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Chapter 4. Formats > Build a Beercast

Hack 30. Build a Beercast

Use cheap hardware, lots of beer, and good friends to create entertaining podcasts.

Beercasting is a talk show recorded on location in a bar or pub near you. Unlike your traditional talk show, a Beercast stars regular people as the hosts—such as your friends, co-workers, and loved ones.

Every night, thousands upon thousands of interesting, and brutally honest, conversations take place. The real shame is that often we can't even remember some of the more brilliant utterances the next morning. Beercasting's goal is to capture those conversations and to share them with anyone who's interested.

Beercasting has nothing to do with beer—well, not entirely. Beercasting is about the open and honest conversations held between folks. It just so happens that once a little liquor is stirred into your average chit-chat session, the floodgates are blown wide open. The beer in Beercasting refers to the most popular truth serum: beer.

4.12.1. How Does Beercasting Work?

Beercasting uses a simple, topic-based format that's similar to your average TV or radio talk show. Beercasters gather in small groups of from two to four people and discuss various topics, one at a time. The main difference between Beercasting and those other talk shows is that there's no real host; everyone's a star in their own Beercast.

The term Beercast is used to describe the final, published conversation. To ensure that listeners get the most out of the experience, and to prevent people from rambling on for too long, each Beercast focuses on one specific topic. Topics cover anything and everything, from relationships to politics and everything in between.

The topics can be selected from the existing Topic Archive available on the Beercasting.com site, or can be made up on the fly while recording.

4.12.2. How Do I Organize a Beercast?

The first thing you need to do is pick a date to hold your first Beercast. Though you might be anxious to get started as soon as possible, you'll want to leave yourself enough time to get people to clear their calendars.

It's always best to hold a Beercast on a night that you know works well for your group. If you plan to Beercast from home, you shouldn't need much more than a week's notice (this depends on your friends, of course). Don't forget to account for days off, birthdays, and other important dates.

For Beercasts that will be held in bars and pubs, you'll definitely want to leave yourself a couple of weeks, minimum. Bars often have events and other things going on that could rain on your parade. The best nights to plan for are Monday through Wednesday, which are their slowest nights. Location, location, layout.

Once you've picked the date, you're ready to decide where to hold your Beercast. As they say in real estate, it's all about location, location, location. You want to make sure the place you choose for your Beercast is centrally located and easy to commute to and from.

If you plan to Beercast from a bar or pub, drop into the places you're considering and make sure they're OK with you coming by and recording. Stay away from the über-corporate chains, as they'll often have policies against this sort of thing.

Aside from location, you have to consider the layout. Remember, background noise is the enemy. Not all spaces are created equally, and most are acoustically hostile when it comes to recording conversations.

Avoid noise like the plague. If you're going to Beercast from home, you want to stay away from the street, ductwork, computers, and anything else [Hack #15] that tends to be noisy. If you're destined for a bar or restaurant, you want to consider many other things:

  • The jukebox or the volume of music from the overhead audio system

  • Customer chatter

  • Street noise

By choosing a slow night at a bar, you can bet that fewer people will be chattering in the background and the bar will be more willing to help you out.

Despite the noisier conditions when recording out in the wild, it's still recommended that you head out to the local watering hole for one simple reason: it's a great way to meet new people. Party people.

The last, but certainly not least, step in planning your Beercasting event is to gather the troops that you want to attend. Theoretically, you need only one person (yourself) to do a Beercast, but that's not nearly as much fun as you should expect to have.

The ideal size for a Beercast is four people, or multiples of that (assuming you've got additional equipment). Avoid the temptation to pile 20 people around a microphone, since it just doesn't work. When too many people get together, they start to chatter and side conversations form.

A great Beercast is powered by great conversation—choose your participants accordingly. Mix up the age, gender, and race of the people involved, and don't be shy to recruit "innocent bystanders" that are standing by, wondering what you're doing. Strangers invariably guarantee something new and unexpected. For your first Beercast, invite your most vocal and zany friends to participate. They'll be sure to draw a crowd…as they always do.

