Here’s a confession: I never really cared about audio quality until I started editing podcasts.
When it came to MP3 vs FLAC, much less the “warmth” of vinyl, I could only muster a shrug. I was perfectly content with laptop speakers and a pilfered pair of earbuds from a cross country flight in 2012.
Over the two years I’ve been editing podcasts, I’ve developed some capital-o Opinions about audio quality and production. So why should you care? Even though they’ve been around (in their current iteration, at least) since 2004, podcasts are still a robust method for driving traffic and engagement.
Case in point, when I caught up with some friends over lunch last month, our conversation turned to podcast recommendations. We’re all of us voracious consumers of podcasts, both for professional reasons (oh hi there, Libsyn’s The Feed) as well as personal (Welcome to Night Vale, anyone?).
“Well,” my friend Lauren said, “we really like (this one podcast)*, except — sometimes I can’t stand to listen to it!”
*name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent
Her husband, Tyler, chimed in. “You hear all the mouth sounds. All the wet, breathy, lip-smacking noises, right in your ear.” They both shuddered. “It’s like, do they even listen to their audio before they release it?!”
So, podcasters, I’d like to turn that question back to you. Do you listen to your audio before you release it? More importantly, do you listen to it the way your audience does, closely and through headphones? Or while driving in the car? If you do, do you honestly assess the quality of what you hear, or do you call it “good enough” and hit publish?
Your audio sends a message
An established listener base might stick with you through a few dicey episodes — say, you’ve been traveling and didn’t have access to your normal setup. But if you don’t have the luxury of loyalty, or you don’t make it clear that you’re trying to improve, potential listeners will jump ship. That’s because your audio sends a message: “I am more concerned about being heard than I am about how I sound.” Yikes!
Look. No matter how compelling your subject matter, poor audio is a great way to ensure nobody bothers with your podcast. High quality audio requires thorough research and planning.
In one of my favorite episodes of the early 2000s cartoon Home Movies, the three main characters attempt to film a movie backwards, a la the 2000 hit Memento. As production goes increasingly awry, Brendan repeatedly dismisses his costars’ qualms by saying “We’ll fix it in post.” Naturally, the end product is a nigh-unwatchable disaster.
I wish all my clients could learn the same lesson Brendan learns in that episode. That lesson? Not everything can be fixed in post. Has your microphone been on the fritz lately? Did your Skype guest insist on recording over their built-in laptop speakers? Did you record your interview at a busy, open-air cafe on a windy day? Then your audio will never have the buttery smoothness of a studio recording.
Feeling nervous? You don't need to. Next time, I’ll share some tips on how to record great audio.