Ep2—Get Organized Transcript
MOLLY: If you ask people what inspired them to get into audio storytelling, Ira Glass is usually part of the story. Dan Weissmann is no exception.
DAN: I actually met Ira Glass while we were reporting on the same high school.
MOLLY: This is back in 1992 – almost 30 years ago now. Dan was a young magazine reporter. Ira Glass was a radio reporter at WBEZ. For a few hours, they were both at Taft High School in Chicago, covering stories. A few weeks later, Dan listened to Ira’s radio piece.
IRA: All year long, the teachers see students who slouch and gossip. Students who wear clothing that teachers don’t understand. Students who need prodding and discipline and constant surveillance. And then, on prom night, the students reappear, transformed as in a dream.
DAN: I was like, oh my god, this is so good, this is so much better than what I am doing, this is so much more fun. it hadn’t occurred to me that radio could do that. It just seemed like people who did radio had all of the fun.
MOLLY: Dan decided he wanted to get in on the fun. So he started trying to make a career for himself in radio.
Welcome to Preserve This Podcast, a show about how to save our podcasts. I’m Molly Schwartz. This podcast is brought to you by the Metropolitan New York Library Council with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
MOLLY: Hi again, it’s Molly Schwartz here.
If this is your first time tuning into Preserve This Podcast, I suggest you go back and start listening at the beginning. This is a five-part series where we teach podcasters how to preserve their files. In each episode we work with a different indie podcaster and walk them through one of our preservation exercises. By the end of the series, we hope every podcaster will be equipped to make a preservation plan for their files.
For this episode, we’re be focusing on Exercise 1: file organization. And we’ll be working with Dan Weissmann on his podcast An Arm and A Leg. If you’d like to follow along and do the exercises with us, you can download our zine from preservethispodcast.org. We’re starting on Page 5.
At this point Dan has been working in radio for 25 years. He’s is the kind of person who fills an awkward silence as easily as he breathes. He’s high-energy and fun to talk to. It doesn’t surprise me that radio is where Dan feels at home.
But a little over a year ago, Dan’s latest contract as a radio reporter ran out. For his entire radio career Dan has been bouncing around between contract jobs and freelance work and teaching gigs. He’s married with a young kid. He’s getting tired of the instability that’s so common in this line of work.
DAN: How do people figure it out? How do you figure out how to make a living? You know, you gotta have health insurance, you don’t want to end up in the poor house.
MOLLY: Now Dan is on a quest. He’s decided to set out on his own and start a podcast. It’s called An Arm and a Leg. And the podcast is all about one of the big questions that Dan is facing in his own life – how to figure out healthcare in America.
But this new venture is risky. I’ve noticed something about most of the indie podcasters I know who’ve been successful – they are capital O, ORGANIZED. They use spreadsheets for everything, from tracking invoices to logging tape. That’s because producing a podcast on your own, without any institutional support, requires a lot of project management. This is going to be a challenge for Dan because he’s not the most organized person. Here he is, a couple months into working on An Arm and A Leg.
DAN: I am deep deep into the shit of the project planning part of this. I’m struggling with not being overwhelmed. I have a big, kind of giant post-it with three big columns: money, engagement, editorial, and a little one that says tech.
MOLLY: Dan has a lot on his plate right now. But if he doesn’t take the time to figure out what files he has or where they are, it will be impossible to set up a preservation plan for them.
DAN: Like if I had to organize this stuff now, even this relatively simple episode for next week, I would die inside and seize up.
MOLLY: The time for Dan to get organized is now. It might be painful, but probably not as painful as he thinks. And that’s why the Preserve This Podcast team is here. To give him some guidelines on how to move forward.
Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie are two archivists working with me on Preserve This Podcast. They’ve worked with organization systems for large collections of files.
Mary explains that organization serves two main purposes: It helps you know what you have. And then it helps you find it.
MARY: If you think of all the things that you make digitally, think of that as like an ocean of stuff. And folders are kind of a way to navigate the great ocean of digital stuff.
MOLLY: Dana takes it one step further. She says that organization not only helps you find your own work – it also helps other people find your work.
