Mick Bordet: How I do it!

Mick Bordet is the author and narrator of the Some Other Scotland podcast and one of the two founders of the Every Photo Tells weekly story anthology podcast. He lives in the real world Scotland and is a singer, songwriter and musician (playing a theramin as well as other instruments). He has captured the heart of a young Austrian and is in the process of helping her relocate to his beloved Scotland. He can be followed on Twitter as @mickbordet.

General Writing Questions

1. Before you begin writing, do you script out the general outline of plot and characters, or do you let these situations evolve as you write?
There is no way I could write anything longer than a short story without an outline of some sort.  However, it is rarely the first thing I come up with.  Once I have the rough idea of the story and where it might go, the first thing I will usually do is write a scene or two with one of the main characters.  At that point I’m letting the character connect with me and I can start to imagine how that particular person will deal with the obstacles I’m going to bombard him with.  Filling in the outline and some character details only really works for me once I have those key scenes in my head.  If I discover that the story is taking me in its own direction, through character choices or unexpected twists, then I will revisit the outline and consider whether the detour will benefit the reader in terms of the journey to the end of the story – 9 out of 10 times I find the detour leads to a different end and hence a new outline needs to be applied.

2. I’ve heard repetitively that writers should deal with writing as any other job. Do you have a scheduled or structured writing routine? Please detail.
My daily aim is to spend an hour or two doing something creative, whether that is writing fiction, blogging, podcasting or composing music.  I have no set time to sit down and get to work, but it will usually take place sometime in the evening and I am very fortunate to be supported at home in taking time to write or podcast.

The structure of a writing session is that I will quickly recap what I want to write, what has gone before, character motivations and where I want to be by the end of the process that day.  If I’m struggling to write a specific scene, it will get put to one side and I’ll focus on something else, either a later scene or a different project; the most important thing for me is to get started and keep writing.  Moving onto a section of the story that comes later is often a good way to get inspiration to address a problem that might be causing a blockage earlier on.  One tip I would give here is to avoid research at this stage; if there is something that needs to be checked out, I will take a note of it and come back to it later, otherwise it is far too easy to get distracted by online research (yes, I mean you, Wikipedia).

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
For short stories, it is just me and the computer.  Possibly some instrumental music in the distant background so that I don’t concentrate on it instead of writing.  The exception to this is where I am writing something that either revolves around music or some feeling that music could help evoke.

Longer projects require me to have a pen and paper as well, especially in the early stages when I will throw together a mindmap of characters, plot threads, key items and locations that I can refer back to as I go along.  I have tried a number of software packages, but have yet to find one that allows me to rapidly get ideas down and expand on them as well as I can do on paper.  Some form of timeline is also essential for tracking character movements; I have tended to use a spreadsheet for these, colour-coding each character and then highlighting points where characters meet or refer to each other.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
My first novel was written with that in mind, something that I wanted to try just so that I could show that it was possible.  Only once it was complete did I realise that, with a bit of work, I would like to share it with a wider audience.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
Almost all of my earlier short stories have come out of some form of interactive online community, such as Great Hites (http://greathites.blogspot.com) or 100 Word Stories (http://podcasting.isfullofcrap.com) where the host provides a prompt and listeners (or readers) are encouraged to vote for their favourite stories.  I received some very useful feedback from those sites, so when I started on “Some Other Scotland” I was keen to make use of the interaction offered by the internet.

Twitter has been an essential part of getting SOS out to a wider audience, from identifying potential listeners and providing notification of new episodes and polls, to receiving feedback and engaging listeners in discussions about the series.  Having Twitter accounts for some of the major and minor characters has also been fun, adding snippets of background and teasing future episodes in the Twitter stream

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
I have been using Linux (Kubuntu 9.10 most recently) since I began writing, starting on a 2.4Ghz Pentium 4 and moving onto a dual core 3Ghz Pentium D.  I have tended to upgrade based the power required for music software, rather than writing or podcasting, and neither of those machines had any problems running what I was using at the time.  Until very recently I was still using an old 700Mhz P3 machine running Ubuntu Studio to record 8 tracks of live sound at concerts, so even that would have been perfectly adequate for podcasting.

