It is that time in the season once again. The end snuck up on me this time. Resident Evil went by so fast. When you throw in all the work we’ve been doing on Super Chapter Select and Season 6 – Pokémon, it felt like I blinked and it was time to write this season’s behind the scenes post. Thank God I take notes all season long. 😅
Wrapping up Season 5 marks a major step forward in Chapter Select. We have entered the membership game and continued to amp up the show overall. Both the audience and the show’s quality grew. I do feel like I was reaching max capacity on what I could create within our apartment. Sharing a office with a seventh-month-old (now 10 months old) really cramped my editing time. Thankfully, my family moved into our first home and I have an office once again.1 Once we are settled, I am eager to have space to create in the wee hours of the morning again without waking up my daughter.
Super Chapter Select is out there now. It feels strange to even being writing this before the announcement. After working on something in secrecy for so long, to just release it—with a new (to us) business model—is a bit frightening. Out of the gate, my goal is to have the show pay for itself. I’d love to make this an actual side hustle, but here at the start, self-sustainment will do. If you’ve signed up for the show, I hope you are enjoying the rich back catalog. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do! I am proud of our work and think you’ll enjoy the show. In the cadence and style of Sean Evans selling hot sauce
Pitch over 😅 Now let’s sink our teeth into some statistics.
- Chapter Select Download Totals = 9,126 (IAB) / 52,399 (unique)
- Download Totals during the Season 5 Release Window = 2,494 (IAB) / 10,809 (unique) (data from 1/11/23 thru 7/5/23)
- Growth from End of Season 4 – 47% (IAB) / 32% (unique)
- Overall Season 5 Download Totals = 1,567 (IAB) / 8,928 (unique)
- Top Episodes
- S5E5 – Resident Evil 4 = 185 (IAB)
- S5E3 – Resident Evil 0 = 1,280 (unique)
- Twitter Followers @ChapterSelect by the end of Season 5 = 31
I’ve got some new statistics for you this time around. These shiny stats focus on the growth during Season 5’s release window. From mid-January to the end of June, the show saw 2.5K/10.8K (IAB/unique) downloads with over half of those being Resident Evil episodes. I love seeing this. To me, I see this performance as the audience resonating with the new season, while the back catalog remains engaging and of interest. One of our design goals for Chapter Select is for the catalog to remain timeless. I feel like I am seeing that in the numbers.
Since the end of Season 4 – The Fast and the Furious we have seen major growth. Our unique numbers bumped up 12,717 equaling 32% growth, while the IAB downloads spiked 47% with 2,900 downloads. Each type of download also had its own most popular episode as well, with Resident Evil 0 taking the unique category and Resident Evil 4 owning IAB. The disparity between the two download types still baffles me. The gap is growing by 1.56%.
Now for the platform specific stats. On Apple Podcasts we saw a total of 1.5K plays, an increase of 514~ over the end of Season 4 – The Fast and the Furious. There are now 16 followers, 51 listeners, and 34 engaged listeners on Apple devices.
Spotify continues to be slow and steady. Starts went up from 711 to 923. Streams flowed from 365 up to 459. Our listeners grew from 266 to 327 and the follower stuck at 18.
YouTube popped off during Season 5. The whole season total was 689 views, which nearly doubles last season’s initial 382 views. There was one other factor to our YouTube performance that happened since the end of last season. We left Season 4 with those 382 plays as of January 4, 2023. Today, our Fast & Furious episodes have a total of 62,213. So what happened?
Fast X and the algorithm happened. It turns out that a lot of folks search for illegal copies of the Fast & Furious films on YouTube. And on those illegal uploads our show was recommended as another video. The “mystery” that is YouTube’s algorithm really helped spread some form of awareness to the show. The channel has gained over 140 subscribers after years of sitting around 110~ for years. With YouTube lowering the barrier to earning revenue, there is an opportunity to bring in a little from ads there. Maybe I’ll finally get paid the $70 or so I made back when I was a part of the partner program.
