White Market in Context I – Production Effort and Production Values

27 September 2016

It has been nearly three months since I started my academic project of transforming White Market Podcast into a syndication platform for community radio stations. As I am writing this text, I have produced 10 hours of radio content. Over the last couple of months, I have tried to increase the production value of the show by creating extra features and pieces, producing topical shows, and featuring more interviews. While the results have been very positive, this does come with a high cost: producing the show now takes longer than ever. Maybe because of this extra investment of time, it is arguably the most successful season so far – certainly the best one since the show started being produced in English. On this first White Market in Context, I would like to tell you a bit more about the production process of the show and the effort involved in it.

Live vs Pre-recording

Back in 2008, when White Market Podcast was still Programa Marca Branca, the production process was mainly determined by the fact that it was airing on a community radio station, Portuguese Radio Zero. The show aired first and the podcast would be online about an hour later. While most of the sessions were pre-recorded, they were recorded “as live”, meaning that there was no editing once the recording was done. Pre-recording the show allowed extra flexibility to the station in terms of managing studio time (there was only one studio) and to its volunteers in terms of fitting volunteer radio practice within their busy daily schedules. While there were some live episodes, between 2008 and 2013, the majority of the sessions was pre-recorded.

When, in 2014, Programa Marca Branca transformed into White Market Podcast, the show was only a podcast for the first time ever. Given my equipment limitations at the time, the episodes were always pre-recorded, but not as live. This was particularly useful from the production point of view. As I was navigating into making the show in my second language, having the safe harbour of editing was extremely important for me. On top of that, since the “as live” had been dropped, I had to introduce a series of new procedures to the production process.

For the first time ever, I was scripting the full show, as well as editing it and mixing it in post-production. Also for the first time ever, I did not have the demands of broadcast times telling me when I needed to have a new show ready. Although this was not an issue in the beginning, after a couple of weeks, it was rather clear that it was deal-breaker for me. Not having that pressure combined with the fact that I had very little feedback from the community and the extremely long production time that each show required were the deadly cocktail that killed that very short season (WMP’s first season had 6 episodes only).

In 2015, I started doing White Market Podcast on Spark Sunderland, where the practice of radio is mainly done live. Despite removing things such as post-production editing and mixing from the previously instated workflow, this did not reduce the production time of each episode significantly. After a second season with nearly two dozens of episodes, right now I am back to the pre-recorded model due to personal choice. Pre-recording the show increases its production value mainly due to my own limitations as a non-native speaker, as I don’t have to simultaneous translate things while worrying about things such as talk time, pressing buttons, and putting faders up and down.

Ever since the show got rebranded and started being done in English, each episode takes at least about 8 hours to produce, but that is easily increased whenever there are special features. Although those pieces make that figure sky rocket, at times more than doubling it, interviews tend to reduce it slightly. When I say “to produce”, this is what I mean: finding and downloading the tracks, sourcing extra content, scripting and/or writing notes, recording, editing, mixing, and making content available online.

The noisy space of music

Most of the production time is dedicated to curating free music. I have already written here how it can be quite overwhelming to dive into the world of free music. Not only things are quite dispersed, “free music” means much more than just “free download”. Only Creative Commons-licenced tracks have a place on White Market Podcast. This means that while I may find loads of free-to-download tracks, if I can’t find the CC stamp on them, they are not suitable for the show. Furthermore, not all websites are easy to navigate, and the amount of noise I have to scavenge through is very high. Last but definitely not the least, as the show currently airs in two English community radio stations, I have to take that into account, as well as Ofcom regulations. This means no explicit lyrics. Since the show fits a one hour slot, I also try to avoid tracks longer than 5min.

Just a few clicks? Not quite.

I will write more about some of the specificities of podcasting vs traditional radio, but for now, I would like to focus on the production effort of multimedia content.

Every White Market Podcast episode includes some extra web content/documentation. Each session is made available via a blog post, which also feeds the podcast feed. This blog post includes a short text about what is featured on the show (something that usually ranges between 100-250 words), as well as its full playlist. Publishing the playlist also has a system to it: on top of listing the artist and the title of each track, I also include the original source with links, as well as its CC licence with  a link. While I start working on this as I pick tracks and download them, this does take a fair amount of time to do.

Once all this is ready, there are two things missing: the podcast itself and a featured image, which of course has to be licenced under Creative Commons as well. Choosing the featured image was something that it used to take me quite a while, but that it has been significantly better since I have started using Unsplash. Not that Flickr wasn’t good enough, but I often struggled with low-resolution pictures.

The podcast is hosted on Archive.org as part of our commitment to provide free content. Before uploading the audio file, I also edit its ID3Tag so that it looks all neat on the podcast feed and on your media players. When uploading it, I copy the text I already made for the blog, but since their CMS is not the most user-friendly and there are specific things that cannot be copied across, this is not always as straight forward as it looks. Additionally, the upload speed is usually fairly low.

In the last couple of months, as I made different edits of interviews and special features available separately (things such as “Linux 25 – The Story of Linux“, “The 2016 Copyright Reform Proposal“), the amount of time I spend creating online content has nearly doubled. While there is still a myth that “putting things online” is super quick, if you do it with a high production value, that is certainly not the case.