How To Create a Podcast in 5 Steps: An Interview With Frequency Machine

Transforming a podcast from an idea into an engaging, listenable final product involves many steps in between. What are those steps? To find out, we spoke with Avi Glijansky, a veteran storyteller and one of the co-founders of podcast studio Frequency Machine. Inspired by their backgrounds in filmmaking, Glijansky and his co-producers Stacey Book and Dominique Ferrari developed a collaborative editing workflow that allows them to go from idea, to interview, to finished podcast almost entirely in Descript.

In a nutshell, here’s how to create a podcast in 5 steps:

  • Outline the show, record interviews, and process the recordings
  • Organize the raw material to create a “source of truth”
  • Play in the “sandbox” to allow creative free reign
  • Craft “selects” to finalize the episode
  • Assemble the final podcast before post-production

You can use these steps as a podcast template to guide your own work, even if you aren’t working on a narrative or storytelling-focused podcast.  

Creating “movies for your ears”

Frequency Machine produces a variety of narrative-driven podcasts which they describe as “movies for your ears.” “Approaching podcasting like filmmaking is very intentional for us,” Glijansky says. That applies not only to the way they tell stories, but to the way they organize their work and their production process.

In filmmaking, no matter the budget, you always assume you’re never going to be the only person touching a given piece of film, Glijansky explains. Over time, that leads to “developing an entire sort of working language and systems of best practices” to enable that collaborative workflow. In turn, these techniques helped Glijansky learn how to structure a podcast.

“For Frequency Machine, from day one, we knew we were going to be working with people outside our company: producers, editors, voice actors,” says Glijansky. “So it made perfect sense for us to carry these ways of working over to podcasting.” Because of this workflow, anyone at Frequency Machine, or a collaborator they work with, can work on a project without needing to know all the details behind it.

First: Outline, record, and process

Every show Frequency Machine produces starts with an outline, which they build in Google Docs. “Before we record any interviews, we’ve spent some time outlining,” Glijansky says. “We’ve identified the project, we’ve done some research, and we’ve figured out ‘What are we going into this interview for?’ But we keep it loose, because you obviously want a lot of room to discover and explore.” This outline gives the podcast structure, which they later flesh out with interviews, narrative, and storytelling.

The next step is recording interviews. “Pre-Covid, we tried as much as possible to record interviews in the field,” he says. These days, because of social distancing, they send their interview subjects a “self-recording kit” containing a smartphone tripod and a Røde microphone. They conduct interviews over Skype or Zoom, but each speaker records themselves locally for maximum fidelity.

Podcast outline in Google Docs
First, Frequency Machine build episode outlines in Google Docs

After recording comes a tedious but necessary step: adhering to a particular filename structure. “We go through the files and rename everything,” Glijansky says. “Our naming conventions are long and unwieldy and the bane of everyone’s existence, including my own, but I built them with the idea that if you only know a little bit of information about a recording, like the date or the city it took place in or even what type of microphone was used, you should be able to find it,” he says.

Second: Organize raw material to create “source of truth”

After processing and archiving interviews, Glijansky imports them into Descript. Each individual episode of any given show he works on lives in its own Descript project. He uses an identical folder structure for every project:

  • Episode Comps
  • Episode Selects
  • Sandboxes
  • Raw Transcripts
  • Archival

Then he begins organizing his raw materials — the interview recordings — to create a “source of truth,” as he calls it.

Maintaining the original interview untouched and unedited is “extremely important for me,” Gjilansky says. “There’s never been a project where I haven’t needed to go back to the original recording.”

Podcast transcripts in Raw Transcripts folder
Next, they create folder structures and import interviews as Raw Transcripts

In fact, Descript’s ease of editing is part of the reason Glijansky holds onto original recordings. “Sometimes you get yourself into trouble deleting things when you think you’re in ‘Correct Text’ mode but you’re actually in ‘Edit Media’ mode,” he says. But more than that, keeping original transcripts untouched affords him creative freedom.

“Honestly, I just find it useful to know the transcript of the original recording is always there,” he says. “I can play around as much as I want, and I never have to worry about getting too screwed up because I know I can go back to the original if I need to. I never have to re-transcribe something because I’ve messed around with it too much.”

Third: Play in the “sandbox”

Once his project is organized, Glijansky’s real editing work begins. He copies chunks of interviews over to the “sandbox” folder, which he calls “an intermediate step where I can do whatever the heck I want and just play.”

“It’s like the equivalent of a yellow legal pad where you sketch out ideas,” he says. “If an idea is crap, you just throw it away. When I’m thinking structurally, working on the meat of something, something about having a place to do that is very freeing,” he explains.

The sandbox is where Glijansky plays around with the transcript, tests out sound bites, and gives himself total freedom. “When I’m trying to break story, I don’t want it to be nice and clean — I want to be able to make a mess,” he explains, and keeping that “mess” in the sandbox folder keeps his projects organized.

Podcast editing in Sandbox folder
The “sandbox” is where the majority of Glijansky’s editing work happens

In the sandbox, Glijansky makes it a point to use Descript’s Ignore feature, rather than Delete, in case he needs to revisit a sound bite he thought he didn’t need.  

There’s also a certain kind of satisfaction that the sandbox process affords. “It’s like scratching things off a list — there’s something very satisfying for me personally from having the transcript, putting material in the sandbox, figuring it out, and then saying, ‘Okay, this is officially a select.’ Now this is ready for the next step.”

Fourth: Craft the “selects”

By now, the story is coming together, and Glijansky is going back and forth between his outline in Google Docs and his transcript in the sandbox to continually refine his ideas.

“I’m looking at my outline and I remember from the interview, ‘He said this great thing about what the case was all about.’ I’ll find that in the transcript, throw it in the sandbox, and really start to craft the bite,” says Glijansky. Once it’s ready, he moves these tidbits from the sandbox into a “selects” folder.

Podcast editing in Selects folder
Crafting sound bites in the “selects” folder gives the story shape

Once a bite becomes a select, Glijansky cleans it up and finalizes edits for easy review. “I get rid of all the strike-through, I make it nice and clean, and that helps me pass it off to a co-producer: ‘Here, listen to these quotes in the selects folder and tell me if you liked what I picked.’

After continuing to edit his selects and flesh out his outline, Glijansky is ready to move to the final step: building a finished podcast.

Last: Assemble the podcast

Until now, the podcast has existed simultaneously in two places — transcripts in Descript, outline and narrative in Google Docs —  “like Schrödinger’s cat,” says Glijansky. “I’ve pulled my selects, written story around them, gone off and recorded narration, and now I’m literally building the script,” he says. “Now we’re finally ready to put the pieces together.”

Completed podcast ready for post-production
An assembled episode, nearly ready for post-production

At this point, the podcast is ready for export and hand-off for post-production. But assembling it in Descript gives Glijansky the chance to easily listen to the (almost) final podcast and ensure everything is in order.

“In a perfect world, the editing decisions you made up until this point were ones you actually feel good about, right? But sometimes you need to make big structural changes, and it’s so much easier to do that in Descript, as opposed to listening to an assembly from a sound editor and dealing with timecodes and all that.”

Try these steps for yourself

Even if you aren’t creating narrative, story-focused podcasts like Frequency Machine is, we hope you’ll find these tips for organizing your work useful.

Ready to try Descript and discover how it can help you make better podcasts? Download it today and try it for free.

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