Why you need Otter in your life

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For the last couple of episodes of Level Up Human, I’ve been using Google speech to text to transcribe sections of the show for our show notes.

it works pretty well within the auphonic engine.

You can playback the sentence you’re reading to correct errors, and it’s possible to download the results as a .vtt file for YouTube.

But I think I’ve just found something better.

The Otter service uses AI to transcribe voice notes. It’s also possible to upload audio files to the program.

The user interface is so much nicer to use.

The playback feature is better, and the accuracy is superior to Google speech to text in the experiments I’ve done so far.

You have to check this out.

If you’re a performer, you might also enjoy the ability to riff into your phone and have an app transcribe the results for future reference.

I’ve just uploaded the voice memo recording of a gig I did in July last year, and Otter has transcribed it for me, for a performance on Friday. Having not thought about the show for six months, I now have a script!


If you’re on zoom calls at the moment, Otter will transcribe your meeting notes, with fully searchable results.

Which apps do you use every week to make your show?

How LOUD should my Podcast be? šŸ™‰

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Approximately 80% of podcast listening is via Apple podcasts in 2020.

Standard podcast loudness according to Apple should be -19 LUFS for a mono file, and -16 LUFS for a stereo file.

Which is great, if you have ever heard of LUFS. If not, here’s a quick explainer.

What are LUFS?

LUFS stands for Loudness Unit Full Scale. Loudness Units are the unit of measurement used to analyse average loudness over time.

Previous level standards quantified the peak level (the loudest part of your audio, however brief) or the average level of the audio. But LUFS standardises loudness in relation to how we perceive it.

This means that two pieces of audio with the same LUFS measurement should sound equally loud.

Two pieces of audio that register the same LUFS should sound equally loud.

Which means that if you match your podcast audio to -19 LUFS for a mono file, and -16 LUFS for a stereo file, it should sound as loud as other podcasts.

How to adjust loudness

I’m a huge fan of Auphonic, and you can tell auphonic’s production engine to master your audio to -16 LUFS.

Give it a go here: https://auphonic.com/engine

Under ‘Audio Algorithms’ you’ll see an option to adjust the Loudness Target

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 06.56.51

What you’ll get out of Auphonic is a beautifully mastered sound file at the correct loudness for iTunes, and every other podcasting platform.

Levels are smoothed out, compression has made each voice on your podcast easier to listen to, and the whole thing just sounds like a beautiful, bright sound bath.


Let me know what you’re working on, and any questions I can try to help with. I use comments to work out what to write about next.


Booking Guests for your Podcast

Level Up Human guests at the Barbican
Level Up Human live at the Barbican. Helen Scales, Vanessa Lowe, Cerys Bradley, Simon Watt, Rachel Wheeley, Robert Hindges and Barbican Life Rewired curator, Jamie Upton

So you’ve spoken to everyone you personally know in your niche. Where do we go from here?

The good news is that the guests you’ve already spoken to can be the keys to your future guests.

It’s a good idea to stay in touch with them, and nurture the relationship you extended by inviting them onto your show.

Help them to share the ideas they’re excited about, and ask them one key question.

“Who in your field of expertise should be famous, but isn’t?”

If they can give you a few names, these are the people it might be worth investigating next.

Use online book sites to research the market

Who’s written a book in your niche? Many online book sites have ‘Customers also viewed/bought’ sections. Start with a book in your niche that you know, and then see what else has been published in the area.

You can go down some fascinating rabbit holes doing this research!

Apps like Blinkist can help you get the gist of entire books in around 10 minutes, so you can make a shortlist of which authors to contact.

Explore creator spaces: bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers

Do some market analysis of everyone talking about your niche. Writers, podcasters and YouTubers might be good to invite onto your show, or they may have a laundry list of episodes with relevant guests guesting for you to explore.

You don’t want the exact same guest list as everyone else, but if you do book a guest from another podcast, listen to the episode. Work out what angles haven’t been covered.

Contacting authors, and other experts in your field

Having used up all the personal connections you can, it is sometimes useful to contact an author, or another expert in your field who you have not yet met.

But how to do this? What do you say to entice them onto your show?

Advice from my co-host on Level Up Human, Simon Watt, is:

“Everyone has a website nowadays. Make first contacts friendly but very brief. Be up front about time and budget if you have one.”

Simon Watt

Your email or DM, or whatever you deem the most appropriate way to contact the potential guest, should get straight to the point.

Hi [their name],

I’m [your name] from [podcast name]. I’d love to get you on the show for a chat about [topic]. I think it would be really beneficial for our audience who are interested in [subject].

[Let them know where you discovered them.] I just read your book [Name of book] and it helped me personally to understand more about [angle].

If you’d be interested, here’s a Calendly link where you can book a slot that works for you.

Calendly is great, because it eliminates all that back and forth you can get with guests for arranging dates.

