This week, we released the 100th episode of The Fantasticast. In a break from showcasing tropes of The Fantastic Four (nearly) ever day, we're celebrating this milestone with a week of special blog posts taking a behind-the-scenes or sideways look at the show. Today, we pull back the curtain and pay rather a lot of attention to the man hiding behind it...
An hour of audio takes an awfully long time to produce. At an estimate, from the moment I start writing notes to hitting the 'publish' button on Libsyn, each episode takes 8-10 hours to produce. That's a lot of time, each and every week. I don't have the time to 'not be in the mood', to want to do something else. There are times when producing the show feels like a burden, when I wish I could ignore the release schedule and spend the night vegging out in bed, watching DVDs and eating crisps.
Step 1: The Reading
We record two episodes of the Fantasticast in one sitting, meaning that every two weeks, we sit down and cover two months worth of Marvel comics. A month a week. You've probably noticed, we briefly summarise each and every original Marvel comic towards the start of the episode. The idea behind this is to context each issue of the Fantastic Four with the other Marvel books that share it's cover date, so if you know your Amazing Spider-Man back-to-front (as Andy does), you should be able to line this issue up in the grander scheme of things easily. Of course, that means that someone's got to go and read these comics. Some are available commercially (as I've said before, I own all the DVD collections from the mid-2000s, so I legally own all of the main titles). Some have synopsises that are easily available (Official Indexes, marvel.wikia, etc.), but there are a handful of titles (such as Captain Savage) for which there exists no way to read or receive a plot summary. So... yes... I use torrents to ensure that I cover everything with a modicum of accuracy.
Right now, reading for episode 102 (cover date July 1969), there are 13 books to cover, all of which are densely-dialogued (and, in the case of Doctor Strange, fairly incomprehensible to me). This takes time - I can read a trade of Bendis-era Avengers faster than I can read two Roy Thomas Avengers issues. Thankfully, I have bus journeys to and from work every morning, which allows me to squeeze most of the reading in, but when I hit a run of comics that I don't enjoy, it can be a chore.
Step 2: The Writing
Somewhere on my hard drive, I have the full script for episode 1 of the show. And when I say full script, I mean full script. Andy and I used to share a document and write out (long form) our notes for each issue. Thankfully, we don't do that any more. The only bits of full scripting I do now are the introduction (that's a very recent thing, as the majority of the the episodes will attest), the history blurbs, the 'elsewhere in Marvel' blurbs, the issue synopsis, and the summaries of the Bullpen Bulletins and the letters pages. The rest... well, I let it come to me during the record, although for key information, I'll have a couple of bullet points scribbled down in front of me.
Step 3: The Recording
This is the most enjoyable bit of the whole process. I treasure the opportunity I have every two weeks to sit down and record with Andy. We spend about three hours on Skype together, lots of which doesn't get recorded or doesn't make it into the show. If you've listened to the show since the early days, you'll have noticed a huge improvement in the quality of the audio. In August 2013, we stopped using various Skype call recording software to record the call itself. I was irritated with Skype compressing the audio quality, with the latency that would pop up (normally whilst Andy was talking, which is always difficult to deal with). Instead, we started recording our individual microphones directly, using Skype only to facilitate the two of us talking. It slows the editing down a little, but I hope the difference in audio quality is noticeable and better.
Step 4: The Editing
Welcome to the most time-consuming and tedious part of producing the show. Ask any podcaster what the worst part of their workflow is, and 'editing' will be top of the list. If not, then they don't do the editing!
As you can see from the screenshot, I use Audacity on a Mac. I tried Garageband, but the reduction in speed from learning a new system was too much, and I've managed to customise Audacity to make the edit as quick and painless as possible. If it's just Andy and myself, then I work at a rate of 1 hour's editing for every 15-20 minutes of audio. It varies, as monologues (reading the history, bulletins, synopsises, etc.) tend to be very easy to edit, whilst back and forths tend to have more audio issues to contend with, such as flubbing our words, talking over each other, long pauses whilst we gather our thoughts, and the inevitable arguments!
On top of this, there's the time spent manipulating the audio (equalising, normalising, compressing, and rendering into mp3 format) which, depending on how my computer's feeling, can take only a few minutes each... or up to half an hour each!
Step 5: The Publishing
This part is normally a case of filling in a web form, uploading the episode, and scheduling it for release. Before I submit the audio, I embed the audio file with the cover artwork provided by Sam Savage, using elements from the original cover as well as the show's artwork by Michael Georgiou. The hardest part of this whole process is writing the episode description. I like them to be informative and fun, and hitting the balance can be a bit tricky, especially if, at the time of writing, my recall of the tangents and funny moments is rather poor... as it is most weeks! Libsyn also handles the social media notifications, which means that everything can be queued up in advance. The episode goes live at midnight UK time, late afternoon/early evening for the US (depending on time zone). I'll almost always be in bed at that point, trusting that nothing will go wrong!
And that's how a podcast is made. Every week. For nearly three years.
I need a break!
Tomorrow... the cycle begins again, with the release of episode 101!