Podcasting Art and Artifice

Posted on February 1, 2008
Filed Under podcasting | 16 Comments

I pointed the other day to Cheryl Colan’s discussion of Epic-Fu. Because I’m watching old videos on my Zune, I am just watching some of the very early episodes of the precursor program the Jet Set Show. I also watched Zadi’s Karmagrrrrl blog even prior to that. The interesting thing is that as you progress down the timeline, the production value increases all the way until you get to Epic-Fu, which looks a lot like an MTV show. However, that doesn’t mean I care more. In fact, as Cheryl pointed out it’s gotten to a point where it is hard to tell the ads from the show. This isn’t a moral calling out, or an accusation, but just the way it is. The slicker you make your show, the more it looks like a Pepsi commercial. It also gets less interesting to me, and I think the lower fi esthetic on JSS was more generally interesting then Epic-Fu.

Similarly, I listened to an episode of Cliff Ravenscraft’s Podcast Answer Man show on which he discussed the Heil PR 40 microphone and his production process in general. Cliff is obviously proud of all his production as he talked it up hard about he goes to extra effort to make it “professional sounding.” There was an interesting point where he turned off all his compression and post-processing to do a direct comparison of several microphones. The second he turned off the compression, it sounded better and more engaging to me. A highly compressed human voice sounds phony, and when he was demonstrating just the Heil minus his effects I thought it sounded more real. With all the processing, the whole thing sounds like a used car commercial. I have tried other of Cliff’s shows and I find that I can’t listen to the phony sounding voices for long enough to stay interested. By putting in this extra layer, he actually subtracts value for me as a listener.

These are real world examples of what I have been discussing – how the pressure to make money leads to pressure to be “more professional”, which may not be in the best interest of your art. I have an entire mediascape full of “professional”, none of which interests me much. The radio is an unlistenable wasteland (commercial and increasing NPR as well) and on the 200 channels of my digital cable system, I’m lucky to find a single program that I want to watch at 8 PM. I’m interested in podcasts because it allows real people to communicate to me as a real person on topics that might not support a commercial broadcast property, minus the layer of artifice and phoniness. When podcasters build that back in, they cease to compete in their own game and start to play that of the incumbent media, one they can’t win. Keep your real voice and talk to me. I’m listening.

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16 Responses to “Podcasting Art and Artifice”

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  1. Derek Colanduno on February 1st, 2008 10:31 am

    Very true,

    There is another hidden danger as well. The time and effort, even when you ‘perfect’ the sound. It can become too hard and take too long to be productive. And then the show dies due to lack of desire to keep up that level of effort.

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  3. Tim on February 1st, 2008 10:47 am

    I agree with you Dave, it’s like watching a Michael Bay movie versus something from Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. Authenticity trumps soulless professionalism any day.

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  5. Cliff Ravenscraft on February 1st, 2008 1:13 pm

    Dave,

    I think you may make some valid points. Not everyone loves the compressed, broadcast sound. For you, it’s an obvious turn off, and I get that.

    I get more responses from people who do enjoy the fact that I take the additional time and effort to put together a show that makes it seem as though I put the extra time and energy to bring a professional sound to the podcasting realm.

    One thing I’d like to point out. I have recently been “playing around with” some different options with my Compression. When you did your testing, I can only assume you listened to the “most recent” episodes of the shows you listened to.

    I’ve decided to drop the studio reverb effect that I had tried based upon a suggestion from one of my listeners. However, I didn’t go back and re-edit the episode. I just keep moving forward and try to get the sound just right as I go along.

    ————-
    A note to Derek Colanduno who wrote “It can become too hard and take too long to be productive. And then the show dies due to lack of desire to keep up that level of effort.”

    I would totally agree with this for the average person. However, for me, I’ve got more than 400 episodes that I’ve produced in the past two years and I’m still putting out 5 to 10 episodes per week now that I’m full time into this.

    ————–

    One last note: Dave you wrote…

    “With all the processing, the whole thing sounds like a used car commercial. I have tried other of Cliff’s shows and I find that I can’t listen to the phony sounding voices for long enough to stay interested. By putting in this extra layer, he actually subtracts value for me as a listener.”

    This is absolutely your right to have this opinion. I value hearing it here on your blog. Heck, I wish perhaps, you might have shared such constructive criticism with me personally before doing so publicly.

    This type of feedback really helps me to consider what I’m doing with my productions. In the future, I’d love to invite you to share these kinds of thoughts with me, if there is something that you like or don’t like.

    Note: I’m not upset that you wrote this publicly at all. In fact, I’m honored that you mentioned me and gave the link love!

    ps… Just so your readers have a balanced thought on Cliff’s appeal of being “real” I encourage…. No…. I DARE!!!! I dare any of you to listen to the audio file found at http://gspn.tv/sponsor

    Thanks so much!