Make an email signature with your podcast details and a link to your show for these emails, so your guest can click through and have a look at the work you’ve already done.

Contacting high profile guests

I listened to a podcast episode called ‘How to Get Super High Profile Guests’, with Jordan Harbinger on the Pat Flynn podcast,Ā Smart Passive Income. Here are the key tips.

Be prepared to build your show before you can get a guest to say yes

Seth Godin reportedly says yes to podcast appearances, once the podcast has published its 100th episode. So it’s worth proving to your prospective guests that you’re in this for the long haul. And that you yourself have committed to your show.

Maintain relationships with publicists

If a publicist offers you a guest, chances are that guest won’t be a great fit for your podcast.

But Jordan usually replies to them to say that this guest isn’t great right now, but that he is interested in speaking to… and then he’ll outline the guests he wants for his show.

He says he generally gets a surprised response from the publicists, who I guess are used to getting nothing back from 80% of people they contact.

He’s been offered some guests by publicists who actively try to find people on their books who might suit him better using this method.

“I’m making myself easier to work with, which publicists love, because most people just delete their emails and never reply.

So when you’re polite to them, and you make it easier for them to pitch you, you get more pitches. And yes, you end up passing on more stuff… but you also end up with the occasional Malcolm Gladwell, Kobe Bryant, Chelsea Handler.

Because they like you, they know you’re going to respond, and they know you respond quickly.”

“I’m making myself easier to work with, which publicists love, because most people just delete their emails and never reply.”

Jordan Harbinger

And one final tip:

Be polite and persistent

The ‘father of advertising’, David Ogilvy, has this to say on persistence:

“The good salesman combines the tenacity of a bull dog with the manners of a spaniel.”

David Ogilvy

If you’ve made initial contact and they can’t do it, keep in touch with them, it might be possible to ask again later on, perhaps when they’ve a project to plug.

Send them an email every once in a while. Interact with them on social media. Keep asking. Within reason, obv.

You never know when your request might coincide with something they’ve got coming up to talk about. And in the meantime, your audience will have grown.

What have you found particularly helpful for finding guests for your podcast? Drop me a comment and let me know.

How Podcasts are Found

One of the questions podcasters ask themselves is, ‘how do I reach more listeners?’

We check stats and tell everyone we know about our podcast. We post every episode to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and risk burnout as our reservoir of creative ways to say the same thing rapidly diminishes.

We investigate social media scheduling apps, and read about content calendars, and gradually lose the will to live.

But maybe there’s a smarter way to do this. In order to reach more listeners, it helps to think about how podcasts are found.

How do people who listen to podcasts find podcasts?

They ask for recommendations (this is why you should tell everyone you know about your show) and they search for podcasts on their favourite subjects.

So the first thing is to make sure that your podcast looks like a podcast about your subject.

The second thing is to make sure you’re listed by places where listeners get their podcasts.


I moved Level Up Human to Acast in June 2018, and I really like the platform.

Their interface is easy to use, they moved all our episodes from Soundcloud for us, and their stats are pretty comprehensive.

I discovered when I looked into it that 80% of Level Up Human listeners listen via Apple Podcasts.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.55.23 This means that 80% of our listeners are listening on iPhones. The number of listeners we get through podcatcher services is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t sent our RSS feed to any of them.

:facepalm emoji:

So, if you’re in the same boat, here’s a list of podcatcher services to submit your RSS feed to.


SEO has got to be one of the most uninspiring acronyms of all time.

It conjours images of slumping over a keyboard for TOO LONG.

Too technical, boring, boring.

Safety Lights are for Dudes


SEO is for dudes.

But, it’s just possibleĀ that paying attention to how search engines index podcasts might help with discoverability.

After all, since an update last year, Google search results return podcasts now, and one of the ways they do this is by transcribing each episode using AI and machine learning, and picking out keywords.

Yes, really.

So this means it might be smart to work out what your show’s keywords are, and maybe say them in your introduction.

If I was Google, I would put more weight in the words used in the first couple of minutes of the show.

If your episode has good SEO, it could show up in searches for a topic you discuss, even if that topic isn’t listed in the show or episode title.

So what can podcasters do to boost Search Engine Optimisation?

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Choose a clear title

Choose a title for your podcast that explains what the podcast is about. If you already have a show title where that isn’t the case, consider adding a subtitle.

For example, I really need to call our show, Level Up Human: redesigning the human body.

2. Write a clear podcast description

There are search functions within Spotify and Apple podcasts. So if people are searching with keywords, make sure you use your keywords in your podcast description.

Not sure which keywords to use? Try using Google’s Keyword Planner to help you.

3. Say your keywords in the actual podcast

Not over and over and over again, obv, but at least once.

4. And yes, share on social media

It’s a lovely idea to promote on three or more social media platforms every week, but it’s also exhausting. If you’re a solo podcaster, it’s fine to focus on the one that performs best for you.

