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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

In case of podcast problem, push button

Tell me how the panelist caused you extra work.

Last year I decided I was spending too much time doing jobs because I could do them, not because they were an essential part of my job. (My friend Myke Hurley would, in the spirit of his podcast Cortex, call this my “Year of Essentials.”)

So I resolved to, among other things, stop editing weekly episodes of The Incomparable. Since 2010, I’ve spent most Saturday mornings editing that podcast. And while I enjoy having complete editorial control and using that regular editing session to try out new techniques, it’s not an essential part of my life and my friend Steven Schapansky can edit it just fine.

But giving up editing meant that I’d need to relay any issues that need to be smoothed out in editing to Steven—and that was a problem. I’d file mental notes about stumbles, interruptions, digressions and the like, and then play them back when I was editing the podcast. When someone swore, I’d switch to the Finder, make a new folder, and give that folder a name like “poop1 23 min”.

This is an untenable situation if I’m going to hand over editing duties, so I needed to resolve to make a change. (Especially about making notes in folder names—one of the weirdest and saddest acts of desperation, and yet one I keep doing a decade later.) I needed to fully commit to taking edit notes while recording the podcast, so I could pass those notes on to Steven.

The logical thing to do is what Myke and my friend Antony Johnston both do, which is keep a paper notebook handy and mark down these events in writing while the recording session is going on.

Myke's notebook
Myke Hurley’s notes.

I have several pens and several Field Notes notebooks on my desk, and yet I almost never use this approach. Part of that is my general aversion to pens and paper—they’re just never my first choice—and part of it is that to make a good podcast editing note, you need to note the time that the problem happened—and the act of looking at the time on my recorder and writing the result down on paper is distracting, time consuming, and not particularly accurate. (Even my folders in the Finder are pretty vague in terms of timing, since by the time I’ve clicked and made a new folder, quite a bit of time has passed since the crime was committed. Was that “poop” at 23 minutes? Probably more like 22:15 or 23:40. Somewhere in there. Good luck.)

The final result: two Stream Deck buttons I can push.

And so, realizing that using paper was probably not going to be an approach that would work for me, I decided to spend a few hours in late December building a script that would help me automate the note-taking process, aided by some Keyboard Maestro macros and tied to buttons on a Stream Deck macropad.

Before I describe what I did, I should point out that other people have built tools to handle this very issue. Dave Hamilton of The Mac Observer detailed his approach, which is similar to mine, but relies on a manual timer that you set when you start recording. It’s a totally valid approach—if you remember to reset the timer, that is.

What I wanted was something a bit more foolproof. I use Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to record podcasts, and those recordings save right to my Desktop, so I wrote an AppleScript script that looks at the Desktop and finds the creation time of the most recent podcast recording. (This could be based on a file name or type—in my case, the names of all my podcast recordings include the current date in the format YYYYMMDD, so I can search for all files matching that pattern and then find the newest one. Once I know the file’s creation time, the rest is just math—subtract it from the current time, and you’ve got the current time code of the file.

When my script runs, it appends a line to a file on the Desktop (creating one if necessary) that includes the current time code, as well as any text I’ve passed to the script.

To trigger the script, I created two Keyboard Maestro macros. The first one displays a list of common issues, so I can quickly select “cough” or “swear” and it’s appended when I press return. (If I just press return, no text is passed to the script.) The second one displays a text entry field, so I can add anything I want as a note. I assigned both macros to individual buttons on my Stream Deck.

Keyboard Maestro runs the script.

The note file generated by the script looks like this:

00:00:08 – Swear
00:00:44 – Overtalk
00:01:54 – Cough
00:02:14

Nothing too inspiring, but very useful if you’re a podcast editor looking out for issues!

I tried this approach with a podcast I recorded on New Year’s Day, and it worked really well. My plan is to use this on all the podcasts I hand off to others, as well as the podcasts I edit myself, from now on. Only time will tell if it sticks, but I’m optimistic that this simple approach—hear issue, push button—will win the day.

I’ve posted the code of the AppleScript script and my Keyboard Maestro macros if you’re interested in adapting them for your own uses.


  1. They didn’t really say “poop.” 

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