The Curse of the Podcast
Posted: Tue, 21 March 2006 | permalink | No comments
Over the past week or so, I've decided to get around to listening to some of the "amateur" (in the same way that Open Source software is "amateur") podcasts that I've collected in the past couple of months (primarily so I can either archive them, or delete them and free up a bit of HDD space). As a great fan of radio, I've been pretty disappointed at the quality of the podcasts I've listened to. While I hadn't expected the BBC world service, there are a number of quite common mistakes I've noticed across several of the podcasts I've listened to.
In the spirit of kaizen, I've noted down the really bad things that I've noticed, in the hope that someone who does a podcast, or is considering doing a podcast, might keep these simple mistakes in the back of their mind and avoid them. No podcast I've listened to so far has exhibited all of these symptoms (there's no way I would have gotten to the end of that hypothetical nightmare audio file) but most have exhibited at least one of these flaws.
For a better general idea of how a good podcast might sound, listen to professional radio for a bit -- a lot of good shows are podcast themselves these days -- and get an idea of what a good show looks like.
I'm also prepared to go further than just bitching about podcasts. If you do a podcast, and would like my (unprofessional but oh-so-opinionated) assessment of your podcast, please e-mail me at email@example.com with a link to your podcast, and I'll try to give it a listen and honest critique.
- Ad-libbing is a sometimes thing. I think I'm quite good at it (I gave my wedding thankyou speech unscripted and unrehearsed, and survived, so I can't be that bad) but I'd never consider doing a podcast without a script. In a podcast, all you have are your words, so if you're searching for words, or mangling them, it all falls apart. The downside to scripting is that you can end up reading your script in a monotone, without any life at all. I think practice with your script can probably improve that, but see the last point below.
- Waffle sucks. I'd say that scripting can help here, but if your script is full of waffle too, then you're SOL. Brutal editing is the only cure. The worst part here is that, since most people silently read faster than they speak, what looks fine on paper turns into something amazingly long and boring when read.
Avoid meta-podcasts -- that is, don't talk about your podcast in your
podcast. Something like "we're always looking for new content, see
for more info" is bearable, but when 8 minutes of a 30 minute podcast is taken up with talking about the podcast wiki, mailing list, forum, ouija board, and so on, know that you're killing your audience.
- You do actually need content. Things that somebody out there is going to care about. A regular podcast is a brutal thing to commit to, and sticking to it must be hard at the best of times, but if you've got nothing interesting to say, don't record it, just have a short or missing show. We all know what filler sounds like -- you're not fooling anyone.
- Uhm is your mortal enemy. Not so much the occasional quick 'uhh' in the middle of a sentence, but I've heard "Uhmmmmmmm"s that went for at least 5 seconds. If you're that stumped for something to say, you need more scripting or editing.
- "Funny" voicing can be really distracting. Having a bit of life in your voice is great, but going completely off the charts only works for Robin Williams (and even then it's not a surefire hit).
- Whilst talking faster than a chipmunk on speed isn't a great way to run a podcast, you can easily fall into the trap of going too far the other way, and... talking... like... your... jaw... is... stuck... in... chilled... molasses...
- Why in the name of $DEITY are you reading out a long command line in a podcast? Sure, without the help of something like Annodex it's tricky to do commands and links the way you're supposed to (as text, dammit), but please do try. If your podcast is example-heavy, either consider dropping the podcast angle, or at the very least, provide an annotated transcript or "companion guide".
- You are allowed to do multiple takes of your podcast. Really. Read in small sections, and then stitch it together. Listen and retake a bunch of times until it sounds reasonable. (Aside: my one appearance in a podcast to date was about 15 minutes of recorded audio, before final editing. It took me about 7 hours to do -- admittedly, that included learning how to drive Audacity and do my editing, but I'd say I had at least 2 hours of mic time in there.)
- Some people just weren't cut out for "radio". You may be unable to stop your voice sounding like Lurch, or you get the giggles, or just can't think of interesting things to say "on air" -- whatever the problem is, you may just have to accept that you're better behind a keyboard than a mic. There's nothing wrong with that, but please be self-aware enough to realise it. No podcast I've yet listened to has been "kill it, now!" bad, but since I've only been listening to personal recommendations, I figure I'm mostly listening to the better class of podcast out there, and there's plenty of "give it up, please" podcasts out there.
Post a comment
All comments are held for moderation; markdown formatting accepted.