A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

Header image with the text Marginally Fannish

Category: Podcast Admininistration

Co-creating the project’s methodology

The emphasis on co-creating knowledge was present even before launching the podcast, but its role became much more apparent while planning and recording different episodes with different co-participants. To begin with, I eschewed the idea of interviews and wanted to focus on conversations. To me, the downside of interviews is that my priorities and interests will guide the conversation through the questions I choose to ask. Furthermore, in instances where I was a part of the dominant culture and had little to no experience with/knowledge of the intersectional themes and identities we were going to discuss, I might not know what questions to ask. The conversations around a certain theme(s) were supposed to solve that problem. However, even conversations needed some sort of structure/facilitation. Thus came the idea of me and my co-participants exchanging fan texts prior to the recording of the episode to frame the conversation. Even this idea itself was a result of co-creation since it came up in conversations with my supervisors.

Overall, exchanging fan (and other) texts worked better than an interview would have. I was relatively ignorant about several themes and identities and these texts offered discussion prompts for me and my co-participants. In some cases, this method was less successful (where co-participants didn’t have texts to share/didn’t have the inclination to go through some or all of the texts). However, the methodological framework was open-ended and flexible enough to incorporate these changes in plans. Even when a co-participant didn’t go through texts/didn’t suggest texts, we were still able to have an interesting and detailed conversation.

Most co-participants, however, were happy to suggest a wide range of texts and go through my suggestions. We thereby collaboratively put together the literature sources for each episode. My suggestions are usually fan podcast episodes, sometimes supplemented by articles which provide an Indian context/explore a theme I didn’t find a relevant podcast episode for. After the first few episodes, I changed my mind about including fan texts which I didn’t have explicit permission for. We ended up only briefly citing the texts to frame and explore our own experiences and ideas. The podcast episodes, Reddit threads, blog posts and online essays and articles we used were publicly available media which we made sure to credit. I concluded that as far as we weren’t analysing or critiquing the fan texts themselves and only using them as references, it wasn’t unethical to use them to inform our own ideas and discussions. However, this was complicated by the fact that a couple of co-participants disliked the tone of one or more of the texts I’d suggested. In those cases, we didn’t mention the fan text specifically but did speak about the ideas my co-participants took umbrage with.

All the planning, communication and recording happened online. When I shortlisted fan texts for each episode, I created and shared an editable Google Doc with the co-participant who could also add texts to it. After going through each other’s texts, we both had a planning meeting where we discussed the themes we’d like to discuss based not only on the texts we went through but also what we really wanted to talk about. We added these themes as segments in the Google Doc and decided the order we’d like to discuss them in. Having a pre-recording planning meeting with my co-participants on Skype/Zoom worked well since it allowed us to go over the format and themes of our episode and test the tech. More importantly, it helped us become more comfortable with both the episode – most of my co-participants hadn’t done a podcast before – and with each other – apart from email chats, I was talking to several co-participants for the first time.

I did a few online Skillshare courses on podcasting. I gleaned some helpful tips, but the best lessons came through trial and experimentation. I’ve learned a lot about planning, recording, and publishing podcast episodes by just launching the podcast without spending too much time practising and reading the theory. In fact, the very first episode with my co-hosts, was supposed to act as a trial episode and it provided me with some really basic guidelines which helped with future episodes. My co-participants and I didn’t need much tech in the way of equipment or knowledge. Skype (and in one instance Zoom, where the co-participant’s country didn’t allow access to Skype) makes recording conversations extremely easy. However, I’ve identified what I’d do differently in terms of planning and scheduling episodes for the next season based on what worked and what didn’t. Ultimately, it wasn’t just each episode which acted as a tool of co-creation of knowledge; the whole podcast itself acted as a collaborative learning exercise where my co-participants and I learned new things through the process.

Lessons for Planning, Publishing and Editing Podcast Episodes

It’s nearly mid-September so I have around a month and a half (more or less) to go for the podcasting part of my project. The technical aspects and format of the episodes have largely been running on autopilot for the last few months – mostly due to the lack of time to design new formats for each episode but also because most participants seemed to be happy to go along with the format suggested at the beginning of the project. I had a podcast planning meeting with my co-hosts yesterday and based on something one of them said, I thought it’d be a good time to take stock of what I’d do differently in terms of scheduling episodes for the next season (of course, I’m not sure there will be a second season, but I’ve enjoyed making the podcast and talking to people so much that I’m going to do my best to have one).

