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  • Tom Kelly

2. Why Your Podcast NEEDS to Sound Great, and My 2020 Predictions.

Since the beginning of time, or podcasting at least, it has been generally well received that having great audio quality isn't really that important, especially when compared to content and marketing. That may have been true for a long time, but the times they are a-changin' my friend. With massive media corporations and A-list celebrities entering the podcasting arena, bringing their massive teams and budgets with them, an unfair race for attention has begun.

While many people believe these celebrities and household names will bring flocks of new listeners into the podcasting space, I truly believe those new listeners are going to be a different breed than current listeners. Think about it this way... If the first show this new listener hears is Conan O'Brien's show, with a $13,000 budget PER EPISODE, their expectations have been set at a level that seems unachievable for many indie and hobby casters, very much like myself.

We may not all have the means to book other A-list celebrities or have a research or sales team to do the heavy lifting, but, one plane of podcasting on which we CAN compete with these new "procasters" is on audio quality, even without an audio team on staff.

The ENTIRE PURPOSE OF THIS PODCAST is to teach you all that producing great audio is very much within your abilities, and within your budget, regardless of what it is. You do NOT need to lose listeners due to poor audio quality, and I believe that will become more and more important over time. Feel free to let me know if you disagree! I would love to hear your opinions and theories, even if they don't align with mine.

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Full Transcript:

Hey, what's going on everybody? My name is Tom Kelly, this is Clean Cut Audio, and in this week's episode I'm going to be telling you about why audio quality is so important to your podcast and why you cannot afford to not have great quality in 2020. All right, let's do it.

With this being the first official episode of the podcast after launch, I thought it was really important to just start at the very beginning before we really get into recording technique, and practices, and listening exercises. I think that people listening to this show already know audio is important, so if you already understand that, that's great. I'm glad you're here. I want to share some of my reasoning behind why I think it's so important, along with a couple of predictions moving forward in how the landscape of podcasting is about to change big time.

I've mentioned it on a previous episode that there's still a lot of talk saying that audio quality isn't that important. People will forgive it, they will press on for the good content. And I don't think that this is inherently wrong on all accounts, but, a lot of the people who have been pushing that "agenda" that audio doesn't really matter, they've been in the game for a long time. Since before, what was it, 2012 when a podcasting app came installed on every iPhone, back when there were far fewer podcasts than there are today. There was less to choose from, so people had less reason to be picky because if they found a show they liked, it might be the only one about the topic they're interested in. Today, there are about 800,000 podcasts on Apple Podcasts. About 500,000 of them are active, but a lot of these newer podcasts that are coming out are big pro-caster companies, whatever you want to call them, Gimlet, NPR, stuff like that. They've got a lot of money and they've got a lot of resources put into their podcasts so that they can hire researchers to put out the best content, and they can hire a proper audio engineers to make sure that it sounds incredible.

Now, these shows are doing a very good job at what they do, and the fear is that they are taking the place of what were kind of the indie, early days podcasters of just very passionate people who could figure out how to set up an RSS feed, record a signal, and get their message out there. It was a little bit harder and it was only for the tech savvy awhile ago, mostly individuals doing it. But now a ton of companies are coming in and they're filling this huge void in very high quality, very produced content.

Now again, that still leaves a lot of room for indie podcasters because there is indie music while there is Top 40 radio. I think it's fair to say which one makes more money and which one holds more share of ear or market share or whatever, but there will always be a need for those maybe slightly lower quality audio, still good content, kind of hanging on the fringes.

People still want that. But here's the thing. All right, so Conan O'Brien comes in on episode one with a podcast. And he has news articles writing about how he changed the landscape of podcasting. Even Marc Maron himself pushed back a little cause it's unfair to say you can come in on episode one and change the landscape. Meanwhile, people like Joe Rogan and Marc Maron, never actually listened to their show myself, but they'd been doing this for a very long time. And if Conan's going to get some credit, they need it too. But here's what Conan's show, and his production, and his team is doing to change the landscape of podcasting.

I believe it was that posted an article to their Facebook page claiming that Conan O'Brien's show spent $13,000 per episode on the production of their show. This is how he's changing the landscape. A ton of money and a ton of resources. Now, a lot of podcasters, you know, they just want to talk with their best friend and they think they're so funny that people are going to hang on the edge of their seat and listen to every word they say. Again, there's always going to be room for Indies, but, the general public, when they have a choice between two unknown guys with terrible audio quality sitting around their phone, just kind of talking at random, if they can choose between that or Conan O'Brien, a household name, with insanely high production value and big celebrity guests on their show, it's pretty easy to see which podcast new people are gonna gravitate towards.

