Back & Fifth has been a successful short-term project, completed as a part of NTU Fine Art’s Public festival. The pilot series looked draw attention to grassroots artists, institutions, and behind-the-scenes workers in the UK – furthered by adapting episodes into online resources with direct links to everything discussed. The coming together of accessible guests and references thus created a resource list outside of the academic curriculum, instead focusing on the places and people truly driving the UK creative scene.
The project timeline has been disected into the stark positives and negatives below, with the relevant supporting content available too in Back & Fifth fashion. Based loosely off my own life lessons and terms, it feels important to outline what did and didn’t work on the project – and what can be improved upon for when the project re-launches.
1. False Start Happen
I wanted to work on Back & Fifth (originally The Midpoint Podcast) alone, as I could see the huge influence it would have on my own skillset and upon the creative network around me. However, the course’s staff swiftly rejected this, claiming that ‘the aims of the Public festival are to experience and explore working with other people to make something happen, with more emphasis on the process and the experience than whether the end result is ‘good’ or ‘bad’’.
I understood the different people I would be working with on the project – a diverse range of people with varying skillsets and experience. However, I perhaps did not make it transparent enough to others – instead, choosing to focus on emphasizing the importance of the final outcome being that of a high quality. Where the final project involved the teachings and co-operation of over 13 other people (from artist managers to club owners), it perhaps came across that I was not up for working with other people on the project at all.
Consequently, the project started with a 5-month delay – more than half the time provided to plan and create the project. I should have foreseen and planned for this occurring, giving myself more time to refine the original idea and potential adaptations. By seeing the delay as an obstacle as opposed to an opportunity, I lost valuable planning and production time waiting for the project to be greenlit.
The Lesson: Plan for yourself with the presentation to others constantly in mind. Follow up every plan with the creation of back-ups that account for delays and cancellations.
My early drafts (for some reason including the idea of making cocktails next to incredibly expensive equipment) were under the podcast’s initial name: ‘The Podcast That Will Probably Get Me Kicked Out Of Uni’. After running through these ideas with Hospey, I eventually came around on the idea of making the podcast an accessible resource – an idea not mentioned on this original list.
2. Team Work ≠ Group Work
Despite the delay due to group work issues, the project still revolved around the influence of my creative network combining well with the newly introduced influencers and key players – all channelling through my own independent work. The ability to curate influence without restriction built up my communication and co-ordination skills across and between different people, a different yet imperitive skill in the the creative industry.
From bringing out skills in close and reliable friends to tightening relationships with experienced and accomplished players in my network, the project allowed me to establish different ways in which to communicate and work with people. Exponential growth in the network involved was also present – where some people involved had contacts that could further the project in some way. Conclusively, the project showed the types of growth and experience that can be established whilst developing a self-guided, public facing project.
THE LESSON: People’s life lessons and skills are assets. When handled correctly, they are likely to help you in the same ways that you would help them.
An example of the conversations had surrounding the project – outlining the different experiences people have when it comes to events planning.
3. Having a Good Podcast Doesn’t Make Your Podcast Good.
In the social media world, diversity of presentation is essential in diversity of content – which is why video content was going to be key to the project. The ease of recording via mobile phone would help create effective soundbites relied upon by so many media producers to go viral; that’s if the cameras actually work the way you need them to.
The lack of space in which to use professional camera equipment and inability to see if the devices we were recording culminated in the scrapping of video content. With recording visuals being a late afterthought in the process of finding a suitable recording location, and by the time logistics were sorted, the ability to add visual identity to episodes was lost. This meant the project had to rely solely on the audio matching well with the future branding of the project – something that limits engagement online from potenital listeners.
The Lesson: In the same way you pre-plan your core content (your primary aims and functionalities), you need to pre-plan your diverse content (The add-ons that further advance your core content). This includes the back-up plans for when things (inevitably) go wrong.
All 9 seconds of the pilot series that was video recorded – missing out over 5 hours of visual footage. Back & Fifth: The Movie – enjoy.
Going in to Back & Fifth, it was important for me to create a project for the masses, not the mark scheme. By learning the ins and outs of podcast production under the safety of the term ‘pilot‘, I knew I could make errors that did not define the future of the project – rather inform it and help the post-pilot refinement. The pilot series has been the foundation and learning experience of a project that can run indefinitely into the future.
The successes of just four episodes have been apparent already in the form of feedback, statistics, and opportunities. Feedback has been incredibly insightful and endearing to hear, whilst the podcast series has reached a combined total of over 350 streams on Soundcloud. On top of this, I was also provided with the opportunity to speak on the Art Meets Culture podcast with Ade Sanusi (who we spoke about in Episode 1 with Tom Fitch), helping further the podcast’s reach.
The Lesson: Whenever you document anything online, cause and effect becomes active in the face of everyone. Everything put online has influence of differing scales, so it’s best to create with an intended and understood influence in mind.
Episode 20 of the Art Meets Culture podcast with myself and Ade Sanusi. (Disclaimer: I talk a lot about how useless my University experience has been @ 39:40 x)
5. Everything Needs To Be Everywhere
Going back on the idea of diversifying content, projects always need depth as well as width. Video content would have served in width (through covering more types of content), but without it being uploaded across different platforms engagement would be limited. This is goes for all content.
Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube should have been utilised better to present the podcast. Where SoundCloud integrates easiest into the website format, there are more accessible and widely used platforms that the majority of listeners are familiar with. Despite planning to use all of these through the use of an RSS feed, timing did not permit – another unfortunate victim of the initial delay.
The Lesson: Diversify your platforms (your depth) as much as your content (your width) in order to maximise engagement through accessability and familiarity.
