I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there
is was a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.
Good to Great
When I was a senior in college, I went on a trip to London, England. I was a literature minor so it made sense that we’d go there and experience the culture, watch plays, and visit museums. I saw the earliest known copy of Beowulf and actually touched the Rosetta stone–the piece that allowed historians to understand hieroglyphics. Like the people who first understood this dead language, I started to understand something that I’d never understood before.
At the British Museum, I saw people, some not much older than I, sitting on benches near the great works of art, legs crossed, with large, thin boards in their laps. Each person had a paper on these boards and were sketching. The more I looked, the more it seemed to me that they were copying the great works of the past.
I thought that this must be some sort of assignment from some art school. I think I was right, but as a student myself, I took it to be meaningless busy work instead of the core of learning art. What I was actually seeing was Michaelangelo, or Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci teaching these young artists from not only afar, but from beyond the grave.
Five years later, as I embraced that my interest in technology wasn’t from an engineering or hobbyist perspective, but from that of an artist, I employed this same technique myself. The first time this occurred to me was when I was making a video that was a spoof of VH1’s “Behind the Music” in 2001. I captured the open from that show and used it as a template for making our own.
Throughout the years I’d find myself doing similar things. I’d sometimes sit on the couch with my laptop and try to created a text effect I’d seen in a commercial. As I’ve been teaching myself CSS, I found some websites that I liked and wanted to emulate. I took screen captures of the final product and tried to make something that looked like that. It taught me a lot.
As you’re creating your podcasts, look at similar productions. Don’t limit yourself to Christian productions, look for the “how” and not the content itself. How does Rush Limbaugh or NPR do a similar show? Don’t get mad if they disagree with you; you’re looking for the format of the genre. Listen to how they open the show, how they change topics, go to commercial, end the show, etc.
Podcasting is technical, but it’s also an art. Once you learn the process, it’s not hard. Like using a pencil, there are some rules you must obey. If the pencil isn’t sharpened, if you hold it wrong, or if it’s too small to hold, you won’t get good results. The same pencil can be used to do math, draw a diagram, write a poem or sketch a sunset. There’s a science to using it, but it’s possible to do any number of things with the same tool.
Sharpen the pencil; hold it right and make sure it’s something you can use. Once you have it down, practice the art of using it. Watch how others accomplish what you’re trying to do. Watch what works and take note of what doesn’t.
Don’t copy exactly, but take inspiration from multiple sources. Remix the ideas for something totally new. The ideas need not be completely original, but the execution must be. Don’t make a digital copy and cut out their name, pasting in yours. Instead, create something that sounds somewhat like something that Dave Ramsey, NPR, and three or four other shows might have made and combine them in a way that references, but really isn’t the same as any of the originals.
What if you find something that is distracting or doesn’t quite feel like it works? Learn from that. Someone said, “Experience is a great teacher, but it doesn’t have to be your experience.” We’re all people. We all make mistakes. Whether you’re a great playwright like Shakespeare or a great Broadcaster like Paul Harvey, it’s possible to make mistakes.
Don’t let the fact that someone is generally great at something, make you believe that they can never make a mistake. Learn what you can and discard what doesn’t make sense in your context.
Cooperate in a Team
If you’re like me, podcasting can be a lonely pursuit. A one-man podcast can be produced by one person who does the whole thing. It doesn’t have to be, though.
I used to do everything video-related at my church when we were a much smaller church. I would brainstorm the videos. I’d shoot them, edit them and then play them on Sunday morning. When something broke or we got a new piece of equipment, I’d rewire it. Nothing went on the screen without me touching it. As time went on, I still touched everything, but I didn’t do every piece of process.
I remember the time when we got more and more specialized and I walked into church for the first time in years and didn’t know what would happen there on that day. I wasn’t sitting behind a camera or on the switcher and I hadn’t touched the videos for the week.
Had the service fallen apart without me? No. In fact, the specialists who pulled it off were better than I had been. I had learned that specialization leads to excellence. I was primarily an editor who could shoot, engineer, and direct. I was good at one piece, but had learned to be passible at the others.
Once the team had grown, shooters could shoot, editors could edit, engineers could rewire and directors could direct. Each could concentrate on his or her interest. I wasn’t great at all the pieces, but other people were great at other pieces.
Ideally, a podcast would have a producer to lead it, talent to be the voice or face, an editor to edit it, someone to manage the website and someone to transcode the file to make it the best it can be at the smallest size.
The Apostle Paul talked about this very idea. Beginning in Romans 12:5, he compares a church to a body and points out that each piece has a different job. We should all do what we’re made to do. As someone who could do all the jobs, I often did, but there were others who could do what I did better. That didn’t take anything away from me. In fact, it freed me up to concentrated on things I was better at.