And this is an assumption of course, but, we now have to compete as the indie podcasters, hobby casters, whatever, with the professionals. Now they can do whatever version of show we're doing way better than we can because, for example, my podcast Reminiscent, it's on music, early 2000's emo and pop punk. And if we wanted to do a music history show. We know that Rolling Stone can come in with all of their authority in the world and do our show a thousand times better than we can because they have the prestige, they have the branding, they have the social awareness, and they have the resources to come into this space and just completely wipe us out.

So we are trying to do a show that is something they would never do, yada yada. But, our show could run adjacent to theirs. And if someone has a choice between two random guys they don't know or Rolling Stone, we know that we cannot compete on the content level or the resources or the celebrity power that they can bring in. We need to at least compete on one field. We know that we can produce audio quality as good as Rolling Stone can because audio, great audio is not that hard to capture. We have one thing within our control to make sure that we do not lose listeners to a bigger show, and that is sound quality. We may not be able to get Tom DeLonge on our show, although we did exchange a few emails with his PR team. We ultimately lost any chance of getting him on the show. Just lost interest when they asked for our download numbers. But, we will not lose to them based on audio quality, and audio quality is something you can hear within a 10th of the second of the show. You can lose people immediately and we don't want to do that.

Now, here's the flip side of this. A lot of people are saying that Conan, or Dr. Phil just started to show, Mark Zuckerberg started a podcast. People are hopeful that they're going to bring in a whole bunch of people who have never listened to podcasts before. They're going to bring them into this space. More people listening to podcasts, more chance that they may listen to our podcast. Again, this is my concern. If a new podcast consumer enters this space, and the first thing that they here is a $13,000 per episode production of Conan O'Brien, their expectations are set, my friend. They think podcasts are this very high quality, very polished, big celebrity name medium, and that is not what this medium has been for a very, very long time. But these new listeners don't know that. They have standards now. This is the first thing they hear. This is how they think podcasts sound or should be: very high quality. Big guests. Now again, we who have been doing this for a while and know that this isn't necessarily true. I don't really listen to any big celebrity podcasts. But the point of this is that all this wishful thinking that new Conan O'Brien listeners are going to listen to Conan's show and then kind of sneak on down to, again, this unknown podcast of two friends talking around their iPhone with terrible quality, they're banging the desk, they got all kinds of noise in it. They are not going to give your podcast a chance because again, their expectations have been set. The audio quality out of these shows, out of your show, out of my show, moving forward needs to be comparable to the big names in the game.

And I'm not saying this to scare anyone to sound threatening, whatever, and this shouldn't feel exclusive. Conan O'Brien with all of his NBC money is not the only one capable of producing great sounding audio. You can produce great sounding audio on anything if you have the desire to create great audio, if you understand how important it is to produce great audio, and you have just the slightest amount of knowledge of what you need to do in order to create great audio. It is not difficult. It is not hard.

Shows like Conan's and Marc Maron's and Dr. Phil, they can outspend us every time, they can get bigger guests every time, but they do not need to have better audio than us. That is something that we can control. We can also get those big guests as well. I don't want to limit you into thinking that you or we cannot. We absolutely can, but the easiest thing to fix, the cheapest thing to fix, the quickest thing that we can fix is getting great audio, and that's what this show is about. I'm not just going to talk about my ideas forever. I just needed to get some very, very beginning stuff out of the way moving forward.

We will be getting into techniques of how to get good audio, but I think trying to teach people how to get good audio needs to come secondary to teaching people why they need to create good audio. Again, if you're listening to this show, you probably already know, that's why you're here, that's why you're spending your time with me and I greatly appreciate it. I don't want to waste any more of it by sharing ideas that you probably already agree with. But it's important in case anyone here is not sold on the fact that you need to invest a little bit of time, a little bit of money into capturing a good sound. Because we have fierce competition coming up.

My new favorite podcast is Office Ladies. It's Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fisher, who played Angela and Pam on the office. They have a new podcast through Earwolf, and first of all, I'm very, very unimpressed with their audio quality. Not to mention in the seven or so episodes they've put out, there has been at least one edit that cuts one of the speakers off right in the middle of their sentence.