It’s possible to create tracking links for use on different social media platforms. Work out which channels perform best for your programme.

‘Urchin Traffic Monitoring’ or UTM is one step beyond the remit of this post, but if of interest let me know in the comments.

What else do you do to boost the discoverability of your show?

5 of the Best: Forensic science and biology podcasts

Over in the Science Podcasts Facebook group, there has been some discussion of the best biology/ forensics podcasts for high school students. Here are five favourites.

1. Test Tube Testimony

Test Tube TestimonyProfessional scientist Michelle Campbell-Firak presents true crime. A super high quality, beautifully narrated podcast which will appeal to fans of Serial.

Michelle tells true crime stories, and explains how forensic science contributed to how the crime was solved.

Instagram: @testtubetestimony, including slides of the research papers used in each episode.

2. This episode of Science Vs

Science vs

Wendy Zukerman presents a critical look at forensic science.

This podcast is funny, without being sweary.

Incorporating TV clips, SFX, ‘hallelujah’ noises, a fun romp through forensic sciences of all kinds.

Learn: what the ‘oldest maggot’ can teach you about how time of death estimates.

3. Off Track

Off TrackOff Track combines the relaxing sounds of nature with awesome stories of wildlife and environmental science, all recorded in the outdoors.

Each episode features beautiful photography of the subject

Presenter Ann Jones grew up in country Victoria in a family of birdwatchers and keen picnickers. She presents Off Track for ABC.

4. Into the Wild

ITW_LogoRyan Dalton is a brilliant comedian and presenter of this wonderful podcast, Into The Wild.

Ryan’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, plus Into The Wild has the best intro music of all time.

Ryan’s recent guests include wildlife filmmakers and presenters, explorers, field biologists, broadcasters, authors and national treasures alike. Don’t miss it.

5. Botanical Mystery Tour

BMT-logoBotanical Mystery Tour is a podcast about the real science behind plants in popular culture.

Jasmine Leonas and Erica Masini from the Chicago Botanic Garden interview a scientist, horticulturist, or educator at the Garden who dives into the botany behind our favorite stories.

I LOVE this show. Sadly no longer active, but binge the archive for some wonderful botany and plant stories.

Podcast Show Notes

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Listening to a new podcast can be daunting.

“I hope this is good”

“What is this anyway?”

“Who is this person?”

“Who is this person?”

Podcast quality is widely variable. There are some shows I would listen to over watching a multi-billion dollar film. Others are almost unlistenable.

When I start listening to an episode of a new show, there’s a chance it will be on one of the unlistenables.

I’m nervous. I don’t want it it to be that.

There’s an equal chance I’m going to disappear down a rabbit hole listening to everything they’ve published for the last six months, and see a new episode dropping as my personal equivalent of Christmas morning. I’m a bit weird like that.

The point is, it could go either way.

Here’s where show notes can help.

As I stand in my kitchen, speculatively listening to an episode of a podcast I haven’t heard before, I’m looking at the show notes.

Hoping they’ll shed some light on what exactly I’m listening to.

Good show notes can hold the hand of your listener, introducing yourself, sitting them down in a comfy chair, making them a cup of tea.

And it’s worth remembering that whilst podcast listeners likely have an auditory learning style, most people learn visually as well. Your podcast show notes can tell them what your vision for your show is in one sentence.

That’s why our show notes start like this: ‘Level Up Human is a podcast panel show on a mission to redesign the human body.’

Here are some more potential benefits.

  • Writing show notes improves the SEO of your podcast. Podcasts now show up in Google search results. I’m no SEO expert, but notes sprinkled with keywords must help your podcast show up in relevant searches.
  • Hook new listeners. Your show notes can provide as much of a hook as the first 60 seconds of your show. Tell us in the first sentence why this episode is worth our time.
  • Help your fans. Podcast listeners multi-task. They’re not going to take their hands out of the washing up to write down the name of the book you just mentioned. Link to it for them.
  • Help yourself. It’s much easier to search your back catalogue for a quote or a clip when your show notes tell you what’s in each episode.
  • Call to action. At the end of every episode, you can ask your listener to support you on Patreon, write a review or join your mailing list. Why not put handy links to these things in the show notes?

Show notes don’t need to be lengthy.

You don’t need to transcribe the whole programme, although there are some podcasters who do this.

If you’re interested in transcription, I highly recommend auphonic’s transcription editor, the smartest way to create podcast transcripts I’ve found so far (drop me a comment if you’ve discovered better.)

It’s important to find a balance between the benefit to you and your listener vs the time it takes to write them.

On the notes for my science podcast, Level Up Human, I’m putting brief notes on acast and extended show notes for our Patreon community.

This includes short transcripts and a lot of links.

