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There’s more to podcasting -- much more -- than editing an audio waveform. Yet the ability to manipulate an audio file remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks -- and is sometimes a non-starter -- for many podcasters and would-be podcasters.
And you know what… maybe manipulating an audio waveform isn’t something we need to do in 2020?
I know that's a crazy and heretical thought. but bear with me for just a moment. This is a big and heady topic, worthy of the launch of Season Three of Podcast Pontifications, I think.
The No-code World Is All Around Us
If you're not familiar with the no-code revolution happening across all forms of development, it's a big deal. But “no-code” doesn't mean that it’s super easy to throw together a great web page, web app, or mobile app with little thought. No, that's was the promise (and failure) of the old WYSIWYG editors of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, which output more garbage code than anything.
Because, as it turns out, you actually need to spend some cycles thinking about how websites and apps should function. Much like you should spend some cycles thinking about all the bits and pieces that make up a quality podcast episode.
What today’s no-code revolution is doing is removing the literal language barrier between interface design and interface production. Designers can now create entire websites without having typing out a single line of HTML or CSS. Or they can make chatbots to respond to advanced questioning. They may not pass the Turing test, but they can get users to a relevant help article pretty quickly. Some are even making entire mobile apps without once opening up a code editor or without having to choose what language the app will be developed in.
The idea of developing without code sounds really, really strange to anyone who’s ever written code. But once you’ve worked your way through a no-code development process (podcastpontifications.com was completely deployed by me earlier this year without writing a single line of HTML or CSS), you quickly learn these new no-code tools are extremely powerful.
We Don’t Have Code, But We Do Have Waveforms
In podcasting, we work with audio, not code. And while we’ll certainly never go “no-audio” (that rather defeats the point), we might go to “no-audio-waveform-manipulation”, which arguably isn’t nearly as sexy or succinct as “no-code”, I concur. But ignore the clunky phrase and continue exploring with me.
As I said early, manipulating the audio waveform in an audio edging program is a big stumbling block. Many people want to tell great stories, but not all of them (or even most of them) are great at editing audio. They either lack the patience or the skills, and many have little interest in learning the vagaries of professional DAWS like Hindenburg Journalist Pro, Adobe Audition, Reaper, or even the cheap-slash-free tools like Audacity and Garage Band.
And because they lack those skills, one of three things happens to people with stories to tell:
- They farm out the audio engineering work, which comes with its own challenges
- They choose to skip the DAW altogether and just record-and-release straight from their mobile phone, usually making a crappy product
- They say no to podcasting
But thanks to some innovative tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as full-featured as they are today) a couple of years ago, they have a fourth option which doesn’t require them to manipulate the audio’s waveform at all. At least not directly in the way we do with our professional DAWs.
No, The Future Is Not Lazy Podcasting
There are plenty of tools that allow you to record quickly on your mobile phone and load your ramblings to a podcast hosting company. Some of those services even allow you to mix in audio, take guests, and all the other trappings of podcasting.
Those tools are not the equivalent of no-code in podcasting. Those tools, at least in their current state, are the equivalent of WYSIWIG editors from two decades ago. And I do not endorse them. (Though I do realize that some people can make great art with those tools, mostly because they aren’t trying to replicate podcasting, but I digress…)
Editing is still a crucial part of the podcasting process. Almost without fail, a podcast episode is best when it is carefully constructed. It’s the “how” and the “where” that construction (manipulation) happens that’s the question.
“No-code” for podcasting allows us to un-relegate waveform manipulation from a chore we give to an audio engineer and make it an integral part of the episode construction process. Not that anybody can do it, mind you. Nor does it mean that the audio is automagically made perfect. Someone with a vision and a design still needs to be in charge.
Even the word-choice changes how you might approach a podcast. Would you rather edit a podcast episode? Or would you rather design a podcast episode? The former is more old school. The latter sounds much sexier to me, and I’m still a member of Team Edit.
If we can make the shift from an editing-mentality to a design-mentality, it’ll likely cause us to re-think our entire approach. Perhaps even more exciting, it might provide an in-road to a profession that hasn’t previously played a key role in podcasting: interface designers.
“Does This Podcast Make My Butt Look Too Big?”
Interface designers don’t need to care about the underlying code. They just need to care how the interface works, since it’s the interface layer that the user interacts with. They never see the code.
Designing for audio is similar. Listeners don’t interact with the waveform, they listen to the audio. Beyond those looking at the bouncy, squiggly line in an embeddable player or an audiogram, the visual representation of the audio -- the waveform -- is completely unnecessary to enjoy listening to the sound. Oscilloscopes were never designed as a household tool, yet here we are 80 years later still waving our waveform flags proudly.
The audio -- not the waveform -- is the interface in podcasting. Yes, I know we have apps in the mix, but those interfaces are mostly for discovery and navigation. The real engagement happens at the listening level. Who says we need to manipulate a waveform to really design really great audio?
No, You Probably Shouldn’t Give Up Your Daw Just Yet
Mainstream adoption of these waveform-less tools for podcasting is still in the future. The handful of companies making tools are constantly refining their programs and adding new releases at a breakneck clip. This means things are very much in flux, so I don’t recommend giving up your tried-and-true DAW just yet.
But what we working podcasters should be doing is making room to try out these new tools on our next project. For me, I’m looking at using these tools to help me land some projects that didn’t quite fit in my business practice before. I know it’s important to keep abreast of new tech, so I’m willing to spend some of my own time to learn what can be possible with these new tools. It’s one of the many ways I maintain perspective. Now what we're doing right now, we don't want to hurt the sound. We don't want to impact we're doing, we've got that figured out.
… But You May Want To Give Up Your Freelance Audio Editor
A lot of working podcasters farm out their audio waveform editing. And while I’m not suggesting you ditch your engineer immediately, I do think that some podcasters will be able to do just that by embracing these new waveform-less tools and services. This is especially true for “podcasting teams” rather than solo endeavors. It’s quite possible that one of the team members is great at interface design and would take these tools quite quickly, changing how episodes move from concept to final publishing.
What happens to your entire process of podcasting when you remove audio waveform manipulation as a requirement? What happens when you can go from a great idea in your head to a ready-to-publish episode without ever cracking open a DAW? The no-waveform-manipulation world is already here, and it may be right for you.
Thanks for letting me stumble through the first episode of Season Three of Podcast Pontifications. I shall continue to produce these episodes and articles every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, just like with the two seasons that came before. Yes, I’ll continue exploring the future of podcasting by surfacing concepts and ideas that you and all working podcasters should be thinking about as we continue making podcasting better.
If you like, you may go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and leave a couple of shekels for me. It’s a nice way to say you appreciate the insights I bring forward.
Most importantly, please tell a friend that the show is back. Maybe they didn't jump into Season Two or One because they wanted a fresh place to start. That’s not really necessary, as my episodes tend to be both episodic and evergreen. But this could be the fresh start they were looking for. So please tell another person who has a podcast, is struggling with their podcasting, or is looking for new angles to break into podcasting. I would appreciate that.
And most importantly, I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.