Interview with Dave Probert (Geek Planet Online)

My guest today is Dave Probert of GeekPlanetOnline, a website hosting, among many other things, a group of genre podcasts including Tea and Jeopardy, Tangential Deviation, Twice as Bright Half as Long and Near Mint.

SCy-Fy: Dave, you are involved with many different podcasts; that must take a huge amount of enthusiasm.

DP: I love podcasting and to do podcasting for any length of time you have to love it. It is a thief of time. Between watching shows, writing notes or scripts, recording and editing it eats up hours that could be spent doing other things. To commit that time you need to love what you do.

If it got to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore, I would stop. I hope that day never comes, but if it does I can be happy that I have a large body of work out there that people can still enjoy long after I have decided to call it a day. That this is even possible is something that I marvel at. Done well, podcasting is the internet at its best and gives a voice to people and subjects that might not otherwise see the light of day. It’s fantastic.

How do you prepare for each show?

DP:  It depends on the show. For instance, the format of Tangential Deviation is just a rambling chat, but it is good to do a little research on the guest so that if the conversation slows I can engage them on their work or other interests. For Twice as Bright Half as Long or the film podcasts that I occasionally guest on, it will involve watching what is up for discussion. Ideally twice, once to get a general feel as a viewer and a second time in order to take notes.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

DP: I would like to do something Doctor Who related. I’m a massive fan of the show and have talked about it on podcasts in the past, but I would like to do something that covers the show more directly. There is no shortage of Doctor Who-based shows, so the challenge is to find a format that does something a little bit different. I have some ideas, but it’s all at a very nascent stage right now.

I have also been chatting with Tom Elliot (The Twilight Zone Podcast & The Strange and Deadly Show) about a possible future project, but again that is in the very early stages. I hope it all comes together, as Tom is a great podcaster and I would love to work with him again.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for podcasts in future?

DP: The major challenge is probably saturation. More and more podcasts are being created by the week, so it is difficult for new shows to find an audience. I’ve been podcasting for about 6 years or so now so I’m fortunate to have an audience, which means any new projects I begin will have something of a listenership before I even start. For people new to the medium it can be much harder to get a show known. You have to be something exceptional to rise to the top today and there are a lot of great shows out there which don’t necessarily manage to find their audience because more established shows have covered the same ground.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting a podcast?

DP: Try to find your own voice. The temptation is to look at successful shows and try to ape what they do, but people will quickly see through that. Take your time and don’t be afraid of dead air. Long pauses can be removed in the edit and it is much better to be clear and understood.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

DP: Audacity is the most vital tool I use. I had a fractious relationship with it when I first started out, as a lot of podcasters did, but the updates have calmed it down and it is a great piece of software for anyone starting out. It’s simple to use and doesn’t cost a penny.

Pamela is also extremely useful for recording Skype conversations. It is important to sort out the settings so that it records 2 separate tracks for ease of editing. I couldn’t do half of my podcasts without it.

Then there are the online resources I use such as for copyright-free music and for all manner of stock sound effects. For getting sound clips of shows I use a programme called Aura which can convert video into MP3.

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for?

DP: If you’re recording over Skype then ideally it’s good to have your computer plugged in directly to your router. Wi-fi can gulp, leading to gaps in the middle of words which can be time-consuming to fix in the edit.

I also make a point of splitting my recording into chunks. That way if there is a problem with a particular part of the recording you have only lost part of it and not the whole thing. Nothing is as dispiriting as having some glitch make 3 hours of raw footage useless.

Be aware that editing is a time-consuming process. On average every half hour of final footage has taken me about an hour to edit. It’s time well spent for a good finished product, but it’s easy to underestimate how long the process will take.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

DP: Meeting people who listen is always a huge boost. To this day I’m always slightly taken aback when I meet people who I don’t know who say that they listen to my shows. Obviously I put my work out there for new people to listen to, yet it still surprises and pleases me to find that people actually do. If anyone reading this listens to and enjoys a podcast, let the people making it know. It helps reassure them that they aren’t just broadcasting to the ether, which is an anxiety that every podcaster has experienced at some point.

SCy-Fy: Do you have a personal favourite among the shows you have presented?

DP: The show I’m certainly most proud of is the sketch show I did called Near Mint. I wrote 90% of the sketches and we recorded it in a proper recording studio thanks to Neil Gardner at Ladbroke Audio. It was fun to write and a great couple of weekends recording but much harder work to edit. I still have episode 3 to put together, which has fallen massively behind thanks to my changing day jobs.

Hearing the final product for the first time felt amazing as it sounded better than I imagined. It’s also really funny. The performers really added to the script and made it far funnier that it was on the page. These are comedy performers who deserve to be better known and if there is any justice one day they will be.

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming books, comics, films and TV shows are you most looking forward to reading or watching?

DP: I’m really looking forward to reading Peter Newman’s début novel The Vagrant. I’ve been fortunate to know Peter and Emma Newman since we helped them start Tea and Jeopardy and they are the loveliest people you could hope to meet. I heard Peter read an extract from The Vagrant at last year’s Nine Worlds convention and it sounded like it would be right up my street. Then I found out one of the main characters is a goat, which only made it sound better.

I’ve recently been pointed in the direction of Black Panther, which is a comic I have never read before. I have received some recommendations of where to begin and I’m looking forward to giving that a try.

Like pretty much everyone, I loved Agent Carter so I’m crossing everything that we get some more of that and in the cinema I’m looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron. It may not be the most intellectually worthy of films but it will be fun. I’m a big fan of films as pure escapism and Marvel’s films are escapism on a huge scale.

SCy-Fy: Thanks, Dave, and best of luck with everything!

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