The following is my podcasting retrospective that I wrote and recorded for Tales To Terrify. From episode 130, aired July 4th, 2014 until episode 356, aired November 23, 2018, I was the host. I left the show as I felt that the last segment of my bachelors degree would leave me pressed for time, and I didn’t want the show to suffer. I appreciate my time as host and I learned great deal and worked with a lot of great people. I’ve included the text of the recording here for posterity:
The staff of Tales to Terrify has been prepping up for transitioning me out of the role of host, and back to narrator where I started with this show. After about four years of doing the show, I’m coming up on a period in my life where I’m about to wrap up my long overdue bachelors degree and it’ll be the hardest part of the program. I decided to leave this role on the show on my own terms versus getting bogged down with school work and the podcast suffering, then leaving when things are a mess, which is what I believe would have happened.
So, this sort of special bit of audio, I decided to put in separately, because, well, you may not want to hear it and you can skip it. No hard feelings. I think that what this can be best understood is a bit of a retrospective about podcasting. I probably won’t linger too much on horror or fiction.
Way back in the beginning one of the choices that was made by Tony and Larry was to put in time markers in the show notes for when different parts of the show would begin. There were two big reasons for this. One is that if you wanted to go back and listen to a particular story, you’d know the time stamp. The other is that if you wanted to skip part of the show, even Larry or my hosting stuff, you could. Not all listeners care about what I have to say, and that’s fine. You’re just here for the stories.
Larry’s passing had a impact on me that goes beyond the show. One of the really tricky parts for me was when I agreed to take up the hosting position at a time where I was the only member of the staff, there were two problems. First, Larry was well connected. Larry knew lots of people and did a wonderful job of maintaining those relationships. I was not as well connected to the fiction community. So, he had established an enormous collection of stories set to be narrated and aired. And despite the efforts of editors before me, there was still a large swath of the stories that the order in which they’d be narrated or aired was in his head and nowhere else. As a result, when it was time for me to pick up the pieces, pieces they were. During the following months, I’d work with new editors on a work flow that would understand the bus factor. I wanted to be replaceable, if I were to suddenly have to leave the show. I’ve also kept that in mind in my professional life, since all team based projects should have its members be replaceable, if need be.
The second thing that Larry was better at was having a bit of a character on the podcast. Maybe character is too strong of a term. He had an altered persona for the podcast. He did a wonderful job of setting the tone for the show by having you believe that he was a spooky man inviting you into his library for a reading of a scary story. I always imagined the Nook as how I imagined the protagonist in Poe’s The Raven. After Larry’s passing, I tried to stick with that setting and received some gentle feedback that it came off as weird. So, as some of you may remember, I relocated to the cabin, and had that going for awhile, but it just didn’t feel natural for me. I asked a few listeners about it and some thought it was fine, some did admit it sounded stilted, but none of them really cared whether or not that was done at all, so I dropped it.
I’ve mentioned before about how the staff of Tales to Terrify will occasionally re-visit the idea of our no-frills presentation of the entire episode, and I think that this was also a part of that mind set. You are here to listen to some stories first, not for me, the warm up act. There is part of me that hopes that Drew will take the hosting spot back to a fictional place to set the stage for what will come, and another part of me that wonders if that is just us being silly.
My audition for narrator was a selection from MacCarthy’s The Road, which I recorded on an iPhone and then sent in, which was immediately rejected because of the poor audio quality. That was my first dip into the podcasting waters and was then made to realize that equipment does matter. I’d like to remark to anyone who may be thinking of making a podcast that equipment does matter, but not that much.
I have a friend who is a professional sound engineer and has a tremendous amount of expensive sound equipment. I bugged him for months looking for new pieces of equipment to up my audio quality, and eventually he listened to an episode and said, it sounds fine. I have a Blue Yeti microphone with a pop filter that I’ve used for years, and at some point added some sound damping material behind the microphone. Otherwise, the clothing in my wife’s closet soaks up most of the rest. I record on a old MacBook Air that I can take into the closet with me. I could also edit on it if I felt so inclined, but I then take that to a much newer and larger screened iMac to do any sort of cutting out of coughs, misspeaks, or swearing at cats. If we were to take it to the This American Life level, yeah, we’d probably need to put a few more bucks into equipment for outfitting a studio, but for what we do? It’s fine, and for what you may want to do, don’t break your bank.