I don't know how a big production like this is making these crazy, stupid and simple mistakes. But anyway, here's the thing. If you want to find a podcast about The Office, are you going to listen to Joe and Jim talk around their one iPhone in the middle of a table? Just talking about why they like the show, or are you going to listen to two people who were on The Office give their insights that as they claim, only two people who are on the show would know about?

I think it's clear as day anyone would choose the actual people who were on The Office. Now for content, Joe and Jim can't pretend like they were on the show and have the same insights, but they can at least compete on the audio level. It'll give people a greater chance of listening to their show if it at least sounds, in quality, comparable to Office Ladies.

I don't think this is true every time. I'd be happy for you to argue with me on this. I would love to hear why you think it's not as important and we won't be, not losing, but just not capturing new listeners. I am very happy to be wrong in anything that I say. I mean, a lot of this is speculation, opinion, what have you, but I think, at the end of the day, having better audio can never be a bad thing. For whatever reason you choose, having better audio will never be bad. You will never regret trying to capture great audio.

I promise you it'll pay for itself time and time again. I've had a few emails, like, very early on in our podcast. Someone from Italy was very interested in what we were talking about and they sent us this crazy, like 12 page report on why they thought we should cover this thing. And they were asking for kind of a lot from us, you know. Like stuff that we didn't have time to get into. We really could not give justice to what they were asking for. And I responded to the email like, Hey, you know, it's just the two of us. We're kind of a small deal. We only record, you know, after work, and we just don't have that kind of time.

And his response was actually pretty heartwarming. He said, Oh, like I, I assumed that you guys were kind of the big deal because of the quality of the show, and I mean, not everyone's going to think you're a big deal, but there is a certain amount of authority and trustworthiness that comes from great audio. It sounds like you put effort into your show, into your sound. And you care about what you have to say. You put in the effort, you are respecting your audience by giving them something that's easy to listen to.

There was an article from USC around, I think it was July of 2019. And they had actual doctors reading these scripts. They were telling about something, some condition that the general public would not know about. They had two versions of the audio and they had crowds listen to different versions. They had crystal clear audio and then one form of the audio, the same script at the same people reading the same thing, and the audio was degraded. It was choppy, it cut out, it was hard to listen to. And then they had people judge the trustworthiness and the level of intelligence of the speakers. And across the board, the doctors who whose audio sounded worse, got worse scores on trustworthiness and their perception of intelligence. It just shows that you've got to sound good. People trust you more, They respect what you're saying more when you can understand them clearly.

There's a very powerful thing called psychoacoustics, and it's how your brain translates things depending on the auditory input.And I wrote a response to this in my own blog at and the title was something like audio quality matters, and we're surprised that you're surprised, and I'm going to post both of these links in the show notes for this episode, You can find both articles in there along with other resources. The full transcripts for this show.

But it shows that audio is important. I don't know how many times I can say it. It's very important. Whether you believe it or not, it is. It is a fundamental truth that good audio is better than bad audio, across the board in every single way. So if you want to sound like a professional, if you want to sound like an authority, if you want people to hear your show and believe the words that are coming out of your mouth, your show needs to sound good or else you will sound less believable. It is sad, but it is true.

So subscribe to the show., there's links for everywhere you can subscribe in there. Moving forward, we will be doing more listening exercises, comparisons side by side of different compressors and attack times, and we're going to understand why compression is important, why your podcast needs it. We're going to play with some equalization and hopefully a lot more really fun partnerships in the future.

But it's very important to get out of the way why audio quality is important. If you like this show, feel free to rate and review on Apple Podcasts. Do whatever the good thing is on Overcast or Pocket Casts or whatever. It really does help. If nothing else, for social proof that there is good content in this show. If there's not good content, let me know. Give me a bad review. I don't script these shows. I recorded this whole episode in two takes and I'll probably edit it down. You know, take 30 seconds out here and there as I restart and whatever, but I'm not reading a script and if it could be better, if I should be scripting it, let me know. Rate and review.

Thank you so much everybody. We will be coming back every week with a new episode and if you want to know more about how to make your podcast sound better,, all kinds of tutorials and walkthroughs on how to capture and produce great audio and do it quicker and more efficiently.

I will talk to you all soon. Thank you so much for being here. Let's make our shows sound incredible. All right. Goodbye everybody. .



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