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Hello, fellow podcast lovers!

I find myself in the (enviable? unenviable?) position of having so much work about podcasting, that I can't find time to listen to podcasts. Which is definitely a problem for a critic! I find myself reaching the end of the night and I still haven't queued up a single episode, and having to just bracket an entire day to doing nothing but listening so that I can catch up during the week.

It frankly sounds like a recipe for burnout.

So while I juggle my schedule and try to find a way to not flame out entirely, take this as your reminder to try to balance your work, your podcast queue, and your personal time. We all deserve a break, even if capitalism wishes it weren't so.

Editor's Note: Last week, I incorrectly identified one of the main characters of The Ballad of Anne and Mary as Daniel Defoe. It's actually Nathaniel Mist, a printer and journalist and one of the other contenders as the writer of the general history of pirates.

The most common feeling when faced with all the intricacies of making a podcast accessible is overwhelm, often leading to shutting down or an inescapable guilt spiral as your podcast continues to not have transcripts. Production workflow is a tricky thing, especially if you’re trying to back-fill the part that should have been the accessibility step. Take Radio Drama Revival for instance: we’re in our fourteenth year, my third year as being part of the team, and we’ve only just figured out how to insert a transcriptionist into our team so that transcripts for all our episodes can come out on time. (Shoutout to Katie Youmans!). And of course, accessibility doesn’t just stop at transcripts, as recently discussed in Caroline Minck’s article at Sound Profitable on making podcasts more accessible.

Transcripts: Planning Ahead & Course Correcting

There are several resources on how to format your transcripts, especially for fiction podcasts. Cassie Josephs at Discover Pods, for instance, goes into detail on this subject, underlining the fact that your script for your actors does not function as a transcript and guides readers through every step necessary for transforming a recording script into a transcript. Granted, when you’re working with an improvised fiction show--actual play, for instance, or improvised fiction like Midst--the steps are more complicated, as they often involve creating a transcript from scratch.

So, if you know how to format the transcript and you have a vague idea of how long it’ll take, how do you adapt the workflow to fit?

First, take a look at this slide from Erin Kyan and Lee Davis-Thalbourne’s talk at Audiocraft 2018, where they discussed the production workflow for Love and Luck, which is produced a season at a time.

Slide from a powerpoint at Audiocraft 1-3 June 2018. Season-long production cycle for Love and Luck. Outlining/Planning October, First Draft November. Second Draft and Polishing December through February, Casting February through March, rehearsing April through May, recording end of May through July, editing/mixing in August, transcription/launch prep in first half of September, launch in last half of September.

They’ve planned time for accessibility needs from the beginning in order to have a realistic timeline for production where they aren’t skimping on the captions that they offer on YouTube for their show. This is a much simpler thing to handle if you’re still in the planning stages, or if you produce your podcast entirely before launching, in a front-loading style. Consider what kind of accessible work you’re going to offer (transcripts and/or captions) and add time before your launch date.

Put a pin in this. Let’s talk about what happens if you are trying to course-correct, or if you produce your podcast in a more cyclical fashion, like an episode or half a season at a time.

Every podcast has to have some kind of production workflow and cycle. One of the several versions we’ve gone through for Radio Drama Revival’s episodes looks like this:

Production workflow for Radio Drama Revival. Episode idea goes to Host creates a doodle, goes to producer contacts guest and schedules interview, goes to researcher researches guest, goes to host conducts the interview, goes to audio editor edits the interview. Edited interview audio splits into two, where simultaneously the transcriber does the interview transcript and the host records the wraparound script and ads; the audio editor then prepares the final mixdown, then the transcriber makes the final transcript. The final mixdown is posted on Patreon, and then posted on website and socials simultaneously as the transcript, leading to episode completion.

This is our cyclic production schedule for every pair of episodes; the time-length varies due to scheduling for interviews. When considering how transcripts would work, we knew we’d want to give our transcriptionist the most amount of time possible for dealing with interviews, and that she could do interview transcription before the scripted part of the show was completed. Our transcriptionist has, at the outset, two passes at an interview episode: once when the interview edits are complete, and once when the final mix is complete.

However, we also run a Patreon where we offer extended interview cuts, which means our transcriptionist also does a third pass: she transcribes the Patreon extended cut first and then goes through it with the public feed audio to cut whatever didn’t make it out of the Patreon feed. Internally, we’ve set deadlines for everything with our transcriptionist’s timeline in mind so that she has the maximum amount of time available to her to get it done. (i.e., “Interview audio must be handed in by this date, so that the editor has this long to work on it and submit the edited version by this date, so that the transcriber can start working.”).

And now we come to the point about “time”; retrieve the pin from earlier. There are some general guidelines you can find on timing; Mincks smartly recommends planning 2-3x the length of the audio for fixing an automatically generated transcript. But it will take people wildly different amounts of time depending on factors like:

  • how many people are in the audio,
  • what kind of accents they’re talking in (most automated services hate anything that isn’t a native-sounding West Coast American accent),
  • how much overlap there is in dialogue,
  • the quality of the audio,
  • whether the person has transcribed before (finding a transcription flow is key, and if this is your first time, it will take you longer),
  • what kind of other disabilities you’re working with (I have ADHD and transcription is one of the tasks that causes me physical pain because it is so inextricably boring),
  • and still more.

If you hire a transcriber to join your team, they’ll likely have an idea of how long transcription will take them already. If, however, you or your transcriber haven’t done transcription before, my best recommendation is to test an episode. Set aside a day or two where you take either one of your show’s episodes if you’ve already produced some, or episodes from a show similar to yours in length and structure if you’re in the planning stages, and test it. Set a timer and start transcribing the way that you would for your show, either from scratch or from an automatically generated transcript. How long does it take you to achieve the finished state?

And once you have that, you can determine: How feasible is it to do this cyclically, and when would you need completed audio every cycle in order to achieve that? How many episodes do you have and how long will it take to complete transcripts for all of them? When is the best point in your production cycle to start transcription?

When you’re trying to course correct, I recommend that you first put a plan in place for having transcripts from here on out. Edit the workflow with your team, change your deadlines to earlier, and find what needs to happen when in order for transcripts to go live at the same time as the audio for the rest of the future of your show. It will likely take a couple of tries, but once that flow is in place and you’ve completed some transcripts with minimal hitches, then bring on the backlog. Talk with your transcriber, if it isn’t yourself, and check schedules to see what’s a feasible timeline for tackling old episodes on top of the future ones: one a week? two a month? Remember the timing from the test episode; it’ll be extremely useful here.

But of course, transcripts are not the be-all, end-all of accessibility.

Jack London's The Iron Heel, Untitle Theater Company No. 61.

The Iron Heel is a three-part audio drama adaptation of Jack London’s 1908 dystopian sci-fi novel (first of the genre).  London envisions a world in which the oligarchs form a fascist regime in America, told from the perspective of two revolutionary socialist lovers. A historian from a utopia in the far future provides dubious historical context. Performed by a mixture of Broadway and Off-Broadway actors, accompanied by the folk music of the Little Red Songbook.
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me at my Patreon, or at my ko-fi account for a one-time donation! You can also sign-up to talk about advertising in the newsletter.
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Captions: The Next Step

As noted earlier, Love and Luck produce captioned YouTube videos for their audience; Mincks also notes in their article that they create captioned videos for Temujin. Captions provide the timing that transcripts can’t: a transcript must be read and scrolled through alongside the audio, and it can be easy to get lost or confused. Naturally, by their nature, captions take longer to work on than transcripts because you have to manually align each of the lines with their timing.