Also, there were quite a few things that I learned about audio capture while being a narrator, such as exactly how loud a lawnmower, weedeater, or motorcycle has to be to my ears before my microphone will pick it up form outside. Also, warning anyone that you live with that you’ll be recording, and asking them to be quiet for a bit. Another is expecting the possibility that the recording will be rejected. One of the singularly most frustrating narrations that I had was also my longest. Cher Eaves had asked me to narrated Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, which would eventually be broken up into multiple parts and aired in different episodes. It was a very long read. And after I completed that long read, edited out all of my mistakes, and sent it on to the show, Larry rejected it because I pronounced the name of the river in it, at least, three different ways. And as a result, I had to re-record big chunks of that thing. I was not happy about that. And, for those of you who have been with the show for quite some time know that I am well known for screwing up our authors and narrators’ names, mandating a bit of an apology the following week.
I think another chapter in the Tales to Terrify story that I’d like to remark on is the Hugo Awards debacle. For those of you who joined our listening audience after that happened, the short version of it is that there is a group of fiction fans who feel that conservative voices have been shut out of sci fi, fantasy, and horror, so they’ve attempted to either vote in their people for the Hugo Awards or poison the well with illegitimate candidates. One of those years, we were either one of their people or an illegitimate candidate. I’m not sure which they considered us, since we weren’t notified by either of those groups that this would be happening. Tales to Terrify’s staff was well supported by the larger community of authors who felt this was an undeserved slight. Even George R. R. Martin took a break from working on The Winds of Winter to show a bit of support. Now, I did get a bit of flak, because although I was not happy to find myself in the middle of something that I didn’t feel that I should be in the middle of, I did concede that the group who says that conservative voices were being shut out - were correct. Personally, I think that a good story is told by a good author, regardless of their personal convictions about things. A creator’s beliefs have to be absolutely abhorrent before it’ll interfere with my ability to enjoy their work at all. The flak that I took, was from people who understood my statements to mean that I was sympathetic to the entire mission of those groups, which also included anti-diversity motives, which is abhorrent to me. Shutting anyone out of a community of ideas based on their identity is an immoral thing.
To sum things up, if an author wants their heroes to be all white, heterosexual, nominally Christian, males - that’s fine with me. But to demand it of others? Get out of here.
We were happy to receive a Parsec for Ron Newton’s reading of Justin Cawthorne’s Graves, way back in episode 172.
I think that I just have two more things to discuss before I signed off.
The first is money. Before Tales to Terrify moved to Acast, you’ll recall that every couple of months I had to sound the alarm. Tony let me know that we were dipping dry on funds and there was a high probability that that would be it for Tales to Terrify or the entire District of Wonders. I hated doing that, I really did, and I was mostly happy when we were moved to Acast. I did have two different listeners that claimed that I was a liar. That no, the podcast wasn’t constantly running out of money and I was just trying to panic listeners into opening their wallets. You know, to be fair, Tony has never made me privy to the exact amounts in the ledgers, and that’s fine, but to the best of my ability to observe, we can real close to pulling the plug on a couple of occasions. And I think there was a bit of a feeling in the air of, do we want to have to keep begging people for money constantly just to get a few more miles down the road? Acast was a nice move because although I did want to have to look forward to recording advertising pieces for sponsors, I’d happily prefer it over groveling for dollars, pounds, yen, RMB, or whatever.
