I am jealous of kids and pets. Well, toddlers and all animals when it comes right down to it. I’m jealous that they can just wake up and immediately do the things they do nearly instantaneously; and people still think they look cute and are amazing.
Adult humans, on the other hand, need some work before we’re comfortable letting other adult humans interact with us at all. Our climb up the evolutionary lateral ladder may have given us the twinkling lights in the heavens, but we still don't want people to see us until we are ready for us to be seen.
Our true and authentic face, hair, or body has probably only been witnessed by a select number of people with which we have an intimate relationship. For everyone else; we wear pants.
This isn’t unique to western civilization. I’ve traveled a fair amount, in developed and developing countries, and I can assure you that just about everyone in every culture I’ve encountered tends to do a bit of cleanup of themselves before they let other human beings see them. This is, as far as I can tell, universal.
And I promise a point about podcasting is coming. Indulge me as I thoroughly exhaust this metaphor, will you?
Essential Business: Looking Good (Or At Least Better)
Almost everyone in every culture around the world contributes at least some portion of their income to industries with the express purpose of repressing our authentic self to the world. Or at least they ensure the authentic self we woke up with on any particular morning is made better.
These industries -- grooming and clothing -- are built on the reality that people want to cover up, hide, or somehow modify the “us” that we put forth to everyone else. Don’t conflate those industries with the beauty or fashion industries. Both are offshoots of the former industries but are completely dependent upon a population with disposable income. Grooming and clothing are basic necessities of life, we’ve collectively decided as a species.
Everyone on the planet is willing to spend money to make sure that we look better than our authentic selves for almost every interaction with the outside world. Yet when it comes to our voice, we don’t make the same decisions. And that puzzles me.
Do These Pants Make My Voice Sound Big?
Ask any new podcaster and they’ll probably tell you that they hate their voice. But it’s the only voice they have, so they get over it. Or they quit.
But surely there’s a happy medium, right? Is there an option to modify out the less-desirable aspects of our authentic voice, much like we use basic grooming to tame our shocking shock of hair or put on a shirt that fully covers our drooping belly?
Of course there is.
While we can’t change our physiology to make drastic changes to our voice, we certainly can enhance our voice to make it more publicly pleasing. And I don’t mean that in a pandering or conforming way. Just like we have the option to comb our hair instead of living with bed-head, we can do the equivalent with our voice and exercise some control of how it is presented to the world.
But we’re resistant to that. I just spent four paragraphs dancing around the subject because I know this is a minefield topic. At least one person will not read this fully and assume I only want professional-sounding voices in podcasting, everyone else be damned. But I assure you that is not what I am trying to say. Not at all.
Recording pros are reading this with cocked eyebrows for another reason. They already go through pains to ensure excellent cleanup and enhancement of every vocal track they work with. Me too! But a lot of not-recording pros who release content don’t.
Let me use me as an example. My voice, for every single episode of this season of Podcast Pontifications, is not my authentic voice as I’ve defined it above. The voice I hear in my headphones as I record is different than the voice you hear from your earbuds when you listen. Specifically, my voice has gone through six filters -- the same six filters, using the exact same settings -- before you hear it.
I can hear the palpitating hearts of my audio pro friends again. They were trained to not add any filtering until the vocal track has been analyzed for its unique characteristics for that particular recording session. (But those same audio pros use presets quite liberally in their day-to-day operations because they’re busy too.)
I use presets in my own audio recording the same way I use presets in my grooming routine. I mostly brush my hair the same way every day. My eyebrows get bushy in the same spot (yeah, I pluck my eyebrows), and the same spots on my face need the same application of foundation to make me less splotchy. Oh, and I almost always wear pants. And I always wear pants the exact same way.
So if I know my body needs the same enhancements every day when going to see other adult humans, why wouldn’t I also assume my voice also needs similar help to make it better?
Will The Coronavirus Make Podcasting Better?
Conventional wisdom has been pretty consistent: Lay down a “clean” track (no signal processing) and then apply filters in post-production when you’ll have plenty of time to make it sound great and apply changes with precision. That’s what I’m doing on my show. And it’s what most not-live recording processes look like.
It’s different in a live environment, like broadcast radio/TV. Because they have no post-production option for a live broadcast, signal processing has to happen as the voices are being recorded, relying on a live board engineer to make tweaks in real-time.
Thanks to this global pandemic, our in-person interactions are starting to resemble broadcast radio/TV a lot more. Our meetings -- for business or for pleasure -- are on Zoom. And while we spend plenty of resources making sure we and our environment look great on camera, we’re leaving our voice to fend for itself.
Chances are, my voice sounds better on my podcast than my voice does on your podcast. That’s because you’re not applying my six standard filters in post-production. You might (I hope) apply some filters and processing, but you might not, because you want your guests’ voices to be authentic.
That’s probably a mistake on my part. Just like I wouldn’t show up on camera without running a comb (or at least my fingers) through my hair, putting on a shirt (hey, it’s hot in AZ), turning on my ring light, and tuning my webcam settings, I probably shouldn’t be sending out a “clean” signal of my voice.
My prediction: We’ll see a shift toward pre-processing of our authentic voices as we try to better control how our authentic voices sound when leaving our environment.
To date, I’ve been unwilling to spend the money on a pre-processing stack for my podcast or for my clients. I can fix it all in post.
But fixing it in post-production isn’t an option in an on-demand world where I’m on video calls five or six times a week, or when I’m being interviewed on someone else’s podcast. If I want to make sure my authentic voice is the authentic voice I want to be out in the world, I’m going to have to make a hardware investment.
And that’ll probably change how I produce podcasts from now on. Because I want to be the one who controls my authentic voice before it’s released to the wild. Do you?
A quick reminder that I’m starting to offer some perks to those who’ve gone to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and signed up for a membership, Plenty more ideas for perks coming, but you’ll only get them if you’ve signed up for a membership.
Also, please tell just one other podcaster about Podcast Pontifications. Word of Mouth is critical in the podcasting space. Sure, reviews are nice and I do love it when you reshare my content on Twitter or LinkedIn. But by far, the best thing you can do is tell one person (in your own authentic voice) about Podcast Pontifications and recommend that they listen. Personal recommendations go a long way.
I'll be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.