A few blog posts have come about lately on the issue of whether podcasts need to be edited, or if they can go out “raw” or “naked.” While I commented on Shel Holtz’s post on the topic and John Wall kindly referenced me in his, I thought I should expand in my own separate post.
C.C. Chapman (host of “Managing the Gray“) and Mitch Joel (“Six Pixels of Separation“) most recently raised the topic, and have more than once talked about why they record podcasts live and upload them as is. I have stated that I see a fundamental problem with that, not because I think “one take” podcasts are bad, but that the idea of “unedited” may be taken to mean that the audio file shouldn’t be touched at all. This is a problem in particular with Mitch’s “Six Pixels” podcast. While it remains one of my favorite marketing podcasts, the level disparities that sometimes (occasionally!) occur on the program can make it very hard to listen to.
A little background; I spent more than a decade in college and the radio industry recording and producing everything from live music of all types to full-length radio dramas. I suppose that means I come to this topic with an audio professional’s bias towards a produced, finished sound. However, that’s not my bias. My only bias is towards the listener. If your audio levels are not consistent- for example, the host is very low, then a pre-recorded listener comment comes in at a monstrously loud level, or the host coming back in at a low level cannot even be heard over the car’s audio system- that’s not a discrepancy, that’s a crime on the eardrums punishable by lost subscribers.
My preferred method, which I used when I was involved in recording the “PRobecast” at Topaz Partners, is to record as much as I possibly can live, then go back and fix gaps and errors and normalize audio levels (using Levelator is a breeze). This basic method was introduced to me years ago when I was lucky enough to work on a series of radio dramas for NPR, directed in many instances by BBC pros. In fact, I got to go to London to observe a BBC radio play being recorded. Again, as much as possible was done live, then it was cleaned up in the mix.
I am not saying people like C.C. or Mitch should edit their programs for content. The one-take “from the heart” method works very well for them. I am saying that if anything in your podcast will detract from the listener’s enjoyment or edification, then fix it, even if it’s just some simple tweaking.
Rather than go through a step-by-step editing instruction, I’ll just direct you again to Shel Holtz’s post doing the same. What I will do is point out a few reasons for either editing podcasts or “going commando.”
I threw out the question to folks on Twitter, and here are some of the responses, reflecting a wide variety of opinions, and more importantly the reasons behind those opinions:
jeanniecw Edited podcasts all the way! I tried in vain to listen to others, but give up when there is crap noise and bad pauses, segues, music help!
Drwright1 unedited podcasts are possible if the people are really good at what they do and are not focused on a bunch of sound effects.
dykc some people can naturally flow and others cannot. i think being able to do that, maintains the raw w/o edits needed. I don’t edit!
jmeserve We (NetworkWorld.com) only edit for listenability (coughs, disruptions etc) and not for content, particularly with our vendor podcasts. Luckily, we have an awesome audio guy that can make just about anything listenable.
cyberdyne: The podcasts I usually do are about 5 minutes long. So I’ll do one take. If there’s a problem I’ll do a second take. That’s it.
PaulDunay: I used to go nuts editing second by second for Ums and Ahs or anything odd but in the end I felt it made it too sterile – so no …
blacktar: I for one am a sucker for raw, unedited nerve. Be it audio or video. More appealing, more authentic to me.
Spinfluencer: Unedited podcasts are more authentic.
ecc1977: Edited vs. unedited podcasts/videos for me come down to whether I have time to do editing.
tgwilson: Just personal preference: audio/video are inherently difficult to “scan” (unlike text). And time is precious. “Edited” respects listener.
CK67 : I edit all my shows because I want them to be clean and without dead air in case someone doesn’t speak up right away. Quality #1.
There is no shortage of opinion on the topic, and I am not saying “naked” podcasting is a bad thing. But much of the time, some simple modest dressing will keep you from scaring off your listeners.