I have (within the last fortnight) entered the world of Mac OSX (on a MacBook Pro) and am finding it very comfortable so far, as there is quite a lot in common with Ubuntu.  This machine is incredibly quiet in comparison to anything else I’ve had since the Atari ST, so I’m expecting my recording quality to improve considerably.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
I am using Logic Pro 8 to record, though have only dabbled with it so far.  My audio interface is a Presonus Firepod (FP10) which has 10 audio inputs, overkill for podcasting, but essential for music recording.  The main microphone is a Samson C01 condenser mic and I have a couple of cheap dynamic mics as back-ups.  There is a Soundcraft Spirit Folio mixer, though since acquiring the Firepod it only gets used as a sub-mixer for synths, which outputs to a pair of Tannoy Reveal 5A active monitors.  A set of Sennheiser HD-570 headphones completes the set-up.

Most of this kit comes from my music recording, so I have had a lot of it from the start of my time podcasting.  I first started podcasting with Cubase LE and a Terratec DMX 6-Fire audio interface, but the rest is unchanged.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include? Be as specific as you wish.
Short of going for a pro-level Neve desk and custom-designed soundproofing, there isn’t much more I would add.  I would buy a few better microphones, probably a RodeNT for vocals and a couple of matched small-diaphragm mics for ambient sounds and acoustic instruments.  I would also invest in a hardware control surface for mixing and editing, something like a Mackie Universal Control.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
A good quality pair of headphones is pretty important.  It is important to listen to the recording on at least one set of speakers, including some cheap PC ones, but for editing, good headphones will let you spot not only errors that need fixed, but background noise, poor microphones and interference.  Once you’ve bought a decent set of cans, the next purchase is likely to be a new mic once you discover how noisy that old one is.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
Dry mouth.  People go to great lengths to extol the virtues of pop shields, mic placement and other vocal techniques, but less is mentioned about the fact that talking at length can dry your mouth out, resulting in little clicks when your tongue sticks to the roof of the mouth.  Take a glass of water with you to have as you record.

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
Music can make a big difference to a podcast, but I’ve heard many where it becomes intrusive.  Often it is too short a loop that becomes irritating with constant repetition, or a musical style that doesn’t suit the topic or theme of the podcast – you might love death-metal or VIC20 chip tracks, but don’t assume your listeners will be as enraptured.  The worst offender to my ears is auto-ducking.  This is a technique used by DJs to lower the volume of background music for them to talk over and done well can be very effective.  It is all too common to hear very poor settings where the background music pumps aggressively in and out between every couple of words, making it hard to concentrate on what the speaker is saying.  I have heard this on a number of podcasts recently, so I suspect it may be some sort of plug-in or effect that is being over-used by inexperienced podcasters.

7. How much time does it take, once you have all the elements, for YOU to put together a 30 minute podcast? (please describe your production technique)
It normally takes around three or four times as long as the final result to produce, depending on the complexity of the episode.  Editing certainly takes the most time, partly because I do make quite a lot of mistakes, but also because I usually record in one take and may need to break to check character voices or occasionally re-write something that sounds clumsy when spoken aloud.  In dialogue-heavy episodes it takes longer because I pan conversations left and right so that it is clearer which characters are talking (I follow the convention that the main character is always on the right of the stereo image).

