Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Interview - Edinburgh Man

Words: Chris Hynd

Well, where were we on the interview front? It's only been since 2008 after all...

The first one back is with Jonny Dobson, the genial host of the Edinburgh Man podcast. I first came across Jonny's podcast last summer when my friend Gordon joined him for a couple of shows over the Edinburgh Fringe period. Although the more indiepop songs on his playlists are not quite to my taste, I do like the mix of indie rock, lo-fi and shoegaze that he also plays so I've found myself keeping a half hour free every week to tune in. Jonny was kind enough to agree to do the interview and took the time to give full answers to my questions.

The Edinburgh Man podcast has been going for around a year now (correct me if I'm wrong!). Can I start by asking what was the inspiration to you to do a podcast in the first place? Did it take a while to get into the swing of things (e.g. I look back on my first couple and cringe, do you feel the same?) or was it something that came naturally to you?

Yep, it's a year this week! I'd been meaning to do a podcast for years, actually years and years, ever since I started listening to podcasts in about 2004/2005, but it's something I never really got around to doing. The actual rather lame impetus was that I got a new MacBook that had a pretty decent inbuilt microphone, plus it came with GarageBand. I also spent a while trawling websites like Music Alley to try and find music to play. After a few days of looking around I had enough tracks for something like five shows, so I just sat down and recorded the first one.

I'm not sure if I've ever really got into the swing of things, and I certainly don't listen to old episodes. Once it's gone, I'm onto the next. The first few aren't available on the podcast feed anymore, but that's more to do with laziness after I changed the server, rather than anything else. Since about episode ten I've tried to do them "live" after GarageBand crapped out on me once and I had to re-record the show. It's much more fun to record them live, so from then on I think I got a lot more comfortable with it. Despite the fact it has probably increased the number of mistakes I make!

The music you play is either “podsafe”, i.e. released under Creative Commons licensing or free downloads that bands have made available to everyone. Was it a conscious decision to do this or wasn’t the PRS-affiliated Mixcloud up and running then and so you had to go down that route and not risk getting into bother playing copyrighted songs?

I think Mixcloud kicked off a few months after I started, or at least that was when I became aware of it. In general I don't listen to much music on major labels, and a lot of my favourite larger independent labels, such as Kill Rock Stars, Polyvinyl, and obviously Sub Pop, openly encourage podcasters to play the tracks they make available on their site. What I also found from that first few days of researching music for those initial shows was that there is so much exciting Creative Commons music out there. I have to admit, a few years ago I'd been put off by so called "podsafe" podcasts because I thought the music they played was, by and large, bland major label wannabe music, rather than anything interesting or innovating. But when I really started digging around for myself, I found so much music that really excited me. Music that I wanted to share.

I also knew that I wanted to join the Association of Music Podcasting. I'm not entirely sure why, maybe I just thought it would be good to be able to tap into the experience and knowledge of guys who have been doing this for years (some from the dawn of podcasting!). The membership criteria is that your podcast must only play podsafe music, so that pretty much clinched it.

Following on from that, is it difficult to source podsafe songs or is it quite rewarding to do a bit more research and digging about and unearth some gems that might not have been so widely known about? What has been your favourite find – someone like Entertainment for the Braindead for instance, for which I have to say thanks for introducing me to!

That EFTB album was the one that really got me too. It's a wonderful album, certainly one of my favourites of 2010. I love the Dressed Like Wolves album, and there are a couple of great EPs by Wisdom Tooth, both of which I first heard through
cllct.com - a great website for free lo-fi and DIY music.

To be honest, yes, it's a lot of work! I easily spend much more time researching the music than recording the show. But it's so rewarding. I have an insatiable appetite for new music, and finding something new and interesting is just so exciting. I also don't want the show to be the same music that you hear featured in lots of other podcasts, but by the same token I'm conscious of slipping in a couple of tracks into each show that might be familiar to listeners. I think that's something John Peel used to say about playing music - play something that people want to listen to, and then play something that you think they should listen to.

After a few months I started reaching out to bands and artists, and asking them if I could play their music on the show. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to do this. I think the first band was the Go Away Birds (Catherine Ireton from God Help The Girl and Michael John McCarthy from Zoey van Goey) after I saw them at a wonderful acoustic flat gig. It was very exciting, if only because Michael John instantly got the reference to The Fall in the name the podcast! Since then, if I want to play a track on the show, but it's not necessarily released under Creative Commons I just get it touch and ask. Some of these are unsigned bands whose EPs I stumble across on Bandcamp, while others, such as A Sunny Day In Glasgow are quite a bit more well known, but no-one has knocked me back yet!