4.12.3. What Do I Need to Do a Beercast?

Beercasting can cost you as much or as little as you want. Naturally, the more you invest in your equipment, the better the end results will be. You do need to have a few critical components, however.

First and foremost is the recording device. This is the most critical piece because without it, there will be no record of the Beercast. All kinds of different recording devices are available to you, including cell phones, voice recorders, MP3 players, and mini-disc recorders [Hack #69]. Use whatever it takes to get started! In the long run, however, an MP3 player with a dedicated line-in is the recommended hardware. This will make it easy for you to get your show published, and it will get you the best results.

The only other thing you need to get your Beercast recorded successfully is a microphone [Hack #13]. Again, you can spend as much or as little on a microphone as you want, but note that spending lots of money does not mean you'll get better results. The one thing to avoid is using any form of built-in microphone. Generally speaking, internal microphones are not of the greatest quality and they yield poor results. A $10 RadioShack microphone goes a long way. Topics.

To have a good Beercast, you've got to have good topics. The most important thing to remember is that when you record a Beercast, you've got two audiences: the attendees and the listeners.

Choosing topics can be the most difficult part of preparing for a Beercast. The difficulty is that you have to ensure that everyone at the table can participate. In general, it's best to stay away from topics that are too controversial, as the discussion will get heated and fall apart quickly.

Catering to your listeners is a slightly different issue. The rule of thumb is to talk to your friends, not to the audience. It's easy to get into a "show" mode in which you talk for the sake of being entertaining. In reality, people are listening because they are interested in what's being said about the topic. They don't want to hear more of the same as what they can hear on the radio. The best-rated shows are the ones that are spontaneous, candid, and authentic.

If at any point you're feeling uninspired, check with the Beercasting.com Topic Archive to find a listing of every topic the Beercasting community has ever covered. The rating system we use makes it easy to find the things that audiences are interested in.

4.12.4. Publicize the Beercast

Once your Beercast is complete, you have one more task you have to complete: marketing. Beercasting stands for more than simply the name of the activity. It's also a service that helps you get your message out.

When your Beercast is complete, upload it to the web site (http://beercasting.com/). From there, the files will be processed and published to your squad's home page automatically. Instantly, thousands of new people will be able to download your Beercast.

Of course, this is only half of the battle. The other half of the promotion is something you must handle. You will receive an email from Beercasting.com once your show is published. Then you can use your promotion tools to notify everyone who attended the Beercast.

Once that's done, sit back and wait for the comments.

4.12.5. Vancouver Beercast Squad

Kris Krug met Gregory Narain and some other friends at the Northern Voice for a few beers and some Beercasting. It went so well that after Greg left, nobody wanted to stop. So, he created the Vancouver Beercast Squad and now he Beercasts regularly. At first he Beercast with just his local blog buddies. Instead of writing for their own separate blogs, they got together in one spot for some beer and straight talk. The first group comprised 15 people, and others were jockeying for seats at the table. Beercasts held more recently have comprised between 5 and 10 people.

His setup is simple: two cheap microphones, stands and cables, four headphones, some splitters, and his PC. He can set it all up and be ready to go in 15 minutes. He records with Audacity [Hack #50] and then uses Adobe's Audition to encode it into MP3s. He's really not that worried about the quality, since there is so much background noise from the bars. They have covered such topics as geek dating tips, why reality TV sucks, and the Iraq war, among others.

The bar owners he has worked with have been more than happy to give him permission to do the Beercast. In some cases, they have even given a free pitcher or two to get the party started. It's good business to hold activities that encourage people to come to the bar.

A lot of the feedback he gets is requests to join in the fun, or to borrow his hardware to set up more Beercasts. Everyone who is involved enjoys it and wants to learn how to build their own Beercasts.

4.12.6. See Also

Greg Narain

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