Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #55

No High Scores
Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the functions I perform amongst our merry band of sorta-renown is to “produce” the Jumping the Shark podcast, which is basically a glorified title for the guy who edits the show and makes sure the gory technical details for recording it are taken care of. There is little glamor in this, but that’s cool because I bring my own.

One of the things I want to bring to the table here at No High Scores is a regular peek behind the scenes of each show that can serve not only to note when we’ve put up our weekly exercise in genius, but occasionally dig into some aspect of what went on behind the scenes. Call it a little extra flavor for those curious as to what goes into each production.

More after the break…

I’m going ahead and kicking this off with Episode 55, in which we had two special guests: PR maven Stephanie Schopp and the entirely not-opinionated caretaker of the Opposable Thumbs blog at ArsTechnica.com, Ben Kuchera. Our topic this week –the show consists of a “what we’re playing segment” and a weekly topic– was the fine art of writing game previews and what is fair game when talking about a product that’s not yet released.

Other than our E3 shows, I think this is probably the first time we’ve tried a six-person show. Hopefully it’s not something we’ll do a lot. Don’t get me wrong, its a really good episode. Stephanie and Ben both bring a lot to the table and they raised the overall IQ of our show by a good 20 points or so, but even for our rather meaty production (we usually go about 90 minutes), it’s hard for six people to participate in a conversation. Consequently, I think Danielle and I barely uttered a dozen words during the topic segment, and Brandon relatively little. There’s no shutting Bill up, even when you want to. Fortunately he’s fun to listen to. Really, one of us probably should’ve taken a week off, but Danielle had just come off missing back-to-back shows and we were all excited to have her back, and I think the rest of us would have come to blows before volunteering to sit out a show with Ben and Stephanie. So, we made do.

One of the real challenges of such a show, though, is editing it. The more people you have, the more likely you are going to have problems. We’ve been at this for over a year now and I can tell you without a hint of overstatement that the only reason we haven’t lost any of the shows we record is that we maintain two distinct recordings of the proceedings. Everyone records their own audio track directly to their computers, which they, in a normal week, then send to me to sync together, edit, and mix. I also record the group call on Skype using a plug-in called Pamela.

Which recording (single or multi-track) I use depends on the week and my general mood. It’s much easier to just edit the Pamela recording because there’s really very little editing you can do. It’s just one track with everybody already mixed in. On the other hand that lack of flexibility means a lack of polish and I do like me some polish when it comes to the show. If someone coughs, we’re stuck with it. If Bill’s tapping away at his keyboard, you’ll hear it. The other option, which is my default, is to take everyone’s individually recorded audio and mix them together using an open-source app, called Audacity. This is a lot more work, but it results in a much better show. I have more control over everyone’s volume. If there’s noise on the line, like a cough, mouse click, or a chair squeaking, I can knock that right out. And the sound quality is just plain better, which is a blessing and a curse because background noises that generally don’t show up in the Pamela recording are plain as day on the individual track. That means much more time spent silencing noise. Normally I put about five hours into editing each show. That adds up.

Have I mentioned I despise headsets? They work great when you’re playing online games and such, but for podcasting they’re a risk because the mic is very close to the headphones. If the headphones leak audio the mic often picks it up and it ends up embedded in the recording. This rarely shows up in Pamela, but it happens a lot with Bill’s individual audio track (he will never give up his headset). Usually it’s very quiet and not much trouble to clean out using Audacity’s Noise Removal tool. This week, however, the mic of one of our participants was picking up the headphone audio in a big, big way. Cleaning that out proved too damaging to that individual’s audio so I went with the Pamela feed, which itself sounded pretty poor. There are three of us (myself included) at various points coughing up a lung while someone else was talking. Stephanie’s audio was blown out a bit and very often unclear. I probably should have had her further reduce her mic’s sensitivity level, but I’m not sure that would’ve helped much as most of it was just a bad Skype connection.

As rough as the show sounded this week, though, I’m very happy with it because the content is excellent and we very easily could have lost the show or ended up with audio so bad that you wouldn’t be able to tolerate it. It’s exactly why we record with so much redundancy and it’s why, with over 50 published shows, we’ve never lost one. As much as our audio quality may vary from week to week, as the show’s producer, I’m proud of that fact.

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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