Am I comparing my podcast to the original Star Wars trilogy? Yes.
So, following on from the previous blog post, having listened to one of the early episodes and having a bit of anxious moment about some of the things in there... I decided to pull a George Lucas and go back and change some things. I didn't go full Greedo shoots first, I didn't digitally reintegrate an alien rock band into Jabba's palace... but I didn't stop at simply cleaning up the audio either.
All in all, I had wanted to go back and fix a few things for a very long time now, and having recently purchased some new audio repair software I felt this was a good time to do so. I had not found a rhythm in how to record back then, I did not know some very basic things to make editing easier or create a better sounding end product. But more than that, I had also made some quite strange decisions regarding the tone of the show and I think that stemmed from a lack of confidence about what I wanted the show to be.
I can remember worrying very much that people would simply turn the show off if there wasn't more... excitement. I felt I constantly had to have some kind of background music, or make jokes throughout, or use language more appropriate for a kind of chat show rather than a history podcast. I didn't quite know what the tone of the show should be in these early episodes, and I may have covered up my own lack of knowledge about early Cambodian history with excessive generalisations.
I was most happy with the introductory episode, I think it still stood up really well. I didn't re-record any dialogue for that episode, merely fixed up some background noise issues and some of the pauses between phrases. The two episodes about Angkor however, these are the ones that I remember quite frantically putting together and thinking that people would be bored by, so I took on this kind of... jokey tone. I left the simpsons quote in the first one (after putting it to Twitter and hearing that people actually really liked it) but I re-recorded some things and took out the excessive background music that played over some sections of audio. I did a similar thing in the second episode with the explanation of Zhou Daguan's book, I remember even back then I had already done a re-release after I left in way too much joking about the more salacious things that the Chinese diplomat had included. This whole bit needed work because I think back then I had just taken stuff out, but then kind of referred back to that stuff later, which didn't make sense.
I might continue doing this process in the future. It took me about three and a half days to fix up just three episodes so maybe after the release of the next one I might go back and see if another one or two need anything cleaned up. It is one of the problems with doing this over... what three and a half years? Like you get better at that thing while you do it, but because it is a linear series with a set of episodes that you kind of have to go through one by one, well if those early ones aren't that good then people don't bother continuing with the show.
I had always wanted to have giant Dewback lizards in the background of most episodes, but I just didn't have the time or skill to do so.
I decided to go back and listen to the second episode I released, which was originally I think in early 2018. It was about the Khmer civilisation leading into the Angkor period. It was... strange, it felt like reading an old diary or something of that nature... was that really me who came up with some of these creative decisions?
Tips for anyone thinking of making a history podcast - number one - resist the temptation to use excessive sound effects or background music. I don't know why I felt the need to have most of this episode set to music or sounds... there is a section at the end that just has the sound of rain for like 5 minutes? And the music under some of the discussion of the early Khmer kings was overbearing. I think I felt like nobody would keep listening if there were not interesting sounds - and I think that might explain the Simpsons gag as well.
The dialogue itself though, I was surprised I didn't have too much that I would change? There was the occasional stumble, and I think as I was generally less familiar with that early Cambodian history as I am now I might have fallen into a couple of the common misconceptions - like I mentioned that scholars use the phrase 'dark ages' of Cambodian history - which none do anymore.
I brought this up on twitter, saying that podcasting itself was quite a strange medium in this way. Like, I started this project three years ago, but it was as if I had been writing a book that I had to publish each chapter at a time... without being able to go back and change what I had written even if the story itself had evolved in new directions. Happily someone pointed out that this was one of the benefits as well - that once you have written a book the whole thing is done and thats it, you don't have the ability to change course over time.
I guess I think of those early episodes a bit like the first season of a TV series, sometimes it can be awhile before the show finds its feet and direction. I'm glad that even though I might not like some of the earlier stuff, my tone is a bit all over the place and the amount of sources I had was minimal... I guess it was just necessary to get started and start that journey even if the content wasn't as polished as it could be. And if people like it enough they will see it get better over time.
I just hope I don't look back at the episodes I am releasing now and think the same thing in three years time!