There is one other numbers related factor I wanted to share—we bought an ad for Chapter Select. Now that Super Chapter Select has been announced, I think the motivation behind the ad is a bit more clear. We wanted to grow our base as much as possible during Season 5. With the release of Resident Evil 4 remake on the horizon, we thought an ad would help grow our audience. Here’s how that process went and performed.
We bought our ad on Relay FM’s Remaster podcast, specifically Episode #114: Game of the Year 2022. I am a huge fan of Relay FM. I listen to Upgrade and Connected every week, as well as listening to other shows along the way, like Remaster. I thought the platform of Relay FM and their monthly gaming show paired real nicely with our own seasonal podcast about video games.
When we booked the ad, Logan and I had to whip up some ad copy—a task neither of us had done before. We tried to break it down in order of importance by focusing on “what do we want the audience to hear/know first?” We landed on this order,
- What is Chapter Select?
- Season 5 is Resident Evil and is starting in January 2023.
- Chapter Select has a timeless. rich back catalog (if RE isn’t your thing)
- Future seasons are coming.
I wished we could have just announced Pokémon as our sixth season, mostly because I know the hosts Myke Hurley and Federico Viticci love those games. In the end, I think we pitched our show well. Myke delivered the ad in swell fashion, even ad libbed a bit in how I post episodes in the Relay FM Discord, which made me feel good and seen. You can hear the ad below or read the transcript here.
How did the ad perform though? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Let me try and explain. Here are the numbers one month before the ad:
And here is one month after:
Just glancing at raw numbers, there wasn’t growth. I think the key to understanding the numbers is to know what was happening around the time of the ad though. In December 2022, we were wrapping up Season 4 and driving straight into Season 5 on January 4, 2023. Normally, Chapter Select is released every fortnight, but from December 14’s release of S4E9 – Hobbs & Shaw until S5E1 – Resident Evil we released an episode weekly thanks to God of War: Ragnarök. We dropped that episode right in between Hobbs & Shaw and F9: The Fast Saga.
Consistency is key for growth. Wrapping up a 10 episode season and diving right into another had great momentum. But then we settled into our biweekly releases again, right when the ad launched. We don’t pick the day the ad airs, which is fine. It just so happened to launch right in between two episodes, which I think is great. It gave folks an opportunity to hear S5E1 and not wait too long for S5E2. The show’s overall numbers more than likely would have dipped though, given the return to every two weeks. Would the show have dropped more if there was no ad? How many of the downloads were driven by the ad? I don’t have a good way to know.
For future ads, I would definitely use a specialized domain for that ad/show. I should have this time to help better focus in on the traffic driven by the ad. I never want to do creepy ad tracking. I’m more than willing to sacrifice that data in the interest of privacy.
We tapped in a few experts (and Chapter Select staples) to help us along this season.
Ricky is a tried and true Resident Evil fan with a love not just for the games, but the novelizations as well. It was great to have someone who is knowledgable outside of the video games. He also repeatedly told me how I was playing them wrong all season long.
Mike played along with the show and joined us for the dad-iest game of them all, before his own child enters the world in August 2023. It was super cool to have each of us play the game in a different camera perspective.
Dustin Furman also joined the show for the first time. Right around the time we locked in Resident Evil as the season, Dustin was chipping away through the mainline games. Logan and Dustin go back a bit. The S.T.A.R.S aligned for us to play RE4 together. This episode was also my first podcast back after Eloise was born. I’ll always remember chipping away while she slept in my arms.
I think, for the first time in Chapter Select history, the audio work flow has not been tweaked or enhanced. I do suppose that I can reveal now how I make the Super editions of the episodes, but the actual edit and post-processing is the same as last season. I kind of don’t believe it as I write the sentence. Although, it is refreshing to be in a good groove. Now is a good time to hone, instead of invent or learn.
I did produce a video tutorial that shows off how I edit my podcasts this season. While the show on display was The Max Frequency Podcast, the workflow is the same for Chapter Select.
