Tom Cunningham


A podcast’s journey: from prototype to product

Something to say

Generating meaningful content is the most difficult part of putting a podcast together. We use a couple of methods for sharing and honing our ideas with the whole Each&Other team. As a result, we’re never short of discussion points for us to dig in to. In our podcast we use a conversational approach to discussing issues: our tone, like our design approach tries to be open, accessible and informative. Unlike most other design agencies we’re staff owned, the people you hear talking are the people working on our day to day projects. Here’s a bit of a behind the scenes on how we went about putting together our podcast ‘Conversations with Each&Other’ with some insights and tips to boot.

MVP – Minimal Viable Podcast

The initial idea for the podcast wasn’t for public consumption at all, but for own internal use. It was a method of catching ideas quickly and efficiently, without too much overhead. We started with an unscripted stream of consciousness style approach, which requires little prep. It’s an interesting way of revisiting ideas and clarifying them in conversation. Unlike writing a blog or a case study for example, it’s more time efficient, but you don’t have that same benefit of writing and rewriting your thoughts. The downside of this approach is that it can also be difficult to keep things on track; it’s one thing to be a participant in a conversation without a proper structure, but it’s another to listen to a few others doing it, especially if it meanders in and out of relevant points.

Tom & Ella deep in conversation: E&O Podcast
Tom & Ella deep in conversation: E&O Podcast

Prepare and Plan

Having a plan is better than a script. We have tried using partial scripts during some of our earlier podcasts, but they usually come out sounding a bit wooden. Instead, we use a combination of talking points, quotes and stats to help us along. This makes for a more natural free-flowing conversation while staying on point. We’ve even covered this idea of a ‘plan over script’ with regards to our user interview techniques in our podcast. It allows you to adapt and keep the conversation moving forward without being too rigid or structured.

Lean setup

If you’re going to record something that is public facing, then using your laptop mic in an echoey room just won’t do the job. When we started we had a couple of different types of podcast mics of varying quality, from a Blue Yeti, Zoom H1 to a Samson 303U, all reasonably priced mics. We used a trial and error approach with different settings and room setups to help us to see what does and doesn’t work. We realized that in order to achieve a consistent, good quality sound it was best to stick with one type of mic. It’s like using 3 different brands of paint for the same job, there will be noticeable differences between them. So, we went with the best performer of the 3, the Samson, which was very reasonably priced and performs consistently well. You can pick up a few of them for a few hundred bucks, so there’s no need to break the bank, but the investment is worth every penny.

Location, location

You don’t need a professional sound studio to get a decent sound either, although you should think about the space you record in. We record our podcasts in one of our smaller workshop rooms instead of a fully kitted out studio. There isn’t much echo, so it makes for a ‘drier’ sound to work with, which makes a big difference. Occasionally we have some background noise with people working nearby, but it’s rarely noticeable and adds to the charm — we are doers after all. In general, the better the quality of the input, the less work required in post production, and you should think about post production.

To make sure the podcast sounds as good as possible, we got in touch with a really great sound designer and producer Brian Brennan to help with our music, editing and post production. We were seeing an improvement in quality ourselves as the podcasts progressed, but wanted to take it to the next level. His help has been invaluable to us, not just setup advice, but with composing our music and editing our podcasts on a regular basis. We’re still learning and getting better all the time, thanks to him. We’ll go into the detail of how we created our music in the next blog post. It’s tougher than you might think.

Editing, pre-editing and post production

As I mentioned previously, listening to a meandering conversation can take away from the overall effectiveness of delivery and this is where the editing comes in. While our conversations flow naturally, at times we can veer off course from the points we’re making as people tend to do. When this happens, we just simply strip it out. If we feel it’s not relevant to the overall discussion or beneficial for the listener then it’s gone. A shorter, tighter podcast is preferable to a bloated longer one in our opinion. We aim for each podcast to be within the 20-30 minute range, so it’s enough time to get into detail without being too long, plus you can fit it into a lunch break or a commute. I usually do a quick and dirty pre-edit of the audio in Garageband to lay out what stays in and what gets cut from the episode before sharing this with Brian. He uses that mp3 as a rough guide and works with the original source files to do his magic: focussing on cleaning up the files, removing background noise with specialist software and mixing in our music etc. We’ve developed a workflow between us now that’s becoming more efficient and effective as we go on.

Next post: our music

In the next blog post, I’ll go into the details of how we used our 1800’s studio building that’s full of character and heritage along with our studio’s modern materials to create the percussion in our podcast music.

Be sure to check out our ‘Conversations with Each&Other’ podcast to hear our thoughts. You can subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts from.

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