The Note Taker and the Editor – Nerd Journey Turns 3!

It’s been 3 years since Nerd Journey‘s official launch, and the time has flown by.  I wrote reflection posts at launch, at the one year mark, when we hit 100 episodes…but this one, written at the 3 year mark, somehow seems different.  Despite learning from many more people we interviewed and having our first repeat guest, there was more I needed to learn.

In Episode 113 I made an announcement that John needed to take a short break from being on the show.  In the recently released Episode 128, we share the story of how this unfolded.  I’d like to share a little more of the experience and how it impacted me.

Tell Me Everything in 30 Minutes

As mentioned in Episode 128, it felt like we were helping people and making too big of an impact to stop.  I was afraid listeners might not want to come back if we took a break.  I was afraid John might be upset that I was thinking of keeping things moving by flying solo.  But he understood, and he was humble enough to say that the show and the impact was bigger than just him.  John wanted me to continue, and I wanted to carry things forward for the friend who asked me to embark on this journey over 3 years ago.

What may not be well understood is that I was often in charge of show notes.  I would do show notes and feed them to John, passing in time codes and suggesting edits (mess ups, people talking over each other, etc.).  At some point I vocalized that I should learn how to edit, but I never did.  Truth be told, it wasn’t something I had a big interest in learning.  Marketing the show to new guests, suggesting topics, building outlines, and doing show notes…I would do that no problem.  Editing was the blind spot, a dark art that only my co-host had effectively mastered.  When we need to do things out of necessity it’s amazing how it affects motivation.  See also this post on giving past burnout from while I was flying solo.

I asked John to take 30 minutes right after our agreement for me to press on and tell me everything I needed to know to start editing shows (locations of sound bites, intro / outro music, tools for editing, special instructions, etc.).  He was kind enough to send me the documentation and runbook, make sure I had access to the right things, and I would only ask questions if absolutely necessarily.  My first step was downloading and installing Audacity.  That’s how allergic I was to editing.  It was time to take an antihistamine (the non-drowsy sort, of course).


The Editor’s Ear

I got Audacity installed and even got the separate audio tracks pulled in from that interview with John, me, and Brad Christian.  Then I had to learn what the commands in Audacity actually did and make sure if I removed any chunks of audio I also did it for every track…and the label track.  Adding labels at the time codes for section separation was important too.  That way they would still be correct once I dropped in the additional sound bytes and moved things around a bit.  Don’t forget noise reduction, limiting, and normalization to try and match sound levels for everyone on the show.

I tried following the process of writing down time codes as I took notes (like before) and then coming back to edit, but my brain sort of short circuited.  As I listened in Audacity and took notes, I needed to stop and edit the part to be removed or silenced…right then.  It seemed easier than coming back later only to find my time code wasn’t exact enough.

Somehow I started to hear things I hadn’t heard when I was just doing show notes.  I heard microphone clips, background noise, filler words that needed to be removed, and short periods of silence that sounded longer.  I guarantee I edited some of the first few episodes more than John would have if he had just been following my notes for edit points. It took me an extremely long time to take notes and edit as I went.  Show notes would normally take 2 to 3 times the length of the interview.  When I added in editing, it was easily 4, 5, or even 6 times the length of an interview.  It’s like Peter Parker said, “my gift, my curse.”  The process did get faster as I began to edit more episodes, but the fun didn’t stop there.

Freestyling Should Be Easy, Right?

John and I would record intros and outros together after show notes were finished and right before editing began.  I needed to carry the intros and outros on my own.  I could read the normal first and last parts, but I needed to add something valuable for listeners to understand who was on the show and what we were going to be talking about in each episode.  Listeners could then leverage use our sections and time codes to make the most out of the listening experience.  A quick intro / outro is probably 2 -3 minutes and longer if more details are needed or I have more to react to about the interview.

Not having a co-host to play off makes it a lot harder to wing it.  You don’t really get as much time to think.  Sure, you can pause and edit the silence out later, but it’s better to try and get it as clean as possible.  I would list a few bullets I wanted to bring up (enough to remind me of the general idea), but I refused to script anything except the opening and closing parts which are always the same.  I’d rather make it natural and energetic instead of robotic and planned.  For the most part that strategy worked, but it took multiple tries.  Talking into a microphone and hearing no one’s voice talking back was a strange experience…almost like a pre-recorded conference talk.

Sounding energetic isn’t something I could do at the end of a Saturday I had spent mostly editing.  I was too drained.  Maybe that’s common sense, but I figured the context switch would energize me.  That was not always the case.  Getting some rest and waiting until the next time I could record with more energy was the better choice.  And I found it took me far less takes to be happy with what I said.  Yes, I listened back to every single one to make sure it sounded decent before publishing.  Perfectionism can hold you hostage if you let it.

