Part 4: The show.
There is an awkward period between starting the stream and starting the actual show. I used to be terrified that if people jumped on the stream before the show started then they would get put off. This fear would make me tense and agitated. I would try and rush to the start point and end up making mistakes or I would not start the stream until we were all ready to roll then viewers would miss the beginning. Recently I’ve just had to accept that there will be a period of time when nothing F1 related is happening at the beginning of the stream and actually people don’t seem to mind too much as long we start the actual content at the time we said. So I start the stream 10 minutes early and we just chat about anything including our personal lives while I finish the final prep and allow the stream chatroom to populate. It’s a genuinely social time and I enjoy just catching up with the panel like I would with colleagues on a Monday morning before actually doing anything productive. Besides, I trim the video at the beginning and the end so this bit feels like a much more intimate period between the panel and the stream.
When it’s show time I yell at the panel to shut up so I can get a nice clean little section of near silence. This will help me later in post-production to get the cleanest possible audio. It might sound like it is silent when you listen on the live stream but that’s because the broadcast software applies a noise gate so everything below a certain volume is cut. It also adds live compression to level out everyone’s sounds. That’s grand but the settings it uses are one size fits all and not what I need for the finished audio. I don’t use that audio for the podcast MP3. I record the output directly from my miser. I need to gate out even the smallest unwanted noises in post-production as they will be exaggerated when I compress or amplify a portion of the audio. This silence gives me a sample of the baseline noise and I can the remove that spectrum of sound from the entire recording. The more noise I have to remove, the more good stuff that goes with it. I have spent a lot of time with the guys reducing the noise in their backgrounds. We are only as strong as the weakest link.
You can see from everything I’ve written so far in this series that the finished audio production is my priority. This certainly makes the video suffer. Just like with money, I also have to treat my skills and talent as a limited resource. Although I hope I’m improving, I will make mistakes or stumble over a point on occasion and the way I react to this very much depends on which medium you prioritise. If I am worried more about a finished video you can ‘style out’ any errors and visually you can use your face as well as your voice to make it appear fine. You see TV presenters ride out mistakes all the time. But this approach means the mistake is locked in and it’s hard to edit out in the audio.
If your priority is the finished audio then the best thing to do is simply stop, note the time down, and start that sentence again. With a timestamp it’s easy to pick up in the edit.
As you will observe in the audio I do not edit out every mistake but I do like to tidy up the opening exchanges so there’s not too much fat before the F1 content starts. When a show takes 10 mins to get to the subject matter I mentally check out. As the video element and live stream becomes more important to me, I’ve tried to combine the 2 approaches. I ride it out for the stream but I pick my next words carefully and add the odd tactical pause so that I have the option of hacking it up later. Ideally this is a problem that can be solved by becoming a better presenter but when I compare my live effort to Leo LaPorte and Scott Johnson live, they don’t get upset about mistakes so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself either.
The panel are great now and rarely need an edit but this is not by accident either. We have spent a great deal of time discussing what the panel contributions should be like and how to best interact. There’s an art to getting your point across in a clear concise manner and it’s something they have all worked on. One of the biggest skills is learning how to start a point properly and how to actually stop talking when you’re done. When you’re starting a point it’s important to telegraph exactly what you are talking about. In the beginning a few of the guys would be talking for 30 seconds before they actually said anything. Instead of starting by saying, “I think that Driver A could have done more to avoid that crash”, They might add several dead sentences such as “I was thinking today about one of the incidents and I concluded that much like we saw a few years in an incident that caused much discussion and which was something I spoke about at the time much to the….
You get the idea. I used to silently scream thinking, what are you actually talking about!!! Get to the point.
We also used to suffer a lot with Skype lag causing panellists to talk over each other. We’ve got a lot better at giving each other visual cues and now I can even nominate a person to speak using cue cards. It’s very funny watching to see when someone has a burning point they want to make you see them frantically waving their hands to get my attention. It makes for a much more dynamic conversation because people know they can get back in. In a lot of audio podcasts people don’t stop talking once they start because it takes ages to get back into the conversation. Really there shouldn’t be any multi-person podcasts that don’t use video at least between themselves. It’s a no brainer.
The other little trick I employ to make the panel better is that I let them pause as long as they want, even mid-sentence, if it helps them make a coherent point. As long as they are perfectly silent then I have an auto function that will trim that silence down and make their point appear seamless. Yes, the livestream see it but it makes a better audio product. As time goes on they use that crutch less and less. It also removes the Skype lag from Bedford to Brooklyn. We can’t cheat physics. Yet.
The next blog will wrap the series by talking about the post production on the night of the show, the social media strategy and ethos of the project.