With my co-hosts, my planning process differs slightly from the ones my guests and I use – largely because they make repeat appearances on the podcast and they’re largely putting together their thoughts through a combination of going through the texts + our conversations together. Usually, I start us off by adding texts to our shared Google document, after which they add their suggestions. Following this, we have a couple of weeks (depending on our schedules) by which each of us goes through all the texts and makes notes. Then we meet on Skype to discuss what themes and fandoms we’d like to talk about. Then, we usually record our episode in the same week. At our meeting yesterday, one of the co-hosts mentioned that she discovered that she prefers having more time after we outline the details of the episode and divide segments amongst ourselves so she can better prepare for each segment. The other co-host usually needs more time to go through the texts since she juggles professional and parenting responsibilities in between which she ekes out time for the episode. As for me, by the time we meet to plan for the episode, I’ve already made copious notes for each include in a blog post later. Once our planning meeting is done, I create an episode outline by dividing my notes to the relevant segments we decided upon.

With other guests, they tell me the themes they’re interested in via email, we pick a month to record, I suggest texts and they respond with their own texts on a Google doc (again, shared via email), and finally we meet a few days before we record the episode to go over the themes and segments. In both cases – with guests and co-hosts – I usually hurriedly go through my notes just before the planning meeting in order to suggest some themes which struck out to me in our texts. I then share these themes on the shared Google doc so the guests/co-hosts can edit/delete/add specific points they’re interested in exploring.

However, with a few guests, I’ve found that I have slightly misjudged what aspect of their suggested theme they wanted to focus on. Since I pick texts to suggest based on this misapprehension, I might spend a lot of time going through texts and making notes which may not end up being used in the episode. While I nevertheless find even this wasted exercise valuable, it is quite time-consuming and I often have to put other things on the back-burner since I don’t have the time/brainspace to do all the things I’d like to.

If I were to replicate this project in future, I think I’d do things slightly differently.

1) With my co-hosts, as suggested, I’d schedule more time in between the meeting and the recording sessions. While we have tried to record episodes every six weeks or two months, sometimes our plans have been upset by a variety of things. I’m unsure how much I could control our schedules/other events in future. With this season, I was only worried in the beginning; after the initial month or so, I had enough guests scheduled that I didn’t need to worry about not having episodes to publish. For a new season, I’d perhaps only focus on one theme for each episode rather than the two themes we focus on now. We decided to focus on two themes per episode to make my production and analysis more manageable since more participants volunteered than I had anticipated. This would decrease the number of texts we share and will hopefully leave more wiggle room in terms of time needed for other aspects of the episode (including transcription and editing)

2) With guests, it might be useful to have a brief introduction meeting on Skype before we suggest texts. I find video/audio communication much easier for the purposes of this project than back-and-forth emails. I’d use this meeting to talk about the themes they’re interested in exploring and, more importantly, get a better idea of the context and specific aspects of the themes they’d like to talk about. Following this, we can choose the texts based on our meeting, have another brief meeting before the recording to plan the segments and segment orders based on our texts/interests, and finally record the episode. So the time commitment required for potential participants would increase a little bit but we would save time on misunderstandings and explanatory emails.

3) In terms of publishing episodes, I’m happy with the fortnightly schedule I planned. However, this relies on me only having the podcast and related research/reading as my job. In case I wanted to continue doing the podcast as a part of a post-doctoral/funded research project, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, currently, this schedule also relies on episodes being edited by my partner who has a full-time job. Earlier this year, he was in a job where he worked from home and was able to control his hours. However, a couple of months into it, he had to find a new job which involved him working outside of the home where his hours were controlled by the company. This is true even now when we’ve moved up to Scotland and he’s found a new job. While he offered to begin doing the editing to me as a favour, I felt guilty enough but accepted because it meant I saved a lot of time. However, next time, I’d like to either pay him for his editing so he can take on fewer hours at work. Or I’d have to figure out how to edit the episodes myself which I’m sure I can do easily enough but it would mean much more of a time investment. In that case, I may have to be okay with either monthly episodes or not edit out awkward bits, fumbles and pauses from the episode (the most time-consuming aspect of the editing).

Taking all those factors into consideration, having a bank of guests scheduled definitely works and approaching them as early as possible even if we schedule a recording months later is a good idea. For next season, I’d begin the guest recruitment, conversation and scheduling process early as I did this time. Maybe having a ten month schedule again would work well, perhaps even longer. Alternatively, it could be an ongoing process where I could recruit new guests mid-way for the rest of the year. Again, this is assuming there even will be a second season and guests will be happy to go along with my somewhat convoluted process in the name of research. Of course, if I’m just doing a second season for fun and not for research purposes, it’ll be a similar but potentially less time-consuming process.

Why I Love Chatting With My Co-Participants And How It Impacts My Research

I’m a couple of days away from the official (planned) half-way point of my project. By the end of May, I’ll have been working on/recording the podcast for five months, and I have another five months to go to plan, record, and publish episodes. So far, I’ve recorded twelve episodes, nine of which are available online. I’m going to write more in detail about the whole episode-process and how it contributes to my ongoing engagement with analysis and theory. However, first I wanted to outline the ways in which both I and the project have benefited from a specific aspect of the process i.e. the conversations I’ve had with my co-participants before and sometimes after the episode.

Sanjana and Aparna, my friends and co-hosts of multiple episodes, have a more regular presence on the podcast than other participants. In our case, our friendship has consisted of being excitably fannish about a lot of the things we love. In the context of the podcast, it’s forced us to examine our favourite worlds, stories and characters through a more critical lens. Before planning the episode, all three of us suggest fan texts for us to look at. After reading/listening to these, we meet to plan the episode segments based on the themes we’re each interested in exploring. Finally, while recording the episode itself, we have an informal chat guided by the structure this planning-session provides. During all these stages, we’re exposed to new ideas and interpretations – either through the texts we read, through our planning conversation, or during the episode itself. Our conversations help us think of things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered and provide multiple perspectives on the topic. We start thinking about the topics we’re exploring in new ways and they impact what ideas are at the forefront of our minds when we’re watching/reading new media. And I know this because we’re actively talking about these things in the midst of our other conversations after we record individual episodes.

With Episode 3, “Just Let Me Hug a Tree in the Woods: Wicca, Paganism, and Religion in Fantasy Media”, I learned a ton about Wicca and Neo-pagan religions thanks to Anna’s own practices and experiences. Again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered exploring myself – as someone who isn’t religious, I have very little knowledge about even the mainstream faith traditions, let alone the lesser-known ones. I approached the episode very much as someone learning something new. Some of the texts Anna suggested also allowed me to see how a lot of Western fantasy, including the stories I’m familiar with, are underpinned by Judeo-Christian values. Our episode introduced Anna to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast she ended up falling in love with and continued to listen to after the episode. Additionally, her participation on my podcast inspired Anna to begin her own podcast about LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) which blends her academic interests in fandom, fantasy and religion with her personal interests of LARPing.

With Episode 4, “A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender,” talking to someone about a British context of class using the Weasley family as a touchstone was very helpful to my own understanding of these issues both in the UK as well as back home in India. As someone who has very little experience with offline fandom (I’ve only been to one fan convention that Ali was at too), our conversation – both before and during the episode – also made me aware of the misogyny in such spaces which I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – either online or offline. That episode as well as subsequent ones which Ali has listened to have introduced her to podcasts like The Gayly Prophet as well as shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ali freely and generously shares her thoughts and recommendations of podcast episodes on Twitter and Facebook, inviting more people into the conversation.

With Episode 5, “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures”, Anna’s suggested texts helped me identify, articulate, and analyse misogyny in Supernatural and Harry Potter – two fandoms we both share – in ways which I previously hadn’t. Anna is a much more active part of both fandoms than I am or indeed, was even when I was in my early 20s. The perspectives she was interested in and the ones she shared with me were ones which are part of the mainstream discourse in the fandom spaces she inhabits. While planning the episode, Anna began thinking about different cultural representations of Greece (which is where she’s from) and other countries in media after I shared my own perspectives as an Indian fan of largely Western media. Even though we didn’t end up talking about this on the episode, our prior conversations influenced our thinking and opened us up to new ideas.

With Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media”, our conversation and position was strikingly different from our previous episode on representations of race. In this case, all three of us were part of the dominant culture that’s represented in media – both in terms of ability and age. Our conversations negotiating this raised a lot of awareness about how much we don’t know and highlighted our blind-spots. While putting the recommended texts together, and even after the episode, we kept an eye out for articles and books which explored these themes. In my own case, our research and conversations helped put both issues at the forefront of my  thoughts especially since it was such a glaring blind-spot that I hadn’t previously addressed.

With Episode 7, “There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media”, we did briefly speak about the things we were interested in exploring while planning the episode (including our own individual engagements with online fandom – Aditi is more active in fanfiction spaces and Tumblr whereas I tend to stick to podcasts and memes on Facebook fan pages). However, what I loved was how much we used our episode as a diving board to talk about other things our conversation had inspired us to think about. We have sporadically been continuing our conversation about different aspects of cultural representations on WhatsApp where we’re both happy about being able to talk to someone about things which we haven’t found space for in our other personal network.

With Episode 8, “Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies”, I honestly probably wouldn’t have watched the movies had Hibiki not recommended them to me. Of the three, I was only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians but not in a way which made me want to watch the movie. I’m so glad I got the chance to watch all three movies because I loved them in different ways and I loved the different kinds of diverse representations they featured. With this episode, language was a barrier since Hibiki isn’t comfortable with English. I wish I had taken more steps with this because I’m afraid the episode had me monopolising the conversation – where it ended up more as a lecture than a dialogue. However, I did learn a lot about Hibiki’s perspectives both through our planning and episode as well as the essay he wrote for the children’s literature module and our chats during the module. Meeting him personally and having conversations over a period of months helped fill in the gaps the language barrier posed for me personally; however, I don’t think this is reflected in the episode itself. In this case, I think all the other conversations were just as important as the one we had on the podcast. It’s also helped me be more mindful of different language needs and accessibility both while preparing a lecture (that Hibiki was a part of) as well as digital projects in general. Our conversation also presented a different engagement with race and racism than I was personally acquainted with.

With Episode 9, “Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom”, we didn’t spend too much time planning the episode or chatting because of both our separate academic commitments. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was talking to Diana for our episode. They are much more politically aware and engaged than I am and their points really made me expand my own thinking and challenge preconceived notions I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of fun chatting with Diana – where we were full of both rage and laughter – and it was a great way to be able to identify the gaps in my own thinking through dialogue with someone who is much more steeped in the theme than I am – both through personal experience as a queer person as well as a researcher studying queerness in fandom.

With Episode 10, (an upcoming episode about dyspraxia, autism, Doctor Who, and fandom), I’ve known Robert for a few years but we’ve never really spoken about disability and trauma before. I did learn about dyspraxia through the Medium essay he wrote about Ryan’s character in Doctor Who. I also knew Robert is steeped in online fandom and was thrilled when he offered to participate on the podcast. I loved our conversation on the podcast because it taught me a lot, including some ways in which I should be more critical of mainstream discourse I’ve encountered. Robert problematised some of the things which appear a lot within fan studies research + shone some new light on certain aspects – merely by sharing his own experiences. I loved our pre- and post-recording discussions even more both because he’s a friend that I don’t get to chat with very often but also because it taught me so many new things in such a compassionate, understanding way – including my own experiences with trauma and anxiety. It was only when Robert shared his experiences with family trauma while planning the episode, that I realised I have my own experience about that – one I hadn’t shared on the podcast or with many of my friends here. Robert also mentioned that he felt uncomfortable about being on a podcast which tries to explore marginalised identities, until our conversation made him realise that he had some experiences and perspectives that were quite marginalised too. With one of the podcast episodes we listened to while prepping for our own episode – the Witch, Please episode about disability and queerness – Robert highlighted the fact that some parts of that were quite triggering since they so closely matched his own experiences and suggested we include a trigger warning in our episode. This is something I hadn’t considered before he pointed it out, and I’m so glad to be able to include that consideration into my work now, even though I hadn’t otherwise. I’m now thinking about triggers even in terms of potential workshops, sessions and lectures I do in future too.

With Episode 11, (an upcoming episode about women warriors in science fiction and fantasy), Lisa and I had a long conversation when we met on Skype to plan our episode – the planning meeting lasted for as long as my podcast episodes usually do. We enjoyed talking to each other about our favourite media and representations of women fighters as well as our own experiences and perspectives. As someone who hasn’t really thought about this issue at all, Lisa’s own background with martial arts as well as her deep-seated love for Mockingbird shone a light on another aspect of fan engagement. It also helped me identify the representations of female fighters I had encountered in some of my favourite media – and how gender and physical ability intersected with other identities – both marginalised and privileged. As with Episode 3, I was happy to get the opportunity to explore a topic which I wouldn’t have suggested myself.

With Episode 12, (an upcoming episode about Fantastic Beasts and Nagini), my preconceived notions which had been shaped by mainstream fandom discourse were well and truly smashed and taught me to be more critical of critique. The whole Nagini controversy had put me off watching Crimes of Grindelwald and I only did because it was one of Lorrie’s recommended texts. I had only ever encountered critiques of Nagini’s arc and the stereotypical representation of East Asian women in Western media. Since I wasn’t a part of that marginalised identity, and as someone who’s grown up in India and had Bollywood movies to represent people who (more or less) looked like me, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to comment on this issue and took the mainstream critique for granted. However, Lorrie herself is an East Asian woman in the West and she problematises the critiques by providing detailed analysis as well as an unbridled joy for the character of Nagini and Korean representation in her favourite fictional world. (I ended up loving Crimes of Grindelwald – and I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to love it so guiltlessly had Lorrie not been so unabashed in proclaiming her love for the movie while we were exchanging emails). She also pointed out that since she had read the Harry Potter books as an adult, she had always been aware of the more problematic aspects in the series – but this hadn’t diminished her enjoyment of the world and just helped her acknowledge Rowling’s own blind-spots. She proposed this was perhaps different from people who had grown up with the series and now found themselves betrayed by it on finding all these problematic representations. I don’t know about others but this theory definitely resonated with me.

