Ubuntu UK Podcast Season Two

On review, this blog post is pretty dry and nowhere near as witty and enlightening as I had wished. On the grounds that being neither witty or enlightening has not stopped me publishing blog posts in the past, I have hit the big “Publish” button.

We’re now three episodes into season two of the Ubuntu UK Podcast. It’s part of the reason I’ve not posted anything to this blog for a while. The rest being a fantastically full social life, of course. 🙂 Trips to London for various shows, a fantastic trip to Norway and bombing a Mercedes around Brooklands have all featured in recent months.

We put out the last episode of season one late, in mid-January. The first episode of season two appeared at the beginning of April. I was surprised at the number of people who, shortly after season one ended, e-mailed in asking for more episodes! It can only be a good thing that people wanted to hear more from us, although some appeared to have missed the announcement that it was a planned season break not just us slacking!

Listeners will detect a bit of a different feel in this series. Partly deliberate, partly as a consequence of changes to the way we produce the show. One of the things we struggled with towards the end of season one was editing the segments. Although we’ve always strived for a distributed work-flow, the reality was that editing either didn’t happen quickly or it fell on one person to get it done. This was for all sorts of reasons, including personal or work commitments, or just sometimes low motivation. In an effort to reduce this burden, which often helped smooth the rough edges of segments, remove gaffes and generally make us all sound a bit more intelligent and coherent than we are, we have been recording segments for series two “as live”. This means we start the segment and keep recording until the end. Everything in between is left in.

This has worked well, with a few exceptions, and with practice we are getting better at making the segments coherent and avoiding tangents. We’re not perfect though, by any means! There are still plenty of “umms” and “ahs” around. The main thing we’ve learnt is that preparation is much more important when there’s no post-editing. This means identifying who is going to introduce the segment, what, roughly, needs to be covered and how long the segment should last. It’s not restrictive and stifling, it just prevents all four of us floundering around being unsure what’s going on. It takes less time to prepare a segment properly beforehand than to edit it properly afterwards. So far this season Ciemon has been so quick off the mark topping and tailing the segments that the rest of us haven’t had to do any editing.

One of the consequences of recording “as live” is that the banter, which normally takes place between segments, gets left in. This has meant the segments have more laughter and gentle ribbing between us. It’s not very Radio 4, but hopefully the segments are no less informative or interesting as a result. So a process-related change has had a stylistic impact.

We’ve also agreed on a regular Monday recording night for various logistical reasons and as far as possible will stick to this. This means we all get our weekends with family and friends and there’s less chance of conflicting social engagements. (Towards the end of season one, when we recorded at the weekend, we sometimes struggled to get four of us in a room at the same time, even with guest presenters.) We have even set ourselves a two hour recording window and so far have pretty much stuck to it. The following two evenings are then dedicated to editing, mixing, preparing the web pages, choosing an episode title and other administrative tasks which need to be done before the show can be downloaded. It’s a fairly tight routine but it means that within three days the episode is done and dusted, we can have a few days down time before preparing the next episode in earnest.

We have also increased our use of twitter and identi.ca. We’re trying to keep the micro-blogs up-to-date and feed back comments into the segments. We tried this whilst recording episode one, without really publicising it in advance, and had a great response. Being able to ask a question at the start of a segment and have short replies from people for inclusion before the end of it was a fantastic way to get people involved. The content almost generated itself!

On a purely technical front, not much has changed. Episode three was the first episode mixed using my new (albeit secondhand) Soundcraft Spirit mixer. I think it sounds nicer than the old mixer, but we will have to wait and see if there is any feedback from listeners. The other kit is all the same. We used a different method to interface with the telephone for episode two, which worked really well. (Robbie recorded his audio in his studio at sent it to us later, which is why he doesn’t sound like he is at the other end of a phone line. Interviewing audio geeks is a good thing. 🙂 ) I didn’t apply any normalisation to episode three’s audio before loading into ardour, just compression using the SC4 plugin. With the new mixer having a digital output through to the I/O unit, I’m going to see how necessary compression is during the recording process too. I might just stick to using a limiter instead.

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