Podcasting Is Like Managing a Product Release Pipeline

Releasing a podcast isn’t so different from someone managing product releases.  You’re doing R & D on the next product even before the current product hits the shelves.  My personal goal (in addition to figuring out editing) was to make sure we didn’t miss a Tuesday release date.  A successful release is a completed episode shipped on time, fully edited with all music added, and a blog post with show notes.  Think of it like a company that created an adventure video game and is trying to consistently add a new adventure (or journey) to expand the game.  The tools, structure, and process don’t really change.  It’s the content that does.

Here’s how the analogy works:

  • Who are the characters that will go on the adventure?
    • When you’re flying solo, it’s one thing to carry a few minutes of air time on your own.  But I didn’t want to have to do an entire solo episode if I could avoid it.   I was, after all, in every conversation at work or outside of it, every read of a LinkedIn post, listening for stories.  If I could help someone else tell their story to help the community, that seemed better than the Nick Korte solo act for a full episode.
    • Finding a potential guest is one thing.  Next comes selling the person on the idea of being on the show. They need to be educated on what the show is about and given some idea of why we think they would make a good guest.  As we meet more people and professional networks expand, the pool of potential guests is only getting larger.
  • What’s the storyline for this adventure, exactly?
    • Once the guest agrees to be on the show, the next step was collaborate and agree on a rough outline and schedule a time slot to record.  This is what we think the show will end up being about based on what we know about our guest already.   Think of a guest’s experience as the landscape to be traversed on the adventure and tasks the characters in the adventure must complete.
  • Proceed from idea to prototype (i.e. create what was described in the storyline – a specific adventure).
    • Recording the interview is where the magic happens.  Sometimes you uncover something about a guest that never came out in the outline, and in my experience it always turned out to be valuable and better than what we had planned.
  • Tweak the prototype with necessary improvements after getting feedback.
    • Downloading the interview audio tracks, importing into Audacity, and normalizing audio levels came next.
    • I would send the guest a copy of the raw audio to see if there were parts they wanted removed before it goes public.  That’s one review.  My review process was taking notes while listening back to the interview, making any edits needed along the way.
  • How does the adventure you created translate into logical game expansion?  Break into multiple adventures if needed.
    • We tend to do interview series after spending time with a guest.  After finishing the interview edit, I would break it into separate episodes based on length and logical cut points.  It’s highly likely that a single interview will net 2 or more episodes (i.e. multiple “product” releases and multiple adventures with the same characters in our analogy).
  • Package the adventure(s) for release, and perform final quality checks.
    • Every good adventure needs a prologue and an epilogue, right?  Each show needed an opening to give listeners an idea of what would be discussed and a closing with some reflections.
    •  After recording intros and outros, I would add them to an Audacity project along with the right section of the interview and all music and sound bytes.
    • This involved editing the intros and outros where needed, lining up music, and taking note of new time codes.
    • Transition music had to be in the right spot and sound decent.  Checking the transition points and labeled sections for correctness were critical to continuing from here.
    • Once it seemed like the episode was complete, I would export the episode into a single MP3 file from Audacity, named a certain way, and save it in a couple of places.
  • Schedule the product shipment.
    • The show notes needed to be copied into a draft of a blog for the episode, the episode file uploaded into the proper cloud storage location, a featured image selected, a title selected, tags added for searchability, markdown checked for correctness, verification that a preview of the post let me listen to the audio file, and finally scheduling the blog post for release day.
  • Let the consumers enjoy.
    • On release day WordPress sent the new episode into the world for public consumption.

It’s possible that at any given time there could be 3 or more interviews in one of the above stages.  A full pipeline of content makes for less stress about having to come up with something on the fly.

Finding Ignition

To say I have learned a ton in this process is an understatement.  It’s hard to carry an interview with a guest when your co-host isn’t there.  After all, you want to ask smart questions and make helpful comments to keep it conversational.  You don’t want to hear yourself using filler word.  I definitely missed John…a lot.  I can only describe the impact of his stepping away on me as what Daniel Coyle referred to in The Talent Code as ignition.  I never became amazing at podcasting (and likely won’t ever be).  That’s not the point.  My motivation to keep going reached an all time high.  I was focused only on the process.  Even my boss thought I was insane for spending so much time taking this on by myself.  I actually didn’t care what anyone thought, and it did not affect the quality of my work for my day job.  I know John would have done the same for me in a heartbeat.

The more people we interview, the more I learn.  The more I learn, the more it generates ideas.  It’s like a snowball.  Maybe this is what happens when you get ignited.  Where do we go from here?  All I can tell you is…the journey still continues.

Feel free to contact us if you have an idea for a show or need help on the journey.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *