There’s an episode of Parks & Recreation where Ben - the nebbish, nerdy love interest for the main character, Lesley Knope - finds himself unemployed, alone in the house, and at a loose end.
He decides to channel his creative energies, and sets about making a claymation.
Hours later, wild with manic energy, he invites his best friend over to show him the resulting video, which he is convinced will be compared some day to Avatar.
He plays the clip…
...and suddenly he’s faced with a crude four-second clip that looks a lot like this.
‘No,’ he says in shock. ‘You don’t understand. In my head...this was really good.’
Don't be like Ben Wyatt (or me)
If this sounds familiar to you, then you’re probably a solo podcaster - because it’s almost exactly how I felt today after recording I Am In Eskew.
It had been a free Sunday, and I was sitting on the third planned episode, one that I’d really enjoyed writing - and which I thought would come across really well.
‘Screw it,’ I thought, ‘I might as well record this and get it out of the way.’
So I spent a few hours recording it. I was a lot happier with the results than I was with previous episodes. I felt I’d given a more engaged and enthusiastic performance.
I felt galvanised.
‘Screw it,’ I thought. ‘I might as well see if I can finish editing this today, and get it out there sooner.’
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening listening intently to my recordings, editing and cutting over and over, adjusting to get it sounding just right.
It was good, I decided, right before bed. A natural progression from my work so far. I really was coming along leaps and bounds with the technical side of things.
I hit ‘upload’.
The next morning, I was slightly surprised and disappointed to find that there hadn’t been as many listens as I’d expected - and the social media reaction had been one of complete silence.
I hit ‘play’.
And I was surprised to discover that the episode I was so proud of was, in fact...not very good.
The recording was noticeably quieter than previous episodes. During one prominent proportion, it was noticeably tinny. The rain effect I’d added was so low-quality and monotonous that it just sounded like a single, continuous whine.
In short, even by my own totally amateurish standards of sound design, it was a bit of a disaster - made worse by the fact that I now had to leave for work and wouldn’t be able to make even any rudimentary, best-of-a-bad-job improvements until the evening.
So...what did we learn?
I’m doing Eskew by myself. Writing, narrating, editing, publishing.
I love that.
I think it’s absolutely brilliant that I get to hone so many crafts all at once. I think it’s brilliant that I get to work alone on a particular kind of project that speaks to everything I love in fiction (as far as I can see, the wide publishing world isn’t crying out for eccentric urban horror-fantasy) and see if it sticks with any kind of audience.
I think it’s brilliant that I get to be tested...and, yes, sometimes completely overwhelmed.
That said, there are some downsides to solo podcasting that go beyond a sound booth made out of a blanket fort. Like having no informed and friendly second opinion between you and your audience...which makes it all the more likely that you’ll rush out something that isn’t up to scratch without even realising it.
So I’ve set myself some rules.
1. Time is not your enemy. Impatience is.
I’ll never again publish an episode without sleeping on it first. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll never start editing an episode without sleeping on it first.
When you’re a solo podcaster, the rush of getting your own work out to an audience, even if it’s only a few listeners, is goddamn exciting, man.
But I just have to remember - that audience doesn’t care if they get an extra episode a week early. They care if they get a good episode, and that’s my duty of care, or I’ll lose them all.
2. Converse more. Broadcast less.
I should always have an informed and friendly second opinion available, no matter what. From acting to editing, there are too many creative variables for any creator to have a clear perspective on what works and what doesn’t.
And actually, that means less time trying to promote my work online, and more time trying to get to know the audio-drama community. Offering to listen to their podcasts and give feedback, first and foremost. Making an effort to be there, if I can.
3. Work towards the future of your project.
I probably lost a few listeners with Episode 3 - which is a few more than any just-starting-out audio-drama can afford to lose.
And honestly, that’s OK. I pretty much asked for it.
And now I’m going to set a weekend aside, and re-record it...hopefully better, this time.
Because I am, in the end, just another schlub trying to tell a story with a USB mike and a blanket fort. There will be mistakes along the way.
But that’s how I’ll improve. That’s what’ll make me sweat.
And hopefully, that’s how I’ll end up with the right momentum, and a growing body of work that eventually sounds just as good as I want it to.