Podcast Quality Vs. Engagement

Posted on December 30, 2010
Filed Under podcasting | 2 Comments

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.

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2 Responses to “Podcast Quality Vs. Engagement”

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  1. Scott Roche on December 30th, 2010 7:36 pm

    I can definitely agree about the higher level of production sometimes being off putting. For me the lower end of production may or may not affect my ability to listen to it depending on the content, so my dotted line would be slanted down.

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  3. dave on December 30th, 2010 11:03 pm

    Scott, that’s an interesting take. For me the interesting thing about drawing this out was forming a mental model of how I think about this. I have at times been represented as an apologist for poor quality, which is never how I felt about it.

    You are probably right that the line slopes down and to the left. Counterintuitively “good” audio as defined by commercial radio style antics and compression puts me off faster than bad audio.

    If the content is not to my liking, then it just doesn’t matter where on the curve the production is, I’ll never listen.