You’ll have to first create a video, which can be as simple as a show card at the start, and then an episode title card, backed with the logo of your show for the length of your episode. Kyan and Davis-Thalbourne use Filmora to create the videos, but most free video-creation programs will enable you to do this (e.g. OpenShot). When your video is ready to have subtitles added, you can upload it and your transcripts to YouTube for captions and manual adjustments to timing. If you prefer something that isn’t YouTube’s interface, Amara has a free subtitling platform that is easy to use and understand (and they provide guidelines for subtitling, like how many characters a line).

Just as with transcripts, you’ll want to time yourself with one episode in order to determine how long it’ll take to put together a captioned video. If you’re in the planning stages and don’t yet have produced audio, take a look again at Love and Luck’s timeline above: they’ve given themselves half of September for accessibility work along with launch prep. There’s two core producers, meaning they’re able to split that work. Be generous with your timing, as trying to crank out transcripts and captions in a short time frame is an easy way to lead to burnout.

Beyond Words on a Screen

Accessibility isn’t just about words on a screen for people to read. Here’s a short list of steps to keep in mind that you should consider either planning into your production cycle throughout, or in their own dedicated time period:

  • Your website should be screen-reader accessible. That means transcripts should not be in PDFs (most screen readers can’t read standard exported PDFs, because they aren’t tagged correctly) and all relevant images should have alt-text. You can learn about alternative text standards and guidelines from WebAIM.
    • Something a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that people who use screen readers often “link jump” -- they tab from link to link on the screen. That means every time you have a link, it’s possible that it will be read without context. Do your best to provide links that are self-descriptive.
  • Evo Terra talks about hearing loss and audio accessibility in this episode of Podcast Pontifications (and several others!). He provides some key steps for your audio itself, including exporting at -16 LUFs. Plan this into every step of your audio recording, production and editing. It’s true that you can “fix it in post”, but you shouldn’t rely on that.
    • I would also recommend that anyone producing a podcast in binaural audio should be producing episodes in mono. As Terra notes in several episodes, he and a huge chunk of the population have partial hearing loss and for many, that means hearing loss just at one side. That means half of the binaural audio is lacking for those audience members.

You can plan for accessibility without breaking your back, and you can course-correct for it, too. Be honest about your timelines, be thorough in your planning, and be clear with yourself about what’s possible without help. You can do this without getting overwhelmed, and bring onboard a huge audience that has gone sorely ignored in podcasting.


Article: From Stitch, What Fandom Racism Looks Like: No Safe Space/"Curate Your Space"

Awards: The IGNYTE Awards Shortlist is open for public voting until May 21.

Classes: Writing the Other has several 2021 classes and webinars coming up, including creating diverse characters.

Article: Sophia Haigney for The Drift, "Fiction Detective", a beautiful article on literary citations, journalism, and search engines.

Article: RS Benedict for Blood Knife, "Everyone is Beautiful and No One is Horny", about war, bodies, the ephemerality of fitness, fatphobia, and sex. Absolutely breathtaking work.

Café Podcastero han producido una guía de podcasts para entender el Paro en Colombia.

Reminder that Podcast Movement University has a free access plan which includes Q&A's, trainings and lectures, and meetups.
  • Podcast Review Day is a monthly reminder to write reviews AND share them on Twitter. On the 8th of every month, ease your podcast review guilt and help others discover new podcasts.

  • Indrisano Audio, LLC: Get help launching or improving your podcast with our consulting, composition, and editing services! You bring the Drama - we've got the Audio. Learn more about audio consulting at our website.

  • Protean City Comics: An actual-play podcast that follows young, superpowered teens as they discover the kinds of people, and heroes, the want to be. Subscribe to Protean City Comics.

  • Sound Escape Productions: A monthly subscription helps us create sustainable audio fiction; you can get digital bonuses and ad-free episodes of Someone Dies in This Elevator. Pledge to Sound Escape Productions here.
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How are you balancing your schedule? What kind of apps or calendars have you found most useful?

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May your podcasts bring you joy,
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