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Plan a Podcast: Good Ideas to Great Episodes

Lesson 5 of 8

Doubt Your Story

 

Plan a Podcast: Good Ideas to Great Episodes

Lesson 5 of 8

Doubt Your Story

 

Lesson Info

Doubt Your Story

Inevitably, at some point, along the process, we're going to go from something that, I mean, I'm not going to call this beautiful, but this like octopus thing that I made for this class. But you're gonna go from something that, in your head seems like a really good, really beautiful idea to just utter self loathing and self doubt. OK? So you need to, you need to be, and this is interesting, because, this can come at any moment along the process. For me, this usually happens right before I interview someone, and right before I publish a piece. It can happen at any stage though. Actually, is anyone here feeling that like, self loathing or self doubt or existential dread right now on a project they're working with? A couple of nods. Yeah. That's good. Me too, actually. I'm publishing an episode tomorrow that I listened to, and I was like: Is this terrible? (audience laughter) Is this terrible? Am I wasting my whole life? Right? And so there's, there's a thing that says that sometimes ther...

e's this perception when you're starting out that this is something that, it's like, oh, if I just have three years experience this will go away. Right? That's not true. It won't. It won't. And that's like, maybe it does for some people. I haven't met those people yet. And I don't think I would want to, honestly. This is a helpful thing to feel as long as it stays in its lane. OK, so for me, here's how I know when it's happening, right, is if I'm sitting around and I start imagining living on a goat farm and just hanging out with goats all day. A place with no Wi-Fi. No Internet. And it's just like me and the goats, and the goats like me. And I feed them, and they like me, and they eat the grass. I milk them. I make cheese. I eat goat cheese. If I start thinking about that, here's what I know, is that I know that I am challenging myself. That I'm trying to do something difficult in that moment because I think there might be real chance for failure. If I don't feel that inner peace, it generally means I haven't pushed myself very hard and that I'm in danger of plateauing, or in danger of just becoming good enough at what I do to make it, make it pass. Now, the difference is that, when I first started out, I was very seriously considering taking that. Not the goat farm route, but just considering just getting out and stopping. But, the trick is to make sure that this kind of dread that you feel in the moment stays just in the realm of your professional life, and not in the realm of your personal life. So, it's the difference between saying: Hey, this piece I'm working on, maybe this is absolute garbage. Maybe I've gone down completely the wrong path in this. It's the difference between saying that and saying this piece might be absolute garbage. I am a bad person. I will die alone. No one likes me, and I have nothing to offer the world. Right? Those are the two differences. And there's a world of difference between those two, but it's so easy to bridge those two gaps. So, as long as we can keep it in the first category, I think it's actually a really healthy thing to have. Because it forces you to look outside your piece and be critical of your own piece. And especially in podcasting, where, a lot of times, you don't have an editor. You're essentially, this is like your editor phase. Where you're like super skeptical and you're like: What can I do to make this better? OK. So, actually, case in point. When I was making this presentation I was actually having this feeling myself too. And what I decided to do, instead of just bailing out of the country or starting a goat farm, right, is I reached out to two of my friends. Two of my professional peers, and I asked them their opinions on this, because I know they experience the same thing. Everyone does. Like, there wasn't a single person I asked who was like "oh no, I don't feel pre-production dread, I don't feel pre-posting dread". And they had different opinions than me. This is what's really valuable. So, my go to is goat farm, right? That wasn't their go to's and they have different opinions on this. So, I asked my friend, Michelle Macklem who makes podcasts called constellations. Here's what she had to say: She said "It's difficult sit in the uncertainty of what a piece will be. I know enough now to understand that it's important to not get too attached to anything beyond my initial curiosity because, the nature of good documentary is that it will change as you uncover and pull apart the questions you have by talking to other people. What I often find most challenging is balancing a state of openness with the focus, or propulsion to make something that satisfies why I set out to do this in the first place." So, what Michelle's approach is, she's saying don't get too attached to your dream tape. This is good advise. This is good advise because dream tape, remember, over here, in the world of forms, this is impossible. This will never happen. If you get too attached to this happening, if you're there in the moment, and things aren't going according to plan, which they never do, if things aren't going according to plan, you'll get flustered and weird. What's