Some people are surprised when they find out that Ray and Steve aren’t in the same location when they record Beyond the Box episodes. So we thought we’d pull back the curtain a bit and give you some insight into the behind-the-scenes operation that you know as Beyond the Box.
When Beyond the Box launched in July, 2008, Ray and Steve had already been getting together and talking in this format for several years. What started out as weekly lunch meetings transitioned to weekly breakfast meetings, and often included one or two other friends as well, as well as Steve’s two children. These breakfast discussions often lasted two hours or more, but basically were very similar to the type of conversation you hear on BtB.
Ray first approached Steve with the idea of podcasting, and in fact, recorded a couple of “solo” episodes of his own (these episodes are not found on the BtB site). Steve was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, and they began putting the details together.
Originally, Steve would come to Ray’s house one evening a month (or so) and they would record three or four episodes at a time. Steve donated two condenser mics to the effort, and they used Ray’s PC and Audacity to record the episodes. Often, Steve’s 16-(at the time)-year-old son, Dylan would sit in on those episodes, so you may hear reference to that in early episodes, but Dylan did not actually join in on-mic.
In November, 2008, Steve and his family moved from Boone, NC to Abingdon, VA, and some questions about how to continue the podcast arose. No longer close enough to easily spend a late night recording at Ray’s house, the team had to come up with a new solution. It ended up being a rather seamless transition for our listeners, and most people probably don’t even realize how it all works.
Ray still uses his PC with Audacity, but on Steve’s end he uses a Mac G4 with ProTools. Ray and Steve each own Zoom H2 microphone/recorders that each uses on his end of the conversation. Each week (or thereabouts), Ray and Steve hook up via phone to have their conversation. While Ray records his end of the conversation at his house, Steve records his end. To synchronize the audio files for later mixdown, once they are ready to begin recording, Steve counts down “5…4…3…2…1″. Ray joins in when Steve reaches “3″ so that they have “3…2…1″ on both audio tracks to line them up.
Once they are done recording the episode, Steve saves his audio as an MP3 file and uploads it to a place on the BtB server where Ray can access it. Ray then downloads Steve’s audio, lines up the “3…2…1″ with his file in Audacity and then deletes the “3…2…1″ once they are lined up. He then adds the intro that you hear each week and the outro, does a little bit of mixing of the levels, and bounces the entire mix out to MP3 and uploads it to the BtB server.
Steve usually handles the actual posting of the episodes. Once Ray has uploaded the final mix, Steve writes the summary (sometimes listening to the episode to refresh his memory!), creates the link to the audio file for that episode, and posts it to the site. This site uses WordPress for the actual content management of the site, and the PodPress plugin to incorporate the player into each post so you can listen to the episode on the site.
The Twitter Tools plugin for WordPress automatically sends a tweet out from the BtBPodcast Twitter account to alert the listeners on Twitter to the new episode. Steve also pings iTunes to update its content after posting the episode.
Some people have wondered how we can have these conversations over the phone and yet still sound so natural. Apart from the technical aspect spelled out above, it seems that people are surprised by the natural flow of the conversation. This seems to be a direct result of years of talking regularly about these topics. Steve and Ray seem to understand how each other presents their thoughts so that rarely do they find themselves wondering if the other person is done speaking, or experiencing lulls in the conversation. And so it just flows rather naturally, as if they were still sitting across the table from each other in a restaurant.
Future thoughts about the technology behind BtB include the possibility of live streaming the actual recording so that others can participate through Skype or live chat while episodes are being recorded.