Some aspects of history podcasting are an absolute pain. There's no denying that it is an absolute joy to be a history podcaster - at least I think so - but I'd be remiss if I didn't allude to some aspects of the process which really grind my gears. We've already examined, on a more positive note, 5 things history podcasters love, so if you're ready, here's five things that history podcasters hate.
#5: When audacity freezes
We’ve all been there. Having spent a good few hours writing that script up, you come to the all-important recording process, which leads into the editing process, which leads into the self-high-five process. Sometimes though, in the midst of this process, technology has other ideas. Insert your favoured audio editing software here, but by and large this can be applied to any hiccup in the production process which happens to not be your fault.
Maybe you’re left staring at the windows is not responding image with no explained reason? Maybe your hard drive inexplicably corrupts itself? Maybe after an hour or more recording, your software decides that it doesn’t like your work and crashes, causing you to lose everything. I still remember the first time it happened to me, and what made it worse was that I was already stuck for time and had a sore throat. Audacity crashed, everything was lost and I felt a strong urge deep inside to cry.
It’s funny in a way how much our production process depends on technology simply doing what it’s supposed to do, and it always seems to be the time when we’re all prepared and taking for granted the fact that everything will just work, that something goes wrong and torpedoes our day’s work, not to mention our patience. What makes it more insulting are the lame-ass excuses often given to us.
For example, whenever any programme such as Audacity, Microsoft Word, Skype or anything else crashes and gives you the ‘not responding’ message, Windows then diligently informs you that it’s trying to find a reason and a solution to the problem, before letting you know shortly after that ‘a problem’ has caused X to stop working’. Well thanks a bunch Windows, couldn’t have figured that out myself.
Of course, I told my listeners the episode would be late and everyone moved on, but what if you happen to be unfortunate enough to get someone mean, someone who is less forgiving of the fact that you are merely human and can sometimes make mistakes? Well…
#4: Mean people
I should preface this point by saying that the times I’ve received negative feedback are very rare. In fact I barely remember the last time I received a smarmy email, an unalterably harsh iTunes review or spotted someone talking harshly about my work on some kind of forum. The problem with these experiences though is that it really knocks one’s confidence, and unfortunately, it overrides all the positive feedback you’ve already gotten throughout your podcasting.
Why is it that one bad review can undo all the good work that your history friends have done building you up to this point? Why are mean words so much more powerful than nice words? Why is it that harsh words hurt us, but sticks and stones don’t really hurt as much? Of course, it can doubly damaging if one’s self-confidence is low to begin with, or if they’re a bit new to the concept of putting themselves out there and seeing what people think.
I should add to this that criticism, as long as it’s polite and constructive, is always welcome. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been pulled up on pronunciation, or when someone corrected me about this family tree or the length of that guy’s reign. Sometimes we do make mistakes and sometimes we do need to be pulled up on them; this is how history podcasts are made better.
However, I can’t emphasise enough how irritating it is to see a review from someone on iTunes claiming that you ‘always’ mispronounce things. This leaves you looking useless as a podcaster, and since you can’t challenge what they say, that review sits there just waiting for someone to read it. In short, if you have a criticism to make, make it to us personally so we can address it – don’t put it in an iTunes review and leave it out there for everyone to see! If you come to us and we do nothing about your advice, then it’s fair to mention that you contacted that podcaster but that they didn’t listen. But give us a chance to better ourselves, without leaving negative albatrosses around our necks. If good reviews increase your confidence and therefore your ability, then negative reviews or bad press can easily do the opposite, which leads me to…
What is the point of doing this podcast on ______, it’s not like anyone actually cares?
When criticism comes in heavy and the good times seem to fade from memory, it can be hard to remember what it’s all for. Why do we spend such a long time in solitude, crafting a product which will only appeal to a small portion of the market? Why do I work for free on college quality scripts when there’s no professor out there to correct my stuff? Why do I care so much about something which is heard by less than twenty thousand people a week?
Sometimes you do have to reassure yourself that what you’re doing is worthwhile. For sure, the fact that thousands of people are waiting on the next instalment, that I have a sizeable portion of paying Patrons waiting on my work, and that the work I produce is technically part of my day job – all of these are incentives. But when self-doubt comes knocking, and the usual reassurances don’t seem to work, what do you do?
In my case, I do tend to talk to myself an awful lot, especially when I’m alone (or think I’m out of earshot). During these intimate conversations with…myself…I tend to go over the reasons why my I do history podcasting, and why it remains so important to me. I look at the stuff I’m producing, and look especially at the fascinating aspects of the story. I then consider that very few, if anyone, has ever heard such a story before.
