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A step-by-step guide to your first (tenth, hundredth) podfic

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Before we start

This guide is for anyone who is interested in the process of podficcing. The premise chosen is that of a first-timer's first podfic, but let's be honest, a lot of what's mentionned here is way past Podfic 101. You know how it is, you try to be exhaustive and you end up with over 10k. So keep what's useful to you and discard the rest. If it's too much information, or you want a second or third opinion, or my writing style doesn't agree with you or whatever other reason, here are some more guides to choose from: A Beginner's Guide to Making Podfic by EmilianaDarling, How to Podfic: A Highly Biased and Incomplete Tutorial and the response to this ask by The-dragongirl, A Newbie's Guide to Podficcing by Azdaema.

I started writing this guide around the beginning of 2018 and first posted it in spring of the same year. I got a lot of help from fellow podficcers, but this guide very much reflects my own experience and perspective. There is no one way to podfic, and I only know my way/my corner of the internet/my time period. Take it all with a grain of salt. I'll try to keep it updated, so expect some edits from time to time.

A big thank you to all the podficcers who helped with (and sometimes co-wrote) this. Special mention to Azdaema's guide (from whom I shamelessly copy/pasted many links and even a quote or two) and to the Auralphonic podcast.

All links are available in full in the endnotes of each chapter, just like here below.

Step 1: Convince yourself you really should do it

Obviously if you’re here then you know podfics are awesome, and you'd like to make some. If the only thing stopping you is a technical problem, then you can skip this section entirely. If the problem is more psychological, though, then this is for you.

Here are some of the nagging thoughts that might stop a podficcer from podficcing:

 

“My work isn't good enough.”

Ok. Let's start with that. Your work doesn't have to be good. There is no bar on podfic quality. If it's shitty, well it's shitty, and that's not a problem. The next one will look even better in comparison. Seriously, go to any big name podficcer's ao3 and go back to their very first work (though be careful, many of them started on Livejournal or the Audiofic Archive and might not have crossposted their earliest works here). Compare it to their most recent one. That's how much you can improve with practice.

 

“Nobody will like it.”

There's always at least one person who'll enjoy it. Chances are, the author will be happy you liked their work enough to want to record it. That's already one person who's happy you made this podfic. And there's at least one listener who'll enjoy it. They might not show it, but they'll be there.
Also, may I point out that it's extremely rare to get negative feedback on podfics? The worst I've ever gotten was probably “I think it's better if you write your story because I don't understand all of the audio and the story it's a good idea !!!” (exact quote). Or maybe authors giving permission to record for accessibility purposes. Kind of annoying, misguided, but not mean-spirited or anything. So at worst, you're shouting into the void. The void is not judging you. The void is nice and supportive of your efforts. The void only wants you to get better.

Actually, you can substitute “the void” for “the podfic community”. They (we) are a very friendly bunch and will adopt any baby podficcer (new podficcer) in an instant. If you need a friend/beta/cheerleader, just give us a sign! (For more info on where/how to establish first contact, see Step 8.)

One extra little bit of mental gymnastics that really helped me when I was starting: if nobody is saying anything either way, then they don't care, there's nobody to disappoint, and you're free to fuck up as much as you want. They don't have any right to complain, they're not saying anything.

 

“I'm not getting any feedback.”

That said, it's normal to want validation. But keep in mind, the kudos/views number are not a good indicator of how good/bad your work is. They vary widely depending on the fandom, the pairing, the tropes, whether the author gave you some publicity, your own online presence, etc etc etc. They are also, as a norm, significantly lower than for fics. People download, listen on some other device, and forget to go back to the ao3 post to leave some love. It's not like reading something on your internet browser, and when you're done there's the kudos button right there. There aren't as many podfic listeners as fic readers, and fic readers can consume bigger word counts in the same amount of time. And the numbers go up with a podficcer's notoriety. So don’t make the mistake of building your self-worth as a podficcer on the amount of feedback you get. That way only lies heartbreak.

 

“I'm not doing the fic/the author justice.”

One bad podfic is better than no podfic. You're not actually stopping anyone from recording a better version of this one fic! Yes, podficcers usually tend to avoid recording a story that's already been podficced. But repods are actually quite common nowadays, so it's not out of the question, and it's not stopping them from picking another fic to record and adding to the total number of works podficced. Though, if you still feel eh about it, maybe consider picking a fic that's already been recorded. That way, there's already a “good” podfic of it available, but since your interpretation of the text can only be different (in emphasis, in tone,...), it’s still a unique performance, and people will still enjoy it. Or an orphaned fic. Or something you wrote yourself, if you write! Or a fic from one of your friends, so it’s both podficcing practice and a gift to them. You’re putting time and effort into this, so no matter how good/bad it is, it’s still a show of love that’ll make at least one person really happy.

