podcast has been recorded and edited to your satisfaction, you can store it free of charge on SoundCloud. Share it by embedding it into blog or website posts, or via the Play or App Stores.
HOW TO GAIN AN AUDIENCE
Podcasts should be used to inform or entertain. They are better for building an audience, and not making money. Apparently, even small costs are prohibitive to buyers, so charging for podcasts – particularly amateurish ones – is a bad idea. You can’t compete; there is just too much free quality content out there.
As in the blogging community, podcast listeners are often very loyal. For this reason, the medium is especially good for discussing niche ideas – another great advent of the internet. It’s important that there are discussion channels for niche interests and serious issues, as those are areas where the mainstream media is typically lacking. (Another is good taste.)
As with any new venture, starting a podcast channel can be difficult; however, Jessica assured us they are a lot of fun, and that audiences will inevitably notice if you persist and do a good enough job. Still, it pays to be savvy; be aware of your audience’s expectations. Listen to feedback and try tailoring content to give listeners the most rewarding experience possible.
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That’s everything. Thanks to Jessica for a great presentation. Before I finish … readers, I’m curious: have you had any experience with podcasting? Which, if any, podcasts do you regularly listen to, and what do you like about them? Have you created any yourself?
I must say I feel like this phenomenon has sprung up without my knowledge or say-so (because as we all know I’m the master of the universe; when I go to sleep, everything ceases). Despite this, I’m curious about podcasting. For a Luddite like me, that’s saying something.
Jessica Alice presents the Kill Your Darlings podcast. You can check it out here.