Growing Comfortable With Discomfort – Part 3

Even before I began the project, all my research prepared me for the fact that a lot of my initial plans will seem naive in hindsight and I’ll need to be willing to adapt and be flexible throughout all stages of the research project. I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I’ve met with unanticipated aspects throughout the project (some of which I’ve written about previously). Since this whole process is an educational one, even for myself, I’ve looked forward to learning from my mistakes – or even just learning another perspective. At the same time, whenever I first encountered an alteration in plans, my initial reaction would inadvertently be resistance. I was unsure what degree of change was allowed in my project not only based on early plans but also based on what I’d discussed with my supervisors and with the ethical review committee. However, four months in, I’ve become more comfortable and flexible changing some aspects of the project – despite what my initial thoughts were.

1) Editing out awkward bits in the episode 

When I first planned the podcast, I wanted to preserve the “authenticity” of my conversation with co-participants and not edit the episode too heavily. While I’m still onboard with this in terms of the actual content of the conversation, I’ve grown far more comfortable in marking filler phrases, pauses, stutters and fumbles to be edited out – not just my own but also of my co-participants. While my allegiance remains with the DIY aesthetic of the PhD project (where the quality of the podcast isn’t as important as the conversations themselves), I realise that making it easy to listen to is something which will help make it more accessible and approachable to more people. I’ve also become more confident in editing the transcript to filter the awkward bits out so that for those who prefer reading to listening, the experience is as easy and comfortable as possible.

2) Not doing the actual editing myself 

This is something I’ve been uncomfortable about right from the beginning – the fact that the technical editing is done by Jack, my partner. Jack offered to do this even before I launched the podcast; even though he had never edited audio before, he was confident in his abilities to experiment and figure it out. I was hesitant for two reasons – i) I didn’t want to impose on his time and hold him accountable to my self-imposed deadlines; and ii) I wasn’t sure that I should be getting outside help for any aspect of my project rather than doing everything myself. Initially, I went along with this plan purely as a time-saving exercise. I quickly learned that the podcast recording itself was the least time-consuming part of the episode process – the pre-production (wherein I shortlist texts and organise the episode) and the post-production (marking edits, transcript, intro/outro, publishing) took up much more of my time – about a week. If I added editing to the mix, my already-ambitious timescale would have been delayed and it would add to my overall stress. Lately, however, I’m growing increasingly comfortable with this. The time which is saved is still the most important bit – while I mark out the edits themselves after typing the transcript, Jack does the actual editing on Audacity – while he’s doing that, I can focus on other tasks which need to be done. Additionally, Jack responds to our conversation while editing with his own insights, examples, and experiences as a fan. As a Scottish man who grew up in a small town outside Glasgow, his perspectives and even the media examples are very different from my own knowledge. The conversations we have are interesting and illuminating – conversations which may not have happened had he not been in-charge of the editing. In Episode 7 about the representations of different cultures in fantasy media, he pointed to an episode about encountering unfamiliar food in Star Trek (which is science fiction not fantasy, but the point still held) which made it to the episode’s outro and transcript. Now, I like the idea of expanding the idea of co-creating the project by involving other perspectives than my own in the production process.

3) Using other fan podcasts

For every episode, I suggest some fan texts (mostly fan podcast episodes) for both my co-participants and I to look at to structure our own conversations. I also encourage my co-participants to share their own texts based on their interests and priorities. In the beginning, I was determined only to include those fan podcasts who had provided me with explicit permission to use their podcasts in my research in this way. However, after recording nine episodes of Marginally Fannish, I’ve realised that the ways in which we’ve included these episodes are usually only as discussion prompts to structure our episode and give us topics to talk about or to refer to when they introduce us to new ideas. While I had initially thought that we would be analysing these fan podcast episodes in our podcast, that hasn’t been the case. Furthermore, my co-participants present their own contributions of fan texts, where it isn’t feasible to garner permission from all those involved (this is excluding Breaking The Glass Slipper podcast, which one of my co-participants suggested in Episode 3, and which I then included in my research as a general fandom podcast – after getting in touch with the creators). For some of the upcoming episodes, I’ve included fan podcasts where I haven’t heard from the creators despite getting in touch with them twice before beginning my project. I believe that as far as we’re not analysing or critiquing the podcasts themselves and only using them as references or discussion prompts, it isn’t unethical to use these publicly available fan texts to inform our own ideas and discussions.

4) Co-participants not going through all the fan texts 

When I first began the podcast, I assumed it would be best for my co-participants and I to go through the same fan texts so that we have a common starting point to base our conversation on. At the same time, I was wary of giving my co-participants extra “homework” which they may not have the time or inclination for. I tried to create room for their opinions about this format after they signed participant consent forms. All of them agreed to go along with the format. However, when I started recording, I soon realised that some participants did go through the texts while others didn’t. I was initially uncomfortable about this but chose to ignore it since our conversations were still based on what both the co-participants and I were interested in talking about. After one participant revealed that they were uncomfortable about my choice of texts and the process of going through the texts themselves however, I’ve been much warier of placing the “burden” of these texts and this format on my co-participants. Since then, I’ve made it clear in emails that my co-participants are under no obligation to go through all or any of the texts I’ve suggested. If the participants prefer, we can just have an informal conversation without any resources structuring the episode. I still use the texts since they help me put my thoughts together but my co-participants are no longer required to do this, especially if they already have thoughts about the topic we’re exploring in our episode.