General Questions

1. If someone approached you with THEIR book, and asked you to podcast it for them for a fee, what would you consider a reasonable rate per episode? (The way YOU do it)
In certain circumstances I would do an individual episode or two for no charge, if the topic was particularly interesting to me or it was some sort of collaboration, but if somebody approached me out of the blue as a hired hand for a 30 minute episode, I would ask for $50.  That would cover my hourly rate, electricity, use of equipment, etc.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
It is part of a larger plan, albeit a fairly vague and highly secret one.  I write because I enjoy it.  Podcasting allows me to let other people enjoy it, should it be to their taste.  If enough people get a kick out of the stories and let me know about it and spread the word, then that’s great.  If those people are vocal enough in sufficient numbers about it to lead to a publishing deal or to justify me going down the self-publishing route, then I would be delighted, but it won’t stop me writing if they don’t.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
I have had quite a few compliments about my voice and accent, which is nice, but there’s not much credit I can take for that.  The best compliments are when people, quite off-the-cuff, mention something in an episode that caught them by surprise or made them laugh or cry or when they spot a clue to future events that nobody else has noticed.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I am not concerned about numbers overall, but I am interested in certain trends.  For example, when I first started podcasting, I was keen to see if I was writing something that was pulling people in and keeping them interested, so I watched to see how many people stopped listening after the first, second and third episodes.  There will always be a natural drop after the first episode when people discover that the story is not what they were expecting or they don’t like your voice or it’s not one of their preferred genres, but I hoped to see a level number of listeners staying subscribed after the third episode.  Without that, I would have found it hard to justify the work involved in creating the podcast.

Promotional events are another reason for me to watch the stats – if there is a spike in subscribers, especially ones who stay, then I know that is a worthwhile channel for promoting the story.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
It’s always good to have positive reviews, though I do try to take them with a pinch of salt.  Most people who write reviews are either enjoying the series or hate it, so it can be difficult to gauge a reliable opinion based on a relatively small percentage of listeners.  I would like it if those people who did comment contacted me directly, as it would be good to discuss with them in more detail the things they particularly enjoyed or disliked about the podcast.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
I print the manuscript out and place it on a music stand to read.  That makes it easy to make any changes to the script on the fly, whilst keeping a copy for later re-reading or editing.

Comment Pages

There are 11 Comments to "Mick Bordet: How I do it!"

  • Linux user, Scottish with the accent, writer, singer, songwriter, musician, and a podcaster. Hmmm I think a certain Austrian lady is doing all right for herself.

    Keeping water handy is the best podcasting advice since the clicker!!

    Another great set of questions and answers! Odin1Eye has the good thing going on here. 🙂

    • odin1eye says:

      I also thought the water tip was a winner. These little things are the hints I was hoping for when I started this series!

      On the other topic, you could always buy a kilt and affect a brogue, see what it does for you. ,^)

      • Unfortunately, I appear to be stuck with a “Southern geek” accent and am terrible with the others. Although I have been known to do the “If it’s nae Scottish, it’s crap!” line. 😉

      • Mick Bordet says:

        Thanks for the positive comments – I’m glad people have found this series useful. Certainly I have picked up a few new tips myself. To follow up the water thing, a general tip about vocals (from the world of singing, but applicable to podcasting to a lesser degree) is to avoid milky drinks before recording as they increase production of phlegm and also coffee, which tightens the vocal chords.

    • kmaimer says:

      You forgot his Firewire Mixer and Condenser mic. What else could a girl ask for? The 20sth packed boxes in my hallway speak for themselves…. 😀

  • Scott Roche says:

    “if there is something that needs to be checked out, I will take a note of it and come back to it later, otherwise it is far too easy to get distracted by online research (yes, I mean you, Wikipedia)”

    Amen!

    Good stuff Mick, thanks for sharing.

    • odin1eye says:

      I’m finding Scrivener’s ability to contain that online research a double edged sword as well.

    • Mick Bordet says:

      You are welcome, Scott. If I know I’m going to have to return with research, for example for a name or a location or some historic fact, I just mark ‘XXXX’ in the text – makes it easy to find when it comes to filling in the gaps after writing. I believe Scrivener has annotation tools for this, though, but I have yet to try them out.

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