Then I remember what the purpose of history podcasting really is – it’s very similar to the historian’s purpose in life. You are bringing stories of our past to people; fascinating stories about incredible events and characters which form a critical part of human history. What is more, as a history podcaster, you are bringing all of this to people in a format that is accessible, digestible and extremely convenient. Like a historian who writes a book on an important subject, they have to believe as much as you have to believe that what you’re doing has merit and value. The best way to do this is to take pride in your work – make sure its facts are watertight and the presentation is top notch. You want to be as proud of your podcast as a historian would be of his book.
You can’t base your self-worth or abolish your self-doubt based on the feedback you get from listeners, since unless you’re a very famous history podcaster the volume of feedback necessary to fill this void simply will not be there. I remember seeing somewhere that something in the realm of 80% of people will enjoy a product without ever telling anyone, let alone the producer, that they enjoyed it. This is a sobering fact, yet when I consider my downloads and the amount of people who have got in touch, it seems to make sense.
Silence from your listeners doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job, even it at times it can be disheartening to put so much out there and get so little back. If you’re a history podcaster and you’ve been hit by the self-doubt bug in the past, how do you expel such negative thoughts? I would love to hear from you, as much as I would love to hear from listeners about their favourite shows.
#2: Writing block.
This is an obvious but underrated aspect of the production process. Sometimes I could have a sublime day of writing, and a script would literally fall onto the pages faster than I can type. Other times, I cannot wrap my head around a certain topic or issue, I lack the sources I’d like to have, or I have everything I need and the words just won’t come together to make the script I’d like. These times can be immensely frustrating, and what I find helps is to go for a walk, take a break from that empty page blinking away on your screen, and occupy yourself with something else for a little while.
When your return to that demanding blankness, try this: get a notepad or what have you, and write down why you are frustrated, what it is that is stopping you from going further, and try and find the solutions to that problem. When you break things down into isolated little bits, those little bits seem far more manageable than this giant script you have to write. Similarly, when you write down why a writing block has suddenly decided to weigh down upon you, you’re more likely to remove that block than if you were to stare at that blank page and get angrier at yourself for somehow not being able to have a productive day. Bear in mind as well that not every day can be a super productive one, but if you make a little bit of progress every day, then you’ve come that much further than yesterday, and that is progress.
#1: Not enough time.
Babies, I’m told, really don’t go well with the whole podcasting thing. I am fortunate in that I’m at a place in my life right now where I can make good time for history podcasting, but I am also mature and realistic enough to accept that this won’t always be the case. Life does get in the way of podcasting, like it gets in the way of every hobby. If history podcasting is, like it is for me right now, part of your job, then making time for it becomes a necessity which is sometimes hard to maintain.
The constant ‘oh you’re not really working, you’re only podcasting’ has mercifully gone away since I made WDF part of my work and income, but the residual mentality is still there with some people, and this can make it hard sometimes to give WDF the time that I’d like. Of course, if you were to measure the hours of heavy lifting I do with the podcast, you would deduce that I am both crazy and underpaid, but again, history podcasting is a special kind of job. In many ways it is the most demanding, stressful and involving job I have ever had, but it is also, by a mile, my favourite, and I’ve never been happier in my work situation or my life than I am right now.
Having that control over your own production process, being able to give the time to plan things out and seeing those plans come to fruition – these have all been immensely rewarding experiences, but again, I am realistic enough to know that this won’t always be the case. It is unlikely that WDF will always be my part time job, and who knows what the future holds for me and my wife? We could end up in Cambridge, I could become consumed with the PhD, Patreon could close tomorrow – nobody can say for sure what will happen. When change comes I will have to adapt as best as I can, and if that means having less time for my pod-baby then, *sniff sniff* that will just have to be the case.
At the end of the day history podcasters at my level are not production machines supported by a staff or team – we are and I am one person, sometimes two, but we are also just human. We do the best we can with the resources on hand, and while we hate being pulled away from the history, from our babies, to do other life related things, history podcasting is not all that our lives are. While I hate not having the time I need, while I wish there was another day in the week, and that things wouldn’t keep getting in the way, that is life.
If you can get the balance right, history podcasting becomes a valued and integral part of life, not something that life pulls you reluctantly away from. I’d be the first to admit that this balance is hard to achieve, but at the same time I know full-well that it’s worth it in the end.
Thanks for reading history friends, and remember if you enjoyed this post to share it or comment below. Every Wednesday we release a new post on history podcasting along the same lines as this one, so if you’re interested, make sure to check in on the Vassal State in the future!