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Vox: SF For Your Ears
by Scott Danielson

Other Vox: SF For Your Ears Columns

Blackstone Audio
Crazy Dog Audio Theatre
Radio Repertory Company of America
Soundings by Jeff Green
Yuri Rasovsky
Audio Drama
Crazy Dog Audio Theatre
Giant Steps: An Apocalyptic Comedy for the World Wide Web
Mark Time Award
Seeing Ear Theater
Wollcott and Sheridan
Audio Publishers
Atlanta Radio Theater Company
Books on Tape
Defiance Audio
Fantastic Audio
Full Cast Audio Books
The Reader's Chair
Recorded Books, LLC
Star Trek Novels/Audio
Star Wars Novels/Audio
Timberwolf Press
SF Talk Radio
Book Crazy Radio
Cosmic Landscapes
The Dragon Page
Hour 25
Reality Break - a science fiction talk show
Sci Fi Overdrive
SF On the Radio
Podcast Alley
The Dragon Page
Escape Pod
SF Site Podcast Reviews
Rev-Up Review
Reel Reviews Radio
Radio Station: subspaceXmission
The Teaching Company
Timeship Studio
Voyage's Multimedia Project

Stephen Eley Stephen Eley is a software developer, writer, and the podcaster behind Escape Pod. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Anna, their infant son Alex, and a Welsh Corgi named Yuna who's really the brains of the operation.

I would describe Escape Pod as an audio science fiction magazine. Is that a fair description? How do you describe it to people?

It's a great description. Our own tag line is "The science fiction podcast magazine." People have certain expectations of a magazine -- that it comes out on a regular schedule, that it's professional, that it has a consistent format -- and we do our best to meet those expectations. And we call it "THE" podcast magazine because so far as I know, nobody else is doing what we are.

It certainly is all those things. What kind of content should people expect when they subscribe?

Ideally, the kind that sticks in your head for a while. The cornerstone of our podcast is the Thursday release, the one we actually call "Escape Pod" -- we narrate a full-length story that's typically 20-40 minutes long, with a few minutes of commentary and book reviews from listeners. Throughout the week we also release flash fiction of five minutes or less, some media reviews, or other bonus material.

Our style of fiction selects for fun over language or literary depth. We pick SF, fantasy or horror stories that are strongly plotted, with good pacing and engaging characters. A lot of people listen to us while they're driving; we'd rather give them energy than have them fall asleep at the wheel.

So each weekly edition of Escape Pod features a full length story? Who writes these stories?

Debra Doyle & Jim Macdonald, Tim Pratt, Gregory Frost, Laura Anne Gilman... Anyone who sends us good work. We're a paying science fiction market. We've expressed a preference for reprints, because many of the best stories have already seen print somewhere but would otherwise never get an audio treatment. However, we'll look at any story that's sent to us. here are our guidelines.

You mentioned "fun" as a criteria for selection -- how do you, as editor, decide what to record?

The first step is typically just to start reading. If the story begins to bore me or one of our other readers, it usually ends there; anything that's too passive in print is going to be ten times worse in audio, where you can't just glance ahead a few paragraphs. If we're engaged enough to follow it to the end, we read some of it out loud. If we have fun reading it out loud, if it's something we can really get into and carry a good voice and pacing, then it's an Escape Pod story.

Escape Pod Do you ever find stories that you like, but don't seem to "work" when read aloud?

All the time. It's quite common to get stories that have fantastic imagery but sparse plot, for instance. I enjoy those, but they don't work well as narration. It's not my favorite part of the job, to have to tell an author "We loved this story, but it doesn't work for Escape Pod."

On the technical side: where do you record the stories?

Ah, this is one of the great things about podcasting. My "studio" is a small computer desk in an oddly-shaped alcove of my living room. It'd make any sound engineer blanch, but it works and the acoustics are decent. I've got a very common Shure microphone running through a cheap preamp into my Mac Mini.

That's just my setup, of course. We have other narrators, and everybody's got their own way of doing it. I don't even ask, as long as the end result is good.

How do you edit the finished product?

I use free software (Audacity) to edit out any mistakes and put all the pieces together, then listen again to be sure it's smooth and correct. We aim for the same standards in sound quality as professionally produced audiobooks, although our show structure is somewhat more casual and personal.

How did you get into podcasting in the first place? Do you have broadcasting background, or was it a healthy interest in this particular medium?

Beyond a Morse-code-only ham radio license in middle school, no broadcasting background. What I do have an interest in is reading things aloud. I've done it for years -- for friends, at cons, to my wife and child. It's a lot of fun, and it lets me indulge my passion for the dramatic when there's no time for real theater.

Then I stumbled across podcasting early this year, and I started listening to a number of them. I knew immediately it was something I wanted to do. When I started casting around for ideas that weren't already being done, short fiction seemed like an obvious one. I put up a Web site, sent a few e-mails to friends for the initial stories, and since then, everything's fallen into place beautifully.

How about from the science fiction side of things?

I'm a lot closer to that side. I've been a writer for several years now -- a few short story publications, a novel in a pile at a major publisher, the usual story. It's a passion of mine. I have to admit, I never really saw myself as an editor, but now that I've stumbled into it I'm finding it rather rewarding.

Podcasting is growing at an amazing rate. Large companies like NBC News are jumping in, is making some of their stuff available as podcasts -- how do you see the future? What will constitute a successful podcast?

I think podcasting is on the verge of moving beyond the "cool new thing" hype and into mundanity, just as blogs did before them. This is a good thing. And with that will come a redefinition of "success." As with blogs, or with books, you'll see the top 1 percent getting most of the press; but the well is deep. The real value is in niche content, and the niches will find audiences.

For someone who isn't already doing a podcast, I think the best approach is to pick a focus, a subject you're passionate about, and stick to that. There are enough "random thoughts" podcasts already that a new one will have trouble making a mark. And there are certainly too many podcasts about podcasting. But if your goal is to produce the world's best podcast about medieval combat recreation, say, or filk music, or whatever your unique passions are -- that would find listeners. Those listeners will be people who care about the same things you do, and they will appreciate you deeply.

Copyright © 2005 Scott Danielson

Scott discovered the world of SF audio years ago, when he spent hours a day in his car. His commute has since shortened considerably, but his love for audio remains. By trade, he's an control engineer for a manufacturing plant. Aside from reading and writing science fiction, his hobbies include community theater, where he can often be found behind the soundboard or (much less often) on the stage. Scott can also be found at SFFAudio.

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