October 31, 2018 • ☕️☕️☕️ 15 min read
This podcast was an fun experiment: 10 pre-recorded episodes that were all published at once!
One of the lessons I took away was Nadia’s emphasis on learning in public (which I also see as living out our faith). With this post, I hope to shed some light on not just on our process of making a podcast for the first time (being on someone else’s podcast is pretty different!), but also the thought process behind our decisions. I want to go a littel meta and see how we were able to apply some of the ideas discussed on the podcast through the making of the podcast itself.
There are plenty of articles, videos, and even podcasts about making podcasts: some people say everyone should make a podcast because it’s fun and easy, while others say no one should because it’s oversaturated. I’m not here to convince anyone of doing anything but just sharing in our thought process having now finished one from beginning to end.
Nadia already mentioned this in her post, but we’ve naturally discussed faith as we got to know one another. We started noticing topics that seemed to be paralleled in both faith and open source, whether it was around community organizing or something more obvious like evangelism.
The idea came spontaneously, like a “why not”? Instead of a well-edited blog post or talk, it just made sense to create a podcast out of our discussions. Neither of us had bold dreams of making a weekly show or getting a lot of subscribers. We already had fun chatting between ourselves first, so seeing it as an experiment in learning together and with low stakes made it easy to start. All our other decisions could fall in place from that.
This seems to be how a lot of open source projects get started; just for fun and for yourself with no plans for anything big. There’s no thought about the anxiety that comes from maintainence of features/issues in the beginning. I feel like I learned the value of not always telling everyone what you are doing from the beginning. Open source and learning doesn’t have to mean complete transparency. Maybe sometimes it’s better to prove out the idea by just doing it and showing people versus asking (e.g. twitter polls) people who have no context or the background.
We are going for a casual chat, so the phrase “off the cuff” fit best. No semblance of journalism or interviewing means less focus on getting things “right” and more raw thoughts. We wanted the listener to feel like they were with us, just overhearing a normal conversation.
I’ve listened to many types of podcasts over the years; whether it was gaming related (Idle Thumbs, 1UP, 8-4 Play, Irrational Podcast), tech/startup focused, or general (This American Life, Freakonomics Radio, NPR) so I’ve been exposed to a few different kinds of formats. I used listen to the Giant Bombcast a lot and thought of their candor as well.
Googling “how to make a podcast” wasn’t very compelling; we really felt no pressure to copy what existed before because our values were different. And while freedom can actually be limiting and stressful regarding wanting to perform, we didn’t feel that way with this project.
As for previous experience: we both have had the opportunity to appear on a few podcasts ourselves and Nadia was one of the hosts of another podcast on open source sustainability, Request for Commits (you should totally check that out).
We established that we wanted the podcast to be fun for ourselves, first and foremost. This was helpful to lessen any burden to satisfy others or want to copy existing things.
The idea of not doing a typical regularly scheduled podcast became more appealing as we didn’t know how long that would last, if there was enough to talk about, or if it was too much to commit to.
(The fixed number of episodes also wound up being an inspiration for the cover art).
There was no intention to make it a way to make money or get lots of downloads (for sponsors) so all things things that people usually care about became irrelevant and the task less stressful. It wouldn’t be a full time thing.
At first I was confused at Nadia’s idea of releasing them all at once, since I just assumed people would release an episode every week (even if it was all pre-recorded) but then I realized it was just a part of some kind of marketing strategy. Looking back however I think it could be better in some aspects to release them all at once anyway since it acts more like a season which people are used to now with things like Netflix “binge watching”. While many podcasts now have “seasons”, it doesn’t seem common to release them all at once.
While we certainly knew some people we could interview, we weren’t sure if we wanted to handle all the scheduling or if people were comfortable with the topics. Looking back, I think doing this first release would help us figure out what we want to do, and if we ever decide to do a “season 2” there’s always the opportunity for guests.
Nadia: no guests definitely took the pressure off and immediately made this feel like a casual, fun project. I was used to doing a more formal interview style on Requests for Commits, with research/prep beforehand (it was the first podcast I’d co-hosted, and I hadn’t ever listened to podcasts before then!). This time, we embraced the idea of showing up and just talking about whatever came to mind. It helped that we already knew each other and are friends, so we know what the other person might like/not like. I found I really liked this style of podcasting, it feels more like recording conversations that you’re having anyway and sharing them with the public, which is what I find most appealing about the podcast format (“learning in public”)
It might be interesting to look back at the timeline of when we scheduled the recordings. It was only after a month we figured we should just start an intro episode and go from there. We tried to do it 1-2 weeks in-between recording other than when we got busy.
Names are pretty important! As thing people will talk about and share (whether you care about SEO or not), it establishes what the content is about. Even for a podcast such as ours it’s difficult to not choose something that is too specific or too vague.
Given the podcast would be about both faith and open source we started off writing up concepts/ideas/phrases that we might be able to combine or re-use. Choosing a name that combined the intersection of two fields (that most people don’t even realize) was particularly difficult.
Open Source terms:
I thought that it might be important to figure out the name before the cover art, but didn’t need to be ready with the name before we record. It turned out nice to be able to work on these parts as we went along. I definitely thought a lot about it in the back of my mind, and tried to get inspiration from other podcasts, books, and nature.
Call to Commitment I really liked this one, but it’s from an existing book title, and Nadia already did a podcast already with “commit” in the name, Request for Commits 🙂.
Of course we also had some fun(ny) suggestions from friends; it was fun to collaborate and brainstorm with a small group!
We would be interested in hearing alternative titles like the ones above if you have any 😝!
Around the time we recorded the fourth episode, we ended up going with “Hope In Source”.