    Cliff
    http://PodcastAnswerMan.com

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  7. Melinda O'Brien on February 1st, 2008 1:49 pm

    Personally, I’m an easy-to-please listener and have no problems with the sound on any of the GSPN podcasts, I’m more about content. If I find the show interesting, informative, and genuine, I could care less about the sound.

    But then again, if we all liked the same things, it would be a boring world.

    Peace,

    Melinda

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  9. Chef Mark on February 1st, 2008 1:52 pm

    Interesting take, and I can see why you would think that “slick production” may indicate lack of authenticity in some productions, even though it’s an erroneous link. It does make me wonder if you really listened to any of the shows that Cliff and Stephanie do other than the one referenced, where Cliff was admittedly getting geeky and also trying to sell something.

    For me, the stuff coming out of GSPN is pretty nearly the DEFINITION of home grown, authentic, grassroots, power to the people podcasting.

    These are a couple of people who are STILL podcasting out of their basement, but who have taken the time and care to put out something that’s of high audio quality. Being interested in hi fidelity and being an audiophile does not by definition strip someone of their authenticity.

    Cliff and Stephanie are the most authentic people I’ve ever heard on a podcast, bar none. They put themselves out there, exactly as they are, and make no bones about who they are and what they believe in, yet at the same time it’s so inviting because of how genuine they are. I’m a confirmed atheist, and I even find the way they share their religious conviction interesting, because they are AUTHENTIC to the core.

    In fact, more often than not, when I hear arguments such as this, or people complaining that “big companies and salesmen are stealing away this thing that WE started and corrupting it”, it makes me think that the person making the assertion really is just upset that they’re not doing the same thing. Good music is good music, whether it’s recorded in a garage or in a fancy studio (the same goes for bad music). Good authentic podcasting by real people is just that, whether recorded with a $20 mic that crackles and pops, or with a Heil PR-40. Anyone who questions the authenticity BECAUSE of the processed sound is missing the point.

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  11. Steve Woolf on February 1st, 2008 2:13 pm

    On EPIC-FU our ads are clearly acknowledged in the course of the show, and we have a section on our About page titled “How EPIC-FU Makes Money.”

    Part of our desire to improve the production values on EPIC-FU was to reach a broader audience and escape the echo chamber that the online video world can be. For whatever it’s worth, our viewership has more than doubled since the changeover.

    We believe in making the best show possible, and considering that it’s still the same 2.5 people making EPIC-FU as it was JETSET, under the same financial constraints, we look at it as a step forward for the show. We have even more community contributions to the show than we ever did with JETSET, and the amazing international audience on our community site, MIX, has also expanded tremendously.

    Our target audience has responded very positively to the change. While it may appear as a Pepsi commercial to some, the content we cover is often serious and always provokes a discussion in the comments and discussion threads.

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  13. Amanda Black on February 1st, 2008 2:34 pm

    Hello,

    I listen to GSPN podcasts too. I find the quality to be better than the phone and a lot of non-media conglomerate podcasts I listen to. Actually, after all of these years of listening to earphones, my hearing isn’t very sharp. I’m happy with Cliff’s editing!

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  15. Mark Forman on February 1st, 2008 2:41 pm

    I went to the Cheryl Colan site that you linked to in the post, watched the video and went through most of the almost 100 comments she got on it. At the end of this exercise I was kind of amused and a little bit disgusted and disappointed by the whole thing. Guess what I came away feeling was that these people that talk about community,etc. are suffering from a fair amount of hubris thinking that somehow they define what video blogging or indie video on the internet is.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think many of them are talented people and I enjoy watching their stuff. It’s just that the concept that in this day and age of these continually emerging technologies that you have a group that somehow feels they are the brain trust for all things vlogging and indie video.

    Not unlike many boring podcasters I’ve encountered who are more fixated on the act of podcasting and it’s geek element than the content therein. So maybe this is just a geek thing?? Out of fall the intros to people you’ve made in the video space I have to say that I really have appreciated Dave Huth the most and get the most inspired by it. I follow him on Twitter and can say that he spends more time enjoying life and his pursuit of art than trying to convince people he is the kahuna of all things indie video.

    Just my 2 cents for the discussion.

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  17. Todd on February 1st, 2008 3:39 pm

    Dave,

    For the most part I agree with your post. When listening to a podcast, I appreciate a certain level of quality in the production, but the presence or lack thereof is not generally a deciding factor on whether or not I’ll listen. In the podcasting medium, content is king, and always will be.

    Now I do prefer the independent podcaster vs the network affilliated podcaster. Sure monetizing is nice, but it shouldn’t be the drive for the show. I walked out of the 2006 PME because I got the feeling from the show floor that if I wasn’t monetizing, then I wasn’t worth talking to, and that feeling kept me from the 2007 PME.