Pre-Recording Checklist For Podcast Guests – Part 1

After recording two episodes with guests, I’ve learned that it’s probably helpful to have a checklist handy to make sure both the guests and I have all the information we need for the episode. This list is still evolving and I am and will continue adding things to it as and when I learn from my mistakes through the podcast experiment.

1) Ask guests to send a brief bio before we record. For the first guest episode, I thought of the bio after our episode and had to ask for it, then record it separately from the episode itself. For the next episode, I had the bio ready before we began talking and read it out as part of our recording. It works much better that way.

2) Ask guests to send a photo either of them or anything they think represents their work and/or the topic of our episode conversation. I use this photo for the episode cover art.

3) Ask guests to introduce their own experiences with the intersectional themes we’re discussing during that episode coupled with any other aspects of their identity, work or fandom.

4) Inform them that our conversation will be largely informal and they don’t need to worry about stumbling over thoughts or fumbling over words since I can edit out any bits which aren’t a part of the discussion (mostly um’s and long pauses). I can also edit out anything they said but would rather not appear on the episode.

5) I create an episode outline with themes I’m interested in, a suggested order of these segments, and who takes the lead on each segment (the guest or me) to help me organise my thoughts. Guests are free to use or ignore these based on what they find most helpful.

6) Ask guests what themes they’re interested in talking about based on the texts we went through. Add these themes to the episode outline and rearrange the segments into a sensible order.

7) Tell guests that our conversation will last for a maximum of an hour (though we have gone a little over this in both episodes; I need to keep a better eye on the clock!)

8) Technical reminders for guests:

i) They should preferably be in a quiet room with little to no background noise

ii) They can use either a laptop or a phone microphone

iii) Ideally, they should use earphones/headphones (I learned this the hard way because at some points, I can hear my own voice echo through my second guest’s speakers). If they don’t own a pair, they should use the push to talk feature so that their microphone only picks up sound when they push the button.

iv) We should both record our conversations separately on Skype so that during editing, the audio quality of both our voices is more or less the same. If I only use my audio (which I’ve had to for one reason or another for three out of four episodes), my audio turns out to be clearer than my co-hosts or guests.

v) Guests should preferably record on Skype rather than another software. One of the guests recorded it on a Mac and the audio speed in their file was out of sync with the audio speed in my file. This became so impossible to edit that we ended up only using my audio for the episode.

My Episode Recording to Publishing Process – February 2020

Since I’ve recorded three episodes – two with my co-hosts (one of which was a test anyway) and one (upcoming one) with a guest – I wanted to document my current recording-to-publishing process. At the end of the data generation stage, I’ll be  interested in comparing this process from an early, experimental stage of the project to how/if it develops later, when I’ve grown more used to this whole podcasting thing. Currently, the entire process outlined below takes me a week (which includes a day or two off and/or a day or two working on other things). All my participants have a week to get in touch with me in case they want to exclude any part of our conversation, or if they have changed their mind about the podcast and want to withdraw.

1) Pre-recording meeting

I meet the guests on Skype to plan our episode. First, we go over the relevant tech details for the episode. Next, we discuss the themes we’d like to cover in our conversation (we each take turns outlining what we found most interesting inspired by the texts we read). This is also a good opportunity to meet/chat with people for the first time and establish a rapport since I don’t know a lot of my co-participants.

2) Record

We meet on the scheduled day and have an informal conversation which we both record. Having audio files from both helps in editing so that the voice and volume are roughly similar. I need to do a better job with preparing an informal intro and outro for my guests. This matters less with my c0-hosts since we had an entire episode segment dedicated to introducing ourselves.

3) Type transcript for editing

I listen to the recorded conversation and type a transcript, complete with the stutters, fumbles, awkward bits, and technological glitches. I also mark the spots where I need to insert links to episode text resources.

4) Mark edits

After typing the transcript, I listen to the conversation again while going through the transcript. This time, I highlight those bits which I’d like to edit out of the final episode file. My system is currently:

i) Yellow highlight to definitely delete

ii) Green highlight to delete if possible

iii) Blue highlight to point out technological glitches and see if they can be fixed

I do this with the understanding that it may not be possible to delete or fix all the things; given the option between leaving awkward bits in or risking the conversation sound stilted, I’ll always choose the former.

