Authors Note: Yea there are a lot of links in here, but every single creator I mention and link to is worth your time.  Check them out, please.

Hey everyone, time for another general muddle on something that has been running thru my head lately, and that’s the hidden “cost” of content creation.  As someone who, at this point, has a podcast, a YouTube channel, a Twitch channel, and this website as well as an artist wife, I pretty much have seen or done every form of main content creation out there.  And let me tell you, it’s a LOT harder to put out a quality product regularly then you might imagine.

And there are costs to the creator in both time and money, costs that most fans or consumers never realize as it’s in the background, hidden when we creatives do our work.

I am going to try to break down my own experience with doing all this stuff, and how much effort it really can take.  I want to give you folx reading this an example of each kind of content creation and the kind of time and effort (and sometimes money) that goes into all aspects of it from a behind the scenes perspective.

Let’s start with my newest venture: Podcasting.

On the surface this seems like the simplest thing to get going.  Grab a mic, get with some friends if you wanna do a group show, hit record and go.  But it’s much more complex than that.  Sure, getting started is easy!  I started my podcast in my car using my cellphone microphone…and it shows.  That episode, the very first one I did, is pretty messy.  You can barely hear me, I sound like I am in a wind tunnel, and it’s just a mess and a half.  I have since upgraded to a Lapel mic, and my audio quality has vastly improved, but every time I do a show I get a little better.  My flow gets better.  As a solo podcaster, I am responsible for everything.

I have had to learn how to work a new software, Audacity, to handle audio (which has helped with my Youtube stuff actually!) for one.  I had to go out and pay for hosting, I had to submit my podcast to directories to get it out there, and of course I have to do all the promotion and advertising myself.  And mind you, my podcast is SUPER BASIC.  I have no ads to edit into it, I have no intro or outro yet.  Other than spending $5 a month on Hosting, the cost for my podcast is solely time.  First I have to record the episode, which involves getting everything plugged in and making sure the mic is working.  Then I record it on my drive, which takes 30-45 minutes.  My drive is “wasted time” otherwise, so this is a way to be productive.  Mind you, I am generally leaving work during the recording, so it’s a commute in traffic but I always talk to myself anyway, so that’s how I treat this.

To prepare for this recording I have to come up with topics, an order then in a way that makes sense.  Once I am done recording, when I get home, I spend about 15 minutes doing some basic noise reduction, I write up the “show notes” which takes another 15 or so minutes, and then I schedule and upload the podcast to my site, Pinecast, and Patreon.  All told I spend about 1.5 hours on each podcast episode start to finish.  If I was someone like say The White Vault however, this would be WAY more involved.

See the White Vault is an Audio Drama.  So for them, they start with writing a script for each episode and sending parts out, then they have to get audio from every one of their actors for those parts, combine and stitch together that audio in the correct way and balanced properly, add sound effects (and make new effects as needed) then do all the self-promo and uploading for each episode.  Its nearly a full time job for something like the White Vault (or Welcome to Nightvale, ect).  And you can tell in their production quality that they put that effort in.  When I asked them just how long an episode takes start to finish (and their eps run about  20 minutes from what I have seen) this is what they had to say, via email.  Be ready this is quite an in depth response (its the Italic bit just to be clear).

