Podcast Quality Vs. Engagement

My Podcast Listening Experience

A few years ago there was a blog frenzy on here about podcast production. I listened to a podcast where the host was demonstratiing how he made his show sound professional, with his Heil microphone and his compressor and effects chain. I listened to that show and in fact I thought that his show sounded better when he turned off all the vocal compression. Before he sounded like a truck rally commercial, after he sounded like a person conversing. Of course, via Twitter he rallied his faithful listeners to come and tell me how wrong I was and this was the result.

Around that time I made myself a little sketch but I didn’t have a working scanner at the time so this was confined to a 3″ X 5″ index card in a pile of detritus in my office. The other day I ran across it and immediately relived the whole argument in a flash, as much fun as that was. In itself, it was a rehash of a 2005 era running of the bull when Stephen Hill of the Hearts of Space radio show weighed in via Steve Gillmor how he though podcasting would never go anywhere because the audio production was so frequently too low as to be unlistenable to him.

My opinion was always hard to articulate but approximates to :

There is a floor of production and processing below which I can’t stand to listen no matter how good the content.
There is a ceiling over which I can’t stand to listen no matter how good the content.
There is some content that I find god awful no matter how good or bad the audio quality is but the opposite doesn’t hold true.

This is easier to represent graphically, and here with my meager talents and illegible handwriting is the sketch I drew myself to figure out what I was talking about. Some of these shows and networks I haven’t listened to in many years but I’d say that this all holds up pretty well in terms of me still agreeing with it. I’m not mentioning the names of the original folks who were so opposed to me because I don’t want any Google Alerts to bring in a lot of douche baggage. Still, I like the concept and stand by it so here you go inkernet. Enjoy!  

Update: I didn’t listen to the show when I first drew this graph but I should have added to it. I’d put George Hrab’s Geologic Podcast about halfway between Hour of Slack and the listenable/unlistenable line. I like the show and am engaged with it each episode and long term as a subscriber, but there have been shows where the produced stuff put me off to the point of getting an itchy skip finger. It’s also worth noting that my single favorite episodes were the three hours of him just talking with his friend Milton about Trebuchet . No bits, no jingles or stingers or bumpers, just lots of talk and bits of music.

Update 2: I saw via FriendFeed that Evo Terra mentioned on Twitter this XKCD cartoon. This is a different angle on the same exasperation I feel sometimes.

Television Branding Thought of the Day

Let’s go ahead and make it official. TLC should change what those initials represent from “The Learning Channel” to “Terrible Life Choices.” They clearly haven’t cared about learning for years now, preferring instead the freak show type spectacle. Keep truth in that advertising!

The Greatest Xmas Song Ever Written

Before we get too far from the holiday season, let me put in a pointer for my single favorite modern Xmas song. The title of this post is not my editorial postion, it’s actually the title: “The Greatest Xmas Song Ever Written” by American Heartbreak. This is the sadly defunct band of my good friend Michael Butler of the Rock and Roll Geek Show. On Facebook a few weeks ago I saw a thread about how bad most post World War Two holiday songs are, and that prompted me to spread the love for this song. It’s a super catchy, basically anti-Christmas song that is a perfect antidote to the treacle of most. “No stores are open/ No one shops for me/ I wish Christmas never came/ Every year’s the same/ It looks like/ It looks like/ I’ll be by myself for Christmas.” When the syrup of most songs gets on your nerves, try this shot of tabasco. I apply some every year and I love it.

If you want, the player below will let you hear it, or you can download it directly. It should also show up in the podcast feed because, hey, it’s the time of year for giving. Again, you are welcome.

Pregnancy Humor

My wife is in the end game of her pregnancy. I just happened to randomly see this video which I guarantee is 100 times funnier when you spend every day with a woman exactly this pregnant. Every line of this song is hilarious and on the mark. It doesn’t hurt that this parodies the only Beyonce song I’ve ever liked. For your viewing and listening pleasure, I present “All the Pregnant Ladies (If you liked it you should have put a thing on it)”. You are welcome.

Peace on Earth Starts at Home

It’s true that my output on all internet fronts has slowed waaaay down. I’m blogging less, podcasting less, tweeting not at all. For a long stretch of time that bothered me greatly because it seemed like I was letting down the team in some way, or failing to correctly promote my “personal brand” or all sorts of other vague dreads of underplaying my hand. In truth, I feel better about life in general lately. I don’t know if this correlation is causation, but worrying less about doing things at the bogus pace of “internet time” means that I don’t have the constant heartbeat of the next refresh interval driving my attention. It’s peaceful. In a very real way, turning off a lot of those inputs and worrying less about my output feels like a long term vacation.