she's saying is stay flexible you know, stay focused on the thing that interested you but don't get too attached to that dream tape. Dream tape is impossible, but it's a helpful impossibility to imagine. I also asked Rikke Houd, about her opinions about this. She's a icelandic producer living in Denmark. She is a great, great producer. We're actually gonna, I think, listen to something of hers in just a second. Here's what she had to say: She said, "Years of doing this has taught me that the dread or maybe the nervousness is good to a certain limit. That limit being, signs of burnout and stress. But otherwise, it keeps me on my feet and it usually disappears once I've actually begun recording. I just have to get out there and get started. It's the transition that's the hardest and after the dread there's often a reward. The feeling of entering a sort of, parallel universe of being brave, alert and observant and perceiving things I wouldn't normally otherwise perceive." So, Rikka's approach is to embrace the nervousness and dread, in moderation of course, and to use that nervous energy as a propulsion to get out there and do it. To not wallow in it. Take that, and immediately get into the field. She says that, you know, paying attention to the fear or dread is like a signal. This again, is where it's really important to keep that separate. Keep that separate. Keep your dread separate from your personal doubts about yourself. Your professional dread and your personal dread, It's really hard to do but to make that firewall there. Of course, at some point you have to alleviate this dread. For me, I like to consume media that's outside my own thing so I'm not like, sitting there listening to a podcast and like, re-writing the script for them on the fly or re-editing the sound or anything like that. I like to watch movies, read books, look at visual art. If I want to listen to a podcast, what I find is actually really helpful, is to listen to a completed piece of work in another language. Because then, you can just hear it for its, its whole being without getting stuck up on the words and you can just listen. I think this is gonna work. I cut an excerpt out of a piece that Rikke had actually made for this great Danish podcast called Third Ear. It's called The Woman On Ice. Excuse me. It's called Woman On The Ice and it's by Rikke. This is a piece where she went to very rural Greenland. Rural by Greenland standards. Really, really out there. She goes out there to figure out what happened many decades ago to this woman, who had come over from Denmark, who disappeared. And, one of the things I absolutely love, and this is something that I've been trying to steal, for as long as possible. Rikke is fantastic at getting her sources to sing for her, which I love. So, we're gonna try to play this now. It's a minute and a half, it's just a little excerpt from it. This is the stage where I really like to listen to someone else's work and not be able to critique the words, or content, or ideas, just be able to listen to it. Alright? (woman and man speaking another language) (man singing in another language) (ominous music) (woman speaking another language) I really like her work. A lot. Even if... I didn't ask her but, unless anyone in here speaks Danish, I actually think some of that was also in a Greenlandic language as well. It's just so nice to hear something that you have no chance of understanding. Of course there's an English transcript of this piece that is really beautiful but also, just to listen to it from a purely kind of, visceral kind of, let you wash it over you perspective, it's just a really moving piece. It's a way to get through this kind of dread that you can feel to say, hey, other people are doing this too. You know, other people are pushing through that, that kind of dread to make this really beautiful and out there work.

Class Description

There’s a big difference between a great idea and a great podcast. Just ask Jeff Emtman, who founded the successful documentary podcast “Here Be Monsters.” Before he ever picks up the microphone, Jeff has an elaborate preparation ritual, a process involving bathtubs, strategic forgetfulness, and good old-fashioned journaling.

Jeff will show you how to zoom in on the important parts of a story and forget the fluff, conceptualize sound and a story’s “dream tape,” and use self-doubt and existential dread as a creative tool. You’ll come away with real-world techniques for preparing for your podcast so that you can make your best work.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Get over your fears of actually starting work on an episode and take the first leap.
  • Compartmentalize and benefit from pre-production jitters.
  • Focus on research at the beginning, not story structure.
  • Prepare for the interview, both practically and conceptually.
  • Use sound to deepen the impact of an episode.
  • Doubt your story so you can find its flaws and improve it.
  • Experiment with and subvert conventional structures.

Reviews

Timothy
 

This class has a lot of really interesting insights and ideas. It is definitely focused more on narrative/interview/experimental style podcasts, but I think anyone interested in any aspect of podcasting would enjoy listening to Jeff speak on the subject. He's a really unique person with a really neat perspective on the medium, and sound in general.