The biggest difference would be those pre- and post-show segments exclusive to Super Chapter Select. When we get on a call, I ask everyone to hit record. I’m recording from the get-go, just in case. Then we have our usual pre-show chatter. Personally, I try to think of at least one topic of conversation before the call so that we have a focus for members. These chats can go from 10 minutes to an hour.2 I don’t use all of this, mind you, but it’s nice to have a couple of conversational options.
I slice and dice these segments like everything else. At the end of the edit, I save the Logic project and then bounce the Super Edition. Once that is done, I then delete the member content and chapters, readjust the timeline, and bounce the normal version. After that finishes, I undo the deletions and keep the Super edit in the Logic project; One file, two versions of the show.
I did begin a compression effort in-between seasons as well. Inspired by Jason Snell’s own efforts and shortcut, I knew I needed to shrink the raw asset file size. Unfortunately, I could not get Jason’s shortcut to work with my iMac. Despite the extra mile of tech support, Jason and I couldn’t crack it. So I opted to just do it all manually.
I copy the entire episode folder to my CS Archive external drive then begin converting and compressing. I use Permute 3 to swap the WAV files (Logan/guest raw and the final two edits) to FLAC. I lose the chapter markers from the final WAVs, but the Logic file has them should I need them back. I compress the Logic project into a zip. All of this, plus pruning of redundant audio tracks, cuts my folder size by over half. Now I can digitally hoard the raw files for much, much longer. Thank you Jason.
My biggest effort this season was transcription. I have wanted to offer transcripts for years, but the cost has always been too high for just me to cover. Then, Google announced that the Pixel 7’s recorder app could tag speakers and transcribe live, on-device. I saw this as an affordable means to get what I had wanted for so long. So, I traded in the old iPhone Xs Max and bought a Pixel 7.
Here at the end of the season, I don’t own that Pixel 7 any more.3 I whip up my transcripts using my iMac now. Let me take you on my transcription journey of the last five months.
While waiting for the speaker tag update for the Pixel 7, I wanted to get a jump start on the transcriptions. I redownloaded Descript, which is a sort of text-editor for audio. I heard of Descript and its wizardry a long time ago from Merlin Mann. The app always struck me as cool, but, once again, too expensive for little ol’ me. To get that jump start though, I bought $15 worth of transcription time, which let me capture two or three episodes’ worth of words.
Descript is fast. By far the fastest machine-powered transcription I’ve tested. You can even pony up a little extra to have to transcribed by a human like the days of yore. That would, obviously, take time.
Descript also identifies speakers and labels them. It misses the beginning and end of sentences between speakers; at least it did when I tested it in 2022. This can be tweaked with software upgrades. Heck, maybe it has been! While Descript is neat and powerful, my editing workflow is not inline with their pitch at all. I’d be paying for software and overhead that I’d never use.4
Enter the Pixel 7 with its speaker tag update. I tried sideloading the update at first, but was met with failure. After the official update, I got to transcribing. It took quite the daisy chain of cables, but I was able to directly feed in the audio to the app. While a “free” solution, there were some gripes. Google does not let you tweak the speaker labels; it’s “Speaker 1, 2, etc.” This wouldn’t be bad, if the labels migrated to the Google Doc that the app produces. They don’t make the jump. I wouldn’t mind this if the labels didn’t exist at all, but since they are there, this feels like a swing and a miss on both sides.
The other biggest downside is it runs in real time. The phone has to listen to the entire show to make the transcription. This demands my iMac not produce any other sound while the podcast is playing, essentially locking up my computer to one task for two-ish hours. And I can’t automate the start or stop of the recording. I have to be present for both, or the phone will just keep recording dead air.
