Your Podcast's Audio Quality Matters, and We're Surprised That You're Surprised.
This article from USC was published earlier this week, and it's been making the rounds on all the various podcasting groups on Facebook, Reddit, and LinkedIn. It's an interesting read that I'd recommend you all check out, but it's the same old stuff I've been preaching for years, and it boils down to this: Bad Audio Is Bad. Easy right?!
Let's summarize, then expand.
"As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden, the scientists and researchers
lost credibility." -Eryn Newman
A variation on this principal is why people hire Clean Cut Audio to produce their podcasts. The bulk of my day is spent cutting out "um"s, "yaknows"s, and "like, um kinda maybe and so"s from professional interviews. My clients know that a clear and succinct message is mandatory in order to establish themselves and their guests as an authority figure. Would you be surprised to know that every episode I've ever edited is 15-25% shorter once I'm done taking out all the crutch words? That is a STAGGERING about of stammering. Imagine, hearing someone say the word "um" for 15 minutes straight. Well, that's about what you get in an hour-long interview. We know this is bad and allows for the perception that the speaker doesn't really know what they're talking about.
The less understood principal of audio in podcasting is that of psychoacoustics. This is the study of sound perception and how the brain perceives various sounds. It's something we all experience, many of us are not aware of, and very few know how to properly communicate. However, it plays a very important role in podcasting, that of intimacy.
The reason we all love podcasts is because we feel like we know these people we listen to for hours every week. We allow ourselves to believe we're there, a fly on the wall, listening to these conversations, but bad audio quality will break this illusion faster than anything else.
Think about it...
When you're sitting across the table from your best friend, and they're telling you about their most life-changing experiences, does the sound coming from their mouth all of a sudden drop out and glitch horrifically like it does when a Skype connection can't keep up? As they vividly recap the most intense details from their adventure, does their voice fade in and out as the emote back and forth? Is their voice so boomy and overwhelming that it's hard to understand what they're saying? Probably not, and if it did, it would be wildly distracting as your mind shifts from their powerful story to what's going on with their voice! The same thing happens when you're listening to a podcast. If you hear all those dropouts and glitches, the intimacy is destroyed as your brain tries to make sense of what you're hearing, rather than listening to their moving tales of overcoming their most trying of times.
Now let's pretend your connection is crystal clear and you can easily understand what your friend, I mean the host is saying. This one is harder to catch, but even if your ears don't know the difference, your brain does, and that's the timbre. (pronounced /ˈtæmbər/ or like the beginning of tambourine)
Timbre is the tonal color or quality of the sound, and it is extremely important in podcasting. The human voice, while each one is very unique, has a distinct timbre that clearly sets it apart from a saxophone, acoustic guitar, or fire alarm. The intimacy, bond, and connection we feel to our favorite hosts comes from the perception of closeness, transparency, and authenticity.
The timbre of each person's voice is unique, but can also be manipulated in the mixing process. Equalization is the process of boosting or cutting frequencies to change the tonal quality of the recording. You know that knob you have to push 18 times to change the "bass", "middle", and "treble" in your car stereo? That's an equalizer. It's an important, and often overlooked process in the production of a podcast, because there's many things that affect the recording process and can make your show less than ideal to listen to. Microphones will color your sound, call recorders will do a lot more than just color your sound, and even your room/recording environment will affect the tonal quality of your sound.
Remember, the purpose of a podcast is to connect with your audience on a deep DEEP level, because you're out there providing a solution to their problem. They need to trust you and feel like you're a real person who's talking directly to them.
We all know what a voice sounds like from across the table, but these colorations in the recording process will spit out something different than what we're used to hearing in person, creating a subtle disconnect between the host and their tribe listening on the other end. By mastering the process of very fine tuned equalization, your show can be heard in the exact same way it would sound if you were sitting just 3 feet from your listener, live and in the flesh. Roll off those high ends, avoid the old-school broadcast, larger than life boominess of over-compressed sound waves traveling through the air from radio tower to radio tower, and really focus in on what a voice SHOULD sound like.
Listen to these 3 samples below, and let me know in the comments which voice sounds better!
New podcasters often have trouble with EQing, as it's a process that takes some somewhat advanced knowledge of the subject, years of ear training experience, and a lot of patience and testing.
If you're looking for some help on how to properly EQ your voice and establish a strong connection with your audience, feel free to hit me up anytime, and we'll figure out the best way to make your podcast stick into people's minds! You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel for ongoing education on topics like this.