Two Podcast Production Sins
Last week, I was on #zinechat talking about podcasting & new media. As these discussions tend to go, we talked about production. I was asked to go into further detail into two of those production topics by a reader.
Sin #1: Cutting All The “Ums”
I understand the impulse to do this. When you’re editing audio, every “uh”, “um”, stutter, restarted sentence, vowel elongation and the like are discordant notes. Many of us as podcast editors hate those. They grate on us. So we remove them.
I did this in the early days of Master Plan. I thought it was “good audio.” Today, I can’t stand to listen to that. I did what I call today over-editing. The end result was (a) many hours of work on my end to produce the show, (b) a lot of cut waveform artifacts you can hear, and (c) the remove of the human quality in a voice.
It turns out that only I really noticed them. Listenrs, it turns out, are used to human speech. Ums and Uhs and the like are a part of that. However, jarring cuts in the waveform are not a part of that — and those do get noticed by listeners, particularly headphone & earbud ones.
Today, on the rare occasion I still edit audio, I don’t slave over every Um. I only work on the ones that happen in succession — “Back when we were uh uh uh developing Podcast the RPG…” And even then, I’m as like to leave one in for the human element as I am to cut them all. It largely depends on how easy it is to cut all of the Uhs in a moment without leaving a cut artifact behind.
I saw it as part of my duty as an interview podcaster to leave my guests sounding human. A few Uhs and restarts helps convey that humanity in a way we unconsciously recognize. Now, I was incredulous to this idea, until I started watching and listening to professional interview pieces. Stutters are at times left in. They’re character.
And it makes editing easier if you aren’t trying to remove them all. As to which ones I remove? Generally ones in succession (“uh uh uh”), sentence & thought restarts that last ten or more seconds, and anything that makes it hard to understand what’s being spoken.
Sin #2: Separating Speakers in Left & Right Track
I’m going to use a bit of hyperbole here. If you have some people speaking in just the left track, and others in the right track, you either intentionally or accidentally despise your audience.
Often, your listeners are going to be listening on headphones or earbuds. When you do that, you’re saying “fuck you, you don’t get to listen to my show” to:
- Folks partly deaf or completely deaf in one ear — can’t hear half the conversation
- Folks with a sore ear or ear infection — can’t hear half the conversation
- Folks who have inner ear disorders — the conversation is literally disorienting, dizzying (this applies to grossly non-normalized audio as well)
- Folks with suddenly-busted headphones (since they do wear down) — can’t hear half the conversation (this also applies to commuters with stereo system problems, which is much more expensive)
I had this happen on a plane trip once. That…sucked. Luckily, the shows I listened to were in mono.
- Folks with a reason for only wearing one ear bud, like going jogging in a traffic-busy urban area and still wanting to be aware of your surroundings. Cuz, hey, cars.
Some of these situations are temporary, some permanent. But even cater to the temporary — if I can’t listen to your show when people are talking about it, what are the chances that by the time I can, ten other things have grabbed my attention instead?
And that doesn’t even address when the two tracks are not normalized, so that one side is quite and the other loud. There’s one indie podcast years ago that used to do this. I stopped listening the day that the grossly un-normalized spiking laughter happening in just my left ear nearly caused me to clutch my head in pain and disorientation. Remember, we use our ears for balance. Don’t fuck with that, and you’ll keep more listeners.
If you’re just doing a talk show, make it mono (or barring that, identical stereo…which is just like mono except you’ve doubled the file size). Unless, of course, you like telling a portion of your audience that you are comfortable discriminating against them–because that’s what we feel when podcasters thoughtlessly make such audio.