Thoughts on my Podcast

Introduction

The point of this blog post is to evaluate my podcast, detail my ambitions for this project, and summarize its focus and content.  

Here are some detail about the Chasing the Chords podcast:

  • I cover music philosophy, education, history, and performance
  • I’ve released 23 episodes so far
  • The average episode length is 30 minutes
  • 5 episodes are audio essays
  • 17 episodes are one-on-one conversations
  • 1 episode is an AMA (ask me anything)

Although I’ve yet to develop a significant audience, the experience of producing these podcasts has been valuable. Indeed, by interviewing interesting people, summarizing my thoughts, and speaking my mind into a microphone, I have improved as a communicator and speaker.

Utility aside, my aim is to make the Chasing the Chords podcast popular. I hope that I can cultivate a large enough audience to make the project sustainable—which is to say, I hope to attract some listeners who are willing to donate. It actually takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to produce each episode, so a little love would be great. 

I am convinced that my podcast is valuable to musicians and that the topics I cover are inherently interesting. I also believe that these topics are not adequately addressed elsewhere.

Another neat feature of my podcast is that my guests and I are often performing live musical examples while we talk. In this sense, my show is similar to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR.  

I believe there is an audience out there for me. I just need to convince about 50,000 others musicians of this fact. If you agree with me, please subscribe and consider donating.

Working Methods

Here’s my home studio lit up and ready to party.  I record with large-diaphragm condenser microphones, and I use Studio One software.  Guitars are usually recorded direct inject so that they stay out of the way of the microphones. Editing would be nearly impossible if I had live amps in the room.

I do a fair amount of preparation for each episode, and most of my remarks are thoroughly rehearsed—especially in the essay-style episodes. I also do a substantial amount of editing. I know that people, on the whole, possesses a very limited attention span, so I strive to remove dead air, fill pauses, and pointless asides.

Although I try not to read from a script, sometimes I do. But, I believe reading from a script is detrimental to the quality of my podcast. This is because listening to someone read is profoundly boring—unless that person has a natural, conversational style. I have yet to develop this forbidden magic, so it’s best for me to clarify what I want to say but not precisely how to say it. I believe I am getting better at this skill, but I still have a way to go.

Below is a screen capture that depicts the scale and scope of my editing. Scarcely a single sentence is left unaltered:

I strive for a smooth listening experience that features plain and coherent sentences. Consequently, My podcasts are heavily edited: I punch in, redact, and remove fill pauses. Each episode usually requires about 5 hours of this sort of editing. I go through this editing nightmare because I know that people have a limited attention span. This is especially true given the insane amount of interesting content available on the internet. I can’t speak as fluently as a radio host, so this kind of post-production is a necessity for me.

For my interview-style episodes, I generally prepare about 10 questions that I believe are relevant and interesting. Here are some typical questions:

  • When I watch and listen to beginners, I almost always see and hear a perfect recital of absolute chaos: there’s no form, no repeat structure, just one barely coherent musical thought stumbling into another. No song, or performance-worthy anything, ever emerges. What helped you bring order to your own beginner’s chaos? Did you learn many three-chord songs?
  • You and I have talked extensively about hard rock and metal, and you’ve mentioned that one of your biggest influences was Eddie Van Halen. What about Van Halen’s style was attractive to you as a young listener and what is attractive about him today as you listen from a mature musician’s perspective?
  • Do you ever play, sing, or listen to music without purpose? Is there any of that initial, emotional-based contact point with music still left in you? I know, for me, the honeymoon period of musical love has long since passed. For example, I almost never listen to music for pleasure. I know that this habit of mine has had a deleterious effect on my musicianship. So, how are you faring in this area?

My purpose with these questions is to foster a fruitful conversation, and I want an opportunity to add my own perspective on these matters. In any given podcast, I am talking and playing just as much as my guests.