    As an independent podcaster, just let me know if you enjoyed the content, I’ll always be experimenting with the audio quality.

    Todd
    http://www.fromtheroadpodcast.com

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  19. Lille Jente on February 1st, 2008 6:41 pm

    Okay I get what you mean about some overly pro shows, but some work, and are entertaining but boy did you get it wrong with GSPN!

    I do have to really ask seriously how many episodes of Cliff, and Stephanie’s shows have you listened to???? I mean I only listen devotedly to 3 shows, and not one of them are heavily professional sounding really, you feel like your right there with them having a conversation, Cliff doesn’t cut out his bloopers, or try to hide his life, or child interruptions. He doesn’t have a ton of jingles, and *segments* So he makes his voice sound the way he likes it? so what! Only those that listen to the podcast answer man even know that. I wouldn’t decide to listen (or not) to anyone because of their voice, its about the content. I remember a show with a guy who’s voice sounded so weired, when I first heard it, but I loved what he had to say, and now his voice is normal to me. I mean whats in a voice? A mic? or a pro show? To me nothing about cliff, is professional sounding…yes the quality of sound is there meaning that I can clearly hear what is being said, but he himself is more personal and real than any *pro show* could be. You can’t get more authentic then these guys. Cliff goes through everything for YOUR pleasure, I challenge you to sit and listen to every My crazy life episode, he tried all sorts of sounds and techniques, to work with us (the listeners) told us about what he wanted to try asked us what we thought, I mean have you heard his walk casts? or the ones where he talks as he works out? How much more *real* can you get?

    I’m sorry but these people have touched my heart, and are part of my life, and I haven’t even met them! But I love them like I love my friends and family who I see everyday why?… because they ARE so real and authentic, you can’t help but truly know them after listening to them day in and day out!

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  21. dave on February 1st, 2008 8:46 pm

    This is a lot of comment density. The last time this happened was when I dared to criticize Ze Frank. General response to many of you: I’m blogging about my individual listening experience. I’m not trying to invalidate yours; I’m ignoring attempts to invalidate mine. Telling me that Cliff and Stephanie are good people is nice but has nothing to do with my post, which is about the effect of listening to a highly processed human voice.

    Derek, I agree about the burden of putting too much extra process in the way. That’s how I arrived at my current live-to-MP3 style.

    Tim, soul is a good word for what matters to me, although I wouldn’t say Cliff lacks it.

    Cliff, all the shows I listened to were more recent that the Heil episode of the Answer Man. I’m sure some people like that monster truck rally commercial sound but I find it off-putting. That level of processing reduces that dynamic range of the human voice and leaves it less expressive.

    Melinda, I’m glad it works for you. It’s all about finding what floats your boat.

    Chef Mark, I listened to three episodes of Help I Got a Mac but for suggesting that I was lying about listening you are cordially invited to kiss my ass.

    Steve, even if you never took another ad again the show itself still seems like a sickly produced commercial nowadays. The kids might like that, I find it less engaging than it used to be.

    Amanda, glad it works for you.

    Mark, I agree on the Dave Huth rockage. I don’t generally agree with the way the vlog space tends to eat those who succeed and that’s not what I care about. The backend is irrelevant to me, all I’m talking about is the effect on me.

    Todd, I’ll check it out. Thanks!

    Lille, I listened to three. I’m talking specifically about the high level of processing on Cliff’s voice on the shows I listened to. Bloopers are fun and all but not what I’m talking about, and if you think I’m impugning their character because I don’t like the vocal effects then we got nothing much more to say.

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  23. Chef Mark on February 2nd, 2008 1:35 am

    QED

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  25. Zadi on February 4th, 2008 2:11 am

    Thanks for your input, it’s appreciated. As for the slickness — I’m actually quite proud of how far I’ve come in editing video. If I edited the show the same way I did my videos four years ago, then I would be very disappointed in myself for not pushing and experimenting with the medium as much as possible. The show will always be growing and morphing. I’m quite proud that it doesn’t look the way that it looked a year ago and that it won’t look like it does now a year from now. We create a show that we’re very proud of. As long as we’re doing that, we’re succeeding… and we’re very happy about that. 🙂

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  27. PJ Cabrera on February 6th, 2008 2:24 pm

    “Chef Mark, I listened to three episodes of Help I Got a Mac but for suggesting that I was lying about listening you are cordially invited to kiss my ass.”

    Haha, classic Dave answer.

    Love ya, Dave. You’re the most authentic podcaster I’ve ever listened to, even, nay, especially, when I disagree with you. You tell it like you see it, and that’s the best anyone can ever ask for.

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  29. PJ Cabrera on February 6th, 2008 2:30 pm

    I forgot to add: the lack of extra, superfluous sound processing makes the authenticity more apparent. No slick tricks up your sleeve, just my podcast buddy Dave, unadulterated.

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