5) Edit

I send my transcript with suggested edits and the audio files to Jack, my boyfriend and editor. I made the decision to recruit help with the technical aspect of editing to save time. I have more participants than I anticipated, and editing the file myself would add a stressful amount of time to the project. I also like the idea of including more collaboration as a part of the process. I still retain the hope of doing some editing myself at some point, if only to learn a new skill.

6) Transcript for blog

I create a second, clean transcript for the blog. This transcript doesn’t have the time codes (which are necessary for editing) nor does it have the filler words and stutters which may remain in the episode. This is to ensure a smooth reading experience. If, for whatever reason, people would prefer the unedited transcript, I’ve asked readers to let me know, and I’d be happy to send it to them. While creating this transcript, I also mark the spots in which any additional links or images need to be added.

7) Download images

I search for and download all the images and gifs I’m going to use in the episode transcript on the blog. I save all of these in separate, named episode folders.

8) Read transcript to make notes 

I read the transcript and make notes for potential title ideas as well as points for the episode intro and bio.

9) Write episode intro, outro

Based on the notes created above, I write an episode intro and outro.

10) Record episode intro and outro

I record the episode intro and outro on my laptop. This simply involves reading the text I’ve prepared earlier. I send these audio files to Jack to add to the beginning and end of the episode.

11) Write episode bio

Based on the notes I’ve made, I write the episode bio. This bio covers the key themes of our conversation. It goes on Anchor and SoundCloud to provide potential listeners with an idea about the episode. I also adapt the text of this bio to use on social media when I share the link to the episode.

12) Listen to the edited episode

Once Jack sends the edited episode back to me, I listen to the file and cross-check it with the clean transcript which will go on my blog. If there are any further changes I need to make to the audio file, I note down the time stamps and send it to Jack. He makes the changes, sends the file back to me, and I only cross-check the time-stamped bit.

13) Add transcript to blog

I create a new blog post and paste the transcript. This is when I insert the links and add the images.

14) Upload episode 

I upload the episode to SoundCloud (the link of which I use on my website) and Anchor (which shares the episode to Spotify, Google, and Apple among other platforms). I add the bio and a cover image for the episode alongwith some key word tags. I link to the episode on the blog transcript and hit publish.

15) Share on social media 

I share the episode post on social media. First, I share it on the Marginally Fannish Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Then, I share it on my personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. I tag the co-hosts and guests on this post (after checking with them first).

16) Send episode to co-hosts/guests

I also send the episode post to my co-hosts and guests either via email or WhatsApp.

Pre-Podcast Recording (Very) Minor Crisis

On the day my co-hosts and I were supposed our pilot episode, I spent the morning catching up on the two texts A suggested. I’d ended up making so many notes based on the themes and segments we had planned that I didn’t trust my memory to remember all the points. I began putting together an episode outline to help remember all the cues, and realised I was taking up far too much talking-time. I then checked a few elements with S and A and asked them to take over some segments. They, in turn, suggested sharing my outline with them so they could refer to it too. Before sending it to them, I slowly began realising I may have too many notes and warned them about it. I justified it using my pilot-episode-nerves as an excuse (I was nervous, but I’m a chronic over-preparer of things).

This over-preparedness ended up backfiring. Once they saw my outline, A and S were too freaked out since they hadn’t prepared a similar document with copious notes and too many details. They felt extremely uncomfortable about their lack of preparation and wanted some time to make too-many notes too, “as you have scared us” (Aparna said). We then decided to postpone the recording by a day so they could go off to over-prepare too.

This made me conflicted about my process in this particular project. While I’m used to over-preparing for any project, I’m not used to sharing this with collaborators (usually because I work by myself). Perhaps some prior communication about my habits and plans may have given A and S some sort of heads-up about what to expect. But, at the same time, I was trying very (perhaps too) hard not to influence their actions based on mine. I inadvertently also seem to have set a precedent for my co-hosts to follow. S wanted to follow my example since I’d done the most research (which is true, but I don’t think that gives me any insight into the best process for others). P believed that my notes helped them realise they may do better with similar notes.

Ultimately, I’m unsure of whether the notes will end up hindering or helping the recording. But I ended the day feeling a bit Gollumish about sharing my contrived and roundabout process with others!

Gif of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Text says: My precious

Pre-Podcast Recording – Some Technical Lessons

The day before recording the pilot episode of the podcast with my co-hosts, we decided to do a technical test run in an effort to deal with any technological challenges. Before we met on Skype, I spent a day and a half going through podcasting courses on Skillshare; some ended up being more relevant than others. However, as someone who has no experience with podcasts (beyond listening to them), I gleaned several helpful tips from the various videos and it helped boost my overall sense of confidence in experimenting with a new kind of media. The website offers a two-month free trial so if you’re thinking of making a podcast but have no idea how to go about it, I’d highly recommend looking up courses there.