Hey Clay,
You know all of this but to your readers – I’m a full time podcast producer & editor. My wife and I create four audio drama podcasts, the most notable being The White Vault – an award winning arctic horror adventure. My credentials are as part of a team that has released 30+ minutes of polished content every two weeks for the past ~4 years, as a well-recognized champion of the fiction podcast community, as an educator who’s talked at dozens of events around the country, and as a full-time creator with download numbers that put my shows in the top 1% of podcasts.
The first question we get after we release an episode is always “Why can’t you just release the next one now,” so I’m more than happy to outline the not-so-hidden time cost of a fully produced, full-cast fiction podcast. It takes us anywhere from 40-80+ hours to create a 30-40 minute episode, which we release FOR FREE every two weeks. That’s an average of 1.7 hours per finished minute, largely split between two people. Yes, this includes a 5 hour buffer for advertising the show because if you don’t advertise the episode your show won’t grow, and this is a discussion on hidden costs, so I’m not pulling any punches. We are very far on the ‘we polish everything to make it sound as good as possible’ side of things because we have a reputation for high quality audio. The breakdown by hour is roughly as follows:
Pre Production: ~22 hours
  • Discussing what kind of show we want to make and incorporating research into worldbuilding – 7 hours
  • Writing the script, including the initial season outline – 8 hours
  • Editing the script – 3 hours between 4 people
  • Translation (we work with multiple languages in everything we create) – 2-4 hours
  • *Casting / Auditions – 2-3 hours, not including the actors’ time
  • *Note: This only happens once per season, though I sometimes forget to cast smaller parts and have about an hour of emails per episode to fill those roles and coordinate scripts with actors.
Production: ~10 hours
  • Emailing the cast – 2 hours
  • Recording (our actors record remotely, individually, on their own) – Somewhere between 3-10 hours, cast pending
  • Recording Retakes (includes emails to and from cast) – 2 hours
  • Music – Thankfully we use very little music. Our introduction/outro themes take maybe 10 hours to create (composer, musicians, editing, mixing), so 1 hour per episode
Post Production: ~33 hours
  • *Dialogue Cut (picking the best takes and putting them together) – 6-8 hours
  • Environmental Sound Design (creating a unique location for the raw voice tracks) – 3 hours
  • Rough Sound Design (basic sound effects) – 6 hours
  • Foley (episode specific sounds, made just for the episode) – 4 hours
  • Final Editing (anything that’s missing or needs to be tweaked) – 2 hours
  • Mixing and Mix Revisions (Adjusting levels on every track to sound cohesive) – 6 hours between myself and our engineer
  • Uploading (to our Patreon/Himalaya+, then to the public through Libsyn a few days later), plugging in credits, descriptions, making episode-specific art for promo – 1 hour
  • Episode Release Promo (Social media text, posting, monitoring those posts, and replying to comments) – 4-6+ hours
*I’ve literally been given 30 minutes of takes for 20 seconds of lines, so the experience can greatly differ by actor.
Narrative Stories
These are a lot easier on the pre and post production side. I can easily save 5-15 hours of work in recording, editing, sound design, and mixing. They’re also a lot easier to write. We can create a 40 minute narrative story in about 15-20 hours of work. While some audio drama purist gate keepers claim that they don’t count for various intangible reasons, I’ve been happily listening to audio books my entire life and many of my favorite audio drama podcasts are narrative (NoSleep, Creepy). For a really great example of a powerful narrative audio drama that feels very natural with almost no sound design check out season 1 of Moonbase Theta Out.
Actual Play / Improvised Production Editing
Our D&D Podcast, Dark Dice, is also about the same in terms of the time put in, except that I typically get 45-55 minutes of polished episode instead of 30. Sure we don’t “write a script” but I spend a lot of time before each session writing descriptions for each monster, location, and character so the session goes smoothly. I also prepare text blocks for lore and NPC dialogue. The above numbers are about the same for Post Production as well because I cut a LOT of table talk and silence between tracks to where maybe an hour of content is kept per 2-hour recording session. I also edit combat heavily to where a 10 minute round of combat rolls by in about 80 seconds or less.
I’ve spoken with quite a few improvised audio dramas as well, most notably Mission to Zyxx and they had similar things to report – that you won’t use everything you record, and you will have to edit everything. Their show doesn’t sound great just because they hit record and are great improvisers. They have a really fantastic post-production team that works hard to edit and improve their (already good) raw recordings. If Zyxx is too R-rated for you, check out Civilized by Fable and Folly Productions for a great example of an edited improvised show.
Finally, in the interest of honesty, keep in mind that while your gaming or improv session “may have only been 2 hours,” it was 2 hours for multiple people. You wouldn’t only pay one employee if four people simultaneously worked 2 hours, so if you’re trying to calculate how many hours you’re putting into your show remember to multiply any action by each person present and actively participating.
For some more great scripted, full cast, audio dramas that make use of full sound design, I highly recommend:
*The White Vault – Scientists go to the arctic and discover that they might not be alone. What terrors lurk beneath the ice?
*VAST Horizon – A woman wakes up on a derelict spaceship with numerous mission critical problems. How did she get there and how can she survive?
We’re Alive – LA is overrun with zombies and this is the story of survival. You don’t need to like zombie stories to enjoy this podcast, it’s truly amazing.
The Phenomenon – This is an emergency broadcast. Don’t look outside. Don’t make any noise.
Marsfall – The first colonists to the red planet encounter mission critical obstacles.
Rose Drive – A drunk driver killed his sister in highschool and the reunion is the perfect opportunity for revenge.
*I make these shows.