Intro Music

I wrote, recorded, and produced my own intro music. I’ve gone through several edits and versions of this piece. The harmonic structure between the versions is the same, but my treatment and orchestration varies. The first version featured too much sibilance in the hi-hat figure, so I removed the instrument entirely for the second version. The third version, which is orchestrated differently from the first two, is the one I’m currently going with, but this might change in the future.

Intro Music Version 1
Intro Music Version 2
Intro Music Version 3

If anyone out there has an opinion about my intro music, please let me know. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I can take it.

Collaborations

Here I am with my friend, T.J. Riggs, who was a guest on episodes 16 and 19. One of the features of my podcast that I feel is valuable is that I often have musical conversations with my guests in addition to traditional conversations. For example, in my episodes with Riggs, we both had guitars in our hands, so we offered frequent musical examples.

I have had several repeat guests on the podcast, including my friend, Jonny Southern, who was able to provide color commentary and comedy punch-up. In addition to Southern, I’ve had several other repeat guests like T.J. Riggs, Brett Staggs, and Justin Sellers. Each of these musicians has contributed substantially to the quality of my podcast.

Having a one-on-one conversation with the above-mentioned experts represents the typical podcast format and, in my opinion, the most interesting type of talk show. I find more than two people talking to be too chaotic. Consequently, I probably won’t do any round-table episodes.

In addition to the interview-type shows, I also enjoy the audio-essay type shows. Indeed, this is the best format for presenting a complete thesis on some topic with as much reason, evidence, and logic as I can muster. My first four podcasts were of this sort. It’s been a while since I’ve produced an audio essay, so I’ll be looking for topics to cover in this manner.

Let me know if there is any topic you’d like me to address. And, if you’d like to come on the podcast, please reach out to me.

Favorite Episodes

I am proud of all my podcasts, but I am especially fond of the following episodes.

This episode about the value of written music should be especially compelling to students of music. In my experience as a music teacher, I have encountered steadfast resistance to learning how to read music. I unpack this frustrating phenomenon in this podcast:

This episode about common mistakes is potentially useful to beginner musicians. Students of every ilk seem to make the same mistakes while learning music. Most resist written music, many practice already learned material relentlessly, and some blithely repeat errors instead of fixing them. I do my best to explain these common blunders in this podcast:

This episode about the vacuous nature of pop music contains hilarious commentary by Jonny Southern. Southern has been a frequent guest, and his insight on theses goofy pop songs is invaluable. This episode is potentially useful for those who are interested in participating in the juggernaut that is pop music.

This episode about lead guitar technique features some really cool playing by my friend Ross Heastings. It also features my highest play count to date—197. Probably not coincidentally, it was the most difficult podcast for me to produce. Anyone interested in lead guitar technique and philosophy will find this episode interesting.

This conversation with Brett Staggs represents a good exploration into songwriting, playing riffs, and the philosophy of music. Staggs has been on the podcast a couple times, and I always appreciate his insight. This podcast could be useful for those interested in producing original music:

This episode with Joel Lindsey was a great conversation about the transition from ameteur to professional musician. Joel and I end the podcast with a great rendition of his song called “Always Wanted.”

This episode with T.J.Riggs was a fun trip down memory lane. T.J and I play plenty of guitar and discuss what it was like to be a beginner.

Future

I should probably attempt a video dimension, but I’m not sure how that will work considering how much editing I do. I’ll probably have to do a little more pre production to make it happen. Given the popularity of video blogs, a video version of Chasing the Chords seems inevitable.

I’d also like to branch out and have drummers and singers on the show. Until now, I’ve only had other guitarists. Sorry about that drummers.

Here’s a delusion of grandeur: I hope that, someday, all the cool bands that come through Mr. Small’s Theater in Millvale (my hometown) want to come on the Chasing the Chords podcast before they play to promote their show. I’ll likely have to get more than 200 plays per episode for that to happen, though.

I’m not sure where this experiment will go, but I’m having fun being creative. If you enjoy my podcast, please consider donating.

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