We were making this up as we went along. But, the journey we were about to set out on was special. The first episodes, episodes 1-3, are affectionately known as the “Garage Sessions” for now. We were in a garage, recording on the Mac software GarageBand, and recording a podcast. For all intents and purposes, it felt like being in a band.
My name is Andrew Keefe and I am the co-host of The Music Challenge Podcast. A loose, nerdy music commentary podcast (that you can find anywhere) and we’re about 13 episodes deep. And this written series chronicles our first season.
Getting Caught Up…
We were about to record the first episode (and hopefully two) in an acceptable, but cold, messy garage. It was mine, and I was the only one to offer up recording space so there we were. The set-up in the garage was a mess of equipment on a long, serving table. The echo was a joke in there, and there were technical issues we definitely did not have figured out. We had a few portable heaters for the first episode- but they were completely insufficient for the twenty-degree weather. It would be a factor as the night went on. Much less the microphones picked up their sound so we had to turn them off while recording!
For example, I didn’t know how to stop our voices from showing up on each other’s microphones (known as bleed). I didn’t even know if that was important. We hadn’t really done any formal testing. Since I’m the technical guy and the guy recording and editing- I was going into the first episodes with my hair on fire making it up as I go along. Frankly, I just couldn’t get everyone together for testing of setup.
Jed, meet Robb. Robb, meet Jed.
Which brought me to another issue/aspect. Robb and Jed, my anointed co-hosts, had never met. We were about to record an hour of programming and these two were strangers practically. I had talked about both of them extensively to the other. Working to convince them that this is a guy you know- you just hadn’t met him. And it was true, they were both anybody you could be standing next to at a concert. And, they’re both great people.
Luckily, they became fast friends. My predictions were right on how they would mesh. But, we would need some ice-breaking time. While I was messing with wires, dials, and software they were carrying on like a couple of kids. Frankly, that didn’t help my concentration at all- and we were set for a long night. And, it was my goal to eke out an episode no matter what.
Our Plan Gets “Forced” into Production
Our concept was to present our formative four albums from way back, reaching back to high school and etc. We had each made out a list of our formative four and kept them secret from each other so no one would list anything in reaction to someone else’s We shared our formative four via email at the same time and the season took shape. We had twelve excellent albums for content and the season took form. That would be the basis for our commentary, analysis, and stories.
The first episode was chosen to be one of my albums: Rush – Moving Pictures. For preparation- we typically all listened to the album on our own and did some wiki reading. But, we didn’t even know what prep it would take at the time of our first recording. This was all being made up on the fly. We weren’t backed by a network. We are a totally independent podcast doing it all for ourselves. There were no studio engineers (except me, as I talk) and no one extra to do the editing. Most podcasts are done by production professionals. Again, ours is not.
Finally! Recording gets underway!
In the first episode, I was just considering that a pilot. I just wanted it out. That was my goal. Production. We would start changing the details from there.
So, after numerous delays time got to be about 1:00 in the morning. Our feet were frozen solid from the frozen concrete floor in my garage. Voices getting weaker with the cold and time. And we were about to attempt to record improv conversation of an undetermined length.
Considering the conditions- we did pretty well. But, it was hard to think and and speak because you were just cold. We recorded about a 45 minute conversation. Of that, about twenty something minutes was usable after I went through the editing process (as I knew it at the time).
The second recording was much the same. This time we were talking about Duran Duran – Rio. The exception this time was that we had some pseudo- jet engine type of outdoor heater in there. It worked quickly, but couldn’t be on continuously because of the harsh jet noise coming from it. But, we turned it on in between recording- again going late into the night.
And, so on for Talking Heads – Remain in Light. We actually tried to do this one after the Duran Duran episode (on the same night). That was aggressive. Frankly, the energy was down because we were tired and cold. So, we re-recorded the episode and it turned out much better. Actually, its one of my favorite episodes. There is a great mix of stories from the panel and some engaging analysis. Episodes at this point were starting to push the hour mark as we became better and the foundations of “chemistry” were developing.
It wasn’t bad at all for first tries. There were hiccups all over the place though. Even in our speaking styles. It’s not hard to talk the group into a wormhole of non-pertinent conversation or simply a dead end. Or have a full conversation while getting a name wrong. We’ve learned how to avoid pitfalls like that. Nothing was perfect in the beginning- I could tell you micro-details of technical research I was constantly doing. But, I’ll spare you. Scheduling of getting everyone together was still an issue. And I stressed the most about that because I still had to edit the whole thing once we recorded.
March 11, 2020
On a better suited March night temperature-wise, I set up all of the microphones, computer, cables, and pre-amp for our fourth episode recording session. We were going to do an episode that wouldn’t be finished for quite some time. Though we didn’t know it at the moment.
Shortly before the session started- I got a text from Jed and then a follow-up from Robb. Covid-19 had gotten serious. We do have a member of The Music Challenge Podcast family that is immuno-compromised and we no longer felt comfortable recording in my garage on that night. Minutes later, professional sports leagues began shutting down and crowds across America were dispersed on the spot. Quarantine had hit- and we were frozen in time.
In one night, the world had changed. I knew we were in a holding pattern. I was bewildered as anyone else and didn’t know what to do about anything. Its hard to remember how stunned everyone was initially. Little did I know that our third episode would be the last one recorded in person for season 1. The pandemic was for real and all operations in life had to be re-worked- including the podcast if we were to continue.
Find out next in the 7th installment of My Podcast Adventures.
Be sure to read the entire series of “My Podcast Adventures“.