How to Record a (Fairly Complex, Fully Scripted) Podcast Remotely in a Pandemic

In my decades of writing weird science fiction-y stories with artsy, opaque titles like KTLN or…I/O, the title of this blog post is easily the most direct thing I’ve ever typed.

The first meeting I had with Agnes Szelag (co-creator, head of all things audio) was a distanced backyard hang in early June 2020. By then, we had 1) already been in COVID-related lockdown for 3 months and B) blown past the first conservative estimate for the length of lockdown. That was a weird time. If you’re like me, your mental state mostly resides in the kind of banal horror of lockdown-as-norm that was our Fall 2020—a time when vaccines were on the way, Trump had lost, and the first slivers of light from the new coming day were visible at the end of the tunnel. That sensation is more vivid than Spring 2020 when everything was terra incognita and some questions loomed rather large in neon:

  1. What on Earth is this virus that’s bringing the world to its knees?
  2. What fresh derangement will this pandemic draw out of our already deranged president?
  3. What if this is…just our lives now?

That last one might be familiar to those of you who’ve crossed paths with psychoactive substances—it’s a very specific kind of helplessness when a chemical is altering your mind and you have no promise of when its effects will end. Even though on some level, we know that that experience *has* to end, those experiences highlight our brains’ capacity to elasticize time (e.g., the five minute dream in which you live a lifetime) and how that can overrule our perception.

And, so it was with the pandemic. As turned out to be the case for most people, 2020 was prime reflection time, whether we wanted it to be or not. The auto-pilot version of reality was over (or on pause, at least), and things were moving slowly enough—soooo muuuuch sloooower—you couldn’t help but notice every damn detail of your own life.

I wanted to make something.

Early photo inspo expedition at the CA border (credit: Agnes Szelag)

And it was a very specific something. I’d written books, made albums, collaborated with designers and illustrators to make short videos and comics. But I wanted to do a serial story that people could experience in real time, something with acting, something that I could collaborate on with others.

Meanwhile, Agnes was between jobs, equally creatively restless and equally moved to make something in a new medium, something that tied together more than one of her focuses. As alums of Mills College, we shared a background in music composition — but we branched out severely from there. I started heavy space rock bands and began writing full-time. Agnes ended up with a dual career as an electronic musician/audio production lead and a visual designer for the web.

Our common ground was the science fiction storytelling of creators like Alex Garland. More recently, we’d become quite stoked by the possibilities of fiction podcasts with full casts like Homecoming. We were both looking to do something that incorporated our backgrounds as musicians and as storytellers. Oh, also, we didn’t have much money, and no one could meet or do anything in person for the foreseeable future.

We threw around the idea of a podcast pretty early on and it stuck. Agnes had actually made several podcasts before and was equally absorbed with the possibilities. But we wanted to create something that was a little more technically ambitious than what we’d yet discovered in the fiction podcast medium. We wanted it to be more immersive, more complex than what folks were expecting—a TV drama for your ears.

Over the next month, I wanted to share some detail about the entire venture of creating I/O, including:

Casting the show via Facebook

Writing the show (and getting critical feedback)

Recording remotely (and all the tech needed to do so)

Directing via Zoom

Producing and editing the show into what you hear

Marketing via social media, email, text, carrier pigeon, etc.

Listen to I/O now

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