Some of the things I discovered during my technical research:

1) Turn off the video feature to improve the line quality while recording on Skype.

2) You can record on Skype and edit on a free software called Audacity.

3) SoundCloud is only free for hosting 3 hours of audio, after which you need to subscribe to  SoundCloud Pro. I’m currently using Anchor as a backup to SoundCloud and I’m in the process of applying to my university for funding for a 3-year subscription.

Some of the things I discovered after the test-run:

1) Everyone seems to hate the sound of their own voice. It’s fine!

2) It helps for both the host and the guest to record the conversation. The subsequent two files can be combined on Audacity for a better quality of audio.

3) Most of the courses suggested investing in a USB microphone. However, either a smartphone or a laptop’s inbuilt microphone in a quiet room work pretty well too. (The phone worked better than the laptop for my co-hosts. I’m using my boyfriend’s cheap gaming headset with an attached micrphone)

 

Planning A Podcast With Co-Hosts – Lessons Learned

I met my co-hosts Aparna and Sanjana over video chat for our first official podcast discussion on the 12th of January. We had been chatting about the podcast on WhatsApp on and off but we’d scheduled this meeting to decide the format, themes, and schedule of our episodes, as well as draft a plan for our pilot episode.

Sanjana suggested two segment ideas for future themed episodes:

1) What If? – Discuss what happens if a specific element is changed in canon

2) Missed Opportunities – Discuss gaps in canon where we can explore diversity

We decided to introduce segments based on the episode and the texts we were discussing, thereby keeping the format for every episode quite flexible. We also decided to record episodes every three weeks rather than every month to make up for the delay in the podcast schedule (I’m about a month behind). When I told them about my too-many-participants problem, Sanjana pointed out I had to stop looking for more at some point soon. While I had initially planned to do another round of recruitment in mid-January, I’ve now indefinitely postponed this plan. Aparna suggested having multiple guests on a single episode. While I was tempted by the multiple guests format, I was (and still am) hesitant about that since it would mean much less time and space for individual guests to share their diverse perspectives and ideas. I’m still undecided but for now, I plan to have more frequent episodes than I had planned with individual guests. Of course, that might turn out to be a huge mistake and cause my future self to boo and hiss at my current self!

Sanjana suggested that the first theme we explore should be race, which Aparna and I immediately agreed to. Sanjana thought it would be a good place for us to start, considering that we’ve grown up identifying with Western media which features people from another race and how this continues to influence our beliefs. She also believed it would be interesting to explore Harry Potter and Doctor Who, both of which are set “in the world that colonised us.” Later, I mentioned that one of my supervisors had suggested our first episode not tackle race since that is a theme which most intersectionality scholarship delves into the most, often at the expense of others. Hearing this, Sanjana had second thoughts. However, I agreed with her previous points. Furthermore, intersectionality scholarship largely explores the perspectives of black communities in the US who have a very different relationship with race than three Indian women, one of whom is now an immigrant in a largely white country.

Before the race episode, though, we agreed it would be prudent to record a pilot episode where we introduced ourselves and our engagement as fans with fandom. Here, we wouldn’t focus on a particular individual theme and would use it as a test episode, since none of us had any podcasting experience. The day after our meeting, I listened to The Sorting Hat episode of Imaginary Worlds, and thought it would provide a perfect framework for our pilot discussion.

Lesson Learned Number 1: Plan! 

We had initially decided to record our episode on 18th January but didn’t end up talking about the episode at all until the 17th (by which time we hadn’t planned anything). I suggested meeting to discuss the pilot episode before we recorded it on the now postponed date of the 19th/20th. For future episodes both with my co-hosts and with guests, I’ve learned to be more proactive about planning the schedule to prevent delays.

Lesson Learned Number 2: Communicate! 

Sanjana thought the pilot was going to be a mock episode about race. I didn’t think we needed to rehearse an episode before recording it; the pilot episode could act as our experiential learning process. After our meeting, we decided to do a technical test on the 20th and record on the 21st. To avoid miscommunications in future episodes, I’ve learned to clarify plans and not make assumptions about what the other person may have understood.

Lesson Learned Number 3: Discuss! 

By the time we met via video chat on 19th January, Aparna had suggested two articles. Before meeting, we jotted down our ideas for potential discussion topics on a shared Google doc. We decided the segment order collaboratively and organically as Paru made notes on this shared document. We also decided that we’d take turns leading different segments and divided responsibilities collectively. We ended the meeting feeling very good about the usefulness of the meeting itself and excited about our episode. For all future episodes, I’m going to meet my co-hosts and guests – preferably over Skype but at least over email or Instant Message – to discuss the format and themes of our episode before recording it.

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