I never intend to close doors with any of these pronouncements because reality on the ground may change, but I sense this may become more like the long-term sustainable way I approach online life. I may blog every day for a week and then not for a day or week or month. I may do a few podcasts in a row and then drift off for a while. I may return to being a tweet machine, or I might never do it again. If the question is “Did you see that thing on Facebook”, regardless of the thing the answer has a greater than 99% chance of being “No.”

Of course, in less than a month you mix a newborn baby into this and life gets even shakier. I know plenty of people have kids and a digital life and the two mesh happily. I’m predicting that in our lives since we are older new parents that it will take a lot out of us. I might blip out for most of the late winter and early spring. If so, you can safely assume I’m happy as a clam and probably covered in some form of bodily fluid.

One of the upsides of pulling back from digital life is that it allows me to double down on corporeal life. In the last few months I’ve done more fun stuff in person than many years, and it keeps on going. You can trust that if I’m in the room with you, I’m not checking a smart phone. When I’m present, I’m trying to be actually present rather than this vaguely distracted weird attention that everyone pays nowadays.

So, that’s where I’m at this time, right before XMas 2010. I remain a ghost in the machine on the internet but I’m around. Give me a call, write me a letter, invite me to lunch, set up a play date. I’m 17 years into this internet thing and still working out how to do it correctly, but I feel like I’m getting there.

Happy holidays to all. May you find exactly the level of peace that you need.

Drop Target Zine Review

I’m a fan of cartoonist Alec Longstreth. I read his blog, buy his comics, have met him at Heroescon several times and even interviewed him once. I was pleased a few months ago when I saw him blog a reference that he was working with fellow cartoonist Jon Chad on a good old fashioned paper zine devoted to pinball called Drop Target. It combines three of my interests in a nice package – comics, pinball and zine culture. I’ve referenced multiple times on this blog my desire to be more involved with reading and making paper zines as an antidote to the ephemerality of internet culture. This seemed like a great beachhead from which to start that campaign.

I ordered issue #1 from their online store, paid via Paypal and received my copy about a week later. It is a nice package with multiple text features and a long memoir comic about hunting for and playing pinball machines. The text includes some basics of the parts and mechanics of a pinball machine, an interview with the former editors of Multiball magazine, reviews of specific machines and venues with machines. All told, it was a fun and diverting way to spend an hour or so and a great melding of several of my interests. If you like comics, the memoir is satisfying as comics. If you enjoy pinball, the pinball content is informative and enjoyable on that level. If handmade zines are your thing, this is a very good example of that form.

I like zines for the same reason I’ve been a proponent of podcasting and blogging. It rewrites the economic equation by making it so cheap to publish that one can tackle a niche topic and really go for it. This is a great example of that ethos. The second issue is listed as coming in Spring 2011 and I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to pursue trying to interview one or both of these guys for my podcast and I’d even be happy to contribute to their zine. This is exactly the sort of thing that has been making me happy of late. Even as I pull back from social media and the always connected digital world, I’m reconnecting with the tangible artifacts of our real world.

Flattr and the Drying Pond

I’ve been experimenting with Flattr since May. I started when it was a closed beta that required a waiting list to get approved, and it’s been about 4 months since it went to an open beta. Thus far, my results are … eh. It isn’t ridiculous, but nothing much has happened for me with it. I’ll occasionally get one or two flattrs on a post or podcast. Most get nothing, and the blog as a whole has two. I have done absolutely nothing to goose that, so this is the un-pimped base state.

Clearly, if I wanted more attention from the Flattr community I’d write more posts about Flattr itself (like, uhm, this one.) My biggest problem is that I don’t think the critical mass is anywhere close at this point. There is only one site in my general orbit that is Flattr enabled, which is Thomas Gideon’s Command Line. Generally I give him one flattr every month. I never ever run across any other site in my travels on which I can flattr someone else. Much like any similar project, Flattr suffers from the power law distribution. A very small number of items get a huge number of flattrs while almost all get few or none. It also seems like the German origins of this project shine through in that most of the really big hitter items that get large amounts of attention are in German. Items of English and American origin appear to have an uphill climb to crack that.

At this point, I have run all the way through my initial deposit. I flipped all the income I’ve ever received back into my allocation pool, and will continue doing that. Unless something radically changes in the system, I don’t plan on depositing another chunk of money. I’ll keep flipping my ever shrinking pool of income until the day it runs out and I have no more in there. If the accounts ever zero out, I’m done. I’d love to be surprised with some of my regular sites popping up with Flattr widgets on there so I can give them some money and use it more like a Digg replacement. Until that day, I’m hopeful it takes off but it’s not how I’m betting much money.