Then David “Underscore” Smith revamped his PodSearch tool. This is wildly cool to fans of the indexed shows—I would love to have a tool like this for my shows—but the main takeaway was learning about OpenAI’s Whisper model. David’s post sums the model up quite well:
Thankfully since then OpenAI has released Whisper a powerful speech-to-text engine that I can run right on my Mac and results in transcripts that are shockingly good. They aren’t quite at the level of a human transcriber but they get darn close in many instances. Getting close to the level where you could use them to grab a pull quote with only a little bit of tidying up to do.
After trying to futz with the C++ port that David mentioned, I had the genius idea to see if anyone had made a Mac app. Jordi Bruin came to my rescue with MacWhipser. This app is everything I need for these machine transcriptions. I drag the audio files in and it churns away on them locally. I can save the transcripts as text files, spreadsheets, and even subtitle files. Apparently, you can add speaker labels now too!
MacWhisper has been the tool I have wanted for years. It’s been an affordable tool to make accessible transcriptions without demanding too much of my time or resources. It’s lean, focused, and powerful. I couldn’t ask for a better tool.
I thought this season’s audio story would be straightforward. Then I moved acrossed town and had to revamp my detached garage/office/game room. Move in day was Tuesday, May 23, one week before the scheduled release for the Season 5 finale. I delayed the finale two days later.
So many factors played into this, but the main two were 1) I underestimated the amount of work the office was going to take and 2) I have a VESA mountable iMac and had zero other places to temporarily mount it to work on. My next Mac is going to be a laptop. I tried using my wife’s 2017 MacBook Pro, but going back to Intel after years of editing on the M1 was like jumping onto rodent glue. My method of hundreds of cuts being moved slightly resulted in a beach ball with every. single. edit. This was unsustainable for a two-ish hour edit. I didn’t get far before needing to just wait to get back to my iMac.
It was so nice to return to using gameplay footage. The edit is so much easier when it is all being played on one console and I just capture a few hours at different points in the game. The most work in capturing footage was three different versions of base Resident Evil 4; the PS4 port, the Wii, and the Quest 2 version.
Making the pivot to this format back in Season 3 –Banjo-Kazooie was the right call for my work load. There is less to think and worry about in getting the show out there. Although, I have been trying to figure out how to make a proper “see our faces” video version lately. It’d require two versions of the show; the video version being less finely edited in exchange for that on-camera experience. Is that a trade off you’d be interested in? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The big, new video effort I can now talk about are the Super Chapter Select videos we have been producing. So far, most of these have been styled after let’s plays and livestreams with a theme for that particular season. Banjo-Kazooie was all about trying certain games for the first time.5 Season 4 –The Fast & The Furious was reactions and movie commentary. For Season 5 –Resident Evil, we explored unreleased versions of the series and playing co-op together for the first time.6
It’s been a huge learning curve to design layouts and the recording process for the videos. Just look at the difference between a Banjo layout and a Resident Evil layout.
I tried to model them after a livestream, despite it all being previously recorded and edited in post. I wanted to evoke that live feel, despite our need to prepare. Now that Super Chapter Select is out there, we could do member-only livestreams. Maybe while we chip away at a game for an announced season, we could fire up the stream and chat with members. I could see myself doing an editing livestream sort of like how Craig Mod does photo editing streams for members only. It’d serve the dual purpose of keeping me on task and offering connection and insight to members.
We did have one slip up in pre-production. I streamed out Resident Evil 5 co-op video live by accident. Audio Hijack had the livestream module enabled and the audio of our call went out live on YouTube while we played. I’ll take just the one slip up for a year and half’s worth of prep though.
Machine-Learning (machine-learned?) transcripts weren’t the only use of “AI” this season. As is tradition, we set out to have unique art for each and every episode. The marriage of AI-generated art with video games about an evil corporation experimenting on bioweapons felt like a match made in heaven. My concept was to focus on a key location from each game. From Raccoon City to the Spencer Mansion to Lady Dimitrescu’s castle, the list of memorable places in Resident Evil seems endless.