For some time, I’ve had an idea for a show that would be really cool, but I can’t do it myself, so I haven’t yet done it. I need probably 6-10 people to occupy different positions. On a purely practical level, I can’t be several places at once. On the level of excellence, I can’t be in it, direct it, shoot it, edit it and distribute it and do a great job. I could probably make something, but it would be so difficult and time-consuming that I couldn’t keep it up for long.
There’s another reason that you want to pull people in. You don’t want to rob someone of their ability to serve and grow and live outside of themselves. This isn’t imposing on someone else.
If you’re doing what God has called you to do, it’s fueling. I’m never happier than when I give my life away for something bigger than myself and when I’m fanning into flame the gifts that I’ve been given.
What if my first opportunity was taken by someone who didn’t want to bother me? My life would have been less than it has been. I’ve seen things that I wouldn’t have believed. Asking me to serve was enlarging who I am, not taking from me.
It’s a hard thing to create something and set it loose in the mean world. Will people like it? Will they criticize it? Will they call you a “no-talent hack”? Will those who love you, reject your art?
There are four types of criticism. The motivations of the person play into the usefulness of the criticism just as much as the tone–whether it’s positive or negative.
Loving, positive feedback is what everyone wants, but make sure it doesn’t come from a “yes man”, someone who will tell you that you can do no wrong even when you do. This person may make you feel good, but when you examine what they’ve said after a failure, they might say something like “no big deal” when you know it is. They might tell you that something is great when you know that it’s sub-par.
These are the most positive of all comments. They include few if any ideas for improvement and talk about how brilliant you are. Keep track of them when you’re down, but take the positivity with a grain of salt. You’re probably not the greatest author, speaker, editor, podcaster, etc. ever. You might be very good, but keep track of where you know you can improve.
Really negative feedback is the opposite, but is even less helpful. The mark of these people is that they have nothing or very little to say that’s good. You aren’t the worst person at your art. You have some talent or you wouldn’t have even tried. Maybe you need to spend more time with it, but I doubt it’s so horrible as to have no redeeming value. Often people who make these comments have some other agenda that you don’t know about. They’re almost completely useless. Occasionally, there might be a tidbit or two you can learn from them, but these are so few and far between it’s generally better to ignore them altogether.
The third type of critic means well and genuinely wants good things for you. They’re also scared that you’ll make a mistake that will hurt you. This can be the worst type of critic. When your someone who loves you says, “Oh, isn’t that cute? You’re doing a little radio show. I’m glad that’s just for you and you don’t think it will ever become anything important.”
That “advice” cuts you to the core. It is perhaps the most damaging. You know that this type of critic loves you (or should), but sometimes their protective instinct keeps them from encouraging your endeavors. This is someone whose criticism you should ignore as well. Take their concern as a sign of love and that’s all.
There is only one type of critic you should listen to. This is someone who loves you, wants what’s best for you and can see both your strengths and weaknesses. It should be someone who has the relational intelligence to know when you’re down and not kick you, but the willingness to tell you hard truth.
Everyone needs someone like this to be an honest, loving voice in their life. Ideally, it would be someone from your target audience, someone who can understand what you’re trying to say and let you know ways of improving while encouraging you to do just that.
When we do a service at church, there’s tons of practice that goes into it. Today is Sunday and I had a morning that was like running through concrete. When I walked in, the switcher wasn’t behaving itself. There was a loose cable. The video background came in a bad format. Another video had a codec that wasn’t installed on the playback computer. The lyrics were all wrong despite having been proofed by the person who’s in charge of them. There were other problems, but you get the gist.
If I’d come in cold, having had no practice time, the problems would have shown up in first service. As it was, I was able to solve all the problems in time for service.
For me, the the hardest part of the service is the transition between elements. Podcasts can be the same way. An opening tease sometimes needs to be rerecorded. You miss the cue for the open. It ends before you’re ready. Transitions matter.
Also practice the content. If you, like me, don’t write it verbatim, at least run through the general thoughts. Know where you’re going so that you don’t have to stutter to get there.
Don’t feel bad about editing if you have a show you’re trying to do “live to tape”. Don’t be overly critical, but don’t feel like you have to get it perfect the first time either. The message is what matters.
Continue creating and over time you will get better. What took brain power to complete in the beginning will come naturally later. Think of podcasting like any endeavor. It’s getting a muscle into shape. The more you do it, the better it becomes. Keep at it and your podcasts will become what they are not when you start. You’ll soon have something you can really take pleasure in.