My early overview of the technical side of uploading a podcast, from before the project was greenlit. You can see the aim to utilise Spotify was in the early plan.
6. ‘People Are Actually Really Important’
The project’s key aim of accessability came through relatability – making sure every listener could gain from the series and each individual episode through seeing how their practise and journey was relevant to the stories being told. This was covered through using a diverse range of guests: a represented painter, an independent photographer, and a communications manager at a company supporting artists. Furthermore, conversations were kept balanced through researching and pre-planning the conversations with guests – all coming together to create engaging and beneficial conversation.
The opening to the forms guests were asked to fill out. Gaining as much information on guests was imperative to having a naturally flowing and informative conversation.
The Lesson: The people involved in your project are the most important – from the creator to the consumer. By catering for their needs equally, perhaps without their realisation towards this, they’ll help carry the importance and influence of the project.
Feedback from one of the guests surrounding the pre-planning involved. Arguably the most important part of the project, the pre-planning of conversations liberated the topics the guest and I were ready to talk about.
7. Cancellations Happen
Pre-planning for things going wrong won’t always mean you’re specifically prepared for the situations and problems that arise. However, the foundation to a project can sustain a lot better if you are prepared for generalities: delays, limited access, cancellations, and so on.
Thus, when the University shut down following lockdown, the project was in a good space to continue with limited adaptation – but there were also significant losses that could have been improved upon. The loss of planned recordings with UK legend Art Goon and the incredible MC and presenter Vital caused a shortage of podcast episodes, meaning time had to be redirected into planning and creating the written blog instead – signifcantly more difficult content to organise and make engaging, especially with it being an entirely new aspect to the project.
The Lesson: Support the idea of back-up content that doesn’t fit your original format. Whilst this content doesn’t need to be the subject of over commitment, it’s key to have back-up work ready to fit the project when needed.
8. Applicable Skills Matter
Some skills, like the previously mentioned skills of communication and networking, can only be shown in application with the presence of other people, whereas some skills are reliant mostly on understanding through practice. Learning the different softwares of Adobe Creative Cloud seems to be one of the new imperatives when it comes to employment in the creative industry, and this project was the perfect place to put that into practice.
The project deeply relied on the use of Adobe Audition and Adobe Premiere Pro – two pieces of software I had never used before. Through the brief teachings from technicians and broadcast journalism students, it was able to see myself through the basics of the software and now feel comfortable using it to create content ready to show to the public. Without this knowledge, I would have either had to outsource the work (for a high cost), or deal with presenting lower quality work.
The Lesson: Consider what different applicable skills could be needed in your work in advance and consider who in your network understands these skills. Where outsourcing is an option, there will always be teachings accessible to you in person or online that can be used to help build your learning whilst simultaneously creating the necessary high quality content.
Some of the various softwares and services used in the project.
9. The Grind Do
Following the cancellations, the project only had half the content needed to be of a viable scale. With this came the adaptation to the written blog, where the project became larger through talking to people further away from the Midlands (those who would not be able to travel to Nottingham for the studio recordings). Whilst this was a successful and reasonable adaption, it faced issues in the face of lockdown.
The independence created during lockdown – where people are not at work, not fixed on being productive over caring for their mental health, and not in a routine that they are understanding of (all, of course, felt worldwide amongst masses into the billions and entirely understable) – made reaching out and replying to people fairly, but (again) understandably, difficult. Those coming to Nottingham to record an episode were engaged from the planning stage right up until the podcast release due to their physical presence in the project. However, those writing and replying for the blog have found engagement difficult, as the task at hand was locked behind webpages, a differing routine, and the timeframe needed to read, write, and wait for a reply. When this all combines with the lack of organisation and orchestration that comes with implementing a poorly revised back-up plan, amplified by external circumstances that differ in intesity per each individual, the latter part of the project struggled in comparison to the primary content.
The Lesson: Things will hinder your work – things that are entirely out of your control. Accepting and trying to adapt to forced circumstances are sometimes all you can do, and sometimes you’ll be left without anything to show for your efforts. That attempt of adaptation, often combined with hindsight, is sometimes the biggest lesson that can be learnt within a project.
A small insight in to how lockdown has affected productivity. This is the type of problem that cannot be planned for, and needs to be adapted to as fast as possible in order to keep the project functioning.
10. Entertain and Educate
Drawing in on a conclusion, it’s important to talk about the main focus that was perhaps the only constant in the whole of the project’s development. The idea and needs behind a project can change, through necessity or choice, but an idea that maintains itself throughout is perhaps the one that you should be sticking with.
In such a short timeframe, the project faced a handful of issues, but it also provided an abundance of opportunities. Where working alone was seen as an issue, it proved that it has its own benefits and elements of development that outweigh that of working in a group. Where having a large delay to the project’s start had an influence on the content created, it proved that shorter timeframes do not always create underwhelming or condensed content. Overall, issues were turned into opportunities for growth within the creative and academic industry.
From release to finalisation, the project has received good reviews and feedback – validating the core goal to entertain and educate. By teaching anecdotally, from first-person perspectives to external evaluations, lessons were taught in engaging and tested ways. Overlapping this with the accessability and resource focused aspect of the project, listeners were subjected to the same resources as guests. Together, the project became a portal in which listeners could engage with at their own rate – something new to the podcast and recorded conversation medium.
The Lesson: If you know you want to do something because it will inform and entertain you without costing others, do it.
Nothing emphasises the combination of education and entertainment more than Johnathan William’s recount of taking chances in order to benefit his portfolio of work at Reading 2019.