If you’d like a template for writing your own show notes, you can download one here:

Podcast show notes template

What podcast do you make? What do you include in your show notes?

Solocasts: How not to sound scripted

If your podcast consists of monologues rather than interviews, the temptation is to keep the quality high by scripting each episode.

And there’s a lot to be said for this.

Scripted monologues can be highly informative and a joy to listen to. Why read a blog post when I could listen to one?

You can even double up the impact of your work by blogging and podcasting the same material.

The challenge is to make sure that they don’t sound scripted. Luckily there are multiple ways to do this.

Know your message

If you know what you want to say, and what the most important point you’re trying to make is, keep this in mind throughout.

Then if you go off your script you can be sure that you’re speaking to the topic in hand, and keeping your ad lib relevant to the rest of the piece.

Script, practice, rescript

The written word is different from the spoken word.

Once you’ve written what you want to say, practice out loud.

Use the script as reference but try not to read it. Record your practice session and then create bullet points out of this recorded script for the next rehearsal.

Practice again, working from these new bullet points. Revise anything on your list that you say differently.

This way, when you come to record, your outline reflects the way you speak naturally.

Pay attention to posture

Recording slumped over your equipment with your head pointing down at your notes is likely to result in a recording that sounds very flat. Record standing up, and project if possible.

Practice every day

Practice speaking every day, and be prepared to dislike the way you sound for quite a while. It’s ok to be bad at something to start with.

The more you practice recording yourself daily, the easier it is to focus on specific goals, like eliminating ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ as you speak.

Steal like an artist

Which podcasters do you love listening to?

Try to imitate how they sound in order to analyse what they’re doing differently.

It’s ok to be a tribute act as you learn your skill. And solocasting is a skill, which is why it needs to be practiced as often as possible.

‘De-um’ your work

When I worked at the BBC as a sound engineer, a good deal of audio editing was ‘de-umming.’

This just means going through a sound file in a linear fashion, removing ‘ums’ ‘ers’ and crutch words like, ‘you know’, ‘basically’ and ‘well’ from the file.

These can be distracting to listen to and are best removed. As you practice, you will get better at eliminating them from your speech.

What techniques do you use to remove the scripted sound from your podcast episodes?



Why Podcasting is AWESOME

Level Up Human recording at the Blue dot festival. Holly Shiels, Sarah Jones, Simon Watt and me!

I just want to take a second to talk about podcasting. I launched a podcast called Level Up Human with Wellcome Trust funding in 2015, and 5 years later, we’re still going strong.

It’s my opportunity to learn about evolutionary biology, to talk to an audience of loyal fans, and to hang out with my buddy, Simon Watt.

Level Up Human is a podcast panel show on a mission to redesign the human body.

Here’s our latest episode.

So today I want to talk about why, if you don’t listen to podcasts, you should!

Why Podcasts are AWESOME

The best thing about podcasts, in my view, is that they are great for busy people.

You can listen to podcasts whilst you commute (when that’s a thing again), whilst you do housework, when you’re driving, jogging, cycling, or even swimming if you get yourself some snazzy active headphones*.

*Ā This review by Robin Capper, one of our listeners from New Zealand

There are podcasts of all kinds of different lengths. I love Tim Ferriss’s loooong form podasts, and some with much shorter episodes like Meg Cusack’s Courage Makers podcast.

If you’ve never listened to podcasts, here’s how to start.

And if you’re a creator, podcasting is BRILLIANT. Here’s why.

Why podcast?

If you’re a creator, chances are you either write, podcast, or make videos. Here’s why podcasting is one of the greatest creation platforms ever.

Low start-up costs

Podcast start-up costs can be absolutely minimal. You can record on your phone, you can use free editing software like GarageBand or Audacity, a free podcast hosting service like PodBean, and you’re away.

The danger, of course, like all things, is that once you get into it, you will want to upgrade your gear. I trained in sound editing using Adobe Audition, and I absolutely love it. Mostly because it’s familiar.

You can spend thousands on fancy microphones, computer hardware and home studios, but at least to get into it, you can keep the costs absolutely minimal.

Edit anywhere

Once you’ve recorded your audio, you can take your laptop to a cafe, or the park or the beach to do your editing.

You don’t need a team of people to make it work. It is very nearly as easy as blogging.

Build a connection with your audience

The written word is great, and everything, but there is an extra level of intimacy in speaking directly into your listeners’ ears.

You can talk to them about all kinds of things, even things you mightn’t discuss with your best friends, because it’s essentially a private conversation.

Communicate science!

I work with science podcasters, and one of the best things about podcasts is that it allows researchers to speak directly to the public who fund their work.

They get to explain how their research is going, what they hope to discover, and how this will change lives. Without the need for a camera crew, or loads of expensive equipment.

During the lockdown I’m offering free podcast training and help, so if you’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for a little while, get in touch.