“Hope ‘n Source” was suggested at first but
'n' felt weird to say and would be odd for sharing. Also had fun looking up whether it should be
'n', 'n, n'? The conjunction represents
"and", but it made we realize we could just use
Nadia: I wanted a name that wasn’t going to feel overly religious or scare people off, since we wanted the podcast to have broader appeal
I don’t recall ever designing something like a logo before, so it was my first attempt at it! For initial inspiration I went to iTunes and just looked through and copy pasted the top podcasts in various categories for aesthetics, kind of like a mood board.
The only technical part I looked up was that iTunes requires an image size of “1400 x 1400” to “3000 x 3000”, 72dpi, as JPEG/PNG. The artwork has to fit as a square and also look good at a small scale on a phone (125 x 125).
I asked a few friends if they could help design the artwork, and my friend Jessica Han was able to. We met once in person to discuss overall look/feel and the purpose of the podcast. Afterwards we spent time when possible to discuss various mockups.
The first mockups were a good start: we weren’t really sure what to go for at the time so just getting a starting point was helpful. From here I shared with some others and we determined it would be nice to show some kind of “growth”/dynamicism, using a darker color for contrast, adding some element of technology, and using an illustration. I had the idea of using vines or multiple plants to showcase “community”.
I really loved the idea of plants/shubbery growing out of the keyboard. The keyboard could represent programming/open source and the plants are the “hope” that is usually depicted when a small bud grows out of a crack in the ground.
From there I got inspired to try my own sketches despite my lack of any art background.
I tried to explore the idea of showing more of the roots rather than the plant itself (I was thinking of an iceberg analogy). Instead of only showing outward growth I was thinking of depicting inward/spirtual growth through deeper roots of various sorts.
Drawing out the roots led to thinking about wires/electricity, which sparked an idea of using binary as nodes and eventually a binary tree itself!
The next mockup Jess made took advantage of these ideas.
Trying to show a picture of growth lead to attempting some background rain.
Why not sunlight instead?
Some more variations (testing out no roots, different backgrounds, monospace font)
When thinking about how long the roots should go, I realized that it couldn’t go that deep. And we only had 10 episodes so I figured we could have 10 nodes for the roots.
Next I wondered if we could attempt having a different cover art per episode.
In the end, we went with some more whitespace around the plant! We really liked how it turned out!
For anyone inspired out there, I’d be curious to see your own cover art designs and ideas!
We live across the US (SF/NYC), so we needed a way to do this online! Both of us have been on podcasts before and used various technologies whether it was Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. We decided to try Zencastr due to previous experiences, recommendations from others, and since it records locally as separate audio files. We paid for the $20/month plan.
We have no experience with editing so at first we thought of just paying someone to do it. But I figured why not give it a shot anyway? I downloaded Audacity and tried it out.
Given the nature of our podcast format, there wasn’t a need to cut out every single uh/um or remove silence completely. It was hard not to do so, but that would take away from the point of making the podcast a conversation.
Having two separate WAV files from Zencastr made it easier to mute out the noises from one another when recording online. I just learned how to cut off the beginning/end (which was as simple as selecting the track and deleting it) and attempting to mute any parts where there were interruptions (large sirens in NYC, static, or issue with microphone). It was pretty straightforward in the end due to minimal editing, although even with that taking up a good chunk of time. I also referenced Quincy of freeCodeCamp great post for help.
Henry: It’s good to be able to add an intro/outro even after the episodes were all recorded. We did a lot of things pretty last minute: I asked my friend Ken to create some beats on Monday and I edited a lot of it on the plane ride into SF and released it all the next day. I did kinda want some kind of Gregorian monk chant like in the Halo series but having some simple beats works well for a podcast related to tech.
Nadia: our whole approach to the production process was keeping things simple, so at first we didn’t do any intro/outro music. But it sounded too abrupt to end the episodes without anything at all, so we added a bit of outro music, and we also recorded a short outro thing to end each episode. Eventually added intro music as well. Gave it all a slightly more polished feel
There’s just a lot of great options here, so I just talked with some friends and ended up going with Simplecast (React Podcast uses this as well). Most of these services have cheap/unlimited hosting, a website, good docs, and stats (Simplecast is $12/month).
We didn’t have to do this, but why not! When we were coming up with the name, the domain was available! It also sounded nice to a single place we could direct people to have the episodes, link to our blog posts, and put some show notes.
Nadia is a way better writer so I just asked if she’d do most of it. We did a summary for each episode, tried to add links to books, concepts, or phrases for each episode. We spent the most time trying to decide the short description for the podcast itself, how important each word is in those few sentences!
We used hackmd.io for our podcast planning, notes, and blog posts.
Using Simplecast took care of any hosting, so submission to various platforms just required mostly giving out the generated RSS feed link (you can verify it’s valid here).
For Apple Podcasts, I had to create an account and submit to the Podcasts Connect Portal. We did all of this early to make sure everything looked and sounded good. It took more than a week to get approved so it was nice to have everything ready before doing a public release. It wasn’t any different for Spotify or Google, although we didn’t submit to any others.
There’s really something special about seeing an idea come to fruition and made real, especially for a medium you only consume and only dream of being a part of.
Thanks to too many friends for helping brainstorm names and cover art ideas, especially to Jess for the illustration and Ken for the outro music. Of course thanks to Nadia for being an awesome friend and one of a kind co-host!
Some of the messages and testimonies I’ve heard so far have really blown me away!
I hope to learn how to apply this sense of curosity and freedom to the rest of my life. It’s been an interesting contrast over the last years in open source, where I feel trapped to do what was previously expected. Even if I “know” being a maintainer isn’t just about writing pull requests, I hope this project can act as a reminder to me that it can be so much bigger than that.
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