But location wasn’t enough for me. I had a random shower thought one day when trying to brainstorm art ideas overall and came up with “what if they were Lego dioramas?” Well, I dropped the Lego and kept the diorama bit. I think this term was the great unifier when working with the generative tools. There was a consistent art style for it to pursue. Sure, some of the art we picked doesn’t look like a diorama; but when you see all the art next to each other, I think it all looks like it belongs with Chapter Select.
When exploring these tools, I dabbled with the two big players in the space—DALL-E 2 and MidJourney. I started with MidJourney because all it required was a Discord account and DALL-E 2 was still invite only at the time.
MidJourney is overwhelming. Users are spitting out prompts at stupid speed. It’s a never ending chat. It produces wicked cool art though. It’s use of Discord as the interface is handy. You may not be able to keep up with the chat, but the tool keeps up with you. Here’s some of the art I was able to prompt with MidJourney.
It’s cool, but aggressive. Is that perceived aggression from my prompts or from MidJourney’s understanding of Resident Evil? I’m not sure. I imagine it is a bit of both.
Once I got into DALL-E 2, I enjoyed the user experience right away. OpenAI presents a text box, not unlike a traditional search field, for user prompts. Compared to MidJourney, DALL-E 2 could be considered tranquil. The images it generated too were more the style and speed I was looking for. With DALL-E 2 opening up, Logan was also able to make an account and maximize our monthly generation tokens without having to fork over money. I made (prompted?) the first batch of pieces, then Logan came in and helped with the games I had not yet played. Resident Evil 0’s art may be my favorite of them all and Logan came up it.
While location was an easy concept for the individual episodes, the overall season art was a smidge tougher to come up with and generate. A singular location didn’t fit. You might think Raccoon City would be the spot, but a good chunk of the games don’t even take place there. I tried an Umbrella Corp. themed lab, but that wouldn’t convey the season at a glance.
I’m not sure if it was Logan or myself, but we realized we could try and recreate the iconic zombie reveal from Resident Evil. This was the most creative prompt massaging I felt I did all season. Trying to get a dumb computer to spit out what you have in your mind is much more difficult when you have a clear, specific goal in your mind. In the end, a few generations with this prompt got us our hooded zombie:
A Resident Evil zombie with a bloody mouth looking behind itself over its left shoulder, only its head in frame, dimly lit in a dark room diorama.
I get that it looks more like a cloaked skeletal priest than a zombie, but the pose and framing is exact. This picture elicits the memory of the zombie head turn and that was our goal. I had to mirror the original to get our character on the right-hand side. I also altered the colors to make it more moody. I think it is the perfect image for our season.
To help with transparency about how and what made our episode art, every image is paired with a credit of who prompted it and with what service. The image’s alt text is the prompt we used, as well. I wanted zero confusion about the source of these pieces.
This brings me to the other factor in the generative art tools and how these models were trained. These companies just used the Internet, which means it was trained off art from artists without their explicit consent. There’s a legal and moral question surrounding these tools and the shoulders they are standing on. For me and our show, this allowed us to create unique art I would have never been able to do or afford. It was instrumental to the theme of the season. These issues are also why I wanted it to be clear as day how we made(?) them. We are in some interesting, neat, and complicated times with our computers and this new wave of tools.
Here, almost two months post the end of Season 5, I feel energized. So much planning has gone into these seasons, building Super Chapter Select, and the next year of the show. The weight of secrecy has been lifted. I am thrilled I finally played Resident Evil. I’ve gone from complete novice to a fan over the course of this season. These games are gripping, engaging, and spirited. It is no wonder that the series has stayed around for so long. I cannot wait for Resident Evil 9; so much so that we have an exclusive Super Chapter Select episode discussing just that coming soon.
The future is bright here at Max Frequency and for Chapter Select. I am amped to start publishing Season 6 with Pokémon here in just a few weeks. You are all in for a treat!
2. Yes, RE5’s pre-show chatter was an hour long.
3. And that’s how I bought the Tears of the Kingdom Switch console.
4. I already do that with Adobe Audition. I can’t afford much more than that.
5. Just like we are trying member content for the first time.