Podcasting Tricks: The Log

14 Nov 2012

new federal logs

Image by the queen of subtle, via Flickr

First, I should say that this isn't a podcasting trick I invented. I learned it from Ira Glass and Jessica Abel, who collaborated on an excellent comic called Radio: An Illustrated Guide. (It's not in print right now, and thus crazy expensive, but should you ever find yourself in the position of obtaining a copy, do so immediately because it rocks.)

Okay, so that said, what's a log? It's something rather unromantic and extremely useful: it's a rough written transcript of a recorded interview. I just sit at my computer with the headphones on, listen to the recording and type what I hear into a text doc. I don't worry about getting a word-for-word transcript, mind you; I just get down the broad strokes of what's being said.

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A recent log I made of my interview with Brian R. Jones.

Why is a log useful in podcasting? Well, not all interviews proceed along an orderly path. In fact, some of the best interviews proceed along the most un-orderly paths. You know how a great conversation goes sometimes – you careen around among lots of topics, and you circle back to certain ideas several times. Good conversations are often wild rides, and fun to participate in as a face-to-face experience.

But podcast-listening is still a linear activity. You can only listen to a podcast from beginning to end; you can't easily skip around.


Image by crows_wood, via Flickr

…Which is why some interviews, in order to become more pleasant and coherent listening experiences, need a little re-arrangement. Sometimes I need to move the questions and answers around so they follow a more logical progression of ideas. Sometimes they need moving about so there's a more coherent progression of time. Sometimes, I'll take that digression my guest had answering Question #5, and move it to the end of their answer to Question #2, where it makes more sense.

So, to be clear, I'm not taking anything my guest says out of context. I'm building an easier-to-follow story for my listener.

The log is an excellent tool for making an interview more coherent, because it makes audio visible. When I'm listening to a 40-minute recording, it's actually a lot of work to keep track of what got said when. The minute I have a log in front of me, I can easily see what needs to be moved where.


Image by Carl Spaulding, via Flickr

I don't need to log every show, but I did use logs in recent interviews with The Shibaguyz, Brian R. Jones, and Kathryn Vercillo.

…It's actually hard to show you the magical effect logging can have on an interview without making you sit through a lot of uncut audio. But I'm far too, um, detail-oriented to make you do that! Take my word for it, okay?



It's interesting to see how this simple tool can be so useful - I would have imagined something more complicated (haha, of course) with indications of the timing, for instance. I agree with Ann, once again, I tell you: you really make it sound so seamless and easy!

(PS I suppose you know Twin Peaks... of course I imagine you as The Log Lady, now! :D)

HAHAHA! I almost put a photo of The Log Lady in this post, but wasn't sure how many people would get the reference. I should have known!

I really appreciate you nice ladies being so kind about me sharing my deep nerdy stuff here.

That's so interesting; I never really thought about all that goes on behind the scenes as your podcasts sound perfectly seamless. You make it look (er, sound!) easy, Diane!

I don't have a podcast, but I do interview people fairly often for blog posts and I almost always reorder responses to create a cohesive narrative. Rather than doing a simple Q&A post (which I find pretty boring and tend to skip over), I work really hard to tell someone's story. It's not done from a transcript of audio, but it works the same way.