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There is a troubling trend on your television. Broadcasters who no longer have access to their professional broadcast studios are producing less-than-professional results for all of us to see. Without their studios, racks of stage lights, high-tech sets, makeup and hair people, they’re producing much less polished pieces that are going out over the air.
People don’t seem to mind. In fact, there’s a whole sub-culture buzz around appreciating these pandemic-induced recording environments.
Back in the day, it was podcasters who were leaning into the reduced spit-and-polish, embracing a “rough around the edges” approach that set us apart from the broadcasters. We might not have been able to beat them with production-levels, but we could sure ride that authenticity train for as long as possible.
Big Media In Our Little Podcasting Pond
In the last few years, podcasting has once again captured the attention of the media. Big media organizations are embracing podcasting and discovering all over again the rough edges. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s fantastic that New York Times, Vox Media, and other large publications have made a strong pivot to podcasting. But some of their attempts at “authenticity” are starting to wear thin. I can’t remember the last time I listened to an episode of The Daily or Today, Explained without a ringing Skype sound, awkward introductions, or some other quasi-humorous false start to the episode. Imperfections most podcasters would edit out.
Big publishers have even incorporated these quirky elements into their advertising, probably because they want to bring -- or perhaps manufacture -- an air of authenticity in the message.
I’m already over it.
So now we have not only big media trying to force authenticity into their podcasts, but big broadcasters on crappy webcams and built-in microphones trying to stitch together their programs with tools we gave up years ago.
Podcasters who also notice these trends typically have one of two things to say about it.
“Our Podcast Sound Great From Home, Why Can’t Their Broadcasts?”
Podcasts never had to sound crappy. Back in 2004, plenty of podcasts sounded great thanks to widely available “pro-sumer” and professional-grade equipment readily available at relatively modest prices. That’s just gotten better in 16 years, so why haven’t these forced-to-stay-home broadcasters figured that out yet? If we can afford it, why can’t the studio, station, or network send the equipment their people need to do a great job from home? We do it all the time. So can they.
“Are Our Podcast Episodes Too Polished?”
We podcasters spend a lot of time removing some of real-life’s artifacts from our recordings. Some of us obsess over mic placement and room conditioning so that our content sounds every bit as good (if not better) than professional studios. Heck, some of us have invested thousands of dollars and have truly built professional-grade studios that we use every day.
Maybe we've been making episodes that are too produced? Maybe we need to expose a bit more of the process to our audience? Maybe it’s having those rough edges present what makes a podcast special?
I'm going to dismantle both of those arguments.
Please Tell Me There’s More To Your Show Than Rough Edges
Look, I get it. When brownies come out of the oven, I want the ones on the edges. I want the ones that are hard and crunchy on one side (two if I can score a corner piece). I want that strange combination of crunchy cookie and soft brownie. I love brownies.
But that's not how it works in podcasting.
People don't listen to your podcast because of the rough edges. Sure, some rough edges might add a bit of character. And I’ll even grant you that rough edges can be used as a branding element, setting your podcast apart from the crowd. But I promise you, no rational person listens to your show ONLY for the imperfections. More often than not, they're listening in spite of those foibles.
No, I don't think that you should make a less professional show. No one ever stopped listening to a podcast because the episodes sounded too good.
But plenty of people stop listening to low-quality shows all the time. And don’t expect new listeners to put up with your rough-and-tumbleness long enough for it to become quaint.
Quarantined-At-Home Broadcasters Sound And Look Crappy On Purpose
These broadcast pros aren’t doing a crappy job because they don't know any better. They aren’t learning their craft and will eventually get better, perhaps as you did when you were just starting out. By and large, they aren’t doing the best they can with what they have.
They’re doing it on purpose.
They're putting out a much lower-quality version of their regular programming on purpose. It’s completely calculated. They want to showcase the fact that they are in their homes and not their big studios.
They do not want you to get used to this. They do not want you to get the same level of quality from them during these atypical circumstances.They have a vested interest in showcasing that what they're doing is novel (just like the virus) and very Not Normal. It’s the strangeness that gives you a reason to keep watching, seeing how they’ll overcome the technical challenges.
These people have no interest in trying to build professional studios at home. Practically speaking, none of these broadcasters want to do their work from home. All of them want to get back into their studios where they have the support of professional makeup artists, lighting, and sound people. They do not want to do the hard work that you, the working podcaster, do every day.
So when you see them on screen looking dorky and goofy, with bad audio as they shout at their webcam from across the room, understand that they are intentionally keeping it rough-and-tumble because they want you to miss the professional quality they made before. That way, you too are longing for a return to normalcy.
So What’s A Podcaster To Do?
Ignoring for a moment the fact that I don't think we're ever going to get back to normal, most of us podcasters haven’t had a change in venue. Some have, including a couple of my clients. But even those outliers can have their situations improved with an investment in quality gear that was built for their newfound reality.
So rather than lamenting broadcasters encroaching into our lanes, remember that they're here temporarily. They'll be out as quickly as they can, and the space will be ours once again.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that we need to be less picky about quality than we are today. Get that bad notion out of your head! if you need someone to talk you off the ledge, I am your huckleberry. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org before you make any silly decisions about reverting to a lower-quality show.
Tell A Friend?
New podcasts are exploding right now, so there’s a very good chance someone you know is starting one. I’d appreciate it if you told that person about Podcast Pontifications. Sure, the content is quite a bit above the “how to” content they need, but getting the new crop of podcasters thinking about podcasting’s biggest questions seems a good idea, right?
Enjoy the rest of your day. I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.