DANA: I think of organization as a way to send a message to people who come after you. If you organize things in a certain way you can display how your own mind works and you can also contextualize things that way… Organization can be like breadcrumbs through a forest, you can go forward through them on a path, and then you can make your way back by following that same path.
MOLLY: There are some epic examples of how file organization can work for large-scale operations. One of them is Storycorps. StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that records hundreds of thousands of interviews across the United States.
TAMARA: Our naming convention works for us because it allows us, at a glance, to differentiate files from each other.
MOLLY: That’s Tamara Thompson. She’s an archivist at StoryCorps.
TAMARA: And also gives us information about when the interview was recorded, when the interview was created and also, where it was created. Just from the first three letters, we know from whence it came.
MOLLY: No matter how many thousands of files Storycorps collects, they always know where those files go and where to find them.
TAMARA: If you ANY have interest in finding ANYthing, at all, then it is key.
And that’s the great thing about really strong file naming conventions. That it can unite your archive in a way that makes it more accessible to you, more accessible to the public, and more easily corralled, if you will.
MOLLY: The point of preservation is that people will be able to listen to your podcast years from now – even when you’re no longer alive. A GOOD organization system will help other people, like archivists, find and understand what you’ve created.
So that’s what we’re going to do with Dan today. Get him started on the road to a good organization system. To take away some of the stress of doing it alone, I gave Dan a call to walk him through the first exercise in our Preserve This Podcast zine.
DAN: OK, your phone’s ringing…
DAN: Heyyy, OK cool.
MOLLY: Again, if you’d like to follow along with us, you can download the zine at preservethispodcast.org.
DAN: My system for organizing things, is not terrible, but isn’t perfect. I would love some coaching from you in like tightening that up. Where should we start?
MOLLY: So I think we’ll start by walking through the zine together.
We start by opening up the zine to page 6. This exercise is called “Get Organized!”
DAN: My approach to file management is… I’ve tried to be as not stupid about it as possible,
MOLLY: We’ve broken organization up into two parts: folder structures and file naming. Dan and I get started with foldering. In order to create a folder structure that works for Dan, first we have to map out his current production process.
We’d like to work with Dan’s logic rather than fight it. So the first step is for Dan to think about all the steps he takes to make a podcast. And then write them down, in sentence format. Like a story.
DAN: I do interviews, which I capture on my digital recorder, and move ASAP to the external hard drive.
MOLLY: Dan is essentially mapping out his production process. And it’s pretty involved. It takes Dan 24 minutes to walk me through it.
DAN: And that’s pretty much the process.
MOLLY: Yeah, so there’s like a lot of steps in there. And you’re interacting with a lot of different technology and creating a lot of different files.
Now that Dan has written out his process, it’s time for the next step in the exercise.
Go through the narrative you just wrote and just like circle or highlight all the files.
This will help us come up with what we call a “master folder structure.” It’s like a template that he can make once and use over and over again. He can use it on his local computer drive, on his hard drive, and on shared drives like Google Drive. It’s a great way to stay organized. Dan is intrigued.
MOLLY: When you’re starting a new project, you can just copy and paste that skeleton folder structure.
DAN: I can copy a structure? How do I do that?
MOLLY: Create new folder.
DAN: Uh huh.
MOLLY: And let’s call this like episode 0. And then you go inside there and make a new folder. And then make a list of new folders,
DAN: And then I just duplicate the empty set of folders. I can right-click and duplicate the folder, and now I’ve got a new folder that’s a copy of Episode 0, but I just rename that like Episode 5, and now I’ve got that structure. You’re a genius, that’s awesome.
MOLLY: That’s a trick that Mary taught me. Yeah, no, it’s a really good one.
MOLLY: The great thing about folder structures is that they can be tailored to your working style. There’s no one right way to do it. We encourage you to follow your own narrative. Spot the patterns in the files you’re creating. And then set up a master structure that has a folder to map to each file type. We’ve laid out a sample structure on Page 8 of the zine.
DAN: I’m starting to figure out oh I need a folder for tracking, for my narration. Because it’s not just one file cuz I’ll do pickups. And then I need a folder for mixes. And then a folder for masters. Yeah so Episode One is a MESS. But I think episode 4 is gonna be less of a mess.
