The mighty transcript: How it can speed up your workflow

Written by
Brandon Copple
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8
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This article originally appeared in Episodes, our newsletter. If you'd like insights on workflow and craft (like these) in your inbox every two weeks, you can subscribe.

If you’re creating in Descript, you know how powerful a transcript can be.

You probably also know that publishing the transcript makes your podcast accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and makes audio and video more likely to appear in Google searches — those things have been covered in a million search-optimized blog posts (including ours). And yet the vast majority of podcasts still don’t publish transcripts.

A lot of creators can barely find time for recording and editing their podcasts, let alone cleaning up and publishing their transcripts. So it might be helpful to hear about a few ways your transcripts can save you time, both in your creative workflow and in general. Maybe that will free up the time you need to publish them. If you’re already publishing them, keep reading — some solid workflow tips ahead.

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Editing: Read first — and last

Caroline Mincks is a relentless creator, and just as relentless about transcripts. They make and publish transcripts for every one of the eight podcasts they're producing right now, not including the recently concluded audio drama Caroline is best known for, Seen and Not Heard.

Caroline is also deaf, and while they can hear at about half the level considered normal, listening remains a challenge — phone interviews and cross-talk are particularly hard to hear — especially for someone who’s spending so much time editing audio stories.

So when they finish recording an episode, Caroline's first step is to read the transcript before they listen to anything. That’s somewhat contrary to what audio editors are usually taught — that you shouldn’t edit without listening, because all of your decisions should be informed by what you hear.

But Caroline has found that reading first speeds up their entire workflow. They can quickly identify the obvious cuts, and see where they want to focus. Then, when they does dig into the audio, “I can jump right into the areas that need the most work and know what I want to try,” they say.

Caroline isn’t alone in this. In a Descript livestream back in April, Lidia Jean Kott and Eloise Lynton, both editors at Pushkin Industries, described a similar workflow. On shows like Against the Rules with Michael Lewis and Revisionist History, the producers transcribe everything, then the hosts or editors make their notes and cuts in the transcripts rather than plunging into the audio.

Caroline does the same thing after they finish editing the audio, as well. Reading reveals lingering places where they can tighten up the conversation or streamline the narrative. It helps ensure, in other words, that the final version will be as good as they can possibly make it.

So there you go: two ways to speed up your workflow. Read the transcript before you dive into the audio, to find the obvious cuts and the places where you want to expend the most energy. It will activate your editing brain and help you avoid spinning your wheels. Then read it on the back end, in search of any final cuts — when you’re inevitably trying to squeeze out a few more minutes — or awkward moments. It’ll be faster than trying to spot those areas as you’re listening.  

Big free library

Transcripts can keep working for you even after you’ve published your show. Justin Jackson, the cofounder and CEO at Transistor, organizes all of his transcripts into a vast topical library he can search for quotes, anecdotes, points of reference, ideas, and other stuff.

Justin is a veteran creator who makes two podcasts about building companies, Build Your SaaS and MegaMaker. He edits both in Descript.  

But Justin’s Descript Drive contains a lot more than episode transcripts. He transcribes everything — Zoom calls, live-streamed events, Twitter Spaces meetups, interesting episodes of other people’s podcasts. Anytime he hears something he thinks he might want to quote, clip, or reference, he grabs the audio and drops it into Descript to transcribe. Over time, his Descript account has become a massive repository of ideas, knowledge, content, and promotional materials.

News organizations do something similar. James Shield of the Times of London and Sunday Times digs through transcripts made in Descript to find news clips and quotes for the feature stories on his podcast, Stories of Our Times.

That’s a daily news show, with a voracious, bottomless appetite for archival material. But Justin is suggesting that any creator can build archives and mine them to help keep ideas flowing. It’s also a really smart way to squeeze maximum value from all the effort you put into making a podcast, or anything. And if you transcribe all your recordings, you won't have to take notes on Zoom calls.

Justin doesn’t really organize his Descript Drive, he just drops everything in there and uses search to find what he needs (the way most of us use Google Drive). That’s fine! But if you wanted to steal his library idea and make it more orderly, you could set up folders and organize them by category, or time period, or whatever works for you.  

Start publishing your transcripts now

Finally, if the usual accessibility and SEO arguments haven't convinced you to publish your transcripts, maybe this will: A few years from now, all podcasts will be published with transcripts. Here’s how we know.

You probably heard that last month the National Association of the Deaf sued SiriusXM, claiming the audio giant has been violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not posting transcripts for the hundreds of podcasts it publishes.

The NAD has waged this battle before. In 2010 it sued Netflix because most of its movies and shows didn’t have closed captions. Netflix settled, agreeing to caption everything. Then the NAD went knocking at Apple, Hulu, and the other big streaming services; they all agreed to add captions, across the board, without a fight.

Leah Wiederhorn, Senior Attorney at NAD, told us the goal of the SiriusXM action is to provoke a similar sea change in the podcast world. To achieve that, she said, “we are prepared to pursue any legal action necessary.”

In case it’s not clear: the NAD doesn’t play. SiriusXM will probably settle and agree to start posting transcripts with all of its podcasts. Apple, Spotify, and all the other platforms and production companies will soon follow.

When that happens, the creators who were already making, correcting, and publishing transcripts will have it baked into their workflow. They'll also have a jump on indexing in Google, since it takes time for any content to climb up the search rankings.

Frankly, this is another reason to use Descript. And if you are, you can easily publish an interactive transcript that you can link from your show.

At the end of the day, you should publish your transcripts because it's the right thing to do. Caroline Mincks and others with hearing disability should be able to engage with your content like everybody else. Plus, by publishing audio alone you’re constricting your audience — Caroline won’t bother with any podcast that doesn’t post its transcripts.

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Written by
Written by
Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

Descript is a collaborative audio/video editor that works like a doc. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, and some mind-bendingly useful AI tools.
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Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

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