I believe that at some point in the past, I pointed out that if every single Tales to Terrify listener contributed a single American dollars every month, that’s twenty five cents an episode, that all of the District’s money woes and goals that required funding would be likely resolved by the end of the first month and certainly by the second. I meant it, it’s true. Because of my involvement with getting revenue in, it has really made me re-evaluate about the if and when of ignoring another podcast’s pledge drives. I listen to a good number of podcasts and I think that I’d spent years thinking that someone else will put in some money so that I don’t have to. Now I’m more aware that it’s actually unlikely that someone else will. As of this recording, the District of Wonder’s Patreon has four hundred thirty patrons. If we are to presume that every single one of those patrons are Tales to Terrify listeners, that means that well under a single per cent of all of our listeners are contributing any money. If you’re one of the people that make direct contributions through PayPal or now BitCoin, no disrespect, but I’ll count what I can count. Those patrons are the financial bedrock of the entire District, and we pray to whatever deities look over the work of marketing and hope that they think that Tales to Terrify’s listeners may be interested in a certain product or service.
My favorite advertising campaign to be a part of was Hello Fresh, because they set me up with some of their product, which constitutes the majority of my compensation for my time on staff. I didn’t expect the other outfits to send me on a cruise or set me up with a wedding, but it was nice to get that product from Hello Fresh.
So, the next time you hear Drew, or Tony, or anyone saying that we’re in dire straits and we need money, it’s a fact. As a result of all of this, I’ve been much better at contributing funds to other creative efforts that I haven’t had to pay for, including other podcasts, and just this week I sent five dollars to Wikipedia. You should as well.
Speaking to others who may remotely collaborate on a project like this - please, dump Dropbox. It’s incredibly expensive. Get a Amazon S3 account and use it. It’s pennies on the dollar compared to Dropbox.
The second, and final thought, is one that I don’t know if I’ve felt a place on the show to ever really even touch on this, but one of the weird things that I did not expect when I said to Tony, yes, let’s carry this podcast on into the future would be the fame.
Yes, I said fame. Not only did I get a small measure of the stuff, I don’t think that I fully understood what fame meant before I had some of it. On the surface, fame just means that you’re well known for something. But there is another quality to it that may be difficult to articulate. I think that I might say that not only do people who are strangers assume a degree of familiarity with you, they also make presumptions about your efforts and endeavors. As an unfortunate example that I may have mentioned in an episode far in the past - immediately following Larry’s sad passing and me agreeing to continue on as the host, a certain listener took to Facebook, Twitter, and the iTunes Podcast review site to give negative feedback about the new host, that’s me. She also emailed the podcast asking that I be replaced because of how terrible a host I am. This is a bit of the fame that I was talking about. This listener seemed to think that we have an office with a staff and maybe an intern to go down to Starbucks and buy expensive coffees for us. She had written a complaint about a single staff member when the staff only had a single member. She, seemingly unknowingly, wrote to the host to complain about the host. I got a bit shook up about that, took it to Tony, and he, being more experienced at this sort of interaction, advised me something to the effect of me telling her to fuck off. I think that I toned it down a bit, but replied with a bit of snark, that I wish that I could bring back my dead friend have him back in place, but that wasn’t really an option.
I’ve had a few times that I’ve mentioned specific listeners by name on the air and received some astounded emails in response. I just want to let you know that hearing your name on air in an episode is likely much, much easier to have done than, say, Radiolab. We’re three east coast guys from the United States and one Canadian, who have never met, and work out of a cloud share and a Slack chat room.
During this time, I also happened to have dinner with Patrick Rhone, formerly of the Minimal Mac podcast and the Minimal blog, and had a bit of star struck anxiety in the run up to the dinner, only to find out that he was just another guy, who happens to have some good ideas that he committed to words.
My point in all of that, is that in those moments, where I feel like someone is making me out to be more than I see myself, I’m both a tad weirded out by that, but also flattered and humbled. Tales to Terrify has become something much larger than I had expected it would have been four and a half years ago. A bit part of the thanks for that is to all of you listeners who have shared our effort on social media or email or word of mouth with others who have tried us on for size and found it to be a good fit.
But, I also have to thank all of the editors that I’ve worked with. Phillip Oldham and Rock Manor, Seth Williams and Drew Sebesteeny, and most of all Scott Silk, who has worked with me the longest, and he entered into staff with force at a time that I was considering throwing in the towel because of how much work the show had become, competing with real life responsibilities. There has been at least on season in this show’s history where I can say that Scott Silk was definitely more important to the operation and continuation than I was, so thanks again to Scott Silk for that.
Thank you all for your years of listening to my voice.