The Podcasters : Ryan Taylor

This is a continuing series in which I will be interviewing many great podcasters to learn about their podcasting setups. While the content is always the most important aspect of a podcast, the technical craft in bringing that content to the listeners also deserves attention. I hope this series will illuminate that critical piece of the puzzle.

Ryan Taylor hails from Britain and runs the Do You Have a Mountain Bike? network, which actually has little to do with mountain bikes.

What podcasts do you host?

So I really gave online broadcasting a serious thought after listening to a couple episodes of Build & Analyze, which in turn led me to the truly delicious Back to Work. Once I’d heard Merlin Mann, there was no way I wasn’t going to jump onboard with what was until then for me, an entirely unknown entity. He managed to do something I’d never heard before, and it hooked me.

It all started with a podcast that at the time I called Do You Have A Mountain Bike?. One thing that occurred to me was that everybody was racing around trying to attract these high profile names to their shows, but nobody was really giving the everyday guy or gal a chance. And so, I started interviewing lesser-known individuals from all walks of life. The premise was simple: ask the same twenty questions of each guest, the first one of course being ‘do you have a mountain bike?’ and from there delve more deeply into their chosen field. I have to confess that I stole the format from my favourite podcast of all time Typeradio (which 519 episodes later, has been going for an incredible eight and a half years), where instead of a non-entity question about cycling equipment, they start with the rather more corporeal ‘are you religious?’; I hope they don’t mind my theft too much.

Do You Have A Mountain Bike? ran for just six episodes; I learnt pretty quickly that I was terrifyingly useless at interviewing, so I shut it down nearly as soon as it had started. Plus, it was through that show that I ‘met’ Steven Teskey, who after interviewing I just knew I had to do more recording with. And that led to Too.

Too started life as two tech geeks waxing lyrical about Apple (because that’s an entirely untested concept, right?). We’re shortly going to be producing a ‘best of’ to celebrate the first 50 episodes of the show, and as part of that I’ve been listening to those early, early episodes; compare the first ten with the last ten and you’d think they were from two entirely different shows. Current-day-Too has barely anything to do with tech at all, rather reaching into the beautifully, mind-bogglingly gorgeous world of pseudo-philosophy. We’ve discussed free will, time, ideology, fate, the singularity, causality and goodness knows what else. Steven and I disagree on nearly every point and I’ve never enjoyed something so much in my life.

What’s your physical rig? (Computer, mic, headphones, other accessories)

Before committing to buying any equipment, I read, reread, and read again, the superb guide that Dan Benjamin put out on his now defunct blog, Hivelogic. And then I harassed him over Twitter for about ten days straight before finally settling on the rig I have today.

I use a Rode Procaster (not Podcaster) along with Rode’s PSA1 boom and shock mount. The mic is built like a fortress and weighs like a brick, but it’s beautiful, I love it. The mic connects via XLR into the fantastic Onyx Blackjack audio interface by Mackie; that thing is tank-like and when combined with the Procaster delivers sound quality which is super-crazy-great. Finally, my cans are Sony MDR-7506s; they’re not new (released back in 1991, believe it or not), but they’re impeccable in terms of delivering fractional and almost imperceptible interference to my ears; for somebody who spent way too much of his youth in loud clubs standing next to oversized speakers, that is something I’ve come to rely on!

My computer is a mid-2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM and a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 processor, which is hooked up to likely the best piece of technology I ever bought: Apple’s very own Thunderbolt Display. I use the heck out of that thing and it’s perfect for having everything open that I need when recording, on one über-sized screen. I use Apple’s wireless keyboard and Magic Trackpad too.

What type of room do you record in?

At the minute I record at home from my study and my bedroom and my living room and my kitchen; my place is one open space over two floors. The building used to be a textile mill, so the roof is a million miles above me which means acoustically, when combined with the openness, it poses its problems, and demands some fairly creative editing.

I’ve been looking at a few office rentals across the city, so hopefully I can find somewhere soon that’ll lend itself to better sound recording.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

Well, we’re all shackled to Skype, right? It’s just the worst. On the editing side, I use Logic Pro. I’ve tried others, but I keep coming back to it. It’s like an old friend these days.

What do you use to host your podcast online?

Right at the same time that I was venturing into podcasting, I was also obsessing about programming. After a botched attempt at diving straight into Objective C without any programming knowledge whatsoever (what a stupid idea that was), I took a step back and fell head over heels in love with web development. Given I’m an absolute control freak, with this newfound power I knew immediately that our shows weren’t going to be hosted on Squarespace or WordPress or any other third-party platform. I wanted to write my own content management system. These two ideas together were the genesis of DYHAMB?, the network.

DYHAMB? is powered by an entirely custom-built CMS. I’ve coded both the frontend and the back-, and it’s been a capricious labour of love. It gives us the ability to create and edit almost any aspect of DYHAMB?, from the site you see at right through to a very specific element of an episode, the RSS feeds, episode artwork, or anything else you can think of.

Without being burdened by the constraints of somebody else’s system, it gives us the creative freedom to essentially do what we like. We now have two (and a half) shows and recently I’ve been working on getting it ready for the next phase of DYHAMB?’s evolution, but I can’t really say much more than that right now.

What’s your basic workflow for recording a podcast and taking it to the published stage?

It all starts with minutely preparing every nuance of a topic for Steven and I to discuss. Yea, right…

Seriously though, we usually record in one take. It’s very rare that we revisit, change, or redo an episode. After that, it’s into Logic and an interminable slog to get the edit done. The finished article is loaded onto the CMS where it’s combined with its cover art, and all of that is pushed out to RSS and onto iTunes, followed by an auto-tweet that goes out on the old Twitter-ma-bob.

Would you like to change anything about your current podcasting setup?

Right from the beginning, sound quality was the driving force behind everything I’ve tried to achieve; for me, it’s the difference between back-bedroom podcasting and genuine online broadcasting. Sure, Logic can patch and fix umpteen irritants, but as the old adage surely should go: prevention is better than ten hours in post-.

I likely spend way longer in post-production than I should, so much so that it’s become the one part of the process that I truly despise. The guys who host our other show, Critically Speaking, had invited a guest on one week whose recording featured a fair amount of static. Wanting it to sound as good as humanly possible, and not wanting the guest to have to record the whole thing again, I spent maybe two or three days in Adobe Audition intensively erasing the static from each and every second of the recording, when actually I should probably have just accepted it for what it was. Thankfully it sounded better, but the time spent on it was insane. Recently this obsession has got to me so much I practically snapped off the hand of your previous guest, Andrew J Clark, when he said he’d offer to edit Too for us. If anybody knows anything about sound production, it’s that guy. Which is perfect, as I personally believe that beautiful, crisp sound is the nectar of the podcasting gods; I really hope that shines through.

I guess for me then that’s a rather convoluted way of saying that, the one thing I’d like to change more than anything, is the damned acoustics in this room. Until I get an office sorted, maybe I can record from inside a cardboard box.

Now there’s an idea…