MOLLY: OK, so Dan did the foldering exercise.
Now it’s time to move onto the second part of “Get Organized.” This part starts on Page 9. And it’s all about figuring out a file naming convention. Which is just a formula for naming your files.
MOLLY: What is your current file naming convention?
DAN: That’s a very good question, let’s see. So ok, so the first tracking that I did is called Tracking 11142018, and then I have preserved the default file name that my recorder gives to things at the end. And then inside the folder called Pickups. These, uh, there are 1,2,3,4 and they are called uh Main Retrack 11152018 plus the Zoom name, Intro Retrack 11152018 plus the zoom names, 1115 pickups Good Take plus the zoom name.
MOLLY: Right now, Dan is naming files based on what makes sense to him in the moment, when he’s in the middle of production. But in the long term, it will be important for him to set up a system that’s consistent. Ideally, it will be a system that still makes sense to him 2 or 3 years from now.
When it comes to naming files, consistency is key.
DAN: And let’s see if that’s consistent… I have two files that are just the Zoom name, which is like Zoom0029 underscore tr1 and tr2… Yeah, it’s not great.
MOLLY: Dan knows he can make some major improvements to his file naming. Luckily, we provide a sample file naming convention on page 9. Our example starts with the year, month, and date that a file was created, all smooshed together with no spaces, then underscore, some kind of keyword to describe that file, dot the file type, so like dot wav or dot mp3.
DAN: Yeah. Your naming convention notes are smart. Oh boy. Oh. Avoid using spaces. Yeah, ugh, god.
MOLLY: It’s best to avoid spaces in file names because they make it trickier for computers to parse characters. Even though your Digital Audio Workstation and Dropbox might be happy enough working in a world of spaces, there are other systems – especially ones that are automated systems that use scripts – that will get tripped up. So it’s best to avoid them because we just can’t predict what programs we might be running our files through in the future.
DAN: So I’m a little, um scared. About how much I’ve already created without having started with smart naming conventions, without following all the good rules, cuz it’s a lot to go back and fix.
MOLLY: And that’s not necessarily the best idea.
As most audio producers know, changing a file name when you’re mid-production process can be a DISASTER. It breaks the links in your digital audio workstation session. The key with naming files is to make a formula now, and then follow that formula moving forward.
A lot of times production feels more urgent than file organization. Starting a podcast is hard. It’s even harder to be an independent podcaster, without an institution or a network handling some of the backend work.
Indie podcasters play so many different roles: they’re reporters, writers, audio engineers, accountants, social media managers, all rolled into one. And adding archivist to the list might seem like an impossible task.
But even though this will add some extra work upfront, you can do it. The main message we hope you take away is that creating routines is the answer to getting some control over your files.
And that’s what Dan is starting to do. In the couple months since we talked, he’s created new a file naming system.
DAN: So right now, every file starts with the date – year first, then month, then day. I’m separating them by dashes because it’s so much easier for me to see. Then underscore, then a descriptive title like MollySchwartzInterviewAboutDataCollectionUpdate.
MOLLY: Dan doesn’t have everything figured out yet. He’s still struggling with his folder template. But he’s made a start.
DAN: This is an ongoing task, and it never really stops.
MOLLY: Dan’s right – preservation is a process. It’s good that he’s getting organized now. Because An Arm and a Leg show has gotten hundreds of thousands of downloads. It’s gotten hundreds of five-star reviews on Apple podcasts. And they’ve gotten donations from listeners. Which means – That Dan is in production on a second season.
MOLLY: If YOU would like to preserve your podcast for future listeners, visit our website at preservethispodcast.org. Subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And please take some time to rate and review.
Preserve This Podcast is made possible through generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It’s produced by me, Molly Schwartz, at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. My project co-leads are Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie. Sarah Nguyen is our project coordinator. Allison Behringer is our editor. Breakmaster Cylinder composed the theme music. Dalton Harts does the mixing and the mastering and the song you hear at the outro. Austin Eustice did our logo. Noah Litvin did the website. Such special thanks as well to Jeremy Helton and Jacob Kramer Duffield. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with the next episode. Which is all about… storage.