 

“I have a heavy accent.”

That is not a problem. Yep, you'll get a lot of “I really like your accent” in your feedback. It... kind of sucks sometimes? I mean, it is a compliment on the work you did on your accent, and on your cadence/melody/articulation/etc, which is not just about pure pronunciation, but it's also a reminder that nope, you still have one. But newsflash: everybody's got an accent. A German one, an Indian one, a Scottish one, a New Jersey one, … And listeners do have preferences, but there'll always be someone who likes yours, if only because they have the same. (Or they’re trying to get the same, because they’re also podficcers, and they need examples for character voices in their next podfic. Or they’re looking for someone to voice a character that has your accent in their next multivoice project. True stories.)

Also, if nothing else, you wouldn't want anyone else to not podfic because they feel self-conscious about their own accent, right? So putting yours out there is a good way to tell them that it's totally ok to do it too.

 

“I don't like my voice.”

Actually, you'd be surprised at how many podficcers don't like to listen to their own voice.
There are ways around that. You could limit the number of times you have to listen to it. It's totally possible to produce an entire podfic without listening to it once (for more info, see the editing section). You could just ignore it, or learn to like it, through sheer exposure, through positive thinking, through positive feedback. Or you could change it. And by that, I mean either use sound effects (like lowering your pitch in post-prod), or practice voice exercises and change your setup.

Whatever you choose, remember that your voice is going to change. The more you record, the more you learn, the more you can do. So if you have to call the first two (or ten) podfics you do practice for the ones you'll do after that, then so be it.

 

“There isn't an audience for what I want to record.”

Sure, if you only look at the hits. But if you look at kudos per views, the most popular fandoms and pairings don’t get the highest numbers. I know that my French pods get a veeery good ratio even though it’s such a niche, and the most notes I've ever gotten on a tumblr post was for a podfic in a fandom with 12 works total on ao3 at the time. (The creator of the webcomic reblogged it. The post now has 122 notes, even though the ao3 work only has 52 views.)

The way the author reacts to your podfic really influences the number of people it reaches. And of course, your own online presence does too. Like, marketing is a job in and of itself. Don't be too harsh on yourself.

 

"There's too many things to learn."

Yes and no. There are an infinite number of things you can learn, but most of them aren't a requirement. If you hate html formatting with a passion, forget it and copy-paste the link to your podfic into the ao3 work. No hyperlinks, no fancy streamers, no nothing. If you hate editing, record in a way that doesn't require much of it, or, even, say F it and don't do it at all. Podficcing should be fun, and finding your style also means finding ways around the not-so-fun parts. An example: many persons don't like breathes in their podfics, but I can't be bothered to edit mine out. So I've embraced it as a way of expressing emotion (huffs, sighs) and pacing (if you take away the breath filling the pause, it sounds longer). Does it still bother some people? Probably. Does that mean I should change how I podfics? Nope.

Yes, podficcing is hard and complex and podficcers are awesome. But podficcing is a skillset you can acquire, not a talent granted to you at birth by the podfic fairy. You wouldn't expect a first timer potter to produce the masterpiece of their career, same for you.

You probably already know some of those skills, anyway. Ever did some theater? Congrats! You have a head start on the acting stuff. Read to your younger family members? Narrating. Budding or seasoned artist? Cover art. Music or movie enthusiast? Music and sound effects. Computer software and coding? Hosting and posting. Played the flute in high school? Breath control and pacing. Just a nice, outgoing person? Networking and asking for permission. Etc, etc, etc.

 

But ultimately, it depends on why you want to podfic. Are you doing it for yourself, because you enjoy the act of reading out loud? Are you doing it as a gift for someone else, the author perhaps, a friend, or your audience at large? Are you looking for feedback or a sense of community? Are you trying to improve a skillset? If you know what you're looking for, it'll help you choose what to do and how to do it.

 

Need a final push? Consider making yourself accountable for finishing this project: inform the author of your intention to podfic their work, talk to a friend about it, join a challenge/exchange… So that even if you're not completely happy with it, you'll still feel like you have to post it. After all, one podfic, no matter the quality, is still better than no podfic at all!

Auralphonic on tips for Newbies.