Sunday, 4 September 2011

Audio of Quality and Distinction

Here’s a self-evident truth; audio generally has to be interesting to grab the attention of the listener. Whether it’s a radio commercial, a DJ talking or even a sonic logo... it needs to cut through fairly quickly to make me want to give it some of my ‘ear time’.

This should also be true of podcasts.

The reason I mention this is I’m currently working on a project with my colleague Dan McGrath, advising a company wishing to develop an audio podcast strategy. They work in the technology sector, and as part of my research I thought I’d listen to some of the other ‘techy’ podcasts that are out there and seemingly doing well at the moment. And boy was I surprised.

The vast majority of them are really badly produced, badly presented and just badly thought out. Sorry – but it’s true.

Now, I know that I’m applying radio production standards to what are (mostly) plainly not radio shows, but I don’t think that’s a genuine excuse for badly produced audio. The same principle should still apply. It should interest the listener and grab their attention, and make them want to listen more, or subscribe or come back for more at a later date. Many of them had me hitting the stop button. And, for the record, it’s not that I wasn’t interested in the subject either. I’m as geeky about technology as the next geeky guy with glasses!

So do the listeners of these podcasts merely ‘put up’ with the poor quality, as that’s the price to pay for getting niche content? I guess so. Or is it the case that the very ‘DIY’ nature of some podcasts are intrinsic to their appeal? Has the democratisation of the means of production meant that now anyone with a laptop and a £9.99 mic from Maplin can be an ‘audio content producer’, and therein lies the appeal? Is the allure for listeners to these that the media is no longer controlled by the elite, but by the masses? Possibly... but if the masses could make it sound a bit better and try a bit harder, then that would be lovely thank you very much.

I’m looking forward to the session at the forthcoming conference called “Top 5 Reasons Why Podcasts Are Different To Radio” presented by Francesca Panetta, who is Head of Audio at The Guardian. She should know, as she used to work for BBC Radios 3 and 4, and is now heading up the Guardian's audio offerings, which are on the whole pretty good. I hope she’ll point out the positive differences that podcasts have with radio, but still at least want to maintain a minimum quality threshold.

I really like podcasts. The on-demand world of speech content is now a very rich and varied one, with every conceivable topic covered, and the fact that more and more people are consuming audio content is a great thing.

And although podcasts do have differences to radio, isn’t it funny how some of the most popular podcasts with consumers are just re-packaged radio shows, and if they’re not... they have some really solid radio production techniques behind them.

So – a plea to larger FMCG brands who have podcasts, and other corporate or semi-corporate entities who have branded audio content in this arena. Please do think about how the quality of these reflect on your brand, and don’t settle for something that’s sub-standard just because “it’s only a podcast”. Produce quality and they will return, and return again.

And then the relationship with your consumers can really begin.


Scott said...

Try the Tech Guy podcast and also Macbreak Weekly from the same team at Leo Laporte is the guy behind them all and he's good.

Jonathan Marks said...

Would agree that Leo Laporte's This Week in Tech and This Week in Google have become a great resource. Well recorded, topical and excellent audio. That also applies to Steve Martin's podcasts called Earshot Creative Review. I have given up listening to many podcasts because they failed to make it an easy listen or they fail to keep a pace going. At BBC World Service, the Click Audio podcast with Gareth Mitchell is actually better than the radio broadcast because its longer and you can hear what happens before and after transmission. Quite often I find the discussion afterwards to contain gems that you don't hear on air - although frankly it's all on air as far as I am concerned.