Podcasting, one of the simplest seeming forms of content creation is actually insanely complex the more you want to do with it.  Also everything I am quoting here does not include any research the podcasters have to do on topics, if they are unfamiliar with them.  I know Marc with a C of the Discography Podcast frequently mentioned that the research required to do his season on The Who nearly broke him, it was that in depth and involved.

How about Artwork?

Well I have watched my wife work on things like my simple logo or my banner, as well as stuff for our mutual friends Virus and Saevrick.  My twitter logo seems on the surface to be pretty simple, yet, it took her 15 hours to do.  She sketched it out by hand first, then used that reference to recreate it with her digital tablet.  Then had to color it, make sure I was ok with everything, and then put it together.  My banner?  Took her a few days working 8 hours each day as she custom created the fonts used and everything else.  Again, this is a time consuming process, and it’s NOT easy work.  Sure, seems easy cause “it’s just drawing LOL” but believe me it’s far from that simple.  I remember my wife spending nearly a full week coming up with Saevrick’s logo or Virus MechaMay stuff.  It takes a long time to do artwork.

It gets even worse when you are doing work for someone remotely, having to send messages back and forth and deal with payments and unhappy customers and all that jazz.  The more detail, the more time.  This is the one I have the least personal experience with but having talked to various artists and seeing my own wife at work I have a healthy respect to the sheer amount of time this stuff takes.

What about Writing?

As you are reading this, you are possibly wondering “How long did this monster of a post take to write?”  Well I timed myself.  About an hour give or take, not including my thinking through how to word things, how to edit things, how to approach and format everything.  That was just putting the words down.  Then we have another 30ish minutes of just reading it over, editing it, fixing any grammar mistakes that I can find (which I am bad with) and then another 30 minutes getting all the examples put together on this such as screenshots and comments.  I happen to type 100 WPM so I am pretty fast, but even then it means a 4k word article (like my Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review) takes 40 minutes to write, not including everything I do up to that.  Like adding in all the links into this post takes time, even if it’s just minutes.

In fact, if you factor in the fact that my written reviews, book or game, take about an hour to write/edit in total, combined with the time it takes me to consume the media BEFORE I write it, they are some of my most time consuming things.  Xenoblade 2 in that case took nearly 80 hours total between playing the game and then writing about it, sourcing screenshots, getting gameplay footage, ect.  Grim Dawn took nearly 45 hours.  Many of the book reviews take around 8-10 between reading the single book and then writing about it.  And my series reviews (like the Rick Riordan One) take around 8 hours per novel (I read insanely fast)…and that series had 22 books.  Thats a LOT of time spent for something that got me almost no return on the effort.

Writing is brutal, make no mistake.  Just like writing this article.  And don’t get me started on actual novel writing.  There is a reason those take literal YEARS.

Let’s talk Twitch/Mixer/Livestreaming!        

With Twitch it seems again simple of the surface.  Just hit “start streaming” in your software of choice and go.  And if you are just doing it as a hobby yea that’s about all ya need.  But what if you want to run a full on Twitch stream as more than that?

Well you need logos and artwork, which either need to be created by you or commissioned by people, which costs you time and money.  Then you need to make sure you have your stream overlay setup, and sometimes even change the overlays depending on the game and how the game (or whatever you are streaming) show up.  You need to have intro screens, outro screens, and even a Break screen so your viewers are not staring at an Empty Chair.  Perhaps you want music to play during your streams at certain points?  Bots to run your chat and notify your viewers of things.  Commands your viewers can use.  Every time you stream you need to make sure your dashboard is setup properly with game title, description, alerts, tags!

Oh and let’s not forget that self-promotion you need to do to notify people you are going live!

Every time I get ready to stream I spend at least an hour before the stream making sure everything is up to date, working, and ready to go.  Then you hit that go live button…and things are just beginning.  Now you have to be both decent at whatever you are doing, interesting to watch, entertaining, and engaging!  Its live entertainment, and the longer you go the more energy it takes.  I can usually manage 3-4 hours on a good day, and then I am just beyond tired both keeping up a running commentary of what I am doing on the fly, trying to play the game the best I can, and interacting/chatting with my viewers.  Then if you want to keep your footage you need to either download it off twitch or export to Youtube, and decide how you want to present it.  Folx like CohhCarnage have entire TEAMS of people working on their background stuff.  Cohh himself just hits the button and goes, while he has a team who manage him, his contacts, his overlays, the works.

If I stream for 3 hours, I generally spend a total of 4-5 hours getting everything setup and streaming combined.  Once a week I do this on average.  Sometimes a bit more if I am getting ready for a new game or setting up bots or whatnot.  Nevermind all the networking behind the scenes.