I'm totally indebted to the people who have let me play their music on the show, bands like The Last Battle, Kid Canaveral, Schwervon!, and many, many more besides. Without them it'd just be me talking rubbish for thirty minutes, and I wouldn't want to wish that on anyone.

One thing I think about a lot with my podcasts is the mix between older and newer music. Do you think a podcast should exclusively feature newer material or do you share a friend of mine’s view that any song could be new to somebody, no matter when it was released?

I try and play new music for the most part, but it's a balance. I do like playing old stuff and as your friend says, it's always new to someone! In fact, I've often received email feedback from listeners who have specifically been introduced to older bands through the show, which is pretty cool. I do like slipping in some old stuff. A few weeks ago I had an itch to scratch, and played some Bratmobile from the early 90s because they're a band I don't think enough people know about. And I do play the odd Beat Happening track, because you can never have enough Beat Happening!

Is half an hour / approx. 6 songs the perfect length for the type of show you do in that it’s a weekly show and people may be pressed for time throughout the week to listen to a longer show? I’ve seen that you now upload an extended version of the show to Mixcloud with a couple of extra tracks of non-podsafe material – is that something you’re going to continue with?

I reckon so. My favourite podcasts have always been about half an hour to forty five minutes in length. Perhaps that's because my commute has always been about that long, or perhaps it's just my attention span.

I think podcasting is a very different from medium from radio, and the format of the shows needs to reflect that. Radio shows are generally on in the background while you're doing something else, but I think a podcast is a more engaging experience. You've chosen to listen to it, so you're concentrating a bit more, and when you're concentrating more, especially when it's mostly music that is new to you, you don't want a longer show. Two hours is fine for a radio show, but way too long for a podcast. I've yet to be convinced that sixty minutes isn't too long either, although admittedly some of my favourite podcasts, such as Jon Hillcock's New Noise podcast or obviously the wonderful This American Life are about that length.

I'm not sure about the mixcloud versions. They are an experiment that may or may not continue. Certainly the download versions get many hundreds times more listens than the mixcloud ones. We shall see. I know that you use mixcloud for your podcast, but until they sort out a mobile version of their site, or a mobile app, it doesn't really fit in with how I listen to podcasts.

Your site hosts your podcast but do you have any plans to branch out into more of a music blog, e.g. interviewing and reviewing bands or are you happy with the site as it is right now. Also, I really enjoyed the shows you did over the summer at the Edinburgh Fringe, are there any plans to do more of these, not just about the Fringe but around other events?

I'm not really a blogger. I feel like a bit of an imposter when there are so many great Scottish music blogs around, and all I really use mine for is posting a link to a new podcast! I reckon I'll just stick to doing the show. So many people can write blogs better than I ever could do.

The Fringe recordings with Gordon were good fun. It was great to record the show outside, in the sun (sometimes) and with a beer (most times). I also met some really nice people as a result of those shows, like comedian Dave Hill, and the wonderfully talented Charlyne Yi. Depending on work commitments, maybe we'll do some more Fringe shows this year.

Finally, what other podcasts do you listen to and recommend to others? And, do you think more and more podcasts will spring up in the future as people will listen to the ones out there and think “I could do that too!”?

There has always been a healthy churn of podcasts, which I think keeps the medium fresh. There are always people saying "I could do that too", because that's exactly what I thought one day when listening to Song, By Toad (no disrespect to Matthew!). I really enjoy Song, By Toad and Glasgow Podcart; and further afield, Dave Hill's Podcasting Incident and This American Life. Those are my main ones. I also subscribe to The Sounds in My Head, and while he doesn't always play music I'd normally listen to, I enjoy Peter Clitheroe's wonderfully titled Suffolk 'n' Cool, for enthusiastic chat and an interesting variety of music.

My favourite podcast is sadly one that was a victim of that podcast churn. If any podcast really put the seed into my mind of doing this it was the long defunct Dailysonic. Unfortunately you can no longer download this great magazine show from NYC, but I've got most of the episodes still in my iTunes library and dip in now and again. They did some innovating things like customised feeds that dynamically changed the show content based on your preferences, something that even now no-one else is really doing. But at the core it was an interesting and entertaining show written and presented by creative people. A great example of how podcasting is quite unlike any other broadcasting medium out there.

Indeed. Thanks again to Jonny for doing the interview. His podcast is uploaded every Thursday night and can be found at -

You also can follow him on Twitter - @edinburgh_man.

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