Finally, let’s talk Youtube!       

 Thinking about how much effort I put into a 10 minute or so video on Youtube is what prompted me to really consider just how insanely time consuming it can be to do content creation, and how little it’s talked about.  No one wants to hear about how you spent 8 hours editing a video that’s 20 minutes long, and no one wants to consider that the 20 minute video is going to be seen by like 20 people when you are a tiny Youtuber.  Most of my videos, without heavy self-promotion on reddit, get around 10 views within the first week.

And that’s a reality Youtubers face just trying to get going.

I primarily do Indie Impression videos, and my workflow has been refined down to a near science at this point.  I do very little in the way of actual editing, and my videos are completely unscripted beyond me talking to myself in my car to practice what points I want to make.  Seriously.

Here is my process, start to finish, to make 1 Indie Impressions video:

  • Play game for at least 2 hours (or more depending on the game, Dead Cells played for 6-8 hours for example)
  • Record game footage (usually 20-30 minutes’ worth done after the min 2 hour point)
  • Record audio for video (around 10 minutes average, depends on how much I have to say)
  • Put video together (about 20 to 30 minutes total to get all the graphics in place and created as well as audio balance and intro/outro stuff)
  • Render video (render length is equal to video length, so 10 min vid = 10 min render roughly)
  • Upload video (around 30 minutes to an hour depending on my connection)
  • Write vid description, tags, and setup Patreon/Blog post (about 30 minutes total)
  • Do all my own Promotion Work (10-20 minutes)

That’s a rough total time spent PER 10 MINUTE VIDEO of 4+ hours MINIMUM.  And I make these videos biweekly, and they are SUPER simple.  I mean incredibly simple.  I don’t edit out mistakes, I don’t edit out ums and pauses. I don’t do a lot of fancy techniques or have a lot of audio streams to balance.  And it still takes me 4+ hours minimum for a 10 minute impressions video.  Those few video reviews I have done?  The ones that are 45+ minutes?  Those monsters took me the entire time I spent on the game (20+ hours for Elex and Kingdoms of Amalur) and then around 6-8 hours of editing / creation / render / upload time.  There is a reason I no longer do those sort of videos, and the folx who do like The Golden Bolt, LGR, and Stop Skeletons from Fighting (some of my fav youtubers) have my UTMOST respect with the effort they put in, each and every video.  Which is why I watch every video they post start to finish.  Their work deserves my time.

So What does this all MEAN to me as a viewer/consumer?

I wrote this entire thing as a sort of “wake up call”.  To help folx who don’t do this sort of thing on a regular basis to understand just the sort of effort that goes into your entertainment.  Too often people demand “a new video” or “why aren’t you streaming today!” or “where is my podcast” ect ect without realizing that the sheer amount of work it takes to do ANY of this stuff is intense.

Simply put, creators are people, and we spend a lot of our time and energy doing these sort of things.  Mind you, many of us smaller ones (like me) also hold down day jobs.  I work 40 hours a week, commute for a total of about 20 hours on top of it, and then I get home and immediately get to work trying to push stuff out that feels like it goes unnoticed.  And it’s a ton of work and labor.  For the Creators who does this as an actual living?  It gets wild.

CohhCarnage for example streams pretty much every day, 7 days a week, for 2 blocks of roughly 4 hours each day with a lunch break (he sometimes skips lunch, and the blocks combined equal 8 hours).  He has to entertain an audience in the THOUSANDS, all vying for his attention and interacting with each other.  He is able to do this with an actual full TEAM of technical experts, artists, and Mods for his stream. LGR works alone, but puts in easily 40 hours a week in research, restoration, recording, editing, and producing his videos.  And I spend pretty much all my free time pushing out the podcasts, the writing, the videos, and the streams.  I only play games now that I intend to cover in some fashion.  Borderlands 3?  I did 2 streams on that to justify its purchase.  If I buy Cyberpunk 2077 I will have to think of something I can do to “cover it” (prolly talk about it on the podcast).  Ect ect.

The hidden cost to content creation is time, energy, and all the work that goes into the finish product, and it’s something many people don’t understand unless they are part of the process it seems.

I hope this has helped you to understand just the sort of work your favorite creators, whomever they are, put into what you consume.  We all create for different reasons, but at the end of the day, we all put in a lot of ourselves into this.  And I hope you can respect the effort each of us do and continue to support us and our work.

Thanks for reading, be kind to each other and Stay Nerdy everyone.

The Hidden Costs behind Content Creation
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